A US "nuclear sniffer" plane is heading towards Norway, the British media reported. Britons believe that "Russian" radioactive particles are drifting from Eastern Europe towards the UK.
A US Air Force detection plane took off from Sussex on Thursday on a mission “to find evidence of nuclear activity or explosion”.
According to spotters a second spy plane was also deployed from Mildenhall after the first flew out of RAF Mildenhall on an operational sortie, The Daily Mail reported. The WC-135 Constant Phoenix collects atmospheric samples in real time and is said to be heading towards northern Europe and the Barents Sea.
The fear of a radioactive incident is being attributed to possible “Russian nuclear testing at Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic” by the British media, because of an alleged spike in iodine levels recorded in northern Europe.
Air quality measurements across the continent detected traces of radioactive Iodine-131 in January and February, coming from eastern Europe. Iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days, so detecting it in the atmosphere is proof of a recent release. It is used widely in treating certain types of cancer.
However, the CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation) ruled out any nuclear test that had recently taken place. The organisation manages a worldwide monitoring system, In a statement on Monday, the CTBTO said: “If a nuclear test were to take place that releases I-131 it would also be expected to release many other radioactive isotopes.
“Thus the CTBTO measures isotopes. No other nuclear fission isotopes have been measured at elevated levels in conjunction with I-131 in Europe so far. No detections above typical local historical levels have been observed,” the CTBTO declared and added that it was not concerned about the reports of Iodine-131 in Europe.
Among the theories considered most likely is that a manufacturer of medical radio-isotopes, probably in Eastern Europe, suffered a leak. This incident closely resembles an episode from 2011, when the Budapest isotopes institute released – legally and harmlessly – an amount of radioactive iodine into the environment.
The leak was the result of a faulty filter system at the Institute of Isotopes Ltd in Budapest, Hungary, which produces a wide variety of radioactive isotopes for medical treatment and research.
When asked why Norway didn’t inform the public last month, when it was the first to detect the radiation in its northernmost county, Finnmark, Astrid Liland from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority told the Barents Observer: “The measurements at Svanhovd in January were very, very low. So were the measurements made in neighbouring countries, like Finland. The levels raise no concern for humans or the environment. Therefore, we believe this had no news value.”
She added: “It was rough weather in the period when the measurements were made, so we can’t trace the release back to a particular location. Measurements from several places in Europe might indicate it comes from Eastern Europe.”
France’s nuclear safety authority, the IRSN, announced last week, the actual amount of radioactive Iodine-131 in Europe’s ground-level atmosphere in January “raise no health concerns”, and has since returned to normal. Other observations were noted in Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and France, according the IRSN.
“We are leading the inquiry,” said Jean-Christophe Gariel, from the IRSN. “This means we are essentially reversing the trajectory of the iodine pollution in order to find out where it came from. But taking into account the weather in recent weeks, it will not be easy to model.”
“The release was probably of recent origin. Further than this, it is impossible to speculate,” Brian Gornall from Britain’s Society for Radiological Protection told Ben Sullivan at Motherboard.