SRP Helps Debunk International News Story

News Story from 8th Mar 2017

SRP Helps Debunk International News Story

The French Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN) issued a press release on 13 February 2017, reporting that traces of radioactive iodine (iodine-131) had recently been detected in tiny amounts in the ground-level atmosphere in Europe. It was first found during the second week  of January in northern Norway. Iodine-131 was also detected in Finland, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain, until the end of January.

Norway’s radiation protection authority had detected the Iodine-131 over its northern Russian border, and conspiracy theorists soon got to work, postulating a covered-up nuclear weapons test in the area.This was compounded by the alleged deployment of a USAF monitoring aircraft from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

SRP was contacted about the story on 20 February by a UK web-based news service.  SRP Media Officer Brian Gornall, a veteran of the UK environmental monitoring programme post-Chernobyl, told the journalist that as the French report only mentioned radioactive iodine-131, with a half-life of just over 8 days, with no other longer lived nuclear fission products being detected, this suggested the source of the release was not some sort of incident at a power reactor or other nuclear facility, but rather of medical origin, possibly a hospital or perhaps a suppler of radio-pharmaceuticals. The release was probably of recent origin. Further than that it was impossible to speculate.

The ready detection of the very low levels showed the robustness and sensitivity of the measures in place internationally to monitor atmospheric radioactivity. A similar release was detected in 2011, later tracked down to a leak from a radio-pharmaceuticals factory in Budapest.

SRP shared its response with the Science Media Centre and those UK media that followed up the story. Only MailOnline appear to have covered it, using it as an opportunity to attack the Russian government. We were however quoted in some online news websites.

While most main-stream print and broadcast media in the UK seem to have ignored the story, reports are still circulating online and in social media. “The fact that the story broke, and is still running, online is very important for those SRP members involved in emergency planning and response” said Brian Gornall. “Social media and online news services are now the way nuclear incidents will be first reported. Some of the websites have strong political links. They can’t be ignored when considering how to brief the public.”

The SRP keeps a register of members prepared to offer 'on-the-record' comments or give background briefings on breaking news stories. Any member who might be willing to join the team, co-ordinated through Communications Committee, should contact Brian at for more details.

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