back to article Radioactive leak riddle: Now Team America sniffs Europe's skies for iodine isotope source

The US military has sent one of its atmosphere-analyzing aircraft to Europe to hunt the source of a radioactive leak on the continent. Last week, the French nuclear watchdog the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN) issued an alert after sensors in Norway, and then much of the rest of Europe, detected …

  1. Sampler


    A current travelling up from Spain perhaps would account for the odd distribution pattern.

    As for the source, if the wind is blowing from where I assume, didn't someone recently lose an off target submarine missile in the the general vicinity, Teresa May?

    No need for the tinfoil hat, they only increase reception, but I do miss my snug jacket where the arms wrap around the back...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: errant missile

      That test/debable took place off the coast of the USA and as it was a test, the missile was not loaded with real warheads (It would be stupid in case it failed and it actually did that)

      Finally, the Half Life of this Isotope means that even said missile did carry Radioactive stuff, that time would have long passed as I seem to recall that the test actually took place last June.

      1. Sampler

        Re: errant missile

        um, maybe I should've used the "joke alert" icon for those that struggle with the sarcasm? Unless you truly believe I have a paranoia of tinfoil hats and miss my straight jacket?

        1. Tom 38

          Re: errant missile

          Perhaps you should have made it funny, then you don't need the icon.

      2. Boring Bob

        Re: errant missile

        "as it was a test, the missile was not loaded with real warheads (It would be stupid in case it failed and it actually did that)"

        If the warheads were real it would not be so bad if it failed. Now it would be really stupid using real warheads if the test worked

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Wind

      Maybe Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore has given up sniffing Napalm and moved to Iodine?

      I love the smell of iodine in the morning.

  2. jgarbo

    Earthquake test of pipelines

    Seems that I-131 is used for testing pipelines for leakage, a precaution taken after an earthquake in Italy, then one off Norway. Standard protocol. The bigger mystery is why this is being played up as yet another nefarious Russian cover up and not just ordinary "news".

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Earthquake test of pipelines

      "why this is being played up as yet another nefarious Russian cover up"

      I'm pretty sure it isn't, from TFA:

      "But that seems unlikely, given the satellites and seismographs dedicated to watching for just such an occurrence."

      (Also the lack of any other isotopes except iodine)

  3. Rattus Rattus

    "Constant Phoenix"

    If it's "constant", doesn't that prevent the very thing that makes it a phoenix? That is, dying, bursting into flame, and being reborn from the ashes? Stupid name, trying too hard to be cool.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: "Constant Phoenix"

      In People's Democratic Republic of North America, Phoenix is constant!

      Since 1867, anyway.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: "Constant Phoenix"

      Stupid name, trying too hard to be cool.

      It'll be one of those computer-generated US military nomenclatures, following the adjective-noun pattern. I keep hoping that some bored grunt will add a few words of their own to the lists, so that we can look forward to a four-star general codenamed Strident Fuckwit and a black site called Farty Towels.

      Just a suggestion, buds, just a suggestion.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Constant Phoenix"

        "Strident Fuckwit and a black site called Farty Towels."

        did you just use "Strident Fuckwit" and a synonym for trump-ing in the same sentence?

        Just an obvservation, buds, just an observation :-)

      2. Stork Silver badge

        Re: "Constant Phoenix"

        Way OT: I heard a story of a junior Danish officer naming his operation "Svedig Gekko" (Sweaty Gecko). Even if the name did give anything away about the operation, his superiors did not like it. No sense of humour...

      3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: "Constant Phoenix"

        Not to be confused with other adjective noun patterns that aren't remotely ridiculous, like Precise Penguin.

        1. Rattus Rattus

          Re: "Constant Phoenix"

          Precise Penguin, that sounds like a great character for a kids' TV show, done in claymation.

    3. ma1010

      Re: "Constant Phoenix"

      Hey, it's no worse than "MAGINOT BLUE STARS" or "CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN," the sort of names your Laundry spooks use.

  4. thomas k

    ...should probably get checked out.

    After having fashioned an appropriate costume to preserve their anonymity, of course.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: ...should probably get checked out.

      No, the standard procedure to hide your super powers is to affect a mild-mannered personality, comb back your curlicue and put on a pair of glasses.

    2. Francis Boyle

      Re: ...should probably get checked out.

      I'd keep it to myself. Don't want to wake in an underground lab run by some three letter agency.

  5. Polardog

    Can it be used in a dirty bomb?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Not the best choice

      The short half life means the radioactivity falls to approximately background levels in weeks, so no long term damage. Terrorists should use Bismuth, with a half live of 1.9x1019 years - easily available as a common ingredient of lead free solder.

      1. mark 177

        Re: Not the best choice

        With such a long half-life, you'd need thousands of tons of the stuff to do much damage!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not the best choice

          Well you just drop it on the buggers.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Not the best choice

            Or you could force them to try and solder with the fscking stuff

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Not the best choice

              Indeed, the resultant tin whiskers and dry joints could bankrupt the West in a few decades.

      2. Adam 1

        Re: Not the best choice

        Um. Pretty much the other way around. The shorter the half life, the more aggressively the thing is throwing particles out. And iodine will happily be absorbed by your thyroids and do plenty of damage throwing its beta particles about in those 8 days.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        " Bismuth, with a half live of 1.9x1019 years "

        Careful you'll panic politicians with such facts.

        Which are available to anyone with access to a search engine.

        You should have added that it's completely harmless without a large neutron source to irradiate it (small neutron sources being either very slow to make it radioactive or very complex to mfg).

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comprehensive test ban treaty

    ... leading some to assume that Russia may have broken the Test Ban Treaty ...

    How could Russia break a treaty which has not entered into force?

    According to the Wikipedia's article on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:

    As of 2016, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Comprehensive test ban treaty

      First rule of modern "journalism" and modern "politics": Whatever happens: Russia.Or even better: Putin.

      (Maybe because if you run it together, it gives "Prussia")

      Even Trump has regressed to the mean. Nicky Haley seems to be as abysmally dumb and incompetent as Samantha Power, if not worse.

      Now, here's the details from Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments - Mary Beth D. Nikitin, Specialist in Nonproliferation, September 1, 2016

      Russia ratified the treaty on June 30, 2000. In September 2005, Russia reportedly stated that it intends to continue to observe the moratorium on testing until the CTBT enters into force as long as other nuclear powers do likewise, and expressed its hope that the nations that must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force will do so as soon as possible. In November 2007, according to Itar-Tass, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “confirmed Russia’s unchanging support for the treaty as one of the key elements of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and an effective nuclear arms limitation tool.” In September 2009, Dmitry Medvedev, president of the Russian Federation, said, “we need to encourage leading countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty as soon as possible in order to ensure its ultimate entry into force. That is very important. A Russian scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences raised the prospect of the CTBT’s collapse in an article of November 2010. Claiming that Britain and France have ratified the treaty but do not have a moratorium on testing, that the reverse is the case for China and the United States, that India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have done neither, and that only Russia has ratified the treaty and has a moratorium on testing, he argued that:

      "if the treaty has not been in force for fifteen years [i.e., since it was opened for signature in 1996], it is difficult for Russia to be the only nuclear power which complies with its terms and conditions in full. Russia’s official position is to support the CTBT’s entry into force. However, Russian experts tend to focus on the pessimistic scenarios of CTBT collapse. In the near future, Russia could face a difficult choice between the political dividends the CTBT affords and the military necessity to upgrade its nuclear.capabilities"

      (This is going to take a bit to appear as evidence indicates that I'm currently on El Reg's Deplorables Watchlist)

      1. mhenriday

        Re: Comprehensive test ban treaty

        It was those nasty Russians wot done it - in accordance with the orders, of course, of that dastardly Gospodin Putin....


  8. GrapeBunch

    Could it have had anything to do with Chernobyl and its brand new sarcophagus? I don't know, disturbing some previously inert fuel rods? Or one of those weird weather patterns depositing goodies from Fukushima?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Could it have had anything to do with Chernobyl and its brand new sarcophagus? I don't know, disturbing some previously inert fuel rods? Or one of those weird weather patterns depositing goodies from Fukushima?

      This is highly unlikely. Both accidents occured sufficiently long ago to let the initial inventories of short-lives isotopes to decay. At this point, the short-lived isotopes can only come as a part of a radioactive decay chain of a longer-lived parent isotope. Assuming steady-state rate equations, the fraction of the short-lived isotope will be given by the ratio of the lifetimes, times the appropriate branching factor within the decay chain. This is likely to be minuscle.

      I am afraid you are really looking for a high-flux neutron source here, most likely a reactor, but could also be a particle accelerator with an appropriate target.

  9. Milton

    Occam's Razor

    Suggests that despite the opportunity for some tongue in cheek fun, this leak is probably exactly what the experts suggest: a fumble at a lab producing medical isotopes.

    It couldn't be from an old sub wreck - graves like USS Thresher and USS Scorpion are routinely monitored and you wouldn't get isotopes like this coming up through 10,000 feet of ocean.

    It's fun to speculate that Vlad The Emailer is brewing up some fresh polonium for his growing array of antagonists, but it won't wash I'm afraid. Distribution is wrong, and the signature doesn't fit.

    I'll still look around for furtive-looking ubiytsy in badly cut box suits before tucking into my soup, though ...

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Re:Upvoted coz

      "Vlad The Emailer"

      first time I have heard that one

  10. Bronek Kozicki

    poor Sweden

    ... singled out, as usual

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: poor Sweden

      hang on, is this the incident Donaeld was talking about the other day?

      1. hplasm

        Re: poor Sweden

        "hang on, is this the incident Donaeld was talking about the other day?"

        That was Al-IKEA...

        (thanks P-Eye)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: poor Sweden

          "That was Al-IKEA"

          Ah - so it was self-Bildt stuff

  11. DropBear

    Nonsense, of course the people at the source announced the event as soon as they detected it! They just happened to do so in a quiet voice, in a disused lavatory, making sure nobody was around...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Before filing the report and displaying it in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard'?

  12. adam 40 Silver badge

    You idiots!

    Someone has just tested a small "dirty bomb". Probably with a few grams of material.

    Now you've told them how far the contamination has spread.

    Stock up on iodine tablets now - while you have the chance.

    Remember the Windscale leak? Iodine sales were banned in Boots the next day to prevent people self-administering.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: You idiots!

      Self administring iodine without a need for it is a bad idea as there are many possible complications and detrimental effects possible. So that sales ban was a good idea.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: You idiots!

        True - Observed but infrequent side effects of ingesting Potassium Iodide (KI)

        include the following:

        • Nausea

        • Intestinal Upset

        • Rashes

        • Inflammation of the Salivary Glands

        • Possible allergic reactions

        NOTE: Potassium Iodide (KI) cannot protect the body from radioactive

        elements other than radioactive iodine...

        50g for a fiver off eBay, the protective dose is 100ug a day. So that's 500 doses stashed for when the big one goes up, and I'll watch out for that upset tummy.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: You idiots!

          if the big one goes off radioactive iodine will frankly be the least of your worries. Iodine is basically only of concern in a reactor incident like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukushima. And it turns out the effects from that last one are probably negligible to none in terms of exposure to the general population.

          The danger from A-bomb fallout is all the crud that got irradiated by hard Neutron radiation while getting sucked up in the blast. Very little Iodine there.

    2. Orv Silver badge

      Re: You idiots!

      A dirty bomb -- assuming you're using the usual meaning of radioactive material spread by a conventional explosive -- would not do this. This isotope is created as a fission product, and has a half life of 8 days. Unless you yanked the fuel out of a reactor, slapped it into a bomb when it was still very "hot", and set it off within a fortnight or so, you wouldn't get a release like this.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it done Igor?.. good.

    Now we make fortune selling leaky surplus NBC suits & expired respirators to preppers

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      You forgot to add the mandatory


      to your post...

      1. Anonymous IV

        Re: You forgot to add the mandatory

        Possibly because he has not been brainwashed by an exceptionally stupid advertisement?

  14. Pat Harkin

    Given the stated levels...

    This is a job for Homeopathic Man!

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Given the stated levels...

      He's already appeared but he's very very small, you just didn't see him do anything.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Given the stated levels...

        It's a large scale test of homeopathy.

        If it works then we will all be dead of radiation poisoning.

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: Given the stated levels...

          If this really is a large scale test of homeopathy then we'll all be immune by the end of the week^H^H^Horld.

    2. Steve K

      Re: Given the stated levels...

      Well that's not much of a solution...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hopefully it will least us to find the European equivalent to Sheldon!

  16. harmjschoonhoven
  17. TeeCee Gold badge

    " one has owned up..."

    "What happens if the authorities get wind of this cockup?"

    "We'll all be royally fucked from now 'til hell freezes over."

    "Hmm. Probably best to STFU and hope nobody works out where it came from then...".

  18. harmjschoonhoven

    Estimate of leaked I-131 mass

    1 Bq = 1 nucleus decays per second. So ~500kmx500kmx1000mx 5µBq/m³ and the halftime of 8.0197 days gives the leak as 1.73x1015 atoms = 0.377 microgram. The leak was in the order of micrograms.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. HurdImpropriety

    dumb arse Euroflags

    Oh... so Europe hates the US... but OH NO when a radiation leak is detected..... ZOMBIES where is the US to save us.... once again.

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge

      Re: dumb arse Euroflags

      I don't know if radiation can give people superpowers, but it sure seems to wake up the trolls!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: dumb arse Euroflags

      Ah, no, important distinction to make here, we don't hate the US itself, we just hate the idiots it breeds.

      Plus, some of the people from the US (usually the ones who were sensible enough to put a few thousand miles between themselves and their birthplace) can actually be quite nice.

      Generally any 'merkin (coincidentally, there recently seems to have been some confusion as to where they should be worn with a high profile blonde merkin wearer) who wants to 'MAGA' falls into the first category until they can prove they don't.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: dumb arse Euroflags

      "Oh... so Europe hates the US... but OH NO when a radiation leak is detected..... ZOMBIES where is the US to save us.... once again."

      don't go trumping about the US's superiority please.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Breaking News...

    USAF General H Potter Orders the Phoenix to scan the skies above Piers Morgan and report back on BS131 leakage...

  22. Roj Blake Silver badge


    My money's on it being due a leak at the Lagavulin distillery.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Whisky

      Nah, will be from Laphroaig. It would explain the TCP+ash tray taste...

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Whisky

        Nah, will be from Laphroaig. It would explain the TCP+ash tray taste...

        Oi! I like Leapfrog!

  23. Harry the Bastard

    there's an icon appropriate to this

    yet it has not been used

    seems clear evidence of a cover up

    now, where's my tinfoil hat, i'm sure i saw it earlier

  24. Commswonk

    What have the Poles done?

    Nobody seems to have commented on the fact that by far the highest concentration shown on the map is in (above?) Poland.

    So I will... not that I have slightest idea what the cause might have been.

    1. billse10

      Re: What have the Poles done?

      haven't seen any readings from Lithuania ....

      1. Commswonk

        Re: What have the Poles done?

        Nor Kaliningrad, Latvia or Estonia. But with the Polish readings being that much higher than those from other countries (by a factor of 10 or more) it is tempting to conclude that the source is somewhere in Poland.

        Against that, of course, is the effect of wind dispersal, so we would need to know speed and direction over the preceeding few days, unless of course the source is still active.

        Interesting that Poland has Belarus and Ukraine to its immediate East... or not, as the case may be.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Radioactive Iodine-131 is also used to treat Goiter, as well as some other Thyroid problems. My daughter-in-law has had the I-131 treatment. She was cautioned to not even attempt to enter the USA, since the radioactive I-131 in her would trigger the radiation sensors at the border, which would produce a most spectacular, but wholly undesired, response.

    So, it's possible that a medical clinic had an accidental release, or, possibly, even a patient (The question to ask oneself is, when a patient has an I-131 treatment, where does the expelled I-131 go, if it hasn't decayed before it is expelled?).

    1. JimC

      Re: I-131

      A colleague at work had, I think, I-131 therapy and as I recall there were indeed complicated rules about where he was allowed to "go" as it is excreted through the usual channels. I forget the details though.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I-131

      The answer to where the I-131 goes from patienstthat hasn't decayed is that it goes into the toilet. This is why Nuclear medicine departents in hospitals have seperate patient toilets. However therapuetic or imaging doses are relatively tiny in this context.

      My memory is that I-131 ia a beta emitter and also emits a gamma ray with an energy of around 364 keV and also a higher energy gamma ray but much less frequently. The problem from a health perspective would be ingesting the isotope due to the beta radiation and its natural concentration/accumulation in the thyroid. It is sometimes used for imaging in nuclear medicine but the high gamma ray energy means that the resolution is poor so I think I -123 is better although probably more expensive.

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: I-131

      I had a friend stopped near the Canadian boarder some years ago because his treatment triggered a sensor - we never did figure out where the sensor was and nobody was saying.

  26. TMMITW

    No super powers yet

    I've had I-131 treatment 3 times and still no super powers. Whiners.

    1. Chris G

      Re: No super powers yet

      In the '80s I had a car accident that resulted in squidged kidneys among other things, they gave me a radio-active iodine shot and took a few X rays of various bits. A while before that I had worked at Windscale for a bit, so far I have no extra heads, superpowers nor have been stopped entering the US.

      I can move around well in the dark though but I'm not sure if that is the glow or my excellent night vision.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of bullshit about nothing. There is no possibility of this being a sign of any nuclear explosion or incident, Iodine 131 on its own without any other fission by-products is absolutely a sign of an accidental medical related release. The amounts detected are so miniscule that they are way below any threat level, even when measured on the banana scale.

    On top of that, the monitoring aircraft regularly moves around and its arrival in the UK is quitre possibly unrelated to the I 131 detection.

  28. A_Melbourne

    Statoil has a leaking pipeline. They wanted to find the source of the leak and added iodine to the inlet at the offshore rig.

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