VIENNA - Very low levels of radioactive iodine-131 have been detected in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe but the particles are not believed to pose a public health risk, the U.N. nuclear agency said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog, said it was seeking to determine the source but that it was not believed to come from Japan's stricken Fukushima plant after its nuclear emergency in March.
Iodine-131, linked to cancer if found in high doses, can contaminate products such as milk and vegetables.
The IAEA said the Czech Republic's nuclear safety body had informed it that "very low levels" of iodine-131 had been measured in the atmosphere over the central European country in recent days.
"The IAEA has learned about similar measurements in other locations across Europe," the brief statement said.
"The IAEA believes the current trace levels of iodine-131 that have been measured do not pose a public health risk and are not caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan," it added. "The IAEA is working with its counterparts to determine the cause and origin of the iodine-131."
Iodine-131 is a short-lived radioisotope that has a radioactive decay half-life of about eight days, the IAEA said.
"The IAEA will provide further information via its website as it becomes available," the agency said.
In the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, a huge earthquake followed by a massive tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima plant in Japan, causing a reactor meltdown and leakage of radiation, including of iodine.
In the days and weeks after the accident, minuscule numbers of iodine-131 believed to have come from Fukushima were detected as far away as Iceland and other pars of Europe, as well as in the United States. (Reporting by Michael Shields and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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