The radiation leaking from Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant has reached Vietnam over the past several days but the levels are so small that there is no health risk, authorities say.
Dang Thanh Luong, vice director of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety under the Ministry of Science and Technology said that the ionizing radiation, iodine-131, was detected in the air in Hanoi on March 28.
“The iodine-131 level was 500,000 times below the level deemed safe and it will not affect human health,” he told Thanh Nien.
According to a statement by the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute released on March 29, the radioiodine has been found in the atmosphere by monitoring stations in Lang Son and Hanoi in the north, Lam Dong in the Central Highlands and Ho Chi Minh City in the south.
Satellite images on March 30 showed that the plume from Japan’s nuclear power plant was located at sea and yet to spread to Vietnam, the institute said.
However, iodine-131 could spread in the air even faster than the radiation plume, as has happened in Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Germany, where radiation detecting stations found its presence while the plume was still far away, the institute said.
Iodine-131 can cause mutation and death in cells that it penetrates, and in other cells up to several millimeters away. Exposure to I-131 may increase a person’s risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Tran Dai Phuc, a nuclear expert who has worked in the sector for the past 45 years, said that the levels of radiation in Vietnam are far below the safe level and residents should not be overanxious.
Phuc’s reassurance came after residents expressed fears that rains over the past days in Hanoi could be radioactive and affect human health.
Nguyen Nhi Dien, director of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute in Lam Dong Province, said that radiation levels are expected to become even lower in the coming days because iodine-131 is relatively short-lived, with an eight day half-life.
Meanwhile, international experts have said that critically damaged reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant are still leaking radioactive pollution into the air, and probably into the soil and sea.
Tests have shown “a very high concentration – equivalent to a dose of 1,000 millisieverts (mSv) per hour – in reactor 2, and 750 mSv in reactor 3,” AFP cited France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) as saying on March 28.
“Someone who stands next to such water will, within 15 minutes, absorb the maximum dose a nuclear facility worker in Japan is allowed to take in during an entire year,” or 250 mSv, said Thierry Charles, head of France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).
Even the 250 mSv limit – set at the outset of the Fukushimia crisis – is two-and-a-half times the earlier, long-standing ceiling.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), acknowledged on March 28 for the first time that highly radioactive water has leaked from the buildings housing both of these reactors, and has already reached the Pacific Ocean.
Traces of radiation had in fact drifted all the way to the US, with rainwater in Ohio found to have been contaminated the same day.
People and governments living in countries neighboring Japan had already taken a range of precautionary measures as they watched the crisis escalate.
Authorities across the region began testing Japanese food imports for radiation, while some vegetables grown near Fukushima were banned altogether.
Travelers returning from Japan were also screened at some airports for radiation.
Amidst rising concerns over nuclear safety following the Fukushima incident, the Vietnamese Government presented to the National Assembly a report on plans to build a nuclear power plant in Ninh Thuan on Tuesday, March 29.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said the government has assigned the Ministry of Science and Technology to coordinate with the Ninh Thuan administration and prepare a plan to deal with possible problems at the future plant, based on experiences from other countries and guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Electricity of Vietnam, the national power utility, has been tasked with preparing detailed rescue plans, the report said.
“Besides following strictly the process of construction, operation and maintenance to ensure absolute safety, there will be personnel trained to cope with any problems that occur,” Nhan said.
The Fukushima incident would be taken as a lesson while constructing the nuclear power plant in Ninh Thuan, he added.
The Ninh Thuan 1 Nuclear Power Plant project is expected to begin in the third quarter this year with a feasibility study and an approval application for its location. A contractor will be chosen in February 2014 and the ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for December 2014.
The first reactor is to go operational in 2020 and the second in 2021.
Construction of the Ninh Thuan 2 Nuclear Power Plant is expected to break ground in May 2015 and its two reactors to begin operations in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Uong Chu Luu, deputy chairman of the National Assembly, said that the plants must use the latest technology to ensure absolute safety.
“The government has to conduct a thorough research study on impacts of seismic fault lines and structure, climate change and sea level increases at the places designated for the plants,” he said, adding that the government must also report to the National Assembly before construction of the first reactor begins.
In another action aimed at ensuring nuclear safety, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on March 25 approved a plan proposed by the Ministry of Public Security on “execution of security measures in the atomic energy sector.”
The plan includes a VND40 billion (US$1.9 million) investment in building a legal system, infrastructure and human resources in maintaining atomic energy security, VND200 billion ($9.57 million) for activities to prevent, detect and handle violations, and another VND60 billion ($2.87 million) for building security infrastructure at the Ninh Thuan nuclear power plants.