Hand-held radiation detectors are on display at a local importer’s office in Daejeon, Thursday. With Japan’s nuclear crisis showing little sign of easing, heath-conscious people here are rushing to buy detectors, causing businesses to run out of stock.
By Park Si-soo
Following Japan’s nuclear crisis, Cho Won-deuk’s phone barely stopped ringing with orders for radiation detectors. Now his company, Korean Scientific Promotion Co., a radiation detector importer, has run out of stock.
He recently posted a message on the company website to notify customers of the stock shortage. He was also forced to delay procurement amid soaring worldwide demand for the gadgets.
“We have trouble securing new shipments due to overwhelming orders placed around the world,” Cho said. Despite the posting, the company gets dozens of calls to try and place orders daily.
“My firm has no stock. I think it will take nearly six months before the arrival of new ones,” Cho said.
Mounting health concerns in Japan, caused by leaked radiation from the quake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, are spilling over into Korea and other neighboring countries.
Super-sensitive, health-conscious people are rushing out to buy radiation detectors to check not just food and their bodies, but other people as well, suspected of having been contaminated with radioactive particles from the plant nearly 1,000 kilometers away.
The price of each device ranges from 1 million won ($890) for a hand-held type with limited detection capability up to tens of millions of won for more sophisticated versions.
Weather and nuclear experts have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of any radiation risks here due to the wind direction blowing in the opposite direction.
But this is not convincing enough to stop the buying spree.
Another importer, Sane Calibration Co., has also received a flood of phone calls from people hoping to buy similar devices.
“The phone rings virtually all day long,” a company official said. “Only a couple of pricy ones are left. That’s all we have.” The officer said the company had placed orders for new products to meet demand but overseas suppliers have not given an exact delivery date.
The concern over risks of radiation is, understandably, higher among people living near nuclear plants than elsewhere.
The government has released scientific studies confirming the safety of domestic nuclear reactors from major tremors, but it fell short of keeping activists in Ulsan from filing a petition directed at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co (KHNP), demanding the company to install additional radiation detectors in the city.
Ulsan is located in the vicinity of the Gori nuclear power plant, operated by the KHNP. Ulsan is home to Hyundai Motor’s assembly lines and Hyundai Heavy Industries’ shipyard.
A total of 10 detectors are monitoring radiation levels within a radius of five kilometers from the nuclear plant around the clock. Still the petitioners are seeking the installation of more detectors securing a radius of 10 kilometers — in case of emergency.
Adding to their worries is the construction of two more nuclear reactors, which will be completed near the city by September 2014. The groundbreaking event for two others is slated for 2013.
Residents near another nuclear power plant in Wolseong, North Gyeongsang Province, are expected to file a similar petition with the KHNP.
South Korea operates 21 nuclear reactors at four complexes in Uljin, Wolseong, Gori, and Yeonggwang, generating over 30 percent of the country’s entire electricity production. The government plans to construct 14 more by 2024 to supply nearly half of the necessary energy from nuclear power.