Rain contains radioactive material
By Kim Rahn
From parents of kindergartners to office workers, the entire nation was gripped by concerns over “radioactive rain,” Thursday, when traces of radioactive material were detected in rainwater on Jeju Island.
The authorities went all out to allay public fears, but the detection, albeit minuscule, made people nervous as they braced themselves for rainfall nationwide. They went to schools and offices armed with umbrellas, raincoats and boots.
The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) said radioactive iodine and cesium were found in rainwater collected in the early morning at a checkpoint on the island. The concentration level of iodine-131 was 2.02 becquerels per liter (Bq/l), that of cesium-137, 0.538 Bq/l, and that of cesium-134, 0.333 Bq/l.
KINS officials said the levels were too low — almost negligible — to pose any serious health risks. “Even if a person drinks 2 liters of such rainwater every day for a year, the exposure concentration level will be 0.037 millisievert (mSv), far lower than the 1 mSv government safety standard,” a KINS official said.
However, the level of iodine this time was six times more than Monday’s 0.357 Bq/l reading.
KINS shortened the air examination interval at Jeju’s checkpoint Tuesday to three hours from the usual 24 over the possibility that radioactive substances from the Fukushima plant in Japan may be being deposited on Korea.
No harm to humans
Other government agencies also emphasized the low level of radioactivity, saying the rain was not harmful to humans.
“We have westerly winds prevailing, and it is unlikely the air above Fukushima containing radioactive substances has come directly to Korea. So we see the rain as not harmful to human beings,” Lee Ho-young, the prime minister’s secretary, said after a meeting of related ministries.
Lee said the government has examined food products imported from Japan and will continue to do so, adding all 1,450 samples so far have proven to be radioactivity-free.
Regarding cooperation with the Japanese government he said Tokyo responded positively to Korea’s proposal to dispatch researchers to Japan. Lee said Korea, Japan and China will seek to form a council on the issue.
Despite the government stressing the “harmlessness” of the rain, people were covered in rainproof gear.
Some schools closed
Following the news that minuscule radioactive substances were detected on Jeju, people in all parts of the country carried umbrellas to work or school even though the rainfall was light.
Parents had their children not only use umbrellas but also wear raincoats, rubber boots and even masks. Some of them gave their children a ride to school, with streets near schools congested.
In Gyeonggi Province, about 130 pre-, elementary and middle schools were closed after the regional educational office allowed school heads to close them if they deemed it necessary. More than 40 others shortened school hours.
“We allowed the closure because parents were concerned about their children’s health regardless of whether the rain was really harmful or not,” a staffer at the office said.
Other schools just canceled outdoor activities.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology urged regional offices to refrain from knee-jerk responses to any possible risk.