Radioactive iodine release sparks safety alert, adds to isotope shortage concerns

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Belgian town takes safety precautions after radioisotope leak. Source: AFP  

Belgian nuclear safety authorities on Friday warned people living close to a medical laboratory of contamination risks, following the release of radioactive iodine, an incident first considered as without danger, according to the European Commission.

According to Forbes, Belgium's authorities notified the commission on Thursday about the release of gaseous iodine-131 from the Institut National de Radio-elements in Fleurus, Belgium, a laboratory which makes radioisotopes.

The nuclear safety agency has given the leak a rating of three out of seven on an international scale for nuclear incidents, making it the most serious ever detected in country, after analysis of grass samples taken from the site suggested that radioactive iodine levels were higher than the first tests indicated.

The lab halted production on Aug. 26, however the agency said that the leak did not represent a risk to residents in the area or the environment and did not recommend any steps be taken, reported the AFP.

Belgium’s Federal Nuclear Safety Control and the Interior Ministry have issued a warning to people living a five-kilometer radius of the town not to consume locally grown fruit, vegetables or dairy products as a precaution, reported TODAYonline.

The AFP reported that the laboratory is the second biggest producer of medical radioisotopes in the world and it warned earlier last week that hospitals in several countries could face a shortage if its production remains halted for very long.

Concerns regarding a potential global shortage have started to arise, ever since the Netherlands temporarily shut down its nuclear reactor on Aug. 22 due to technical difficulties. While the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. ramped up production in response to the shutdown, it has since declared that the Chalk River, Ontario plant, which produces about 50 percent of the global supply of medical isotopes, is unable to meet global demands.