Small traces of Iodine-131 mysteriously appear throughout Barents Sea region

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Publish date: February 1, 2012

Translated by: Charles Digges

While authorities in Northern Norway, Sweden and Finland have detected insignificant concentrations of the radioactive isotope Iodine-131, the numerous Russian nuclear industry installation on the neighboring Kola Peninsula are denying responsibility for the residues.

The source of the Iodine remains unknown, reported the Barents Observer.

The first evidence of the presence of Iodine-131 in the Norther Barents Sea reagion, which all of these countries border, came to light a number of days ago, but the results of the analysis where publicized in parallel press releases by Norway and Finland Tuesday evening. According to The Norwegian Radiation Authority (NRPA), heightened levels of Iodine-131 concentrations were discovered in two of six so-called online measuring stations in Norway’s northerly Finnmark County.

The NRPA has said its release that it has no reliable information about the source of the isotope, but assume that the Iodine arrived from Russian soil and is from a reactor or medical facility using isotope producing facilities.

The Norwegian press release indicated the concentrations of Iodine posed no danger to public health.

Both Norwegian and Swedish authorities said in their release they have received no information about any iodine releases in northern Europe, including Russia, the Barents Observer reported.

Iodine-131 is produced by nuclear reactors and medical equipment that use ionizing radiation, said NRPA. According to NRPA calculations, the radioactive particles were carried by wind from the south east, indicating that they came either from or through Russian territory.

Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) presented the most detailed information of the Nordic nuclear safety agencies. According to STUK, a small quantity of Iodine-131 was found in atmospheric samples taken between January 16th and 23rd at all of the country’s check points of airborne radioactive pollution. The measured concentration of Iodine-131 corresponds to approximately one millionth of a Bequerel of radioactivity per cubic meter. This level is negligibly low and presents no health risks.

There are no nuclear reactors in the northern regions of Norway, Sweden or Finland, but radiological sources are employed in industrial and medical facilities. As Norway and Sweden’s nuclear safety agency confirm, Iodine -131 has not turned up in samples taken from these countries show no traces of the isotope.

Kola Peninsula nuclear installations protest their innocence

Murmansk’s Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker base, denied in an covernversation with Bellona Murmansk that it any involvement in the releases of the Iodine.  On January 16th and 17th Atomflot was was engaged in launching the reactor aboard the Rossiya icebreaker. On January 18th, Atomflot launched the reactors aboard the Taymyr nuclear icebreaker, and on January 21 through 23, the launched the one on board the 50 Years Victory nuclear icebreaker.

Likewise, work was being performed aboard the Lespe nuclear service vessel, which serves as a floating spent nuclear storage facility, between January 15 and 23 consisting handling solid radioactive waste. There were also some other works at Atomflot base consisting of sawing spent nuclear fuel elements. There was no increase in Iodine-131 released recorded.

Viktoriya Nikorenko, head press officer for the Kola Nuclear Power Plant (Kola NPP), told Bellona Murmansk that the plant was working in normal operational mode, and that during the period the iodine was discovered, the Kola NPP recorded no aberations.

Bellona could not confirm any irrarularities at military submarine or surface ship reactors, but it is unlikely that operational releases from a submarine could be traced across the boader.


Iodine-131, also known as radioiodine, is a radioactive isotope of the chemical element Iodine. Its half-life is about 8 days. Its primary use is medical and pharmaceutical. It is also one of the chief products of the fission of uranium and plutonium, posing a health risk, and making a significant contribution to dangerous consequences for those who lived through nuclear experiments in the 1950s and the catastrophe at Chernobyl. Iodine-131 is a significan product of fission of uranium, plutonium, and, indirectly, thorium, making up to 3 percent of all resulting fission products. 

Nuclear power stations and other facilities using atomic energy installations constantly produce so called sanctioned released of Iodine-131, meaning that an irregular situation must have occurred at a nuclear facility or installation.