Sunday, March 27, 2011

Panic in Korea as Bananas Found to be Radioactive

100 Banana Equivalent Doses
The political fallout from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan continues to spread in Korea, with the government issuing an emergency decree to ban the sale of bananas after journalists found them to be radioactive.

In recent days the media has fueled increasing panic with stories of radioactive rain, seawater and food, causing many Koreans to rush out and buy Geiger counters and iodine tablets.

However, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and Export Reactor Sales announced that the highly radioactive substance, cesium-137, which had been detected in rainwater, was nothing to be concerned about since it didn’t emanate from Japan, but rather instead from Chinese nuclear plants, which is perfectly normal. The naturally occurring phenomenon is particularly noticeable during Korea's "Yellow Dust" season when more concentrated amounts of radioactive particles, carried by the dust, are blown over the Korean Peninsula. Last year, the concentration of cesium-137 in the yellow dust reached up to 252 becquerels (Bq) per cubic meter. Anxious to avoid another incident with China so soon after the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the government was keen to stress that this was probably still perfectly safe for anyone not planning to have children.

Speaking in his biweekly radio address from his bunker in Seoul on Tuesday, two days before the government banned food imports from several regions of Japan despite safe results from testing, the President urged South Koreans to lay their jitters over the nuclear issue to rest, and not allow themselves to be swayed by groundless rumors or unscientific presumptions.

But even though testing showed no radiation or only trace radiation for a variety of products, retailers rushed to halt the sale of all Japanese food after shoppers started bringing their Geiger counters into stores with them. People were said to be shocked by how quickly the contamination had spread, with products such as bananas registering positive for radioactivity despite not even originating from Japan.

Scientists said that nobody was going to get sick from eating the radioactive bananas, with some even claiming that bananas are actually naturally radioactive – so much so that there is supposedly a measure within the scientific community called the "Banana Equivalent Dose", which is used to compare the radioactivity in other foods to that of a typical banana.

The National Union of Journalists, representing members who had written headlines such as "Bananas Glow Yellow From Radiation", dismissed the scientists’ claims of banana safety. "The problem with these so-called scientists is that they spend their lives sitting around thinking, but we are the people actually writing about these subjects every day" a spokesman for the journalists said. "The scientists, once again, seem to be exhibiting the kind of confused thinking synonymous with those unable to process K-Logic".

Hospitals have been inundated with people who say they have eaten bananas recently, and one major department store group, which had already removed bananas from its shelves before the government ban, threatened to sue customers who previously bought the fruit, saying that if they get sick it will damage the company's reputation.

The government is said to be dithering on whether to ban a number of other foods which have been found to be more radioactive than the bananas. Rumors swept Internet forums this week that Brazil nuts had been found to contain up to 444 becquerels (Bq) of radium per kilogram, producing as much as four Banana Equivalent Doses of radiation, and yesterday the government appeared to confirm the findings when it said it was considering a temporary ban on the import of all products from the South American country.

During other testing, a number of items made by Korea's electronics chaebol were also found to be slightly radioactive this week, although due to advertising commitments this was not reported on by the mainstream media in Seoul. The government said it will consider launching a five-year research project into the issue rather than banning the products.

Related Links
Yellow dust from China contains radioactive substance: institute
Radiation detectors flying off shelves
Fearful of radiation, some people search for iodine
Viewpoint: We should stop running away from radiation
Banana equivalent dose
S. Korea bans food imports from contaminated Japanese regions
Korean retailers to halt imports of Japanese food
Why is the dust wiped from my TV radioactive?
South Korea to bolster support for exports of nuclear plants
Fukushima 1 Nuclear Accidents

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