SOUTH KOREA (majirox news) — South Korea is getting nervous about radioactive cesium. It probably started off with a few concerned parents buying Geiger counters to discover if any radiation had drifted from Japan. They got a big shock. Some areas in Seoul’s Nowon district came back with surprisingly high radiation readings. Nowon is a residential area located in the northeastern part of the city. It has the highest population density in Seoul, with 619,509 people.
The radiation could have come from Japan or an abandoned South Korean research facility.
More troubling was that the radioactivity seemed to be emanating from the asphalt of the road. This followed the discovery of radioactive asphalt on the roadways of South Korea’s southern city of Kwangju that predates Fukushima.
“We have crews in Nowon right now removing the asphalt,” said a South Korean government spokesman on Nov. 4. “But at present we’re not sure what is the cause of the radioactivity. Apparently it’s something mixed with the asphalt.”
Outside the main gates of the high school in the Nowon, which leads into a shopping street, members of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety Technology Institute have already removed a five-meter (16 feet) long section of road and are digging down beneath it.
Readings in front of the school gate at ground level were 2.7 microsieverts an hour and readings a meter (3 feet) above the ground were 1.8 microsieverts an hour. These high readings probably point to the presence of cesium 137 in the ground and not the atmosphere.
“I pass back and forth along this street dozens of times a day,” said a customer at a local beauty shop. “I hope that they absolutely get to the bottom of what’s going on here.”
In the same area, on Nov. 2, high levels of radiation of 3.2 microsieverts an hour were detected at the ground level, and once again, cesium is thought to be the culprit. At one meter heights readings taken in the same area were 1.4 microsieviets, pointing to some type of buried contamination. The road was built in 2000, and the asphalt is being removed from that area as well.
The first hint that some of the asphalt used in roads in South Korea may be contaminated with cesium 137 came when high levels of radiation were detected in February in Kwangju City, and traced to the asphalt laid on the road ways. Work has been started to remove the old asphalt and entirely repave the roads. The discovery of radioactivity in Kwangju was over a month before the Fukushima accident.
The South Korean government is currently analyzing samples of this asphalt to try to discover how radioactive materials got mixed in with road paving asphalt.
“As well as analyzing the asphalt, the government should also be conducting health tests for any possible effects on the local inhabitants” says Li Son Pak, head of the Seoul Union of Environmental Movements.