* Radiation may be detectable in Europe in a week
* Background radiation adds premium to pre-1945 steel
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, March 18 Harmless traces of Japan's
nuclear accident may reach Europe in a week's time, part of a
normally ignored background of radiation whose effects include a
premium for pre-1945 steel such as in old shipwrecks.
Fallout from the 1945 U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki and nuclear tests, along with accidents such as at
Chernobyl in 1986, have spread a pervasive background of
radiation around the globe.
"We expect that maybe in seven days from now we could detect
some atoms, with very, very exact instruments here in Sweden,"
Klas Idehaag, reactor inspector at the Swedish Radiation Safety
Authority, said on Friday.
"But it will be no effect on the environment or for people,"
Low-level leaks of radiation from the Fukushima plant in
Japan, crippled by an earthquake and tsunami a week ago, have
been detected on the U.S. west coast after crossing the Pacific,
diplomatic sources said in Vienna on Friday.
Background radiation means that low-radiation steel made
before 1945 is favoured for uses such as in sensitive medical
equipment or geiger counters. Steel made since 1945 absorbs
extra radiation from the atmosphere during production.
Major sources of old steel have included the German fleet
scuppered in 1919 after World War One off Scotland.
"It has had a number of applications, including in measuring
minute amounts of radiation," said Jude Callister, custodian of
the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Scotland. After 1945
"the German steel acquired a premium".
In June 1919, the German naval commander ordered the
scuppering of the interned High Seas Fleet to avoid capture by
the British after World War One. Most of the 74 ships sank.
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he did
not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United
States from Japan. U.S. fear about the leak has pushed up demand
online for potassium iodide antidotes and Geiger counters.
A major accident at the reactors, where workers are trying
to cool crippled reactors, could spew dangerous radioactivity in
Japan but is unlikely to end up as a global threat.
"We believe it won't have any health consequences for any
countries except for Japan," said Ole Reistad of the Norwegian
Radiation Protection Authority.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that people also
pick up radiation from sources such as x-rays, cancer therapy
and from natural sources such as rocks containing thorium or
unanium. Many homes have detectible amounts of radon.
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(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)