Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Radiation confirmed in Hsinchu

LOW LEVELS Although the levels of radiation found in reinforcement bars in a house in Hsinchu are not considered dangerous, an examination of the area will be conducted

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

After confirming that reinforcement bars used in a house in Hsinchu City have been contaminated with Cobalt-60, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said yesterday that a comprehensive examination of radiation levels will be carried out by next week in the area to gather further data on possible health effects to hundreds of residents who live nearby.

Last month, the council was tipped off by a housing agent, North House (北區房屋), about suspected contamination of the reinforcement bars in a three-story house in a community called Tsaohu Hill (草湖山莊) on Minghu Road. Construction in the community took place primarily from 1982 to 1984.

On Oct. 19, the council measured radiation levels up to 10.4 microsieverts per hour inside the house. AEC officials downplayed the actual health risk yesterday, saying that if exposed to that radiation at distances more than a meter away, the levels are the same as natural background radiation.

As a reference point, the recommended radiation limit for an occupationally exposed worker for the whole body is 20,000 microsieverts in a year, according to the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The case is the first one reported involving contaminated reinforcement bars in the region covering Keelung City, Taipei City, Taipei County and Taoyuan County.

From 1982 to 1984, reinforcement bars contaminated with Cobalt-60 were used in construction in Taiwan. The situation was not publicly known until August 1992, when the government confirmed that several buildings in Taipei City contained radioactive material.

After that, the AEC, the nation's nuclear watchdog, surveyed all construction built during the period of time and claimed that contaminated buildings are in four jurisdictions in northern Taiwan.

"We attribute this case to the Hsinchu City Government's negligence because it only notified us of construction that was part of urban planning projects. This community does not belong to any [such projects]," Yin Hsueh-li (尹學禮), director of the council's Department of Radiation Protection, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Yin said that the council had demanded more information from the city government in order to obtain details about the construction materials used.

Meanwhile, the council plans to carry out a comprehensive examination of radiation levels at more than 100 houses in the community late this week or early next week.

Yin said that data about radiation levels is indispensable for further evaluating possible health effects.

The AEC's investigation in the early 1990s suggested that roughly 180 buildings nationwide -- including office buildings and schools -- had radioactive materials.

To date, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people, including short-term tenants and workers at related iron and steel works, have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

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