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March 28, 2011

Radioactive Material from Japanese Nuclear Plant Spreads Across Globe

Authorities across Asia and the United States are reporting small amounts of radiation from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, but they all say it poses no threat to public health.

China's Environmental Protection Ministry issued a statement Tuesday saying low levels of radioactive iodine-131 have been detected along the country's southeastern region, including Guangxi, Guangdong and Shanghai.  The same radioactive material was detected a few days ago in northeastern Heilongjiang province.  

South Korea's state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety says it has detected radioactive iodine in Seoul and several other areas across the nation.  The Agriculture Ministry says it is testing fish caught in its waters for possible radiation contamination.  

The Philippines' nuclear research agency says "very tiny amounts" of radioactive isotopes have been detected over the Pacific island nation.

In the United States, state and federal environmental officials says small traces of radioactive iodine-131 released by the Fukushima plant have been detected in several states and territories, including Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as several Atlantic coastal states.

Radioactive iodine-131 is a by-product of nuclear fission, and people exposed to high levels of the material are at risk of developing thyroid cancer and other thyroid-related diseases.  Thousands of Americans were put at risk of exposure to radioactive iodine-131 during nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and '60s.  

Lake Barrett, a nuclear engineer and former staffer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the risk of exposure from the Fukushima plant is very small, "much less than that we encounter in everyday life."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.