Yesterday (16 September 2015) the Icelandic media reported the existence of radioactive material that had precipitated out of water from boreholes utilized by the Reykjanes Geothermal Power Station on the southwest tip of Iceland. This has never been found before in Iceland. Experts say that only alpha and beta rays are emitted, not the more damaging gamma rays, and that the material does not pose a threat to human health under normal circumstances, though it would if it were ingested or breathed in.
What is of more concern, however, is that the radioactivity was first discovered in February 2014 but was only revealed yesterday. And in fact, it had been present since 2006 and several tonnes disposed of in landfill without any knowledge of its radioactivity – radioactivity has not been found in Iceland before. According to the Icelandic Radiation Safety Authority (press release in Icelandic) the radioactive substances found are Pb-210 (lead), Bi-210 (Bismuth) and Po-210 (Polonium), which are all daughter substances of U-238 (Uranium) found naturally in the environment. The reason for the lack of background radiation in Iceland is that the bedrock is basalt, not granite. Other geothermal stations in Iceland are unlikely to have the same problem – the geology and chemistry of the Reykjanes plant is different to that of the other geothermal plants in Iceland.
The company running the power plant, HS Orka, had seen no reason to inform the residents of the nearest town of Reykjanesbaer of the radioactivity as it was said to be so local and negligible. The IRSA started to look into the matter at the turn of the year and sent a sample to Finland for analysis. The results were confirmed in June. The health minister was also informed of the problem in spring this year.
But the public and local residents were not informed until yesterday. Should they have been? Yes, in my opinion.