Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for September, 2015

Radioactive precipitates in Iceland not deemed important

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.

Refugees need more than just a helping hand

As has been widely reported in the Icelandic media as well as CNN, the BBC, the Guardian and other media outlets, thousands of Icelanders have entreated Iceland’s welfare minister, Eyglo Hardardottir, to accept more Syrian refugees than the 50 already pledged, and have said they are willing to house and support them in other ways.
And Hardardottir and other representatives of the Icelandic government have said that it is likely that more than 50 will be accepted – although whether the figure will reach 500 or even 5000 is unknown. 60 is also more than 50.
But psychiatrist Pall Eiriksson, who has worked in refugee camps in Sweden for people who have fled from former Yugoslavia, said that many if not most of these refugees have deep-seated traumas from being exposed to the horrors of war, and in an article in the newspaper Fréttablaðið is quoted as saying “How many Icelanders have witnessed a murder?”
He says that the majority of the refugees will need some form of psychological assistance as well as all the support provided by the Red Cross and municipalities housing the refugees. Although the Iceland acts as a role model in many ways for the way in which it accepts refugees, psychological and psychiatric services are in many ways inadequate to deal with the situation.

It reminds me somewhat of the time when the rape crisis centre Stigamot opened a refuge for women who wanted to get out of prostitution. Both Icelanders and foreign women used the centre, and some women were probably also victims of human trafficking. However, it was virtually impossible to get the suspected trafficking victims to reveal anything, partly because they were scared of the repercussions. In additions, many of the women had drug and/or alcohol problems. The centre was eventually closed down after two years after  Stigamot staff realised the problem was far more complex than they had originally envisioned, and the problem needed to be dealt with differently (which it isn’t, or at least not sufficiently, but I won’t go into that here).

I fear that these two situations have similarities.

Anyone want an article?

UPDATE: The government has now announced that 55 Syrian refugees will arrive in Iceland next month, 20 adults and 35 children.  Not enough, really. They will go to 3 municipalities.

UPDATE no. 2: Although the refugees were meant to arrive before Christmas, now they will come mid-January.