Radioactive cars from Japan turning up in Caribbean
Bert Wilkinson | 1/16/2014, 11:12 a.m.
It certainly won’t be the first thing on the minds of Caribbean people when they wake up every day but there is clear evidence that radioactive material from the area in Japan where a nuclear power plant failed after a 2011 tsunami and earthquake is beginning to turn up among commercial imports to the region.
Last month, customs and other enforcement authorities in Jamaica intercepted and quarantined a 40-foot container of vehicle parts destined for the Caribbean trade bloc headquarter nation of Guyana after tests had shown elevated levels of contamination.
That the levels startled authorities into quarantining the container and preparing plans to return it forthwith to Japan is slowly beginning to bring regional customs officials to the reality that other contaminated imports might have slipped through their monitoring net in earlier months.
But that should not have been the case. In late 2012, Jamaican authorities also discovered a passenger mini bus with similarly high levels of radioactive material on a city pier and impounded it as well but that very incident has only now come to light after the transiting Guyana container made news headlines.
Health and customs officials in Guyana say they were only alerted to the fact that Jamaica had saved Guyanese car dealers and owners from actually and unknowingly handling contaminated parts when local Jamaican newspapers exposed the story in the past week.
The country has no Geiger Counter to measure or test imports from Japan or any other affected country for acceptable radiation levels. Health Minister Bheri Ramsarran said only that “we will look into this serious matter”, while the head of the revenue and customs authority accused local media of sensationalizing the issue unnecessarily.
Thousands of cars, SUVs and other vehicles were washed out to sea or covered in radioactive water after the Fukushima Nuclear Plant was crippled both by the quake and the tsunami. Contaminated water poured into the Ocean for days, severely polluting the area and reducing it to a virtual ghost town.
Russian authorities recently turned away a shipment of 132 cars from Japan after these had also tested positive for high levels of radiation.
Jamaican Customs spokeswoman Velma Ricketts said the island which is a major marine transshipment port, is lucky that the US Department of Energy regularly monitors its work and that the country has sophisticated equipment to test for radiation.
"Once it is confirmed to be outside the acceptable levels, the shipment will not be released. There are a lot of things we are doing that people don't know. We are very vigilant," Customs Chief Richard Reese said.