(China Daily)  Officials: No radiation threats in Henan.  By Chen Jia.  July 15, 2009.

The leakage of radiation at a factory that sterilizes various foods has not polluted the environment in Kaifeng, Henan province, nor does it threaten public health, according to local environmental protection authorities.

Officials are responding to widespread panic in the online community, who question the circumstances surrounding last month's leak of radioactive isotope cobalt-60 at the Limin Radiation Factory in Qi county of Kaifeng.

The radioactive leak, which occurred on June 7, caused a fire at the factory a week later because workers were unable to control the radiation source.

"The news of the harmful radiation leak, which caused panic among some residents, is a rumor and untrue," said an official of the Kaifeng Environmental Protection Bureau, who refused to be named. "Even furniture gives out some level of radiation," he added.

The factory uses cobalt60 for the sterilization of pepper and the containers for the spice. The private-owned factory was built in 1997, and had been using cobalt60 with a permit to sterilize pepper, instant noodles, Chinese medicines and garlic.

The environment protection official said the average rate of radiation around the factory was actually lower than the average rate of radiation in Henan itself. "The radiation source was placed indoors and no radiation leak has killed anyone and it has not polluted the surrounding environment," Li Feng'gang, the chief of the Kaifeng environmental protect Bureau, told reporters on Sunday.

Administrators at the factory, which has stopped production, recently handed an application to the Ministry of Environmental Protection to use a robot with the help of the Southwest University of Science and Technology to correct problems that caused the leak.

Wang Shiqiang, manager of the Limin radiation factory, said the machinery creating the radiation was under working order for the entire month of June. "I vouch that it is safe, as I am sleeping in the factory," he said.

Zhang Yong'guang, a 26 years old Henan citizen, told China Daily that he was still worried about his parents' health yesterday. "I want to know why the government kept silent for the whole month, if no one had died and there was no pollution from the accident," he said. "We also didn't get any information about who should be responsible for the accident," he added.

People can get cancer when a small amount of Cobalt-60 is absorbed by the liver, kidney and bones with prolonged exposure to gamma radiation.

(Southern Metropolis Daily)

Yesterday morning came rumors that "the radiation source is about to explode" which induced great panic.  A large number of citizens began to evacuate towards surrounding area.  Our newspaper was contacted by several Qixian people now working in Guangdong province to say that there has been population movement in Qixian.  Mr. Zhao in Shenzhen said that his home village was about 10 kilometers away from Qixian and he has received many calls that everybody is moving towards Zhengzhou city.  The reporter called Mr. Zhao's elder brother, who was actually in the process of leaving Qixian because "he heard that an explosion was imminent."

At 17:29, a post at Baidu titled <Mass escape in Qixian today, Qixian has basically become an empty city> claimed that "nobody is left in Qixian except old people.  All the young people have ran away.  There are nothing but cars on the roads, licensed and unlicensed ones, motorcycles and tricycles.  It is a grand sight."  Local citizens elsewhere complained that the state highways are tied up.  "There is nothing but cars from Qixian.  Traffic is paralyzed."

At 17:30, Dahe and Xinhua forums published the official bulletin from the Kaifeng government to ask people not to believe in the rumors because there is no possibility of radiation leakage.


(South China Morning Post)  Villagers head home after nuclear scare sparks mass exodus  By Woods Lee.  July 20, 2009.

Tens of thousands of residents were returning to their villages and towns in Qixian county, Henan province, at the weekend after fleeing their homes over rumours of a nuclear disaster. The villagers began returning to their homes after local authorities convinced them that it was safe and announced that rumour-mongers had been detained.

"The residents started to come back on Saturday night. The majority of them are now at home and back to normal life again," said Chen Siwei , a county government spokesman.

The exodus started on Friday after a team of technicians sent by the central and local governments failed in efforts to put an irradiation device, used for sterilising chillies and red peppers, back in its confinement well at a local plant. The technicians abandoned the mission at noon after finding that the remote controls for the robots that were supposed to move the Cobalt 60 irradiation device were not working properly, Mr Chen said, "but people watching the process soon dramatised it into an accident with descriptions that the robots had melted because of the radiation and that explosions occurred".

Food is irradiated to destroy germs that cause it to spoil or cause disease. A variety of foods is irradiated in several countries, including the US and France. The only fatalities linked to food irradiation involve workers bypassing safety steps.

Within two hours, rumours about a nuclear accident flooded the town via mobile phones and the internet, and residents started to flee at about 2pm. "All my employees just ran away," said Du Jian , a manager at the Liyuan Food Co.  By 3pm, all major roads to surrounding big cities in the province such as Kaifeng , Zhengzhou and Luoyang - as far as 600 kilometres away - were congested with people fleeing on foot, and on farming tractors and trucks.

"About 80 per cent of the houses in the county are empty and the streets are just deserted," said a woman named Zhao in Qixian, a county of a 1.05 million people.

The exodus turned out to be a big surprise for the local government. "It's like a big fire that erupted from nowhere," Mr Chen said. But locals said the exodus was unavoidable because fear had been building for more than a month.

Statements on the Qixian government website said the irradiation device malfunctioned on June 7, but the public was not informed until July 12. "Repeated field checks by a squad from Beijing assured us of the safety of the device, so we thought it was unnecessary to stir up any commotion in public," Mr Chen said. But the public said the government was covering up the danger. "I don't trust what the government said," Mr Du said. "If the device is really secure, why not just send someone there and take it away?"

Frightened residents started to return after the county government sent cadres, staff and police to the roads, explaining the situation and guaranteeing their safety. Five men were detained on charges of spreading rumours via the internet and other means. The county government promised to fix the device before the end of next month.