Last Sunday Chile’s customs agency in the northern Iquique port detained a cargo ship carrying 2,500 Hyundai cars after at least 21 of the cars were found with traces of radioactive contamination.
The cargo ship arrived directly from Japan and is the first to contain levels of radioactivity since the nuclear reactors in Fukushima malfunctioned following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan on March 11.
Although authorities assured that the radioactivity levels were too low to cause any danger, the alert provoked a strike among the workers who temporarily cut access to the port.
Miguel Ángel Quezada, the deputy treasury secretary, assured the press that, “There is no chance of danger to the public or the workers in the Iquique port. There is no risk of radioactive poisoning.”
The vehicles on Hyundai cargo ship 106 were destined to be sold in Iquique’s free trade zone.
During the inspection, Customs officials used a machine that detected contamination between a level of one and three on 20 of the vehicles. On a scale of one to 10 this is reportedly considered a normal level. Officials did, however, detect one car with a higher contamination level of five.
Despite the alarm, Quezada informed the press that he had contacted the National Nuclear Energy Commission, who told him that there was no health risk for the general public. “All of the protocols have been followed,” he said.
“The detected levels are very much below the Chilean norm,” Quezada reiterated, explaining that, “all of the cars will be washed using a container ship and the waste water will be left on board the cargo ship.”
The regional customs director, Raúl Barría, underlined that as of now “no car has been unloaded, and no car will be unloaded until they have all been retested.”
Sergio Valenzuela, the port captain, said in turn that “work in the port, including both the dock of the Port of Iquique (EPI) and the marine dealership in Iquique’s International Terminal (ITI), has resumed normally.”
The current plan is to wash the cars before re-measuring radiation levels.
If all the cars pass the test, they will eventually be unloaded at the port and taken to the Free Trade Zone. Although the Chilean Navy has ruled out risk, residents along the nearby Peruvian border remain concerned about the spread of radioactivity to the north.
By Amanda Reynoso-Palley – Santiago Times