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Spain Plant Blamed for Radiation

June 13, 1998 GMT

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A steel mill in southern Spain was the probably source of increased radiation levels detected in France, Switzerland and Italy in early June, Spanish nuclear authorities said Saturday.

Radioactive scrap metal of unknown origin was melted down at the Acerinox plant in the city of Algeciras, probably around the end of May, said Spanish Nuclear Security Council spokeswoman Fatima Rojas.

The evidence suggests that the melting down of the scrap metal was linked with detected increases of Cesium 137 in the atmosphere at the beginning of the month, primarily in France but also in Switzerland and Italy, Rojas said.

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According to the council, a radioactive cloud moving north from southern Spain went unnoticed because it was well below levels that would have prompted concern.

It was not until Acerinox reported radiation in the ashes of its foundry on June 9 that the connection was made between the privately owned Spanish steel mill and the growing concern in Europe over the unexplained cloud, Rojas said.

Part of the plant has been sealed off. Workers will receive medical evaluations.

The Italian government has accused Spain of failing to make the leak public. The Spanish-branch of the international environmental organization Greenpeace on Saturday accused the nuclear authorities of both negligence and a cover-up.