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Italian Officials Seize Radioactive Wood Fuel

June 15, 2009

An Italian court has ordered the recall of 10,000 tons of wood fuel pellets imported from Lithuania over fears that they could have dangerous levels of radioactivity, according to newpaper reports.

The seized fuel was imported from Lithuaina last autumn and was found to contain caesium 137, a highly toxic radioactive substance produced by a nuclear explosion or from the combustion of a nuclear reactor. Radiation from Caesium -137 can cause serious health problems including various types of cancer.

The contaminated pellets themselves are not dangerous to humans, said Salvatore Aprile of the Aosta Valley court: the danger comes from the ashes and the smoke produced when they are burned. Further tests on the pellets were being conducted to determine how dangerous they are.

Wood pellets and other kinds of biomass fuels are used in stoves and furnaces as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil-based fuels.

The alarm on the batch seized in Italy was raised when a resident of the northwestern town of Aosta sent the pellets for analysis at a lab because they didn't burn well. The pellets were sold in 11 regions in the north and south of Italy.