By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION Leader Hubert Minnis yesterday criticised the government for its failure to respond to concerns over its radiation detection programme and reports of increased radiation levels in the region.
The possibility of contamination in the absence of a detection programme poses significant health and environmental concerns, according to Dr Minnis, who spoke out after two Tribune reports went unanswered by officials.
“I was looking forward to a communication from the government with respect to the radiation contamination that we have seen in Jamaica with the cars,” Dr Minnis said. “We have a lot of cars coming also from Japan and the government has said nothing as to whether or not those cars, like some in Jamaica, were exposed to radiation.
“The government needs to make a statement, because if they continue not to make a statement and not to test our cars and materials coming from Japan, then our young population and our population at large are exposed to an increased risk of cancer, an increased risk in miscarriages, the possibility of infertility, do we want to see a series of abnormalities?
“These are very important issues and Jamaica has made a statement on this issue already, and the Bahamian government has said nothing,” he said. “The Minister of Health and the Minister of Environment need to address this matter as urgently as possible. Nothing is being said about what is coming out of Japan, the testing mechanism, we already have evidence from Jamaica that there is contamination, that is very significant moving forward.”
Neda Brown, a public affairs officer in the US Embassy, confirmed this week that the US Department of Energy visited the country to “review a radiation detection programme” last month.
Ms Brown said officials are working with the government and the Port Authority to insure radiation detection equipment is operational as the potential for contamination is a “concern”.
The Tribune began its inquiry into whether or not the Bahamas screened imports for radiation contamination following reports last month that Jamaican Customs authorities recorded “higher-than-normal” levels of radiation in two shipments from Japan.
In an interview with The Tribune last month, Comptroller Charles Turner confirmed that the Bahamas Customs Department does not test cargo shipments for radiation contamination.
Mr Turner said he was “not aware of any checks being undertaken in the Bahamas”, nor did he have the proper training to speak with authority on the issue.
According to The Gleaner, Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) has been on “high alert” since the March 2011 earthquake-triggered meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
The JCA has been conducting the checks through a partnership with the United States Department of Energy, according to The Gleaner, which reported that tests are conducted on all vehicles and spare parts coming from Japan.
US Energy Department officials visited the Bahamas in the week of January 27, Ms Brown said.
“The Department of Energy is committed to working with the Bahamas government and the Port Authority to insure that detection equipment is maintained properly and is operating at optimal levels,” she said in a statement.
The Tribune also requested information from the Bahamas Customs department for the number of imported items from Japan since its nuclear accident in 2011.
However, the request had not yet been authorised up to press time.