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Indonesian authorities probe radiation contamination outside Jakarta

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JAKARTA: Indonesia's nuclear authorities said they would investigate the radioactive contamination of a patch of land in a housing complex outside Jakarta, and called for calm.

The Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency (Bapeten) issued a statement on Friday telling residents to stay away from a piece of land in Serpong, 43km south of Jakarta, because it was contaminated. Local media said the land is next to a volleyball court.

Bapeten said it had discovered an elevated level of radioactive isotope Caesium-137 during a routine test for radioactivity in the area at the end of last month, causing alarm among some locals and raising questions about its source.

Radiation levels were at 680 microsieverts an hour when first discovered, compared with a normal threshold of 0.03 microsieverts an hour, Bapeten spokesman Abdul Qohhar said on Monday.

"We'll investigate the source of the contamination. Right now... we're focused on the clean-up so that when residents do their activities, they're not exposed to extraordinary radiation," Mr Qohhar said, adding that nine residents would be examined for any radioactive exposure.

He said radiation levels had fallen over the weekend because of Bapeten's decontamination process which included removing soil and cutting down plants.

Bapeten has been regularly checking radioactivity levels in the area since 2013.

Mr Djarot Sulistio Wisnubroto, a researcher at the National Nuclear Energy Agency, said the impact should not be harmful to residents and levels had now fallen to 20-30 microsieverts an hour.

Indonesia does not have an active nuclear power industry, but a reactor used for research is about 3km away from the site of the contamination.

Mr Agus Budhie Wijatna, a researcher in nuclear science at the University of Gadjah Mada, said he thought it was unlikely contamination originated from the nearby reactor, since it was regularly inspected.

"Police should immediately investigate the party involved with the waste," he said, adding it was possible it originated from industrial use. - REUTERS