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The Three Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Core Meltdowns and Widespread Contamination
It was three years on March 11th since the triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011. This article attempts to try and give an picture of the situation today and to show that the accident is still an active event that will take many decades to cleanup and it is anything but over.
Remembering What HappenedIt is three years since the accident on March 11th 2011 at the Fukushima power station complex. There has been surprisingly little coverage of it in the mainstream media compared to the Chernobyl accident in 1986 at the time. As most people know, the accident was a result of an earthquake which caused the tsunami which flooded the Fukushima site and knocked out the backup diesel generators used for cooling the plants and that is how the story goes. The first report many people heard was that they were using sea-water to cool the reactors. This in itself was frightening because sea-water and cooling of nuclear reactors should not be in the same sentence, ever and it can only mean one thing -the situation is desperate, everything has failed and since sea-water would destroy the reactor vessel and fuel rods it means its the very last resort at trying to stop a meltdown.
The Fukushima Daiichi ComplexAt the now devastated Fukushima Daiichi site, there are four nuclear reactors on the main site and another two a bit further away. When the earthquake struck, reactors #4, #5 and #6 were offline for maintenance while three reactors #1, #2, and #3, were running and these automatically shutdown. However in the case of a nuclear power plant, the nuclear fuel rods still produce tremendous amounts of heat which cannot be turned off. This heat arising from radioactive decay, amounts in the immediate aftermath of shutdown to about 5% of the full power. The rated power output for reactors #1 and #2 was 439 Megawatts (MW) and 784 MW for #3. That means 5% of 439 MW is 21 MW whilst of 739 MW it is 36 MW. That's a lot of heat to get rid of and if you don't then the water which the fuel rods are immersed in, will quickly boil off and after that the fuel rods will start to buckle and melt and react with steam to give off hydrogen gas and at that point, you then have the certainty of a hydrogen explosion followed by a core meltdown as the rods fall to the floor. The huge heat being emitted by the tons of highly radioactive fuel rods would cause the bottom of reactor steel vessel to melt allowing the molten pile of nuclear debris to drop down onto the concentre floor under the vessel and then slowly melt through the concrete down into the ground taking days and weeks. The radiation would be intense and deadly and fission reactions would continue for quite awhile, adding to the deadly cocktail of radionuclides given off into the surrounding environment.
In addition to the reactors themselves each of the plants have their own spent fuel pools for storing the nuclear waste. These are huge concrete pools filled with tonnes of water to a depth of 30 metres or more and when the nuclear fuel rods are removed from the reactor, they have to be stored in them for years. At Fukushima, Units 1 to 4 had about 1,000 fuel assemblies in their spent fuel pools each while units 5 & 6 had closer to 1,500 each. And each fuel assemble contains multiple fuel rods. And as if all this wasn't bad enough, reactor #3 was burning a mixture of Uranium and Plutonium, (MOX).
The Breaking News in March 2011It is from this point on where things get hazy because TEPCO the company that operates the nuclear plants gave conflicting statements that they were trying to cool the reactors with sea-water, water jets, and long spray hoses, that fuel rods had been exposed and reports of various radiation leaks and so forth. In other words they seemed to be telling us quite a lot but it was confusing too. News reports at the time indicated once the backup diesel pumps had been flooded, they were down to relying on battery power and these were designed to only work for 8 hours. There was also reports that external power to the site had been lost and because of earthquake damage in the area, there was little chance of getting it reconnected soon or at least not until well after the batteries were exhausted. But in all this TEPCO would not admit in the days and few weeks that followed that they had three core meltdowns within approximately 4 days of the batteries going dead. A government spokesman Yukio Edano insisted: "There has been no meltdown... It was an unforeseeable disaster.." It turns out reactor #1 had a core meltdown within 16 hours, reactor #3 within 44 hours and reactor #2 after approximately 100 hours or 4 days. The reason for the delay in reactor #2 melting down is because they managed to keep enough coolant to it until the evening of the 3rd day (Mar 14th 18:00) and similar for reactor #2 because it only takes 5 to 8 hours for the tonnes of water to boil off. Earlier in the day at approximately 13:15 reactor core isolation cooling system for reactor 2 stopped and this could have been due to damage sustained in the explosion 2 hours previously at Unit 3.
Reconstructing What HappenedIt is evident now that in the immediate hours after the earthquake and tsunami that the first reaction of TEPCO, Japanese government and other authorities and agencies supportive of nuclear power like the IAEA (see box 1 for more about IAEA), was to try and play down what was happening and to allow enough information out so as to appear to give the full information, but to actually hold back the full extent of what was happening so that the full implications were not known because it really was the worst case scenario. There were many reasons for this strategy besides the basic one of looking after the industry's interests and that was because Chernobyl had already dealt a blow to the nuclear industry and it had taken years of PR spin to recreate a positive image. But it takes a few hours when a crisis hits, for the multitude of government and intergovernmental agencies to sync up and co-ordinate the flow of information and thence to speak with just one consistent voice. This is essential otherwise you could end up having officials releasing information that contradicts the message they want to put out and the 'wrong' information could get out. A good example of this was the US State Dept, initially announced that it's citizens should evacuate but then pulled back from that statement. After that we heard little more from them even though most people were expecting some kind of news about radioactive plumes since this was the main story during Chernobyl and people in general acknowledge the expertise of the US on all things nuclear and so were expecting a more independent view that they might expect from the Japanese. But there was almost nothing and no mention at all of plumes being detected anywhere further afield, except 'safely' out to sea. This was despite the fact that all their (US) naval ships and military bases (in Japan & Guam) have extensive radiation detection and monitoring equipment as part of their nuclear weapons capability and infrastructure. In addition the military have an extensive land based network in the USA itself and every nuclear power plant has radiation detectors on site and the EPA have RADNET which covers US territory. Likewise every European country has radiation detectors and certainly those with nuclear power would also have numerous detection sites. Again we heard almost nothing about any fallout detected anything other than bland reassurances that anything measured was too low to worry about although in France apparently there was brief warnings for a few days to wash fresh fruit. More on this later.
Meanwhile our neighbours, Britain quickly dispatched teams to help out but it seems the only helping was to help control the flow of information and to carefully manage the information such that no panic ensured whilst the meltdowns were in progress. The US too had a team from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRC) in Japan to help monitor and assess the situation for their own government and to give advice and any help to the Japanese. Luckily they were there because it was later through Freedom of Information requests to the NRC that certain information came out. As is almost standard procedure in environmental disasters, TEPCO stood up to the plate and claimed the accident was an unforeseen disaster. This of course was was a complete lie because a subsequent investigation by the Japanese government showed that a decade before they were warned that the sea-wall was not high enough to block a tsunami like the one that hit and instead TEPCO successfully spent millions lobbying the government to NOT build the wall higher. In the official investigation which interviewed over hundreds of workers and officials, a clear picture emerges of significant damage to the Fukushima site including buildings and crucially to the cooling pipes to the reactors by the earthquake. So even without the tsunami multiple meltdowns were inevitable. A report in Aug 2011 in the UK independent details and explains the significance of this. They quote two workers who were on the site at the time of the earthquake.
Worker A said: "I personally saw pipes that had come apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There's no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant... I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for reactor one had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor." and worker B added: "It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall... I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn't get to the reactor core. If you can't sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. You don't have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out."
The reason TEPCO wanted to cover up this explanation and blame the problems on the tsunami was to take the focus off the fact that they had been warned numerous times about the lack of maintenance and repair of their equipment and lack of preparation for surviving a quake and this is the case for all of the nuclear reactors in Japan, not just Fukushima, which means in this highly earthquake prone zone, disaster could hit at any time at the other sites too. This would appear to be behind the reason Japan shutdown all 54 nuclear reactors for months in May 2012 in order to carryout essential safety work. For this unprecedented step to occur there must have been some very serious deficiencies of such a nature that it would have been a certainty of another accident. Governments don't act like this unless they absolutely have to and there are no other choices.
The Evacuation Around FukushimaOn the day of the accident a 3 km exclusion zone was declared and people were told to evacuate. After the explosion at Unit #1 this was extended to 20 km and only on March 15th were residents in the zone told to leave and those in a wider zone of 20 km - 30km were told to stay indoors. On March 25th this latter group were eventually advised to leave. Many would have fled voluntary anyhow. In all at least 200,000 had to eventually leave their homes. The harm though would have already been done. People were largely unaware that the rain which fell on the March 15th was loaded with radioactive particles. Whilst the plumes was initially blowing out to sea, over the next week this switched around several times, and no real attempt was made to match the exclusion zone to actual contamination. Every exclusion zone map in the world has a circular zone, but it doesn't reflect the reality where a narrow plume can stretch for a 100 miles or more and this is exactly how it was experienced after Chernobyl where areas quite far away were heavily contaminated with nearer areas less so. As can be seen from the cesium contamination map below, there was and still is significant contamination out to 60 km and even 100 km. The next image shows the contamination on a larger scale and is from the science journal Nature.
It ought to be noted that there was a US naval ship stationed 2 miles offshore early in the accident and other ships further offshore and this ship was enveloped in a radioactive cloud. The sailors have since suffered devastating health effects and there is a huge lawsuit in progress and some have had children with birth defects. So if they were affected then it is only logical anyone under the plume a few days later when the winds changed direction suffered similarly.
The government put in place regulations on maximum contamination levels in food and drink which were not to exceed a committed effective dose of 5 mSv/year. Farm produce from the Fukushima prefecture was rejected by the rest of the population and this led to problems of relabeling. Within weeks contamination was showing up all over the place and local food manufacturers were performing their own tests. Some of these were detecting plutonium in rice fields up to 50 km away. See here. Given most of the radioactivity from the plant was being carried into the Pacific from water running off the site, this put the entire fisheries at risk. There have been numerous reports of high levels of radioactivity detected in fish. A good example is this one Jan 2013: Fish with radiation over 2,500 times safe levels found near Fukushima plant and another in Oct 2013 about the extremely high levels of nuclear radiation in fish caught in the Pacific: Report raises fresh concerns about radiation levels in Japanese fish And if that is not enough to concern people as reported here in Jan 2012, the Montreal Gazette analyzed the Japanese fisheries data for 22 seafood species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years. Some cesium was found in 16 of these 22 species in November, the last full month for which data were available. Cesium was especially prevalent in certain of the species: 73 per cent of mackerel tested, 91 per cent of the halibut, 92 per cent of the sardines, 93 per cent of the tuna and eel, 94 per cent of the cod and anchovies and 100 per cent of the carp, seaweed, shark and monkfish.
As the months progressed the government were keen to get the 200,000 or so people back in their homes. They did carryout work to identify areas which were contaminated and then to clean them up and billions of yen were spent in the effort. This consisted of scraping radioactive soil away and dumping it elsewhere which meant they were simply moving around the radioactivity. The clean-up efforts appear to have been a sham and have been criticized for not completing clean-ups, that it was inadequately done and of not disposing of the waste properly. As explained in Box 8, they did the totally ludicrous thing of incinerating some of the radioactive waste which simply had the effect of spreading it much wider. And they still are incinerating it. It would seem the main goal was to be seen to go in and clean-up areas and then declare them safe regardless of whether they were or not.
Unfortunately for the Japanese people far too many of them believe their governments and this will come at great cost to them because thousands returned to their homes even though they shouldn't have. Even worse is that people were consuming food grown in the area and there is almost zero possibility that this is safe. Numerous individuals started taking the own readings using Geiger counters. Immediately after the accident every Geiger counter was bought up and they were soon sold out worldwide. See here. The latest is that the government is trying to encourage people to eat food grown in Fukushima prefecture and they are trying to kick-start this with the food provided in schools. It doesn't get much more cynical and head in the sand than that.
The NRC FOI DocumentationAt this point it is necessary to explain about the US NRC documentation. It was mentioned out earlier they had a team on the ground in Japan and they were having daily briefings on the situation and handling the public information side of things in the US. In 2011 Friends of the Earth (FOE), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) as well as Reuters filed Freedom of Information requests to the NRC to try out find out what they knew. See here for coverage of it. The information was eventually provided and as part of the standard technique they released thousands of documents in the hope that the sheer quantity of information would make it hard to find anything useful. See here. It consists mainly of emails and transcripts of telephone conference calls where they are discussing the situation as it unfolded. The participants are clearly aware that what they write and say could eventually come under FOIA requests and at key points they lower their voice so much that the person doing the transcript was unable to determine what they had said. There are also extensive sections of conversations redacted. Few people have the time or resources to wade through them but one person under the pseudo-name Hatrick Penry did and what he concludes is that there was a massive cover-up and he has given it a name, Plume-Gate.
But before continuing on, here are just a two small samples from the NRC FOIA documents and giving an insight into how well the PR machine is totally knit together, linking directly with the ambassador in Japan although he is just considered an mouthpiece more than anything. See here for the archive. It is well worth a read. [continues below]
Overall the documents show that both the NRC and officials in TEPCO and the Japanese government were fully aware of the situation and that meltdowns were in progress. There was unambiguous recognition that coolant was lost and the water was boiling off followed shortly by exposure of the fuel rods. They were also aware of the implications and the type of radionuclides being released. They were running various (computer) models for where the radioactive plumes were going and how they were dispersing and trying to predict the radiation dosage. The story of the spent fuel pools got even less attention than the reactors and yet they contained hundreds of tonnes of deadly radioactive material. Between the earthquake and the explosions which caused massive damage to the reactor buildings one would expect that these storage pools would have been at best damaged if not ruptured and the NRC spend quite a lot of time discussing this for they rightly knew the dangers posed.
Re-consideration of the Damage and ImplicationsIn light of what we know and just by examining photographs of the damage it is worth reconsidering what would be expected from such an outcome. In the first photograph above and the two below (and many others can be found on the web), the extent of the damage is plain to see with three of the reactor buildings shattered, broken pipes strewn around and generally debris all over the site. Given that each of these units contain nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools and three of the units suffered explosions (Unit 1 on March 12th, Unit 2 on March 14th and Unit 3 on March 15th), then it is next to impossible to not recognise that there must have been huge releases of radioactivity.
During the accident news reports had said all power had been lost to the site and these lasted for days and this meant that during the accident the continuous cooling required for the spent fuel pools would have been interrupted. There is also a strong likelihood the pools were damaged or cracked and the water drained out, if they had not been already structurally damaged by the massive earthquake earlier on March 11th. Between the three separate units it would have been extraordinary luck if they didn't have a 'zirc fire', which happens when the spent fuel rods are exposed. See box 2 for a description of a zirc fire. The radioactive leak from this would have far exceeded what Chernobyl released. At one point at the height of the emergency it was reported that workers had to abandon the site because of the spike in radiation and elite units of Tokyo Fire Department and Japanese Self-Defense Force used unmanned remote-controlled fire trucks to spray to get in at the plant. There would have been a frantic effort to keep those spent fuel pools cooled and the photograph below shows a long hydraulic pipe of the type used typically for pouring concrete, being used to deliver water into it. And we know from reports they tried for a time to use helicopters to dump water but this was abandoned because the radiation was too intense and they weren't hitting the target. After the first explosion they were still trying to prevent a core meltdown in two of the other reactors. The situation could be best summed up as completely out of control.
A Nuclear Criticality EventIn an nuclear fission reaction the emission of neutrons from Uranium and or plutonium will trigger further fissions if they happen to be absorbed by surrounding Uranium / plutonium atoms. Because the nuclei are tiny the chances of this happening are low. However if all the atoms are squeezed tightly together for a moment, then the chance of absorbing a neutron is vastly increased and a rapid chain reaction can occur. The speed of nuclear reactions are extremely rapid and will happen in under a femtosecond or one million billionth of a second. In an atomic bomb where the material is compressed by an initiating explosion, this speed is important because it means there is an exponential surge and release of energy. In the case of a nuclear reactor the rods are held sufficiently close together to keep the nuclear reaction going but are sufficiently far apart to prevent the runaway chain reaction. There is normally extra material present that can be inserted to absorb the neutrons. All of this explains why you cannot store nuclear fuel close together. It has to be separated by a certain minimum distance. In a criticality event what happens is that the fuel has come too close together and in an uncontrolled situation where a big mass of fuel or recently spent fuel rods fall in a heap then the conditions are met for nuclear reactions to restart and a rapid surge of energy being released resulting in a blast. The blast will likely disrupt whatever caused it to shut down the explosion quick enough to prevent it becoming an atomic bomb type of explosion because in such a device it is purposely designed to keep it together for as long as possible thereby allowing the explosion to develop and get even larger.
Unit 3 ExplosionThere are two possibilities. 1) The fuel rods were exposed in the reactor because of loss of water and the rods had heated up, buckled and dropped to the floor and an criticality event occured there or 2) the spent fuel rods were exposed because the tank was emptied and there was a zirc fire and the fuel assemblies collapsed and fell on top of each other. In either scenario a blast like the one on the video would have vaporized a large amount of nuclear material and injected into the atmosphere. The surrounding area would have been rained down with pieces of fuel rods and other highly radioactive material and trillions upon trillions of tiny specks of radioactive particles including plutonium.
Arnie Gundersen, an American physicist with over 30 years nuclear industry experience discusses the explosion and he points out that it is a detonation supersonic shockwave and the fact there is no nuclear containment in the world can withstand a detonation shockwave. And he comes to the conclusion that the explosion was in the spent fuel pool and was what he calls a prompt moderated criticality occurred in unit 3. He also points out that the radiation is so lethal around it, that the unit #3 spent fuel pool cannot be accessed. The video can be found here. In another separate video from March 29th 2011, he also discusses the news of the discovery of plutonium and highly radioactive water on the site and the fact that this is draining into the ocean. It can be found here and it is worth watching.
Public Reaction and Government ResponseAll of this would suggest that things are not going well and it is much worse than the bland reassurances we have all received from the mainstream media and our respective politicians and governments. It is the lack of coverage and apparent interest that helps create the notion that there is nothing much to worry about that is newsworthy and therefore it is alright. Given the obvious releases of radioactivity it then begs the question what embargos if any are in place about food from Japan or advice about travelling to Japan because every week there will be many people who travel there for business or as students or even as tourists and they will be taking their cues from the media and any announcements from Japan itself, to determine whether it is safe to go there. After-all Japan won the 2020 Olympics bid. See box 6 for more details. It would be foolish in the extreme to consume any Japanese food and especially fish. Most governments are simply not testing it. That way they find nothing, thereby in the Orwellian logic so prevalent these days, makes it safe. Most people would automatically assume it is being tested.
There has been little coverage in the media except to belittle and rubbish the claims by several scientists and critics of the nuclear industry as well as Arnie Gundersen who have said that the Fukushima accident is far worse than Chernobyl in 1986 was and it has released up to 10 times more radioactivity into the environment. Given the scale of damage on the site it would be surprising if this was not so. This information while useful is a little bit late because if people remember back to Chernobyl there was widespread coverage of the fallout and bans and restrictions were put in place as required. For instance in parts of the uplands of Scotland and Wales and even here in Ireland in Wicklow, there were restrictions on the sale of lamb meat which were in effect in some areas for over a decade because of contamination by radioactive cesium. Farmers were compensated to prevent illegal relabeling of the meat and thus prevent contaminated food entering the food chain. In Norway reindeer farmers couldn't sell their meet for years either. The reason it affected these types of areas is because the acidic soil of upland peat and the tundra retains cesium much longer.
The question then is why isn't there the same response today? Part of the answer may have to do with the neo-liberal and corporate takeover of society and consolidation of the media. In the past, people could complain and protest and they might get some response and sometimes a victory or two resulting in some kind of action and back in 1986 governments would have been afraid not to carry out the radioactive measurements and would have felt obliged to protect the public and food chain. Today however in the era of mass surveillance, spin-doctors and PR consultants, and public trust in most institutions has broken down, people are just ignored while billions are given to the rich and at the same time the very social fabric and safety nets of society are being torn asunder, the citizens are largely treated with contempt. It is no wonder then that there has been virtually no response by national governments to the Fukushima accident. What is quite suspect too is that uniformly each State, the majority of which have national radiological bodies for monitoring radiation all report trace amounts of radiation of negligible risk. It seems that they are being economical with the truth and probably carefully crafted their press releases since this is the norm now to distort reality and manage perceptions.
Current Official State of Conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi SiteThe current offical state of the Fukushima site is that the clean-up is continuing and they are still pouring water into the reactors although it is really onto the melted cores somewhere under the reactors via the holes in the base of them. TEPCO had indicated that about 300 tonnes a day are being used for this. Additionally because the site is on the coast and at the bottom of a hill there is a certain amount of groundwater that naturally passes through the site on it's way to the sea and TEPCO have said this amounts to about 300 tonnes of groundwater passing through the site every day. They have been more circumspect about it being contaminated and the fact it is pouring into the Pacific Ocean every single day.
What TEPCO are trying to do with these tanks is to capture and store the water both flowing through the site and the water which they are using to cool the spent fuel pools and the molten fuel cores that are underground. This is an impossible task and it is being contaminated with highly radioactive particles. The idea is that by pumping the water into the tanks then can later filter the water to extract the radioactive particles. The equipment system known as ALPS to do this breaks down frequently for extended periods, can't remove all substances like Tritium and does not have the capacity to deal with the sheer volume. There is no way that TEPCO can prevent the water that flows through the soil from entering the sea and they have already admitted on many occasions in the past 3 years that indeed there has been discharges of highly radioactive water in the ocean. At one point they had an absurd plan to build an ice wall to try and prevent the water from entering the sea. It is an obviously difficult and impracticable idea.
Towards the end of 2013, they finally admitted indirectly they could not manage this juggling act with the water when after consultation with their US counterparts and government officials that they would start releasing water from the tanks into the ocean. Amazingly they are claiming it will be perfectly safe and have no health effects and their reasoning is that they will filter the water first. But water is already entering the ocean untreated and we are left to simply rely on their assurances it will be safe when they have no credibility although what they do have is the new secrecy laws (see box 6) to keep such information out of the public arena.
Here's another one of many classic reports covering just one of the many leaks.
Tokyo Electric has now admitted that on May 10 2011, at least 250 tons of radioactive liquid leaked into the sea from a pit near the intake at Unit 3, whose fuel was spiked with plutonium. According to the Japanese government, the leak contained about 100 times the annual allowable contamination. About 500 tons leaked from Unit 2 from April 1 to April 6. Other leaks have been steady and virtually impossible to trace.
In light of all this one simple fact should be obvious and that is around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water has been entering the Pacific Ocean for the last three years. Never before has anything remotely like this happened or for so long. This radioactive waste has to be dispersing throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. And the flipside of this is how long is this going to continue for? The inshore waters though will most affected and any fish, shellfish or other creatures in it or passing through it will be contaminated.
The other remaining problem and there are lots of them, which got a fair amount of press attention in the last six months of 2013 was the fact that the spent fuel pool in the heavily damaged unit #4 building was filled to capacity before the accident, now contains damaged and broken fuel assemblies and these need to be urgently removed. The reason is the fear that the building could heave over because the ground is apparently sinking from all the water. Removing these fuel assemblies is normally done under computer control in a properly functioning plant. If the rods were to come in contact with each other we could end up with a criticality event. There are over 1,300 fuel assemblies in there. (See box 2). To make matters more interesting the radiation level around the pools is about 100 rem. In that environment you would receive a lethal dose in two or three hours. In this video here from Fairewinds Associates by Arnie Gundersen, he discusses the undertaking.
Widespread Contamination in Japan and Pacific RegionsIt ought to be obvious by now that there has to be widespread contamination because of the sheer quantity of radioactivity release and because of the three year continual leakage of radioactive waste into the Pacific. There have been many reports that point to this except that nuclear industry shrills have managed to discredit them because they are able to say that no dangerous levels of radiation were detected outside of Japan. This statement in itself is false. The US NRC and EPA were very reluctant to release their figures and even turned off their radiation detection network at one stage. There is even a claim that they intentionally recalibrated the equipment so that it would give lower readings.
The first hint that radioactivity was spread far and wide is a research paper published in Nuclear Industry and Health titled: 'An Unexpected Mortality Increase in the United States Follows Arrival of the Radioactive Plume from Fukushima: Is there a Correlation?'. The research paper analysis death figures for 122 US cities and they noticed a small increase in the weeks after Fukushima and come with an estimate of 14,000 additional deaths. The PDF is attached at the end of this article. Interestingly they have this to say about the EPA radiation measurement dataset.
This dataset was much weaker than that reported by the EPA in May-June 1986, in the aftermath of the Chernobyl meltdown. For example, the EPA reported 2,304 milk samples in the United States, with 2,000 (86.8%) reporting a positive number for the three isotopes barium-140, cesium-137, and iodine-131 (6). After Fukushima, there were 670 measurements of milk for 10 isotopes, with just 2.2 percent reporting a positive numerical value (16). Clearly, the 2011 EPA reports cannot be used with confidence for any comprehensive assessment of temporal trends and spatial patterns of U.S. environmental radiation levels originating in Japan.Then in this report from RT on Feb 18th 2013 - Fukushima kids have skyrocketing number of thyroid abnormalities - report says more than 40% of 94,975 children sampled have thyroid abnormalities. They would have got this by exposure from radioactive Iodine. And in the typical fashion of a paid shrill a government-backed researcher claimed there was no health affects. In another article reporting on increased thyroid in newborns on the US West Coast found in research done in the US and published in the Journal of Pediatrics the research papers notes that 'Just days after the meltdowns, I-131 concentrations in US precipitation was measured up to 211 times above normal. Highest levels of I-131 and airborne gross beta were documented in the five US States on the Pacific Ocean.'
Contamination in Tokyo. Soil and Air SamplesIn May 2012 Arnie Gundersen posted this report Tokyo Soil Samples Would Be Considered Nuclear Waste In The US on his site about a trip he took to Tokyo in March 2012. While he was there he took five random soils samples from around central downtown Tokyo. He brought these back to the USA and got them analysed by a lab. The results came back and showed they all contained radioactivity material and under safety regulations in the USA the samples themselves would have to be treated as nuclear waste. One sample was from the sidewalk, one from a playground, the side of the road, the roof of a building and from the street. This means that just walking on the streets and parks will transfer radioactivity onto your shoes and shoelaces and this has to be then getting brought indoors. This insidious spread of radioactivity is virtually impossible to stop.
In yet another video titled: Hot Particles and Measurement of Radioactivity -Arnie Gundersen Gundersen is discussing radiation measurements with a colleague of radioactive 'hot' particles scooped up by air filters from cars sent from Japan. In the video, Marco Kaltofen points out that it just happens that the amount of air processed by an air filter for the typical mileage done in Japan is approximately the same as processed by the lung of a hard working human and therefore the air filters serve as an excellent proxy to estimate how many hot particles people are inhaling. The image below is an autograph (detects radiation) of the samples and it shows the relative density of hot particles between Fukushima city, Tokyo and Seattle. The lung is really good at capturing particles of a certain size mainly from 0.5 to 5 um (micro-meters) exhaling smaller and larger particles. Thus the size and distribution in any radioactive plume matters. The problem with these hot particles is when they lodge inside your body, for example in your lung. They just sit there continuously emitting radiation, damaging the cells and tissue all around constantly. The image below shows an a lung tissue sample with a hot particle lodged in it and the damage can be seen. Particles in the 10um or smaller range can be easily carried continental distances. They also discuss radiation measurements from children shoes and for all the shoe samples received from Japan they were positive and whatever is on the shoes will get on the hands. Younger people are more sensitive to radiation and developing cancer because their bodies are still growing with lots of cells multiplying.
In this research paper from Biogeosciences the authors discuss Strontium (Sr) releases into the ocean. Strontium behaves chemically like calcium and is taken up in the bones. Radioactive Strontium causes leukaemia because the source of blood cells is in bone marrow where they would gain mutations from exposure to Strontium. In the paper they estimate the amount of radioactive Strontium released into the Pacific based on measurements they had of the waters from 30-600km offshore of Fukushima to be of the order 90 to 900 TBq where TBq is a trillion Becquerels. The exact wording is: Liquid discharges of 90Sr to the ocean were estimated, resulting in an inventory of 53 ± 1 TBq of 90Sr in the inshore study area in June 2011 and total releases of 90Sr ranging from 90 to 900 TBq, depending upon the reported estimates of 137Cs releases that are considered. This is a lot of radioactivity and it is going to be absorbed by algae, plankton, fish, crabs, shellfish and larger predators like tuna, dolphins, seals, sea-otters, sea-birds and including humans who eat any of these contaminated fish.
In line with these discharges and the effects expected, it is unclear how this US government research in Alaska, reported here, got through. In the biological monitoring report it shows a significant cesium isotope signature was detected by Scientists during 2011. A comparison with 1997 sampling show the values to be around 50 times higher on Amchitka and 660 times higher on Adak islands. The 2011 and 1997 tables are extracted from the report and in the image below. Click on to enlarge.
In Jan 2014, it was reported scientists found two conjoined gray whale calves in a Baja California lagoon. It is not possible to attribute the cause but given whales travel widely and eat huge quantities of krill which are low down in the food chain and would be soaking up all that radioactivity, one has to wonder is it a result of exposure to radioactivity in the ocean released by Fukushima. There were also other reports back in Jan 2012 from Alaska where Seals and Walruses Found Dead in Alaska with Mysterious Sores and Hair Loss: Scientists Baffled. These are unusual symptoms especially when found across a number of animals and across species. Perhaps neither of these are caused by Fukushima and are instead due to their body fat being loaded up with toxic industrial chemicals like PCBs, much like in the 1980s, when massive seal deaths in Europeans waters caused by strange diseases was eventually found to be the result of a build up of toxic chemicals that weakened their immune systems leaving them wide open to opportune infections.
Evidence of Plumes and Models and Plume GateIt should be clear if the plume had spread over the Tokyo metropolitan with a population of 35 million people, there would be no evacuation because you simply cannot move even a fraction of that many people and there wouldn't be anywhere that they could go and be easily accommodated and besides the mad rush and disruption would cause panic and the image of that would not go down well. Quite simply the only alternative would be to deny it was happening. This would be just as true for any other city in the path of a radioactive plume. For example if a serious accident occurred in Sellafield and they had a zirc fire in one of their many spent fuel pools and we were unfortunate enough to have a North Easterly wind -which is unlikely -blowing over the Dublin, the same logic would be faced by the Irish government.
And now back to the NRC FOIA documents. Without going directly to them, one should realize in any situation like this, central to any crisis management in an accident on the scale of Fukushima, would be to have at hand the Meteorlogical Services and one or more teams already proficient at modelling plumes using the latest weather data and forecasting the track of any plume using the latest forecast and weather observations. What the NRC documents unsurprisingly show is that they were doing just that and they were discussing readings taken on board the numerous naval vessels that the USA has stationed off Japan. Normally what is done is you try to get a number of different groups using their own computer models to forecast where the plumes are and if they all agree then that increases the confidence you can have. The problem was that we didn't see these plume models on the nightly news. If we go back to the original news coverage, the general impression given is that the plumes went out to sea and dispersed and weren't the Japanese very fortunate and that was largely it and perhaps a few harmless trace amounts were detected elsewhere.
It was mentioned earlier in the section 'The NRC FOI Documentation' above that a 'Hatrick Penry' did a huge amount of work going through thousands of the NRC documents and uncovered quite a lot of interesting things. He also covered other external material related to the accident. As a result he came to the conclusion that there was a massive cover-up mainly of the extent of the radioactive plumes both in Japan and globally and he put all this work together in a 445 page PDF document which he called Plume Gate and it is available at the end of this article for download. The document contains parts of the transcripts and emails from the NRC exchanged in the days after the accident and most importantly he has dug out some of the charts for the plume model runs and forecasts and three of them are included below.www.SafeCast.org) and whilst there would be a lot of variability due to the limitations of Geiger counters and calibration issues, a random check of the Internet shows many reports of the presence of contamination.
The next image below is another model run from the Japanese Meteorological Agency and it covers the 16th to 21st March 2011 over a wider area over the Pacific basin. What is shows is that the radioactive cloud is dispersed over a broad area but it also more or less follows the direction of the Polar Jetstream which is exactly what would be expected. It should be borne in mind that the NRC only ran computer models of the plume for a limited number of days but emissions from Fukushima would have continued for weeks if not on and off for months into the atmosphere and continuously to the present day into the ocean. The relatively high readings detected on the Islands of Amchitka and Adak islands (described earlier) which are in the Aleutian island chain off Alaska are right on the path of the plume. The reports cited earlier about seals and walruses found dead in Alaska with mysterious sores and hair loss so far officially are not said to be caused by exposure to radiation, there are two things to consider. The first is that the Jet Stream has clearly carried alot of hot particles into that region and discharges into the Pacific would have also brought contamination which although much more diluted could be rapidly concentrated up the food chain to top predators like seals and walruses. And two if an attempt has been made to cover this up, then the NRC working with the Dept of Energy would have full authority over any release of government information when it concerns radioactivity and most certainly would not disclose this if they felt it was a 'national security' issue which must be one of the most misused and abused privileges used by governments everywhere. They would then be easily able to rubbish any claims suggesting otherwise since the data would not be available. Unfortunately because there is so little trust and government have a long and very broad record of abusing trust and lying, then it is not surprising that people do jump to conclusions and it becomes extremely difficult to work out what is the case. But the justification works on the principle summed up by George W. Bush
"You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."
There were other organisations doing computer models of the Fukushima plume. For example one was the Norwegian Air Institute and they carried out plume dispersion modelling during the weeks after the accident. The image below is one example of output from them and it is for May 9th to 12th 2011 and what is significant is that it is modelling a release of Iodine-131 (half-life 8 days) almost two months after the initial accident and strongly suggests that fission reactions were still occuring somewhere for example in the molten coriums or spent nuclear fuel rods were exposed and releasing their contents which would consist of a wide range of fission products, one of which includes Iodine.
And here is another example of how when the risk of someone going off base and analyzing this stuff the team swings into high gear and involves the highest levels of government to ensure there is only one message gets out.
ConclusionIn summary then it is likely we will never find out what the full extent of the contamination is and even though a certain amount was revealed by the NRC documents, there are significant and important parts which are redacted and there is simply no way that anything that shows the true extent will ever be permitted to be released by whatever means. We should also bear in mind in light of the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden which amongst other things revealed the very extensive, sophisticated and active offense cyber attack capabilities, then anything that does appear on the Internet will be hacked in short order and removed.
At the accident site itself, the problems are so large and too large for a company like TEPCO according to Gundersen, and the complexity of the tasks is so great that the cleanup is going to be still going on 50 years if not 100 years from now. However there is one problem with this, as the global industrial civilisation slides down the back of Peak Oil now that we are already past the cheap energy era, it will be virtually impossible to maintain the infrastructure of our energy intensive and complex infrastructure and this will be just as true for Japan. It is hard to see how there will be enough wealth left in the system to train a new army of nuclear engineers and pay dead money on cleaning up a mess that has long since ceased contributing any benefits -in the form of electricity - to society.
What makes matters worse is that Japanese culture or society is not good at collectively admitting there are problems and all the evidence is that the entire body politic is in denial and would sooner brush it all under the carpet. This can only make matters worse and prolong the pain. For instance unlike Germany, Japan has never in any public way to its own people ever owned up to its role in the Second World War and the atrocities they carried out in China and before the War. And so it seems in their completely stupid and reckless at incinerating radioactive waste is just another example of this type of behaviour.
What we see with the Fukushima accident is the future. There are approximately 450 nuclear reactors around the world, many are 30 or even 40 years old. Just recently a spate of leaks from spent fuel ponds and storage tanks have been reported throughout the USA and this is a symptom of the age of these tanks and they are all beginning to develop faults and fail and since they were built in broadly the same decade, their meantime to failure will be at much the same time too. Over the next few decades we can expect to see more Fukushimas. If you are willing to spend the time and dig a little what you will find is a long catalogue of serious problems at nuclear facilities all over the world, each one capable of causing it's own disaster. It was the era of high growth and availability of plentiful cheap energy that allowed the initial surge and provided the wealth to enable all these plants to be built. This wealth has been replaced by a massive global debt bubble and governments simply don't have the money to look after them and carefully manage their controlled decommissioning. The predatory capitalist system has little interest in mere matters of safety for the bottom line is the only concern. They rightly know that they can run these nuclear plants at a profit because many of them are already operating beyond their original lifespan and the capital has been paid off, so what they are getting now is mainly profit. If a plant fails, they can walk away and hand the problem over to the government. In most countries with nuclear energy, it is written into national law, that the government picks up the tab after the first few hundred million for any consequences of a serious accident. See for instance the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. You can be sure that Japanese government will be on the hook for the cleanup TEPCO is carrying out. The question then is how many of these nuclear plants going to have accidents. The answer is probably quite a lot and the more it happens and the more experienced the nuclear industry and governments get at making it a non-issue, the more frequently it will occur. What we do know is this. The nuclear industry won't get cleaner or safer until real public pressure forces it and the cleanups will be more tokenistic PR efforts until people force it to be otherwise. The democratic deficit just like it had a major role to play in the financial crisis is thus an important factor in the unfolding disaster that is nuclear power.
So what are the options? The first one would be to skip the 2020 Olympics, do not consume any Japanese food including fish. Avoid any travel there unless you absolutely have to. The second step would be to find out more and educate yourself, perhaps even join a citizen network for radiation measurements and find out what your area is like. Third, find out what foods are good at removing certain chemicals, because if you live in a contaminated area or have been affected, certain foods are good at removing certain compounds from the body. And fourth, stop being ignorant because it could cost you your health.