Tag Archives: fukushima

Fukushima’s radioactive wastewater to be dumped into the ocean through a tunnel

The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has unveiled a plan to build an undersea tunnel so that more than a million tons of treated but still radioactive water can be released into the ocean. The tunnel will have a one-kilometer extension and should be functional by 2023, allowing the release of wastewater straight into the Pacific — something which the operator claims is harmless.

Workers at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station work among underground water storage pools. Image credit: IAEA

The development comes more than a decade after the nuclear disaster in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered meltdowns in three of its reactors due to an earthquake and a tsunami. Seeking to control the radioactive fallout, over 1,000 tanks were used to hold the treated but still radioactive water that kept the reactors cool.

But the solution was only temporary, and the company in charge of the plant is now running out of storage room for this water. Experts have repeatedly suggested releasing it into the sea in a controlled manner, but locals vehemently opposed the plan, and officials postponed a decision. Now, the government said releasing the water is the most realistic option.

The upcoming tunnel 

Tokyo Electric Power, the company that runs the nuclear plant, will start building the tunnel by March 2022 after carrying out feasibility studies and obtaining approval from authorities. The tunnel will have a diameter of 2.5 meters and stretch into the Pacific Ocean from tanks at the plant that have about 1.2 million tons of wastewater.

This includes water used to cool down the plant, crippled after going into meltdown following the 2011 disaster, as well as rain and groundwater that seeps in daily.  Every day, tons of newly contaminated water is extracted through an extensive pumping and filtration system at the plant, which filters most of the radioactive elements. 

The plant’s chief decommissioning officer, Akira Ono, said told local reporters that using a tunnel to release the water would prevent it from flowing back to the shore. Ono said they will further explain their safety policies and measures so as to “dispel concerns held by people involved in fisheries and other industries,” who questioned the plan. 

The water stored in the tanks won’t be discharged directly. Rather, it will be treated through a system that removes most of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen not harmful to humans in small amounts. Tritium “emits weak radiation” and its impact on health “is very low,” a government statement reads.

The discharging process will be monitored by third parties, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency’s head Mariano Grossi told CNN there is “no harm” in releasing treated water into the sea. This has been done in many parts of the world and no adverse environmental impact was reported, Grossi explained.

Still, the reassurances of Japan haven’t settled the nerves of neighboring countries, environmental groups, and local fishermen — worried over the implications of Japan’s decision. China, for example, said the wastewater plan was “extremely irresponsible”, and accused Japan of disregarding “domestic and foreign doubts and opposition”. 

Wild boar-pig hybrids now roaming radioactive Fukushima wasteland

Wild boars with spotted fur are indicative of hybridization with domestic pigs. Credit: Hiroko Ishiniwa.

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Japanese authorities set up an exclusion zone which grew larger and larger as radiation leaked from the plant, forcing more than 150,000 people to evacuate from the area. A decade later, that zone remains in place and many residents have not returned with entire towns left completely deserted — not counting other animals.

After humans fled Fukushima prefecture, wildlife took over. According to Japanese researchers who analyzed DNA samples from the site, wild boars have bred with domestic pigs that were left behind during the hasty evacuation. As a result, wild boar-pig hybrids now roam the radioactive exclusion zone. However, the researchers add that the hybrids have suffered no mutations as a result of radiation exposure. In fact, they seem to thrive.

The researchers embarked examined the DNA of wild boars and domestic livestock from Fukushima to see how the animals were affected by life in the radiation-contaminated area. To their surprise, they instead found evidence of hybridization, or cross-breeding, between the two.

There are now hundreds of wild boars roaming Fukushima, which registers levels of the radioactive element cesium-137 some 300 times higher than the safe threshold. With virtually no predators, the boars, originally from nearby mountains, have commenced a “biological invasion”.

Wild boars from the surrounding mountains have taken over the deserted areas around Fukushima. Credit: D. Anderson.

Of the 338 wild boars whose genes were sequenced, at least 18 individuals displayed domestic pig genes. However, more domestic pig genes have been found in wild boars since the study was completed, highlighting the need for more genetic monitoring at Fukushima.

“Frequencies of this haplotype have remained stable since first detection in 2015. This result infers ongoing genetic pollution in wild boar populations from released domesticated pigs,” the scientists wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

These changes are at a low frequency, and as the hybrids will breed with wild boars, the domestic pig genes will be diluted over time. The researchers believe there will be no changes in the wild boars’ behavior over time. Currently observed abnormal wild boar behavior is pinned to the absence of people rather than some genetic component.

Since 2018, people have started slowly moving back into previously abandoned areas close to Fukushima. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before the boars have to move back to the mountains. In the meantime, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

Perhaps some areas of Fukushima will remain deserted by humans for decades and may share the fate of Chernobyl. Today, the exclusion zone of Pripyat in Ukraine is a haven for wildlife, with European bison, boreal lynx, moose, brown bears, and wolves thriving in the radioactive town.

Japan to dump contaminated water from Fukushima into the ocean

More than one million metric tons of treated radioactive water will soon be released from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, following a decision by the Japanese government. The plan has raised strong criticism at home, especially by fishermen, and among neighboring countries such as China.

IAEA inspector visit Fukushima. Image credit: Flickr / IAEA

The decision comes more than a decade after the nuclear disaster in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered meltdowns in three of its reactors due to an earthquake and a tsunami. Seeking to control the radioactive fallout, over 1,000 tanks were used to hold the treated but still radioactive water that kept the reactors cool.

But the solution was only temporary, as the company in charge of the plant is now running out of storage room for this water. Experts have repeatedly suggested releasing it into the sea in a controlled manner, but locals vehemently opposed the plan. Now, the government said releasing the water was the “most realistic option.”

Prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, told a meeting of ministers this week that the government had decided that releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean was “unavoidable in order to achieve Fukushima’s recovery”. Work to release the water will begin in about two years, with the entire process expected to take decades.

The water stored in the tanks won’t be discharged as it is. Instead, it will be treated through a system that removes most of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen not harmful to humans in small amounts. Tritium “emits weak radiation” and its impact on health “is very low,” a government statement reads.

The discharging process will be monitored by third parties, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency’s head Mariano Grossi told CNN there is “no harm” in releasing treated water into the sea. This has been done in many parts of the world and no adverse environmental impact was reported, Grossi explained.

Still, the reassurances of Japan haven’t settled the nerves of neighboring countries, environmental groups, and local fishermen — worried over the implications of Japan’s decision. China said the plan was “extremely irresponsible”, and accused Japan of disregarding “domestic and foreign doubts and opposition”. In a statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said the releasing the water will “seriously damage international public health and safety and the vital interests of the people of neighboring countries.”

South Korea shared the concern, saying the decision could “directly or indirectly affect the safety of the Korean people and the surrounding environment in the future.” The country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said at a news briefing that Japan should have consulted with neighboring countries and be more transparent.

Meanwhile, fishing communities said the water’s release will undo years of hard work to rebuild consumer confidence in their seafood. Kanji Tachiya, who heads a local fisheries cooperative in Fukushima, express his disagreement to AFP: “We can’t back this move to break that promise and release the water into the sea unilaterally.”

Wildlife is doing just fine at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site

Wildlife is thriving in the human-free nuclear accident area in Fukushima, Japan.

Image credits IAEA Imagebank / Flickr.

A new study from the University of Georgia reports that populations of wild animals in the nuclear exclusion zone in Fukushima, Japan are blooming. According to the findings, more than 20 species, including wild boar, Japanese hare, macaques, pheasant, fox, and the raccoon dog, make their home in various areas of the landscape.

No humans, more animals

“Our results represent the first evidence that numerous species of wildlife are now abundant throughout the Fukushima Evacuation Zone, despite the presence of radiological contamination,” said UGA associate professor James Beasley.

It’s been nearly a full decade since the nuclear accident at Fukushima. As in other nuclear accidents (such as that at Chernobyl), authorities established a no-go zone around the site of the accident to safeguard public health.

Animals, however, are free to come and go as they please, and both the public and scientific community are curious to see how life gets by in such areas — the answer seems to be ‘better than expected’.

In addition to the team’s past research at Chernobyl, the current paper suggests that quarantined areas can act as safe havens for wild animals, especially species that tend to come into conflict with humans, such as wild boars. These animals were predominantly seen in human-evacuated areas or zones, according to Beasley.

“This suggests these species have increased in abundance following the evacuation of people,” he says.

For the study, the team worked with three zones of interest (established by the government in the Fukushima region after the 2011 accident) and gathered wildlife population figures by using 106 camera sites in these zones. Among the zones, one was completely off-limits for humans due to high levels of radiation contamination, one saw restricted access due to intermediate levels of contamination, and the last one was still open to human access and habitation due to low background levels of radiation.

The uninhabited zone served as the control zone for the research. There is no previous data on wildlife populations in the evacuated areas from which to establish a baseline, but the three areas are in close proximity and have a similar landscape. Thus, the team explains, the human-inhabited area can act as a reliable control.

The cameras captured over 46,000 images of wild boar over 120 days. Around 26,000 were taken in the uninhabited area, approximately 13,000 in the restricted one, and only 7,000 in the inhabited zones. Other species seen in high numbers included raccoons, Japanese marten, and Japanese macaque or monkeys, according to the team.

“This research makes an important contribution because it examines radiological impacts to populations of wildlife, whereas most previous studies have looked for effects to individual animals,” said Hinton.

The team looked at the impact of variables such as distance to road, time of activity (as captured by the cameras’ date-time stamps), vegetation type, and elevation on the wildlife population. They report that the behavioral patterns of most species align with their historically-recorded patterns. Raccoons, for example, a nocturnal species, were more active during the night; pheasants, which are diurnal, were more active during the day. In the meantime, wild boar in the uninhabited area were more active during the day, while boar in human-inhabited areas were more active during the night. The team says this suggests that the species is modifying their behavior in response to humans.

However, the team underscores that these findings refer to whole populations, and doesn’t make any assessments as to the health of individual animals.

“The terrain varies from mountainous to coastal habitats, and we know these habitats support different types of species. To account for these factors, we incorporated habitat and landscape attributes such as elevation into our analysis,” Beasley said.

“Based on these analyses, our results show that level of human activity, elevation and habitat type were the primary factors influencing the abundance of the species evaluated, rather than radiation levels.”

One exception to the general pattern was the Japanese serow, a goat-like mammal, which was most-seen in rural, human-inhabited upland areas. The team believes this comes as a behavioral adjustment to avoid the growing numbers of boar in the evacuated areas.

The paper “Rewilding of Fukushima’s human evacuation zone” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Fukushima Daiichi.

Devastated Fukushima nuclear plant will run out of storage space for radioactive water in three years

The utility company that operates the tsunami-crippled Fukushima’s nuclear power plant will run out of space to store its contaminated water in three years.

Fukushima Daiichi.

Two IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of Unit 4 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan’s plans to decommission the facility.
Image credits Greg Webb / IAEA via Flickr / IAEA Imagebank.

Fukushima Daiichi suffered extensive meltdowns (in three of its reactors) due to a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. In a bid to contain the radioactive fallout, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.) has installed some 1,000 tanks to hold the treated — but still radioactive — water used to keep the reactors cool.

The tanks hold over 1 million tons of the dirty water. While experts recommend that it is released into the sea in a controlled manner, locals vehemently oppose the plan. However, there is growing pressure to resolve the issue: TEPCO reports it will run out of storage room for this water in three years, according to The Japan Times.

Running out of tanks

Immediately after the tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s reactors were leaking water with radioactive isotopes into the ocean. In an effort to contain these atoms, 960 tanks were built at the site to siphon the runoff. These tanks can hold roughly 1.15 million tons of water. TEPCO expects to secure enough extra tanks to hold 1.37 million tons in total by the end of 2020.

But, with an average 170 tons of contaminated water produced each day during fiscal 2018, those tanks are going to fill up fast. TEPCO aims to reduce the volume to 150 per day next year — but even that should only be enough for the next three years or so. Even at that reduced level, the tanks would reach full capacity in either the summer or fall of 2022, the company estimates.

TEPCO installed equipment to decontaminate the water, but it still contains tritium, a radioactive hydrogen isotope that also occurs in minute amounts in nature. A panel commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry considered diluting and releasing the water into the ocean.

“Releasing tritium-tainted water into the sea in a controlled manner is common practice at nuclear power plants around the world, and it was generally considered the most viable option as it could be done quickly and would cost the least,” writes Kazuaki Nagata for The Japan Times.

“But people in Fukushima, especially fishermen, fear it will damage the region’s reputation.”

However, with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo fast approaching, the government doesn’t want to rock the boat too much and is delaying a decision. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the International Olympic Committee in his final pitch to secure the Games six years ago that the situation at Fukushima was “under control,” according to Reuters,

Clean-up plans are due for completion in 2021. The tanks pose flooding and radiation risks that will hamper efforts, however.

IAEA experts depart Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan's plans to decommission the facility. Credit: IAEA Imagebank, Flickr.

Six years after a disastrous meltdown, it is now officially safe to live in some parts of Fukushima

In 2011, a devastating 9.1 quake and follow-up tsunami hit the Japanese coast killing 22,000 and causing $300 billion worth of damages. The 30-foot tsunami also hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant where six out of the country’s 54 reactors were in operation, causing a meltdown. Hundreds of thousands of people living in the Fukushima prefecture have been evacuated or had chosen to leave their homes and livelihoods behind. A new study suggests that, in some areas of Fukushima at least, radiation levels are within safety levels and people can choose to come back home.

IAEA experts depart Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan's plans to decommission the facility. Credit: IAEA Imagebank, Flickr.

IAEA experts depart Unit 4 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan’s plans to decommission the facility. Credit: IAEA Imagebank, Flickr.

The study was conducted by Makoto Miyazaki, a radiologist at Fukushima Medical University, and Ryugo Hayano, a physicist at the University of Tokyo. The two looked at cesium levels recorded by helicopters which hovered above Date, an unevacuated village just 60 kilometers away from the reactors. The readings suggest radiation dropped by 60% between 2011 and 2013. After converting the results to ground-based readings and knowing how the radioactive isotopes should decay, the researchers inferred cumulative radiation doses in Date.

The Fukushima prefecture has a surface area of 13,782.76 km2. Almost two million people live here.

The Fukushima prefecture has a surface area of 13,782.76 km2. Almost two million people live here. Credit: Nature

They conclude that the median lifetime radiation dose was 18 millisieverts in Zone A, which is considered the most contaminated part of Date. According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, radiation between 1 and 20 mSv per year is deemed within safe margins. Science also reports over an entire lifetime a person will be subjected to more than 18 mSv of radiations from radioactive elements in the Earth’s crust and particles from outer space that breach Earth’s protective magnetic field.

“This method of combining individual doses and the ambient doses, as developed in this study, has made it possible to predict with reasonable certainty the lifetime doses of residents who continue to live in this radiologically contaminated area,” the scientists reported.

Credit: Radiologyinfo.org

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of the paper soon to be published in the Journal of Radiological Protection is that decontamination efforts had a minimal impact, as far as radiation in Date is concerned. Measurements collected from 425 residents of Zone A showed no evident drop in radiation when decontamination began around October 2012. Instead, natural forces such as rain, snow or the decay of cesium itself helped to reduce radiation levels much more than roof washing and topsoil removal, both extremely expensive decontamination measures. Still, Miyazaki and Hayano insist that the decontamination may not have been futile.

“Population-wise, we didn’t see a big decrease in the individual dose,” says Hayano. “There may be individuals or families for whom the decontamination was effective.”

So, a rather poor effort on our part with nature doing most of the work. All of that radiation has to wash up somewhere — ultimately, it’s in the ocean. Following the disaster, radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean were tens of millions of times higher than usual. Fortunately, according to a review conducted by the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, radiation levels across the Pacific Ocean are now back to normal. 

These results should come as a relief to Date citizens who were up until now living with great uncertainty. Now, many can return to the homes which they haven’t seen for six years.

Not all of Fukushima prefecture is entirely safe but the Japanese government still wants almost everyone back like nothing happened

That’s not to say that all of Fukushima is safe — far from it. While Date is close to the fallout, we can’t rule out that other municipalities which are even farther away from Date have equally safe radiation exposures. In fact, the Japanese government has been rather opaque with its own ground studies — the present paper is among the few which have used public data on radiation surrounding Fukushima. Last but not least, Date was never evacuated in the first place.

According to Fukushima on the Globe, 56,920 people were evacuated from the surrounding area of the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear power plant to other municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, 46,107 people live in the temporary housing complexes including apartments paid by the government or civil servant housings, and another 10,681 people stay with friends and family. Next month, roughly 52,000 of these people will be invited back to Fukushima prefecture by the Japanese government.

But many of these so-called ‘invited’ evacuees will actually be forced by circumstances to move in a potentially dangerous area because the announcement will also mean a withdrawal of subsidies. Evacuation orders will remain as they stand today for only those closest to the plant, where radiation is more than 50 mSv a year.


Ken Buesseler, oceanographer, answers questions about Fukushima’s impact on the oceans

Ken Buesseler studies marine radioactivity. He uses radioactive elements such as thorium that are naturally occurring in the ocean as a technique to study the ocean’s carbon cycle, as well as fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing and recently, the sources of radionuclides from Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2011. Following the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the subsequent tsunami, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was severely affected, with massive quantities of radioactive material spilling into the oceans.

Buesseler took the time to answer some questions on Reddit as part of an AMA (Ask Me Anything). Here are some of his most interesting insights, you can read all of it here.

What is the estimated scale of radiation released into the ocean, from Fukushima, in terminology, or comparison, a layman might understand?

Total levels and scales vary depending upon the mix of contaminants, but if we pick just one, cesium-137, there was about 10 times more cesium-137 released during nuclear testing globally, than Chernobyl. And for cesium-137, Chernobyl was 2-5 times greater than Fukushima, but then again most of the Chernobyl fallout fell on land, not in the ocean.

Can you give any insight on how long it took for the ocean to return to normal after the atomic tests, and perhaps compare it to the Fukushima leak?

In the 1960, immediately after the end of testing on the Pacific atolls, the concentration of radioactive cesium in the Pacific off the coast of Japan was about 50 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) and 10 Bq/m3 off California. By 2011 immediately before the earthquake and tsunami, that had fallen throughout the Pacific to about 2 Bq/m3 as a result of radioactive decay. Today, the highest we have seen off the coast of North America is 6 Bq/m3. Off the coast of Japan after the accident, (aside from the extremely high levels detected at the source of release from the reactors) we recorded a high of 4,500 Bq/m3. You can see more about pre-Fukushima levels worldwide here:

Living in San Francisco during and the the years after Fukushima, I heard about people taking iodine tablets as a precautionary measure against radiation poisoning. Was I right in ignoring this as an overreaction since Japan is half a world away?

The California Coastal Commission had a report in 2014, that if you were in California in 2011 and drank tap water at the highest levels found and breathed in the air at its peak level- both for an entire year- your dose or net health impact would be about 5 micro Sieverts or about the same exposure as a single dental X ray. This is not zero, but a very low dose indeed. And no need to be taking iodine tablets, though remember at that time it was less certain what was going on and if it was going to get worse

I live in Osaka, Japan. How safe would you say is the seafood caught off the coast of western Honshu?

Off Japan today, except for those in the vicinity of the reactors, seafood and other products taken from the Pacific are currently below strict limits set by the Japanese for human consumption. Tens of thousands of fish have been and are being tested off Japan. If fish are found above the limits, commercial fishing remains closed. In 2011 about half the fish caught near Fukushima were above Japan’s limit (100 Bq/kg). In 2014 that had dropped to 1%. BTW, none of the fish caught on “our side” of the Pacific have been found to be above any of the limits set by Japan or higher limits in US/Canada.

What was the most unexpected things about your findings?

Sampling off Japan in 2011, we were more worried about hitting debris and harming our research vessel, than the levels of radioactivity which we were measuring with hand held devices as we sampled.
Another thing, maybe not unexpected but disappointing is the fact that no US Federal agency takes responsibility for ocean radioactivity studies

I teach middle school science. What is one major misconception about oceanic radioactivity that I (and the Internet) should clear up immediately?

The danger is in the dose, so while we should be concerned about any level of exposure to radioactivity, there is a huge difference in the levels, in this case in cesium from Fukushima, which ranged from 2 to 50 million in the units we use. That is like the difference in the temperature on earth and the temperature on the center of the sun. There’s already radioactive forms of cesium in the ocean. So it is a good question how much more radioactive cesium did Fukushima add, but we need to be aware that since the testing of atomic weapons there are many radionuclides we can measure in the ocean and on land.

(1) To what extent do radionuclides generally bioaccumulate (increase in concentration in an individual organism/population)?
(2) To what extent do radionuclides generally biomagnify (increase in concentration with trophic level)?
(3) Do the specific radionuclides released from Fukushima Dai-ichi differ in terms of their potential for bioaccumulation/biomagnification from other naturally occurring radionuclides in the ocean, e.g., Cesium?

Different radionuclides do not behave the same in all marine organisms, just as for other non-radioactive contaminants. For example cesium, which behaves like a salt, will accumulate in fish by a factor of 50 to 100 times the levels in water, but as a salt, it will also flush out of organisms quickly, about half in 2 months, through normal bodily functions and therefore does not bioaccumulate at higher levels. Strontium however behaves more similarly to calcium in humans and animals and is taken up and concentrated in bones where it remains with a biological half life of a couple years.
Think of it this way. If a cesium-137 contaminated fish were to be canned, it would take 30 years (the radiological half-life) for 50% of the cesium-137 to disappear. In contrast, if that same fish were to swim to cleaner waters, it would lose 50% of its radioactive cesium burden in just two months.


Fukushima meltdown isotopes found on U.S. coasts.

The full extent of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima meltdown is still being uncovered, with measured levels of contamination increasing in previously identified sites throughout the North American coast. While it’s still too low to threaten human or ocean life, this confirms that the power plant continues to leak radioactive isotopes researchers report.

Image via deviantart

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant saw wide-scale equipment failure following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The ensuing triple reactor meltdowns and escape of radioactive material on the 12th were so severe that the accident is considered as being second only to the one at Chernobyl.

Researchers at the non-profit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been taking samples of Pacific Ocean water and analyzing them in an effort to monitor and document the aftermath of the accident. The results show that the Fukushima reactors still leaks radioactive isotopes (especially cesium-134) four years after the meltdowns, reports marine radiochemist Ken Buesseler. Trace amounts of these atoms have been found in several hundreds of miles-wide areas of the Oregon, Washington and California coasts as well as offshore of Vancouver Island.

Another isotope, cesium-137, a radioactive reminder of the nuclear weapons tests conducted between 1950 and 1970, was found at low levels in nearly every seawater sample tested.

“Despite the fact that the levels of contamination off our shores remain well below government-established safety limits for human health or to marine life, the changing values underscore the need to more closely monitor contamination levels across the Pacific,” Buesseler said.

In 2014 the Institute reported detecting isotope contamination about 100 miles (160 km) off the norther coast of California as well as off Canada’s shorelines. The latest readings measured the highest radiation levels outside Japanese waters to date some 1,600 miles (2,574 km) west of San Francisco.

The figures also confirm that the spread of radiation to North American waters is not isolated to a handful of locations, but rather a along a stretch of more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of shoreline. Currently, reported levels in these areas shouldn’t be dangerous to organisms, but this may change in the future.

Mutation in daisies near Fukushima might not be caused by radiation

via Twitter user

Image via Twitter User San Kaido

After a twitter user and photographer from a city 110 km from Fukushima posted photos of mutated flowers, people started to freak out all over the internet that these plants suffered mutations due to the devastating nuclear incident from 2011 in Fukushima, Japan. According to the photographer @san_kaido, the radiation level near the daisies was measured at 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground, which in fact is not much higher than the normal values.

In other words, no reason to freak out.


Fasciated strawberries via reddit

The mutation of plants, daisies in our case, is not really that uncommon in nature as you might expect. The process that causes these deformations is called fasciation and it can be caused by the hormonal imbalances, infections, genetics and even environment which also includes bacterial and viral infections, some types of fungi, insect attack and also the exposure to chemicals (mostly in agriculture). Yep, lots of things can cause it.

It surprisingly common in strawberries and even tomatoes. They may look odd, but consuming these fruits and vegetables that went through fasciation is harmless to the human body. Also the good part is that fasciation isn’t contagious so you can have a plant with mutations near other normal plants and they won’t be affected in any way.
According to Scott Morris on Garden Toolbox:

“It should be noted that just because a plant has fasciation, it doesn’t mean it will still be affected when it dies and comes back the next year – there’s no guarantee. In many cases it has been reported that plants are 100 percent fine the following year and show no sign of being fasciated, especially in perennial plants. Do bear in mind, that if the cause is genetic, there is a strong chance of reoccurrence and you may very well have to dispose of the plant completely.”

via reddit

Fasciated daisy in natural environment via reddit

At the same time it is important not to forget that it is a possibility that the plants were actually affected by radiation, according to a study from 2009 by the researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, it seems that the fasciation can be induced by gamma-irradiation:

The proportion of plants showing stem fasciation increased with gamma-irradiation … Each single mutant also showed stem fasciation at a low frequency without gamma-irradiation, while gamma-irradiation induced stem fasciation. Importantly, in wild-type plants, the frequency of stem fasciation was very low (<0.1 percent) [but] were induced by gamma-irradiation.

Whether or not these daisies suffered the mutation due to radiation or not it is important to keep in mind that nature is strange, and sometimes, strange things happening are completely natura. Until further research and experiments it is better that we think about all the possibilities and question everything.


Veggie-based chemical protects against lethal radiation exposure

radiation_protectionResearchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found that a chemical compound derived  from cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli has significant protective properties against gamma radiations, even when the subject is exposed to lethal doses. Previously, the same compound was found to have curative properties against cancer. Guess someone should have told the Hulk to eat his veggies.

The compound in question is called  3,3′-diindolylmethane (DIM), and it has been found to be safe for humans as well. Previously, the compound has been studied extensively for its anti-cancerigenic properties. This is the first time however that it’s been shown it can act as a protective substance against radiation exposure, according to one of the study’s authors, Eliot Rosen.

Rosen and colleagues used rats to test the compound. The animals were subjected to lethal doses of gamma radiation, and then split into two groups. One group received the DIM treatment injected daily starting 10 minutes from radiation exposure, while the other group was left untreated for control purposes. The results are truly impressive.

 “All of the untreated rats died, but well over half of the DIM-treated animals remained alive 30 days after the radiation exposure,” said Rosen.

Also, the researchers note the DIM treatment worked indifferent of the fact it was initiated prior or post radiation exposure (24 hour period), meaning that it might be used effectively on humans in the case of a calamity, like a nuclear fallout (see Fukushima).  In addition, irradiated mice treated with DIM had less reduction in red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets – side effects often seen in patients undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.

“DIM could protect normal tissues in patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer, but could also protect individuals from the lethal consequences of a nuclear disaster,” Rossen suggests.


Japan to create wall of ice around Fukushima water leaks

Somebody in Tokyo is reading Game of Thrones: the Japanese government has announced plans to create a wall of ice underneath the contaminated area to contain the water leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his administration will provide the money for this.

fukushima oil

“The government needs to resolve the problem by standing at the forefront,” he told a meeting of his nuclear disaster response team. “Discarding the current, impromptu response, we will set up our basic policies for a fundamental resolution of the contaminated water problem. “The government will do its best and take the necessary fiscal action,” he said, referring to tapping taxpayer funds.

Some thousands of tonnes of radioactive water are being stored currently in temporary tanks at the site, 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of the Japanese capital.

Power reactors work by splitting atoms, typically uranium, in a chain reaction. The reactor continues to generate heat after the chain reaction is stopped because of the radioactive decay of unstable isotopes, fission products, created by this process. This decay of unstable isotopes, and the decay heat that results, cannot be stopped. In the aftermath of the 03.11.2011 earthquake, 18.000 lives were claimed, though none of them officially due to radiation leaks.

Still, the oceans, and consequently, humans, are still under heavy stress from the leakage. So far, despite valliant efforts and several proposed solutions, the problem is still very acute. Hopefully, this will put an end to it, and the Fukushima situation will cool down.

Ocean still suffering from Fukushima fallout

Radioactivity is still persisting in the ocean waters near the Fukushima nuclear plant, despite researchers expectation to drop.

Researchers published new data showing that radioactivity levels near the plant remain stable, instead of falling as expected; they believe this is mostly caused by run-off from the river and continued leaks from the plant. The levels are not big enough to cause significant human worries, but it is likely to cause damage to the local ecosystem, posing a long term economic threat to the area.

The Fukushima contamination was the result of one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded, the 9.1 event that struck Japan and caused a huge tsunami. After the spill, most of the radiation dispersed into the ocean, until it reached extremely low levels which basically pose no threat. However, the surrounding area remained radioactive.

But nobody was expecting the levels to remain at these levels.

“There must be a source,” says Scott Fowler, an oceanographer at Stony Brook University in New York.

A new model created by oceanographer Jota Kanda at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology suggest that not one, but three sources are causing this remanent radioactivity. The first is radioactivity from the land is being washed by rainfall into rivers, which carry it to the sea; second, the plant itself continuously leaks.

But the third source is the most important, he says. Marine sediments, he explains, are responsible for over 90 percent of the continuous contamination. Analysis showed a large quantity of radioactive caesium in sandy ocean floor near the plant. It may be that the sediment itself absorbed the caesium, or perhaps microorganisms such as plankton fed on it, and then excreted it to the bottom of the ocean.

Whether originating from plankton or sediment, the contamination is finding its way into the food chain. Bottom dwelling fish show levels above the level considered ‘safe’; other species are only sometimes contaminated, while squid and octopuses are contamination free. The implications are extremely serious for the fishing industries, who estimate a loss of about $2 billion.

Scientific source

Radioactive toxicity

Particle accelerator can transmute radioactive waste and drastically lower half-life decay

A schematic of the MYRRHA (Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications) concept allows for industrial scale treatment of nuclear waste.

A schematic of the MYRRHA (Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications) concept allows for industrial scale treatment of nuclear waste.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, and as always Chernobyl, as anti-nuclear manifestos are quick to remind every time nuclear powered energy is concerned, there seems to be a sort of stigma applied to nuclear power. Countries are revising their policies –  some for the better, being long overdue, while other simply limit nuclear power rather precariously. Besides the actual chain reaction, meltdown or other nuclear hazard event which might possibly occur, there’s an other big issue with nuclear power and that’s  its byproduct – nuclear waste. A novel technique involving a particle accelerator which can create fast neutrons, in the process lowering the half-life of waste from hundreds of thousands of years to mere hundreds, might re-balance the odds back to nuclear, however. Nuclear energy might be in for a come back.

The idea that you can you stick dangerous radioactive material, that stays radioactive for even millions of years, in a lead can and hope that it will never leak in the environment is preposterous. Still, this is the only or primary way nuclear waste from facilities around the world is handled, and of course this has attracted a wave of unpopularity.

Scientists at the Belgium nuclear research center SCK CEN in Mol have developed a technology which uses a particle accelerator as a neutron source, in an attempt to make nuclear waste much less unfriendly to the environment. The idea, in small simple lines, goes like this:  you alter the geometry of the reactor chamber such that neutrons produced by the nuclear reaction don’t multiply in other subsequent reaction by having them escape the reactor vessel. In the meantime, to  sustain the nuclear fission process you pump neutrons from a spallation source, which is a material that can produce lots of fast-moving neutrons when you hit it with high energy proton. If cut out the accelerator,t he fission reaction cannot sustain itself , so there isn’t any peril of a meltdown or chain reaction disaster.

Radioactive toxicity

Also, the waste nuclear fuel is transmuted into fission products with much shorter half-lives by a few orders of magnitude, which makes burring waste for a few hundred years actually feasible and safe.  A prototype of the system should be up and running by the early 2020s. Hopefully, this might put nuclear energy back on track as the leading clean, safe and efficient form of energy.

For more details on this very important subject, I’d like to invite you to read the Mol scientists’ paper from CERN.



Mutant butterflies found near Fukushima linked to radiation exposure

Immediately after the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as a result of the devastating tsunami which swept the country resulting thousands of casualties and damage amount to $40 billion, Japanese authorities quickly evacuated the local human population such that exposure to radiation could be kept at a minimum. The local wildlife, however, wasn’t treated with the same privilege. A month after the tsunami, scientists collected butterfly specimens in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant and found that the insects presented a number of peculiar mutations. Six months later the same check was made for the same species, and findings suggest that the mutations actually multiplied, as an evident effect of radiation exposure.

fukushima-butterfly-radiationSome 144 pale grass blue butterfly were collected, of which 12% of them showed a number of strange mutations, like dented eyes and deformed wings.  When they mated, the offspring showed a mutation rate of 18%, and when one ‘infected’ butterfly was mated with a healthy one, that rate jumped to 34%.This suggested that the butterflies’ germ line, or the cells that turn from egg to sperm, had suffered irremediable damage, which get transmitted to the offspring. Scientists say these mutations will get passed down for many generations.

“Our results are consistent with the previous field studies that showed that butterfly populations are highly sensitive to artificial radionuclide contamination in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Together, the present study indicates that the pale grass blue butterfly is probably one of the best indicator species for radionuclide contamination in Japan,” researchers wrote in the report published in the journal Nature.

The species is notoriously sensitive to environmental contaminants, which is why scientists decided to study them to begin with, so the fact that the pale grass butterfly has suffered mutations isn’t a indicator that other local fauna may have been subjected to the same genetic anomalies, though possible. I’d like to see, personally, a similar research catering to other species, insects or mammals.

The levels of radiation absorbed by the butterflies are not enough to harm humans, however. In fact, Japanese researchers have found very low amounts of radioactivity in the bodies of about 10,000 people who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant when it melted down. The threat appeared to be considerably lower than in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, the experts agreed.

“Out of 10,000 people with a dose of 1 millisievert, the radiation would cause two to get cancer during their lifetimes, but about 3,500 would get cancer also without any radiation,” said Roy Shore, chief of research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan. “The jury is still out, but I expect the public health impact from radiation to turn out to be considerably lower than that of Chernobyl.”

via 80 Beats.

Scientists report from Fukushima exclusion zone, analyze tsunami

You probably remember the massive 9.1 earthquake that struck Japan last year and the subsequent problems that followed – most notably the huge tsunamis that struck the Fukushima nuclear plant, bringing it close to a meltdown. Now, according to the first scientific assessment made on the spot, the tsunami was indeed as formidable as the first estimates claim.

Big tsunamis, big data set

They conducted surveys along 2,000 kilometres of coast, thus creating the biggest tsunami data set the world has ever seen so far, but until now, no verified data was obtained from the impact perimeter: the 20-kilometre-radius restricted zone around the crippled plant, where scientific work had been forbidden.

However, a team of seven set out on a laudable two day mission to determine the height and inland penetration of the tsunami that struck the coast of Japan about an hour after the massive temblor struck. The team also included two local guides and two local authorities, and was led by Shinji Sato, a civil engineer at the University of Tokyo. By analyzing the ‘tsunami marks’, like the water damage, the debris, and trees, they confirmed that the waves were at least 14-15 meters high, just as big as the first estimates claimed, and the biggest height they estimated was 21 meters. Still, the team was not allowed to get closer than 2 km to the nuclear plant.

Clues, schools and cows

Finding relevant clues about tsunamis after almost a year was definitely a challenge, and the team stumbled upon some really interesting things there. For example, some buildings seemed to have not taken any damage whatsoever; aside for a dent in its chimney, the gymnasium of Ukedo Elementary School in Namie, located less than 5 km away from the plant, looked intact. The banners inside were untouched, and a small Japanese flag was intact. At a restaurant from town, researchers found a pristine newspaper dated 11 March 2011 – the date of the earthquake. But without a doubt the biggest surprise was when they met a herd of cows; the animals somehow survived the tsunami and adapted to the newly created environment, leading quite the life now.

“I often scratched my head at the juxtaposition of utter devastation and relative intactness,” says Yeh.

Scientists will now analyze the data to refine computer simulations and better understand how the sea contour influenced the tsunami; many believe the tsunamis which struck the Fukishima power plant were actually a combination of two different waves, one coming from the North and one coming from the South. It is very important to gather valuable information from this tragedy, in order to understand how we can protect ourselves from other such disasters.

“Nobody else has obtained this kind of information,” says Philip Liu, a tsunami researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who was not involved in the survey. “It’s valuable evidence of how the tsunami has behaved.”

Via Nature. Photo via National Geographic.

Japan engineers concede they might have to bury nuclear plant

As the nuclear situation at the Fukushima power plant continues to deteriorate, engineers start to ponder drastic options more and more seriously; it seems that the method which seems to have te best chances to work is the same one that was user in Chernobyl in 1986.

It is the first time operation leaders are admitting that burying the 40 year old complex is a serious option, as pumping water and droping it from helicopters seems to not work so well. However, even in this situation they still have to find a way to cool them down, which is more than complicated at the moment.

“It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete. But our priority right now is to try and cool them down first,” an official from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, told a news

As Japan entered the second week after the 9.0 earthquake that generated tsunamis of over 10 meters, it’s worst crisis since WWII is far from being over. Already, 6.500 have officially been declared dead, with another 10.000 reported missing, and hopes are dropping with each passing day. Almost 400.000 people are homeless and battling near freezing temperatures, and the government also didn’t respond at its maximum capacity.

“An unprecedented huge earthquake and huge tsunami hit Japan. As a result, things that had not been anticipated in terms of the general disaster response took place,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

Japan also raised the nuclear crisis rating from 4 to 5 out of a maximum of 7, but most experts claim the situation is even more dangerous.

Japan drops water on nuclear plant, situation is still very hot

The situation on the Fukushima nuclear plant is far from calming down, even after the government authorized water being dropped from helicopters, an option which was described as unnacceptable. It is even more unclear what the effect of that water will be, as helicopters threw it without hovering, presumably because of the radiation.

Also, this is a good example of why this method is rarely used: it doesn’t seem to work. The 60 tonnes of seawater seem to have pretty much missed their target, if not entirely, than a quite significant quantity; however, without hard evidence from the ground, video footage is the only way to figure this out, so my guess or yours is just as good as anybody’s on this matter.

The water wasn’t in fact meant to cool the reactors, as reported from many sources, but rather to cool the cooling pools. Without sufficient water, there is a growing chance of releasing radiation into the atmosphere, and the presence of radiation makes it even more hard to contain, because workers cannot be nearby.

“If this is damaged – and we suspect it must be – you’ve got radionuclides being produced and going upwards because of the fire,” said Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester. “[Without water] the immediate outlook is that the fire and the generation of hydrogen will continue, so we’ve got quite an unstable situation.”

Japan’s emperor expresses fear over nuclear situation

The situation in Japan is far from calming down; the 9.0 earthquake and the tsunamis it triggered unleashed a chain of events which keep pointing towards a future that can only be dire. In his first official statement since the event, emperor Akihito says events at Fukushima are unpredictable, and he stated that he is “deeply concerned” about the nuclear situation.

In a rare public address, he urges his people to work together to overcome the worst crisis since WWII, saying that the events at the Fukushima power plant were “unpredictable”.

“I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the affected areas,” Akihito said in his first public appearance since Japan’s north-east coast was devastated by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in which more than 10,000 people may have died. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”

As a symbolic figure, Akihito must stay away from political issues, but his appearance may go some way to lift the people’s spirits and give them the extra boost needed to secure the concerns. Akihito is regarded as a very intelligent and thoughtful man, and his opinions are respected and cherished by the Japanese, even 65 years after his father, Hirohito, was forced to renounce his divine status following Japan’s defeat in WWII.

“I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is unpredictable,” he said in remarks broadcast on television. “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse.”