Fukushima Crisis: Gobs of Radioactive Contamination

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[Hu's on First Fukushima Timeline]

Update 10/31/2011: Uncle Arnie has a new video up on the study. I can’t say this study is perfect, or support everybody who thinks Arnie is always right, but he’s even 10% right we have problems in Japan and the continental US, especially the west coast.

Scientist Marco Kaltofen Presents Data Confirming Hot Particles from Fairewinds Associates on Vimeo.

Here is a fairewinds link to graphic slideshow and pdf of the study

Fukushima Tepco / Contractor worker exposure by month

tepco document

msv March April .. Sept
over 250 5 0 0
200-250 1 0 0
150-200 1 0 0
100-150 5 0 0
50-100 78 0 0
20-50 260 1 0
10-20 666 19 0
10 or less 2726 3588 1046
total 3742 3608 1046
max msv 590 42 1.22
ave msv 8.9 0.5 0

Now what this shows is that exposed workers are way down from the first month, but 5 got a really big over 250 msv dose, max 590 (when 1000 will make you sick right away), hundreds got 10-20, and 3742 got amounts enough to cause concern, now it’s down to 1046 in september. I would guess these numbers are unprecedented since Chernobyl, certainly for reactors in the West. (or the Western-ized part of the Far East)

Oct 27, 2011:

From Simplyinfo.org this item
Radiation Releases From Fukushima Much Larger Than Initially Estimated, Evidence Of US Contamination
goes over a number of new reports of how bad the Fukushima “dirty bomb” contamination really was, though it could have been worse.

Scientific American highlighted a paper by the journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has published a paper (link to pdf) that comes up with much higher estimates of releases of radioactive cesium and other badness than the government, and says that much of the radiation evidently was coming out of the Reactor 4 which was taken apart for shutdown, but still had a boiling swimming pool chock full of fuel rods open to the air after a fire and explosion also blew out the “secondary containment” of fragile roof, upper and lower concrete side walls.

This chart from ENE news shows how radiation levels were going sky high as things were blowing up, burning, and spouting out enormous plumes of radioactive steam. Although they were concentrating on spraying the blasted wreckage of unit 3 with water, it wasn’t until they finally deployed a giant concrete pump, dubbed the “giraffe” to fill the pool back up with new water that the cesium levels dropped off by a lot.

They suggest that they should have paid attention to that pool early before it started boiling and blew up, and we still don’t have a good idea of where the hydrogen came from since the fuel bundles in pool 4 don’t look like they are damaged. Studies show that pools without power can go dry in a day or so, and cause a fire that can’t be put out that easily match Chernobyl in the amount of rad-bad released to the surrounding countryside and planet. The J-gov scientist Masamichi Chino has countered “I think the release from unit 4 is not important”. Say what?

Cesium releases at Fukushima

The conclusions is that “much of the fallout could have been prevented by flooding the pool earlier”. The figure that they released 1.7 × 10^19 Bq of xenon-133, which would be a tad more than 1.4 × 10^19  Bq for Chernobyl, while they figured cesium at 3.5 × 10^16  Bq caesium-137, which is double the j-government figure, and within half of Chernobyl. In engineering terms when you are within an “order of magnitude”, you’re about as bad or worse depending on what radioactive poison you want to measure.

Radiation alarms went off right after the quake, probably triggered by venting of xenon-133. Since you’ll never see this when everything in one piece, this is an indication that confirms worker observations that pipes and structures were evidently shattered long before the plant was flooded by the ocean. Analysis of weather patterns show that much of the radioactive plumes did pass over Tokyo, but researcher Stohl said “There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn’t rain, It could have been much worse.” This puts Prime Minster Kan’s agonizing over whether to evacuate Tokyo in a much more serious light, and bring up the issue of the Indian Point nuclear power station which is America’s Boiling Water Reactor which could do the same to New York City if it’s ever hit by an earthquake just a tad bigger than the one that just hit DC, even if it’s not swamped by a tsunami. BTW, they’ve now determined that even the though the Anna plant in Virginia escaped really serious damage, it was a far more powerful quake than the plant had been designed to sustain, and some of the damage resembles damage seen at some of the Fukushima buildings.

Some other neat facts:

  • The strong 133 Xe release started very early, possibly immediately after the
    earthquake and the emergency shutdown. The entire noble gas inventory of reactor units 1–3 was set free into the atmosphere between 11 and 15 March 2011. This is the main problem of a meltdown – fuel rods are basically very tall tin-cans which seal in all of the nasty gases produced in the process of fission. If you had a lead-lined pantry, you could keep these in your house. But if you puncture or melt the zircalloy jacket, then it would have to be an air-tight pantry that you would not want to open. It all leaks out, and if there’s piles of steam coming out of the reactor well as everybody saw in photos and video, all this stuff is going to be in the steam. Right now there is effectively NO containment of these gases for the months that the reactors have melted down, only that so far as we know they’re holding most of the water and the damaged fuel pellets somewhere on the concrete containment floor.

  • “137 Cs emissions peaked on 14–15 March but were generally high from 12 until 19 March, when they suddenly dropped by orders of magnitude exactly when spraying of water on the spent-fuel pool of unit 4 started. This indicates that emissions were not only coming from the damaged reactor cores, but also from the spent-fuel pool of unit 4 and confirms that the spraying was an effective countermeasure.”

Radiation Exposure to the Population in Japan After the Earthquake is a paper by Marco Kaltofen, who is a Registered Professional Engineer investigating the transport of radioactive particles in his dissertation research at the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (For prospective parents and students, that’s a favorite fallback about 1 hr west of Boston if you can’t get into MIT) . Here is what he had to say in summary:

The Fukushima nuclear accident dispersed airborne dusts that are contaminated with radioactive particles. When inhaled or ingested, these particles can have negative effects on human health that are different from those caused by exposure to external or uniform radiation fields. translation – The explosions and steam filled the air with tons radioactive particles that could kill you right away, or kill you of cancer later.

A field sampling effort was undertaken to characterize the form and concentration of radionuclides in the air and in environmental media which can accumulate fallout. Samples included settled dusts, surface wipes, used filter masks, used air filters, dusty footwear, and surface soils. Particles were collected from used motor vehicle air filters and standard 0.45 micron membrane air filters. Soils and settled dusts were collected from outdoor surfaces, interior surfaces, and from used children’s shoes. The Japanese filters contained cesium 134 and 137, as well as cobalt 60 at levels as high as 3 nCi (=111 Bq) total activity per sample. Translation – they looked at dust in filter masks, house and car air filters and children shoes, and found it everywhere.

The samples of Japanese children’s shoes were found to have relatively high radiocesium contamination levels. – Translation: OMG LITTLE KIDS WERE WALKING AROUND IN THE STUFF AND BRINGING IT HOME. That can’t be good.

Materials collected during April 2011 from Japan also contained Iodine 131. This short-lived nuclide was not observed in later samples. Translation – thank goodness, since Iodine 131 has a half life in days and it disappeared after April, it means that most of the Iodine got away has decayed, and there isn’t enough new stuff to show up in measurements

US air filter and dusts samples did not contain hot particles, except for air samples collected from Seattle, WA during the month of April 2011. Isolated US soil samples contained up to 8 nanoCuries (=296 Bq) per Kg of radiocesium, while control samples (not exposed to possible contamination) showed no detectable radiocesium. Dusts containing radioactive cesium were found at levels orders of magnitude above background more than 100 miles from the accident site, and were detectable on the US west coast (where a lot of Asian Americans live for the obligatory Asian American community link).

Translation: Chris Busby and Uncle Arnie Gundersen have been screaming about scary hot particles which can lodge in your lungs. They said they were hitting Seattle and radioactive air filters without telling us exactly where their numbers are coming from. The fact that either of these guys have been hanging around the usual jihad cheering section anti-war Occupy Wall Street type crowd wasn’t reassuring, but this guy confirms that there were hot particles in Seattle, at least soon after the meltdown. Fortunately for me, my house is a good 40 min drive from the Space Needle. Oh, and the other thing, OMG, AMERICAN SOIL FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA IS CONTAMINATED WITH CS-137 AND GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE!!

Is it time to panic? 8 nanocuries converts to 296 becquerels per kilogram. Now 1 bq is basically ONE atom decaying per second, and there are a LOT of atoms in a Kg of stuff. The CRC Handbook on Radiation Management and Protection (pg 620), shows that a “reference banana”, the most popular common sense every-life measuring stick of radiation is listed at about 130 Bq per kilogram, so your yard on the west coast HAS TWICE AS MUCH RADIATION PER KG AS A BANANA which is about the most radioactive thing per kg most people have in their pantries, maybe a bit less if you live in Florida. So I wouldn’t eat the dirt, but it might not be a bad idea of to measure radiation in stuff grown in that dirt, as well as sewage and drains where radioactive dust has been accumulating in Tokyo just to be on the super safe side.

In an ideal world, you should be able to figure out how much cesium in your yard is from Fukushima, and present a claim to TEPCO for decontamination costs and paying a little extra for your health insurance premiums to cover any excess sickness you might get from it, and reduction in land value, but they’re having problems trying to pay off the people who had to abandon their land and lives for “cheap clean energy”. Just don’t go into panic and chaos the moment somebody measures radiation as non-zero.

About the Author

MIT electrical engineering computer science graduate has written conservative columns on politics, race / culture, science and education since the 70s in MIT The Tech and various publications in including New Republic and National Review.