Fukushima Commentary 7...4/27/13-6/6/13

Topics include Fukushima groundwater activity, J-PARC radioactive release, Fukushima’s Petrarch, fears of fisherman, waste water build-up, international Press spreads fear, and Sendai lawsuit rejected.

June 6, 2013

New Tepco groundwater study confirms that isotopic levels are negligible

The Japanese Press has focused on Tepco’s recent discovery of trace levels of radioactive Cesium in the groundwater under F. Daiichi. Across the board, the news media claims the company has reversed its prior statement that groundwater contamination is negligible. Previously, all groundwater samples had been analyzed in the F. Daiichi laboratories. Because local fisheries balked at Tepco’s desire to pump groundwater away from the plant’s leaking basements due to fear of rumors that could hurt business, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority suggested the samples be re-tested at F. Daiini 10 kilometers to the south. The background radiation at F. Daiini is considerably lower than at the site of the March, 2011, nuclear accident and the lower detection level would be much less. The F. Daiini results show a trace of radioactive cesium in the groundwater, and the announcement has caused a tsunami of negative Press. Ordinarily something this trivial gets Press attention in Japan and little or no coverage internationally. But this time, Reuters covered it under the headline “Fukushima plant operator reverses claim groundwater not contaminated”. Did Tepco actually reverse its claim, or is the Press twisting the facts in the interest of further reducing Tepco’s reputation? A quick examination of the fact points to the latter possibility.

Three weeks ago when the groundwater issue emerged, Tepco said the level of radioactive Cesium was “negligible”. The dictionary meaning of the term is “…a value so small or unimportant as to be not worth considering”. Synonyms include “insignificant, trifling and trivial”. The concentration of Cesium in the groundwater is less than 0.4 Becquerels per liter, barely detectible even in the relatively low background at F. Daiini. (A Becquerel is one radioactive emission per second) The minimum level of detection at F. Daiichi is about 30 Becquerels per liter. By the numbers, the detected level is absolutely insignificant… trifling… trivial.

One might ask, “Trivial compared to what?” International limits for the open release of radioactive Cesium are typically in the 1000 Bq/l range. Japan, with the most restrictive radiation standards in the world, has a limit of 90 Bq/l. Japan’s drinking water limit for Cesium is 10 Bq/l, and Tepco’s self-imposed limit for release is one Bq/l. The concentration of Cesium in the F. Daiichi groundwater is less than half of the ultra-low limit Tepco has set for itself. In other words…trivial…insignificant…negligible! Does this is even remotely reverse Tepco’s original statement three weeks ago? Not at all. In fact, the new numbers have substantiated Tepco’s “negligible” assessment. When Tepco announced the new findings they said should prove the groundwater radiation levels are sufficiently low and no-one should oppose their pumping the groundwater to the sea.

Tepco is right, but it’s not presented that way in Japan’s Press. Millions of people in Japan have become conditioned to the idea that, with respect to radiation, detectible means “extremely dangerous”. The Japanese Press will always cater to the most profitable angle, and fear of radiation sells copy. Appealing to this no-safe-level-of-radiation misconception is good for the news media business. However, it seems Reuters has literally bent over backwards to find someone quotable in the effort to make Tepco seem inept. Atsushi Kasai, formerly of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said "Once again, they've missed something they should be aware of. This shows again they lack the qualification to be managing the plant.” To the contrary, Tepco is the only organization to run the groundwater analyses and must have qualified people in order to do it. Tepco found the barely detectible concentration of Cesium and Tepco dutifully reported it to the world. How is this proof that Tepco’s staff can’t manage the plant? Obviously Kansai’s words are vacuous, if not contradictory to the reality of the situation…but that doesn’t stop the Press from posting his ponderous piffle as expert opinion.

To make matters worse, one Japanese-American newspaper, Japan Daily Press, added statements to their report openly intended to promote fear, uncertainty and doubt. The Daily Press posted, “Cesium is known to be highly reactive, even with water at low temperatures. It is also known to be very pyrophoric. Cesium-137 is particularly very mobile because of its water-soluble properties, thus imposing greater risk when released in the environment.” In actuality, Cesium is one of many elements with these properties. They are called “alkali elements” by chemists, which include Lithium, Sodium, Potassium and several others. It is misleading to post these common properties as reason to believe Cesium is singularly dangerous.  Then there’s the term “pyrophoric”. It means “liable to ignite spontaneously on exposure to air”. For any alkali to burn spontaneously, it must be in a pure state (not part of a compound), in powdered form and in air that’s hot and very humid. In other forms, all alkalis are exceedingly difficult to ignite. This is basic Chemistry. However, for something more attuned to the lay-person…were there any reports of burning in the air during the massive releases of Cesium from F. Daiichi during the early days of the crisis? Of course not! The pyrophoric allusion is as vacuous as it gets. Finally, Cesium has the same environmental “mobility” as all alkalis, which again makes it nothing uniquely problematic. Oh…did the Press mention that another alkali which is naturally radioactive is the essential nutrient Potassium? There is nothing unique or specifically threatening about Cesium itself, and at the trace radioactive levels in the F. Daiichi ground water it is unquestionably negligible! Clearly, The Japan Daily Press used Cesium’s chemical properties to add insult to injury, and showed their unethical agenda in the process.

What’s more, Japan Today says, “The announcement is yet another example of TEPCO initially downplaying a problem, only to revise its findings because of faulty procedures. It casts further doubt over its control over the cleanup.” Who are they trying to kid? There has been no down-playing by Tepco, by any stretch of the imagination. And, since when does a barely detectible level of radioactivity, several orders of magnitude less intense than bananas, potato chips and/or Brazil nuts, qualify as a realistic problem? Where is the evidence of faulty procedures? And, what does this have to do with “control over the cleanup”? The answer to each question is one and the same – nothing!

I guess the Japanese Press and Reuters would say I’m confounding the issue with facts. “Let the facts be damned” seems to be the order of the day. After all, we’re dealing with a pyrophoric element that is environmentally mobile and (worst of all) it has detectible radiation, all of which is reported to the world by a company that is too inept to be trusted! At least that is what the Press would have the world believe. Do they also expect us to believe that unicorns actually exist? It makes about as much sense! Tepco didn’t “reverse” its position by going the extra yard and finding just how trivial the Cesium concentration really is. They should be commended for scientifically proving the groundwater’s Cesium is categorically negligible!

May 30, 2013

J-PARC incident reveals ignorance of Japanese Politicians and Press

On Thursday, May 23, at 11:55 am, the particle accelerator facility at Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, experienced an incident that resulted in a minor radioactive incident. The Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) was directing a high-energy proton beam at a sample of gold when the beam intensity suddenly increased. A small portion of the gold evaporated and several “exotic” isotopes were scattered inside the “controlled area” of the Hadron Building at the J-PARC facility. When controlled area radiation monitors detected the increased radiation, alarms sounded and the beam was automatically terminated. Radiation levels dropped as soon as the shutdown occurred. Soon, the beam was re-started and ran for about another hour. On Friday, facility staff found some short-lived isotopes in a concentration of about 30 Becquerels per square centimeter in the Hadron Building hallway, which is outside the controlled area. (1) This is when the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in Tokyo and the local prefectural government were alerted to an unusual event per existing regulations. Japan Atomic Energy Agency, who runs the facility jointly with Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), says radiation monitors at the facility property boundary “did not show any meaningful increase”. Also, none of Ibaraki Prefecture’s seven radiation monitors registered any off-site release.

When the news of the incident hit the Press, all hell broke loose. The entire spectrum of the Japanese news media began treating the J-PARC incident as if it were another Fukushima accident. Even the usually nuclear-neutral The Japan News said “The case thus seems to illustrate a deterioration in the safety culture developed by the nation’s nuclear industry, according to experts.” (2) Local Ibaraki officials and Tokyo politicians also jumped on the antinuclear bandwagon. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said, “They lacked a sense of urgency and crisis when the public is harboring strong feelings of distrust toward nuclear power.” Shunichi Matsumotoof Ibaraki’s nuclear safety group said, “The prefecture is taking the incident seriously. People living nearby are feeling very anxious about the external radiation leak and the internal exposure (of the researchers).” (3) Akihiko Kawasaki, of the Tokai municipal government, said he was concerned about JAEA’s lax attitude toward the handling of nuclear substances and demanded the agency confirm the safety of the environment around the facility. (4) The stream of outcry over this incident went on and on.

The problem is this – J-PARC is not a nuclear power facility. It is not a part of the so-called “nuclear industry”, or what the Japanese Press calls the “nuclear village”. It is a particle accelerator facility running physics experiments on the fundamental structure of matter.

A particle accelerator takes charged sub-atomic particles (protons, in this case) and accelerates them to nearly the speed of light using powerful magnetic technology. Particle accelerators are huge structures. The main delta-shaped “ring” at J-PARC is 1.6 kilometers in diameter and buried underground. (5) The ring is where the protons get speeded up to nearly light speed. The resulting high energy proton beam is precisely aimed at a “target” of a specific element (in this case gold) resulting in collision between the protons and the target’s atoms. The collisions break some of the target atoms into their subatomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons), and subsequently the subatomic particles are broken into their “elementary particles”. Elementary particles are the building blocks of all matter and are defined as having no substructure. Break them up and all you have is radiation and energy. Elementary particles include quarks, leptons, bosons, baryons, mesons and neutrinos. (6) The intent of such research is to study the fundamental structure of matter – the “stuff” everything in the universe is made of. There is no fissioning, no production of electricity, in fact nothing that remotely resembles anything that has to do with nuclear energy. In fact, applying the title “nuclear” to accelerators is a stretch. It’s worse than comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing apples to onions!

These facilities are regulated by law in each country they exist in. There are currently 22 accelerators in Japan, most of which are relatively small (compared to J-PARC) and located at universities. The regulatory bodies in each country are, by default, the same ones who regulate nuclear power plants, but the two technologies are as different as night and day. One reason accelerators are  regulated by the same bodies as nuke plants is because they can produce small levels of radiation as a by-product of the proton collisions with the target nuclei and/or transmutations of trace contaminants (such as Sodium) into radioactive isotopes.

Since joint-operator JAEA has the word “Atomic” in its name, and “atomic” is synonymous with the term “nuclear” to the Press and most politicians, the incorrect assumption of J-PARC being part of the nuclear industry goes literally unquestioned. On the other hand, it seems the Press and the politicians conveniently avoid KEK’s joint ownership of J-PARC because it doesn’t have the words “atomic” or “nuclear” in its title. Plus, KEK hasn’t even the most distant connection to anything associated with nuclear power plants.

J-PARC has had no measurable release to the environment, but because there was a release outside the controlled area and into another part of the Hadron Building, the possibility of an atmospheric release gives the Press license to treat the J-PARC incident as serious, especially since its associated with a group whose title has the word “atomic” in it. The possibility of a miniscule release at J-PARC is thusly associated with the actuality of a massive release that happened at F. Daiichi by the Press and politicians of Japan. They want everyone to believe it is Fukushima all over again.

The problem goes even deeper. It’s bad enough that Japan’s Press and many politicians would not know a neutron from a ping-pong ball. But, their collective ignorance of the massive abyss between nuclear energy and particle physics research is reprehensible. The degree of misunderstanding involved in this situation is perhaps best exemplified by the confused statement of Akihiko Kawasaki from the Tokai municipal government. He said he was concerned about JAEA’s lax attitude toward the handling of nuclear substances and demanded the agency confirm the safety of the environment around the facility. When J-PARC was not a nuclear plant, his response was, “That’s why we want them to be more sensitive and show local residents that they can make good use of their new technologies [in various fields].”

Huh? What does that have to do with anything? Perhaps he meant that because there might have been a miniscule, undetectable release of radiation into the environment, J-PARC should take this sort of thing seriously. Well, they do! J-PARC has publically apologized and said they will do whatever is necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The bottom lines are many. All of the staff in the Hadron Building has been given whole body counts, with 33 of 55 showing detectable internal exposure. The contamination inside the building was contained and no longer a source of environmental release before the Press posted the first convoluted, fear-predicated news report. J-PARC has made a public apology. No member of the public is at risk. The 33 members of the J-PARC staff who have been found to have inhaled some radioactive isotopes will not be harmed either. In fact, the highest measured exposure is equal to the region’s natural background radiation level! J-PARC is not completely innocent, however. They made the mistake of not appreciating the degree of radiophobia in Japan and the Japanese Press’ unquenchable thirst for radiation-related scare-mongering. They can take control of the situation and ease the intensity of the issue by educating the Press on the massive differences between nukes and accelerators. While they are at it, they should educate the national and local politicians, too. But, up to this point J-PARC seems content to let the opportunity pass.

References: (several of which were shared by Australian colleague Luke Weston)

1. Accident of J-PARC Hadron Experimental Facility; J-PARC press release; May 25, 2013. http://j-parc.jp/en/topics/20130525presse.html

2. Japan in Depth / Researchers downplayed radiation / Leak signals lax N-safety culture; The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun); 5/27/13. http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000257915

3.  Local govts seek answers after N-lab mishap; The Japan News; 5/27/13. http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000257828

4. J-PARC leak signals poor sense of crisis; The Japan Times; 5/27/2013. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/05/27/national/j-parc-leak-signals-poor-sense-of-crisis/#at_pco=cfd-1.0

5. Sugai, Isao; Present Status of HBC Stripper Foil Development [at J-PARC]; Seminar for the High Energy Research Organization of Japan; 11/11/2009.  http://beamdocs.fnal.gov/AD/DocDB/0034/003496/001/sugai_seminar.pdf

6. Elementary Particles; “Particle Adventure”; University of Oregon.  http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/ast123/lectures/lec07.html

7. Ikeda, Yujiro; J-PARC Status; Japan Atomic Energy Agency; 1/9/2013. http://nuclpart.kek.jp/pac/1301/pdf/130109-ikeda_J-PARC_PAC.pdf

May 23, 2013

Fukushima’s Petrarch?

In the spring of 1336, Francesco Petrarch ascended Mt. Ventoux, in southeastern France. As he reached the 6,200 ft. peak, he was stunned by the grandeur that lay below him. A scholar, Petrarch opened his book of St. Augustine and read how mankind is awed by natural wonders such as mountains, seas, waterfalls and the movement of the stars. However, the wonders themselves are “uninterested”. This caused Petrarch to reflect on the arrogance of human vanity and ponder his sudden admiration for the nobility of uncorrupted thought. Upon descent from Ventoux, Petrarch “hastily and extemporaneously” penned a letter to his collegiate counselor, Diogoni di Borgo San Sepolcro, in order to document his experience. Many historians mark this letter as critical to the onset of western humanism and the Renaissance.

This past Sunday, an article in The Japan Times (1) brought Petrarch to my mind. Photographer Tomoki Imai has been compiling a photo journal of the natural environment around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station since April 21, 2011. He has made 20 visits since then, ascending mountains located between 20 and 30 kilometers from the nuclear accident site. However, his most recent visitation was the first time a news reporter had accompanied him. Imai’s recent book “Semicircle Law” had generated minor news media interest because it showed a different view of the accident’s aftermath, unlike the apocalyptic visuals that have been common in the Press for more than 2 years. The wrecked reactor buildings are rarely seen in the pictorial. In the few pictures where the plant can be seen, it’s little more than a mote on a distant shoreline. Accompanied by the Times reporter, Imai stood on the observation deck of Mount Higakure, nearly 20 kilometers from F. Daiichi…the closest he had ever been to the plant. While there, the photographer reflected on his first experience, more than two years earlier.

In April 2011, Imai scaled to the top of Mount Tekura, some 2,000 feet high and 30 kilometers from the accident site. “I wanted to stand there and see the [Fukushima] No. 1 plant with my own eyes,” Imai explained. “When I first climbed up the mountain, I remember being really nervous and scared.But when the photos actually started coming out, I realized that the prints didn’t necessarily reflect all the trepidation I felt. So then I realized how my view of Fukushima was being distorted by all the TV images and the information we were being bombarded with at the time — when, in actuality, the view from the mountaintop was quite pretty to look at. I found that disconnect very interesting.”

Upon reading Imai’s words, an analogy to Petrarch’s realization atop Mount Ventoux dawned on me. What Imai saw had a profound effect on his work, convincing him to shift the focus of his plans for his Fukushima project. He had decided to visualy document the land surrounding Fukushima Daiichi instead of photographing the devastation caused along the Tohoku coast by the massive tsunami. Others were already doing that. Imai wanted to show changes he felt would occur with the Fukushima coastal area resulting from the nuclear accident. “First, there were many restrictions on where I could go, so the [local Fukushima] cities were kind of out of the equation to begin with,” he recalled. “But once I started taking photographs in the mountains, I realized that was another valid way to document the ongoing aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.” Imai initially expected that some visible effects of the radiation would eventually show in his pictures, but just the opposite has happened. He now wishes to show that any changes to landscape inside the exclusion zone are invisible. However, what Imai sees makes him wonder whether or not the contamination has tainted the cyclical nature of Mother Earth.

The journalistic schema of the Japan Times article is decidedly antinuclear. They post a few quotes from Imai that imply he remains convinced future visits by him will reveal radiation damage he can visually document. The Times article suggests Imai has not experienced a complete personal catharsis with respect to his feelings about the nuclear accident...his doubts remain. However, the sudden change in his vision upon gazing down from Mount Tekura more than two years ago, and his recent photo journal, could eventually have an influence on the Japanese people as significant as Petrarch’s impact on western civilization. Could Tomoki Imai’s scaling of Mount Tekura in 2011 stimulate a conceptual renaissance concerning Fukushima Daiichi?

1. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/05/19/general/fukushima-photos-focus-on-what-cant-be-seen/#.UZov-uvD8dV

May 15, 2013

Fukushima groundwater makes fishermen fearful

This past Monday, Tokyo Electric Company met with the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Association hoping for approval to discharge groundwater from the F. Daiichi power station to the sea. The discharge could reduce the Fukushima Daiichi waste-water build-up by 25%. Testing of the groundwater showed no evidence of Fukushima contamination, but the fisheries withheld their approval, nonetheless. Why? For one thing, much of the union’s membership doesn’t know the difference between groundwater and contaminated water. That’s what federation head Tetsu Nozaki said, “Some members do not understand the difference between groundwater and contaminated water. Many of our members got a wrong idea that contaminated water would be dumped into the sea after being treated.”  (Asahi Shimbun) Added to the naivety issue is the fear that rumors of the discharge being radioactive will further damage the local fishing business. One union member bluntly stated, “Even if it is [only] groundwater, damage to the public perception of fishing will be unavoidable and could hurt our operations.” (Asahi Shimbun)

The issue is the clear result of ignorance and fear. Fishermen in the Tohoku region are typical of a significant fraction of the Japan population. Anything that has to do with radiation and F. Daiichi evokes fear-spawning stories in the Japanese Press; not only radioactive contamination itself, but also the mere possibility of it. Detectible radioactivity of any kind that comes from anywhere near the power station is explicitly and/or implicitly presented by the Press to have come from F. Daiichi. Information concerning the absolute safety of the groundwater is always reported to be coming from Tepco, and the Press plays on the public’s distrust of the company. Fukushima radiation fears fed by the Press have terrorized a nation, including the Fukushima fishermen.

Is the groundwater actually contaminated? Tepco bored twelve “wells” to test the groundwater. Eight of them showed nothing, but four initially revealed a few traces of radioactive isotopes identical to those found in rivers and streams of the region. (The most recent analyses of 5/14 show nothing in all twelve) If the initial trace isotopes in the groundwater were actually due to Fukushima contamination, there would have been evidence of Cesium-137 and Cs-134. Japanese news reports say only Cs-137 was detected. This strongly suggests the source is atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, many decades ago. Another of the trace isotopes was Strontium, which is also a long-lived residual of past nuclear weapons tests. However, none of the Japanese Press reports mentioned the possibility of the Cesium and Strontium coming from weapon’s tests. Not one!

Because the groundwater samples were taken from the earth below F. Daiichi, some fishermen suspect the radioactivity comes from F. Daiichi’s underground waste water reservoirs. It doesn’t matter that only a few liters of leakage got out of the multi-layer sheets that completely line the cisterns. It doesn’t matter that it was entirely absorbed by the material packed around the plastic sheets. It doesn’t matter that none got far enough to contaminate anything in the natural environment. The mere possibility that some of it got in the groundwater is all that matters.

On Tuesday, Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he will intercede on Tepco’s behalf and seek understanding of the Fukushima fisheries. He stressed the importance of cooperation from the fishermen. Motegi admitted that failure to persuade the fishermen to permit the discharge could greatly delay resolution of the F. Daiichi wastewater problem. But, even if Motegi and Tepco are successful, merely informing the Fukushima fishermen about the difference between groundwater and contaminated water will not resolve the over-riding issue which has simmered since 3/11/11 – mortal fear of radiation experienced by a significant portion of the Japanese public.

The Japanese government and Tepco should do what this writer has advocated since 3/11/11, and educate everyone about the realities of radiation and its natural existence the environment. There are 14 naturally-occurring elements which have radioactive isotopes. These isotopes are not radioactive because of bombs or nuclear plants. They come from the nuclear cores of stars across the universe. The radioactive isotopes of these elements are everywhere…in the air we breathe (such as Radon), the water we drink (such as Tritium) and the food we eat (such as Potassium-40). Construction materials, including granite and adobe brick, contain numerous naturally-occurring isotopes like Uranium, Thorium and Radium. Then there’s Carbon-14, which is found everywhere. We live in a naturally radioactive world. It’s about time the Japanese people were made aware of this… at the very least, the population of the Tohoku region.

One might ask… who will pay for it? Allow me a not-so-modest proposal. The Tokyo government has required Tepco to pay Fukushima evacuees billions of dollars in compensatory living expenses for more than two years. Thousands of the evacuees are either voluntary (not from the exclusion zone) or from communities which have had their restrictions lifted. Many could go home, if they wanted to, but do not because of baseless radiation fears. Some of the evacuees who can go home have admitted they have no intention of returning because they will lose their compensatory checks, which can be $1,500/month or more. Tepco gives millions of dollars each month to people who can safely go home, but are afraid of trivial amounts of radiation exposure they might receive.

Japan should stop hand-outs to evacuees who ought to go home, and use the money to set up a radiation education program for the residents of the Tohoku region…if not the whole country. Oh, the Press and antinuclear Tokyo politicians will call it mistreatment of Fukushima refugees, but it would make a lot more sense than doling out big bucks to people who are afraid of what they don’t understand. Spend the money on public understanding instead of fear-appeasement.

There is an old adage which purports that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance about radiation is anything but blissful, especially when combined with mortal fear. It makes rumors seem real and the unreasonable appear reasonable.

May 11, 2013

F. Daiichi Wastewater Build-up Radiation Fears Continue

The wastewater build-up problem at Fukushima Daiichi increases with every day that passes. After Cesium-stripping some 850 tons of raw wastewater per day, about 450 tons is used for cooling of the damaged fuel cores in units #1, 2 &3. The remainder is stored. Thus, the amount sent to storage increases by about 400 tons per day. Currently, there is more than 300,000 tons of Cesium-depleted water in storage. Tokyo Electric Company is testing a system, called ALPS, to remove all but one of the 62 isotopes that remain. The one residual radioactive isotope, Tritium, cannot be removed by ALPS because it is actually Hydrogen that is integral to the water molecule itself. The radioactive level of the Tritium in the stored wastewaters is about 100 Becquerels per milliliter. (ANS) Because of the Tritium, it is unlikely that Tepco will be allowed to discharge the ALPS-treated water to the sea and resolve the build-up problem. Why? Because local fisheries won’t agree to let it happen due to radiation fears and rumors that continually hurt the fishing business all along the Tohoku coastline. Further, based on the Asian-Pacific outcry following Tepco’s release of 11,500 tons of mildly radioactive water to the sea on April 4, 2011, it is likely a similar outcry will occur. Tokyo doesn’t want to go through that political problem again.

What would happen to the environment if Tepco did discharge the Tritiated water into the Pacific? Let’s look at the numbers. Tritium is a naturally-occurring radioactive isotope found in all water systems of the world. Tritium is produced in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays strike nitrogen-based molecules in the air. (EPA) The Pacific Ocean naturally contains a total Tritium activity level of 370,000 Terabecquerels. (ISU) One Terabecquerel equals one trillion radioactive disintegrations per second. In addition, Tritium is a Beta radiation emitter, which is one of the two least-penetrating types of radioactivity. Plus, Tritium’s Beta particle is one of the weakest in all of nature. The half-life of tritium is 12.5 years, so it lasts a long time. Mother Nature’s natural build-up mechanism for Tritium balances with the radioactive decay, keeping the Tritium levels in the Pacific relatively constant.

As mentioned earlier, the stored wastewaters at Fukushima Daiichi contain a Tritium activity of about 100 Becquerels per milliliter. Tepco says there is nearly 325,000 tons of Cesium-stripped water now in storage. That’s a lot of milliliters – just under half a trillion milliliters, in fact. Thus, by multiply in 0.4 trillion by 100, we find the total Tritium activity of the wastewaters now stored at F. Daiichi is about 40 Terabecquerels. What would this added Tritium do to the Pacific if Tepco dumps all of it after decontamination with their ALPS system? It would increase the Tritium level of the Pacific by one one-hundredth of one percent...one part in ten thousand! Instead of 370,000 terabecquerels of Tritium, the Pacific would hypothetically contain 370,040 Terabecquerels. In point of fact, the increase would be barely detectible using the most sensitive monitoring technology known to mankind. It would be virtually indistinguishable from the Pacific's natural concentration variations.

In other words, the dumping of all the post-ALPS Tritiated water from F. Daiichi directly into the Pacific would do nothing. That’s right – nothing.

Tritium is very difficult to remove from water. It is a slow, expensive process. Removing the Tritium will require keeping the hundreds of thousands of tons of Tritiated wastewaters in storage for additional months, if not years. In the end, what good would it do to remove the Tritium? It would be a good public relations move, to be sure. It would be a good political move, too. But, as we can see, it would not be a move dictated by the numbers. It would not be a move based on rationality and reason. While it would be socially and politically expedient, it would probably not avoid negative Press. Already, antinuclear voices in Japan say they will try and stop Tepco from discharging the waters to the sea, even if completely stripped of every last radioactive atom. Why? Antinuclear groups say they will take all action necessary to bar a release even if the Tritium were also removed because the water would have been previously radioactive and unacceptably “tainted”. No matter what Tepco ultimately does, it will get bad Press. It’s unavoidable.

Tepco will probably not be allowed to make this technically-innocuous discharge because of international politics, an antinuclear Press, and public fear of radiation. Because of Tritium, Tepco’s wastewater build-up will continue unabated and produce countless negative news reports into the foreseeable future.

What’s wrong with this picture?


1. ANS – Fukushima Daiichi: ANS Committee Report; Section IV.B., Current Status; June, 2012. http://fukushima.ans.org/report/cleanup

2. EPA – Tritium: Where does tritium come from?; US Environmental Protection Agency; April 24, 2012. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/tritium.html#where

3. ISU – Natural Radioactivity in the Ocean; “Radioactivity in Nature”; Idaho State University: Radiation Information Network. http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/natural.htm

May 4, 2013

NBC News Article  is Full of FUD*

*(Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

NBC News’ article, 'A very fragile situation': Leaks from Japan's wrecked nuke plant raise fears, is too disappointing for words. It is clearly intended to feed pre-existing fears using scary speculation, served with an appetizer of uncertainty and a hearty entre of doubt. The journalistic meal hit the table running.  In the second sentence, the writer says the plant is so fragile it “could even start to break apart during a cleanup process expected to take years.” This is clearly intended to provoke fear. There is no basis for the statement other than unfounded speculation! Next, the article says the recent IAEA inspection of Fukushima Daiichi was held because recent “leaks, power outages and other glitches have raised fears”. It is little more than a twisting of the truth. The visit had been planned for months, long before these recent events. Fear, once again, seems to be at the root. Then, the article adds that the recent WHO report on F. Daiichi says baby boys have a 7% greater chance of leukemia and baby girls a 6% greater risk of breast cancer. However, WHO concluded there will be “no discernible increase in health risks” and “no observable increases in cancer above natural variation”. Regardless, the cancer risk statement reeks of uncertainty and doubt.

Next, NBC news immediately goes off the deep end by citing John Large of Greenpeace at length. They pose him as an expert because he spoke before British Parliament and writes on Fukushima for Greenpeace. He’s actually a confirmed antinuke who makes a living scaring people about nuclear energy. Regardless, Large tells us robots “normally” could easily move about and clean things up, but not at Fukushima because of tsunami and quake damage. There are no other nuke plants, other than F. Daiichi, requiring use of robots to clean things up. He’s clearly playing on ignorance of the audience to make his point seem realistic. He next says that the plant is too close to the water table and in-leakage can’t be stopped. Although it makes no sense, he says the un-stopped in-leakage proves radioactivity cannot be contained and that the buildings at Fukushima will collapse because they were not designed for radioactive containment, “Until you can stop that transfer, you will not contain the radioactivity. That will go on for years and years until they contain it. The structures of containment start breaking down. Engineered structures don’t last long when they are put in adverse conditions." He further contends Fukushima girls will never find husbands, "It may have some marked effect on the health of future generations in Japan. What it will create is a Fukushima generation — like in Nagasaki and Hiroshima -where girls particularly will have difficulty marrying because of the stigma of being brought up in a radiation area." Plus, Mr. Large contends the recent minor leaks will only add to contamination on-shore because tiny radioactive particles will wash onto beaches, dry, and be blown around by the wind. Assumption sautéed in speculation and served over a platter of FUD.

But, NBC news doesn’t stop there. They next present the biased views of Ms. Hisayo Takada, a Greenpeace-Japan energy campaigner and source of the headline’s “fragile” assertion. She says, “It’s still a very fragile situation and measures implemented by the government and [power company] TEPCO are only temporary solutions. The issue with the contaminated water is very serious and we're very concerned. And we're very angry because it’s been two years and they've been saying that everything's safe. The land and sea will never return to the way it was before the accident.” Fukushima fear, uncertainty and doubt all rolled into a nice, neat package.

It must be noted that NBC news “balances” the above by citing a spokesman for NEI, but everything in his quotes concern American nukes and the safety upgrades made since Fukushima. The article posts nothing from the NEI spokesman about the situation at Fukushima itself. Did NBC even ask him about Fukushima? It seems they did not. That’s not journalistic balance – it’s no more than convenient deflection from the topic at hand!

Asking Greenpeace about Fukushima is tantamount to asking Al Qaida about America. Greenpeace has been spreading rhetorical terrorism for decades. They want the world to be afraid of nuclear energy, using uncertainty and doubt as the cornerstones of their assault. NBC should be ashamed for such a one-sided, speculation-packed report. This NBC article is full of FUD.

April 27, 2013

Japanese court does the right thing for the wrong reason

This past week, the Sendai High Court summarily rejected a lawsuit calling for the complete evacuation of all children in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. A small number of city parents (14) filed the suit with the Koriyama City Lower court in June, 2011. The plaintiffs demanded that all children in the city of more than 330,000 be evacuated because they have “the right to live free of radiation”. The lower court rejected to suit in December, 2011, but one family pursued an appeal to the high court, which was in Sendai. The high court said if any parents feel the radiation levels in Koriyama are a danger to their children, they should leave the area of their own accord and not try to have the government pay for it.

The court stated that some locations in Koriyama, which stretches between 50 and 60 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi, have radiation levels higher than the existing national standards. But, there is no legal precedent for the government evacuating children to other parts of Japan at these levels. Although the court is correct, they did the right thing for the wrong reason. The children of Koriyama were not at risk due to the radiation levels found around the city, which has been demonstrated by recent scientific reports concerning comprehensive studies run on the children of Fukushima Prefecture. The court should have ruled that since there is no compelling, conclusive evidence to support the plaintiff claims of radiological risk to Koriyama children, there is no rational reason for moving the kids elsewhere.

One of the scientific studies was posted by a team of experts from four Japanese universities. (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/pjab/89/4/89_PJA8904B-01/_pdf) The study covered more than 100,000 people who had sensitive Whole Body radioactive tests, including thousands of children. The team concluded, “…internal exposure levels of [Fukushima] residents are much lower than estimated. In particular, the first sampling-bias-free assessment of internal exposure of children in the town of Miharu, Fukushima, shows that the Cs137 body burdens of all children were below the detection limit of 300 Bq/body in the fall of 2012.” In other words, there is no risk to the children.

A few weeks earlier, a group of Tokyo University researchers found that 99% of the people in Fukushima Prefecture have no detectible radioactive Cesium in their systems. Team leader Ryugo Hayano said they ran examinations on over 22,000 residents and found 212 had bodies that contained detectible Cesium levels, mostly older people eating home-grown and wild vegetables. The 10 Becquerels per kilogram found in these few people is 1/100th of that found in comparable locations near the Chernobyl accident in 1986. None of the positive tests were with children in Fukushima. Again we find there is no risk to the children.

Even before both of the above reports were filed, another report was released out of Tokyo’s Environment Ministry. The study found that in three prefectures, each hundreds of kilometers from F. Daiichi, the incidence of child thyroid anomalies (cysts and nodules) was roughly 56%. (http://www.env.go.jp/en/headline/file_view.php?serial=499&hou_id=1922 )  A heavily-publicized study reported in 2012 by the Fukushima Health Management Survey revealed that about 40% of their children had the anomalies. The 2012 report spawned numerous postings of possible Fukushima radiation injuries in the Japanese press and antinuclear websites around the world. At the time, Professor Shinichi Suzuki of Fukushima Medical University called for caution because their thyroid screenings for children had never been before conducted in Japan.  Now, they have and we now know the children of Fukushima have the lowest of the four prefectures studied, and the difference is considerable. In this case we find Fukushima children actually have better thyroid health than non-Fukushima children.

None of the above research results were used by the Sendai high court. Instead, they followed a less controversial path and rejected the Koriyama lawsuit based on purely legal grounds. In the process, the court left the door open for the Press to downplay the court decision and keep parental fear of radiation alive. Japan Today posted “Thousands of children got cancer after the Chernobyl disaster, but the cases did not surface for several years. It is unclear whether Fukushima children are equally prone, as cancer has various causes, and radiation affects people differently. Radioactive contamination is complex, tainting not only the air but also getting in the food, soil and water.” Toshio Yanagihara, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said the ruling was unfair as the children were “victims with absolutely no responsibility for the nuclear accident.” Another lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said, "I don't understand why an economic power like Japan won't evacuate the children -- something even the fascist government did during World War II," he said, referring to the mass evacuation of children during the 1940s to avoid bombings. "This is child abuse."

The three above-cited reports on the actual health of Fukushima’s children have received precious little Press coverage in Japan. If the Sendai court would have ruled based on this scientific evidence, it could have forced the Press to let the people of Japan know the truth. Instead, uncertainty and doubt with respect to the health of Fukushima’s children continues. If upheld, the suit would have forced tens of thousands of healthy, innocent children to be moved elsewhere and be subjected to far-greater health risk in the process. That could have meant movement as far as Okinawa, (which is over 1,100 miles “as the crow flies”) or the northern part of Hokkaido (a distance of between 500 and 600 miles). At least the Sendai court has prevented this unconscionable travesty, but they could have begun closing the door on radiophobic fears about Fukushima’s children’s health.


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