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Fukushima Commentary 9...8/17/13-9/27/13


Topics include Japan's low exposure limit's, scrapping Fukushima 5 and 6, toxic Fukushima wastewater, INES accident rating, Fukushima worst-case scenarios, and much more.

September 27, 2013

Low Exposure Standards Have Become a Problem for Japan

Thirteen communities in Japan want to become eligible for nuclear disaster assistance, even though they are inside the currently designated “Intensive Contamination Survey Areas” covering 100 municipalities in eight prefectures. The 13 communities, located between 100 and 250 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi, say they want more than they already receive. In addition to government decontamination of homes and properties, the municipalities desire funds for child and pregnant women’s health assistance. The municipalities are: Noda, Kashiwa, Kamagaya, Matsudo, Shiroi, Nagareyama, Sakura, Abiko and Inzai in Chiba Prefecture; Toride, Moriya, and Joso in Ibaraki Prefecture; and Nasushiobara in Tochigi Prefecture.

During the public comment period for Tokyo’s Reconstruction Agency’s re-visiting of the 2012 "Act on the Protection and Support for the Children and other Victims", the 13 municipalities submitted that they experience injustice because only Fukushima Prefecture qualifies for the additional health-care funds. The Shiroi Municipal Government, in Chiba Prefecture and more than 225 kilometers from F. Daiichi, calls the current funding program biased and arbitrary, which “…runs counter to the principles of law." The Abiko community, about 250 kilometers from Fukushima, insists that all 100 municipalities should receive the child and pregnant women health care funding. (Mainichi Shimbun1) The question becomes…are the children and pregnant women in the 13 communities actually at risk of negative health effects due to the small, relatively trivial exposures attributed to Fukushima radiation?

The problem stems from Japan’s arbitrary standard for public radiation exposure of one millisievert/year. All designated 100 communities within the contamination survey area were found to have radiation levels over the standard for at least one of their districts. This standard was set by the now-deposed regime of former PM Naoto Kan. Soon after the crisis abated, Tokyo initially invoke the 20 mSv/yr emergency standard recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but came under heavy criticism from the Press and the radiophobic sector of the vocal public. In an obvious attempt to quell the widely-broadcast outcry, Kan’s government lowered the exposure limit step-by-step until it reached one mSv/yr. The government said this was equal to the average natural background level for the island nation. The one mSv limit sated the Press to a degree, but it was only a matter of time before local governments would come calling for monies to prevent health effects that will never materialize.

Saying there will be no adverse health effects to the public in these communities may a bold statement, but it is a very correct one. No adverse health effects have ever actually occurred below 100 mSv/yr. This happens to be the general background exposure level found in Ramsar, Iran, with a population of thousands of very healthy people.(2) In fact, many Ramsar residents receive as high as 260 mSv/yr. Is the Ramsar reference an isolated case? Not at all! The multitudes who live on and near the hundreds-of-miles-long black-sand beaches of Brazil receive 40-50 mSv/yr. Half a million residents of the Kerala coastal region in western India get 10-70 mSv/yr, depending on location. Millions living on the American Colorado Plateau get 6-9 mSv/yr exposures from Mother Nature. And, the list goes on. In all cases, these populations have lower cancer incidence and lower cancer mortality than their national peers living in much lower regions of background radiation. (3, 4)

But, there is also a problem with the background level in Japan, as reported by its Press. The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation reports that Japan’s national average in 2008 – three years before Fukushima – is 1.5 mSv/yr. It also says that Japan’s typical additional exposure (almost entirely medical) is 2.33 mSv/yr. Thus, Japan’s average public radiation exposure is not the 1 mSv/yr touted by the Kan regime and the Press…it’s actually 3.83 mSv/yr! The national standard is nearly four times less than what the average person in Japan gets every year from non-Fukushima sources. It should be noted that people living in higher elevations of Japan get as much as 10 mSv/yr because of higher elevation and mountainous bedrock containing natural Uranium, Thorium, Radium, plus Radon gas emissions.

Clearly, the 1 mSv/yr limit invoked under Japan’s former PM Naoto Kan failed to take Japan’s average background exposures into consideration. Further, they ignored the mountain of evidence compiled over the past three decades showing that existing international standards are highly conservative; doing little more than adding fuel to paranoiac radiation fears. In addition, Kan’s government arrogantly ignored the recommendations of IAEA, UNSCEAR, and the World Health Organization, who proffer the existing international limits. In other words, Kan’s government set the national standard arbitrarily, predicated on political expediency and a desire to quell negative Press. Did setting this arbitrary limit make the public any safer? Of course not. How can that which is already safe be made even safer? It can’t. Japan’s current radiation exposure limits were created to soothe the Press and the numerous Japanese who experience a mortal fear of any and all radiation exposure. Now, it may be time to pay the Piper of Political Expediency.

The desire for more money from the 13 dissenting communities may be the tip of a large and ominous ice-berg. Since the first lawsuits were filed against Tepco and the government over Fukushima in the spring of 2011, more than a dozen others have followed in-step. It is possible that extending the additional funding to the aforementioned 13 communities will open the door for additional municipalities to demand additional money. More money to do what? Tell us what we already know, it seems. All reputable scientific organizations looking at Fukushima exposures conclude there will be no discernable negative health effects. Further, when we look at the much higher exposures received by millions around the world who are living full, healthy lives, we can safely say that no man, woman, child, or fetus in Japan will suffer harm due to the Fukushima accident.

References;

1. Municipalities criticize gov't agency for limiting Fukushima disaster aid; http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20130924p2a00m0na020000c.html

2. Mortazavi, S. M. Javad; High Background Radiation Areas of Ramsar, Iran;  http://www.angelfire.com/mo/radioadaptive/ramsar.html

3. Boyar, Robert E.; Radiation and Common Sense; Center for Reactor Information; U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C.; 1997 http://www.sustainablenuclear.org/PADs/pad9709boyar.html

4. Henriksen, Thormod; Radiation and Health; University of Oslo; 2009   http://www.mn.uio.no/fysikk/tjenester/kunnskap/straling/radiation-health-2012.pdf

5. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (2008 (published 2010); New York: United Nations; 9 November 2012. http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/2008_1.html

September 20, 2013

Scrapping F. Daiichi Units #5&6 is a Mistake

On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami literally wiped out all power to Fukushima Daiichi units #1 through #4. All emergency power supplies to all four units were also wiped out. The result was three instances of meltdowns and three buildings destroyed by hydrogen explosions. However, F. Daiichi units #5 and #6 sat on a bluff about 10 feet higher in elevation. One emergency power supply diesel survived and kept all emergency cooling systems operational for both units. As a result, F. Daiichi units #5&6 were essentially undamaged and are now fully functional.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants both units decommissioned. He explained why, "I want a decision to be reached on the scrapping of the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors so that TEPCO focuses on accident response matters." (Mainichi Shimbun) “I will work hard to counter rumors questioning the safety of the Fukushima plant,” he added.While this may be seen as a reasonable request to Japan’s Press and nuclear critics around the world, I feel it is a big mistake that promises to have the opposite impact on Tokyo Electric Company’s focus on accident response.

Here’s why…

The two undamaged units are being carried on Tepco’s books as assets. Such an enormous write-off threatens to complicate matters, rather than improve them. Tepco has posted more than $27 billion in net losses since the accident, largely because they have not been able to run any of their numerous undamaged nukes. The situation has been exacerbated by having to buy expensive foreign fossil fuels to operate gas-fired units that were not designed for continual operation. Currently, the company shows $7.5 billion in nuclear assets. By writing off F. Daiichi units #5&6, about $500 million in assets will vanish. This will unquestionably restrict Tepco’s ability to procure finances sufficient to maintain their current accident recovery effort. The cash-strapped utility needs all the financial clout it can muster just to maintain the status quo. The write-off can only diminish their financial capacity to clean up Fukushima. Further, by never having the ability to ever restart the two undamaged units Tepco’s long-term financial prospects will also take a severe hit. With less money over the next decade-or-so, the clean-up effort can only be worse than current plans might promise.

Abe’s short-sighted request seems to have caught many local and national officials by surprise. Industry Minister Motegi tried to support his boss saying that scrapping F. Daiichi 5&6 will provide more space to build additional wastewater storage tanks, which suggests that Tokyo expects current plans for purification and sea-release cannot be counted on. Regardless, the minister’s claim is a weak one. Motegi added that Tepco could use the two scraped units to train engineers and operators. This implies that Tepco’s current operator and engineering training centers are inadequate, which is a rather cavalier assumption. In both cases, it seems the minister is grasping for a way to provide more justification than Abe has given. On the local scene, Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato says Abe should have consulted him before going to the Press with the proposal to scrap the units. This is even stronger proof that Abe made his request literally “out of the blue”.

From the available record, it appears PM Shinzo Abe made his nuke-scrapping decision unilaterally; shooting from the hip, if you will. Thus, we can judge Abe’s decision to be ill-conceived and purely a matter of short-sighted political expediency. If Abe wants Tepco’s fullest-possible focus on F. Daiichi clean-up, he should rescind his request for decommissioning two fully-operational, economically-valuable nuclear plants.

September 18, 2013

Is Some of Japan’s Press Starting to “Get It”?

Recently, massive Typhoon May-Yi tore through the mid-section of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Nearly 300,000 people evacuated low-lying areas to escape the storm’s flooding – killing four and injuring hundreds. By the time the tempest crossed Honshu and hit Fukushima Daiichi, it was still rated as a tropical storm with wind gusts as high as 85 mph and rainfall estimated in inches per hour. The downpour soon began filling the 15-inch-high concrete coffer dams surrounding the 18 groups of wastewater tanks at the nuke station. Seven of the dam’s accumulated waters registered below the national standard for release of 30 Bq/liter, so plant staff opened the drains and allowed the waters to flow out. Tepco dutifully reported it to the Press and the innocuous release made headlines across the country.

Most of the reports made it seem that Tepco dumped it all directly into the Pacific Ocean. Some illustrative examples are – “Tepco said it dumped about 1,1130 tons of tainted rainwater Monday into the Pacific Ocean” (Japan Times) – “Tepco said it decided to pump [the] water into the ocean” – (Mainichi Shimbun) – “[The] drained water will reach the sea” – (Japan Real Time) -  ”[Tepco] dumped more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea” (Japan Today). But the reality was very different. The waters were not dumped into the station’s drainage ditches (e.g. NHK World; Asahi Shimbun) but were rather spread over the large ground area outside the dams with most sinking into the soil. One persistent puddle was found and tested at 9 Bq/liter of total radioactivity. But, Tepco staff could not give absolute assurance that any of the actual rainwater from under the tanks did not flow into either of the two nearby drainage ditches that outlet into the sea – thus Japan Today’s statement of uncertainty (above). Further, none of the waters pumped out of the dams was discharged to the sea. It was all pumped into empty wastewater tanks at the station – not at all what the Mainichi Shimbun said (above).

However, a few news outlets such as NHK World and the historically-antinuclear Asahi Shimbun practiced restraint in their reporting, and got it as correct as can be reasonably expected. While most of the Press used the term “tainted” as a descriptor for the released waters (Webster’s definition of “tainted” – to make something dangerous by adding something harmful), NHK and Asahi (as well as Kyodo News) refrained from the moniker. They used phrases like “mildly radioactive” and “mildly contaminated” as descriptors. The nation’s #1 newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, didn’t report on the event at all!

I may be jumping to a conclusion here, but I’m beginning to believe that a few of Japan’s leading news outlets are starting to back off the “detectible is dangerous” bandwagon relative to radiation. I hope this trend continues. The Japanese Press, across the board, has been promoting the no-safe-level-of-radiation assumption since the Fukushima accident in April of 2011. No matter how much Tepco and the Tokyo government have tried to temper this journalistic bias, the news media persisted in their no-safe-level propagation. Suddenly, there seems to be some rational light at the end of the tunnel. What could have caused it?

In my opinion, the recent arrival of American nuclear accident clean-up expert Lake Barrett cannot be discounted. He has told the Press that Tepco’s efforts at wastewater containment, to date, have been inadequate. He has also said that Tepco and the government need to do a better job of informing the public of the real risks associated with the events at F. Daiichi. In both cases, just what the Press wanted to hear.

But…Barrett subsequently said that eventually Tepco must release the currently-stored wastewater to the sea after the contained levels of contamination are dropped below Japan’s national limits for release. As we have report previously, Japan’s limits are generally 10 times lower than the recommended standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Barrett also said that a de-contaminated release of mildly radioactive wastewater will place no one at risk. While this is what Tepco and Tokyo have been saying for quite some time, the Press’ distrust of anything promulgated by Tepco and its avowed skepticism toward the government have kept the news media from treating the “official” statements as worthy. Hearing these calming statements from an internationally-recognized expert on reactor accident recovery seems to have struck home with a few of the news sources in Japan.

Are some of Japan’s news outlets starting to get it right?

September 8, 2013

173rd  of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 173rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers. For the full reports, please click on the individual links. Blog topics include – a hidden danger of energy generation and fire, the release of SONGS steam generator documents, the fallacy of believing solar and wind can make the electrical grid obsolete, a public relations disaster in Japan, sprinkled with several posts concerning the recent announcement that Vermont Yankee will be permanently shut down. Clink on the provided links for the full reports. 

From Canadian Energy Issues

Jobs and livelihoods destroyed, lives disrupted, increasing carbon emissions: an anti-nuke’s life’s work

http://canadianenergyissues.com/2013/09/04/jobs-and-livelihoods-destroyed-lives-disrupted-increasing-carbon-emissions-an-anti-nukes-lifes-work/

From ANS Nuclear Café (2) –

Fighting for the Next Inch

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2013/09/05/its-all-about-the-inches/

Why don’t we “mothball” shutdown nuclear plants?

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2013/09/03/why-dont-we-mothball-nuclear-plants/

From Yes Vermont Yankee

Looking Back Toward Decommissioning

http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2013/09/looking-back-toward-decommissioning.html  

From Nuke Power Talk

Energy and Fire: Hidden Dangers

http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2013/09/energy-and-fire.html

From Atomic Power Review

SCE Releases SONGS Steam Generator Documents

http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2013/09/sce-releases-songs-steam-generator.html

From Atomic Insights (2) –

Talk of electric power grid demise is wrong

http://atomicinsights.com/talk-electric-power-grid-demise-wrong/

Another update on “highly radioactive” water leaks at Fukushima

http://atomicinsights.com/another-update-highly-radioactive-water-leaks-fukushima/

From The Hiroshima Syndrome/Fukushima Commentary

Murphy’s Law Strikes Japan

(Scroll down for this one...)

From James Conca

When Should Nuclear Power Plants Die? 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2013/09/08/when-should-nuclear-power-plants-die/

September 7, 2013

Murphy’s Law Strikes Japan

Often hailed as satirical, Murphy’s Law occasionally hits the nail on the head. It tells us anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. One corollary adds that it will happen at the worst possible time. Unfortunately, the Tokyo Electric Company has suffered Murphy’s Law…big time! Back in late July, Tepco succumbed to continual news media complaints that they always underestimated risk. Rather than let it roll off their backs, Tepco decided to add a worst-case scenario to every discovery of a problem with Fukushima Daiichi. Although not stated, it seemed that Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority followed suit. For more than a month reports of problems with contaminated water at F. Daiichi were presented in the worst-case scenario mode in every instance. The repercussions have been devastating.

Discovery of a few groundwater observation wells testing positive for contamination resulted in the NRA and (by proxy) Tepco stating that 300 tons of contaminated groundwater might be flowing into the Pacific every day. The subsequent discoveries of highly contaminated water in two equipment tunnels and a 300 ton loss of water from one of the site’s storage tanks were also presented with the possibility they might have resulted in releases to the Pacific. Tepco eventually estimated that, though undetected, 30 trillion Becquerels of radioactive Cesium and Strontium might have seeped into the Pacific since May, 2011, even though Tepco’s Yoshimi Hitosugi admitted, “So far, we don’t have convincing data that confirm a leak from the turbine buildings.” The Press treated these wholly-speculative, worst-case disclosures as if they were of actually occurring events. In each case the headlines were rife with the certainty that “toxic”, “highly radioactive” water was pouring into the ocean at a rate of 300 tons per day. The Fisheries on the Fukushima coastline and a few in nearby Prefectures stopped fishing, ended their “test” catches to prove the fish were safe to send to market, and condemned Tepco for what might be the case. The outcry inside and outside Japan was terrific - all because of multiple worst-case scenarios being reported to the world.

The last week of August, the NRA seemed to realize the worst-case scenario notion is a losing proposition, perhaps due to a small barrage of criticisms from international experts. One expert, Gerry Thomas of Britain’s Imperial College, said, “Worrying about what might happen can have a very bad effect on quality of life, and can lead to stress-related illnesses.” Chair Shunichi Tanaka felt the pressure and conceded, “From what we can see from existing data… so far there is no meaningful effect” on the Pacific. He has also turned on Tepco, saying their reports are “not scientifically acceptable”. He called Tepco’s statements that recently discovered wastewater tank radiation levels of 1,800-2,200 millisieverts per hour are giving the wrong impression. If the readings were for Gamma radiation, the result for 4 hours of exposure would be lethal. The Press reported the potential exposures would be lethal. However, the radiation being detected was not Gamma. It was Beta, which loses intensity rapidly with distance and cannot penetrate clothing. Tanaka said Tepco should use the Becquerel units of activity for the tank radiation levels and not the millisievert units of exposure. He called it “describing how much something weighs by using centimeters.” Industry Minister Tatsuya Shinkawa added to the mix when he said most of the contamination is contained inside the station’s inner break-wall (quay), and radioactivity outside the harbor is no different than levels occurring before the 2011 accident. The international community of radiation experts has supported Tanaka’s current position. But, this has done little to deter the bad Press spawned during the previous month.

Now, the situation has exacerbated considerably over the past two days. First, Japan’s representatives at the International Olympic Committee meeting in Buenos Aires have been besieged by questions about the contaminated water leaks from Fukushima, based on the exaggerated Press reports. Senior representative Tsunekazu Takeda said there were no radiological problems in Tokyo, the games will be 250 kilometers from Fukushima, and the nation’s food contamination limits are the strictest in the world. The mayor of Tokyo addressed the IOC and blasted the international Press for posting scare stories. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added, “This contaminated water covers an area of 0.3 square kilometers and we will be able to see the direction it takes. So much rumor has been conveyed by the media.” However, most of the reporters and many IOC members seemed dissatisfied. Friday, an informal poll of those who will vote on Japan’s bid to hold the 2020 Olympics said they lean towards Madrid. Loss of the games could cost Japan’s struggling economy as much as $30 billion.

Next, South Korea has thrown Japan another blow to its economy by banning all seafood from the eight Prefectures along the Northeast coast of Japan, including Chiba which neighbors Tokyo and is more than 250 kilometers from the nuke station. South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries says, “The measure comes as our people’s concerns are growing over the fact that hundreds of tons of radiation contaminated water are leaked daily from the site of Japan’s nuclear accident in Fukushima.”

The question remains – is the Pacific actually being contaminated? Or, is this all a terrible black comedy of exaggeration predicated on assumption? Here are the facts. None of the samples run by Tepco on Pacific seawater since December 2011 – both inside F. Daiichi’s harbor break-walls and out to as far as 15 meters beyond, show nothing detectible. But can Tepco be trusted? The NRA’s latest testing on the seawater inside and immediately outside to the F. Daiichi break-walls also reveals nothing detectible. Obviously, the Pacific Ocean is not being contaminated, the seafood off the northeast Japan coastline is not being tainted, and all the Press reports of tens of thousands of gallons of “toxic”, “highly radioactive” water pouring into the Pacific are devoid of factual evidence. Tepco and the NRA producing a steady stream of “official” worst-case scenarios for more than a month is the root cause of the problem. The Japanese Press doesn’t trust anything Tepco says and has considerable skepticism of information given by the government. What was Tepco thinking? Did they expect the Press to back off their incessant Tepco-bashing. If they did, they were only fooling themselves.

I said in an earlier Commentary (August 24th; Japan’s Disastrous Flirtation with the Worst-Case Scenario), that Tepco was making a mockery of transparency by “waltzing with the worst-case scenario”. At the time, I pointed the same criticism at the NRA, which seemed to be doing the same thing. I had hoped the flirtation with the worst-case scenario would not produce horrid, irreversible results. But, I forgot about Murphy’s Law. Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. Have Tepco and Tokyo dug themselves into a hole too deep to climb out of?  How they might recover from this public relations disaster is anyone’s guess.

August 31, 2013

Is Fukushima Daiichi’s Wastewater Really Toxic?

Ever since the Fukushima groundwater contamination issue emerged more than a month ago, the Press has incessantly labeled the waters “toxic”. This blog has previously covered the hazards of radioactive Cesium-137 (“How Hazardous is Cs-137?” – two parts – 11/2/12 and 11/9/12). There is so little Cesium in the stored water that it makes no sense to base the current “toxic” designation on it. The “toxic groundwater” label might due to the Strontium contained in the tank’s water. The recent deluge of Press coverage concerning a leaky storage tank at Fukushima Daiichi virtually demands a posting on the health hazards of Strontium-90. First, just how toxic is Strontium? Second, is the level of contaminated water that may have reached the sea worthy of being labeled “toxic”?

Strontium is a soft, silver-yellow, alkaline-earth metal. Its chemical properties are similar to Barium and Calcium. It is chemically reactivity, which means it readily undergoes reactions with other atoms found in nature. In its pure form it can result in an extreme reaction with water and in finely-powdered form can ignite to produce strontium oxide and strontium nitride. However, it is never in pure form when found in nature. It is contained in several mineral forms including celestite (SrSO4) and strontianite (SrCO3). Natural physical processes over the billions of years have concentrated these compounds into some sedimentary rock layers and can be mined. World production is about 140,000 tons per year. Its main use is in the special glass used in TV screens and visual display technology. Some other uses include pyrotechnics (fireworks), warning flares, and common greases. The radioactive form (Sr-90) also turns out to be valuable and has been used in some space vehicle technology, remote weather stations and navigation buoys.

Due to mining and natural weathering of Strontium-bearing sedimentary rocks, the element is found uniformly in all soils. As a result, it is in many foods - in low levels such as with corn (0.4 ppm) and oranges (0.5 ppm), and high concentrations such as with cabbage (45 ppm), onions (50 ppm), and Lettuce (74 ppm). On the average, each of us ingests 1.9 milligrams of Strontium each day, and we carry about 320 mg in our bodies. Daily intake of Strontium of less than 5 milligrams is considered harmless. The biological half-life varies with the compounds of Strontium we might take in, running from 14 days to as much as 600 days. To put it simply…once ingested, it tends to stick around. It should be noted that Strontium compounds are typically found in river waters (~ 50 ppb) and seawater (8ppm).

While Strontium-itself is not water soluble, some compounds containing Strontium are soluble. For example – SrCO3 has a solubility of 10 mg/liter and strontium chromate a solubility of 9 mg/l. Strontium is generally immobile in the environment, unless it is part of a soluble compound. Even in soluble form, it will rapidly precipitate and can be filtered out of the stream by the soil it might pass through. Strontium is not known to be carcinogenic or mutagenic. It is believed that health effects might occur with continual uptakes in the “thousands of ppm” range.

Thus Strontium itself is not worthy of being called “toxic”. However, radioactive Strontium (Sr-90) is a Beta-emitter and has a finite level of toxicity due to its radioactive emissions, and for no other reason. This also seems the case with Cesium, covered in the earlier commentaries. Is the presence of radiation itself worthy of invoking the term “toxic” with almost every Press report about water contamination at F. Daiichi?

The definition of toxic is “containing (or being) poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” The main synonyms are “poisonous or venomous”. None of the synonyms include anything about radiation itself. There is no doubt that massive radiation exposures can cause Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), which can be called “poisonous or venomous”. However, such huge exposures have only occurred with bomb fallout and some of the emergency workers at Chernobyl. Regardless, can the toxic moniker be reasonably applied to the wastewaters and/or contaminated groundwater at Fukushima?

Let’s look water that leaked out of the storage tank because there is actual data to utilize. We should keep in mind that the water in the tank had the Cesium filtered out of it. The health standard for water-borne Strontium is an internal exposure of 0.04 millisieverts per year. Limits on internal Sr-90 exposure are set more than 100 times below levels that have shown a few negative health effects, such as anemia and oxygen shortage. The lowest Sr-90 concentration believed to have a tiny possibility of inducing cancer or causing irreparable genetic damage is at least 10 times higher. In order to reach internal exposure levels that might result in ARS, someone would have to drink water straight from the leaky storage tank. How likely is that?

300 tons of water may have leaked out of the tank. That’s a lot of water. While the total number of Becquerels contained in the water was at least 24 trillion (all 60 contained isotopes, including Strontium), most of the escaped wastewater was absorbed into the soil where natural filtering and ion exchange removed most of the radioactive isotopes. Anything in the leaked water, other than Tritium, was filtered down to an extremely low concentration. How low? The nearby drainage ditch leading to the sea had between 200 and 500 Becquerel per liter readings in its residual water, and 21 Bq/liter at the ditch’s outlet to the sea. At those very low concentrations, drinking a liter or more of the ditch’s water would harm no-one. Again, how likely is it for that to happen? Eating the dirt holding the filtered-out Strontium is entirely different - but who eats dirt?

Is the level of radioactivity that leaked from the tank at Fukushima Daiichi, and the low level waters that flowed through the drainage ditch, worthy of being arbitrarily labeled “toxic”? And, what about the concentrations of groundwater suspected to be flowing into the Pacific? Given what you now know about Strontium…what do you think?

References:

1. Strontium – Sr; Lenntech Water Treatment Systems; Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 2013. http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/sr.htm

2. Strontium (Sr) and Water; Lenntech Water Treatment Systems; Rotterdam, The Netherlands. 2013. http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/water/strontium/strontium-and-water.htm

3. Strontium-90; Washington State Department of Health, Office of Radiation Protection; July 2002. http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/320-076_sr90_fs.pdf  

4. Major Contaminants; Washington State Department of Ecology. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/nwp/gwcontaminants.htm

August 28, 2013

New INES Rating at Fukushima Demands Clear Public Communication

It is now official…this morning Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority raised the crisis level at Fukushima Daiichi to “level-3” on the INES scale. Level-3 means the situation can be called a serious incident. Included with the announcement, the NRA pointed out that the raised level, as well as the initial Level-1 assessment, is specific to the recently-discovered wastewater storage tank leak at the nuclear station. The Level-1 assessment was declared concurrent with Tepco’s initial announcement of their discovery of the suspect tank having lost considerable water level last week. The upgrade itself is because of Tokyo Electric Company’s recent admission that all 300 tons of wastewater that leaked out of the tank may have escaped into the surrounding environment. The NRA added that the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed that the crisis level should be upgraded the Level-3.

It is imperative that communication to the public on the upgrade be clear and decisive. Since the NRA’s announcement on August 22nd that they were considering an upgrade to level-3, the Press inside and outside Japan have provided grossly misleading information to the world, on two counts. First, the actual declaration did not occur until today, but the news media has said the upgrade has been official since August 22nd. Second, the not-yet-official upgrade has been reported to apply to the on-going groundwater contamination issues that have dominated the Fukushima headlines for nearly three weeks. The new crisis level rating has absolutely nothing to do with the groundwater issues, and neither did the initial level-1 rating. Both ratings apply only to the leak from the faulty wastewater storage tank…period! Tepco and the NRA must make the greatest-possible public information effort to correct what the Press has incorrectly posted since August 22nd. In addition, they must do everything they can to make sure that news reports concerning the level-3 declaration specify that it has nothing to do with the on-going groundwater contamination situation. As of this moment, most Japanese press reports specify that the upgrade is only due to the tank leak – but some do not.

It must be added that an August 23rd posting by Tepco concerning the radioactivity found in the two drainage ditches several tens of meters from the leaky tank, includes analysis of the seawater immediately adjacent to the ditch’s outlet to the Pacific. The total “all-beta” activity was 21 Becquerels per liter. Total Cesium activity was 0.0045 Bq/L. Although these are exceedingly low levels of contamination, it is the first time seawater samples taken outside the station’s barricade quay have shown any detectible radioactivity since December of 2011.

I must note that my above-stated imperative is also part-and-parcel to the IAEA. The IAEA has urged Japan to more clearly explain what is happening at Fukushima and avoid sending “confusing messages”. In an upgrade-confirmation document sent to the NRA, the international watchdog emphasized that while the tank leak is “the most recent of a number of events that involved leakage of contaminated water…previous similar events were not rated on the INES scale. The Japanese (authorities) may wish to prepare an explanation for the media and the public on why they want to rate this event, while previous similar events have not been rated.” In fact, there is no precedent for invoking an INES crisis rating for issues predicated on speculation and assumption with respect to groundwater. NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka verbally conceded to the IAEA when he said the NRA should not be too quick to evaluate the problems at the Fukushima plant hereafter and should consider ways to efficiently distribute information on what is happening and how the problems could affect the environment.

I would add that both Tepco and the NRA need to swiftly and emphatically admonish any and all Press outlets that misinform their readers/viewers about the reason for the crisis upgrade. Such a pro-active approach can stanch the spread of misinformation and disinformation. It certainly won’t stop all of the deceptive rhetoric that will certainly transpire, but it will at least lessen the amount of irresponsible grandiloquence yet to come.

August 24, 2013

Japan’s Disastrous Flirtation with Worst-Case Scenarios

On July 26, Tepco’s president Naomi Hirose vowed to improve Tepco’s public disclosure policy, saying “even if the evaluations do not show enough evidence, we will swiftly and honestly mention risks and worst-case scenarios without fearing the impact.” Following Tepco’s admission that there was contamination found in a groundwater observation well at Fukushima Daiichi, the company was immediately hit with a barrage of “non-transparency” criticisms in the Press, by the Tokyo government’s watchdog (NRA) and even their own in-house PR consultants from abroad, Dale Klein and Lady Barbara Judge. In effect, Hirose was saying that if everyone wants worst-case scenarios, that’s what they will get. It seems the NRA has decided to join Tepco in bringing worst-case speculations to the Press as well, spawning shocking news articles world-wide.

Although extreme Tepco and NRA speculations have been tempered with terms like “might”, “may” and/or “possibly”, the Japanese Press reported them as statements of certainty. In turn, the historically-nuclear-adverse Press outlets outside Japan have taken these news reports, added a few scary “spins” of their own, and have created an international nuclear brou-ha-ha. Both inside and outside Japan, most of the news-hungry public has no idea of the realities involved. In many ways, it’s as bad as the first week’s Press concerning the Fukushima accident. Speculations wrapped in embellishment abound, and it can be traced back to Hirose’s worst-case scenario promise.

Let’s look at the record since July 26. We begin with August 7th when the NRA estimated that as much as 300 tons per day of radioactive contamination may be flowing into the Pacific Ocean due to groundwater flow. Subsequently, the Press reported that 300 tons of toxic, highly-contaminated groundwater is pouring into the ocean daily. However, there was and still is no evidence of the Pacific actually being polluted. If contamination were coming out with the groundwater, the only place it could be happening is inside the station’s quay (F. Daiichi’s inner port). The radioactive isotopic concentrations in the quay’s salt water have remained essentially constant for a year-and-one-half. One of the many sampling points in the quay…just one…showed an increase of one isotope (Tritium) three weeks ago. It has since dissipated. In hindsight, it was probably a singular event. Regardless, this statistical outlier has been used as proof that the Pacific-itself is being polluted. The exception should never be taken as a rule. In this case it is especially true.

Here’s why.

The quay is completely barricaded from the station’s outer harbor area. Although often called “makeshift” by the Japanese Press, the barricading has worked extremely well. The water-proofing of the quay’s stone break-walls was completed and the quay’s access-opening was closed by a silt dam in January, 2012. The silt dam was briefly opened a few times through the early spring of 2012 to allow equipment barges to be brought in, but has remained shut since. The quay has been isolated from the open sea by these barricades for about a year and a half. Thus, it is likely that any Cesium or Strontium that may have leaked into the quay since the spring of 2012 has remained in there and naturally precipitated onto the mud bottom. Beyond the quay, samples have been routinely taken within the outer port’s break-wall, at 5 kilometers distance, and as far away as 15 kilometers. Tepco records of sea-sampling at all these locations date back to mid-December, 2011. There has been no detectible contamination at any of these sampling points over the 20 month period.

In other words, there is no evidence supporting the headlines purporting that the Pacific Ocean is being polluted with huge amounts of toxic, highly radioactive contamination. On August 11, Japan’s Industry Ministry (home-base of the NRA, for all administrative intents and purposes) admitted the statement of highly-contaminated groundwater flowing into the sea was an assumption. The Ministry official who made the announcement further qualified the Ministry’s position when he said, “But, we’re not certain if the water is highly contaminated.” In addition, yesterday the NRA said the contamination might be moving toward the shoreline at a rate of four meters per month and it may reach the sea the next month…but it hasn’t reached there yet. Both statements show the government watchdog knows that, up to this point, the Pacific has not been “tainted” with groundwater contamination. The only Japanese Press outlets to point this out have been NHK World and The Japan News (nee Yomiuri Shimbun).

Next, on August 6th, the head of the NRA’s Fukushima Task Force, Shinji Kinjo, said that in his estimation the F. Daiichi station was in a “state of emergency”. He based this on the “rather high possibility” that contaminated groundwater was entering the station’s quay. Kinjo’s personal speculation was spun by the Japanese Press into a firm conclusion issued by the NRA-itself. But, it wasn’t. Back in Tokyo the NRA’s response was…nothing! I was stunned. How could such a sensational, headline-spawning statement made by anyone other than an NRA commissioner result in no comment by the home office?

I remained incredulous until a few days ago. On August 21, the NRA said they might declare a level-3 state of emergency (on the INES scale) at Fukushima Daiichi because of the recent discovery of a tank leak, plus the possibility that some of the other several hundred similar water-laden tanks might also be leaking. Regardless, the Japanese Press took the NRA’s statement to mean that they have actually done it. It has subsequently been reported as a “fact” in many international news reports. As of this posting, F. Daiichi officially remains at INES level-1 (an “anomaly”).

INES level-3 means “severe incident”, define as the contamination of an area not expected by design, with a low probability of ­significant public exposure. Groundwater never flows inland along the ocean’s coast, so there is no risk of public exposure in Fukushima Prefecture. Further, actual Pacific Ocean contamination seems unlikely given the barricading of the quay, if Fukushima’s contamination ever actually gets there. The Pacific is currently as clean as it gets. Unless any future contamination gets into the quay and then somehow spreads into the open sea, there will be no rational reason to go to INES level-3. If the NRA must upgrade, a level-2 declaration (classified as an “incident”) makes much more sense at this point in time.

The most recent use of a worst-case scenario occurred on August 22nd when Tepco announced that 30 trillion Becquerels of radioactive Cesium and Strontium may have leaked into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011. The company has not posted a record of these release estimates during the last 20 months in order to show the trends involved. I think it is because no such record exists. It seems Tepco assumed that the persistent, albeit very low levels of Cesium and Strontium detected inside the Fukushima Daiichi quay since late 2011 are not due to residuals from the accident itself, suspended in the stagnant water. Rather, it appears the company assumed there has been a perpetual flow of contamination into the quay for the past 20 months, with the quantities of invading radioactive isotopes unwavering from day-to-day, in order to keep the inner port’s concentration astonishingly constant for more than a year-and-a-half. This would be a record of relentless constancy within the ever-changing natural environment which defies words to describe. In fact, Tepco admited they are literally grasping at straws. Tepco spokesman Yoshimi Hitosugi says, “So far, we don’t have convincing data that confirm a leak from the turbine buildings. But we are open to consider any possible path of contamination.” Thus, Tepco is reporting another worst-case scenario, based on assumption taken to the extreme.

Cleverly-created worst-case scenarios relative to nukes have historically been the domain of hardened nuclear critics. To date, none of their tacit “guarantees” have come to fruition. Regardless, the Tokyo Electric Company and Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority have joined them in waltzing with the worst-case scenario. Transparency means “telling it like it is” in a timely fashion. The “official” creation of worst-case scenarios makes a mockery of transparency.

 

August 17, 2013

A Suggested Answer to Fukushima’s Wastewater Question

The build-up of stored wastewater at Fukushima Daiichi is a serious problem, at least as far as the Japanese press is concerned. Currently, there is almost 360,000 tons of Cesium-stripped water being stored in above-ground tanks. The rate of build-up is about 400 tons per day. Eventually, at some point in the future Tepco will run out of room for more tanks and fill them all. I would like to suggest a way to possibly stop the build-up of stored waters, and not diminish the rate of decontamination in the process. Why not set up a closed loop through the Cesium-stripping system?

Let me explain. Currently, about 770 tons per day is pumped out of the highly-contaminated waters in the basements of units #1 through #4, and run through the Cesium absorption system. About 370 tons of the Cesium-stripped water is sent into the three damaged reactor cores to keep them cooled, and subsequently finds its way back into the basement volume through as-yet-unidentified pathways from the Reactor Pressure Vessels. The remaining 400 tons is pumped into available above-ground tanks. The basement water levels ought to be dropping at a rate of about 400 tons per day. But to the contrary, the water levels remain constant. It means that groundwater is somehow leaking into the basements, keeping the water levels from changing. Why not put the 400 tons per day of Cesium-stripped water back into the basements from where it originated? By sending the cleansed waters back into the basements, Tepco would be utilizing what is known (in the vernacular) as a “closed loop”.

It is likely the top of the water in the basements is parallel to the top of the groundwater in the earth outside the basements. There are several reasons why this is likely. For one thing, Tepco did not discover the groundwater in-leakage until they lowered the basement waters down to the now-existent levels, and could not get them to reduce further. Not only does this indicate at point of internal/external equilibrium had been reached, but it also suggests that the in-leakage is significant and would accelerate if Tepco increased the rate of flow to the Cesium absorbers. Next, water naturally “seeks its own level”. Finally, groundwater level in the earth remains relatively constant over time and levels in the basements have been relatively constant since late 2011. It thus seems that sending the same volume of cleansed waters back to the basements as the volume now being supplied by groundwater in-leakage should keep the system in equilibrium. In other words, sending the cleansed waters back to their source will not cause the water levels in the basements to increase above where they have been for more than 18 months.

A closed loop would provide several positive benefits. First, the build-up of tank-stored water at Fukushima Daiichi would effectively cease, possibly ending concerns of Tepco running out of space in the future. This has been a concern of nuclear critics and antinuclear politicians for more than a year. Ridding themselves of this constant news story would do Tepco’s public information staff a world of good. Next, once the new decontamination system for the ~60 remaining isotopes (ALPS) is in full operation, there will be more than enough tanks to hold the Tritiated effluvia until the ocean discharge issue is resolved. After a currently-filled tank is emptied, it could be flushed of any residuals that remain and re-filled with water that has had all radioactive isotopes removed, other than Tritium, by ALPS.

In addition, a closed loop would continue diluting of the Cesium concentration in the basement waters at about the same rate as with the groundwater in-leakage. The Cesium absorption system is actually working better than initially expected. Tepco estimated (in 2011) that the system would lower the Cesium content by a factor of up to 1,000. It’s actually lowering Cesium content by about a factor of 10,000 (from 55,000 Becquerels per milliliter down to 5.5 Bq/ml). That’s 10-times better than its design. Not bad for a “makeshift” technology, eh? In fact, if the groundwater outside the basement walls is as Cesium-contaminated as a few recently-discovered-to-be-contaminated test wells indicate, the Cesium-stripped water would be lower in concentration than the groundwater now entering through the basement walls! If this is the case, then the Cesium-cleansed waters from the “makeshift” system will actually reduce the Cesium content in the basements faster than the current groundwater in-leakage.

This not-so-immodest proposal puts Tepco into a Pascalean dilemma. Should they recycle the cleansed waters back to the turbine building basements or should they not? They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by switching to a Cesium-stripping closed loop. However, they have nothing to gain and (inevitably) everything to lose by maintaining the status quo. It seems to me that the answer is a virtual slam-dunk.

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