Fukushima nuclear plant released tiny amount of plutonium, but hot particles raise concerns

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      A University of Victoria marine chemist and oceanographer has concluded that a tiny bit of plutonium was dumped into the environment as a result of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

      In a blog post on Daily Kos, Jay T. Cullen wrote that the amount of plutonium from Fukushima was 100,000 times lower than the release from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, and five million times lower than what resulted from atmospheric weapons tests in the last century.

      Cullen, who's with UVic's school of earth and ocean sciences, based his remarks on several papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

      He has been writing a series of articles on the Daily Kos website to offer insights into the effect of the Fukushima disaster on the marine ecosystem and on the North America's west coast.

      "Plutonium is an alpha-emitting isotope that carries significant radiological health risks if internalized so understanding the amount released is key," he wrote in his most recent post. "Online and in some media there exists a misconception that 'massive' amounts of Pu [plutonium] escaped from the reactors."

      He noted that there were 3.5 times as many plutonium isotopes in the Fukushima reactors than were in the Chernobyl plant.

      Meanwhile, Vermont-based Fairewinds Energy Education has released a new video about "hot particles".

      According to Fairewinds chief engineer Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear-industry senior vice president, these dangerous particles are "scattered all over Japan and North America's west coast", but they are "difficult to detect".

      The video features Marco Kalton, a civil engineer and PhD candidate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who specializes in examining how radioactive and chemical particles accumulate in house dust.

      "In looking at indoor environments, they tend to be much more contaminated than the surroundings outside," Kalton says in the video. "Houses act like a trap and they tend to collect outdoor contaminants. And they expose people as much as 24 hours a day..."

      He notes that three isotopes have been repeatedly observed in connection with the Fukushima accident: cesium 134, cesium 137, and radium 226.

      Kalton explains that cesium 134 and cesium 137 are fission products that arise after a nuclear reaction; radium 226 is linked to the original uranium fuel.

      He's been spreading house dust on a copper plate and exposing it to X-ray film for a week.

      According to Kalton, hot particles can be discovered after positive samples are analyzed by an electron microscope, which magnifies them by up to 15,000 times.

      "So we can actually, through this process, take a sample that might weigh a pound or two pounds—a half a kilo, a full kilo, and isolate as few as one or two hot particles from that entire sample," Kalton says. "And then do a full analysis and a breakdown. And that’s extremely valuable to us. It tells us a lot about what might happen if someone inhaled or ingested that particle."

      A sample from Goya, Japan, which is 460 kilometres from the Fukushima plant, revealed a particularly large hot particle. It was 10 microns across.

      "The particle was actually in the size range of dusts that can be inhaled and then retained in the lungs," he says. "And this is important because if you’re a health physicist and you’re calculating the dose that you would get from this particle, you’d have to consider that this particle might actually be trapped and result in a lifetime exposure." 

      Tests from Fukushima Prefecture and from Tokyo revealed that "about 25 percent of those samples contained at least a few measurable hot particles," Kalton explains.

      He adds, however, that the one in Goya was the "worst case".

      Gundersen closes the video by saying that scientific information of this calibre is not available in traditional news stories or from the plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

      "Fairewinds has long said that there will be significant increases in cancer in Japan as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi accident," Gundersen declares, "and this video describing just one hot particle confirms our worst fears."




      Apr 8, 2014 at 2:19am

      The Asia-Pacific Journal,Vol.12,Issue 7,No.4,February 17,2014

      Extract A:
      ‘…Through out this time the reactors continuously plumed out radiation into the environment.When seen through the refracted gaze of the media, it seemed as though the radioactive plumes that escaped the Daiichi plant were severe, but episodic and limited. In fact, the plumes that made their way into the atmosphere after the venting and hydrogen explosions were peak Releases, but they were merely steps above an already elevated level that fluctuated but never stopped.
      One way to visualize this is to imagine the plume as a spotlight that swept back and forth, continuously pluming out radioactivity in the direction that light was shone: as the wind shifted the plume would move, but it never stopped. The plume was unrelenting (and, arguably, still is today in another mode, as contaminated water leaks into the ocean), and as this radioactivity has been released into the environment, it has incrementally distributed collective, cumulative doses whose consequences for public health were terrifying in the early days of the crisis but may well be even worse in the long-term….’
      Extract B:
      ''....Taken as a snap shot of a moment in time, the numbers were reassuringly well below the maximum allowable PAG dose. What this analysis did not account for, however, was the long-term impact of a continuous release from multiple reactors. Although RASCAL-as with SPEEDI, a comparable system-is an important tool used within the U.S. nuclear industry, it has inherent limitations that cannot accommodate the multiple contingencies of shifting weather patterns disseminating fall out from multiple sources. Basically, the system is a sophisticated weather predictor, and while it is considerably more than a best guess estimate, it does not use actual measurements taken in situ where the actual depositions reside. Using source-term assumptions, the system estimates where a given release will go once it is out in the environment, it is a computer software program based on a number of inferential assumptions.NARAC compressed longer-term releases into release times of 24 hours, and completely disregarded food ingestion pathways, which require longer-range analysis that includes agriculture areas and different isotopes . Moreover, the NARAC simulations assume only dry depositions and do not factor in precipitation...'

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      Jay Cullen, University of Victoria

      Apr 8, 2014 at 9:03am

      Hi Rob.T.Hound

      This article is published in an online sociology journal that solicits donations and the author Kyle Cleveland is a sociologist whose expertise

      "ranges from political and theoretical sociology to race and ethnicity, popular culture and ideology"

      The qualitative statements you quote from the article add little to this discussion.

      The release of radionuclides from the Fukushima site is ongoing but best measurements put the rate of release at 10,000-100,000 lower than in the few weeks following the disaster. What this means is that in order to match the amount 137-Cs and associated radionuclides released in the first 90 days after the disaster it will take about 5 million days at current release rates.

      If you have a genuine interest in the impacts of the disaster I urge you to consult this open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Biogeosciences which maintains a special issue on Fukushima here http://www.biogeosciences-discuss.net/special_issue100.html.

      While sociologists like the author you quote have much to contribute by examining the response of society and government to the disaster I think that their analysis and assessment of the impact of radionuclides on the environment and estimates of radiological health risks to the public might have limited value.

      Rob.T. Hound

      Apr 8, 2014 at 1:43pm

      I had noticed it was freely available on line and in a very reputable magazine, thanks for pointing this out! So you go for the man and not the ball as your first strike, always a dubious start point and given the quality of the piece, hardly relevant.
      You belittle his discipline for it's remoteness to the subject matter? Have you read it in full? for it is perfectly within his remit to comment. I could equally argue that you exceed your own boundaries when you leave your comfort zone and postulate on the releases from Fukushima with such certainty, which at best were lacking real detail and at worst full of deception from the start. He goes into this conflict too. You should understand the nature of the beast! As for the swipe at financial matters, what business of yours is done without a budgetary consideration?
      The light shed on the opening weeks of the disaster is a mute point and covered in great detail. But I will back off to a safe distance far beyond the recommended, I feel sure you of all people will understand!
      Whilst I would not attribute all the ills of Fukushima to Science as such, the current confusions do arise from it’s misapplication. You give the impression that conceptual analysis has no place in your world? Yet it is all you have regarding Fukushima! The groundwork of Science is observation and experiment which appears to be very thin on the ground whilst rabid thinking dominates, Science does not arise from thinking alone!
      It is obvious to the public that you have been placed in a defensive position and as such can be of no real help going forwards until this changes,Is it money? I can only imagine how costly it would be to do what needs to be done.
      Has Fukushima been deemed such a lost cause so soon? You say there are basically no health risks, this seems very odd when many predictions conflict with this.
      I notice Gunderson is the real feature of this piece although you seemed to get top billing…for now!

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      Jay Cullen, University of Victoria

      Apr 8, 2014 at 2:58pm

      I would never belittle socialogists or their research. My goal is to help provide a quantitative, evidence based discussion about this serious issue. Most people want to know what radiological health risks exist for them and their families. The risks associated with Fukushima released radioactive isotopes to those living here in North America can be measured, quantified and compared with other risks to public health. I agree with you that more monitoring is required to put the environmental and public health risks associated with Fukushima in perspective. I do not think that qualitative assertions about safety in this matter are particularly useful.


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      Andy Jackson

      Apr 8, 2014 at 3:37pm

      You have to take that paper for what it is worth. He dosnt claim to be a radioactive expert, but the information given by Mr. Cleveland is a fair assement of the situation and the players roles in it. The USA military has the numbers as was pointed out in that report through information gained from the freedom of information act. How do you discount that??? If you read it, he didnt make that many assesments as relaying the facts of what happen and when, that are backed up by his material. How do you discount the back up material?

      Then why did japan shut off the social media then pass a secrecy law 2 years after the accident? To help the free flow of information im sure.

      Also for those that believe there is no danger in nuclear power, they are looking for workers in Japan. They suppose to be getting a pay raise soon as they get the mafia out of it.

      Ive really given up on this issue anyway. Japan is going to restart a nuclear plant without getting this accident under control. Pure stupidity, not just by japan, but the world in general for allowing them to do this. The USA has been controlling the situation since it happened, and has been advising Abe/japan on what to do to contain it. Theres no stopping these people.

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      Apr 8, 2014 at 4:33pm

      ''I do not think that qualitative assertions about safety in this matter are particularly useful.''

      But then you enter the realm of '' that all depends...''
      As Heraclitus notes...'you can never step up the same river twice!'
      Are we honestly supposed to swallow Banana speak and now read cigarette pack warnings when confronting the reality of the containment failures at Fukushima?

      The living creature that we are could indeed be deemed a simple 'thing' built from a set of essentially unchanging chemical substances, but this ignores change. A Fertilized egg slowly changing over a reasonably lengthy period of time into an adult. This elaborate journey has never been a simple quantitative process for every muscle,every bone and cornea is unique, The consciousness of Man has evolved unlike any other species on Earth. A purely Democritean stance when quantifying the risk to our species will simply miss the majority of possible outcomes and present an over simplified range of benchmarks.
      I find the lack of curiosity from the Scientific community is matched only by the hopelessness of the reality it has in effect created.
      Instead of clearly disproving doubters we find just the opposite..Banana speak!
      A Constant 100% truth in all circumstances...and of course Bananas and iPhone chargers.
      This being your precise theorem and Logic thus far displayed.

      We need more...how can we help you?

      Jay Cullen, University of Victoria

      Apr 8, 2014 at 5:13pm

      Hi Rob.T.Hound

      Scientific research is a creative, curiosity driven enterprise. You should check out some of the work my colleagues do at UVic. I think you would be really impressed.

      As far as risk assessment goes, as a species we are relatively poor at evaluating risks. Our species' approach of inaction when it comes to mitigating climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that action is required is a prime example.

      Environmental scientists and health physicists are very busy measuring and evaluating the radiological health risks posed by Fukushima radionuclides in the environment. Communicating these results to the public in a clear and cogent way will, hopefully, put people in the position of being able to evaluate the health risk and empower them to make decisions to minimize overall risks to them and their families. Comparing the risk from Fukushima to other health risks, radiological and not, is an important part of this effort.


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      Apr 8, 2014 at 7:26pm

      I believe it's Nagoya, not Goya, and Kaltofen, not Kalton.