New Scientist – Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels

Michael Collins

According to an international scientific group monitoring radiation around the world, the Fukushima reactors are emitting nuclear toxins at levels approaching those seen in the “aftermath” of Chernobyl. The Chernobyl disaster began with an explosion. Fukushima is a smoldering cauldron of toxins. Chernobyl had 180 tonnes of nuclear fuel on site. Fukushima has 1700 tonnes of nuclear fuel on site. (Image)

This isn’t the beginning of the end as hoped. It’s looking like the end of the beginning.

CounterPunch ran an interview with Japanese nuclear industry author Hiroshe Takashi just yesterday in which the author lamented the poor reporting of the tragedy in the Japanese press:

“Really, they talk this nonsense, trying to reassure everyone, trying to avoid panic. What we need now is a proper panic. Because the situation has come to the point where the danger is real.” Hiroshe Takashi, March 22

Just two days later, the “proper panic” is on its way.

The Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics of Vienna, Austria has a world wide monitoring system set up to monitor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They are well positioned to monitor the effects of the Fukishima disaster.

The group told New Scientist that:

Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors ”“ designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests ”“ to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl. New Scientist, March 24

The concerns about spent fuel rods and cooling polls in the reactor have materialized. The Chernobyl event was more discrete and identifiable with a major explosion but damaged reactors at Fukushima are toxic nonetheless. The Austrian scientists point out that Chernobyl had 180 tons of nuclear on hand while Fukushima has nearly ten times that amount at 1700 tons.

“When the fuel is damaged there is no reason for the volatile elements not to escape,” and the measured caesium and iodine are in the right ratios for the fuel used by the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Also, the Fukushima plant has around 1760 tonnes of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site, and an unknown amount has been damaged. The Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tonnes. New Scientist, March 24

In his interview on the 22nd, Takashi was blunt about the health risks. He distinguished between radiation in the atmosphere and radioactive particles carried in the atmosphere, then ingested into the body.

Yoh: So making comparisons with X-rays and CT scans has no meaning. Because you can breathe in radioactive material.
Hirose: That’s right. When it enters your body, there’s no telling where it will go. The biggest danger is women, especially pregnant women, and little children. Now they’re talking about iodine and cesium, but that’s only part of it, they’re not using the proper detection instruments. What they call monitoring means only measuring the amount of radiation in the air. Their instruments don’t eat. What they measure has no connection with the amount of radioactive material.
Yoh: So damage from radioactive rays and damage from radioactive material are not the same.
Hirose: If you ask, are any radioactive rays from the Fukushima Nuclear Station here in this studio, the answer will be no. But radioactive particles are carried here by the air. When the core begins to melt down, elements inside like iodine turn to gas. It rises to the top, so if there is any crevice it escapes outside. Hiroshe Takashi, CounterPunch, March 22

The Austrian Institute scientists also pointed out that the spread of radioactive isotopes from Chernobyl are still causing thyroid cancer today:

While in the body the isotopes’ radioactive emissions can do significant damage, mainly to DNA. Children who ingest iodine-131 can develop thyroid cancer 10 or more years later; adults seem relatively resistant. A study published in the US last week found that iodine-131 from Chernobyl is still causing new cases of thyroid cancer to appear at an undiminished rate in the most heavily affected regions of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. New Scientist, March 24

National Public Ratio (NPR) ran an interview with Japanese Green anti nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith yesterday. She brought home the rapidly spreading awareness of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

She noted that a prominent Japanese scientist reworked the Tokyo Power data on soil contamination within 40 kilometers of Fukushima and found that the levels of contamination could be twice that of similar areas near Chernobyl:

And the soil contamination is really high. Soil found 40 kilometers away””now, remember, it’s still 30 kilometers indoors, stay indoors; 20 kilometers, evacuation. So, beyond that area, for example, north-northwest in Imatate, the levels on the soil were very high””in fact, a thousand times iodine, 4,000 times the cesium standard. And we just got a report from the Kyoto Research Reactor Institute, Dr. Tetsuji Imanaka, that said that””he had to look a little bit more into the sampling of the Japanese government, but depending on how the sampling was done, this level of contamination in the soil could be twice the amount that was compulsory evacuation for Chernobyl. Aileen Mioko Smith, March 24

Smith commented on the “travesty” of Japanese earthquake guidelines for reactors. She said:

And I just want to address that the Japanese government’s earthquake reinforcement requirements, the standards that are in place, even today, at all the nuclear power plants in Japan, is really a travesty. And actually, the Fukushima plant was operating under 1978 guidelines. The new guidelines had been established in 2006, but even those guidelines underestimated this earthquake. The earthquake that happened in Fukushima this time was 140 times or so more than the maximum that was estimated under these new guidelines. And the new guidelines didn’t even take into consideration anything beyond the outer containment, and it didn’t even take into consideration the spent nuclear fuel pools. Aileen Mioko Smith, March 24

The Japanese public has awakened to a new world where tap water is a danger to children and pregnant women, where food from one of the nation’s key agricultural regions may be toxic, and in which there is little safety offered by the guidelines that put in place ticking time bombs that are subject to inevitable natural catastrophes.

The story will continue to unfold and the people of the world will then have to decide on the wisdom of a laissez-faire energy policy that puts entire regions and nations at risk for health and safety.


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Michael Collins

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  • The point about 180 tonnes vs. 1700 tonnes is important. Granted a lot of that 1700 may be significantly less radioactive than the 180, but even if half is half as radioactive that leaves a huge inventory of dangerous material available for dispersal.

    One more thought has occurred to me, and maybe I am simply late to the party. There is the argument by many that we need nuclear in order to combat global warming. The huge hole in that argument is that it assumes that as we build those plants that the world as a whole actually stops using fossil fuels at matching levels. What is more likely to happen is that we get the new nuclear and we keep using fossil as fast as we can get it out of the ground.

    In that case we risk getting not only global warming but glowing global warming.

  • I think of this sort of thing happening in say Salt Lake City and having all the freshwater in the rockies irradiated for several generations. That would be all the runoff water that feeds the farmers in Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Southern Nevada, and lower California. Unfreaking believable! Plus, Denver, Boulder, Cheyenne, Salt Lake, maybe even Grand Junction would be basically uninhabitable.

    If you lived in NE Japan, your home is basically gone, or you can live in a toxic waste dump.

  • Radioactive Zirconium Found At Fukushima Confirms Exposed Fuel Rods As High Level Radiation Emitted From Broken Core

    Zero Hedge, By Tyler Durden, March 25

    The latest development in the Fukushima saga is probably one of the more ominous to date. Yomiuri reports that radioactive Zirconium 95 has been found after samples were taken near the water outlet. Google translated: “Zirconium is used for nuclear fuel cladding, the cladding melts some of the spent nuclear fuel was hot cooling water is lost, possibly mixed with sea water flowing into the large drainage There. TEPCO am on March 23, collected about 330 m south from the water at the point of outlet. Zirconium-95 concentration was 0.23 becquerels per cubic centimeter. Atomic Energy Research Institute of Kinki Sugiyama Wataru teachers (of nuclear safety), “The evidence that melting in the heat of the fuel cladding, said first find. Will come from a spent fuel storage pool at,” he said.” Shortly thereafter NHK spokesman admitted that this is why large amounts of radiation are leaking into the environment, making attempts to control the situation ‘very challenging’. If indeed the fuel rod zirconium casing is coming off, it means that the risk for recriticality could be increasing.

    Also: As TEPCO Reports Increased Possible Radiation Release, Japan Expands Voluntary Evacuation Radius To 30 km

    One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth.

  • There on the 23rd: pdf.

    But not on the 24th: pdf.

    See what happens tomorrow with this morning’s samples, I guess.

    Let us overthrow the totems, break the taboos. Or better, let us consider them cancelled. Coldly, let us be intelligent. ~ Pierre Trudeau

  • Agonist
    You were at the party before me;)

    Why wound we use less fossil fuels? The president’s American Power plan showed big reductions in fossils over a period of time but that’s just an assumption. Part of the offset was lots of new nuclear. By 2030, they claim a decline in coal, 2/3rds about, a flat line for petroleum, and a big jump for nuclear. This is from a friendly evaluation of the plan by Pete Peterson’s front group.

    Now that’s upside down. No new plants in the US since Three Mile, people are increasingly distrustful. So maybe they’ll justify more wars for the make up.

    One thing that I do hope comes out is that nuclear power got more loan guarantees in this act and renewables got zip. Someone has to take responsibility for that, like the White House and The Money Party in Congress. It’s so irresponsible.

    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • The systemic thinking on nuclear is nonexistent. I didn’t realize that until I read your reply. Of course you don’t put something on the surface that can spoil a foundational requirement – water. These guys! I’ve been getting replies to previous posts elsewhere that were extended statements on nuclear engineering, radiation, etc. … all claiming, this isn’t bad, bla bla bla. I wish they were right but I think a lot of this story and public dialog has been skewed, more so in Japan than here. The MSM here seems to be pretty robust.

    “Chernobyl” has been the standard against which this disaster has been measured, the frame. Well, now the proponents have some explaining to do. But they can’t hide behind a lot of terminology and hyperbole.

    The sad part is Fukushima doesn’t look like we see it. It’s a garden spot, or was. Hence the pic.
    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • You’re so right on that. 103 million people are just sitting there on Honshu Island. If/when the wind changes and heads in their direction, there will be a huge risk. It depends on the status of the reactor, as well. It’s not responding to the current routine. The salt water drops have been questioned from the start. In the Takashi interview, it was clear that it is desperation. Tokyo Power has been running fluff ads for years on how safe nuclear is according to Mioko Smith. i think there will be a huge outburst of anger. I remember watching Japanese labor union protests in the 70’s. They were very organized and confrontational – dragons an all.
    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • A few weeks ago, when I was fairly new to this forum, I was given a pretty hard time for challenging the “official facts” that were being published by the Japanese government, relying instead on third party information.

    Well, a couple of weeks have proven me right. They never had the reactors under control, and the radiation leakage has been and will be much higher than the official propaganda is telling the trusting public.

    They have cobbled together an open air system to try to maintain some minimum water cooling capability to the reactors, but they are far from controlled. Radiation is showing up at “unexpectedly high” levels in food far outside the exclusion zone. Reactor workers are showing signs of radiation sickness, with some hospitalized for that reason.

    A wind change and something else suddenly breaking for a couple of days is all that it will take to irradiate Tokyo.

    I was weeding my vegetable garden yesterday, thinking about ‘regular’ people in Japan that will not be able to EVER grow their own gardens again with any level of comfort and trust in their own soil.

  • I think it would be really helpful to have a handle on the related half-lives and fission byproducts (ie what does iodine and cesium become?) The iodine at least only has about 8 days half-life I think. And which ones decay into further radioactive particles vs stable ones? At least, from the view here in the US, the heavier particles may not be able to carry across the ocean as easily as lighter ones?

    I think of shows like Ghost in the Shell (and the Stand Alone Complex series more specifically). A major element of their universe was nuclear damage from a regional war, generally with North Korea, which irradiated big chunks of Japan. However something called the “Japanese Miracle” provided nanobots that could gather and cleanup all the radiation. Not impressed by the lack of robots so far – but the content of the show indicated they seemingly envisioned getting irradiated again besides the WWII experience. Need a Japanese Miracle today no doubt.

  • I posted Power Corrupts, Nuclear Power Corrupts Absolutely on Economic Populist along with the other articles on this topic. There were some serious criticisms, and, other than state an opinion that nuclear power was nuts, the presentations were straight forward and hedged on the outcome.

    This was one of the best industry friendly posts
    This blog is so far off the mark

    I responded at the time and then couldn’t resist making this reply yesterday.
    Suppose this is far off too

    Then there was this guy
    Oh, and if you want some facts
    He got the same treatment
    Here are some facts – guess it wasn’t a steady state

    The problem with this disaster is that it fits the many other instances when the nuclear industry is out there in force spinning. I wanted to believe that my skepticism was wrong but when this latest analysis came out plus the Japanese writer and activist right there, I had to face facts. What a human tragedy this is.

    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • “What a human tragedy this is.”

    I fear that may well turn out to be the understatement of the century.

    Prime Minister Naoto Kan today warned that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant was “very grave and serious” as crews halted work to contain the crisis Friday.

    “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care,” the prime minster said.

    This roughly translates as “Get the hell out of here as quickly as possible and as far away as you possibly can.” (And to think that barely 10 days ago my young family moved heaven and earth to get to the airport and on to the safety of home, even though the extended family still in Japan remained quietly certain this was probably unnecessary. Now that greater understanding is sinking in, it will become increasingly difficult to find safe haven.)

  • That’s about 180 degrees from the party line and it’s the final evidence that this is going to be uglier and deadlier than suspected. Your response to this was what Takashi called a ‘proper panic’ – knowing when to move ‘heaven and earth.’ Great work.

    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • 26 March 2011 0933 hrs (SST)

    OSAKA: Highly radioactive water at 10,000 times the normal level has seeped from a second stricken reactor building at Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, its operator said Saturday.

    The water was found in the basement of the turbine building of reactor one — a day after similar readings in the reactor three turbine basement heightened fears that the reactor vessel or its valves and pipes were leaking.

    The worst-case scenario at reactor three would be that the fuel inside the reactor core, a volatile uranium-plutonium mix, has gone critical and burnt its way through the bottom of its steel pressure vessel.

    However, the nuclear safety agency has also said that other data suggested that the reactor vessel was still stable.

    The seaside plant was hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami which knocked out reactor cooling systems.

    The reactors have since been doused with thousands of tons of water to cool them and keep spent fuel rods submerged in their pools, to stop them from being exposed to air and spewing out plumes of radioactive material.

    The high radioactivity in the water was likely to slow efforts to stabilise the reactors, after three workers were contaminated when they sloshed through the puddle in the reactor three turbine room Thursday.

    The water in both cases contained iodine, caesium and cobalt 10,000 times the normal level, said a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).

    “We need to be careful that water contaminated with highly radioactive material will not leak outside,” Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hideyuki Nishiyama said late Friday.

    Pools of water of up to one metre (three feet) were also found in the basement of the turbine buildings of reactors number two and four, he said, adding that their contents were being examined.


    TeH Goddess Rocks 😉

  • New sightings of “black smoke” from nuclear reactor #3 at Fukusima I according to news source.

    “Unfortunately we are not able to measure the radioactive materials [in the atmosphere]…That is something we’re trying to work out.” Adano

    The Money Party RSS

    They can’t process me. I’m not normal. Charlie Sheen

  • We all have a basic understanding of how a nuclear core is controlled: you use control rods to slow down or stop the reaction. In an emergency, you insert the rods all the way and stop the reaction.

    Now imagine you have a core meltdown. That means that the fuel liquefies and drips to the bottom of the containment vessel. Where are the control rods now? Above the pool of molten radioactive fuel. The moderating element (the rods) has been removed, and the fuel heats up uncontrollably. Not only that, but the fuel is much closer proximity to itself, since it in a pool instead of a set of neat bundles.

    So the pooled fuel heats up, decreasing the ability to cool it with water, since at a certain temperature (depending on pressure), the water turns to steam and effectively stops working as a coolant. Eventually the fuel gets hot enough to burn through the vessel.

    Surprisingly, burning through the vessel may be a good thing to cool the vessel… you get a sudden jet of molten fuel that splatters all over the inner containment vessel, dispersing the fuel, eliminating the molten pool and stopping the self heating cycle. Of course, you now have a hugely contaminated outer containment building, but it is supposed to contain the radioactivity. The ability of the outer containment building to survive the sudden overpressure of the sudden release by the inner containment is an engineering problem, and we know how well that has worked so far.

    If you are unlucky, the fuel will drip under the vessel, form a new pool, and within a matter of minutes burn through the outer containment into the basement, where it will fall into the pool of water, make it boil and create a huge steam explosion that will shatter the building and spew all of the radioactive matter into the atmosphere.

    The condition of at least two of the outer containment buildings at Fukushima is very questionable. It is possible that the inner containments have already leaked, and the better scenario happened, where the fuel sprayed all over the inside and stopped it’s own reaction. But the ability of the outer containments to keep the radioactive material out of the atmosphere is questionable.

  • In a previous thread on the issue, that this event is in many ways just like the BP oil spill, only radioactivity instead of oil. That the event will be on our news for weeks or months to come, that just like BP, lies and bullshit would be what we were and would be getting. I’m glad I’m on the other side of the world from it, but will that matter if fires start breaking out in fuel pools and vessels start cracking?


  • …how is it that the vessel’s holding pressure? The Japanese data’s consistent in telling us that there’s pressure in in the primary containment vessel – from the update of the 25th:

    Unit 1: 0.275 MPa [39.9 psi]
    Unit 2: 0.120 MPa [17.4 psi]
    Unit 3: 0.1075 MPa [15.6 psi]

    What would be the mechanism for these to be holding pressure, if the vessel’s holed? Small enough breach that it’s got pressure backed up behind it? There was a piece in the NYT yesterday where they quoted a guy who was speculating that the trace metals present in the sample suggested that they’d had damage to the “condensate polisher” (whatever that is).

    Spent some time browsing through these on the OSTI site yesterday (tech reports on secondary containment for BWR Mk1) when their web site’s less upgefuckt – currently offline – they may be worth taking a look at (each page should provide a link to a pdf):

    While we’re on the topic of useful links, here’s the Ministry’s home page for environmental radiation monitoring data:

    This is the directory where TEPCO’s english collateral press PDFs live – file format is reverse date, e, numeric (i.e., YYMMDDe#.pdf) spelunking in there has been interesting:)

    This is the home page for NISA’s english efforts:

    and the pdf home is here – file name format is en,reverse date – numeric (i.e., enYYYYMMDD – #.pdf):

    Let us overthrow the totems, break the taboos. Or better, let us consider them cancelled. Coldly, let us be intelligent. ~ Pierre Trudeau

  • You weren’t challenged for presenting third party information. You were challenged for not sourcing it so that the rest of us could look at it too. See the difference? (actually, i’m guessing that you don’t)

    But since you brought up the “I told you so” issue, how’s that prediction on Libya working out for ya? I believe you said it would be over in a few days and clucked about how easy it would be.

  • The 3rd OSTI document summarizes things quite nicely:

    “Detailed severe accident analyses of MK I containment designs generally indicate that the conditional probability of primary containment failure is quite high in the unlikely event that core debris escapes the reactor vessel.”

    “… preliminary analyses indicate failure of the MK I drywell liner is quite likely if core debris does contact the inner liner surface.”

    The document is dated 1987

    Well worth reading… thanks again for the links!

  • Yo de man.

    Now I’m off trying to figure out what the H “condensate polisher” is, and why we should care. (Is that a techy name for double strength paper towels?)

  • Wisegeek has the answer on the very first hit.

    No idea how/if this works with salt residue, though. Anyway, there’s no electricity so isn’t it all a moot point?

    Maybe really, really big industrial strength paper towels are a good idea after all.

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