Guest Columns

Fukushima is not contaminating Pacific

By Les Corrice

It is widely reported that hundreds of tons of highly contaminated Fukushima Daiichi groundwater pours into the Pacific Ocean every day. But, an objective look at the evidence tells a completely different story. It’s long-past time for the Tokyo Electric Company (Tepco) and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to broadcast the truth – there is no groundwater contamination being released to the Pacific Ocean at F. Daiichi. There are several reasons why I make this claim with the highest possible confidence.

It has been repeatedly posted in Fukushima Accident Updates (1) that the seawater in and around the port at F. Daiichi shows no evidence of a highly-contaminated groundwater influx. It is important to note that the inner harbor (quay) at F. Daiichi has been sealed off from the outer port and the open sea for nearly 3 years. If highly contaminated groundwater was actually out-flowing for the past 3 years, it would necessarily have been inside the quay and the concentration of radioactive isotopes would have constantly increased. However, the opposite has been the case. The concentrations have been steadily diminishing for more than 3 years. Current testing inside the quay shows that all isotopic concentrations are so low that the contained seawater meets Japan’s national standards for release.(2) If there were huge volumes of radioactive water entering the quay, the test result’s trend should be exactly the opposite.

Next, we should look at Tepco’s continual ocean testing out to 15 kilometers, dating back to December of 2011, revealing no evidence of highly contaminated waters flowing into the sea. This has been continually verified by the NRA since they began their own sampling in September, 2013.(3) Once again, if 300 tons of highly contaminated groundwater were actually flowing into the sea itself, the testing results of the surrounding ocean would show it…but they don’t.

To prevent any possible future contamination of the Pacific, Tepco has built an underground barricade all along the shoreline between the four-unit turbine building basements and the quay. This is an example of producing defense-in-depth on the fly. The soil-solidified barrier was completed between units 1 and 2 on March 25th, between units 2 and 3 on February 6th, and, between units 3 and 4 on March 5th.(4) Its integrity is proven by the groundwater samples taken between the barrier and the quay shoreline, all three showing isotopic levels well-below the national standards for release.(5) With the barrier complete, future Pacific contamination from F. Daiichi groundwater is quite improbable.

But, there was no discernible groundwater contamination making it into the ocean before the soil-barrier was completed. What prevented it? Soil is an awesome filtering medium for radioactive isotopes and keeps them from migrating over extremely long tracts of time. Strong evidence for this comes from the country of Gabon, and the several “natural” reactors discovered in the African nation over the past 50 years.(6,7) No less than three large Uranium deposits in Gabon have been studied in detail – Oklo, Okelobondo, and Bogambe – all within 40 kilometers of each other. Between 1.7 and 1.5 billion years ago, their U-235 abundance was about 4.5 times greater than we find in the Earth today; roughly the same 3% concentration artificially manufactured for modern power plant fuel. Underground water sporadically flowed through the deposits over a period of several million years. The water down the spontaneously-released neutrons from U-238 and spawned subsequent fissions in the U-235. While the underground water was inside the deposits, chain-reactions occurred, producing a lot of radioactive isotopes – identical to the ones popularly reported with respect to F. Daiichi.

Further, the Gabon studies have shown that all isotopes have moved no more than a meter from the periphery of the deposits in more than 1.5 billion years…and this includes the inert gas Xenon which has been locked in the mineral aluminum-phosphate for the entire time. The surrounding soil and rock layers filtered the isotopes out of the water carrying them from the deposits, and they have remained there ever since! These observations show that nuclear waste isotopes can be successfully sequestered underground, even in locations as (technically/politically) unsuited for nuclear isotopic releases such as Oklo, Okelobondo, Bogambe, and F. Daiichi.

Most of the groundwater contamination found at F. Daiichi comes from wells located nearest the highly contaminated waters in the underground equipment/cabling tunnels stretching from the turbine basements to the seawater intake structures along the quay shoreline. As we move farther and farther from the tunnels, the groundwater concentrations drop dramatically. By the time we reach the wells closest to the shoreline, albeit inside the new soil barriers, the concentrations are orders-of-magnitude lower. Clearly the soil has been filtering the radioactive isotopes from the groundwater contaminated by the trenches for as long as it has been studied, effectively keeping the contamination from reaching the Pacific. With the soil-solidified barriers now in-place, there is even more reason to understand that no contamination is getting into the quay, and entirely misleading to extend this to something “highly contaminated” besmirching the Pacific Ocean.

Thus, the notion of 300 tons of highly contaminated groundwater flowing into the sea is, was, and will continue to be an assumption…a speculation…a conjecture – anything but a fact. The assumption initially came from two sources: Tepco and the NRA. Why did they broadcast this fact-vacuous assumption? On July 26, 2013, 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.” Rather than counter exaggerated, confabulated claims made by so-called antinuclear experts that are regularly trumpeted by the Press, Tepco decided to beat them to the punch. The NRA promptly followed suit. Ever since then, the results have created a public relations nightmare. The most ill-fated of their worst-case speculations has been the notion that highly-contaminated groundwater is continually going into the sea.

Although Tepco and NRA worst-case speculations have been tempered with terms like “might”, “may”, and “possibly”, the Japanese Press reports them as statements of certainty. In turn, the historically-nuclear-adverse Press outside Japan took the Japanese reports, added a few scary “spins” of their own, and created an international uproar. The antinuclear prophets of doom feed on it like hungry Jackals. Both inside and outside Japan, most of the public has no idea of the realities involved. Speculations wrapped in embellishment abound, and it can be traced back to Hirose’s worst-case-scenario promise.

Tepco and the NRA have every reason in the world to admit they are wrong about F. Daiichi’s groundwater constantly contaminating the Pacific. Ruthlessly clinging to this fictional worst-case assumption poses Pascalean quandary. Tepco and the NRAS have everything to lose and nothing to gain by continuing the false conjecture, but everything to gain and nothing to lose by admitting their obvious mistake.

I suspect that Tepco and the NRA do not have the courage to do the right thing. I hope they will prove me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

References :
1 – http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html
2 – http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2014/images/2tb-east_map-e.pdf
3 – http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-commentary/fukushima-commentary-10.html
4 – http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2014/images/handouts_140905_03-e.pdf
5 – http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2014/images/2tb-east_14090801-e.pdf
6 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-nuclear-reactor/
7 – http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionE.htm#v2


Note: The above originally appeared on September 10, 2014 in the Fukushima Commentary section of Hiroshima Syndrome. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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