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.
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.
Regarding the Oklo natural reactors, you say “all isotopes have moved no more than a meter from the periphery of the deposits in more than 1.5 billion years…”. While true that many of the fission products and actinides remained in close proximity to the reactors, I don’t think you can say “all” such isotopes have remained in place. Certain water-soluble fission products (Iodine being one) would have washed away with the flowing water.
Still, Oklo is a good natural analog for an underground waste repository, and shows that it can be done safely with the proper geology and engineered barriers.
Regarding the F. Daiichi experience, I find it amazing the Japanese people still suffer from wide-spread radiophobia. I would have thought after three years, they would have educated themselves about what does and doesn’t pose a serious threat. I have read about how the local fishermen, who have a say in such matters, still refuse to allow any water to be released to the ocean, no matter how clean it is. I wonder what they think of the mercury found in the ocean fish, which got there primarily from burning coal?
Japan’s radiophobia can be traced back to Hiroshima/Nagasaki in 1945. There has been exactly zero public education on radiation since then. Less than 1% of the population have visited nuke visitor centers, but radiation information lacks even there. From what I gather, Japan doesn’t even have a radioactive decay topic in high school chemistry or nuke safety topic in high school environmental science, like we do in the USA. All they have had is nearly 75 years of rumor and innuendo concerning H/N and bomb fallout causing mutations and cancer and a plethora of other medical horrors. In addition, the Japanese Press continually preaches the “no safe level” gospel and poses antinuclear scare-mongers as valuable experts!! I’m shocked that it isn’t worse than it is.
I love the “hungry jackals” metaphor. Yet, jackals, fed enough, reach a point of satiety. That seems never to be the case with “antinuclear prophets of doom”. How to short-circuit this endlessly spiraling feedback loop (“the desire that grow by what it feeds on”) is the psychological challenge that has to be met before sanity can take hold. So far, scientists and engineers have not been up to the challenge.
I propose one tool might be a variation on the Fermi Paradox. (If advanced extraterrestrials could be expected to develop interstellar travel and roam galaxies, where are they? They’ve had plenty of time.) The prophets of doom should be required to produce the bodies, or shut up. All these reactor years, and all they have is Chernobyl to show for it. How this idea gets compacted into a Tweet should be an assignment given to a PR expert.
As you probably know, these prophets DO in fact “produce the bodies” all the time. The infamous ‘chernobyl babies’ images come to mind, which are presented as evidence in the course of spreading anti-nuclear propaganda to quivering audiences including The Rotary Club and the Lions Club (as I have been told by acquaintances who visit such clubs).
Of course, there are no ‘Chernobyl babies’ and there never have been. The popular ‘chernobyl’ images showing the infamous disfigured children in fact show children who suffer from all manner of various maladies and poisonings (often simply drug/alcohol addicted mothers) which have nothing to do with radiological contamination at all. Of course the Prophets maintain otherwise.
Only a dozen or two children out of thousands who were exposed after the accident actually were harmed and died due to contamination with radio-iodine from chernobyl. Tragic as that is, it is not a huge number and it pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of children which die every year from fossil-fuel caused air pollution alone. Even larger is the million-plus number of children who die from biomass combustion smoke due to the circumstance that they STILL have no access to modern forms of energy, let alone cheap, clean and safe nuclear power.
“Only a dozen or two children out of thousands who were exposed after the accident actually were harmed and died due to contamination with radio-iodine from chernobyl”
Huh?? I believe that I have read here, quite a few times, that such deaths did not occur. What gives?
Got a link for that? There is admittedly some debate, as there was no good epidemiological record of thyroid cancer in the region before the 1986 accident, and it became perhaps the world’s best studied afterward. So there is question about how many post-1986 cancers can be attributed to Chernobyl. Timely post-accident screening helped, as radiation-induced thyroid cancer has a latency of about five years. Still, given prevalent iodine deficiency and the tardiness of Soviet response, its hard to argue many needless cases of thyroid cancer are attributable to the Chernobyl accident. Thyroid cancer usually can be successfully treated — and usually was. But not always. See
Chernobyl Accident, and scroll to “Environmental and health effects”.
Cuttler and Pollycove discusse some of the issues related to attributing thyroid cancers to Chernobyl radiation in Nuclear Energy and Health: And the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664640/
I have heard it said the Japanese are probably less susceptible to thyroid cancer from Fukushima Daiichi because they tend to eat more seafood, especially seaweed, than Ukrainians and Russians. Seafood and seaweed are good sources of natural iodine, so if the people already had their thyroid glands saturated, it is less likely they would have picked up much radioactive iodine in March of 2011. Also, the Japanese government was much better about quarantining the foods that might have been a problem.
Is there any empirical evidence for the seaweed theory? I know the news media has tried to create hysteria over the small number of abnormal thyroid cases found through the increased screening program which is ongoing.
Oh I believe there’s empirical evidence all right, though I don’t have it at hand. At least as importantly though, is the Japanese did not delay in distributing prophylactic iodine tablets, just to make sure. But most important by far, the Japanese were open about the accident and simply refrained from ingesting any possibly contaminated water or foodstuffs. Wadda concept. As result, the radiation risk to the general public was (and is) effectively zero.
More at Fukushima Accident. Scroll to “Radioactive releases to air” and “Radiation exposure and fallout beyond the plant site”.
Thanks Rod. From your link:
Hmmm… this is only making it difficult to attribute any radiation deaths to the general public from Chernobyl, though surely not impossible. I mean, suppose some dose X applied to population P resulted in hormetic up-regulation that suppressed Y fatal malignancies while nonetheless inducing Z that somehow escape the Attack of the Killer T’s. Further suppose Y > Z. However, regardless of net reduction in mortality (Y-Z) due to the exposure, that’s still Z premature deaths that would not otherwise have occurred. Right?
And the fact that we can’t distinguish radiation-induced malignancies from those naturally occurring or induced by chemical carcinogens isn’t going to convince anyone who wasn’t going to be convinced anyway, right?
Of course not. So there.
Totally unrelated, but in the Free the Fishes! dept. I’m hardly alone in noting the irony of Riverkeeper and other “environmental” organizations trying to close Indian Point on grounds its cooling system is killing some huge number of fingerlings in a river whose adult fish population is saturated by other natural factors e.g. there’s only so much fish food even in the Hudson.
But suppose New York does succeed in both shuttering Indian Point and replacing its nominal 2 GW dispatchable zero-carbon thermal with 6 GW non-dispatchable (aka “unreliable”) wind via 3000 2 MW turbines. And suppose those 3000 turbines each kills an average of eight birds per year. Being tall (500 ft) structures, many of those birds will be high-flying adult migratory water-fowl and raptors (fish feeders). So 24,000 top-of-the-food-chain birds will die needlessly horrific and premature deaths each year should Indian Point’s enlightened opponents succeed in its closure. Resulting in further unsustainable upward pressure on the Hudson’s fish population.
And that’s not counting bats. West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. Bats eat mosquitoes. Wind turbines kill bats. The fewer bats, the more mosquitoes. The more mosquitoes, the more West Nile Virus (and malaria and dengue and…). The more West Nile Virus, the fewer birds. And humans. The fewer humans, the less demand for fracked gas to spin the wind turbines and keep humanity’s lights on. The less fracked gas, the lower our ghg emissions.
So I guess it all evens out.
There was no record of possibly cancerous child thyroids in Belarus before Chernobyl because no one had looked for it. The same problem is currently the fact in Japan with the Fukushima child thyroid surveys. Please go to http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-child-thyroid-issue.html for what is really happening. Regardless, to say there was no child thyroid cancer before Chernobyl is necessarily misleading. You can’t find what you are not looking for.
All the Chernobyl children (Belarus, actually) with cancerous thyroid growths (~4,000) had them surgically removed. All have lived to healthy adulthood. IAEA says one has died of cancer, but does not blame the demise on Chernobyl radiation.
The sea around the Fukushima Daiichi plant and especially adjacent to the shore is high in cesium134 compared to the areas being measured further offshore and in the rest of the Pacific. This could be the result of runoff from the land after the accident and releases in 2011 but areas further away from the plant itself don’t show similar significant amounts of Cs134. Sampling from groundwater bypass wells on the slope to the west of the reactor buildings shows the groundwater at that point contains about 0.06Bq/litre of Cs134 and Cs 137, seawater samples taken close inshore near the reactors are often ten to twenty times that figure. Seawater samples taken inshore north and south of the site including at Fukushima Daini have similar levels of Cs134 to the hillside groundwater bypass readings indicating that dilution of the cesium when it reaches the ocean is reducing the signature significantly.
Soil may trap and retain some isotopes escaping from the damaged reactor vessels and containments but this will vary depending on the type of soil and chemistry of the isotopes involved. Given that Cs-134 is detectable in the hillside groundwater samples it is obvious that cesium is not easily retained by soil as it must have percolated down from surface contamination after the accidents in 2011.
Thanks to the efforts of the Fukushima engineers the amount of radioactive material getting into the sea from the damaged reactors and compromised containments is lower than it could be but the ongoing seawater sampling program shows it is still happening.
Correct. And the ocean’s natural background levels alone are ten to twenty times that figure. So it’s clearly a significant problem…
For clarity, ocean average background is 13 Bq/litre, ranging up to 22 Bq/litre in high-salinity areas such as Persian Gulf, factors of 200 to 400 the up-slope cesium 0.06 Bg/litre, and
ten to twenty more than the “seawater samples taken close inshore near the reactors”.
The “ten to twenty times” readings I mentioned are of Cs-134 and Cs-137 compared to previous open-ocean levels of those isotopes. The existing residual level of Cs-137 is mostly left over from US nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific during the 1950s and 1960s, the result of about 150 megatonnes of thermonuclear devices being detonated on, under and over atolls such as Bikini. There is almost no Cs-134 present in Pacific seawater today that is not attributable to the Fukushima disaster as its half-life is about 2 years.
Just offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi breakwater the activity in seawater due to Cs-137 is 63Bq per cubic metre and the Cs-134 level (with a much shorter half-life) is 23Bq per cubic metre as sampled in May this year. By comparison samples taken recently along the west coast of the US have no detectable level of Cs-134 and a “background” level of Cs-137 of about 1.4Bq per cubic metre, no change from previous sampling and testing.
This indicates that Cs isotopes are still being transported from the Fuksuhima site into the sea via groundwater. The levels of cesium in the bypass wells I mentioned earlier total about 60Bq per cubic metre as measured in May, the sea samples (after some dilution in the ocean) total 83Bq per cubic metre. The extra cesium is coming from somewhere and the basements of the reactors are the most likely source.
It’s not a lot compared to the initial releases of Cs during the explosions and the early days of March 2011 before active cooling of the compromised cores was achieved but it is clearly ongoing.
Do you realize that a cubic meter is a ton of water…a ton! plus 23 Bq is 23 radioactive disintegrations per second. A five pound bag of potatoes is more radioactive than that! I won’t deny the rainwater runoff possibility, but it is most definitely not due to groundwater outflow. If it were, the inner harbor (quay) would not be decaying steadily down, down, down. My point is that the notion of contaminated groundwater outflow is purely a worst-case assumption, and not supported by the data at hand. Groundwater contamination of the sea is clearly NOT on-going.
Here is a related website.
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
@Cyril R What was Tesla’s learning rate starting at the first Roadster? How much do you think that first unit…
A new engine or turbine product line doesn’t just cost triple a unit. That’d make it pointless. Yet this is…
Cyril First of a Kind (FOAK) applies to products whose parts and method of assembly are new, not just products…
The problem with the FOAK argument is that FOAK LWRs were built half a century ago for under $300/kWe. And…
I kind of wonder if there aren’t some smart Canadians looking across the border and rubbing their hands with glee.…