Whitney Webb / EcoWatch & EcoWatch – 2017-02-28 01:45:45
Radiation Levels at Fukushima Is So High It Killed Two Robots
Whitney Webb / EcoWatch
(February 23, 2017) — While media attention has largely drifted away from the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the years since the disaster, a recent and disturbing development has once again made Fukushima difficult if not impossible to ignore.
On Feb. 2, Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO, quietly released a statement regarding the discovery of a hole measuring 2 meters in diameter within the metal grating at the bottom of the containment vessel in the plant’s No. 2 reactor.
Though news of this hole is indeed concerning, even more shocking was the associated jump in radiation detected in the area. According to estimates taken at the time of the hole’s discovery, radiation inside the reactor was found to have reached 530 sieverts per hour, a massive increase compared to the 73 sieverts per hour recorded after the disaster.
To put these figures in perspective, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s maximum amount of radiation exposure permitted for astronauts over their entire lifetime is 1 sievert.
Human exposure to 5 sieverts would kill half of those exposed within a month, while 10 sieverts would prove fatal to nearly all exposed within a matter of weeks. An official with Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals with the organization had never even considered working with such high levels of radiation.
TEPCO initially tried to counter public fears by stating that most of the reactor’s nuclear fuel remained in the containment vessel despite the hole. However, on Feb. 3, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura was quoted as saying that “it’s highly possible that melted fuel leaked through.”
At the time, TEPCO said that it would send a robot into the area to survey the full extent of the damage in order to definitively determine whether fuel had leaked outside of the reactor into the surrounding environment.
The first robot, deployed on Feb. 16, was unable to conduct any meaningful measurements, as the extreme conditions within the reactor forced operators to abandon it within the containment vessel. The “scorpion” robot, manufactured by Toshiba, was meant to record images of the reactor’s interior and collect accurate — instead of estimated — data on the levels of radiation within.
Within three hours of deployment, the device stopped responding to operators despite its stated ability to withstand high levels of radiation. TEPCO has not commented on its new plans to gauge the damage recently uncovered in the reactor in the wake of the robot’s malfunction.
When a second robot was sent to investigate, it also failed.
One of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disasters Grows Even Worse
Despite a lack of widespread media coverage and TEPCO’s reassurances that things are under control, there is concern that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima — already one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history — is quickly growing even worse.
PBS News reported last year that more than 80 percent of of the radioactivity from the three damaged reactors was released into the Pacific Ocean, as 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from the reactors every day since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled the plant in 2011.
The Pacific Ocean may have diluted much of the radiation, due to its massive volume, yet radiation and debris from the disaster has been detected along the western coast of Canada and the US Traces of Fukushima radiation were first detected in early 2015, when trace amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 appeared in samples collected near Vancouver Island. Then, in December of last year, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected seaborne cesium-134 along the Oregon coast.
Though no link between the presence of radiation has been officially established, fisheries along the entire western coast of North America have been collapsing. Last month, the US secretary of commerce reported on the failure of nine salmon and crab fisheries in Alaska, California and Washington — all due to “unexpected” yet steep declines in fish populations.
While scientists and government authorities alike are “stumped” as to the cause, fish caught along the West Coast have showed high increases in the levels of cesium for years — as far back as 2014.
Researchers have maintained that fish, however, are still “safe” to eat despite the fact that at least one group of doctors agrees that there is “no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources, period.”
The Japanese government, TEPCO and mainstream media continue to insist that this massive release of radiation into the environment has had no effect on human or environmental health.
However, thyroid cancer rates have soared in Japan, with 131 children developing thyroid cancer in the six years since the disaster. That total is equivalent to about 600 thyroid cancer cases per million children, while the child thyroid cancer rate elsewhere is about one or two children per million per year.
Despite the marked increase in cancer rates, TEPCO and the Japanese government insist that Fukushima radiation is “unlikely” to result in a greater incidence of cancer cases.
However, exposure to Iodine-131, the main radionuclide released into the air and water during the meltdown, is known to increase human risk of thyroid cancer and is the most clearly defined environmental factor associated with thyroid tumors, suggesting that a correlation between radiation and exposure likely exists.
This latest breach in one of the plant’s damaged reactors as well as TEPCO’s inability to even properly gauge the extent of the damage suggests that we have yet to see the full devastating potential of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Reposted with permission from EcoWatch media associate MintPress News.
Radiation at Fukushima Spikes to Highest Levels Since 2011
True Activist / True Activist & EcoWatch
(February 5, 2017) — Nearly six years after the initial explosion caused a catastrophic meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan, the situation has suddenly taken a drastic turn for the worst.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company which owns and operates the now defunct power plant, announced Thursday that radiation inside the containment vessel of one of the plant’s failed reactors has now reached levels undetected since the disaster first occurred in 2011.
Radiation inside the reactor has reached 530 sieverts per hour, a drastic increase from the previously recorded 73 sieverts per hour recorded in the aftermath of the meltdown. The level of radiation is so high that an official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.
TEPCO has stated that the cause of the radiation spike is a 2-meter-diameter hole inside the bottom grating of the containment vessel. The hole was likely caused by melted fuel.
Plans have been made to send a robot into the area to survey the damage as the true extent of the structural damage remains unknown. However, previous attempts to use robots to gauge damage or seal breaches at Fukushima have failed.
Several robots were deployed to seal a breach in another containment vessel, which continues to release 300 tons of radioactive water a day into the Pacific Ocean. Due to the high temperatures present, all of the robots were rendered nonfunctional and unable to complete the task.
While TEPCO previously claimed that most of the reactor’s nuclear fuel remained contained in the pressure vessel, company spokesman Yuichi Okamura stated that “it’s highly possible that melted fuel leaked through.”
TEPCO has yet to state the expected impact of the radiation spike or the potential consequences of the nuclear fuel leak. The company is expected to detail its plan for containment and offer more details regarding the impacts of this latest development in the coming week.
However, given that TEPCO admitted to “covering up” the impact of the initial disaster with the full complicity of the Japanese government, it remains to be seen if they can be taken at their word.
Reposted with permission from EcoWatch media associate True Activist.
Are Elevated Fukushima Radiation Levels Cause for Alarm?
Anna Fifield and Yuki Oda / The Washington Post
TOKYO (February 8, 2017) — The utility company that operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — the one that went into triple meltdown after the enormous 2011 earthquake and tsunami — has released some jaw-dropping figures.
The radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor two has reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco as it’s known, said last week. This far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour recorded at the reactor following the March 2011 disaster.
That was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the one at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, in 1986. Almost 16,000 people were killed along Japan’s northeastern coast in the tsunami, and 160,000 more lost their homes and livelihoods. The cleanup is taking much longer than expected.
At this level of radioactivity, a person could die from the briefest of exposures.
Tepco recorded the radiation near the reactor core, suggesting that some melted fuel had escaped, using a long, remote-controlled camera and radiation measurement device. It was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor. There, it found a three-foot-wide hole in a metal grate in the reactor’s primary containment vessel.
So, how dangerous is this?
At this level of radiation, a robot would be able to operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed, Tepco said.
And Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals had never even thought about encountering this level of radiation in their work.
According to Kyodo News Agency, the institute estimates that exposure to one sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts, while four sieverts would kill half of the people exposed to it.
This measuring device hasn’t even gone into reactors one and three yet — that’s still in the works.
So should the people who live in Japan, who live on the Pacific basin be freaking out?
Not yet, some analysts say.
Although the radiation level is “astoundingly high,” says Azby Brown of Safecast, a citizen science organization that monitors radiation levels, it doesn’t necessarily signify any alarming change in radiation levels at Fukushima. It’s simply the first time they’ve been measured that far inside the reactor.
Here’s what Brown wrote on Safecast’s website:
“It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured.
“Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell.”
Hiroshi Miyano, nuclear expert and visiting professor at Hosei University, also warned against overreacting. He said the radiation reading might not be particularly reliable since it was only an estimation based on the image analysis. (Tepco said there was a margin of error of 30 percent.)
“It’s not something new to worry about,” he said, although he added that it underscored how difficult the next steps would be.
But some think there is cause for concern.
Fumiya Tanabe, nuclear safety expert and former chief research scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said while experts expected the radiation reading inside the Daiichi reactors to be high, it was still “shocking” to learn how high it was six years on.
“It will be very difficult to operate robots in there for a long time to come, and to remove the melted fuel. So the finding might greatly affect the decommissioning time schedule,” he said.
Tepco had been hoping to start taking out the fuel out in 2021.
Could the radiation level be even higher?
Possibly. The 530 sievert reading was recorded some distance from the melted fuel, so in reality it could be 10 times higher than recorded, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.
He agreed with Tanabe, saying that the findings underscore how difficult the decommissioning process will be.
“It definitely shows the path towards decommissioning will be very difficult, and the time frame to start taking out the fuel in 2021 will most likely be delayed as more investigations will be necessary,” Ban said.
Still, he cautioned against overreacting, saying, like Brown, that Tepco had simply not been able to measure this close to the fuel before.
So what does this news portend?
The level of the reading should give proponents of nuclear power in Japan — including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who’s been pushing to restart reactors shut down after the 2011 disaster — pause, Tanabe said.
“It’s unbelievable that anyone would want to restart nuclear plants when Japan hasn’t learned how and why the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, or learned lessons from it,” he said.
Indeed, Ai Kashiwagi, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said the findings showed how little the government and Tepco knew about what was happening inside the reaction.
“The prime minister said everything was under control and has been pushing to restart nuclear plants, but no one knew the actual state of the plant and more serious facts could come out in the future,” she said. “It’s important to keep an eye on radiation-monitoring data and how Tepco’s investigations go.”
Thyroid Cancer in Children Increases
30-Fold in Fukushima, New Study Says
(October 15, 2015) — A study examining children who were 18 years and younger at the onset of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe found an increase in thyroid cancers, as predicted by World Health Organization (WHO) initial dose assessments.
Lead researcher Toshihide Tsuda, an epidemiologist at Okayama University, says “[t]his is more than expected and emerging faster than expected … ” by either initial WHO predictions or studies of thyroid cancers after the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Tsuda was urged by international experts and the publishing journal to publish his study as soon as possible due to its potential implications for public health.
The study, published in Epidemiology, analyzed prefecture data up to Dec. 31, 2014.
There were no precise measurements of internal or external radiation exposure, so researchers used residential addresses at the time the catastrophe began in 2011 as a surrogate for dose.
The highest incidence rate ratio was among people whose districts were not evacuated, approximately 50 to 60 km (30 to 40 miles) west of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Data show 605 thyroid cancer cases per 1 million examinees. The expected cases of thyroid cancer in children is 1-2 per year per million.
A second round of screening, to be completed in March 2016, will include those who were in utero in 2011. Data already show an additional 25 thyroid cancers.
Ground contamination does not necessarily reflect exposure. Some of the most exposed people came from areas where radionuclide deposition was minimal, but radioactive iodine in the air as a result of the catastrophe still left them exposed.
The magnitude of the increase is too great to be explained by increased screening, since available data show that, at most, a 6 to 7â€“fold increase would be attributable to enhanced screening efforts. The data examined by Tsuda show cancer cases an order of magnitude higher.
The increase cannot be attributed to over-diagnosis, either. The cancers found by the screenings in Fukushima prefecture had metastasized to lymph nodes in 74 percent of cases (40 cases out of 54), meaning that these cases were not in early stages of development; medical professionals support this conclusion: “However, physicians actually involved with diagnosis during the thyroid examination unanimously agree that ‘it is not over-diagnosis.’ These physicians include Dr. Akira Miyauchi from Kuma Hospital, one of nation’s top thyroid clinicians, as well as Dr. Shinichi Suzuki from Fukushima Medical University, director of thyroid examination in Fukushima prefecture.”
Over-diagnosis “refers to diagnosis of disease that does not require medical treatment, as opposed to screening effect which means early detection of asymptomatic disease that patients are unaware of and which eventually requires medical treatment.”
Contrary to claims that we would not see an increase in cancers this early (within a year after exposure to radioactivity), radioactivity from Fukushima could be the cause of the rising number of thyroid cancer cases, as excess cancers were likewise observed in the years immediately following Chernobyl disaster.
Further, the US Center for Disease Control recognizes a minimum empirical induction time of 2.5 years in adults and 1 year in kids for all cancers, including thyroid cancer.
Though the study focused on children, residents who were older than 18 years in 2011 should also be monitored for thyroid cancers.
In addition to predicting increases in thyroid cancers, the WHO also predicted increases in leukemia, breast and other types of cancers. The WHO acceded to demands by the government of Japan to reduce estimated doses. As a result, doses listed in the WHO’s report are 1/10th to 1/3rd lower than initially drafted.
The study concludes: “In Chernobyl, excesses of thyroid cancer became more remarkable 4 or 5 years after the accident in Belarus and Ukraine, so the observed excess alerts us to prepare for more potential cases within a few years.
Furthermore, we could infer a possibility that exposure doses for residents were higher than the official report or the dose estimation by the World Health Organization, because the number of thyroid cancer cases grew faster than predicted in the World Health Organization’s health assessment report.”
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