Posts Tagged Chernobyl

Japan – It’s A Wonderful Rife: Fungi Can Solve Japan’s Radiation Woes

Haven’t blogged about anything for a while – burnout, I guess, getting bored with the subject. But today I read an article that woke me up: Fungi Can Solve Japan’s Radiation Woes | Japan – It’s a Wonderful Rife. Pop over to Andrew’s blog to read the whole thing. It brightened my day. I sincerely hope this doesn’t turn out to disappoint, like the sunflowers did.

what if a … type of mushroom could remove the clouds of radiation from Japan following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear power reactor to nearly go into meltdown, but still spewed radiation Cesium-137 into the air for days upon days?

Well… say hello to my little friend! He’s a fungi!

There are quite a few species of fungi that absorb radiation and have been used with a lot of success in the former USSR following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. The relatively new science of using fungi to clean up radioactive or other types of waste is known as mycoremediation, and promises to be far less expensive than other competing methods.

It all begins at Chernobyl, when in 2007 – 21 years after the disaster caused the reactors to be cemented over – Russian scientists sent a robot in,and found life, beautiful, horrible life!!!

There… inside the most radioactive areas of the breachjed nuclear core was a common black mold growing on the reactor walls. And it wasn’t just growing, it was thriving, in what has to have been the most radioactive hostile environment on the planet that would kill you and me within minutes of exposure.

via Japan – It’s A Wonderful Rife: Fungi Can Solve Japan’s Radiation Woes.

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Fukushima media coverage ‘may be harmful’ – health – 30 August 2011 – New Scientist

One report, in UK newspaper The Independent, quoted a scientist who predicted more than a million would die, and that the prolonged release of radioactivity from Fukushima would make health effects worse than those from the sudden release experienced at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine.

“We’ve got to stop these sorts of reports coming out, because they are really upsetting the Japanese population,” says Gerry Thomas at Imperial College London, who is attending the meeting. “The media has a hell of a lot of responsibility here, because the worst post-Chernobyl effects were the psychological consequences and this shouldn’t happen again.”

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency report that the release of radioactivity from Fukushima is about 10 per cent that of Chernobyl. “There’s very little leakage now,” says Thomas. “The Japanese did the right thing at the right time, providing stable iodine to ensure that doses of radioactive iodine to the thyroids of children were minimal,” she says.

Thomas said that Japanese researchers attending the meeting are upset too. “They’re saying: ‘Please tell the truth, because no one believes us’.”

via Fukushima media coverage ‘may be harmful’ – health – 30 August 2011 – New Scientist.

Not sure about the wisdom or practicability of “We’ve got to stop these sorts of reports coming out”, but I sympathize with the sentiment. The Japanese government has also tried doing the same thing, or at least trying to keep track of what is be written on the Internet, and then trying to counter the mis-information. The trouble is, no-one trusts the government!

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Costs of switching nuclear off | Lenz Blog

Prof. Lenz has some interesting things to say about the Fukushima nuclear crisis. As there is so much hyperventilating blogging going on (anxiety and unease sell, and they are also somewhat addictive), I like to read alternative views. Here’s a selection:

New York Times has an excellent article about some of the damage to the climate and Japan’s economy expected from slowing down nuclear energy.

They estimate about 3 trillion yen per year in extra fossil fuel costs, which will place a burden on the balance of trade. And they report on a government estimate of about 210 million tons of CO2 emitted over 1990 records, a 16% increase, while Japan is supposed to reduce by 6% under the Kyoto protocol.

I learned that Japan was the world’s largest importer of coal to begin with.

via Costs of switching nuclear off | Lenz Blog.

SPIEGEL has published an interview on radiation damage from the Fukushima accident with Shunichi Yamashita, who has been working as an adviser to the Fukushima prefecture government and plans to be involved in the large follow-up studies coming up.

He is reasonably well informed about the lack of danger from low doses, but still says that he doesn’t know for sure about the absence of risk under 100 millisieverts dose. I don’t agree with his position, which I think is much too generous to the irrational fear crowd. As far as I am concerned, at the very least the 100 millisieverts per month proposed by Wade Allison should guide all related decisions.

One thing I have learned from this interview is that people relocated from Chernobyl saw their life expectancy reduced from 65 to 58 years. That is a massive health effect from the evacuation, and it is mostly caused by irrational fear, leading to symptoms as depression, alcoholism, and suicide.

This story should not repeat itself in Japan.

SPIEGEL interview with Shunichi Yamashita | Lenz Blog.

Mainichi reports on a couple of cases where Fukushima residents’ health was damaged by fear-induced stress. They say that Fukushima Medical University plans to study the problem in a systematic way and will publish results of a survey in autumn of this year.

Since no one has got radiation exceeding a reasonable limit of 100 millisieverts a month, all the health damage from the accident is expected from this kind of nocebo effect, and none whatsoever from radiation.

via Psychological stress | Lenz Blog.

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How dangerous to human health is radioactive cesium?

On March 25th, 2011, Lewis Page wrote,

nobody has ever been able to show that this isotope [caesium-137] has any health consequences at all: huge amounts were emitted from Chernobyl, but no discernible illnesses have resulted.

However, Page is perhaps not a reliable source of information. A commenter on this blog wrote,

It seems Mr. Page is finally quieting down a bit. His comments seemed unduly rosy at the time he wrote them – with hindsight they defy polite comment. At the time of Mr. Page’s writing the meltdowns had already occurred but were not yet public knowledge. However what was known was bad enough and this was in no way reflected in Mr. Page’s writing.

I would especially like to point out Mr. Page’s belief that the Chernobyl catastrophy cost less than fifty lives.

And he provided these  three  links.

So what exactly are the health concerns with regard to radioactive caesium? Is it dangerous to breathe it in? To digest it? Wikipedia provides little  information about the effects on human health of exposure to radioactive caesium-137. Wikipedia also informs me that there are several radioactive isotopes of caesium. Caesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years. (“The radioactive 135Cs has a very long half-life of about 2.3 million years.”)

The isotopes 134 and 137 (present in the biosphere in small amounts from radiation leaks) represent a radioactivity burden which varies depending on location. Radiocaesium does not accumulate in the body as effectively as many other fission products (such as radioiodine and radiostrontium). As with other alkali metals, radiocaesium washes out of the body relatively quickly in sweat and urine. However, radiocaesium follows potassium and tends to accumulate in plant tissues, including fruits and vegetables.[97][98][99] It is also well-documented that mushrooms from contaminated forests accumulate radiocaesium (caesium-137) in their fungal sporocarps.[100] Accumulation of caesium-137 in lakes has been a high concern after the Chernobyl disaster.[101][102] Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 3800 μCi (4.1 μg of caesium-137) per kilogram is lethal within three weeks;[103] smaller amounts may cause infertility and cancer.[104

This would suggest that the fact that people have radioactive urine is not a signal for mass panic: rather, their bodies are functioning normally and flushing the (presumably) caesium out.

So perhaps we should be more concerned about strontium. However, the media is all about caesium…

BTW, I recommend reading the Wikipedia entries on the Chernobyl disaster and on deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster. They provide perspective on what is unfolding in Fukushima. By that I mean firstly, there were many people who died immediately or within 3 months, due to acute radiation sickness. So far no-one has died from ARS in Fukushima or anywhere else in Japan since March 11. And secondly, it gives a hint as to how long the Fukushima disaster will continue (the Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986, 25 years ago) :

Of the 440,350 wild boar killed in the 2010 hunting season in Germany, over 1,000 were found to be contaminated with levels of radiation above the permitted limit of 600 bequerels, due to residual radioactivity from Chernobyl.[100] Germany has “banned wild game meat because of contamination linked to radioactive mushrooms”.[101]

The Norwegian Agricultural Authority reported that in 2009 a total of 18,000 livestock in Norway needed to be given uncontaminated feed for a period of time before slaughter in order to ensure that their meat was safe for human consumption. This was due to residual radioactivity from Chernobyl in the plants they graze on in the wild during the summer. The after-effects of Chernobyl were expected to be seen for a further 100 years, although the severity of the effects would decline over that period.[102] In Britain and Norway, as of 2011, “slaughter restrictions remain for sheep raised on pasture contaminated by radiation fallout”.[103]

Without precise information about the type of isotope detected, articles like this one, while high in attention-grabbing and unease-causing power, do little to inform. (This one is even worse.)

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Sunflowers to clean up radioactive soil : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri)

Sunflowers. From Mystic Medusa

Rape flowers

Rape flowers may help absorb cesium. From wallpaperpimper

After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, sunflowers and rape blossoms were used to decontaminate soil in Ukraine. Radioactive cesium is similar to kalium, a commonly used fertilizer. If kalium is not present, sunflowers will absorb cesium instead.

If the harvested sunflowers are disposed of by burning them, radioactive cesium could be dispersed through smoke, which is why the researchers are considering using hyperthermophilic aerobic bacteria–used to produce compost–to decompose the plants. The decomposing process will reduce the sunflowers to about 1 percent of their previous volume, which will slash the amount of radioactive waste that needs to be dealt with

via Sunflowers to clean up radioactive soil : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri).

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Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean? « BraveNewClimate

I saw this yesterday and promptly faxed it to my parents, before they call me up and ask if we are glowing in the dark yet or why we have not fled the country. I have not read any mainstream press articles on this subject, and won’t be any time soon.

The BNC blog includes a moderated discussion which is always informative and stimulating. Check it out. I also recommend the World Nuclear News and the IAEA sites (links in the sidebar, and also referenced in the BNC blog entry itself), and the Nuclear Energy Institute website.

Hot in the news is that the Fukushima Nuclear crisis has been upgraded from INES 5 to INES 7. Note that this is not due to some sudden escalation of events today aftershocks etc., but rather it is based on an assessment of the cumulative magnitude of the events that have occurred at the site over the past month my most recent update on that is here.Below I look briefly at what this INES 7 rating means, why it has happened…

However, what about when you hit the top of the INES? Does a rating of 7 mean that Fukushima is as bad as Chernobyl? Well, since you can’t get higher than 7 on the scale, it’s impossible to use this numerically to answer such a question on the basis of their categorical INES rating alone. It just tells you that both events are in the ‘major league’. There is simply no event rating 8, or 10, or whatever, or indeed any capacity within the INES system to rank or discriminate events within categories (this is especially telling for 7). For that, you need to look for other diagnostics.

So headlines likeFukushima is now on a par with Chernobyl‘ can be classified as semantically correct and yet also (potentially) downright misleading. Still, it sells newspapers.

via Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean? « BraveNewClimate.

The whole thing is long. It’s “boring” (unless you’re personally interested, like me). It will not sell newspapers. But it will give you a clearer idea of what is going on, and what the “level 7” means.

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Japan orders immediate safety upgrade at nuclear plants

Nuclear power stations in Japan - map

21:30 JST March 30: Japan ordered an immediate safety upgrade at its 55 nuclear power plants on Wednesday in its first acknowledgement that standards were inadequate when an earthquake and tsunami wrecked a facility nearly three weeks ago, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

via Japan orders immediate safety upgrade at nuclear plants. Also on Yahoo News.

I feel like saying “Bolting the door after the horse has gone”, but I suppose it is not completely a waste of time. Can the government enforce its own regulations, though? TEPCO were substandard in their safety procedures but they were granted their renewed license anyway.

Kansai Denryoku beat the government to it: they announced their across-the-board upgrading and strengthening and safety review earlier this week.

It was also pointed out to me by my better half that another reactor on the coast, further north at Onagawa, has not had any trouble at all. It is not owned by TEPCO but by Tohoku Electric Power company.

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Why Fukushima Isn’t Like Chernobyl | The Diplomat

Despite media hype about the radiation dangers, the Fukushima nuclear crisis won’t end like Chernobyl, Alexander Sich tells The Diplomat…
(Alexander Sich is an associate professor of physics at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Sich was the first American researcher to investigate the Chernobyl reactor meltdown on site. The views expressed are his own.)

 So, you’d say it was unfair to draw parallels between Fukushima and Chernobyl?
Is the kind of massive radiation release that occurred with Chernobyl possible at the Fukushima plant?

No, it can’t have that kind of massive release. It simply can’t do that…

In the Light Water Reactor core, apart from the fuel itself, it’s virtually all metal. You have the fuel contained in a special kind of zirconium alloy, there’s the stainless steel vessel, and the super structure is metal. In the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) that you find at Fukushima, you have a reactor pressure vessel that’s approximately six inches thick steel—it’s basically a big kettle that contains the core. In the Chernobyl reactor, there was no pressure vessel. So right there, there are two very big differences—the BWR is contained in a very robust pressure vessel, the Chernobyl reactor was not. The BWR reactor is a singular metallic vessel, while the Chernobyl reactor is approximately 1700 individual pressure tubes. Those are very big differences.

via Why Fukushima Isn’t Like Chernobyl | The Diplomat.

Sich has some interesting things to say about what he calls Chernobyl myths, about irresponsible media hyperbole, and, for once, qualified praise and support for the Japanese. This is rare and as someone who lives here, I welcome it and I’m sure the Japanese would, too.

Sich is particularly angry at a theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku for making some “irresponsible” recommendations that bear a startling similarity to what Hirose Takashi was saying in his March 17th interview on Japanese tv. Which one spoke first, I wonder? Update: It was Michio Kaku, March 12. Wow, he really poured it on: Chernobyl, China Syndrome, meltdown… he even mentioned Hiroshima (tho, to be fair, he did say “We’re not talking Hiroshima here…”). I’ve underlined the parts that are similar to what Hirose said.

Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist from the City College of New York who studies string theory, is also out of his depth when it comes to nuclear reactors. He’s not a nuclear engineer, and yet that hasn’t stopped him making borderline hysterical statements during interviews. Kaku claimed, for example, that a ‘China Syndrome’ was imminent, that the ‘(Chernobyl) vessel and roof blew out simultaneously’—factually incorrect on both counts: Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors have no reactor pressure vessel.

Also, without providing a shred of evidence, Kaku asserted ‘We’re still seeing people dying of that (Chernobyl) reactor accident.’ He’s no doctor nor health physicist. Kaku also claimed the situation ‘had gone from bad to worse…the reactor is in free fall, and you have three simultaneous meltdowns, and a raging spent fuel pond that could explode.’ Most troubling was Kaku’s careless recommendation, ‘If I had the ear of the Japanese prime minister I would recommend the Chernobyl option (dumping materials from helicopters).’ In fact, dropping tons of materials from helicopters high in the air onto debris and inner reactor building structures might well compromise the integrity of structures designed to contain releases in the first place.

Tags: , , ,朝日新聞社):Radiation from Fukushima exceeds Three Mile Island – English

Mr. Kan, it is getting worse (my emphasis):

Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, has discharged more radiation than the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States, according to calculations by the central government.

It has already reached a level 6 serious accident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).

via朝日新聞社):Radiation from Fukushima exceeds Three Mile Island – English.

To calculate the spread of radiation using the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan estimates the discharge rate for radioactive iodine per hour from the Fukushima plant based on radiation measurements taken at various locations.

Using those figures to make a simple calculation of the amount of discharge between 6 a.m. March 12 and midnight Wednesday results in figures between 30,000 and 110,000 terabecquerels. Tera is a prefix meaning 1 trillion.

The INES defines a level 7 major accident such as Chernobyl as one in which radiation of more than several tens of thousands of terabecquerels is released.

The Fukushima accident is already at a level 6, which is defined as having a radiation discharge of several thousands to several tens of thousands of terabecquerels.

The discharge of radioactive iodine at the Chernobyl accident was said to be about 1.8 million terabecquerels. The Three Mile Island accident, which was considered the second-worst accident until now, had only a limited discharge of radioactive iodine into the outside atmosphere, but was classified as a level 5 accident because of the considerable damage done to the core. Read the rest of this entry »

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Austrian authorities release detailed data on Japan radiation | Science & Technology | Deutsche Welle | 23.03.2011

From VoA reporter Steve Herman’s Twitter feed:

Austrian scientists have released what appears to be the first clear, independent data concerning radiation levels in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima radiation leak.By releasing data from two monitoring stations of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization CTBTO from Japan and California, researchers from the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna have calculated backwards to estimate the true levels of radiation from Fukushima.

“The estimated source terms for iodine-131 are very constant, namely 1.3 x 10^17 becquerels per day for the first two days (US station) and 1.2 x 10^17 becquerels per day for the third day (Japan),” the institute said in a German-language statement posted on Wednesday on its website.

“For cesium-137 measurements, (the US station) measured 5 x 10^15 becquerels, close, while Japan had much more cesium in its air. On this day, we estimate a source term of about 4 x 10^16.”

A “becquerel” is the unit that measures how many radioactive nuclei decay per second, and the “source term” refers to the quantity and type of radioactive material released into an environment.

“The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl had a source term of iodine-131 at 1.76 x 10^18 becquerels of cesium-137 at 8.5 x 10^16 bequerels,” the statement added. “The estimated for Fukushima source terms are thus at 20 percent of Chernobyl for iodine, and 20-60 percent of Chernobyl for cesium.”

However, other scientists are not ready to put the Fukushima fallout into Chernobyl territory just yet.

“My speculation is that it’s going to be significantly less than Chernobyl fallout, but we’re not going to know that until we get more data,” said Jim Smith, an environmental physicist at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “We’re not seeing data from the immediate 20 kilometer radius of the plant.”

Although the Fukushima accident is a disaster, it could have been worse. [Gerhard] Wotawa [the lead Austrian researcher] said it was fortunate that during the first two days of the accident, when radiation was leaking at a greater rate, there were constant winds out to the Pacific.

If the winds had been blowing towards Japan, it would have been much worse, he said.

via Austrian authorities release detailed data on Japan radiation | Science & Technology | Deutsche Welle | 23.03.2011.

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