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Guest Post: Massive New Radiation Releases Possible from Fukushima … Especially If Melted Core Materials Hit Water

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By Washington’s Blog


Governments Underreported Severity of Fukushima

As I’ve noted for 6 months, the Japanese and U.S. governments have continually under-reported the severity of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

The Wall Street Journal points out:

The Japanese government initially underestimated radiation releases from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in part because of untimely rain, and so exposed people unnecessarily, a report released this week by a government research institute says.

PhysOrg writes:

The amount of radiation released during the Fukushima nuclear disaster was so great that the level of atmospheric radioactive aerosols in Washington state was 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than normal levels in the week following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the disaster.

***

[A] study [by University of Texas engineering professor Steven Biegalski and researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory] reports that more radioxenon was released from the Fukushima facilities than in the 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.

Biegalski said the reason for the large release in Fukushima, when compared to the others, is that there were three nuclear reactors at the Japan facilities rather than just one.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen notes:

New TEPCO data measured on August 19 & 20 shows severe damage to the spent fuel in Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2, and 3…. This TEPCO data clearly contradicts and refutes the July assertion by the NRC the Fukushima Daiichi spent fuel pools were not damaged in this tragic accident.

There are also several unconfirmed reports that the Japanese government is trying to keep people from buying geiger counters to measure radiation.

New, Large Radiation Releases Are Possible

Mainichi Dailly News notes:

As a radiation meteorology and nuclear safety expert at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute, Hiroaki Koide [says]:

The nuclear disaster is ongoing.

***

At present, I believe that there is a possibility that massive amounts of radioactive materials will be released into the environment again.

At the No. 1 reactor, there’s a chance that melted fuel has burned through the bottom of the pressure vessel, the containment vessel and the floor of the reactor building, and has sunk into the ground. From there, radioactive materials may be seeping into the ocean and groundwater.

***

The government and plant operator TEPCO are trumpeting the operation of the circulation cooling system, as if it marks a successful resolution to the disaster. However, radiation continues to leak from the reactors. The longer the circulation cooling system keeps running, the more radioactive waste it will accumulate. It isn’t really leading us in the direction we need to go.

It’s doubtful that there’s even a need to keep pouring water into the No.1 reactor, where nuclear fuel is suspected to have burned through the pressure vessel. Meanwhile, it is necessary to keep cooling the No. 2 and 3 reactors, which are believed to still contain some fuel, but the cooling system itself is unstable. If the fuel were to become overheated again and melt, coming into contact with water and trigger a steam explosion, more radioactive materials will be released.

***

We are now head to head with a situation that mankind has never faced before.

Mainichi also reports:

The Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) and residents of the zone between 20 and 30 kilometers from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant held an emergency evacuation drill on Sept. 12 … in preparation for any further large-scale emission of radioactive materials from the plant.

***

The scenario for the drill presupposed further meltdown of the Fukushima plant’s No. 3 reactor core, and a local accumulation of radioactive materials emitting 20 millisieverts of radiation within the next four days. …

And nuclear expert Paul Gunter says that we face a “China Syndrome”, where the fuel from the reactor cores at Fukushima have melted through the container vessels, into the ground, and are hitting groundwater and creating highly-radioactive steam:

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24 comments

  1. Maju

    Glad that you echo this most serious problem: in Fukushima there is a “China syndrome” (uncontrolled meltdown penetrating into the Earth’s crust with unclear consequences but in any case impossible to control). Well, actually there are several because there are several reactors in this same situation (probably 3, 4 or even all 6). Unlike Chernobyl, the site is built by the Ocean and there’s no way to prevent mid-term that the radioactive meltdown cores hit the water table.

    And the only thing being done is to hide the problem under the rug, letting millions of Japanese be exposed to doses of radiation that would have granted immediate evacuation in the Chernobyl case, and eventually letting all the World to suffer an unknown amount of extra radiation, via the atmosphere and the sea (notably the Western USA), via food produce (they are feeding radioactive food to children all around Japanese schools), and in many other ways (several radioactive cargoes from Japan were stopped at Rotterdam, Alexandria and a third harbor I can’t recall right now but it’s likely that many others have arrived without any control).

    First culprit: the Japanese government (and the opposition, which want to stop people from measuring radiation at all). I find incredible that such a developed and wealthy (and allegedly democratic) country is acting the way it is. The USSR was much more serious and efficient when dealing with Chernobyl!

    Second culprit all the foreign governments that do not put even more pressure on Japan. Here the USA is important because, in spite of the distance, is one of the major victims outside Japan.

    It’s crazy! Not in the worst Cold War nightmares was this possible: yet is real.

    1. Rex

      I stumbled on an amateur measurement that seems to indicate that Fukushima radiation contamination is spread over a larger area than many of us might have thought.

      There is a young woman in Germany who is sort of a radiation geek. She has posted many YouTube videos about radiation measurement devices (like Geiger counters) and various experiments she has done. Her posts are quite well done and show the Germanic attention to detail. She is a university student (I think) and seems quite knowledgeable on the basics of radiation.

      Recently a citizen in Tokyo contacted her and asked if she could make some measurements on a soil sample from near his location in Tokyo. He sent her a moderate amount of soil collected from a street gutter in western Tokyo.

      Surprisingly the soil shows some radioactivity even with a simple Geiger counter. Somehow, the German woman has access to a very accurate and sensitive measurement device, an HPGe detector, which can determine some of the isotopes that are the source of the radiation. This is a very expensive device and requires liquid nitrogen to cool it, so this is not sloppy amateurish measurement.

      The video of the measurements and her commentary is here:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uziEgRan2G8

      The Cesium isotopes found are not naturally occurring, so reasonably can be assumed to have come from the Fukushima reactors. The distance is about 250 km, so much farther than the restricted zone we have heard about.

      1. Maju

        I saw that video earlier today.

        The worst affected area is Fukushima prefecture (the two main towns, Fukushima and Nihonmatsu have not been spared at all and should have been evacuated since day one) but also quite bad are nearby Miyagi and Greater Tokyo (coastal winds have spread it to the North and South).

        As the government is betraying its responsibilities, popular action has replaced it:

        · Radiation map elaborated by local authorities and popular organizations (notice that all above the palest yellow is dangerous by international standards).
        · Safecast radiation map (only main roads).
        · Greater Tokyo radiation map by the Radiation Defense Project (scale based on Cehrnobyl evacuation criteria: some areas of Tokyo would demand relocation but it’s a patchy situation).

        In addition to that I would just not buy anything Japanese, at least not without having a Geiger counter with me at the purchase. Maybe 95% is safe but I would not gamble with my health and specially with the health of other people around me (children specially).

        This may sound unfair but all the blame is on the Japanese government because of not responding properly to the disaster by guaranteeing as much as possible that all the radiation is tracked and addressed properly. The policy of hiding the facts ultimately causes worry on citizens and consumers – would you buy your rum from someone who sells methyl alcohol even if just occasionally? That’s why we have entitled governments to control the markets. But if governments fail because they yield to pressure from private actors, then we are again at the beginning: caveat emptor.

    1. Maju

      That’s trolling indeed: those glowing cats are from a genetic research on AIDS (cats and apes are the only species suffering this disease it seems).

  2. SidFinster

    I am not trying to be ghoulish here, really, but how are the economic (not the health) effects of a very expensive Fukushima cleanup different from a “classic” Keynesian stimulus project, such as burying money in abandoned mineshafts and letting people “work” to dig it back up?

    1. stock

      Fixing a damage is not the same as Keynesian pumping to create an asset, i.e.. decrease entropy.

      And this will not just be a “health bill” that has to be paid, there will be a psychological toll of carry an unknown invisible snake within your body that may strike at any time, many times, and the honest belief that you have been betrayed by people that you have paid to protect you.

    2. stock

      Also the negative effects will be felt throughout the entire world, 95% of the affected people will get no benefit from any “paid work” type effect that the Japanese or some specialty nuclear suppliers may receive.

  3. agog

    There is much we are not being told about the ongoing nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

    I recommend the very credible “A report from the stricken area (By the Guardian Of Miyagi)” by a doctor in Sendai(?)for an alternative take on the official narrative.
    http://australiancannonball.com/2011/09/14/a-report-from-the-stricken-areaby-the-guardian-of-miyagi/

    (Sorry about the clunky link.)

    Kudos to GW for continuing to pick at this scab. Please continue to do so. Another 30 years or so should be sufficient.

  4. Norman

    The old saying: “What goes around, comes around” certainly has a way of ringing true today. When it comes to both Business & Government, the mindset towards safety seems to be nonexistent, who cares seems to be the mantra. Poison everything, but get the short term benefits for the few. Question is, where do these “wonder boys” think that they are going to spend their piles of cash? Like pigs at the trough, as the World goes to hell in a hand basket. Some future explorers from someplace far far away will stumble upon the Earth and wonder what stupid humans they were!

  5. Tony

    This video of Chris Busby is pretty fascinating/scary. He says that cancer and leukemia are not the only serious, negative health consequences of radiation exposure.

    Another major negative health consequence is heart disease/heart attacks. What happens is radioactive cesium binds to muscle, including heart muscle, and kills those muscles — which results in heart disease/heart attacks.

    Belarus (near Chernobyl) had an increase in cancer and leukemia after the Chernobyl accident but alos had an enormous increase in heart disease which has pushed Belarus demographics into negative replacement.

    Scarily, the official ‘radiation death figures’ DO NOT count death from heart attacks. Therefore, the official ‘death count’ from Chernobyl has been seriously underestimated.

    Chris expects the children of Fukushima to start developing heart disease which will show up on an EKG. Unfortunately, there is nothing current medical science can do to replace heart muscle killed by radioactive cesium.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aBW-5atBus

    1. Tony

      Correction: I just re-watched the video and Chris said he is already hearing reports of Fukushima children having heart attacks.

    2. Tony

      The EPA has a Web page on Cesium:

      http://epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/cesium.html

      It lists only cancer as a risk when exposed to radioactive Cesium 137.

      I sent a note (including a link to Chris’s video) to the EPA asking them to update their Cesium Web page to list heart disease and heart attack as additional risks of exposure to radioactive Cesium 137. It will be interesting to see what kind of response I get.

      Interestingly enough, the EPA’s Cesium Web page states that, although nonradioactive Cesium occurs naturally in the environment, almost all radioactive Cesium 137 is from nuclear testing that occurred in the 50′s and 60′s. In other words, radioactive Cesium 137 does not occur naturally in the environment and is all man-made. I wonder if naturally occurring background radiation kills muscle tissue and causes heart attacks like man-made radioactive Cesium 137 does? I suspect not.

  6. Tony

    Regarding the Japanese government preventing use of Geiger counters, there used to be a counter on this page east of Fukushima (drag the map to the west).

    It would regularly read 3x the amount of any other counter in Japan but has recently been removed.

  7. TulsaTime

    The spent fuel pools are the real danger. Outside of any containment, and just as dangerous when they lose cooling. Plus they have more fuel than inside the reactors.

    As a minor aside, spent fuel pools in the US contain 3 to 5 times more spent fuel that others, since we never got around to making a plan for disposal.

    have a nice day

    1. Mark P.

      You’re correct about the spent fuel pools being the real danger.

      You’re wrong about the U.S. never having had a plan for waste disposal. It was just that in the 1974-77 period we decided that nuclear weapons proliferation — or, more accurately, proliferation of those weapons when they didn’t belong to the U.S. — was a greater problem than spent fuel.

      And so for four decades the U.S. has labored unceasingly to stop nuclear reprocessing around the world. The spent fuel pools here in the U.S. and at Fukushima — expect some Japanese to recall eventually that it was not only our nuclear designs but also our nuclear policy that enabled their disaster — are the result.

  8. Just me

    http://www.npr.org/2011/09/12/140402430/japanese-seniors-send-us-to-damaged-nuclear-plant

    NPR 9/12/11: Japanese Seniors: Send Us To Damaged Nuclear Plant

    The Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima consists of more than 500 seniors who have signed up for a job that has been called courageous — and suicidal.

    Kazuko Sasaki, a 72-year-old grandmother, is one of those ready to serve.

    “My generation built these nuclear plants. So we have to take responsibility for them. We can’t dump this on the next generation,” she says.

    The founder of Skilled Veterans…says he and his retired colleagues quickly realized after the March 11 disaster that conditions at Fukushima were far bleaker than the government was letting on.

    His decision to gather senior volunteers, he says, was based neither on courage nor altruism, but on a brutally realistic calculus. It would be better to send men and women who have finished raising families and are in the sunset of their lives, rather than younger workers whose lives could be cut short by extreme radiation exposure.

    Yamada’s gray volunteers have received admiring coverage from around the world, and yet they have been all but ignored by the Japanese media, which doesn’t seem to take them seriously.

    The seniors are undeterred. They include former nuclear workers, forklift operators, translators and even a folk singer. They have pooled their skills and become proficient at social media, attracting volunteers into their 90s, and have raised more than $100,000 in donations.

    The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the plant, are still weighing the offer.

      1. ambrit

        I wonder how many Wall Street types will volunteer at the Soup Kitchen and the Bread Line when the bottom falls out because of their profligacy? These Japaneese seniors are truly following the Eightfold Path. We have a lot to learn as a society.

  9. Maju

    By the way, on the issue of the China syndrome, I mentioned in June an excellent documentary on Chernobyl (available at YouTube). And in minute 34 they mention the risk of China Syndrome and how it was avoided.

    The risk was to have a 3-5 megatons explosion as the molten core reached the water table that would have rendered all Europe uninhabitable probably. In Chernobyl they used massive amounts of lead (toxict but radioactively inert) to cool the fire and seal the breaches.

    However one problem with all the “Chernobyl solutions” is that they are provisional. Radiation erodes all materials, including concrete and that means that a box to contain the box… must be added ad infinitum. It’s more than we can manage really.

    And the same happens in Fukushima with the aggravation that the Japanese state has already abandoned its responsibilities to an unknown level. We are in the hands of people we know we cannot trust: corrupt cowards unable to manage anything much less this huge problem.

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