Summer Quarterly 2018
The World Nuclear Association says on its website that its goal is “to increase global support for nuclear energy,” and repeatedly claims that “there have only been three major accidents across 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of operation in 32 countries.” At least the lobby group acknowledges the catastrophes at Three Mile Island in 1979 (US), Chernobyl in 1986 (USSR), and at Fukushima in 2011 (Japan).
However, claiming that these three stand alone as “major” disasters cynically ignores the series of large-scale disasters that have been caused by uranium mining, nuclear power and weapons, radioactive waste, handling, and the nuclear fuel chain. The following is an abbreviated list of some of the world’s other major radiation accidents.
CHALK RIVER (Ontario), Dec. 2, 1952: A Canadian reactor’s loss-of-coolant caused a meltdown and an explosion and became the first major commercial nuclear reactor disaster.
ROCKY FLATS (Colorado), Sept. 11,1957: This Cold War factory that produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons factory 16 miles from Denver caused 30 to 44 pounds of breathable plutonium-239 and Pu-240 to catch fire in what would come to be known as the second largest industrial fire in US history. Filters used to trap the plutonium were destroyed and it escaped through chimneys, contaminating parts of Denver. Nothing was done to protect its downwind residents.
WINDSCALE/SELLAFIELD (Britain), Oct. 7, 1957: The worst of many fires burned through one reactor igniting three tons of uranium and dispersed radionuclides over parts of England and northern Europe. The site was hastily renamed Sellafield.
KYSHTYM/CHELYABINSK-65 (Russia), Sept. 29, 1957: A tank holding 70 to 80 metric tons of highly radioactive liquid waste exploded, contaminating an estimated 250,000 people, and permanently depopulating 30 towns which were leveled and removed from Russian maps. Covered up by Moscow until 1989, Russia finally revealed that 20 million curies of long-lived isotopes like cesium were released and it was later declared a Level 6 disaster on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The long covered-up disaster contaminated up to 10,000 square miles making it the third- or 4th-most serious radiation accident ever recorded.
SANTA SUSANA (Simi Valley, Calif.), July 12, 1959: The meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment just outside Los Angeles caused “the third largest release of iodine-131 in the history of nuclear power,” according to Arjun Makhajani, President of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research. Released radioactive materials were never authoritatively measured because “the monitors went clear off the scale,” according to an employee. The accident was kept secret for 20 years.
CHURCH ROCK (New Mexico), July 16, 1979: Ninety-three million gallons of liquid uranium mine waste and 1,000 tons of solid wastes spilled onto the Navajo Nation and into Little Puerco River, and became the largest radiological disaster in US history. Little Puerco feeds the Little Colorado River, which drains to the Colorado River which feeds Lake Mead—a source of drinking water for Los Angeles.
MONJU (Japan), Dec. 8, 1995: This sodium-cooled “breeder reactor” caused a fire and a large leak of sodium coolant that contaminated the Pacific. Liquid sodium coolant catches fire on contact with air, explodes on contact with water, and costly efforts to engineer commercial models of breeder reactors have failed.
TOKAI-MURA (Japan), Sept. 30, 1999: A uranium “criticality” or “neutron burst” killed three workers and dispersed radioactivity across the populated urban area surrounding the factory.
—Sources: Gar Smith, Nuclear Roulette (Chelsea Green, 2012); Joseph Mangano, Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment (OR Books 2012);Stephanie Cooke, In Mortal Hands, (Bloomsbury, 2009); Jinzaburo Takagi, Criticality Accident at Tokai-Mura (Citizens’ Nuclear Info. Center, 2000); Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Madness, Revised (Norton, 1995); Arjun Makhijani, et al, Nuclear Wastelands (MIT Press, 1995), and The Nuclear Power Deception (Apex Press, 1999); Catherine Caufield, Multiple Exposures (Harper & Row, 1989); John May, Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age (Pantheon, 1989); Anna Gyorgy, No Nukes (South End Press, 1979).
Summer Quarterly 2018
Scientists using a new method of detecting radioactive particles have warned that there was a significant release during the Fukushima nuclear accident that could pose a risk to humans.
[The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology, Feb. 13, 2018.]
The method allows scientists to quickly count the number of cesium-rich micro-particles in Fukushima soils and quantify the amount of radioactivity associated with these particles.
The research, which was carried out by scientists from Kyushu University, Japan, and the University of Manchester, contradicts initial [government and industry] findings in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.
It was thought that only volatile, gaseous radionuclides, such as cesium and iodine, were released from the damaged reactors. [*See Nukewatch’s related article Fukushima’s “Hot Particles” Travelled Extreme Distances.] However, it has become apparent that small radioactive particles, termed cesium-rich micro-particles, were also released.
Scientists have shown that these particles … contain significant amounts of radioactive cesium as well as smaller amounts of other radioisotopes, such as uranium and technetium.
The abundance of these micro-particles in Japanese soils and sediments, and their environmental impact, is poorly understood. But the particles are very small and do not dissolve easily, meaning they could pose long-term health risks to humans if inhaled.
At present scientists don’t know how many of the micro-particles are present in Fukushima. The new method makes use of a technique called autoradiography, which uses an imaging plate placed over contaminated soil samples…. The radioactive decay from the soil is recorded on the plate as an image, which is then read onto a computer.
The scientists say radioactive decay from the cesium-rich micro-particles can be differentiated from other forms of cesium contamination in the soil.
The scientists tested the new method on rice-paddy soil samples retrieved from different locations within the Fukushima prefecture. The samples were taken close to and far away from the damaged nuclear reactors, at four kilometers and 40 kilometers. The new method found cesium-rich micro-particles in all of the samples and showed that the amount of cesium associated with the micro-particles in the soil was much larger than expected.
“There is a need for further detailed investigation on Fukushima fuel debris, inside, and potentially outside the nuclear exclusion zone.”
— Dr. Gareth Law, Center for Radiochemistry Research, School of Chemistry, Univ. of Manchester
Dr. Satoshi Utsunomiya, associate professor at Kyushu University, Japan, and the lead author of the study, said: “When we first started to find cesium-rich micro-particles in Fukushima soil samples, we thought they would turn out to be relatively rare. Now, using this method, we find there are lots of cesium-rich micro-particles in exclusion zone soils and also in the soils collected from outside of the exclusion zone.”
“We hope that our method will allow scientists to quickly measure the abundance of cesium-rich micro-particles at other locations and estimate the amount of cesium radioactivity associated with the particles….” Utsunomiya said.
In March 2018, a Greenpeace survey found that even seven years after the catastrophic disaster, the people, towns and villages in the surrounding area are still being exposed to excessive levels of radiation.
Dr. Gareth Law, an analytical radiochemistry lecturer at the Univ. of Manchester in England and one of the paper’s authors, said in a news release, “Our research strongly suggests there is a need for further detailed investigation on Fukushima fuel debris, inside, and potentially outside the nuclear exclusion zone.”
—Loughran wrote this article for Engineering & Technology, May 25, 2018
Summer Quarterly 2018
By John LaForge
Contrary to reports that only gaseous radioactive materials were released by the triple-reactor Fukushima meltdowns in Japan in 2011, scientists reported early on that highly radioactive “hot particles” were released and carried long distances by wind.
“Cesium found 375 miles from Japanese plant,” read the headline in the Japanese daily paper Yomiuri Shimbun — and reprinted in dozens of US papers March 17 and 18, 2012. The report noted that radioactive cesium-137 was found in plankton 375 miles east of the destroyed Fukushima reactors. Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute warned that “the radioactive cesium is likely to have accumulated in fish that eat plankton.” The cesium then bio-accumulates and bio-concentrates as the fish continue to consume bad plankton, and as bigger fish (tuna, cod, haddock, pollock, carp) eat smaller contaminated fish.
According to a 2012 report from Bellona Foundation, “radionuclides from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant’s triple meltdown last year radioactively contaminated the entire northern hemisphere within days and the US west coast bore a significant brunt of so called hot particles, an independent scientific paper released yesterday claims.” (“Impact to US West Coast from Fukushima disaster likely larger than anticipated, several reports indicate,” Bellona, Sept. 19, 2012)
Earlier field sampling of vehicle air filters done in April 2011 by Marco Kaltofen, of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, discovered breathable hot particles contaminated with cesium-137 in Seattle, Washington. (“Radiation Exposure to the Population in Japan after the Earthquake,” Marco Kaltofen, MS, PE, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Inst., October 31, 2011)
Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear reactor engineer with Fairewinds Associates, reported June 12, 2011 that, “Air filters in Seattle indicate that people there were absorbing five hot particles every day for the month of April . That means that that hot particle gets absorbed in your lung, or winds up in your intestines, or it winds up in your muscle, or it winds up in your bone [where it] constantly bombards a very narrow piece of tissue.”
On July 18, 2011, Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the Low-Level Radiation Campaign in England and co-author of Fukushima and Health: What to Expect (Green Audit, 2011), said in an interview, “When we put the elements from the air filter next to x-ray film and we develop the film, we see different light sources and flashes of light. These are called ‘hot particles.’ They are very small. You cannot see them — they are almost like a gas. If they are in the car filters, because cars ‘breathe’ air — then they are inside of people, inside the lungs, inside the nose, inside the guts… and they will be causing significant harm.”
The journal Science of the Total Environment reported December 31, 2017 on a more recent and lengthier study in which detectable levels of hot particles of cesium-134 and cesium-137 were collected across Northern Japan and analyzed over a five-year period, from 2011 to 2016. (“Radioactively-hot particles detected in dusts and soils from Northern Japan,”) The hot particles were found in dusts and soils in over 80 percent of the samples. The study’s authors, Marco Kaltofena and Arnie Gundersen, said, “Some of the hot particles detected in this study could cause significant radiation exposures to individuals if inhaled. Exposure models ignoring these isolated hot particles would potentially understate human radiation dose.”
Proponents of nuclear power still get away with denying that such inhaled or ingested exposures cause harm. This is because when the cancers begin appearing 10, 15 or 20 years from exposure, no one can to prove they were caused by Fukushima’s hot particles. “Got cancer?” they ask. “Not our fault. Nuclear power is safe.”
Summer Quarterly 2018
Results of the largest-ever animal study of cellphone radiation have confirmed earlier evidence from human studies that the radio-frequency (RF) radiation increases the risk of cancer including brain tumors.
Scientific American reports, “The National Toxicology Program study dosed rats and mice of both sexes with RF radiation at either 1.5, 3, or 6 watts of [electromagnetic] radiation per kilogram of body weight, or W/kg. The lowest dose is about the same as the Federal Communications Commission’s limit for public exposure from cell phones, which is 1.6 watts W/kg.
“When turned on, cell phones and other wireless devices emit RF radiation continually, even if they are not being actively used, because they are always communicating with cell towers. The dose intensity trails off with increasing distance from the body, and reaches a maximum when the devices are used next to the head during phone calls or in front of the body during texting or tweeting.”
A panel of outside experts that reviewed the findings in March “concluded there was ‘clear evidence’ linking RF radiation with heart [tumors called] schwannomas and ‘some evidence’ linking it to gliomas [tumors] of the brain” Scientific American reported.
In a press release from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr. John Bucher said, “The tumors we saw in these studies are similar to tumors previously reported in some studies of frequent cell phone users.”
Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor at the Environmental Working Group, told Acres USA magazine, “These studies should have been done before more than 90 percent of Americans, including children, started using this technology day in and day out.”
Access the study here.
—Sources: Acres USA, April 2018; Scientific American, March 29, 2018; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences press release, Feb. 2, 2018.