Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2015-2016
By John LaForge
Officials from Fukushima’s owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., have said leaks from the destroyed reactor complex with “at least” two trillion Becquerels of radioactivity poured into the Pacific between August 2013 and May 2014. Yet this nine-month period isn’t the half of it.
“[W]e should be carefully monitoring the oceans after what is certainly the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history,” Dr. Ken Buesseler, researcher with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said September 27.
Instead, the US EPA halted its emergency radiation monitoring of Fukushima’s radioactive plume in May 2011, only three months after the disaster began. Japan isn’t even monitoring seawater near Fukushima, according to the September 28 Ecologist: “Japanese government and IAEA ignore radiation risks to coastal population.”
The amount of cesium in seawater that Buesseler’s researchers found off Vancouver Island is nearly six times the concentration regularly recorded in the Pacific—cesium lingers in the oceans after being deposited in fallout from nuclear bomb tests that ended in 1963. The six-fold increase in Pacific cesium is a stunner and indicates that increases have steadily been accumulating since the Fukushima disaster began pouring contaminated water into the sea in 2011. Cesium-134 concentration in the same waters was only about twice the long-standing (bomb test fallout) average in November of last year, the International Business Times reported.
Dr. Buesseler announced his latest assessment after his team found that cesium drift from Fukushima had reached North America. Further, instead of assuring the public that the radiation plume is harmless, Buesseler said, “[E]ven if they were twice as high and I was to swim there every day for an entire year, the dose I would be exposed to is a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray.”
Cesium is increasing in the levels and number of samples with measurable radioactivity from Fukushima. …levels of cesium were more than 10 million times higher in 2011 off Japan than off the US and Canada today. These levels around Fukushima were a direct threat to marine life. Within months, levels remained thousands of times higher near Japan relative to pre-disaster concentrations and this led to the closure of fisheries, which is important as there is a greater health concern with ingesting these contaminants, than say swimming in the ocean at the same levels.
—Dr. Ken Buesseler, Nov. 11, 2015
This comparison confusingly obscures important differences between external exposure (from X-rays or swimming in contaminated seawater), and internal contamination from ingesting radioactive isotopes, say with seafood.
Dr. Chris Busby of the Low Level Radiation Campaign in England explains the distinction this way: Think of the difference between merely sitting before a warm wood fire on one hand, and popping a burning hot coal into your mouth on the other. Internal contamination can be 1,000 times more likely to cause cancer than the same exposure if it were external, especially for women and children. And because cesium-137 stays in the ecosphere for 300 years, long-term bio-accumulation and bio-concentration of cesium isotopes in the food chain (in this case the sea food chain), are the perpetually worsening consequences of what has spilled and is still pouring from Fukushima.
Today, globalized radioactive contamination of the commons by private corporations has become the financial, political and health care cost of operating nuclear power reactors. The International Business Times article noted: “The planet’s oceans already contain vast amounts of radiation, as the world’s 435 nuclear power plants routinely pump radioactive water into Earth’s oceans, albeit less dangerous isotopes than cesium.”
Fifty million Becquerels of cesium per-cubic-meter were measured off Fukushima soon after the March 2011 start of the three meltdowns; cesium-contaminated albacore and bluefin tuna were caught off the US West Coast only four months later; 300 tons of cesium-laced effluent has been pouring into the Pacific every day for the 4½ years since; the Japanese government on September 14 openly dumped 850 tons of partially filtered but tritium-contaminated water into the Pacific. This latest dumping foreshadows what it will try to do with thousands of additional tons now held in shabby storage tanks at the devastated reactor complex.
The fact that Fukushima has contaminated the entire Pacific Ocean must be viewed as cataclysmic. The ongoing introduction of its radioactive runoff may be slow-paced, and the inevitable damage to sea life and human health may take decades to register, but the “canary in the mine shaft” is the Pacific tuna population which should now be perpetually monitored for cesium.
Last November Buesseler warned, “Radioactive cesium from the Fukushima disaster is likely to keep arriving at the North American coast.”
Mayors in Fukushima OK Disposal of “Low-level” Rad-waste
Town leaders in Fukushima Prefecture December 2 accepted a government-proposed disposal plan for storing relatively low-level radioactive waste at an existing facility inside the prefecture. The federal plan calls for the Ecotech Clean Center, a privately run disposal facility in the town of Tomioka, near the destroyed Fukushima No. 1 reactor complex, to be nationalized. The center will then store about 650,000 cubic meters of radioactive garbage contaminated by the disaster.
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori then met with Koichi Miyamoto, the mayor of Tomioka, and Yukiei Matsumoto, mayor of the town of Naraha, which accommodates a transportation route to the facility. All the residents of Tomioka, which is less than 20 kilometers from the Fukushima complex, are still living as evacuees because of high radiation levels in the town.
In spite of controversial radiation levels, the government is pushing to lift evacuation orders still in place throughout Fukushima prefecture. The federal government’s plan for overall disposal is to build final facilities in six prefectures that were contaminated with large amounts of the radioactive waste, but prefectures other than Fukushima are strongly opposed to the proposals.
According to an Environment Ministry report, “designated wastes”—contaminated with between 8,000 and 100,000 Becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram—exist in 11 other prefectures. Fukushima Prefecture’s acceptance may fuel calls for concentrating such final disposal there rather than having to overcome widespread opposition elsewhere.
Federal officials first presented their disposal plans to local governments in December 2013. This November, Tokyo unveiled “regional economic promotion measures”—called bribes by skeptics of the dumping, because they include a grant of $81 million—such as the creation of an industrial complex, and “additional safety measures.”
Sources: Japan Times & Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3, 2015