Record high radiation in seawater off Fukushima plant

JIJI

Radiation has spiked to all-time highs at five monitoring points in waters adjacent to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power station, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday.

The measurements follow similar highs detected in groundwater at the plant. Officials of Tepco, as the utility is known, said the cause of the seawater spike is unknown.

Three of the monitoring sites are inside the wrecked plant’s adjacent port, which ships once used to supply it.

At one sampling point in the port, between the water intakes for the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, 1,900 becquerels per liter of tritium was detected Monday, up from a previous high of 1,400 becquerels measured on April 14, Tepco said.

Nearby, also within the port, tritium levels were found to have spiked to 1,400 becquerels, from a previous high of 1,200 becquerels.

And at a point between the water intakes for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, seawater sampled Thursday was found to contain 840 becquerels of strontium-90, which causes bone cancer, and other beta ray-emitting isotopes, up from a previous record of 540 becquerels.

At two monitoring sites outside the port, seawater was found Monday to contain 8.7 becquerels and 4.3 becquerels of tritium. The second site was about 3 km away.

Tepco is struggling to reduce contamination at the poorly protected plant, which was damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Measures include plans to build a gigantic underground ice wall around the plant to keep the daily flow of groundwater from entering the cracked reactor buildings and mingling with the highly radioactive cooling water in their basements.

The ice wall project is expected to cost ¥31.9 billion and will put a massive burden on the power grid when completed: It will need about 45.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to operate, equal to annual power consumption of 13,000 average households.

The project involves freezing the soil into barricades 30 meters deep and 2 meters thick for a distance of 1,500 meters around the buildings housing reactors 1 through 4.

The soil will be frozen by sinking pipes into the ground and running liquids through them at a temperature of minus 30 degrees.

On Friday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and contractor Kajima Corp. demonstrated a miniature ice wall to reporters at the site.

“We can confirm the frozen soil’s effect in blocking water,” a ministry official said afterwards.

The department aims to begin construction next month. But the Nuclear Regulation Authority has not approved the plan, saying its backers have so far provided insufficient reassurances about public safety. International nuclear experts have also expressed concern about the effectiveness of the plan.

  • Conrad Brean

    TE`PCO piled away huge profits throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s , 90s up to the melt down. Throughout this period they were constantly warned by both domestic and international experts to revamp their power plants and move their back up pumps to higher ground. However, TEPCO refused to listen and merely stuffed more profit into their pockets. After 3/11 their catastrophe finally arrived. Now it is the tax payer who has to pay for TEPCO’s criminal negligence. Instead of their top executives being brought to court for these crimes they are given huge bonuses and practice their golf swings in their offices. Meanwhile, the problem grows worse and worse, children and adults are sick with radiation poisoning but they are afraid to talk because they have all signed non-disclosure agreements with TEPCO to ensure they get some compensation.

    • Sam Gilman

      While I agree that TEPCO are responsible for failing to upgrade their stations, I am rather puzzled by your claim that there are people with acute radiation poisoning, particularly children. No children were exposed to such acute doses, and I’m not aware of any adult being this exposed either, although it’s clearly a possibility for a plant worker. I’m interested also to know of these non-disclosure agreements. Do you have a link for them?

      I think it’s a pity you mix up a fair critique of TEPCO’s negligence with what looks like conspiracy theory.

      • Conrad Brean

        Hello Sam
        Send me a viable email and I will send you some links. Most people in Japan are afraid to talk- its that simple. It’s not about the men in black who come in the middle of the night that worry them. Rather its black listing that faces academics and researchers, journalists and bloggers, doctors and health care workers, community leaders and political activists and of course as previously mentioned families of the sick who are in the willing to keep quiet because they need financial compensation. On top of that add a cultural of consensus that has traditionally heeded normative authority. And throw into the mix the fact that Japanese ‘corporate’ media have been ranked in terms of press freedom lower then most African countries to be exact.

      • Starviking

        I find that hard to believe. We now have an environment where TEPCO is scrutinised strongly, and castigated daily. This is not the environment where TEPCO forces people to sign non-disclosure agreements. In fact, do such agreements even exist in Japanese Law?

    • Plenum

      What you describe is capitalism – and business as usual in a capitalist society. You’re right, criminal, in my book, but still legal. How can it be changed?

      • Conrad Brean

        Well considering capitalism or perhaps better corporate capitalism (which essentially what happens in capitalism) needs to be seriously reformed. But that means a changing of the powers that be. Unfortunately, they will hold on until their dying last breaths. The question is does mankind have time?

  • M. Downing Roberts

    Does anybody actually still think nuclear power is economically viable?

    • Sam Gilman

      If you cost in the added global warming if we don’t drastically cut fossil fuel use, and if you face up to the technical limitations of other forms of low carbon energy, then rather a lot of people do.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        “If” we cut fossil fuel use is really a political problem. The question here concerns economics. I’m wondering how we can compare nuclear power to alternatives when we cannot say how much it costs.

        Can you say how much nuclear costs in Japan, without ignoring external costs like the decades of cleanup to come, compensation for the thousands of people who have been displaced, for their land which has been contaminated, for their jobs lost, families separated, medical checkups in the future, etc, etc, etc.?

      • Starviking

        That’s costs arising from a once-a-millenia event. The costs should be borne by TEPCO and the government – not all future nuclear plant operators.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        “Once-a-millenia”?

        The Fukushima reactors had been operating for a few decades, and prior to the 2011 tsunami comparable waves hit the Sanriku coast in 1896 (38.2 meters high), and 1933 (28.7 meters high).

        Please check the history before you make such claims. It’s exactly this kind of ignorance that contributed to the Fukushima disaster in the first place.

        If plant operators cannot bear the cost of a meltdown, then the technology isn’t economically viable. It’s not acceptable that they profit when it works, and try to make everybody else pay to clean up their mess when it doesn’t.

      • Starviking

        Please check your science before you make such a reply, the 2011 tsunami came from a seismic fault that last generated a tsunami in the 9th century AD. I think that qualifies as once-a-millenia.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        Wait, so now you want to split hairs about which exact fault slipped?

        Anyway, here’s what the USGS says: “The Japan Trench subduction zone has hosted nine events of magnitude 7 or greater since 1973. The largest of these, a M 7.8 earthquake approximately 260 km to the north of the March 11 epicenter, caused 3 fatalities and almost 700 injuries in December 1994. In June of 1978, a M 7.7 earthquake 35 km to the southwest of the March 11 epicenter caused 22 fatalities and over 400 injuries. Large offshore earthquakes have occurred in the same subduction zone in 1611, 1896 and 1933 that each produced devastating tsunami waves on the Sanriku coast of Pacific NE Japan. That coastline is particularly vulnerable to tsunami waves because it has many deep coastal embayments that amplify tsunami waves and cause great wave inundations. The M 7.6 subduction earthquake of 1896 created tsunami waves as high 38 m and a reported death toll of 27,000. The M 8.6 earthquake of March 2, 1933 produced tsunami waves as high as 29 m on the Sanriku coast and caused more than 3000 fatalities.”

      • Starviking

        The Japan Trench is long, and none of those tsunamis did much, if any damage to Fukushima.

      • Sam Gilman

        By trying to dismiss fossil fuel use as solely a political issue with no economics to consider, but wanting to have nuclear as an economic issue including every single imaginable externality, you’re quite transparently trying to fix the framework to get a pre-decided outcome.nIt’s almost as if you were shilling for fossil fuel interests. I don’t think you are, but it’s just that the anti-nuclear movement do pretty much the same thing shills do, but for free.

        For example, you want medical costs taken into account. According to the WHO, air pollution from fossil fuels causes 3.7 million premature deaths a year. That’s 10,000 a day, or 400 an hour. If you want to look just at Japan (after all, a lot of those deaths are in poor countries where it costs less to die), we can look at the US figures of 13,000 deaths from coal usage, and get a rough estimate based on use and population of around 3000 deaths a year in Japan. That’s from coal alone. Put that over the 50 years of Japanese nuclear
        power and we get 150,000 just from one form of fossil fuel. That’s not evacuees, that’s dead people. We can look at fossil fuels under stress: one example alone should give you pause for thought: more people died in fires from fossil fuels in the earthquake and tsunami than from all of the Fukushima crisis, including evacuations.

        All of these numbers are possibly washing over you, that’s the thing: we have normalised the damage from fossil fuels. It doesn’t feel “real”.

        Then we can look at the problems of climate change. One of the most well-known effects is rising sea levels. M. Downing, what do you think rising sea levels will do to the impact of tsunamis? What about the impact on Tokyo Bay? That’s quite an economic cost. This isn’t bad luck: a lot of wealthy cities have been built where there is access to the sea.

        Then there’s the probable increase in food prices, diseases, regional conflicts and so on. It’s all looking horrible, and will get horribler the later we tackle CO2.

        So prolonging our large reliance on fossil fuels shouldn’t be framed simply as a political challenge. It’s going to cost money. Do you have a figure for that?

        Of course, you might want to say that we can just build solar panels and windmills instead, but that’s where we run up against severe technical difficulties. Without breakthroughs in storage technology, these forms of energy are not going to replace fossil fuels on a large scale.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        So, evidently you’re going to completely dodge the question and resort to crude insinuation. Disappointing.

      • Sam Gilman

        What? My only “insinuation” is that you don’t take the economic and human cost of fossil fuels seriously enough. That’s hardly grounds for crying foul in a discussion over energy.

        It’s simply the case that fossil fuel use involves large scale externalities – costs which are not borne by fossil fuel users themselves.

        The point is this: If you want to “internalise” all the externalities, whatever figure could be calculated for the overall cost of nuclear power, the cost for fossil fuels would – so long as we apply the same rules – obviously be much higher.

        That’s answering your question of why some people think nuclear is economically viable. I’m sorry if you expected everyone simply to agree with your rhetorical point and abandon their own positions wholesale.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        Agreement? Of course not. Discussion of economic questions without insinuating that somebody is “shilling for fossil-fuel interests”? Yes, I think that’s a fair expectation.

        If you want to convince others of your claims, you’re not going to get there through insinuation or waving around imaginary figures (“3000 deaths a year in Japan”) that you make up on the spot.

      • Sam Gilman

        I explicitly said you weren’t shilling for anyone. Perhaps you should go back and read it again.

      • M. Downing Roberts

        There’s an important difference between “to insinuate” and “to say” which is apparently lost on you. But, that’s your loss.

      • Sam Gilman

        OK, I’ll put that particular point to you in a different way.

        It is very common for anti-nuclear advocates to play down, de-emphasise, dismiss, or otherwise distract attention from the urgency of the threat to the environment and human health from continued fossil fuel use.

        This is one of the senses in which there is a similarity with industry-sponsored climate change deniers (the other being the maintenance of a parallel universe network of “experts”). It does not mean they are identical, or that anti-nuclear advocates such as yourself receive money from anyone. (To shill – just to make sure you know – is to promote something because you are paid or otherwise rewarded for doing so).

        This similarity is worth pointing out because because the anti-nuclear movement is historically part of the environmental movement. It is hoped that anti-nuclear people, when presented with this comparison, are shocked into adjusting their public attitude to the scale of the threat of climate change.

        However, it doesn’t always work straight away. Here, for example, despite me spending many, many more words on the threat of climate change, going into detail about the various costs you seem to want to play down in your attack on nuclear power, you would prefer to focus on a misread half-sentence where – despite clarifications to the contrary – you think you’ve been accused of shilling.

        This is a shame, as climate change is a serious and urgent issue which cannot be ignored in discussions on energy choices.

    • Aron

      The technology used in Fukushima was old & unsafe. Modern technology can (and honestly MUST, if we wish to have a future as a species) produce safe, economically viable nuclear reactors (google Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor)

      • M. Downing Roberts

        It sounds interesting but LFTR has been “in development” for decades. If it is really economically viable, where are all the LFTRs that are providing people with power right now?

      • Aron

        Here is an *excellent* Google Tech Talk which answers your question very well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI

      • Uzza

        No LFTR has not been in development for decades, but a few years.

        The broad concept of Molten Salt Reactors has also not been in development since the early 70′s when the single, highly successful, program for them at Oak Ridge National Labs was shut down following political intervention.

      • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

        A few years, but moving ahead quickly.

        “The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology.It was formally announced at theChinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) annual conference in January 2011. Its ultimate target is to investigate and develop a thorium based molten salt nuclear system in about 20 years.An expected intermediate outcome of the TMSR research program is to build a 2 MW pebble bed fluoride salt cooled research reactor in 2015, and a 2 MW molten salt fueled research reactor in 2017. This would be followed by a 10 MW demonstrator reactor and a 100 MW pilot reactors. The project is spearheaded by Jiang Mianheng, with a start-up budget of $350 million, and has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium molten salt reactor research at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics. An expansion to 750 staff is planned by 2015.”

    • WhatTheFlux

      Actually, yes. Reactors can be built as cheap as a coal plant, if the arcane approval and inspection procedures would be streamlined, and if the plants weren’t stymied by lawsuits fueled by the uninformed paranoia generated by articles such as this (please see my earlier postings.)

      Google and YouTube: MSR, molten salt reactor, thorium, thorium energy, LFTR, liquid fluoride thorium reactor, thorium energy alliance, etc.

      Gordon McDowell’s Thorium Remix YouTube videos are an excellent place to start.

  • Kenneth Lundgreen

    Crime against us all to dump that into the open ocean. Only gangsters silent snitches with hush money nondisclosure intimidation. To the Hague with the lot of them. Regulator with the regulated.

  • Starviking

    I have to say, given the definition of “spike” as an “increase in magnitude”, the article is largely using the word completely incorrectly, perhaps for dramatic effect.

    • WhatTheFlux

      Yeah, a spike as in: “OMG, there used to be three cigarette butts littering the grass in Central Park, and now there’s six!”

  • yellowroz

    This was an industrial accident/catastrophe, so it’s impossible to know exactly what is being released without detailed monitoring. You will recall that in January, TEPCO admitted its Sr-90 data was flawed (meters capped out too low and dilution method wrong). I am concerned the media focus is only on human-health-right-now. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years, give or take a thousand. I have yet to find a marine ecosystem organization I can trust on this. Yay for the folks monitoring the kelp etc. on the CA coastline but, you know, by the time it’s there, it’s too late….It’s about more than Californians’ sushi.

  • Enkidu

    Two comments:

    1. Each of the high measurements that are reported as “in the port” are not just within the port, they are also within the new impermeable steel wall being built at the base of reactors 1 through 4—a wall that is nearly complete (94% as of April 24). This is a critical point that the article leaves out. Indeed, one would expect the contamination in this segregated portion of the port to increase as the wall nears completion, and the fact that these numbers are increasing is actually good news (!) as it shows that the impermeable wall is starting to do its job.

    2. This is more of an editorial comment, but the following sentence is poorly written:

    And at a point between the water intakes for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, seawater sampled Thursday was found to contain 840 becquerels of strontium-90, which causes bone cancer, and other beta ray-emitting isotopes, up from a previous record of 540 becquerels.

    Would it have been too hard to rephrase this as “was found to contain 840 becquerels of beta ray-emitting isotopes, including strontium-90, which causes bone cancer…” If you don’t read it carefully, you come away thinking that there were 840 becquerels of strontium-90. The ENEnews headline practically writes itself.

    • Enkidu

      For those interested, you can find the English translation of the results, including a diagram showing the impermeable wall, here: http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2014/images/2tb-east_map-e.pdf

    • Sam Gilman

      This is an excellently informative comment. It is infuriating how so much JT writing on Fukushima remains – for ideological reasons – obstinately dumb on important technical issues.

  • Sam Gilman

    Ah. Greenpeace. Hmm. Let me explain something. It might shock you.

    I don’t know if you lived in Japan during the tsunami and the beginning of the Fukushima crisis, but one of the biggest challenges for all of us living here was getting hold of credible information about the threat from radiation. The English-language media lost the plot, with major news organisations falling over themselves to sell fabricated stories of deserted streets of major cities, of lurid tales of what massive radiation doses – rather than the low doses we were facing – would do. It turns out the apocalypse sells.

    Into this void came the anti-nuclear movement, with Greenpeace to the fore. I’m someone deeply concerned by environmental issues, and who no doubt shares your own anger and contempt for the fossil fuel industry’s support for global warming denial. So it pains me to say it, but the anti-nuclear movement were spinning anti-scientific b******* in a disturbingly similar way to the networks of deniers funded by the likes of Exxon and the Kochs.

    They have their own network of neutral-sounding “concerned citizens/doctors/scientists” style front groups, promoting “science” that’s never seen the inside of a peer-reviewed journal, written by “international experts” who are nothing of the sort, with the same few people behind many of these groups. Greenpeace itself sponsored a truly ludicrous book claiming that over a million people had already died from the Chernobyl accident, a book dutifully invoked across the media by anti-nuclear activists who quite clearly saw fear as good for business. Greenpeace’s own “international radiation expert” turns out to be an art restorer who’s never published a thing on radiation in any science journal.

    Greenpeace has promoted the work of several media friendly cranks, such as Arnie Gundersen, Chris Busby and Helen Caldicott, even after the last two were exposed very publicly. (Busby was trying to market useless mineral pills at four times market price to the “children of Fukushima”; Caldicott thinks the World Health Organisation – and thus by extension the entirety of mainstream medical research – is controlled by the nuclear industry). They have promoted the work of anti-nuclear “researchers” Janet Sherman and Joseph Mangano, whose work trying to prove some supposed 15000 deaths in the US from Fukushima was offensively corrupt and ripped to shreds in the scientific press. I could go on. Really, I could.

    So as we’re all here in Japan trying to find out if we and our partners and children are in danger, up turn these people whose sole interest is in scaring the bejesus out of us and everyone else because it suits their political aims. How could I judge they were spinning BS? Because, like many environmentalists who’ve now repudiated the anti-nuclear movement, I’ve had experience of dealing with climate change deniers, and how to pick through the wall of spin and fake science and pseudocredentialism. We’ve all been shocked and upset to find the same behaviour in our own backyard.

    That’s why I picked up on your claim that a lot of people have radiation poisoning. Just as climate change denialism memes often contain ideas that even some simple science learning can tell you are wrong, so do memes from the anti-nuclear crowd. A really dominant one is talking as if any level of exposure can result in acute radiation syndrome (aka radiation poisoning). I’m sure you took the idea in good faith, but whatever source you took it from is suspect.

    You might be surprised by my anger on this. It’s not simply that these people were making it hard for those of us here to understand the threats we faced. It’s that they were blithely ignoring one of the most tragic lessons of Chernobyl: that exaggerated fears killed people, and ultimately caused a greater public health disaster than the radiation itself. Did you know that when researchers investigated birth defects following Chernobyl, they found a rise not in radiation-caused defects (much as it may surprise consumers of Hollywood science), but in defects from foetal alcohol syndrome? Expectant mothers were turning to drink in especially great numbers because they had been mistakenly convinced their babies were doomed. Right across Europe there were spikes in the abortion rate – hundreds of thousands of wanted babies terminated – because of mistaken fears. All this is what you find when you ignore the front groups and fake experts and stick to mainstream science, just as we all should do when it comes to climate change.

    So, sorry, I’m not going to wade through a Greenpeace report. Not until they publicly admit and repudiate their sponsoring of junk science and fearmongering.

    That is also why I’m not going to enter into private correspondence with you. If you have good evidence that should make people afraid and paranoid, put it out in public here, rather than make claims and keep the evidence private. I don’t mean to be aggressive, but I hope you see where I am coming from.

    • Conrad Brean

      Sam. Will reply as soon as I get a minute. Most of your claims concerning the lack of credible information in Japan seems appropriate…but I would not dismiss Arnie Gunderson or Caldecott for their work or arguments. I’ll respond in more detail at a more hospitable time. I work with colleagues whose occupation is health science research in Japan…so my accusations aren’t taken from thin air. But let me just say a parent living in Japan, I am as frustrated as you. More later.

      • Enkidu

        Hi Conrad, I do hope that you are able to find time to respond–we would be interested in hearing your views on this.

        As for the Greenpeace report you linked to, it did, unsurprisingly, present a rather one-sided view of things. For example, I note that the report did not mention those Greenpeace programs, such as “shirubeku” (their
        marketed food testing program), which showed the government doing a good job. In fact, Greenpeace unceremoniously stopped the valuable and reassuring “shirubeku” program after it was unable to find any marketed food over or even near the limits following hundreds of tests. (It’s pretty clear that Greenpeace remains more interested in headlines than in food safety.)

        As for Arnie Gundersen, I have to confess that I’m a skeptic. He repeatedly make basic errors in structural analysis, pollution control, soil mechanics, hydrology, etc., which makes sense as he has absolutely zero training or expertise in any of these areas.

      • Sam Gilman

        You’ve had rather more than a minute. Do you have that information about Gundersen and Caldicott that you promised?

        I’m also interested to know what your work in Japan is. Actually, I’m concerned that you’re working with Japanese health research workers, as I’d rather health science here were kept mainstream rather than relying on cranks and oddballs like Caldicott and Gundersen.