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The Fukushima Disaster Continues to Worsen

Radioactive water flows continuously into the Pacific at the rate of about 107,600 gallons per day.
 
 
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Nobody in the world knows how to dispose of radioactive waste safely and permanently. That's a given. The Japanese central government is presumably aware that anything it does with still the unmeasured but vast amount of radioactive waste from Fukushima's six nuclear power generators will be temporary. Leaving it in place is not an option. So Tokyo announced on August 29 that the Fukushima waste would be stored for 30 years in Fukushima prefect, in an " interim facility" to be built probably in nearby Okuma or Futaba ( now evacuated).

"We've screened and confirmed safety and regional promotion measures as offered by the state," Fukushima prefect governor Yuhei Sato said when announcing the decision. The temporary plan was proposed by the environment minister in late 2013, an offer few thought the Fukushima officials could refuse.

The negotiated terms of the plan include a government lease of about 4,000 acres (16 square km) from some 2,000 landowners around the Fukushima site. No leases have yet been signed. The terms also include government subsidies to the prefect of $2.9 billion (301 billion yen) over thirty years, as well as a personal visit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo for Governor Yuhei.

According to Kyodo News, the Japanese government has made the same kind of promise governments around the world have made and failed to keep, ever since the first nuclear waste was generated. Tokyo has "vowed to secure a site outside the prefecture for final disposal of the radioactive waste after the 30-year period, although the site has not been decided."

Kyodo News also reported that 88 plaintiffs – Fukushima residents at the time of the March 2011 meltdowns – have sued the Japanese government and the prefect government for damages for governmental failure to protect children from radiation. Each plaintiff seeks $9,600 (100,000 yen) in compensation: "They said in a written complaint that the central and prefectural governments failed to promptly release accurate data of radiation levels in the air after the nuclear crisis was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, neglecting their duty to prevent residents' radiation exposure as much as possible, and exposed children to unnecessary radiation."

Plutonium levels from Fukushima may be relatively low in the Pacific

The same day the plan to store Fukushima's radioactive waste next door to the Fukushima nuclear complex was announced, the MarineChemist blog on Daily Kos reported on measurements of plutonium in the Pacific Ocean made in April 2014. The conclusion from those measurements, made within about 90 miles (150 km) of the Fukushima plant, was that the triple meltdown at Fukushima had not added measurable amounts of plutonium to the ocean near the site. As the study put it: "Our results suggested that there was no significant variation of the Pu [plutonium] distribution in seawater in the investigated areas compared to the distribution before the accident."

That sounds like good news. But all it really means is that the added plutonium from Fukushima, so far, may be relatively trivial in comparison to the already-elevated level of plutonium contamination from nuclear weapons testing more than fifty years ago. The isotopes most relevant, Plutonium-240 and Plutonium-239, have half-lives of 6,500 years and 24,100 years respectively. The half-life is the time it takes for half the amount of a radioactive element to become benign.

And plutonium is but one part of the radiation load. There are thousands of nuclides and isotopes. Some have a half-life of almost no time at all. Many others, including those released by Fukushima – cesium, strontium, tritium, iodine, tellurium – have half-lives measured in years, decades, and centuries, during which time they remain dangerous, albeit decreasingly. (According to a report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in 2013, the amount of radioactive cesium from Fukushima measured in central Europe in 2011 was under-reported by orders of magnitude.)

 
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