Straight talk about the radiation from Fukushima in the ocean

Summary: As usual, the internet buzzes with fear-mongering about the radiation released from the Fukushima reactors. Here’s a note from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute that puts this in context. It does not address the larger danger of future releases of radioactivity, perhaps on a much larger scale than the initial surge and the leaks since then. See the links at the end for more about the dangers of Fukushima

Radiation trefoil

.

Contents

  1. The good news about the ocean
  2. Bad news for people in Japan
  3. About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
  4. For More Information

(1)  The good news about the ocean

Radioisotopes in the Ocean – What’s there? How much? How long?
By David Pacchioli, Oceanus Magazine, Spring 2013
Published by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Excerpt:

The release of radioisotopes from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 amounts to the largest-ever accidental release of radiation to the ocean. It came mostly in the form of iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137, the primary radioisotopes released from the reactors, reported Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

All of these substances can cause long-term health problems, said Buesseler, but iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days and so would be effectively gone from the environment in a matter of weeks. It was cesium-134 and cesium-137, with their half-lives of two and 30 years, respectively, which would remain in the ocean for years and decades to come.

In fact, most of the cesium present in today’s oceans, Buesseler noted, is a remnant of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing conducted by the United States, France, and Great Britain during the 1950s and ’60s. Lesser amounts are attributable to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and to local sources, such as the dumping of low-level waste from England’s Sellafield nuclear facility into the Irish Sea.

… “Dilution due to ocean mixing should be enough to cause a decrease in concentration down to background levels within a short period of time,” Buesseler told his audience at the Fukushima and the Ocean conference in November 2012. “Yet all the data we have show that measurements around the site remain elevated to this day at up to 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter.”

.

He hastened to put that number into context. “A thousand becquerels is not a big number for cesium. Just for comparison, that’s lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for drinking water. At that level, Buesseler stressed, the cesium in Japanese coastal waters is safe for marine life and for human exposure.

“It’s not direct exposure we have to worry about, but possible incorporation into the food chain,” he said. That, and the ongoing high levels of radioactive cesium. “The fact that they have leveled off and remained higher than they were before the accident tells us there is a small but continuous source from the reactor site.”

WHOI: Cesium
Oceanus Magazine, Spring 2013

.

(2)  Bad news for people in Japan. Is there more to come?

Thyroid cancers up in Fukushima“, Japan Times, 23 December 2013 — “Experts say link to disaster not yet established” Excerpt:

Screening of Fukushima residents who were 18 or younger at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster had found 26 confirmed and 32 suspected cases of thyroid cancer as of Sept. 30, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

The number of confirmed cases was up by eight from August, while the suspected cases rose by seven, the prefecture-led study found. About 226,000 people have undergone the screening program since it kicked off in October 2011. The 26 confirmed cases underwent surgery and are doing well, according to the prefecture.

A panel of experts at the prefecture concluded Tuesday that it is too early to link the cases to the nuclear disaster, given that papillary thyroid cancer — the type found in the 26 people — develops at a very slow pace, according to prefectural officials. Following the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, it took about four to five years for thyroid cancers in significant number to be detected.

Thyroid cancer is considered a major health concern for children because radioactive iodine spewed by the crippled nuclear plant tends to accumulate in thyroid glands, especially among young children.

Following the Chernobyl disaster, more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, according to the U.N. Scientific Committee, which attributed many of the cases to consumption of contaminated milk.

According to media reports, thyroid cancer normally strikes about 1 to 2 people aged 10 to 14 per million in Japan, far less than about 115 in 1 million cases in Fukushima. However, the figure cannot be simply compared, because the screening in Fukushima targets all children under 18, most of whom are without any symptoms, and no such screening is being done elsewhere in Japan.

(3)  From the “About” page of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

WHOI logo

For nearly a century, WHOI has been one of the best known and most trusted names in ocean science and exploration. Our scientists and engineers have played a part in many of the discoveries that form the modern understanding of the ocean and how it interacts with other parts of the planet, including human society.

(4)  For More Information

(a)  Articles about radiation from Fukushima in the ocean

(b) Posts about Fukushima:

(c) Other posts about pollution:

.

Pollution

.

.

Advertisements

31 thoughts on “Straight talk about the radiation from Fukushima in the ocean

  • Why exactly do you title the first part of the post “The good news about the ocean”?

    The article in Oceanus Magazine makes it clear that complex flows and currents in the Pacific result in a non-homogeneous diffusion of radio-activity, with some surprising results (e.g. highest concentrations of radioisotopes actually measured far from Fukushima). Radioactivity is not getting diluted in the rapid way one might naively assume, and thus it is too early to call “clear” — all the more so since Fukushima is still leaking, and TEPCO is less than forthcoming about what is exactly happening on the premises.

    All this (non-homogeneous dispersion, highest concentration far from the source of discharge, different rates of migration of radioactivity in the ocean depending on the radioisotopes, etc) is of course known from the studies on the pollution caused by Sellafield, for instance. See http://homepage.eircom.net/~radphys/scope.pdf

    Like

    • aguest,

      It is good news because the current radiation levels in the ocean are low, other than in the area directly adjacent to Fukushima.

      As for the future, the introduction to the post says:

      “It does not address the larger danger of future releases of radioactivity, perhaps on a much larger scale than the initial surge and the leaks since then.”

      Is that not clear?

      Like

    • “the current radiation levels in the ocean are low, other than in the area directly adjacent to Fukushima.”

      Precisely not. From the article:

      “Surprisingly, these high levels were found not at Fukushima but much farther south, off the coast of neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture.”

      This is why I am wary. Radioactivity diffuses in a natural environment in counter-intuitive ways.

      Like

  • FM:
    Re: Straight Talk
    Thanks for this article. A few days ago, I read the “alarming” news and was myself mildly alarmed. I was really looking forward to some straight talk.

    However, in reading the article, I realize that its WHOI’s own graphic that is the primary source of the problem (and the subtitle of the graphic in particular). A picture is worth a thousand words and the use of the graphic was counterproductive if the goal was to set everyone at ease. The log scale and graphic description ARE alarming but I admit that Y axis is not labled (is it time?). This Graphic is the MONEY SHOT of the whole article and its got big issues. What do I believ? A chart with measured data or a “narrative” for a scientist that could be (just saying) spinning the data.

    Juxtapose these statements:

    QUOTE 1 From the narrative (simplied for clarity)…..” most of the cesium present in today’s oceans is a remnant of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing and other leaks” (OK GOT IT, THAT’S A RELIEF)

    Vs.

    QUOTE 2 From the graphic “The amount of cesium-137 radioisotopes from the Fukushima disaster in surface ocean waters was 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than amounts that entered the ocean from the Chernobyl accident or atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.” (UMM..)

    Vs

    QUOTE 3 “Their totals vary widely, he noted, but are “beginning to converge” on a total cesium-137 release of between 15 and 30 petabequerels (1015 Bq). In comparative terms, he said, this is slightly more than the amount put into the sea by Chernobyl—although the total environmental release from that accident, at 85 PBq, was much higher.” (WAIT WHAT?)

    So which is it? We got two types of data referenced?…TOTAL AMOUNTS vs LOCAL LEVELS & SAMPLES.

    1. If the graphic is about sample levels, that’s great. A small amount of really POTENT stuff hit the water. Only it doesn’t say that, the GRAPHIC says AMOUNTS & AMOUNTS.

    2. If the graphic compared the amount released to what remained from Chernobyl and weapons tests (given the decay), that’s great. Only it doesn’t say that, the graphic says AMOUNTS IN SURFACE OCEAN WATERS vs AMOUNTS THAT ENTERED THE OCEAN

    3. If this is about LEVELS measured in oceans (on the Graphic labels) that’s great. But the premise of the graphics is AMOUNTS. And yes I understand that the Chernobyl had less ocean dumping.

    4. Meanwhile the cute map with the grid search references Ce134. What? I thought we were referencing Ce137 mostly (yes I know I131 is the very low isotope)? Is there a map for Ce137 and what does it show?

    Have I had too much egg nog?

    Either way this is not well written and has something for everybody

    1. FM says don’t be alarmed: QUOTE1 and QUOTE2
    2. Alarmists: Graphic with its QUOTE2. Which, by the way, is the easily snippable “picture worth a thousand words.”

    At the end of the day, hopefully “Dilution due to ocean mixing should be enough to cause a decrease in concentration down to background levels within a short period of time.”

    The fact is, I came away LESS INFORMED from this scholarly article.

    Like

  • The amount of cesium-137 radioisotopes from the Fukushima disaster in surface ocean waters was 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than amounts that entered the ocean from the Chernobyl accident or atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.

    *****************
    Buesseler reviewed the range of current estimates of the total cesium releases. Their totals vary widely, he noted, but
    are “beginning to converge” on a total cesium-137 release of between 15 and 30 petabequerels (1015 Bq). In comparative
    terms, he said, this is slightly more than the amount put into the sea by Chernobyl—although the total environmental release
    from that accident, at 85 PBq, was much higher.

    Like

    • Elliott,

      I do not understand your repeated focus on the radiation levels of Chernobyl rather than the using the standard levels of significance. Comparing to Chernobyl is nice for scary headlines, but tells us little. The article clearly states (bold emphasis added):

      “all the data we have show that measurements around the site remain elevated to this day at up to 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter.” He hastened to put that number into context. “A thousand becquerels is not a big number for cesium. Just for comparison, that’s lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for drinking water. At that level, Buesseler stressed, the cesium in Japanese coastal waters is safe for marine life and for human exposure.”

      Like

  • The nuclear industry creates radioactive waste, an extremely toxic carcinogen, which lasts millions of years polluting the air (radioactive dust and rain), the waters and the land negatively affecting every species on Earth. It is time to stop the insane psychopathic buisness of the nuclear industry today for the sake of your childrens childrens children and every living species on the planet. The nuclear industry is a white elephant that needs to be put down for the sake of the human race and all species of the Earth.

    Like

    • John,

      There are too many examples of civilian nukes (the military history is horrifically worse) going bad. Fukushima being the worst of a long series of “accidents” and potentially even woes close calls.

      Then there are the casual releases. Such as into the Irish Sea for decades:
      http://www.uwec.edu/jolhm/EH/Rosenhoeft/index2.htm

      But nukes might be the best available solution to multiple problems: fighting climate change, preparing for peak oil, and reducing the horrific pollution from coal.

      So the question is can nukes be run safely? what is the record of nukes in various nations, such as France and Germany? Can we learn from successes and failures to do better in the future?

      Hard choices. No easy answers.

      Like

  • The dilution assessment is based upon false information. Namely, that the ocean is polluted only from the contamination from the initial explosion events in 2011. Since it has been disclosed that over 300 tons of contaminated water has been flooding into the ocean every day since the explosions occurred, I’d like to see new scientific articles published accounting for this new data.

    Like

  • The Fukushima hysteria offers a good example of mass delusions believed by the left. The plain fact of the matter remains that the amount of Cesium-137 released in the Fukushima accident represents a mere rounding error compared to the amount of Cesium-137 released in nuclear atmospheric testing. And even that represents a very small contamination of the earth’s oceans.

    That’s why it’s “good news.” Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

    If the left wants to worry about a real health hazard, they should concern themselves with (for example) the estimated 600,000 innocent women and children murdered in the “shock and awe” bombings on Iraq after 2003. Those are real people who actually died — and by the hundreds of thousands.

    If the left wants an issue to get hysterical about, they should start raging about Obama’s continued murder of children and brides in wedding parties by mistaken drone attacks which keep going on…and on…and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on….and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on……and on…and on…and on…month after year after decade.

    See the article “Bride and Boom!” from Tom Englehardt’s Tomdispatch website. These wedding attacks are war crimes, and Obama keeps committing them. Why the strange silence from the left about these atrocities?

    Like

  • I don’t understand why smart people do dumb shit like build nuclear power plants and run/operate them. I am ashamed of myself for the minor ‘sins’ and yet I don’t war and don’t pollute via radioactive material. Fukushima will not be the last major problem with nuclear power, and the powers that be either know this and press on, or don’t know this and are (and this is all conjecture, etc. here) fucking-unbelievably stupid.

    It’s time we woke up to the ways of the world. Daiichi is a sickening mess, now. Was it to begin with? Yes, or no? I would like to know. … I have to read this article in full and if I am somehow crucified for that, so be it. One doesn’t need to read to sense; a prior or a posteriori, my concerns are with the world as well as myself, but I am just one in billions, not one in a city of one.

    What bothers me about the Daiichi situation is, frankly, no one gives a fuck. Here, the ‘one’ is a representative individual, representing all 7,000,000,000+ people on Earth. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I am livid with the ways of my government (United States); that they may be recording this, sharpening their Gitmo knives and somehow grinning, is somehow in line with the Apocalpyse that so many morons wish to happen. Christ was not the son of god; he was just a heretic, frankly. King of the Jews? Who needs a king like Christ, anyways? The man was mad and is a myth now. Why bring Christ in here? Only because I feel it was apropos.

    With all that said, again if you want to cruficify me as weirdo or wacko that’s your prerogative. All I can say is, we as a species are not good stewards to future generations. I’m 32 years old now; I shudder to think of what my life at 52 will be like – not because of who I am but because of how others are. Who am I? Just a person. What do I matter? As much as anyone. What is TEPCO doing? Frankly, I don’t care, and I am not sure they are mandated by law to disclose their activities. If they are, that’s news to me and, likely, to TEPCO, but I don’t know anything about that.

    At any rate… in 2014, I hope that we can finally just get some rest, but I know that that won’t be the case. Nuclear power is wrong; we have sun, water and fields of wheat. The problem, quite frankly and IMHO, is peopel who fuck shit up for all of the wrong reasons. I would not be mad if this was an accident, but it is actually, in a way, premeditated murder. My logic there? If I give a child a loaded gun and let him wander into a shopping mall, then, that’s just the same, in a way, as setting up a nuclear power plant when we know that these power plants have a history of “going off.” If you don’t like the logic, fuck off and go read a book and don’t bother to attack this post. If you do see flaws in my argument, go ahead and pink back/shout back.

    Like

    • FOM,

      “I don’t understand why smart people do dumb shit like build nuclear power plants and run/operate them.”

      Many nations have successfully run atomic power plants for decades with few problems — eg. France, Germany. Even the US, after a rocky start, has done so for the past several decades. The problems have almost all resulted from inadequate – often grossly inadequate — regulation of incompetent corporations.

      With modern tech, a new generation of nukes could be run even better.

      Like

  • Dear FM and audience,

    For want of a better place to ask, is the issue raised in the below article (and also coming out of Fox Snewz and a few other right wing sources) legit? or it is yet another PR war between left and right?

    “70+ USS Ronald Reagan Crew Members, Half Suffering From Cancer, to Sue TEPCO For Fukushima Radiation Poisoning”, Ecowatch, 28 December 2013

    http://ecowatch.com/2013/12/27/ronald-reagan-cancer-sue-tepco-fukushima-radiation/

    Thanks in advance.

    Also, hope everyone is enjoying the season celebrations of the tilting of the planetary axis that brings a return of an increased quantity of daylight to the northern hemisphere of planet earth in its annual orbit of the sun.

    Like

    • Eric,

      This is an interesting story, which I’ve followed — and reported on Twitter @FabiusMaximus01 (which is worth following if you want early alert to these kind of stories).

      It is a lawsuit. The information comes almost entirely from the folks suing and their attorneys, and so IMO should be regarded skeptically. So we have little basis on which to draw conclusions.

      That the mainstream media has ignored the story seems odd IMO.

      The story itself is odd. An atomic-power warship should have both the trained personnel and equipment to monitor ambient radiation (it is powered by 2 reactors, producing the equivalent of roughly 600 megawatts). Failure to do so, as alledged, would be incompetence on a high scale.

      Like

  • Most recent reports indicate significant radioactive releases on 12/19, 24, and 28th. Does your report address those which appear very serious? Further is it a coincidence that the US government just ordered 14 Million doses of potassium-iodide for immediate delivery?

    Like

    • Mike,

      No, these reports look at the effects of past emissions. The current ones appear from english-language news media to be a continuation of long history of episodic small releases of radioactive steam and water.

      Both these posts and the articles cited warn about the danger of a future large event dumping massive amounts if radioactive materials into the biosphere. There are a scary number of things that might cause this. Some example are: another quake or tsunami, storms, the unstable wreckage of one of reactor buildings shifting, or another meltdown-like event.

      The first post in this series warned that the response to this situation by Tepco, Japan’s government, and the world are insanely complacent and inadequate.

      We have been lucky so far. Relying on luck is a plan, but an unwise one.

      Like

  • Debunking the scary stories: “Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.“, Craig McClain, Deep Sea News, 4 January 2014

    Tracking the story back to the original study, which does not match the later headlines.

    Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area.

    Like

Leave a comment & share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s