Officials: Fukushima Has Now Contaminated 1/3 Of The Worlds Oceans


The Pacific Ocean is thought to have been contaminated from the leak out from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. The entire Pacific Ocean, which covers almost one-third of our planet, is now thought to have been contaminated by the radioactive leak from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, according to researchers.

the pacific ocean is thought to have been contaminated from the leak out from the fukushima nuclear disaster

 a field study found that two filter cartridges were coated which showed elements of cesium a radioactive substance

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seeking to promote the peaceful use of Nuclear Power, in 2011 established with the Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA) Member States, a joint IAEA Technical Cooperation (TC) project in the region of the Pacific Ocean.It was established after the Fukushima disaster when a tsunami caused by a major earthquake on 11 March 2011, disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident.

As a result, a large quantity of radioactive material was admitted into the Pacific Ocean.Of no surprise, this caused great concern to countries based around the Pacific Ocean due to the potential economic and environmental implications. The TC project’s aim was, therefore, to monitor the presence of radioactive substances in the marine environment.SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEOThe first annual review meeting held in August 2012 demonstrated predictive hydrodynamic models and they predicted that the strong current, known as the Kuroshio Current and its extension, had the ability to transport the radioactive substances across the Pacific Ocean in an easterly direction.

However, the concentration of radioactivity was not as high as originally thought. © press A field study found that two filter cartridges were coated, which showed elements of cesium, a radioactive substance. The massive expansion of ocean had diluted it substantially so radioactivity remained at low levels but there was still concern over contamination of seafood even at these low levels.

The marine monitoring project was therefore, established to ensure that the seafood of the region was safe for consumption and to maintain a comprehensive overview and full facts of the situation, considering its grave implications. The TC is due to conclude this year. A few results have caused concern. A field study they conducted on 2 July 2014, revealed from two sets of seawater samples, found that two filter cartridges were coated, which showed elements of cesium, a radioactive substance.Then recently, trace amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 turned up in samples collected near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The samples collected were separate from the monitoring project set up by IAEA but it is thought the only possible source of these radioactive elements is Fukushima, according to the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring (InFORM) Network.

This is the first time that traces of cesium-134 had been detected near North America .While these are trace amounts, the danger of radioactive material in any amount cannot be underestimated. However, the experts say that these levels detected cannot really harm us, they are still lower than those we could be exposed to from a dental x-ray for instance.Having said that, every possible exposure, in any small amount, adds up.

The problem with nuclear energy and fallout, the radiation and radioactive materials can travel far and wide with the wind and with the sea. Therefore, we should aim on a global level to keep these levels at zero. In any event the continuous monitoring of oceans will need to be conducted, according to Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.What Buesseler says should be taken on board beyond 2015, particularly since the advice from the IAEA is to dump even more contaminated water into the sea.

This is apparently more desirable than holding it in tanks. Any discharge will have to be controlled and continuous monitoring would be needed, in particular near the plant to improve data reliability. This is causing concern and not just to state authorities. Consider the fishermen. Every time they catch fish in the ocean, the fish need to be tested for radioactivity.Before any further dumping is done, the IAEA and Tokyo Electric Power Co., who control the plant, need to consider not only the environmental impact but socio-economic impact as well.

Livelihoods could be affected as well as long-term health of the region and global community eventually.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/cCB_U5hLBoc

 

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Fukushima has poisoned the North American food supply along the Pacific coast


Image: Fukushima has poisoned the North American food supply along the Pacific coast

Thanks to the environmental disaster that was Fukushima and the incredibly long half-life of iodine-129, the Pacific coast may never be the same again. It will take about 16 million years for the contamination from the tremendous nuclear accident to dissipate.

While a vast array of radioactive isotopes were released into the environment during the Fukushima meltdown , iodine-129 is a particularly concerning material, due to its incredibly long half-life. This means that basically any food that comes from the North American western coast will likely be contaminated with radiation for innumerable generations to come. Radiation in the oceans will inevitably enter our water supply, and consequently our food supply as well. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), iodine from the ocean enters the air as sea spray or iodine gas. Once in the air, iodine can then combine with water particles and enter surface water and soil once the particles fall to ground.Iodine can remain in the soil for extremely long periods of time, because it can combine with organic material easily. Plants and vegetation that grow in this soil also have the potential to absorb the iodine.

Natural News reports that radioactive forms of iodine, such as iodine-129, are absorbed into the environment just like their more natural counterparts. The ATSDR notes, “Most radioactive forms of iodine change very quickly (seconds to days) to stable elements that are not radioactive. However, one form, 129I [iodine-129], changes very slowly (millions of years), and its levels build up in the environment.”

So, the form of iodine released by the Fukushima disaster is the exact type that builds up in the environment. Isn’t that just great news?

Fortunately, all is not lost. There are several key steps you can take to help minimize your exposure to radioactive iodine, and other radioactive isotopes that are also probably still contaminating our food and water. First, using only clean, filtered water for all consumption purposes is necessary. Filtered water should also be used for cleaning fruits and vegetables as well. It is also important to pay attention to where your food is coming from. Fish and seafood from the Pacific Coast should be avoided at all costs. Produce, meat and dairy products from the contaminated region should be avoided, as well.

Simply put, the environmental effects of the Fukushima nightmare really can’t be understated.

Radiation levels in seabed off Fukushima ‘100s of times’ higher than prior to disaster


The amount of radioactive substances in seabed off Fukushima is hundreds of times higher than before the disaster, a report issued by Greenpeace reveals. The figures mean that there is absolutely “no return to normal after nuclear catastrophe” in the area.

On Thursday, the environmental group released a report addressing the results of the study during which scientists analyzed radioactivity levels along Fukushima’s rivers and in the Pacific seabed off the coast.

View image on Twitter

“These river samples were taken in areas where the [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe,”said Ai Kashiwagi, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

The report showed there is hundreds of times more radioactive substances in the seabed off Fukushima coast than there was prior to 2011. It also stated that the level of hazardous materials along local rivers is 200 times higher compared to the Pacific Ocean seabed.

“The extremely high levels of radioactivity we found along the river systems highlights the enormity and longevity of both the environmental contamination and the public health risks resulting from the Fukushima disaster,” Kashiwagi said.

The vast territories including contaminated forests and freshwater systems “will remain a perennial source of radioactivity for the foreseeable future,” scientists warned in the press release.

They analyzed the level of radioactive materials, such as Cesium-134 and Cesium-137 (Cs-137), noting a colossal increase in the figures.

While the amount of Cs-137 in seabed near the Fukushima plant was only 0.26 Bq/kg prior to the nuclear disaster, the current number stands at 120 Bq/kg, the report showed. On the whole, the data showed that Cs will pose a threat to human health for hundreds of years to come.

“The radiation levels in the sediment off the coast of Fukushima are low compared to land contamination, which is what we expected and consistent with other research,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

The current site of the destroyed plant “remains one of the greatest nuclear threats” to Fukushima communities and the Pacific Ocean, the group said.

“The hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly-contaminated water, the apparent failure of the ice wall to reduce groundwater contamination, and the unprecedented challenge of three molten reactor cores all add up to a nuclear crisis that is far from over,” said Ulrich.

Greenpeace also warned against the government’s decision to lift a number of evacuation orders around the Fukushima plant by March 2017.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the largest since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, took place in March 2011 and resulted in three nuclear meltdowns and a leak of radioactive materials. The accident prompted a nationwide shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan with Sendai being the first to start working again, in August 2015.

From tiny sardines to behemoth whales, Fukushima is claiming thousands of lives off the West Coast


Image: From tiny sardines to behemoth whales, Fukushima is claiming thousands of lives off the West Coast

The Fukushima disaster continues to prove that its tidal wave of environmental destruction will reach across the globe. The western coast of North America, for example, has been experiencing a dramatic decline in marine life. With cases of malnourished and starving sea lions and brown pelicans popping up along the coastline, whales and dolphins migrating out of season, and the sardine population dwindling at a rapid pace, there is no doubt that Fukushima radiation contamination is destroying the earth’s oceanic habitats.

The evaporating sardine population is particularly concerning, since the small species of fish is food to a variety of mammals, birds and of course, other fish. Sardine fisheries are doomed to face sudden collapse , also thanks to the disappearance of these little oily fish.

At one time, commercial fishing for sardines off Canada’s western coast was worth an estimated $32 million. However, the industry has taken a serious nosedive. Natural News reported in 2014, “Back in October,fisherman reported that they came back empty-handed without a single fish after 12 hours of trolling and some $1000 spent on fuel.”

The  Daily Breeze  has also reported on the disappearance of sardines, this time from the California coastal waters.

The commercial value of sardines is quite important, but their role in the food chain is even more valuable. Sardines are a nutrient-dense  dietary staple for many creatures, including whales, dolphins, bluefin tuna, pelicans and other seabirds. A policy analyst for the Pew Charitable Trust, Steve Marx, has even gone so far as to say that the sardine shortage “does not bode well for everything in the ocean that relies on sardines to get big and fat and healthy.”

Despite growing concerns over these vanishing sardines and the subsequent marine starvation, no one seems to be making the connection between dying sea creatures and the spread of poisonous radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Radiated water has been circulating west since the accident occurred in March of 2011, and the barrage of radioactive water will continue for many years to come. In fact, researchers knew that the highly irradiated water had reached the shores of British Columbia, California and Alaska for months before sharing that information with the general public.

While researchers did discover something known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in 1997, which is the rotation of warmer and cooler waters over decades, and it has explained the vacillation of sardine populations in years past, the problem now is that the cycling of water temperatures is occurring concurrently with the spread of contaminated water.

It is very likely that the radiation from Fukushima is not just crippling the sardine population off the North American western coastline, but is also affecting other species across the globe. Supposedly, anchovies have replaced the sardine populations, but many fishermen have reported that their attempts to catch anchovies have also left them empty-handed.

If nothing else, the appearance of the first gray whale conjoined twins should be a pretty good indicator that something in the ocean water is amiss.

ALERT: Officials Have Confirmed ‘Fukushima Is Causing Americans To Get Cancer’


Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear joins Thom. The worst nuclear accident in recent history wasn’t unexpected – that’s according to an internal document recovered from Tokyo Electric Power – also known as Tepco. Tepco originally claimed that it had done everything possible to protect the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. But we now know that Tepco executives had discussed the need to build up coastal defenses back in 2008 – two and a half years before the tsunami hit Fukushima and caused a triple meltdown.

http://video.beforeitsnews.com/alert-officials-have-confirmed-%E2%80%98fukushima-is-causing-americans-to-get-cancer%E2%80%99_cb691e6d6.html

Wild boars have colonized Fukushima .


In 2011, a catastrophic chain of events led to nuclear meltdowns that caused over 300,000 people to evacuate the towns surrounding Fukushima.

Today, the area remains a radioactive ghost town, still too dangerous for human residents.

But that isn’t scaring away the boars.

These days, the wild boar population is thriving in Fukushima. In March, Fukushima University Environmental Radioactivity Institute assistant ecology professor Okuda Keitokunin told local press that vacant houses in areas damaged by the disaster have served as breeding places of burrows for the boar. The number of boars in the area has increased more than 300% since 2014, currently reaching about 13,000.

Unlikely wildlife havens

wild boar babiesMatt Cardy/StringerWild boars have run the radioactive wasteland of Fukushima.

This isn’t the first time a nuclear disaster has provided a stomping ground for local animals.

The nuclear disaster zone of Chernobyl has seen a surge in its wildlife population over the past few decades, according to National Geographic. It turns out that when you remove humans from the equation, animals like wolves and bears and wild boars actually thrive. In other words, when it comes to choosing between high radiation levels and human cohabitants, we actually appear to be the greater of two evils from a wild animal’s perspective.

Radioactive meat

In a perfect world, a surplus of wild boar, Japan’s most popular meat, would be a good thing. But these boars are on a strict radioactive diet, munching only on Fukushima’s contaminated vegetation and other small animals. Tests have shown these boars to have high levels of radioactive substances — making their meat unfit for anyone’s dinner plate.

But the problem doesn’t end there.

The poisonous boars have been spilling over into surrounding farms, destroying crops and resulting in more than $900,000 dollars in agricultural damage, the Washington Post reports. To combat their rising population, the government has been offering hunters hefty bounties for dead boars. But this presents another interesting problem: what to do with the bodies which, on average, weigh about 200 pounds each.

Where do you put a bunch of radioactive boars?

wild boar huntChina Photos/StringerGovernment-approved hunting of wild boars is one way to prevent them from damaging local crops.

Thirty-five miles from the plant, the city of Nihonmatsu has been providing a temporary solution,the Post reports. The city is home to three mass graves, each with the capacity to hold around 600 boars. But these pits are getting close to the brim, and there’s not enough space in the city to dig out any more.

The next best solution would be incinerating the bodies. This is where things get a little tricky. Burning the boar carcasses requires a special facility that can filter out radioactive materials to prevent radioactive smoke from raining down on nearby land and contaminating it. The nearest such facility that exists, a $1.4 million crematorium in Soma, can only handle three boars a day, according to ScienceAlert. That isn’t nearly enough to curb their rapidly increasing numbers.

One thing is for certain: If the Japanese government doesn’t figure out to do with these radioactive beasts, local farms could be under significant threat.

“City” of Waste: Fukushima Cleanup Now Up to 10.7 Million 1-ton Bags of Radioactive Waste


The fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster was on Friday, March 11. Since that fateful day in 2011, the Japanese government and the United States have continued to deny the lingering effects of this catastrophic event.

fukushima-trash-bags

An estimated $21 billion has been spent on cleanup efforts since 2011, including funding for a team of remote activated robots capable of going to high-dose radiation areas of the plant where humans cannot enter and survive.

However, it has now emerged that at least five of these robots have been lost to the dangers that lurk in Fukushima Daiichi’s severely damaged nuclear reactors and waste treatment buildings.

Authorities in Japan want locals to think “nothing happened,” documentary director Jeffrey Jousan told RT.

“The government prints the number of people who died as a result of the 2011 disaster in the newspapers every day. [In some other prefectures], the [death toll] amounts to 300-400 people in each prefecture, but in Fukushima it is over 8,000 people,” Jousan, a US director and producer who has been living and working in Japan since 1990, said.

“It is very telling about the situation in Fukushima. It is hard for everyone who is affected by the tsunami, who lost their homes and lost their families. But [in Fukushima], people are not able to go back home, they are unable to work because people won’t buy food from Fukushima, farmers cannot farm anymore. It is affecting people, and more people are dying because of that.

According to the Fukushima prefectural government, Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the Federation of Electric Power Companies and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the numbers associated with this disaster are staggering.

  • 164,865: Fukushima residents who fled their homes after the disaster.
  • 97,320: Number who still haven’t returned.
  • 49: Municipalities in Fukushima that have completed decontamination work.
  • 45: Number that have not.
  • 30: Percent of electricity generated by nuclear power before the disaster.
  • 1.7: Percent of electricity generated by nuclear power after the disaster.
  • 3: Reactors currently online, out of 43 now workable.
  • 54: Reactors with safety permits before the disaster.
  • 53: Percent of the 1,017 Japanese in a March 5-6 Mainichi Shimbun newspaper survey who opposed restarting nuclear power plants.
  • 30: Percent who supported restarts. The remaining 17 percent were undecided.
  • 760,000: Metric tons of contaminated water currently stored at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
  • 1,000: Tanks at the plant storing radioactive water after treatment.
  • 7,000: Workers decommissioning the Fukushima plant.
  • 26,000: Laborers on decontamination work offsite.
  • 200: Becquerels of radioactive cesium per cubic meter (264 gallons) in seawater immediately off the plant in 2015.
  • 50 million: Becquerels of cesium per cubic meter in the same water in 2011.
  • 7,400: Maximum number of becquerels of cesium per cubic meter allowed in drinking water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But perhaps the most staggering number of all of these statistics is the fact that the waste is being temporarily stored right next to the waterfront in a Wall-E style. The visual representation of the failure of this nuclear power plant is shocking.

Along the shore at the temporary storage site at Tomioka are 10.7 million 1-ton container bags containing radioactive debris and other waste collected in decontamination outside the plant.

Last year, a drone was flown over the ever-expanding city of waste. After watching the video, we know how ridiculous the government’s claims are that ‘we have nothing to worry about.’

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/UCP7PFT9coU

Even robots can’t survive Fukushima’s ground zero


Five years after an earthquake-triggered tsunami hit Japan’s Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, there’s still a tremendous amount of cleanup work left. The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which runs the plant, has managed to clean out spent fuel rods from one building, but it’s failed to reach others that have melted down. The incredibly high radiation levels at the site have even proven too much for five robots that were sent in to find those rods, Reuters reports. Even worse, it takes around two years for TEPCO to design robots suited to individual buildings at Fukushima.

According to Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO’s head of decommissioning, the heat levels due to radiation are so extreme that it simply melts the robot’s wiring. And at this point, robots are the only safe method to try and extract those melted fuel rods, whose locations are currently unknown. One intriguing method for finding the rods, which involved using subatomic particles, has so far been relatively useless.

But that’s not all: A proposed “ice wall” to keep groundwater from reaching the reactors was only just finished in February. TEPCO will start pumping water into the wall soon, but it’s already several months late and critics question just how effective it’ll be. Masuda says a seawall built along the shoreline is keeping nuclear material from reaching the ocean. (Although he wouldn’t go as far to say there’s absolutely no leakage. Of course.)

On top of that, there’s also around a million metric tons of irradiated water being stored on the site, the remnants of water pumped in to cool down the reactors. TEPCO still hasn’t found a decent solution for disposing of the radioactive water, and the storage tanks have already leaked some of the material into the ocean.

The entire cleanup process is expected to take around 30 to 40 years, but TEPCO has understandably come under fire by the Japanese government for its slow start. Looking ahead, Toshiba has developed a robot that can skim the surface of cooling pools to pick up fuel rods, which could fare better than the robots that have to dive into the irradiated water. But TEPCO still needs to find a way to locate and extract the melted fuel rods, which now are basically large radiation globs weighing hundreds of metric tons.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/y43bsJ7g7Gk

Fukushima: Five Years Later


JAPAN IS STILL CLEANING UP ONE OF THE WORLD’S WORST NUCLEAR DISASTERS. HERE’S HOW FAR IT HAS COME—AND HOW FAR IT HAS YET TO GO.

A 50-foot wall of water spawned by the quake exploded over Daiichi’s seawall, swamping backup diesel generators. Four of six nuclear reactors on-site experienced a total blackout. In the days that followed, three of them melted down, spewing enormous amounts of radiation into the air and sea in what became the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The Japanese government never considered abandoning Fukushima as the Soviet Union did with Chernobyl. It made the unprecedented decision to clean up the contaminated areas—in the process, generating a projected 22 million cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste—and return some 80,000 nuclear refugees to their homes. This past September, the first of 11 towns in Fukushima’s mandatory evacuation zone reopened after extensive decontamination, but fewer than 2 percent of evacuees returned that month. More will follow, but surveys indicate that the majority don’t want to go back. Some evacuees are afraid of radiation; many have simply moved on with their lives.

Another town scheduled to reopen, sometime in the next two years, is Tomioka, 6 miles south of the nuclear plant. One night this past fall I drove around Tomioka’s waterfront, which the tsunami had completely wiped out. It was eerily quiet, save for a loud, metallic clap echoing through the empty streets from the direction of an incineration facility. Wild boar scampered through fields where the old train station once stood. And a breeze carried the scent of mold and rot from shops and homes that had been cracked open by the earthquake and gutted by the tsunami. In one shop, a truck had been carried through a display window and deposited on the floor as if it had been deliberately parked there.

During the day, Tomioka, which once had 16,000 residents, is a vast construction site sprawling for miles across residential neighborhoods, commercial districts, and fallow rice fields. Thousands of decontamination workers equipped with little more than shovels strip 2 inches of contaminated topsoil in a 65-foot perimeter around every structure in town. They dump the soil into black decontamination bags, which they pile onto every street corner and empty lot. Some bags have been there so long, they’ve sprouted weeds. The workers also use dry hand towels to wipe down every single building, from the roof to the foundation, and pressure-wash any asphalt and concrete. It’s tedious, exhausting work.

“Tomioka exists only in name. It’ll never be a town again.”

The town allows residents to visit during the day, but special permission is required for overnight stays. When I met him, Kenichi Hiyashi, a broad-shouldered supervisor for a company cleaning up Tomioka, was about to move back to his house on the outskirts of town. Four and half years earlier, when he evacuated with his daughter and parents, radiation levels were 5 microsieverts per hour (µSv/h). Now they hovered at around 0.6 µSv/h—still more than twice the government’s long-term goal of 0.23 µSv/h, and about 15 times the normal background level in Tokyo. Hiyashi had returned to Tomioka, a mildly radioactive ghost town, for reasons millions of suburbanites could appreciate.

“The commute was killing me,” he lamented.

Hiyashi took me to see his house, which had been decontaminated just that week. In the driveway, an empty decontamination bag sagged in a steel frame. Bright pink tape marked areas of high radiation: downspouts, faucets, electrical conduit. We walked around the yard, avoiding piles of clean fill that hadn’t been raked out yet. The sun was going down over a dark stand of pine trees across the road. Crickets began to stir in the high grass growing beyond the decontamination buffer zone. Hiyashi put his hands on his hips and looked around at the neighborhood of darkened houses.

“Tomioka exists only in name,” he said. “It’ll never be a town again.” I got the sense that Hiyashi, like so many evacuees, would rather be compensated to relocate. Owning a house in a place few want to live isn’t much of an inheritance for his daughter.

II.

While the Japanese government rebuilds Fukushima prefecture, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is slowly dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a process that’s expected to cost at least $15 billion. Two weeks after I visited Hiyashi, I drove through Tomioka again, this time on a bus with a handful of other journalists headed to the site.

Inside the plant gates, guides wearing white TEPCO golf shirts herded us inside the Entrance Control Building, where some of the 7,000 employees who now work at Fukushima Daiichi strip out of their protective clothing in front of long rows of lockers. One of our guides said that things were beginning to return to normal, pointing out that workers no longer needed to wear full-face respirators at 90 percent of the site, and also that vending machines were recently installed outside the cafeteria. Given the popularity of vending machines in Japan, this wasn’t a stretch.

After a briefing, we were taken to an adjoining building where TEPCO had a special viewing room outfitted with thick, radiation-proof portholes. Carved from a 115-foot coastal bluff in the late 1960s, the Fukushima Daiichi complex has two main terraces separated by a steep slope. From my vantage point seven stories above the upper terrace, I could see the entire 860-acre site, a bustling city of workers garbed in white Tyvek suits. Construction vehicles rumbled down roads between blocks of drab industrial buildings. Before the disaster, much of the plant’s grounds were covered in pine trees that served as a bird sanctuary.

 

Workers build a new seawall along Fukushima’s coast.

“Every time I come here, I’m so surprised,” said one TEPCO guide as he stared in awe at row upon row of water tanks below. “Two years ago, it was all flat land.” Half a mile to the east, where the site meets the Pacific Ocean, four of the reactors rise up from the lower terrace: Unit 4 with its trellislike support structure; the stub of Unit 3; the deceivingly intact Unit 2, which is the only damaged reactor to still sport its outer shell; and Unit 1, clad in beige panels. The different appearance of each reactor reflected the complexity of decommissioning the site.

“At Fukushima Daiichi, there’s no textbook,” said chief decommissioning officer, Naohiro Masuda, when I spoke to him at TEPCO’s headquarters in Tokyo a week earlier. “There are three reactors [that melted down], and each has a different manner in which the fuel melted. The buildings are damaged in different ways. So we need to think of three different methods to solve this problem.” In other words, Fukushima Daiichi has three separate decommissioning projects, not just one.

A reactor like those at Fukushima Daiichi is essentially a sophisticated machine for boiling water. Fission heat from nuclear fuel rods makes steam that spins a turbine, producing electricity. The steam is condensed, cooled, and pumped back into the reactor core to keep the fuel from overheating, and to make more steam. If water circulation stops, the rods can get so hot that they begin to lose integrity. In a worst-case scenario, they melt like wax candles, and the molten fuel pools up inside the reactor, releasing massive amounts of radiation.

The technologies required to scoop melted fuel out of the damaged reactors don’t even exist yet.

Masuda estimates that decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi site—removing all nuclear and radiological hazards—will take three to four decades, although he acknowledged that the technologies required to scoop melted fuel out of the damaged reactors don’t even exist yet.

“Engineers are studying the problem,” he says, “but we don’t think that there’sno way to remove the fuel. There’s huge risk involved. If you make one small mistake, it might cause a huge problem for the local people, or even worldwide. We have to be aware of that possibility.”

To get a closer look at the reactors, we donned anti-contamination gear: safety helmet, dust mask, goggles, two pairs of latex gloves, one pair of cotton gloves, long-sleeved undershirt with breast pockets to hold a dosimeter (a device the size of a flip phone that measures the amount of radiation a person absorbs), disposable pants, two pairs of socks, Tyvek suit, rubber boots, disposable boot covers, and masking tape to seal the shirt cuffs. All of these precautions were supposed to keep radioactive contaminants from getting inside our lungs and on our skin. It provided no protection whatsoever against gamma radiation. A TEPCO handout informed us that our dosimeters were set to beep in 20 µSv intervals. Properly clothed, we clambered aboard a bus upholstered in thick plastic and duct tape.

 

Bags filled with contaminated soil and debris stack up on a site in Naraha.

III.

Once landscaped with greenery, the long, steep slope separating the upper and lower terraces of Fukushima Daiichi is now a moonscape of smooth concrete, designed to keep rainwater from soaking into the contaminated ground. As the bus descended toward the ocean, we passed an area piled high with the sun-bleached trunks of dead pine trees. Only a few cherry trees had been spared the chainsaw.

Our first stop was an unremarkable windowless building situated on a hillside. Standing on top of it, I was eye-level with the roofs of the four damaged reactors. They were 19 stories tall, except for Unit 3, shortened by a hydrogen explosion that blew its top off. Crane booms used to erect new reactor coverings dangled high above them. The coverings prevent the spread of radioactive dust. Ultimately, they will provide a frame from which to suspend equipment, when TEPCO finally gets around to extracting the melted fuel.

Even under ordinary conditions, retrieving fuel rods from a nuclear reactor’s core is a delicate procedure requiring the use of specialized machinery. The fuel rods are sealed inside a reactor pressure vessel (RPV), a 750-ton steel capsule filled with water lodged in the heart of the reactor. Surrounding the RPV is the primary containment vessel (PCV), a massive, pear-shaped structure made of concrete up to 5 feet thick and lined with 5 inches of steel. The PCV, in turn, is embedded in a concrete honeycomb of utility rooms filled with a labyrinth of pipes, pumps, and other equipment. The only part of the reactor visible to the eye is a thin outer layer of sheet metal and concrete.

Fatal radiation levels make it impossible to send inspection crews inside the reactor. Instead, TEPCO sent two robots.

Shucking our contaminated shoe covers, we boarded the bus and motored down a road at the base of the reactors. Units 1, 3, and 4 had suffered hydrogen explosions that looked dramatic in news footage. In reality the explosions blew apart only the reactors’ thin outer layers, leaving the massive PCVs mostly intact. At least that’s the hope. Nobody can say for certain if the earthquake, hydrogen explosions, or some unknown event—a mysterious explosion was heard coming from deep inside Unit 2, for instance—had cracked the PCVs. Fatal radiation levels make it impossible to send inspection crews inside the reactors.

Instead, TEPCO sent two robots into the PCV of Unit 1 this past April to locate the melted fuel. One robot stopped working within three hours; the other persevered for four days. The best information TEPCO has received so far about the location of fuel debris came from a recent muon scan of Unit 1. The scan revealed a void inside the reactor pressure vessel, confirming the worst-case scenario: Molten fuel had burned clean through it and slumped to the bottom of the primary containment vessel. Fuel had probably melted through the RPVs in Units 2 and 3 as well. The likelihood of TEPCO meeting its 2021 deadline for the start of fuel-debris removal is, at best, remote. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other decommissioning work to keep the company busy.

IV.

My dosimeter beeped its first 20 µSv alert as the bus passed the Common Pool Building, where thousands of spent nuclear fuel assemblies sit submerged underwater. Nuclear reactors have to be refueled about every three years. At Fukushima Daiichi, hot spent fuel initially cools off in a pool on the top floor of the reactors before being transferred to the Common Pool Building. Unit 4 was offline at the time of the disaster, and therefore didn’t melt down. In December 2014, TEPCO reached a major milestone when cranes hoisted the last fuel assembly from Unit 4’s spent fuel pool. It plans to pluck the remaining spent fuel from the other reactors beginning in 2019.

The bus turned sharply onto a steel-plated road that ran between the ocean and the four turbine buildings. Together, the buildings formed a featureless white wall longer than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Tsunami-tossed wreckage was strewn against their foot: twisted ductwork, chunks of broken concrete pronged with rusty rebar, and large pieces of smashed equipment. We were perhaps 12 feet above sea level, the lowest point at the site, and an ideal vantage point from which to appreciate the immensity of both the reactor facilities and the tsunami that inundated them. Looking out to sea, it was terrifying to imagine a 50-foot tide of water rolling over the breakwaters and plowing into the bus.

Five years after the meltdowns, contaminated water continues to flow from the site into the ocean. Although TEPCO’s most recent analysis of seawater shows a “nondetectable” level of cesium, that level merely reflects a regulatory threshold. “Non­detectable doesn’t mean the plant isn’t leaking into the sea,” says Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “In fact, TEPCO’s data, like our own, shows continued elevated levels of cesium in ocean waters closest to the plant.”

The bus braked in front of Unit 4. We got out to look at what TEPCO called the “seaside impermeable wall”: 594 concrete-and-steel piles that run almost half a mile along the waterfront. It is the last line of defense between Fukushima Daiichi and the sea, though it is designed to protect the sea from the nuclear plant, not vice versa.

To understand the full scale of the water problem at Fukushima Daiichi, you have to go back to the disaster’s early days. Under normal conditions, water circulates through the reactor facilities in a closed loop to cool the nuclear fuel and generate steam. That loop broke during the disaster, and TEPCO resorted to pouring seawater into the overheating reactors. The reactors and turbine buildings quickly began filling up with thousands of tons of highly contaminated seawater.

“A few more days and water would have overflowed the plant, which would’ve taken whatever they had and squared it in terms of a catastrophe,” recalls John Raymont, founder of Kurion, a nuclear waste management company based in Irvine, California. “We heard that some of the men at the site would step in a puddle and get radiation burns immediately from it.”

There are no longer skin-searing puddles of radioactive water on the ground at Fukushima Daiichi. But TEPCO is still circulating 320 metric tons of water per day into the reactors to keep the melted fuel cool. An ad-hoc circulation loop now pumps contaminated water from the reactors to a purification system custom-built by Kurion that removes two of the worst radionuclides: cesium and strontium. Most of the water then goes back into the reactors, while some gets piped to the tank farm.

In two hours on-site, most of it riding on a bus, I’d received a radiation dose equivalent of at least four chest x-rays.

There are 1,000 tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, containing more than 700,000 metric tons of contaminated water, equivalent to nearly 300 Olympic-size swimming pools. TEPCO can’t go on building tanks forever, nor can it discharge the water into the ocean. The water is contaminated with high levels of tritium, a radioisotope that can’t be removed using conventional filtration technology. Even if TEPCO could eliminate the tritium overnight, it’s doubtful the government would allow the company to dump potentially 1 million tons of “purified” Fukushima water into the ocean before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; it would be a public relations nightmare. In the meantime, water tanks are sprouting up all over the site like colonies of toadstools after a rainstorm.

We boarded the bus and headed toward reactor Units 5 and 6. On the way, we stopped briefly at various well heads and filtration facilities designed to trap and treat hundreds of tons of groundwater that flows downhill toward the ocean every day—right beneath the crippled reactors. Some of the groundwater mixes with the highly contaminated water in the reactors and must be treated and pumped to the tank farm; some ends up leaking into the ocean, untreated. TEPCO has been testing an underground “ice wall” to divert the flow of groundwater around the reactor facilities, but there’s no word on when the company will switch it on.

Located on high ground, Units 5 and 6 were untouched by the tsunami. But they lie directly in the path of the radioactive plume that ended up contaminating 3,500 square miles of land northwest of the plant. We passed dead pine trees scattered like orange toothpicks along the edge of a wooded area. Pine trees are particularly radiosensitive, and these had probably suffered the same fate as trees in Chernobyl’s infamous Red Forest, a tract of pines killed by fallout. For the second and last time, my dosimeter beeped a 20 µSv alert. In two hours on-site, most of it riding on a bus, I’d received a radiation dose equivalent of at least four chest X-rays.

 

The destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as seen from the bridge beside the Takigawa dam in Tomioka, about 7 miles southwest of the plant.

V.

The Fukushima disaster had a chilling effect on the nuclear-power industry worldwide. Germany, for example, is phasing out of nuclear energy altogether. China suspended its rapidly expanding nuclear-energy program. And in Japan, where nuclear power supplied 30 percent of the country’s energy, the entire reactor fleet was taken offline. But the nuclear chill has begun to warm up lately. Ten new reactors went online last year, the most since 1990. China now has 24 reactors under construction, with more on the books. Last August, Japan quietly restarted its first reactor since the disaster.

Ikuro Anzai, an owlish 75-year-old nuclear scientist from Kyoto, is skeptical of this development. He’s spent his career criticizing the incestuous relationship between government regulators and the nuclear industry that allowed companies like TEPCO to ignore safety warnings. In his view, Japan should follow Germany’s example. Until that happens, the least the government could do is educate a skittish public about the health effects of radiation exposure. Anzai can’t do much about the former, but few are better equipped, or motivated, to address the latter. He travels to Fukushima prefecture every month to measure radiation levels to reassure those who no longer trust the government—to say nothing about the nuclear industry—to protect their safety.

“The accident destroyed people’s trust in the industry, in the government, and experts,” Anzai said. “As a scientist, I want to make a sincere effort to stand beside victims and help minimize their exposure to radiation, and to restore trust in scientists.”

 

Nuclear scientist Ikuro Anzai measures radiation levels near a nursery school in Fukushima City.

On a drizzly afternoon, I met Anzai at the Torikawa Nursery School in Fukushima City, about 40 miles from Fukushima Daiichi. Although residents were never evacuated, radioactive hot spots in some parts of town still exceed the government’s long-term decontamination goal of 0.23 µSv/h. A gamma spectrometer hung on a strap over Anzai’s shoulder as I followed him down winding lanes to an old Buddhist temple in the center of a residential neighborhood. Anzai knelt next to a swing set and held the spectrometer’s sensor over a hole he’d made in the coarse sand. “Zero point zero seven microsieverts per hour,” he announced. “It’s the same as my office in Kyoto.”

That was less than half the radiation levels Anzai found when he surveyed the same walking route two years ago, good news for the children who attended Torikawa Nursery School. Ever since the disaster they’ve been cooped up out of fear of being exposed to radiation. Now they could take their daily walk again.

“It’s important for children to be able to touch the snow and step on the ice,” the director of the nursery school, Miyoko Sato, told me. “But we still worry about the food the children eat.” Food grown in Fukushima prefecture—famous for its produce in Japan—is closely monitored for radioactive contamination, but the school still sources its food from outside it. Understandably, many parents no longer trust authorities on any matter concerning radiation, which is ironic, because the food restrictions that the government put in place after the disaster were, in Anzai’s view, one of the few things it did right.

As the cleanup of Fukushima prefecture and the decommissioning of the nuclear plant move forward, Anzai has one simple piece of advice for Japan’s government and its nuclear industry, one that he’s been repeating for more than four decades: “Don’t hide, don’t lie, and don’t underestimate.”

In many ways, rebuilding Fukushima is the easy part. Japan has recovered from far worse. Restoring public faith will be much more difficult because trust has no half-life.

Cesium levels double at Fukushima while a Buddhist plants flowers to adsorb toxic radiation


A study examining measurements taken from forests 60 to 120 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant revealed that cesium levels doubled in 2013.

Samples taken in June 2012 showed that half the sampled leaves had 26.000 bequerels per kilogram. One year later, samples taken in June 2013 showed that over half the leaves had 42.000 bequerels per kilogram. Soil samples reflect the tapestry of the Earth’s surface up to a depth of ten centimeters, which increased from about 721 to 3.000 bequerels.(1)

The increase is most likely a corollary of the Fukushima power plant spewing toxic radiation into the air and sea. The radioactive debris accumulates in the foliage of trees, which causes a spike in mutation rates.

SOIL INFESTED BY CONTAMINATED TREE LIMBS

According to a study conducted in the Miyagi Prefecture, radioactive isotopes continue to infest the soil as a consequence of decomposition of fallen leaves from contaminated trees. The study demonstrates that forest zones are more likely than other regions to be impacted by the emission of radioactive debris, and underlines the challenge of decommissioning the area.

Scientists are hesitant to speak about the severity of the Fukushima catastrophe. Revealing unauthorized information about the facility is a criminal offense with a sentence of up to ten years in prison.(2)

The accumulated nuclear debris has caused an increase in the mutation rates of fir trees and other animals, according to Japanese researchers who are disinclined to speak about what people who live 100 kilometers from the power plant can expect. The Japanese government’s desire to resettle populations to de-contaminated villages is a particularly polarizing issue in the country.

According to the Japanese government, a village is considered decontaminated if the land inside the village and the land a few hundred meters outside the village have been decontaminated by topsoil removal.

This isn’t the first time the morphological defects of genetic mutations, coupled with nuclear fall out, have manifested at the Fukushima site. In May and June of 2015, a Japanese citizen posted pictures of mutated yellow daisies in Nasushiobara City, 70 miles from the Fukushima site, which spread like wildfire on social media.(2)

mutated daises

And in 2013, the Daily Mail compared pictures of mutated vegetables and fruit from Fukushima to normal vegetables and fruit. The pictures reveal four oranges conjoined to a single steam, a cabbage four times larger than its typical size and a tomato with tumors latched to its skin. The photographs didn’t just compare apples to oranges — they compared mutated apples to non-mutated oranges.(3)

Although the Fukushima power plant has contaminated neighboring plants, flowers could be used to save the prefecture. In fact, such a project is already underway.

FLOWER POWER

In May, a Buddhist monk named Koyu Abe launched a project called Make a Wish Upon Flowers, which set out to plant sunflower seeds, field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb throughout Fukushima to adsorb the radiation.(4)

Abe pursued the project in order to help those who have to live near the Fukushima power plant. Some people were able to evacuate the area after the disaster, whereas elderly people living in nursing homes had no choice but to stay. Nearly 2 million people live in the prefecture. Abe hopes to plant 20 million flowers by the end of the year.(4)

Back in October 2015, Abe’s project had reportedly grown 200,000 flowers. They also distributed seeds throughout the area. Through these efforts, Abe estimated eight million flowers had been planted in the Fukushima Prefecture.(4)

The Fukushima Daiichi site is a land infested by radiation. Nuclear waste spewing from the power plant will continue to accumulate in the surrounding area. Nature was in part responsible for the destruction of the nuclear facility. In an ironic twist of fate, however, it seems that it may also be the one to help decommission the site.

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