Guest Post: Tepco Dumps 11,500 Tons of Radioactive Water Into the Pacific

Kyodo news :

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Monday took the unprecedented measure of dumping 10,000 tons of low-level radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean from a facility at its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex to make room for the storage of more highly contaminated water, which is hampering restoration work at the plant.

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Nishiyama also said that it had become necessary to release 1,500 tons of groundwater, also containing radioactive materials, found near the Nos. 5 and 6 reactor turbine buildings out of concern that the water could drown safety-related equipment.

Of course, the government said there was “no major health risk”, even though:

The level of radioactive substances in the water is up to 500 times the legal limit permitted for release in the environment.

Whether or not this release is serious (the concentrations will certainly be high at the immediate release site, even if dispersion ultimately reduces the radioactivity to trivial levels) the fact that the reactors are still not under control means releases like this are likely to continue.

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George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander… http://www.washingtonsblog.com

32 comments

  1. Mark

    FYI: nuclear waste was routinely placed in barrels and dumped in the ocean all over the North Atlantic and North Pacific from 1946 to 1982. This IAEA report is from 1989:

    I for one was shocked to find out about this recently while reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”

    It’s all rather appalling.

  2. Justin

    I don’t see a point here.

    Levels are currently dangerous around plant, yep.
    More releases may occur, yep.
    Dispersion means no accumulation in exposure pathways.
    More releases also means no accumulation in exposure pathways.

    There will be patterns of fallout that will require long term avoidance in areas around Fukushima.

    The only sushi that comes from Japanese waters is some unagi, some uni, ika, some kaki, and spring/summer tai. Avoid all oyster anyway as you’re more likely to get a bad case of Clostridium Perfringens from them.

    So are we just trying to be witty and alarmist without any actual knowledge behind our jibes?

    1. Jojo

      @Justin – Read this blog post for a possible point.

      Seems that the increased radioactive particles have and are making their way to the USA and are now appearing in foodstuffs such as water and milk. Also in rain.

      This is not good. The longer those plants spew radioactive particles, the bigger the potential problems worldwide.

      1. Justin

        @jojo

        You linked to the blog, did you go to the measurements themselves linked by the blog?

        On the spike on the 24th, you would have gotten 1.8% the amount of radiation of a cross country airplane trip if you had drunk nothing but rain water. Tap water radiation levels were negligible due to dilution.

        @stockdude Since you’re too lazy to look up the ratio yourself:

        Again, it’s all about the exposure pathways. Workers at the site will have adverse health effects from direct radiation. Some people who live within 20km radius may have adverse health results from direct radiation and inhalation. People who consume irradiated produce and milk from farms near hotspots could have adverse health results. Some people in America will have adverse health results from consuming potassium iodine and/or increased cortisol levels from worrying.

  3. KnotRP

    So…how would an economist recalculate TEPCOs profits, and bonus plan, to incorporate this latest externalized cost on the oceans of the world.

    (trick question: economist don’t deal with real world problems)

  4. Jojo

    Recent press reports have discussed the possibility that Fukushima Unit 1 may be having a nuclear chain reaction. New data released by TEPCO indicates that even though Fukushima Unit 1 was shut down during the March 11 earthquake, it appears to have “gone critical” again without human intervention. The detection by TEPCO of short-lived radioactive isotopes substantiates the existence of this inadvertent criticality.

    1. Reactor 1 is widely understood to have had a significant (but still partial) meltdown. That would normally make it likely there would be some (less than full power due to random geometry and the control rods) ongoing (or intermittent) fission, and fission products, and various evidence suggests this is happening. This has been thought a certainty for a while by many professionals I’ve gathered, and by close watchers for many days. But it was speculated early in the crisis actually. It seems though that they are able to continue to keep water in the core (by inference; if they could not, more melting and more drama would follow). Result? Continuing leaks until better heat exchange cooling is put back on line.

  5. Global

    Since the original occurence (earthquake & tsunami), I’ve been bewildered by media coverage and blog comments whci frequently mention the dangers arriving to US shores.

    In many ways, we have become a global community. Let’s think, feel, act and write like we believe it. Every tree removed in the Amazon (jungles), every open pit mine in Africa exploiting cheap labor(seeking lithium and other rare earths for our bestest-ever batteries, especially those powering our “enviro-cars”), every sweatshop in China grinding out our lust for tomorrow’s fashions… These and more harm us all.

    How about we become global citizens of the globe, every day? Even during disasters!

    1. Externality

      Readers worry, understandably, how the problems in Japan will affect them. While the situation in Japan is unfortunate, and the US is providing substantial assistance, Americans’ main responsibility is to themselves, their families, and their communities. Understanding the nature and duration of the radiation clouds crossing the Pacific Ocean is an important step towards meeting those responsibilities.

      The concept of “global citizenship” is intended, in part, to condition the population to being led by completely unrepresentative institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and UN Security Council. The IMF, for example, has long served as a collection agency for global capital, forcing countries into “structural adjustment plans” that cause and have caused immense suffering. (see below) The UN Security Council, OTOH, allows a small group of countries to authorize war against some countries (e.g., Libya) while protecting others (e.g., Israel) from any accountability for similar or worse behavior.

      From the journal PLoS Medicine:

      Participation in an IMF program, they report, was associated with increases in tuberculosis incidence, prevalence, and mortality rate of about 15%, which corresponds to hundreds of thousands of new cases and deaths in this region. Each additional year of participation increased tuberculosis mortality rates by 4.1%; increases in the size of the IMF loan also corresponded to greater tuberculosis mortality rates. Conversely, when countries left IMF programs, tuberculosis mortality rates dropped by roughly one-third.

      From the BBC:

      [The researchers] claimed a direct relationship could be seen – the start of the increases [in tuberculosis rates] matched the starting point of IMF programmes, and continued rising as the programme continued.

      This meant at least a 16.6% increase in deaths across the 21 countries, they said.

      Without the IMF loans, they suggested, rates would have fallen by up to 10%, meaning at least 100,000 extra deaths.

  6. stockdude

    Dispersion is a BIG LIE. Dispersion matters not one bit, except in producing a “quick kill”, which also is not the point. The total amount of radiation is what matters. This is 2,500,000 gallons! That is alot, and at 500 times over the limit, this is equivalent to 600,000,000 gallons that are double the limit.

    And there is plenty of Cesium in there, which has a half life of 30 years. It will go everywhere in the ocean, not just Fukushima.

  7. East Coast Cynic

    Have they discovered any harmful iodine or radioactive h20 in the Pacific Ocean near Maui? I’d like to continue to vacation there.

  8. charles 2

    These releases are indeed trivial from a health standpoint, and they can last a long time and still remain trivial. If we were sure that it was the only thing that the Fukushima had in store left, we would be out of the woods. Radioactive aerosols/gas releases are the worrying issue here since the beginning.

    For more relevant information about this radioactive water issue and the Fukushima accident, check . It is written by a professional.

    For those who are astonished that persistent releases above legal limit could be trivial from a health standpoint,let me offer you a financial analogy :
    A bank is supposed to reconcile its balances every day to the last penny. It is a legal requirement. If, for some reasons if fails to do so, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bankrupt, or even that it is significant compared to its overall financial situation. Failure to take corrective action is however a sign that the organisation is disfunctional and that some bigger flaw may lie somewhere; so it is worth paying attention to it as an indirect clue, not as a direct significant threat. When a direct threat has indeed been identified (for instance, in the case of banking, failure to keep/endorse mortgage notes), we should focus on that threat, not on the harmless clues that led to discover it.

  9. Lyle

    Note that if the major component of the radioactive water is I-131 then it has a half life of eight days, in a month then it is down to 1/16 its original value. Unfortunately none of the coverage seems to say which isotopes are causing the radioactivity in the water, but much of the other radiation detected is I 131. For example if milk has a concentration of I-131, just dry it and let it sit on the shelf for a year and the problem just goes away.

  10. The most significant unknown to my mind is the exact status of the spent fuel pool at reactor 4.

    The leaks of radiation from the partially melted down reactors (which in a manner are more under control than not!) will be ongoing until they can restore the normal cooling systems. see: Getting the cooling systems going in turn depends on clearing water from areas such as the basement of the turbine buildings. It’s all a logical progression.

  11. SteveA

    They made the least bad decision. I am more concerned about the lack of followup on earlier issues — for example, the level of radiation in groundwater near the plant (NISA claimed that Tepco’s number was wrong, but has not released a revised number); the status of attempts to inject nitrogen coolant to avoid potential hydrogen explosions, an effort announced for Saturday but not mentioned since; the continuing refusal of the government to release forecasts of radiation dispersal, either those from the IAEA or from its own SPEEDI system; the statement Saturday by an official, quoted by Bloomberg on April 3, that it may be impossible to ever enter the reactor 3 building again.

    1. SteveA

      Update on seawater contamination: NHK just announced that Tepco has found concentrations of iodine-131 5 million times normal, and concentrations of cesium 1.1 million above normal, near the reactor 2 seawater intake.

  12. Expat

    The nuclear apologists continuously cite such things as chest x-rays and cross-country airplane trips. What they fail to point out is that no one spends the rest of his life in an airplane at 30000 feet getting chest x-rays.

    The issue is not whether or not one could streak across Fukushima beach on a dare without perceptibly increasing the likelihood of developing cancer. The issue is whether or not one could picnic in the fields around Fukushima safely FOR THE NEXT TEN THOUSAND FRICKIN’ YEARS!!!

    I saw an industry flack on CNBC saying that oil was much more dangerous since it has killed many thousands. Fair enough, but we can rebuild your house when your oil furnace blows up. Or has this genius secretly been buying real estate around Chernobyl on a super long-term bull play in the Russian condo market?

    I agree that LA is not going to start glowing tomorrow, but Tepco management (along with complicit Japanese lawmakers) should be arrested or at least forced to go to Fukushima to clean up (and join the Fukushima Fifty who have acknowledged they are now doomed). No radiation is “safe”.

  13. charles 2

    @Lyle
    Unfortunately no, some of the activity is due to Cesium137 and some other elements, so it is not going to disappear in 3 months’s time. However, according to french IRSN, 60 to 80% of radioactivity in the water comes from Iodine ( sorry, it is in french) , therefore it will make a significant difference in terms of dose rate for the people who are working on site. It may explain why the Japanese seem to proceed at a relatively slow pace : for that particular aspect of the situation, time is on their side. I would also doubt that the floating reprocessing russian barge that TEPCO wants to use has anything to filter Iodine.

    Again, the most serious issue is the gas release. TEPCO seems to be injecting just enough water so that bringing it close to but not at boiling point would offset the residual heat in the reactor. It makes sense, especially if the containments are leaking : they want as little water as possible, but no release of vapor at the same time.

    From the public standpoint, the most salient information is how much Caesium has been really deposited on land in the first days of the accident. If there should be media pressure (and there should), it is on this particular aspect.

    The best and latest we have from IAEA :
    “On 4 April the IAEA monitoring team made measurements at 7 locations at distances of 30 to 41 km South and Southwest of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The dose rates ranged from 0.7 to 12.5 microsievert per hour. At the same locations, results of beta-gamma contamination measurements ranged from 0.1 to 2.0 megabecquerel per square metre.”

    It mixes contamination between short-lived elements and long lived element, and therefore is not very helpful.

  14. Elliot

    As (perhaps) the only poster here who has now got radioactive milk in the grocery stores, radioactive rain falling on her farm and water supply, I extend this glass of milk for you. Would you like a sip?

    I’ll note that Tepco say this will take a minimum of 3, maybe 5 years to clean up; that it’s ongoing release, not a one time thing (like a chest x-ray), that about a third of the Rad net sensors are off-line at any one time, and that the US West has a history of accidental and purposeful radiation exposure (everyone I know knows someone with thyroid cancer), and finally, that the history of obfuscation and outright lies about releases, and safety of, radiation by the government in the US don’t make for any better breakfast time reading than Tepco’s and the Japanese government’s reputation for veracity.

    Would you like a glass of milk?

  15. charles 2

    @Expat :
    “The issue is whether or not one could picnic in the fields around Fukushima safely FOR THE NEXT TEN THOUSAND FRICKIN’ YEARS!!!”
    Not really : there are already picnics organized around Chernobyl today ! According to Wikipedia, radioctivity in most parts of Pripyat is around one micro-Sievert.

    Don’t eat the local mushrooms though : the real issues are how long agricultural products and water from this area of Japan will need to be monitored and what perimeter around the plant will be unsuitable for PERMANENT habitation.
    The most probable scenario is that it won’t be worse than the usual big industrial site, but we have had a lot of nasty surprises so far…

  16. skippy

    It is as same for air as it is for water, distributions are not equal ie: the pacific ocean is not a bucket of water where one introduces a few drops in the center, ref. dye / oil plume in the GOM.

    They should add dye to the coastal source, but methinks they will not, things that make you go ummm.

    Skippy…ditto for the airborne tracking, its simple and will end random speculation…eh!

    PS. Mach 5+ harmonics moving through all that material and geology….ummmm again.

  17. Diane

    ZH cited this article

    “Radioactive iodine-131 readings taken from seawater near the water intake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 2 reactor reached 7.5 million times the legal limit, Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Tuesday.

    The sample that yielded the high reading was taken Saturday, before Tepco announced Monday it would start releasing radioactive water into the sea, and experts fear the contamination may spread well beyond Japan’s shores to affect seafood overseas.

    The unstoppable radioactive discharge into the Pacific has prompted experts to sound the alarm, as cesium, which has a much longer half-life than iodine, is expected to concentrate in the upper food chain.”

    To paraphrase the conclusions of an IAEA pamphlet on concentration of radioactivity in marine food chains

    who the heck knows where this stuff will land? With food chain concentrations, diversion of fish meal into fertilizer and animal ,it is “complicated”

  18. Justin

    Yes, it is complicated. While the ocean water disperses and dilutes, the food chain concentrates certain isotopes, and in different pathways and concentrations per element.

    However, there is good data from Bikini atolls on environmental pathways for iodine and cesium. Cesium is a bigger problem on land than in the sea as it’s concentrated /substituted for potassium in plant life and coral atoll soil is potassium poor, cesium has a longer half-life, and can sit on top of the soil and collect in rain runoff. Coconut trees are good at sucking up cesium from ground water and depositing in coconuts. However, there is no problem with cesium in sea life at Bikini.

    Iodine concentrations in marine life in Japan around reactor will be the main concern, so they will probably ban or test local seafood, but again most sushi fish is caught away from Japan, and iodine’s half life makes the problem resolve more quickly.

    Milk in the US is fine, I’m happy to have a glass.

  19. Elliot

    @Justin: every day? In your drinking water, in your vegetable garden for the next 3-5 years?

    Next you’ll be telling me nobody ever died at Hanford.

  20. Justin

    @Elliot, last month I left a follow up post to someone in 2005 who claimed Prius batteries would last 2-3 years and require expensive replacement (going on my 7th year with a Prius and no significant battery degradation). I am happy to retract my assertion if proven false over time.

    Let’s revisit our concerns in 6 months. I am betting the biggest releases of radiation have already occurred, and that radiation levels will fall, although again regions around Iitate and the plant itself will probably require long term abandonment and/or topsoil replacement. We won’t have any problems in America from this fallout.

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