A Sockeye Salmon superimposed on a nuclear symbol and the entry from the Periodic Table of Elements for new element Salmonium-238. 6-7 of every salmon will be fissionable isotope Salmonium-235. Be careful what you eat. Salted Salmonium-238, as LOX, can serve as a substitute fuel in reactors normally burning MOX fuels.

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radioactive salmon

New Element Salmonium-238

The situation at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex becomes worse by he day. Contaminated water is leaking, has been leaking since soon after the initial accident; and in very large quantities. The Japanese government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corp) have endeavored to minimize the gravity of the situation, but have made a series of recent admissions, each worse than before, about just how bad things are, and might become. Even with that some nuclear experts believe the leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated. The chairman of Japan’s nuclear authority, Shunichi Tanaka, stated at a press conference that he fears there will be further leaks, “We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more. We are in a situation where there is no time to waste,” he told reporters. And there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.

The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site. This is in addition to the 600 tons (about 150,000 gallons) of contaminated water that leaks on a daily basis. The daily leaks may be larger than admitted as until just a few days ago we were told that only 300 tons leaked daily.

The Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the seven-step international scale that measures the severity of atomic accidents. This was an acknowledgement that the power station was in its greatest crisis since the reactors melted down after the tsunami in 2011.

And there is more. Water used to cool the reactor cores is stored in 1000 tanks which have been built on-site. These are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tonnes of water are being added. According to one consultant, “What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else – not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that. ”

Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima said, “It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean. “We’ve been saying since 2011 that the reactor site is still leaking whether that’s the buildings and the ground water or these new tank releases. There’s no way to really contain all of this radioactive water on site. Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can’t really stop a ground water flow. You can pump out water, but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?”

Several scientists also raised concerns about the vulnerability of the huge amount of stored water on site to another earthquake.

fukushima water leak

Contaminated Water Leakage

Water from the storage tanks has seeped into the groundwater and then into the sea. Efforts to use a chemical barrier to prevent sea contamination have not worked. TEPCO has considered a plan to freeze soil around the site in order to stop, or at least slow, the leaks.

Storage problems are compounded by the ingress of ground water, running down from the surrounding hills. It mixes with radioactive water leaking out of the basements of the reactors and then some of it leaches into the sea, despite the best efforts of TEPCO to stem the flow. Some of the radioactive elements like caesium that are contained in the water can be filtered by the earth. Others are managing to get through and this worries watching experts.

Currently, the biggest concern is the possibility that other isotopes, such as Strontium 90, which tend to be more mobile, get into the groundwater. The isotopes will eventually end up in the ocean and accumulate in seafood.

There are also worries about the spent nuclear fuel rods that are being cooled and stored in water pools on site. These contain far more radioactive Caesium than was emitted during the explosion at Chernobyl.

Not only the Japanese are at risk. Radiation from Fukushima is coming to the west coast of North America via an ocean current called the North Pacific Gyre.

While many people assume that the ocean will dilute the Fukushima radiation, a previously-secret 1955 U.S. government report concluded that the ocean may not adequately dilute radiation from nuclear accidents, and there could be “pockets” and “streams” of highly-concentrated radiation.

The University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center created a graphic showing the projected dispersion of debris from Japan:

fukushima radiation

Spread of Fukushima Radiation

Last year, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and 3 scientists from the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences showed that radiation on the West Coast of North America could end up being 10 times as high as in Japan:

After 10 years the concentrations become nearly homogeneous over the whole Pacific, with higher values in the east, extending along the North American coast with a maximum off Baja California.

***

With caution given to the various idealizations (unknown actual oceanic state during release, unknown release area, no biological effects included, see section 3.4), the following conclusions may be drawn. (i) Dilution due to swift horizontal and vertical dispersion in the vicinity of the energetic Kuroshio regime leads to a rapid decrease of radioactivity levels during the first 2 years, with a decline of near-surface peak concentrations to values around 10 Bq m−3 (based on a total input of 10 PBq). The strong lateral dispersion, related to the vigorous eddy fields in the mid-latitude western Pacific, appears significantly under-estimated in the non-eddying (0.5°) model version. (ii) The subsequent pace of dilution is strongly reduced, owing to the eastward advection of the main tracer cloud towards the much less energetic areas of the central and eastern North Pacific. (iii) The magnitude of additional peak radioactivity should drop to values comparable to the pre-Fukushima levels after 6–9 years (i.e. total peak concentrations would then have declined below twice pre-Fukushima levels). (iv) By then the tracer cloud will span almost the entire North Pacific, with peak concentrations off the North American coast an order-of-magnitude higher than in the western Pacific.

***

(“Order-of-magnitude” is a scientific term which means 10 times as much. The “Western Pacific” means Japan’s East Coast.)

And a team of top Chinese scientists has just published a study in the Science China Earth Sciences journal showing that Fukushima nuclear pollution is becoming more concentrates as it approaches the U.S. west coast, that the plume crosses the ocean in a nearly straight line toward North America, and that it appears to stay together with little dispersion:

On March 30, 2011, the Japan Central News Agency reported the monitored radioactive pollutions that were 4000 times higher than the standard level. Whether or not these nuclear pollutants will be transported to the Pacific-neighboring countries through oceanic circulations becomes a world-wide concern.

***

The time scale of the nuclear pollutants reaching the west coast of America is 3.2 years if it is estimated using the surface drifting buoys and 3.9 years if it is estimated using the nuclear pollutant particulate tracers.

***

But, not to worry; professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University, a survivor of the atomic bomb blast there, told residents of Fukushima City: “To tell you the truth, radiation doesn’t affect people who are smiling.”

But wait, there’s more. Soon, an attempt will be made to extract over 1,300 fuel rods (400 tons worth) from damaged Reactor No. 4. A mistake could result in a series of cascading failures and a release of fallout. The removal must be done manually from the top story of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it.

Fuel rod are removed on a daily basis at the more than 430 nuclear sites around the world, a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.

There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking.

– The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.

– Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.

– Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.

– The building is sinking.

– The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.

– Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.

– TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.

– The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.

– Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What could potentially happen is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long time. This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.

The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always ‘finds a way.’

There are three 100-ton melted fuel blobs underground at Fukushima, but where exactly they are located, no one knows. Whatever ‘barriers’ TEPCO has put in place so far have failed. Efforts to decontaminate radioactive water have failed. Robots have failed. Camera equipment and temperature gauges…failed. Decontamination of surrounding cities has failed.

Endless releases into the Pacific Ocean that will be ongoing for not only our lifetimes, but our children’s’ lifetimes. We have 40 million people living in the Tokyo area nearby. We have continued releases from the underground corium (lava-like molten mixture of portions of a nuclear reactor core, formed during a meltdown) that reminds us it is there occasionally with steam events and huge increases in radiation levels. Across the Pacific, we have at least two peer-reviewed scientific studies so far that have already provided evidence of increased mortality in North America, and thyroid problems in infants on the west coast states from our initial exposures.

We have increasing contamination of the food chain, through bioaccumulation and biomagnification. And a newly stated concern is the proximity of melted fuel in relation to the Tokyo aquifer that extends under the plant. If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people from the greater metropolitan area. As impossible as this sounds, you cannot live in an area which does not have access to safe water.

The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton. But it has to be done, unless there is some way to encase the entire building in concrete with the pool as it is. I don’t know of anyone discussing that option, but it would seem much ‘safer’ than what they are about to attempt…but not without its own set of risks.

And all this collateral damage will continue for decades, if not centuries, even if things stay exactly the way they are now. But that is unlikely, as bad things happen like natural disasters and deterioration with time…earthquakes, subsidence, and corrosion, to name a few. Every day that goes by, the statistical risk increases for this apocalyptic scenario. No one can say or know how this will play out, except that millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse.

Just where would you put 40 million refugees? During the initial crisis there was talk that the entire population of Japan, approximately 128 million, might have to be permanently evacuated. Given that the situation might rapidly deteriorate that possibility still exists. So, where do you put 128 million refugees?

But smile, not all is lost. Professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University, and a survivor of the atomic bombing there, says there is little need to worry, “To tell you the truth, radiations doesn’t affect people who are smiling.”

More information and photos as here, here, and here.

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