Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nuclear Leaks 28: The Devil is in the Details

Image Source: Snippets and Snappets.

There are a few unsettling nuclear headlines circulating at present. Bill Gates is set to spend billions of dollars of his own money on the development of mini nuclear reactors which will operate continuously for 30 years. Presumably, this means that he expects to make many more billions back on his investment. After a leak at a Swiss nuclear plant which contaminated drinking water from Lake Biel, attention returned to Japan.

Steam was seen rising today from reactor #3 at Fukushima (you can see a video of the steam entering open air below the jump). This is a cause for "alarm" since reactor #3 contains deadly MOX fuel, which combines plutonium and uranium; the vapour is coming from the fifth floor near the MOX fuel pool; at the same time, local groundwater has unbelievable levels of contamination:
The steam was noticed at 8:20am by repair crews tasked with removing contaminated debris from the building, which was badly damaged by the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck on March 11, 2011, and further battered by the subsequent tsunami.

The roof and walls of the upper stories of the building were torn off by a hydrogen explosion in the days after the disaster.

"All work to remove debris in and around Unit 3 was stopped," a spokesperson for Tokyo Electric Power Co. told The Daily Telegraph. "We have confirmed that radiation levels around the pressure chamber have not changed and at 9:20am we were able to confirm that the reactor has not reached criticality."

Tepco is collecting samples of air above Unit 3 and the assumption at the moment is that the steam is from rain that entered the reactor building and collected in the well beneath the pressure chamber where it became heated.

The incident is likely to raise new concerns about progress to bring the situation under control at the Fukushima plant.

Tepco confirmed recently that high levels of radioactivity had been detected in ground water in a well drilled to determine the spread of radioactivity beneath the plant.

Some 900,000 becquerels of radioactive substances were found per litre (0.22 gallon) in a sample taken from the well, which is just 80 feet from the coast. The radioactivity included strontium and Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Agency has set the safety level for radioactivity in drinking water at 10 becquerels per litre.

The authorities have said it is highly likely that the radioactivity is already leaking into the sea around the plant, despite efforts by Tepco to complete a concrete wall set deep into the ground to restrict the flow of groundwater.
There is some concern that there is an uncontrolled nuclear reaction taking place in reactor #3 (see The Japan Times and AFP). NYT:
[W]orkers were ready to inject water containing boric acid into the reactor from the outside at any signs of further trouble, like a rapid rise in temperature or radiation parameters, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Such spikes would raise the chilling possibility of criticality in the reactor’s damaged fuel, most which is thought to have melted and slumped to the bottom of its containment structure after the hydrogen explosion, one of several at the site in 2011. Boric acid would slow that rate of fission, preventing the worst-case scenario of uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions in the core.
In other words, if the core in reactor #3 were to reach criticality, we would have a nuclear reaction open to the environment, as happened at Chernobyl. However, officials urge calm, because the steam is apparently coming from between the Device Storage Pool (DSP), or from an area between the DSP and the containment lid. The most recent guess from TEPCO is that rainwater was heated and steaming on the containment lid. Should the lid really be that hot?

Fukushima Daiichi has also been plagued by continual reports of leaks into the Pacific and increasingly contaminated groundwater. There is speculation that a China Syndrome has taken place, and one or more coriums have reached the water table. From The Global Post on 9 July 2013:
Toxic radioactive substances in groundwater at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have rocketed over the past three days, its Japanese operator said Tuesday, admitting it did not know where the leak was coming from.
Samples taken on Monday showed levels of possibly cancer-causing caesium-134 were more than 90 times higher than they were on Friday, at 9,000 becquerels per litre, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) revealed.
Levels of caesium-137 stood at 18,000 becquerels per litre, 86 times higher than at the end of last week, the utility said.
"We still don't know why the level of radiation surged, but we are continuing efforts to avert further expansion of contamination," a TEPCO spokesman stated.
[Japanese g]overnment guidelines permit caesium-134 and -137 at 60 becquerels per litre and 90 becquerels per litre respectively.
Once ingested, the substances accumulate in muscle and bone and are believed to cause cancers.
The new readings came two days after TEPCO said tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen used in glow-in-the-dark watches, was present at levels 10 times the permitted rate.
TEPCO said in late June that it had detected the highly toxic strontium-90, a by-product of nuclear fission that can cause bone cancer if ingested, at levels 30 times the permitted rate.
What is going on exactly with regard to the leaks and steam is difficult to pin down. As one ENE Energy News forum commenter put it about media coverage: 
BP…5 million barrels of oil exploding into the Gulf of Mexico is reported and characterized as a 'spill'. Fukushima…400 tons of radioactive water gushing into the ocean is reported as 'leaking'. 3 meltdowns with corium fissioning into earth and Fukushima in or near criticality is reported that the site is in 'cold shutdown'.
Another commenter speculated on the use of plutonium at reactor #3:
#3 Had inner core of PU-239, ringed by moderation rods. (The long-ish rod segments that were to big/long to be uranium or even MOX rod segments… found all around plant & in remains of fuelpool of #3) around that ring was MOX rods, then more moderation, then lastly… the U-238 rod bundles. It is clear that it was doing erichment of P-239 back up to weapons grade specifications."
Yet another remarks that the 2011 explosion at reactor #3 has already involved a release of plutonium into the atmosphere:
Unit3 was the "Worst Case Scen[a]rio", which should have resulted in the immediate and permanent evacuation of Tokyo and all of central Japan. Unit3 undoubtedly spread enough plutonium over the Northern Hemisphere to kill us all. What we know for certain is that TEPCO will remove lots of the evidence of what really happened at Unit3 during decommissioning. Neither Japan nor the United Nations has demanded an investigation to determine what happened at Unit3. In the end, the ruins of Unit3 will probably be filled with grout and the question of what caused the explosion at Unit3 will remain unanswered forever.
Another forum member comments on the fallout in California:
IMO – It's not just Japan that has "taken a heavy radiation hit", but the entire Northern Hemisphere from what I see. I am in central California. The local strawberries and cherries are highly mutated. The packaging tends to take several of the odd ones and spread them out and then they place them in the bottom of the basket. ... My own video of a mutated persimmon: Nov 17, 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV8HELc9RME
A report came out three days ago from MSN on mutated fruits and plants which are growing around Fukushima. There is also an earlier report on a mutated beetle in Ibaraki Prefecture at Ushiku city (via ENE and sankei.jp). Other articles describe problems with deformed and dying butterflies and irradiated trees.

The left beetle is a male, the right beetle is a female. The middle beetle has a female's body, with a male head. Image Source: ENE via Fukushima Diary (3 October 2012).

Fukushima and nearby Japanese mutated plants and aniumals. Images Sources: MSN and imgur.

Speaking of fallout, HuffPo commented on 30 May 2013 that although some American scientists have warned that continuing leaks from Fukushima mean that Pacific fish stocks are increasingly exposed to radioactive contamination, the Canadian and American authorities are not monitoring all Japanese imported fish, and are checking only a smattering of Pacific fish in general; interviews with experts suggest that tuna caught on the North American Pacific coast are more at risk than salmon. A 14 July 2013 article from the Watershed Sentinel quoted MSM reports which found dramatic increases in contaminated ocean water around Fukushima: "These were the highest cesium levels found since the March 2011 disaster. This water is leaking into the ocean."

So, to clarify on what is happening, TEPCO had denied continual contamination of the Pacific since March 2011. But they admit now (in a Reuters report from 10 July 2013) that the plants have been leaking constantly into the ocean over the past two years. And this month's jump in radioactivity of Japanese groundwater suggests that the contamination is getting worse. None other than American singer Barbra Steisand has been following this story. You can see a day-by-day list of revelations through July 2013 which put the situation into perspective on her site here.

On 13 July 2013, Straight.com criticized Canadian officials for their complacency in this matter:
This year, the Asahi Shumbun newspaper in Japan reported record levels of radiation in fish caught near the power plant, which was overwhelmed by a 2011 tsunami.

According to Industry Canada's "Trade Data Online" website, Japan exported $16.15 million worth of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and other aquatic invertebrates to this country in 2012.

Earlier this year, B.C. public-health official Eric Young told the Tyee: "I would eat fish from Japan, absolutely."

In the past, Canadian government officials have adopted a "shoot the messenger" approach when the Straight has brought the radiation issue to the public's attention.

Nobody should expect that to change, even as a top Japanese regulator fears that radioactive water continues spewing into the Pacific Ocean.
The Obama administration is quietly raising permissible levels of radioactive particles in American drinking water and soil. The change is cited in relation to potential dirty bomb terror attacks. The guidelines include aspects such as information levels required for the public and workers during emergencies and guidance in response to a nuclear detonation.

But it looks more like the advisory relates to Fukushima leaks and atmospheric releases and incidents in the United States itself (for example: the 15 July 2013 emergency at Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts). Consider the impact on the environment if some already creaky nuclear power stations in the US were damaged in a big earthquake (and, by the way, fracking for natural gas does increase the chance of earthquakes (from 16 July)). On 14 April 2013, Global Research quoted a Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility report from 8 April:
The White House has given final approval for dramatically raising permissible radioactive levels in drinking water and soil following “radiological incidents,” such as nuclear power-plant accidents and dirty bombs. The final version, slated for Federal Register publication as soon as today, is a win for the nuclear industry which seeks what its proponents call a “new normal” for radiation exposure among the U.S population, according Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the radiation guides (called Protective Action Guides or PAGs) allow cleanup many times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted. These guides govern evacuations, shelter-in-place orders, food restrictions and other actions following a wide range of “radiological emergencies.” The Obama administration blocked a version of these PAGs from going into effect during its first days in office. The version given approval late last Friday is substantially similar to those proposed under Bush but duck some of the most controversial aspects:
  • In soil, the PAGs allow long-term public exposure to radiation in amounts as high as 2,000 millirems. This would, in effect, increase a longstanding 1 in 10,000 person cancer rate to a rate of 1 in 23 persons exposed over a 30-year period;
  • In water, the PAGs punt on an exact new standard and EPA “continues to seek input on this.” But the thrust of the PAGs is to give on-site authorities much greater “flexibility” in setting aside established limits; and
  • Resolves an internal fight inside EPA between nuclear versus public health specialists in favor of the former. The PAGs are the product of Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for air and radiation whose nomination to serve as EPA Administrator is taken up this week by the Senate.
  • Despite the years-long internal fight, this is the first public official display of these guides. This takes place as Japan grapples with these same issues in the two years following its Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The original Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft, dating from 5 April, was developed under the Bush administration and updated under the Obama administration. A Forbes report quotes EPA officials as insisting that this draft is not a 'law' per se. It is merely an advisory. From Forbes:
The document was signed Friday [5 April 2013] by acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, but it developed under the Bush Administration and was revised under the supervision of Obama’s nominee for the top EPA post, Gina McCarthy, who has headed EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation since 2009. McCarthy faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday.

EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine told the Global Security Newswire that the agency “is not weakening cleanup standards,” but “building a bridge between managing the effects of a catastrophe and meeting existing environmental standards.” EPA updated the document to bring the science to current standards and to give agencies more guidance and flexibility in the wake of a catastrophe than a reiteration of EPA’s standards.

In a notice published Friday, Perciasepe states:

The 2013 PAG Manual is not a legally binding regulation or standard and does not supersede any environmental laws; PAGs are not intended to define “safe” or “unsafe” levels of exposure or contamination. This guidance does not address or impact site cleanups occurring under other statutory authorities such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) decommissioning program, or other federal or state cleanup programs. As indicated by the use of non-mandatory language such as “may,” “should” and “can,” the 2013 Manual only provides recommendations and does not confer any legal rights or impose any legally binding requirements upon any member of the public, states, or any other federal agency. Rather, the 2013 PAG Manual recommends projected radiation doses at which specific actions may be warranted in order to reduce or avoid that dose. The 2013 PAG Manual is designed to provide flexibility to be more or less restrictive as deemed appropriate by decision makers based on the unique characteristics of the incident and the local situation.

The full draft “PAG Manual” is available here (pdf).
Incidentally, the head of the EPA is being replaced this week.

On Maximum Contaminant Levels: In March 2011, the US federal maximum level of iodine-131 allowed in drinking water was 0.111 becquerels per litre. The EPA's drinking water contaminants pages with latest figures are here and here (see radionuclides at the bottom of the page - radioiodine is a beta emitter); there are conversion charts for levels here and here. Those charts indicate that the current American maximum for iodine-131 in drinking water is still 0.111 becquerels per litre and is 7.4 becquerels per litre for cesium-137. However, under the new guidelines, those numbers will rise: iodine-131 may be permitted up to 2,997 becquerels per litre (sic). You can see a commentary on what these new guidelines mean here. American readers of this blog may want to note: the public response period for this measure was to end on 15 July 2013, but that response period has just been extended by 60 days.

In summer 2011, according to one lab, the Canadian ceiling for iodine-131 in drinking water was 6 becquerels per litre.  Health Canada's Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality is here; 2009 radiological parameters are stated, particularly: iodine-131, 6 becquerels per litre; and cesium-137, 10 becquerels per litre. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has a statement: What are safe concentrations of radionuclides in air and water?

Note, however, that water can contain a combination of radioactive elements, so there are combined limits. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water quality allow 10 becquerels per litre of total radioactivity. The WHO claims that if you were to drink water at that level of contamination for one year, it would be equivalent to one New York-to-London flight. In Japan, the level of radioactivity currently permitted in emergency zones is 300 becquerels per litre (for adults) and 100 becquerels per litre (for children). Drinking water contaminated to the point of 300 becquerels per litre for one year is equivalent to getting 10 to 15 chest X-rays.

Potentially lethal steam rising from reactor #3 at Fukushima, 18 July 2013. Video Source: Youtube

ADDENDUM: See this post for a follow-up on the origin of the above images. 

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