A Day in Fukushima

By Massimo Burbi

This article was originally published in Italian here


Fukushima is not a city, it’s a Japanese prefecture in the Tōhoku region where nearly two million people live. Fukushima city is its administrative capital, but the name is synonymous with disaster because of what happened about 60 km away from it, where Japan borders with the Pacific Ocean to the east.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the Japanese coast, It was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful in the world since 1900.

Magnitude 9.0 might just sound like a number until you have something to compare it to. Italy still remembers the devastation brought by the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila: 309 deaths, 65000 evacuees. That was a magnitude 5.9 (Richter) quake. Logarithmic scale might give the impression the two events were not so different after all, but a difference in magnitude of 3.0 is equivalent to a factor of roughly 30000 in the energy released [1].

And to make matters worse, the earthquake triggered a massive tsunami, with waves in excess of 10 meters that traveled at 700 km/h for up to 10 km inland resulting in 16000 deaths, 6000 injured, 2500 people missing (searches still continue for them, albeit with little hope to cling to), 120000 buildings completely collapsed, entire towns obliterated and 340000 evacuees.

The Fukushima Daiichi (meaning number one) Nuclear Power Plant was built on that coast, it withstood the earthquake and automatically shut down. It was the electricity supply that  failed because of the quake, leaving  the coolant system entirely dependent on the emergency diesel generators.  

A 2008 study (ignored by Tepco, the company running the power plant) warned that a massive tsunami with waves in excess of 10 meters high could occur in that area. In March 2011 the plant’s seawall was just little more than half that height. When a 14 meters high tsunami wave hit the coast it easily overwhelmed the seawall and completely flooded the emergency diesel generators room (culpably located in the basement). This resulted in a total loss of power in the plant, causing the coolant system to become inoperative which started the chain of events leading in the next days to the (chemical, not nuclear) explosions in reactors 1-3 and in the reactor 4’s building, which in turn triggered the release of radioactive material in the atmosphere and into the sea.

The next day more than 150000 people living within 20 km from the nuclear power plant were evacuated [2].


Arrival in Namie Town

It’s 11 o’clock in the morning when we arrive in Namie. It’s been more than eight and half years since the earthquake, but in many ways time seems to have stopped here.

Namie town was among the places most affected by the release of radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is just 8 km away as the crow flies. For six years Namie has been a ghost town, only in the spring of 2017 people were allowed to come back, but only few of them did. “20000 people used to live here, only about 5% returned” explains Fumie, from Fukushima City, who acts as a guide and translator for the day.

The evacuation zone was progressively reduced overtime, right now it extends for 2.7% of the area of the Prefecture and about 30000 people still live as evacuees outside its border [2].

We step down the car near the railway station. Trains only go north from here, but works are in progress to restore the railway to Tomioka Town, some 20 km to the south. A cafe has just opened by the station, a taxi service has recently been resumed, and not far away from where we stand the dentist is back. Tentative signs of reconstruction, both material and human, in a scenario full of uncertainties.

Walking the streets of the town radioactivity is extremely low, rarely exceeding 0.15 µSv/h, less than in many areas of Italy. You can measure 0.30 µSv/h in Rome, and here and there in Orvieto city center readings in the region of 0.70 µSv/h are not uncommon.

What used to be one of Namie Town’s busiest streets, where several buildings have been demolished.

But in spite of radioactivity being low fear is still very much an issue here, and it should not be taken for granted that people who spent years settling elsewhere would be willing to go through another difficult transition to return to their native towns.

No radiation-induced deaths have been recorded in Fukushima so far [3], a study estimated the external dose in the first four months after the accident (when the exposure was at its highest) for nearly half a million residents and reported it was below 3 mSv for 99.4% of them [4]. The Italian per capita average dose is about 4.5 mSv per year [5].

However, about 2000 residents still died in a disorganized evacuation, where people were rushed out of hospitals suffering interruption of medical care and evacuation and relocation stress caused depression, alcoholism and suicides [6].

Fear, anxiety and lack of information on radiation killed more people than the tsunami in the prefecture [7].

Some are of the opinion that evacuation lasted for too long anyway. Shunichi Yamashita (Nagasaki University) who spent two years at the head of Fukushima prefecture’s survey to understand the health effects of the accident on population, claims people could have returned after a month [8].

In Namie the earthquake caused such severe damage that many buildings still standing had to be demolished. Several others will be soon. You can tell them by a small red sticker on the windows.

This red sticker identifies buildings about to be demolished.

We keep on walking until we reach the local school, all but abandoned now. Poignantly from one of the windows we see a shoe rack, with dozens of shoes neatly put in it.

“They belong to the school’s kids” Fumie tells me “they took them off in the morning as they always did, and when the earthquake struck, in the early afternoon, they ran away and left them behind”.

The town was evacuated the very next day. Eight and a half years later and they are still there.

The inside of Namie’s school as seen by the nearby street.

In the streets of the city center we walk by a number of buildings looking reasonably good from a distance, but a closer inspection through the broken windows reveals the desolation and the destruction brought by a monster earthquake followed by years of neglect.

So far we didn’t encounter any pedestrian, only cars. A few hundred meters down the road the picture suddenly changes: gazebos, tables, there’s a small festival going on. Apparently this happens every second Saturday of the month to cheer up those who came back. The entertainment doesn’t look exactly memorable, but people seem to enjoy it. The dose rate is less than 0.10 µSv/h.

The area is surrounded by small temporary stores, about to be moved elsewhere in the town. As soon as we enter one of them we are offered tea and biscuits. All products for sale are local and people don’t miss a chance to tell you that. It’s the same in every store we go.

You can tell that those who came back strongly wants to rebuild their communities. Farmers want to farm and sell their products, but it’s easier said than done. People here have very little trust in the government, which didn’t do a particularly good job in dealing with the emergency and the aftermath. Taking it upon themselves schools, markets and local communities independently started to test for radioactivity in meat, fish, vegetables and all sort of food you can put on the table. Probably nowhere else in the world is food as closely monitored as here, and local people know they are not running radiation-related risks by eating it. Some resident goes as far as saying he wouldn’t buy food from anywhere else, not being as tested as the one from Fukushima.

But even if food meets the standard limit of 100 Bq/kg of Cesium (which is more strict than standards in both the EU and the USA [9]), elsewhere in Japan, as well as in foreign countries, many people are too afraid of contamination to eat food from this region, despite there being no real danger.

Entertainment in Namie Town.

The stigma from the name “Fukushima” is among the biggest obstacles to this battered region’s recovery.

“It happens with people too” Fumie tells me. “Local people who went to live outside the Prefecture are often discriminated against for fear of contamination”. Being exposed to radioactivity doesn’t make you radioactive. Radioactivity is not contagious, but fear, particularly when combined with lack of information, is.

We leave Namie Town heading north west.

In the process of decontaminating the area, 5-10 cm of weakly radioactive superficial soil have been removed and put into plastic bags. But what to do with them is yet to be decided, since nobody takes the responsibility. So for the time being they stay where they are. We see hundreds of them along the road. You wonder what happens to them in the typhoon season.

We take a country road. Immediately after the accident at the Nuclear Power Plant the government ordered to kill cattle in the evacuation zone, but here there’s a man who disregarded the order. We arrive at his ranch at lunch time, he’s waiting for us. He tells us his cows can no longer be sold, therefore they’ll die of old age. “They are fat and happy” he adds.

As he tells us his story it doesn’t take long for his anger against the government and Tepco to become apparent, a state of mind that made him very critical of nuclear power. The debate on the matter ends before it even starts, time is ticking away and we still have many stops ahead of us, we must go.

Leaving the farm the dosimeter and the spectrometer come alive for the first time. At the roadside I measure a dose rate of 0.70-0.80 µSv/h, far from worrying, but enough to take the first significant measurement of the day.

Plastic bags full of weakly radioactive soil at roadside in Namie’s area.

I therefore decide to stop in order to record a gamma spectrum to check that what I am detecting is Cesium released from the Power Plant. Gamma spectroscopy is based on the fact that when a radionuclide undergoes alpha or beta decay, its nucleus is left in an excited state, and can only reach its ground state by emitting a gamma ray.

Every different radionuclide emits gamma-rays of a specific energy which become its signature. Analysing a gamma spectrum allows you not just to tell how much radioactivity there is, but what causes it as well.

The gamma spectrum confirms the presence of Cesium 137 and Cesium 134, the two main radionuclides released in the atmosphere after the accident, together with Iodine 131, the most aggressive of the three in the short term, but long gone by now, its half-life time being just 8 days, and therefore becoming harmless in a month or so.

Cesium 134 halved four times since 2011, and it’s reduced to roughly 6% of its original activity, while Cesium 137, having a 30 years half-life, will take much longer to decay away.


Ukedo and the No-Go Zone

We head towards the ocean and to a place called Ukedo, where formerly about 2000 people lived. The tsunami wiped it all out, killing one in ten people. The few remaining buildings were so damaged, they were torn down soon after. Looking around it’s hard to believe there used to be a small town here.

A desolate landscape. This is where Ukedo used to be.

Nothing remained, the only exception being the elementary school. Its clock hasn’t run since the day of the earthquake, it’s still stuck at the time the tsunami hit the coast. About 80 kids were in the school that day, among so much destruction they were all saved by their teachers who took them to the nearby hills after the tsunami warning was issued. From there they watched the town where they lived being erased from existence, together with the lives of many of their parents.

From here we are about 6 km away from the nuclear power plant and, looking south, we can clearly see it. The dose rate is the lowest so far, below 0.05 µSv/h.

Ukedo school’s clock.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as seen from Ukedo.

We leave the coast and take the National Route n.6, which goes through the No-Go Zone, where you can drive but you are not allowed to stop or even open the window, let alone stepping down.

The dose rate goes up, but keeps pretty low: for a second or two I read 0.50 µSv/h, but it quickly goes down to 0.30 µSv/h and stays there.

We stop at a gas station. We are still well into the No-Go Zone but inside the service area you can get out of the car without anybody complaining about it. I take the chance to record another gamma spectrum. Our stop is longer than it typically takes to fill the tank, I accumulate data for little more than 15 minutes.

Gas station on the National Route n.6, inside the No-Go Zone.
Dose rate in the service area of a gas station inside the No-Go Zone (Futaba’s area).

“How’s the radioactivity here?” Fumie asks me. I tell her we’re slightly above 0.30 µSv/h, lower than what you get in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The signature is still the same: Cesium 137 and Cesium 134.

We go back in the car and we move south on the National Route n.6 in the Futaba area. At our closest approach to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant we are about 2 km away from it. We stop on a side street. The power plant is right in front of us but we can’t get any closer than that and we don’t have much time to look around, after a couple of minutes a policeman tells us, kindly but firmly, that we need to move on. The dose rate is below 0.30 µSv/h.

A view of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant from a 2 km distance.

Continuing South, we run into the only real hot spot of the day. I read 3-4 µSv/h, but it’s short-lived, a minute later the dose rate is already reduced by more than a half and it keeps on going down. In order to record a clear spectrum I need more time where radiation is higher (the level is not dangerous) so I ask to turn around and go back north.

You cannot stop the car inside the No-Go Zone, but nothing prevents you from going back and forth. I am not sure the driver understands why we are doing this but he doesn’t complain, we go back towards the power plant.

Our itinerary in the No-Go Zone near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The dosimeter records a datapoint on the GPS map every 30 seconds.

I accumulate data for little less than 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly it’s the smoothest spectrum of the day, but as expected the result doesn’t change: Cesium 137 and Cesium 134. Average dose rate 1.29 µSv/h.

Gamma spectrum recorded in the No-Go Zone, on the National Route n.6, at the closest approach to Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.


Tomioka Town, divided city.

With a good spectrum finally under the belt we turn around again and we head to Tomioka Town, about 10 km to the south. The city is cut in two by a road which currently is the boundary of the No-Go Zone and this makes for a pretty surreal view: people can live on one side of the road but can’t even set a food on the opposite side. You look to your left and you see a reasonable normality, but if you look to your right there’s nothing but tall grass and total neglect.

The road dividing the habitable zone from the No-Go zone in Tomioka Town.

“I don’t understand why they left the cars behind” Fumie tells me pointing at the cars permanently parked in front of the abandoned houses. “Now they all have broken windows and flat tyres, but a year ago they still looked perfect”.

We go ahead on foot from here. Right in front of the no trespassing fence the dose rate measured by the instruments is in the region of 0.35 µSv/h. A sign not far from there tells us inside the No-Go Zone it’s 0.48 µSv/h, slightly higher but far from dangerous, and elsewhere in the town it’s much lower than that. Still, fear of radiation is among the main reasons why many people didn’t come back.

Dose rate measured near the limit of the No-Go Zone in Tomioka Town.
The dose rate measured inside the No-Go Zone is displayed by the street.
Beyond the guardrail there’s nothing but tall grass and total neglect.

It’s getting darker as we enter Tomioka’s railway station. “Everything’s being rebuilt from scratch here” explains Fumie, “the tsunami washed out everything away”. Just like in Namie, works are in progress to restore the railway connecting the two towns.

Looking up we see a sign reading “Tomioka will never die!”. We don’t know who put it there. We stare at it for a moment without saying a word. Then I look at my dosimeter, the dose rate is less than 0.10 µSv/h.

The sun has already set and a strong wind is blowing when we reach the coast for the last stop of the day. The other nuclear power plant of Fukushima, the number 2 (Daini), is a km away from where we stand.

The Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant as seen from the coast near Tomioka Town.

We skipped lunch, and Tokyo is more than three hours away. A supermarket just reopened at Tomioka and we decide that having dinner there is the best thing to do.

The supermarket is not exactly crowded, but it works, the shelves are full of products and people have a place in town where they can find what they need. Rebuilding is not just about bricks, it’s about a social and economic fabric that was torn apart.

At the dinner table I take my laptop out and download the GPS map with all the datapoints recorded. We look at it as we finally eat, it’s a way to go through our journey again.

Total accumulated dose during more than seven hours spent in the Fukushima Prefecture, including a couple of stops inside the No-Go Zone: 1.60 µSv. “It means the average dose rate was 0.22 µSv/h, less than what you get walking the streets of Rome’s city center” I say while me and Fumie enjoy a very good sushi.

And now it’s time to go back. 250 km later we are under the Yasukuni Dori’s lights in Tokyo (Shinjuku). In the long journey from Tomioka to Tokyo we talked about many things, but when we finally say goodbye Fumie has one last request: “share what you saw with your friends and family. Your action will support Fukushima people”.

Information is the best antidote to irrational panic and fear.

The accumulated dose in little more than seven hours is 1.60 µSv. The dosimeter shows Italian time, for the Japanese time add 8 hours.
Hourly average dose rate chart of my seven hours stay inside the Fukushima Prefecture. The highest value corresponds to the hour almost entirely spent inside the No-Go Zone and slightly exceeds 0.50 µSv/h.



Five days later I take off from Tokyo to go back to Europe. In little more than 11 hours of flight my dosimeter records an accumulated dose of 44.49 µSv, with a peak dose rate of 10 µSv/h and an average dose rate at cruise altitude between 4 and 5 µSv/h.

This is likely an underestimation [11], the dosimeter is designed for terrestrial gamma rays and the cosmic rays you find at 10-12 km altitude are mostly out of its range, but even believing the numbers I read in the display, as I step down the plane, I cannot help wondering how many of the people who shared that flight with me would have been too afraid of radiation to follow me and Fumie for a day in Fukushima, where they would have been exposed to a dose nearly 30 times lower.

Hourly average dose rate chart of the 11 hour flight from Tokyo Haneda to Munich. The increase in cruise altitude from 11500 to 12200 meters, after roughly 7 hours, results in a higher dose rate.



The instruments measure and record the dose and dose rate for external exposure which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), was “by far the dominant pathway contributing to effective dose” in the most affected regions of Fukushima prefecture.

https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/44877/9789241503662_eng.pdf;jsessionid=B459B0A64292271AF1134F9AF763CCDA?sequence=1 (pages 41 and 51)

Units mentioned are µSv (microsievert) e mSv (millisievert) which measure the equivalent and effective dose, the biological effect of ionizing radiation. 1 millisievert corresponds to 1000 microsieverts.

The margin of error is in the region of 10-20%.


  • Spetcrometer: Mirion PDS 100G
  • Dosimeter: Tracerco PED+
  • Geiger Counter: SE International Radiation Alert Ranger

The dosimeter can be used in “personal dose” mode and in “survey meter” handheld mode. While accumulating the personal dose it’s been worn on the upper body for most of the time.

References and Suggestions for Further Readings

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/details-of-japan-earthquake/



[2] http://www.pref.fukushima.lg.jp/site/portal-english/en03-08.html?fbclid=IwAR3dFVamEFNd93lVUo_EaDmfztSBlAqiKsUL5WvgNbxaHfjOOvZ-CVJZ4Fc

[3] https://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/a_e/fukushima/faqs-fukushima/en/

The first, and so far only, deaths that could be radiation-related was recorded in 2018.


[4] https://www.niph.go.jp/journal/data/67-1/201867010003.pdf

[5] http://www.fisicaweb.org/doc/radioattivita/geiger%20muller/taratura.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2GMarmxt093hTPJWUvygCtjiTePRl6OEadUXyhTMUC1LEFsxYWawO713c

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0936655516000054


[7] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/20/national/post-quake-illnesses-kill-more-in-fukushima-than-2011-disaster#.Xe-D3Rt7m02

[8] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2125805-a-nuclear-ghost-town-in-japan-welcomes-back-residents-this-week/

[9] https://www.pref.fukushima.lg.jp/site/portal-it/it01-03.html

[10] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/05/09/national/fukushima-activist-fights-fear-and-discrimination-based-on-radiation/#.XezovBt7lNA

[11] http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/annexb.pdf

Le conseguenze sanitarie dell’incidente di Fukushima

Fukushima conseguenze sanitarie quattro anni dopo_1

Risale allo scorso 24 marzo un seminario, svoltosi presso il Dipartimento di Fisica dell’Università La Sapienza di Roma, sulle conseguenze sanitarie dell’incidente alla centrale nucleare di Fukushima.
Ringraziamo il prof. Trenta, membro del Consiglio Scientifico dell’Associazione Italiana Radioprotezione Medica e socio dell’Associazone Galileo 2001, per averci consentito di pubblicare per intero, nelle pagine di questo sito, le trasparenze del suo intervento.

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Energia, Innovazione, Armonia @Jamboree2015

Energia, Innovazione, Armonia: sono queste le tre tematiche attorno alle quali si svilupperanno le attività del XXIII World Scout Jamboree, il raduno mondiale del movimento giovanile degli scout, in programma per la prossima estate nella città giapponese di Yamaguchi.
Perchè abbiamo deciso di dedicare un post agli scout, in un blog che si occupa tradizionalmente di questioni tecniche legate all’energia?



La risposta è semplice. In occasione del quarto anniversario del drammatico terremoto di Sendai e del Tōhoku e dell’incidente alla centrale nucleare di Fukushima, eravamo alla ricerca di un evento significativo, che potesse ergersi a simbolo della tenacia del popolo giapponese, della sua vitalità, del suo desiderio di rialzare la testa e di riprendere a camminare, dopo una delle peggiori catastrofi della sua storia recente.
Non sono state solamente le tematiche di questa edizione del Jamboree a suggerirci questa scelta, o il fatto che la Nazione ospitante sia proprio il Giappone. C’è qualcosa di più profondo, che va ricercato scavando oltre la patina dei luoghi comuni. Sono i valori educativi che stanno alla base del movimento scout e che animano intrinsecamente tutte le sue attività, dai piccoli eventi di periferia ai grandi raduni internazionali, e che possono riassumersi in un unico slogan: fare dei giovani di oggi i buoni cittadini del domani.

E un buon cittadino è chi si mette in gioco, chi cerca di superare le difficoltà, e facendo del proprio meglio, con spirito di collaborazione, si impegna a rendere un po’ migliore il mondo in cui vive.
E’ un buon cittadino chi non rimane a guardare, chi si rimbocca le maniche e non cede all’arrendevolezza, chi guarda alle cose con ottimismo, confidando nelle proprie risorse e nell’uso rispettoso dell’Ambiente.
E’ un buon cittadino, in definitiva, chi crede nel futuro e ne accetta le sfide, anche quelle più ambiziose.

A noi il Giappone in fondo sembra dimostrare che tutto questo non è impossibile.


Quando si dice “dare una scossa al mercato”

Il carattere emergenziale della domanda marginale giapponese di combustibili fossili (un aumento su base annua di oltre il 20% della domanda di LNG, Liquefied Natural Gas), unito alla crescita dei consumi delle crescenti economie asiatiche, ha favorito la diversione delle produzioni di gas liquefatto verso l’Asia, esacerbando così il differenziale di prezzo sui principali mercati di consumo, nel periodo 2011-2014.

graph1Fig. 1 La sovrabbondanza del GNL a livello globale ha riportato i prezzi asiatici a “livelli europei”. Il calo è dei prezzi asiatici è iniziato nell’estate 2014 ed ora sono piuttosto i prezzi europei a giocare un ruolo chiave. Fonte: Timera Energy.


Qui di seguito alcuni “movimenti”, che secondo noi potrebbero fornire una spiegazione anche a colpo d’occhio.


eia2Fig. 2-3 Il Giappone è il più grande importatore al mondo di gas naturale liquefatto, il secondo più grande importatore di carbone, ed il terzo più grande importatore netto di petrolio greggio e di prodotti petroliferi. Il Giappone è inoltre il terzo più grande consumatore di petrolio al mondo: si basa quasi esclusivamente sulle importazioni per soddisfare le proprie esigenze di consumo di petrolio, dato che le sue risorse petrolifere molto limitate.


Fig. 4 Il Giappone è fortemente dipendente dal Medio Oriente per la maggior parte del suo approvvigionamento di petrolio. Il Paese sta cercando di diversificare i suoi fornitori aumentando il contributo di Russia, Sud-Est asiatico ed Africa occidentale.

eia4Fig. 5 Per la quasi totalità delle sue forniture di gas naturale il Giappone si basa sulle importazioni di GNL posizionandosi come il più grande importatore di GNL al mondo.

eia5Fig.6 Il Giappone ha compiuto circa il 37% degli acquisti di GNL a livello mondiale dal 2012: la politica energetica post-disastro di Fukushima ha stimolato una maggiore domanda di GNL. Quasi un terzo delle importazioni di GNL del Paese provengono dal Sud-Est asiatico, ma l’elenco dei fornitori del Giappone è abbastanza diversificato.

Fig. 7
Prima dell’incidente alla centrale di Fukushima Daiichi il Giappone era il terzo produttore mondiale di energia nucleare, dopo USA e Francia. Dopo il disastro e l’imposizione del shutdownad interim” di tutte le altre centrali nucleari del Paese, la composizione delle fonti utilizzate per la produzione di energia è dominata dai combustibili fossili, in particolare GNL.

cner1Fig. 8 A partire dalla seconda metà del 2013, tutta la capacità di produzione di energia nucleare del Giappone è stata rimosso dal sistema. Petrolio e gas naturale hanno sostituito la fonte nucleare man mano che venivano “chiuse” le centrali nel 2011 e 2012, mentre il carbone ha sostituito le ultime ancora attive nel 2013. L’attuale quota di generazione da combustibili fossili potrebbe essere sostituita in modo rapido solo grazie alla ripartenza delle centrali nucleari.

Per ulteriori approfondimenti consigliamo la lettura di un’interessante pubblicazione della U.S. Energy Information Administration disponibile qui.


4 anni dopo @Fukushima

[Pubblichiamo volentieri il seguente contributo dei giovani promettenti Nuclear Pioneers]

Per la grande maggioranza della popolazione giapponese l’11 marzo è l’anniversario della più spaventosa tragedia dal dopoguerra. Il terremoto del 2011 ha causato circa 19000 fra morti e dispersi ed un danno economico difficilmente valutabile, ma stimato in oltre mille miliardi di dollari. Per il resto del mondo invece sembra sia “solo” l’anniversario del consequente disastro nucleare di Fukushima: tre reattori devastati dalla fusione dei core, un quarto pesantemente danneggiato dall’esplosione di una bolla di idrogeno, sprigionata dal surriscaldamento del materiale delle barre di combustibile. Poco importa che non ci siano state vittime dell’incidente nucleare, irrilevante il fatto che le dosi alla popolazione siano state così basse da non provocare verosimilmente alcun danno stocastico (incremento rilevabile nel rateo di tumori). Per tutti, l’11 marzo è l’anniversario del disastro nucleare, anche se le conseguenze dirette di Fukushima sono essenzialmente l’evacuazione (temporanea) delle comunità limitrofe (comunque più di centomila persone) e l’enorme investimento economico che sarà necessario per normalizzare gli impianti e le aree adesso contaminate (sicuramente molte decine di miliardi di dollari, da confrontare sempre con il danno dell’evento primario). Senza contare il blocco della produzione di energia da nucleare (che sta costando caro sia in termini economici che di incremento nell’inquinamento).

Nel prendere atto di questo fatto, vogliamo evidenziare come anche nelle tragedie ci possano essere delle conseguenze positive, ad esempio dal punto di vista tecnologico. Per esempio sono in corso significativi investimenti per mettere a punto robot in grado di assistere le operazioni di controllo ed in futuro, di smantellamento dei reattori danneggiati. Sotto una prospettiva del nuovo centro di ricerca di ricerca robotica di Nahara, finanziato dalla Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

Naraha centre (JAIF) 460

Sono inoltre in fase di test prototipi come quello raffigurato sotto (Robot-Snake di Hitachi-GE):


Passando ad altri campi sarà sperimentato per la prima volta un innovativo rivelatore a muoni in grado di localizzare in modo non invasivo il corium dei reattori (sotto la foto dell’arrivo a Fukushima). Un report dettagliato a questo link:


20022015_tepce_afpInfine saranno sicuramente incrementati gli sforzi per mettere a punto reattori più sicuri, in grado di resistere anche ad eventi così estremi.


Contaminazione “millesimale”

[Analisi contaminazione cibo – Giappone, febbraio 2015]

Il Ministero della Salute, del Lavoro e del Welfare del Giappone ha pubblicato di recente un aggiornamento del monitoraggio dei livelli di contaminazione radioattiva del cibo post incidente di Fukushima.
Nessun rischio sanitario rilevante è stato evidenziato [1].
Risultano sopra i limiti di legge 24 campioni su 6008 esaminati, vale a dire lo 0,4% (4 campioni ogni mille, circa).
Di questi 23 sono da selvaggina, 1 da prodotti ittici. Per la precisione, 22 (su 675) nella Prefettura di Fukushima e 2 (su 410) nella prefettura di Miyagi.
Ricordiamo che i limiti di legge per i livelli di contaminazione da isotopi radioattivi del Cesio nel cibo in Giappone sono stati resi più stringenti di quelli in vigore in molti altri Paesi, ivi compreso il nostro (si veda ad esempio lo “strano caso della marmellata radioattiva”).
Si noti inoltre che laddove è stato verificato lo sforamento dei limiti si tratta comunque di valori espressi in Bq/kg, ovvero per “assumere” tutti i bequerel indicati occorre ingerire almeno 1 kg di quel determinato alimento, tutto in una volta.
Per confronto, ricordiamo infine che al 20/03/2011 risultavano sopra i limiti 25 campioni su 125, di cui 24 a causa della contaminazione da iodio-131, 13 anche da radioisotopi del Cesio, 1 esclusivamente da radioisotopi del Cesio. Al 25/03/2011 risultavano sopra i limiti 11 campioni su 83, tutti a causa della contaminazione da iodio-131 ed uno anche da radioisotopi del Cesio. (N.B. il tempo di dimezzamento dello I-131 è pari a circa 8 giorni: dopo 8 giorni ce n’è la metà, dopo 16 un quarto, dopo 24 un ottavo, dopo 32 un sedicesimo, ecc.)
Da marzo 2011 ad oggi il numero dei campionamenti e dei tipi di campione è stato notevolmente incrementato in modo da permettere un’indagine a più ampio spettro.

Per consultare il dettaglio dei dati che abbiamo riportato, si veda qui, qui e qui.

Per approfondire, si consultino tabelle e comunicati del Ministero della Salute, del Lavoro e del Welfare del Giappone qui, e si veda per confronto quanto riportato dall’ENEA qui.

[1] Dal sito del Ministero: “The results of monitoring conducted after April 2012 indicate that the violation rates are extremely low, much less than 1%, for agricultural products including cereals, vegetables and fruits, meat and milk, fish and fishery products and edible fungi grown on media. Estimations of exposure (effective dose) to radioactive cesium in foods are decreasing constantly and now less than 1% of 1 mSv/year.”