A Day in Fukushima

By Massimo Burbi

This article was originally published in Italian here

Prologue

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.

 

Epilogue

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.

 

Notes

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%.

Instruments:

  • 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/

http://www.protezionecivile.gov.it/attivita-rischi/rischio-sismico/emergenze/abruzzo-2009

http://www.tg1.rai.it/dl/tg1/2010/articoli/ContentItem-4836d49a-370b-4179-ac82-4160dce61984.html

[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.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45423575

[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

https://www.ft.com/content/000f864e-22ba-11e8-add1-0e8958b189ea

[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

La radioattività di Fukushima nell’oceano? Facciamo il punto

[La notizia ha suscitato allarmismo ma si tratta per ora di una tra le ipotesi, e probabilmente la più sensata]

Si è diffusa nelle ultime ore sui media generalisti la notizia che il governo giapponese starebbe per sversare nell’oceano l’acqua contaminata della centrale di Fukushima Daiichi. Com’era prevedibile la notizia ha generato allarmismo e una certa dose d’isteria sui media nostrani quindi cerchiamo di fare sinteticamente e schematicamente il punto.

Di cosa stiamo parlando?

Stiamo parlando delle acque reflue raccolte entro il perimetro della centrale di Daiichi e che vengono filtrate dei radionuclidi più tossici per l’ambiente e quindi stoccate in enormi serbatoi. In esse, dopo la depurazione, rimane una concentrazione variabile di Trizio (H3, elemento non facilmente filtrabile) pari a 0.5-4 MBq/L (milioni di Becquerel per litro), per un totale di circa 0.76 PBq [1] (Peta Becquerel, 1015 Bequerel).
Il Trizio ha un’emivita di 12 anni, il che vuol dire che ogni 12 anni la sua attività si dimezza.

E’ una notizia nuova?

In realtà la notizia non è nuova [2]. Rilasci controllati sono avvenuti prima d’oggi a Fukushima e quella di rilasciare, gradualmente, tutta l’acqua contenuta nei serbatoi nell’oceano è una delle ipotesi di lavoro (assieme all’evaporazione, il sequestro geologico, la solidificazione e il rilascio sotto forma di idrogeno), almeno dal 2014. Di fatto, quella del rilascio controllato in mare sarebbe la soluzione più praticabile secondo molti esperti e contemplata anche dalla IAEA, la quale da tempo ha suggerito di valutare la sostenibilità ambientale e socio-economica di tutte le opzioni, nonché ovviamente i potenziali impatti sulla salute delle popolazioni [3].

Perché se ne parla ora?

Se ne parla ora perché, il governo giapponese ha recentemente informato il corpo diplomatico presente nel Paese – cosa che avviene ad intervalli regolari – delle prospettive per il decommisionamento definitivo dell’area di Daiichi, e da parte del governo della Corea del Sud sarebbero state sollevate preoccupazioni per l’ipotesi del rilascio controllato in mare.

Quale sarebbe l’impatto del rilascio controllato?

La gradualità del rilascio e l’effetto diluitivo dell’acqua nell’Oceano faranno si che l’impatto risulterà essere molto limitato. Si consideri che la radioattività già naturalmente presente nell’Oceano Pacifico ammonta a più di 8 milioni di PBq. Le sorgenti principali sono il Potassio-40 (7,4 milioni di PBq), il Rubidio-87 (700mila PBq), l’Uranio (22mila PBq), il Carbonio-14 (3mila PBq) e il Trizio (370 PBq) [4]. Nell’ipotesi di massima diluizione, la frazione di Trizio nell’Oceano Pacifico aumenterebbe pertanto di meno dell’1%. Chiaramente il rilascio, se adottato come soluzione, dovrà essere sufficientemente graduale e prevedere una pre-diluizione, in maniera tale da mantenere la concentrazione di Trizio sotto i livelli imposti dalle normative anche in prossimità del luogo di rilascio [5].

Ci sono dei precedenti?

Oltre ad un fondo naturale, gran parte del Trizio che già si trova negli oceani è ciò che resta di quanto rilasciato dagli esperimenti nucleari dello scorso secolo. Tuttavia anche le centrali nucleari in operatività e gli impianti di riprocessamento del combustibile sono autorizzati a rilasciare una certa quantità di acqua in cui è presente Trizio. Per le centrali Giapponesi questo è avvenuto già nel corso degli ultimi 20 anni, con un limite imposto alla concentrazione di 60000 Bq/L. L’impianto di riprocessamento francese di LaHague rilascia in un anno circa 12 PBq (oltre dieci volte il totale di quanto dovrebbe essere rilasciato da Fukushima), mentre la concentrazione misurata nell’oceano circostante è di circa 7 Bq/L [6]. Gli esperti dunque si aspettano che il rilascio controllato dalla centrale di Fukushima comporti in mare aperto livelli di radioattività simili, quindi in sostanza indistinguibili dal fondo naturale.

Dunque c’è da preoccuparsi?

Gli unici a doversi preoccupare potrebbero essere eventualmente i pescatori della zona di Fukushima, che, qualora il rilascio fosse fatto ad un rateo troppo elevato, si troverebbero a fronteggiare livelli di concentrazione del trizio localmente superiori ai limiti imposti per la commercializzazione del pescato, con conseguente danno socio-economico [7]. Per il resto della popolazione mondiale si possono tuttavia escludere impatti sull’ambiente e la salute. Ribadiamo comunque il fatto che il rilascio in mare è per ora solo una delle ipotesi allo studio, e che ci sono i mezzi e le conoscenze per farlo in tutta sicurezza e senza danni anche per le popolazioni locali, già così duramente colpite dalle conseguenze dello tsunami.

radioactivity_oceans

Note:

[1] https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-1-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/

Secondo l’inventario pubblicato nel 2015 dalla TEPCO ( https://www.meti.go.jp/earthquake/nuclear/pdf/140424/140424_02_008.pdf) il quantitativo complessivo di Trizio all’interno della centrale di Fukushima Daiichi ammontava a 3.4 PBq, di cui circa 0.8 PBq accumulati nelle cisterne.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/is-it-safe-to-dump-fukushima-waste-into-the-sea

[3] Nel rapporto pubblicato dalla IAEA il 13 maggio 2015, basato su una missione condotta nel febbraio dello stesso anno a Tokyo e Fukushima da un gruppo di 15 esperti, si afferma la necessità di <<trovare una soluzione sostenibile al problema della gestione dell’acqua contaminata presso la centrale nucleare di Fukushima Daiichi della TEPCO. Ciò richiederebbe di considerare tutte le opzioni, compresa la possibile ripresa degli scarichi controllati verso il mare.>> Nello stesso rapporto, la IAEA consiglia a TEPCO di <<effettuare una valutazione del potenziale impatto radiologico sulla popolazione e sull’ambiente derivante dal rilascio di acqua contenente trizio e qualsiasi altro radionuclide residuo nel mare, al fine di valutare la rilevanza radiologica e di avere una buona base scientifica per prendere decisioni. È chiaro che il processo decisionale finale richiederà il coinvolgimento di tutte le parti interessate, tra cui TEPCO, NRA, governo nazionale, governo della prefettura di Fukushima, comunità locali e altri.>>

[4] Un nostro precedente articolo https://nucleareeragione.org/2013/09/18/drowning-by-numbers/, e la relativa fonte: https://sites.google.com/isu.edu/health-physics-radinf/radioactivity-in-nature

[5] Secondo quanto riportato in https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-1-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/, l’acqua potrebbe essere diluita in maniera tale da diminuire la concentrazione dai 0,5-4 MBq/L a circa 60000 Bq/L, prima di essere riversata in mare. Il rilascio avverrebbe in maniera controllata, in un arco di tempo complessivo di circa 5 anni o più.

[6] Globalmente, i livelli di fondo del Trizio nelle acque sono compresi tra 1 and 4 Bq/L, che includono tra 0.1 e 0.6 Bq/L di origine naturale e più del doppio originate dai test nucleari del passato. Negli oceani, la concentrazione di Trizio alla superficie varia tra 0.1 e 0.2 Bq/L. Per confronto, il Trizio naturalmente presente nell’acqua piovana in Giappone tra il 1980 e il 1995 ammontava a 0.5- 1.5 Bq/L. Negli Stati Uniti il limite di legge per l’acqua potabile è pari a 740 Bq/L, mentre in Europa è pari a 100 Bq/L.

[7] Precisiamo che ad un rateo di rilascio elevato l’unico rischio sarebbe quello di superare gli attuali limiti di legge ai quali è legata l’autorizzazione alla pesca nelle acque al largo di Fukushima. I limiti inerenti la contaminazione radioattiva delle acque in Giappone sono stati resi estremamente restrittivi ed un eventuale superamento non implica necessariamente un aumento sensibile del rischio per l’ambiente e gli esseri umani. In ogni caso, al primo superamento dei limiti di legge il rilascio potrebbe essere interrotto permettendo una dispersione sufficiente dei radionuclidi e la conseguente scomparsa della contaminazione.


Il nucleare è morto, lunga vita al nucleare!

NucleareMorto

Qualcosa di nuovo sul fronte occidentale.

Fa scalpore un rapporto del Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1] redatto in collaborazione con esperti dell’Idaho National Laboratory e dell’Università del Wisconsin. Fresco di stampa e denso di significato, dipinge coi numeri un quadro reale che nelle menti di molti era già chiaro da tempo: data la crescente domanda energetica a livello globale, non esiste alcuno scenario di trasformazione dell’offerta energetica sostenibile senza un adeguato ruolo della produzione elettronucleare.

Questa notizia potrebbe avere anche una valenza politica, se trovasse l’humus giusto dove eventuali evidenze scientifiche possano attecchire per dare frutti economici.

Oggi è l’Oriente a trainare il settore nucleare e lo dimostrano anche i risultati dell’anno in corso: 5 nuove unità nucleari allacciate alla rete elettrica in Cina, 2 in Russia; avvio della costruzione di 3 nuove unità, 1 in Russia, 1 in Turchia ed 1 in Bangladesh; 4 reattori riattivati in Giappone. La potenza installata a livello globale è a un passo dai 400 GWe[2]. E presto ci saranno altre novità.

Ma per un cambio di paradigma, diciamo così, bisogna che l’Occidente non stia a guardare.

In attesa di ulteriori sviluppi, per tutti, ma soprattutto per quelli che continuano a dare per spacciato “il nucleare”, lasciamo una breve riflessione:

Immaginate un mondo dove l’impronta dell’attività umana si armonizzi con l’ambiente naturale, dove macchine e strutture si inseriscono delicatamente nel mosaico paesaggistico senza violarne la bellezza, bensì accrescendola.

Immaginate un mondo dove la libertà umana non sia sovrastata dalle angustie dell’insicurezza energetica, dove la percezione della scarsità delle risorse non sia alterata da manipolazioni ideologiche, dove le disponibilità di materiali e di soluzioni tecniche non siano artificiosamente escluse dagli scambi economici.

Immaginate un mondo dove i più deboli non siano lasciati soccombere a causa di carenze forzate, dove chi vuole emergere da condizioni svantaggiose non sia costretto a lasciare la propria terra.

Immaginate un mondo dove i medesimi standard di produzione e di tutela della salute e dell’ambiente sono applicati ad ogni filiera dell’industria umana, in ogni suo passaggio, dalla culla alla tomba.

Immaginate un mondo dove vi sia energia pulita e sicura ovunque per sostenere e curare la vita e le aspirazioni di maggiore benessere delle generazioni presenti e future.

Solo una folle fantasia?
Noi crediamo che questo mondo da noi immaginato sia realmente possibile, e che l’impiego pacifico dell’energia nucleare possa in esso dare un contributo significativo.

Note

[1] The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World http://energy.mit.edu/research/future-nuclear-energy-carbon-constrained-world/

[2] Fonte: PRIS https://pris.iaea.org/pris/

Ricordare il futuro

[Ipotesi per un parco tecnologico connesso al Deposito Nazionale di rifiuti radioattivi]
18 05 2018 Presentazione Ravenna_Sokol-04

In occasione del Workshop “Il Bosco Coltivato ad Arte”, svoltosi lo scorso 18 maggio a Ravenna durante la manifestazione “Fare i Conti con l’Ambiente”, abbiamo assistito alla presentazione di una interessante proposta per il deposito di rifiuti nucleari, e relativo Parco Tecnologico. 
I nostri lettori sanno quanto ci sta a cuore il tema, che seguiamo da diversi anni nell’attesa che la CNAPI (Carta Nazionale delle Aree Potenzialmente Idonee), pronta dal 2015, venga finalmente resa pubblica e l’iter di individuazione del sito prosegua.
Ringraziamo l’architetto Ariella Sokol e pubblichiamo qui di seguito le slides della sua presentazione.

Questo slideshow richiede JavaScript.

 

Per maggiori informazioni sul Deposito Nazionale, riportiamo qui i nostri articoli sull’argomento:
https://nucleareeragione.org/2015/01/09/buoni-propositi-per-lanno-nuovo/
https://nucleareeragione.org/2015/06/15/futuro-sicuro-work-in-progress/
https://nucleareeragione.org/2015/05/20/rifiuti-utili/
https://nucleareeragione.org/2016/11/10/la-centrale-di-krsko-e-la-cultura-della-sicurezza-nucleare/
Qui la Nota Informativa sulla CNAPI, pubblicata dal Ministero dello Sviluppo economico lo scorso 23 marzo, nel quale si affermava che (la sottolineatura è nostra) <<La CNAPI è predisposta dalla Sogin; dopo la validazione da parte di Ispra, su nulla osta dei Ministeri, la Sogin avvia la consultazione pubblica. Sono in corso al riguardo ultimi adempimenti, che potranno essere completati nei prossimi giorni. Si ricorda che la pubblicazione della CNAPI non è un atto discrezionale del Governo ma termine di un lungo processo tecnico.>>
Per quanto tempo ancora dovremo attendere questi “ultimi adempimenti”?

Evacuating a nuclear disaster areas is (usually) a waste of time and money, says study

In the aftermath of the Fukushima accident (rated 7 on the INES scale) Japanese authorities issued an evacuation order involving tens of thousands of people. Subsequently the Government’s nervousness delayed the return of many.

In the meanwhile the World Health Organisation found that the Fukushima evacuation increased mortality among elderly people who were put in temporary housing.

In addition the local government launched an extensive health survey to reach evacuees at risk of health problems and to monitor their health status. And later investigations on psychological distress assessed the association with perceived risks of radiation exposure and disaster-related stressors in people who were evacuated from their homes because of the disaster. 

In particular, the Fukushima Health Management Survey’s Mental Health and Lifestyle Survey shows associated psychological problems in some vulnerable groups of the affected population, such as increases in anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Official figures show that there have been hundreds of deaths from maintaining the evacuation, in contrast to little risk from radioactive contamination if early return had been allowed. In fact, it’s worth highlighting that according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.

With the progress of analysis it is increasingly clear that the most important health effect from the Fukushima accident is on mental and social well-being. This is due to the combined impacts of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident, but also to the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation [1]. 

In the light of these facts, we believe that it is urgent to have greater understanding of the costs and benefits of prolonged evacuation of areas affected by natural or industrial disasters. For this reason, we gladly republish here the article by Prof Philip Thomas, published on November 20 on theconveration.com [2].

 

Evacuating a nuclear disaster areas is (usually) a waste of time and money, says study

Philip Thomas, University of Bristol

More than 110,000 people were moved from their homes following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. Another 50,000 left of their own will, and 85,000 had still not returned four-and-a-half years later.

While this might seem like an obvious way of keeping people safe, my colleagues and I have just completed research that shows this kind of mass evacuation is unnecessary, and can even do more harm than good. We calculated that the Fukushima evacuation extended the population’s average life expectancy by less than three months.

To do this, we had to estimate how such a nuclear meltdown could affect the average remaining life expectancy of a population from the date of the event. The radiation would cause some people to get cancer and so die younger than they otherwise would have (other health effects are very unlikely because the radiation exposure is so limited). This brings down the average life expectancy of the whole group.

But the average radiation cancer victim will still live into their 60s or 70s. The loss of life expectancy from a radiation cancer will always be less than from an immediately fatal accident such as a train or car crash. These victims have their lives cut short by an average of 40 years, double the 20 years that the average sufferer of cancer caused by radiation exposure. So if you could choose your way of dying from the two, radiation exposure and cancer would on average leave you with a much longer lifespan.

How do you know if evacuation is worthwhile?

To work out how much a specific nuclear accident will affect life expectancy, we can use something called the CLEARE (Change of life expectancy from averting a radiation exposure) Programme. This tells us how much a specific dose of radiation will shorten your remaining lifespan by on average.

Yet knowing how a nuclear meltdown will affect average life expectancy isn’t enough to work out whether it is worth evacuating people. You also need to measure it against the costs of the evacuation. To do this, we have developed a method known as the judgement or J-value. This can effectively tell us how much quality of life people are willing to sacrifice to increase their remaining life expectancy, and at what point they are no longer willing to pay.

You can work out the J-value for a specific country using a measure of the average amount of money people in that country have (GDP per head) and a measure of how averse to risk they are, based on data about their work-life balance. When you put this data through the J-value model, you can effectively find the maximum amount people will on average be willing to pay for longer life expectancy.

After applying the J-value to the Fukushima scenario, we found that the amount of life expectancy preserved by moving people away was too low to justify it. If no one had been evacuated, the local population’s average life expectancy would have fallen by less than three months. The J-value data tells us that three months isn’t enough of a gain for people to be willing to sacrifice the quality of life lost through paying their share of the cost of an evacuation, which can run into billions of dollars (although the bill would actually be settled by the power company or government).

Japanese evacuation centre. Dai Kurokawa/EPA

The three month average loss suggests the number of people who will actually die from radiation-induced cancer is very small. Compare it to the average of 20 years lost when you look at all radiation cancer sufferers. In another comparison, the average inhabitant of London loses 4.5 months of life expectancy because of the city’s air pollution. Yet no one has suggested evacuating that city.

We also used the J-value to examine the decisions made after the world’s worst nuclear accident, which occurred 25 years before Fukushima at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. In that case, 116,000 people were moved out in 1986, never to return, and a further 220,000 followed in 1990.

By calculating the J-value using data on people in Ukraine and Belarus in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we can work out the minimum amount of life expectancy people would have been willing to evacuate for. In this instance, people should only have been moved if their lifetime radiation exposure would have reduced their life expectancy by nine months or more.

This appbilllied to just 31,000 people. If we took a more cautious approach and said that if one in 20 of a town’s inhabitants lost this much life expectancy, then the whole settlement should be moved, it would still only mean the evacuation of 72,500 people. The 220,000 people in the second relocation lost at most three months’ life expectancy and so none of them should have been moved. In total, only between 10% and 20% of the number relocated needed to move away.

To support our research, colleagues at the University of Manchester analysed hundreds of possible large nuclear reactor accidents across the world. They found relocation was not a sensible policy in any of the expected case scenarios they examined.

More harm than good

Some might argue that people have the right to be evacuated if their life expectancy is threatened at all. But overspending on extremely expensive evacuation can actually harm the people it is supposed to help. For example, the World Heath Organisation has documented the psychological damage done to the Chernobyl evacuees, including their conviction that they are doomed to die young.

From their perspective, this belief is entirely logical. Nuclear refugees can’t be expected to understand exactly how radiation works, but they know when huge amounts of money are being spent. These payments can come to be seen as compensation, suggesting the radiation must have left them in an awful state of health. Their governments have never lavished such amounts of money on them before, so they believe their situation must be dire.they

The ConversationBut the reality is that, in most cases, the risk from radiation exposure if they stay in their homes is minimal. It is important that the precedents of Chernobyl and Fukushima do not establish mass relocation as the prime policy choice in the future, because this will benefit nobody.

Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management, University of Bristol

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 


Notes
[1] For further and updated details:
http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/pub_meet/fukushima_risk_assessment_2013/en/
http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1710-ReportByTheDG-Web.pdf
http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/unscear-white-paper-reiterates-findings-that-fukushima-risks-are-low/

http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/Fukushima_WP2017.html
[2] The article is republished under Creative Commons licence.
Here the article URL:
https://theconversation.com/evacuating-a-nuclear-disaster-areas-is-usually-a-waste-of-time-and-money-says-study-87697
Disclosure statement:
P
hilip Thomas is Professor of Risk Management at the University of Bristol and is director of Michaelmas Consulting Ltd. The work reported on was carried out as part of the NREFS project, Management of Nuclear Risk Issues: Environmental, Financial and Safety, led by Philip Thomas while he was at City, University of London and carried out in collaboration with Manchester, Warwick and Open Universities and with the support of the Atomic Energy Commission of India as part of the UK-India Civil Nuclear Power Collaboration. The author acknowledges the support of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under grant reference number EP/K007580/1. The views expressed in the paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NREFS project.

 

 

Iodine-131 Over Europe: Probably Medical

Nuclear Diner

In early January, slightly elevated levels of iodine-131 were observed over northern and western Europe. The levels were measured during a temperature inversion, along with elevated levels of naturally occurring radioisotopes.

This, along with the deployment of an American WC-135 aircraft to the Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base in the UK, has led to speculation that the Russians have carried out a nuclear test. This is highly unlikely for several reasons.

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