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Update on Fukushima Leaks: Unrepresentative Sampling Supports Fear Mongering

Nuclear Fear Mongering

After posting Fear mongering over WATER leaks at Fukushima Dai-ichi a number of people challenged the concentration numbers I used in the supporting calculations. This August 23, 2013 Tepco press release contains numbers that roughly correspond to those I used, so I pressed the challengers for a source.

They pointed me to a Tepco handout dated August 19, 2013 which contains a table of measurements that are vastly different from the ones that were reported in the press release that I cited. The line labeled as “leakage water” includes numbers that are also vastly different from the huge number of similar measurement tables that Tepco has published on their web site.

This handout gave me pause and made me wonder if I had made a serious error in trying to calm people down. If the numbers from that handout are correct and representative, they show there is something to worry about, at least in the local area.

I turned to my friends to try to help sort out the problem. Some advised sticking with the highest measured numbers in order to bound the problem and prove to people frighted about nuclear energy and radioactivity that nuclear professionals are not taking their concerns lightly. That course of action does not appeal to me.

It is not constructive. It just reinforces fear; it does not reflect reality. Radioactive material is finite; it cannot be spread or diluted without becoming less and less concentrated. It is wrong to take the highest reading you can find and then mathematically assume that it is a representative sample. I kept digging and eventually figured out that the numbers that people were using to frighten others were from an isolated sample that was not representative of anything.

Here is an extract from the comment thread on the original post that deserves to be read by more people.

Here is a link to the original press release from Tepco.

From the link;
“In addition, it is as follows: nuclide analysis results of water analyzed so far.

 4.6 × 10^1 Bq/cm3: 134 cesium
 cesium 137: 1.0 × 10^2 Bq/cm3
 131: less than detection limit (detection limit : 3.1 × 10^0 Bq/cm3)
 Cobalt 60: 1.2 × 10^0 Bq/cm3
 manganese 54: 1.9 × 10^0 Bq/cm3
 antimony 125:7.1 × 10^1 Bq/cm3
 all beta: 8.0 × 10^4 Bq/cm3
 chlorine Concentration: 5200 ppm”

Doesn’t appear from these numbers that there is a unit conversion issue, and this is the Tepco press release, so I would agree that the level of scrutiny and fact checking is much higher than numbers buried in a table on page 5.

When converted to Bq/l, the all beta count is equal to 80 million Bq/l. This is the same number reported by the media.

The cesium 137 number seen here when converted to Bq/l is equal to 100,000 Bq/l. This is ten thousand times the legal drinking water limit for Cesium 137 in drinking water. I confirmed this from the Health Canada website on the Guidelines for safe drinking water and the level for artificial radionuclides was listed at 10Bq/l.

80 million Bq/l means there are 80 million clicks per second on a geiger counter.
Converted to counts per minute this water is registering;

80 million counts per second x 60 seconds = 4.8 billion counts per minute.

4.8 billion counts per minute.
This is a staggering amount of radiation.

(Note the use of nonstandard units like “counts per minute” and the purposeful selection of numbers that sound as scary as possible to go along with the selection of “staggering” as an adjective.)

A reader who posts as CW responded:

This measurement was taken from a pool of water .1 cubic meters in volume on the ground, and appears to be anomalous compared to all other water readings at the site. Until confirmed with other readings from the tank it’s very possible these readings come from cross-contamination from another area of the site, possibly tracked in on a worker’ s boot.

Here is my response:


Based on the voluminous number of readings from all other locations, I believe that the particular sample described in that single press release is highly unrepresentative of the average content of the tanks. Tepco is a company that has experienced more than two years worth of focused demonization from both enemies and “friends” about its “lack of transparency.” It has decided to take a “worst case scenario” approach and treat the sample as if it actually says something about the potential magnitude of the radioactive material that might be released.

I believe that the particular small puddle probably was contaminated. I do not have full details needed to make a complete diagnosis from 12,000 miles away, but my experience with holding tanks is that they often develop a sludge at the bottom as particulate material settles out of the water column.

Similar scary reports have happened as a result of fish sampling. A small fish (29 cm long) that is a known bottom feeder showed up with what looked like a very high concentration of radioactive material that, when scaled to a tuna weighing a couple hundred kilograms, showed a very frightening possible release.

No other fish have been found with that kind of concentration. I suspect that the small fish ate material that happened to contain a physically tiny, but quite radioactive, bit of cesium. After all, a single milligram of cesium-137 contains about 3E9 (3 billion) Bq of radioactivity. The quantity of cesium required to produce a concentration of 254,000 Bq per kg in a 2 kg fish is just 0.0002 milligrams. It would most likely be undetectable without magnification on a physical basis, but it sure is easy to find with a radiation detector.

Hot particles exist; the material released from Fukushima Dai-ichi is not uniformly spread over all of the places that it could have reached. There are a finite number of particles, however, an a finite probability (very small) of encountering enough of them to cause any harm.

It is quite unproductive, unless your goal is to frighten people about nuclear energy, to pretend that the single measurement means there is a risk worth worrying about.

That small accumulation of water, described as 0.1 cubic meter in volume, was also the place where a radiation meter located about 50 cm above the water read 100 mSv/hour (beta + gamma) but just 1.5 mSv/hour gamma. A sheet of paper or a meter or two of distance would be sufficient shielding to protect a person from nearly all of the radiation from that pool. Since most human beings are not likely to drink from a puddle of water on the ground, no one would be likely to ingest the material that was causing the high radiation readings.

It is the height of absurdity to make believe that a 0.1 cubic meter puddle on an industrial clean up site is something people who live in the United States should worry about. Heck, no one anywhere should worry that the material is going to harm them.

As someone who has handled a spill or two in my career, many containing far more dangerous materials than reported to have been in this puddle, I would guess that the cleanup was pretty simple.

Of course, since it was done by nuclear professionals, it is possible that it took many hours and cost tens of thousands of dollars. As Galen Winsor told the world many years ago, certain types of people in the nuclear business have turned revenue-increasing “feather bedding” practices into an extreme art form. (Feather bedding is also known as paycheck protection, but the practice is onerous when conducted by contracting companies that collect billions in revenue for doing tasks using 2-100 times as many hours as needed.)

The post Update on Fukushima water leaks – unrepresentative sample used to support fear mongering appeared first on Atomic Insights.

Photo Credit: Nuclear Fear Mongering/shutterstock

Rod Adams's picture

Thank Rod for the Post!

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Martin Nicholson's picture
Martin Nicholson on August 31, 2013

Great article Rod. Good to see some proper science targetted at this propaganda fueled issue.

Martin Nicholson's picture
Martin Nicholson on September 1, 2013

Latest announcement from Tepco adds more information:

Jorge Montero's picture
Jorge Montero on September 2, 2013

I really don’t buy this dilution hypothesis.  There are a number of reasons that can cause concentration: currents, a particular species feeding close to the discharge, etc., etc., etc.., things any biologist can tell.

However, you need to sample the tuna, or whatever fish, and find the species is bioaccumulating radioactive isotopes.  Otherwise, these are empty claims.

I do believe TEPCO should be paying for mayor sampling of marine species that are consumed regualarly in Japan and of migrating species,  such as … yes .. .tuna.  And of course, results should be made public.  No less.

Geoff Russell's picture
Geoff Russell on September 5, 2013

Thanks Rod for hunting down the details. The interesting thing about the contaminated fish is that they were caught. They didn’t die from radiation, some bugger with a net or hook went and pulled them from the ocean and probably watched them die in considerable agony and distress. If fish could cheer, I reckon those around Fukushima would be raising a mighty chorus. Radiation is a trifling concern compared to the normal things people inflict for both recreation and profit on fish … hooks, suffocation, bottom trawling … the list is long. 


David Newell's picture
David Newell on September 5, 2013

All this speculation, and the event keeps on happenning, so we’ve not a klew what the ultimate release will be.


When i was there, they apparenly tried to inject a wall of “water glass” or sodium silicate, underground,

and hope to stop the exfiltration.


Ballyhood in the local newspapers, I guffawed at their termerity, and was not disappointed (unfortunately) to see that the gambit failed.


Now, they are going to drill holes, and freeze the earth with low temperature circulating brine???

Right…  I am barely restraining another guffaw.




Why don’t they dig an intercept trench, and pump the water into tankers offshore, and convey it to appropriate treatment locations??



David Newell's picture
David Newell on September 5, 2013

good reference, let’s all pretend everything is A OK.

Robert "Bob" Mitchell's picture
Robert "Bob" Mitchell on September 6, 2013

Excellent spin!  Michael J. Fox couldn’t have done any better!

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on September 7, 2013

The cores are still where they are supposed to be, which is inside the pressure vessels. You have not seen any pictures of them because it is quite difficult to get a camera into that location. It is, after all, a thick walled steel vessel that is designed to keep high pressure fluids and high temperature materials inside. That means that it is also designed to keep probes with cameras attached outside.

I wrote an article explaining my interpretations of the reported indications in more detail. It has plenty of additional references, so I am not just pointing to my own work to support my comment.

That article focuses on Unit 1, but that is the unit where the core was damaged the earliest and probably the most extensively. 

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on September 7, 2013

The reference that Darrell provided exposes itself as misleading clap trap designed to spread irrational fear in the following sentence:

Sadly, it is the gift that keeps on giving… gamma rays.”

It might sound like I am picking nits to some people who do not understand how radioactive materials behave, but the 2,200 mSv/hr dose rate that is also reported in the scariest possible terms is nearly 100% BETA radiation, not gamma rays.

That measurement is essentially what we call an “on contact” reading; it almost completely disappears when the probe is moved just 50 cm away from the concentrated source. If a reasonably thick sheet of paper is put between the source and the probe, the reading also falls off dramatically. Clothing is normally considered all the protection that workers need to ensure that they are not harmed by a beta emitter.

The GAMMA dose rate from that same source – the one that reads 2,200 mSv/hr – is just 1.5 mSv/hr. It is a “hot spot”, but it is not nearly as dangerous as financial publications like ZeroHedge, that want to make money by spreading fear of nuclear energy.

Here are a few example plays that might be peaking ZeroHedge’s interest. Oil & gas companies have been making many tens of billions per year selling fuel to Japan to replace the output of their shuttered nuclear plants and contracting companies are chomping at the bit to be in on the many billions that some want Tepco to spend to attempt to stop water from flowing from the mountains into the oceans.

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on September 7, 2013

Why do you call dilution a hypothesis? It is an inevitable physical process when you have a finite quantity of material and a continually growing quantity of water.

Martin Nicholson's picture
Martin Nicholson on September 7, 2013

It is a pity that we have to spend so much effort in explaining misinformation. In the case of ZeroHedge, it is not clear whether it deliberately uses misinformation or that it actually doesn’t understand the difference between gamma and beta radiation or what the emission levels actually mean.

If ZeroHedge did some fact checking then they wouldn’t mislead their readers into thinking catastrophe rather than a very manageable occurance.

Jorge Montero's picture
Jorge Montero on September 9, 2013

You are right.  That’s what happens locally.  But it just doesn’t just vanish Mr. Adams, it goes somewhere.  Or is it like “out of sight, out of mind” ?

Just like smoke from a smokestack, it dilutes, but goes somewhere downwind, where it can concentrate via different physical and biological processes.  Perhpas through bioaccumulation.

And this is where real tissue analysis of fish or other species are needed.  Maybe nothing is happenning. But maybe this isotopes are bioaccumulating in fish.

Can I assume you would agree with me that TEPCO should run with the cost of the testing (done by a third party of course!) and making the results public?

` `

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