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Update on "Highly Radioactive" Water Leaks at Fukushima

Fukushima Water Leak Facts

The media frenzy about the detection of water leaks from the vast tank farm that Tokyo Electric Power Company has been forced to build to store water used to cool the three damaged cores at their Fukushima Daiichi power station continues to sizzle, even in the face of the potential for US attack on Syria. (A more rational solution to building an ever-increasing number of water tanks is to use a tanker to move the treated water a few miles out into the Pacific Ocean for safe disposal.)

The latest media discovery was that the reading that was initially reported as 100 mSv/hour was really 1,800 mSv/hour because the detector that produced the 100 mSv/hour reading had a range that maxed out at 100 mSv/hour. What few, if any, media reports include is an explanation that the measured dose rate is nearly 100% beta radiation and that it was measured at a distance of just 70 micrometers from the radioactive material. Beta radiation can be shielded by a single sheet of paper and will only travel about 1-2 meters in dry air.

Someone needs to help journalists understand that there is no way that a beta-emitting radiation source can cause a deadly dose to a human being unless it is ingested in a concentrated form. Even if it is in direct contact, about the worst it can do is cause a skin burn; I would also not recommend using water contaminated with a beta emitter for eye wash. I suppose I have volunteered for that educational task.

As some of the more informative initial reports stated, the gamma radiation from the leaked water measured 1.5 mSv/hour. That number is still valid; it was well within the accurate measuring range of the instrument used. In one of my previous updates on this topic, I postulated that the measurement was an outlier that might have used an unrepresentative sample of water.

According to an anonymous comment I received this morning that has the ring of truth from someone who knows what he is talking about, that postulate was wrong. Apparently, the concentrated waste water used for core cooling before going through the treatment facility generally has a high beta dose rate when measured at a distance of a 70 micrometers.

After treatment, the concentration of beta emitters that are not tritium gets reduced by a factor of 4,000. (All Beta radiations entry in column 7 versus column 8 in “Nuclide Analysis Results of Water at Water Treatment Facility”.)

Since tritium is an integral part of water — H2O where the H-3 is inseparable from the normal H-1 and H-2 — it makes it through all water treatment. It is the isotope that causes any water used to cool a nuclear reactor to be called “controlled pure water” (CPW). The amount of tritium in this water is not a health concern, especially if diluted into the ocean.

Here is the comment provided by the commenter who self identified as “no name no country”.

The numbers for “leaked water” in TEPCO’s August 19, 2013 document are consistent with the numbers for the water stored in these tanks.

These tanks store waste water after the reverse osmosis treatment (desalination). The treated water goes back into the reactors for cooling, and the waste water is stored in these tanks. Since the water also goes through cesium absorption treatment (by SARRY) before it goes through reverse osmosis, it is low in cesium and other gamma nuclides.

The beta radiation from this water is about 2,000 mSv/hr at 70 micrometer dose equivalent.

The “leaked water” in August 19 document is this waste water itself. Measurements in August 23 documents are about water in the drains nearby, diluted with running water there.

For your info, the most recent nuclide analysis by TEPCO of water at various stages of treatment. The concentrated, post-RO waste water inside these tanks are No.8:

That this water is somehow leaking is a fact, but to say that this water is uncontrollably leaking into the Pacific Ocean is, as you say, worst fear-mongering. There is no evidence so far that this water is even reaching the ocean.

What is worse is this global frenzy on “1,800 (or 2,200) mSv/hr radiation that kill people in 4 hours” detected at Fukushima. It is not just people like Chris Busby but all mainstream media (including NYTimes, BBC, etc) and many alternative media who thrive on wrong information and fear repeat this completely erroneous information.

From the beginning, TEPCO has said this is dose equivalent at 70 micrometer to show the effect on skin and eye lens – i.e. beta radiation, not gamma. It is completely consistent with the radiation measurement of this waste water, whose leaks happened before (no one paid any attention to those). But the media, through amazing ignorance after more than 2 years or willful ignorance to get eyeballs, has glossed over this important detail.

Japanese people who fear radiation are shell-shocked, and people outside Japan who do not have access to the primary information (in this case, information provided by TEPCO in Japanese) fear (some cheer) the end of the world or something catastrophic as such. I am thoroughly disgusted with this, and frankly I don’t know what to do to educate people. I’m at the point of giving up.

Needless to say, I responded to this comment. After putting in the effort to compose that response, I figured I would use it as part of today’s post.

@No name no country

Don’t give up. Get mad and engage your questioning attitude. Do you really believe that “the media” makes much money by inflating this particular story to attract eyeballs as opposed to any one of dozens of other ways to get the attention of viewers and readers. Heck, we are at the edge of a new war; surely people would tune in for more updates on that topic.

If the media does not have a very strong direct motive in terms of gaining viewer/reader attention for spreading this particular story, it is time to look for people, organizations and perhaps even countries with stronger motives.

As John Tucker pointed out in an earlier comment ( RT — aka Russia Today — has been particularly creative in making up additional fear mongering stories and inviting people like Chris Busby to spin tales that increase the shell-shocked attitude of the Japanese people. Russia has been hugely dependent on exporting oil and gas for a major portion of its national income for many years; it is making billions more every year that Japan keeps its functional nuclear plants shut down.

There are plenty of other actors with influence in the media that are engaged in the business of finding, extracting, processing, financing, and transporting oil and natural gas that are also benefiting hugely from the fear that people have about harmless “leaks” of “radioactive” water at Fukushima.

Aside: I used quotes around radioactive not because I believe it is NOT radioactive, but because fear stories never put the word into any context or tell anyone any useful information about how radioactive the water is. Without any quantification, it would not be a lie to say that ALL sea water is “radioactive”. End Aside.

Teaching the public to fear “leaks” of water containing minuscule quantities of radioactive material (measured in grams) also distracts them from the enormous DUMPS called smokestacks that push many billions of tons of combustion waste products — some of which are carcinogenic or toxic in concentrated form — into our shared atmosphere.

Some worry that we are doomed to fail when I point out that the real opposition to the vastly increased use of nuclear energy instead of fossil fuel wherever it makes sense is the global fossil fuel industry and its courtiers. It is an extremely wealthy, savvy and politically powerful foe. However, I like to remind people that there are far more energy consumers in the world than energy producers; many of them are also rich and powerful. Few fossil fuel consumers bear any love for Big Oil. Its booms and busts have had a large negative effect on their ability to prosper and live secure, comfortable lives.

I came of age during the 1970s. Because I like to use gasoline powered machines (cars, boats, planes, etc) Big Oil became one of my lifelong foes during the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. I turned 14 during the period when my dad had to get up at “oh dark thirty” in order to get in line to fill up his gas tank so he could commute to his job 40 miles from our suburban home.

I hated the thought that I would get my driver’s license at a time when everyone was worried that the price of oil and its availability would continue to be a major issue. It is hard to explain how depressing that thought was to a guy who had dearly loved the experience of being able to freely travel a great country like the United States in large, comfortable station wagons and campers.

As a career officer in the US Navy who attended the Navy War College’s course of for national strategy and policy, I spent a lot of time learning the vital nature of reliable petroleum supplies and the way that single group of products has influenced our history as a nation — including numerous wars and lesser conflicts, some of which resulted in millions of casualties.

When I announced to my colleagues that I was resigning my commission in the US Navy in 1993 to found Adams Atomic Engines, Inc. to design and build small, simple, economical nuclear-heated gas turbines, one colleague make a prescient comment. He said, “Good luck Rod, but the oil companies will never let you succeed.”

I’ve spent the last 20 years figuring out how to make a liar out of him. It has been quite a struggle, but I think I am getting closer to a successful strategy.

I hope you agree that it is time to fight FUD with information and to fight concentrated power and wealth with the distributed power and wealth of information-enabled, free-thinking people who have nothing to fear.

On a separate topic, I am looking forward to the House Oversight Committee hearing that is scheduled for September 10. It will be interesting to find out how the NRC is going to respond to the mandamus ruling directing them to finish their evaluation of the DOE’s Yucca Mountain licensing evaluation.

The post Another update on “highly radioactive” water leaks at Fukushima appeared first on Atomic Insights.

Photo Credit: Nuclear Energy Risks/shutterstock

Rod Adams's picture

Thank Rod for the Post!

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on September 8, 2013

Thanks for the update Rod.  It’s truely discouraging how the media manages to misreport nuclear accidents and leaks, and always manages to err in a way that makes nuclear look more dangerous than it actually is, and more to the point, makes nuclear look more dangerous than fossil fuel, which it is not.

I agree that eventually, the contaminated water ought to be placed in the sea, but deep below the thermo-cline, where little mixing with surface waters occurs and away from where the ecosystems are.  This will have to wait until the Japanese nuclear regulatory system has achieved a level of public confidence, so that the general public can be assured that it is being done safely and prudently.  The tanks exists now, we might as well use them  a while.

Wilmot McCutchen's picture
Wilmot McCutchen on September 9, 2013

The flowrate of the leak is 300 m3/day, which is a gallon a second.  To fix that, the Japanese government is prepared to spend half a billion dollars.  No wonder people accuse the nuclear industry of featherbedding and are exasperated by cost overruns at nuclear projects.  Why not pump out the leaking tanks, so the flow is going into containment and not out?

Susan Sterrett's picture
Susan Sterrett on September 10, 2013

I think Kimberly Davis raised a significant point that this article completely ignores:  the concern about groundwater flowing from the mountains into the sea is getting contaminated.  This is a different, and, she argues, more significant issue than the one about tanks that this article focuses on.  

Is this hysteria from the uninformed?  No, it is not.  

The contamination of water flowing down from the mountains to the sea is not well-reported.  The media reporting on water in tanks that is discussed in this article is, admittedly, sometimes not very well done.  HOWEVER, that the media doesn’t report the tank issue well doesn’t make the very important and significant issue of contamination of groundwater go away.  

As Kimberly Davis points out, the purpose of the ice wall is to deal with this larger problem.  Here are two links to sources that you cannot dismiss as uninformed:  

–MIT Technology Review, which reports that:
Every day roughly 400 tons of groundwater flowing down from the nearby mountains enters cracks in the reactor buildings damaged by the meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima in 2011, according to an April 2013 Tepco briefing document. Water that escapes from the buildings pollutes the groundwater downstream and ultimately spills into the sea. The contaminant levels are dangerously high. ”

and from the Idaho State Journal, a concise and informative Q&A on “Japan’s Radioactive Water Leaks: How dangerous?”

Dismissiveness is not appropriate here.  

Rod Adams's picture
Rod Adams on September 11, 2013

Ms Sterrett

Can you quantify the danger that you see from water flowing from the mountains to the ocean? Are you aware that there are routine measurements being taken in the waters immediately off of the coast next to the power station and that they do not indicate any increases in radionucleid levels?

There is no cause for concern. There is no danger. No one will be harmed. Why shouldn’t I be dismissive of fear mongering and get on with my life?

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on September 13, 2013

since this seems to be such a trivial issue, reported by unknowing reporters being paid by ennemies of nuclear power, I propose that we store this clean water in the swimming pools who will be built by the Tokyo Olympic Commitee for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

I am pretty sure new swimming world records will be broken, given that swimmers will try to get out of this clean water rather rapidly, just to avoid their gonads or eggcells to be fried into chicken nuggets.

In the meantime, the whole world has noticed that TEPCO, the super mammoth electric utility owning this plant and more than 50% of Japan’s electricity generation sector, has had to be nationalised using tax payers monies, to avoid it’s collapse under the pilling up of millions of bills and lawsuits. Was that cost estimate included in the risk anal-ysis when this thing was built 40 years ago using Westinghouse know-how?


In the meantime, this small issue with supersafe nuclear power, has caused 3500 miles of a surpopulated island to be off limits for humans for the next 1000’s generations, unless someone like Rod is willing to offer his service to decontaminate the area using his own money. Who will compensate the ten thousands people who had to leave their homes forever, without any compensation?


September 10, 2013. Japan is stumbling helplessly from one crisis to the next as it battles the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. US nuclear inspector Dale Klein is demanding the intervention of foreign experts, but a quick solution is unlikely.


This week, the chief nuclear officers of around 100 American nuclear power plant reactors are taking a field trip to Fukushima. There, dressed in protective suits, they will walk through the ruins left behind by the earthquake of the century, the tsunami of the century and the resulting triple nuclear reactor meltdown that occurred in March 2011.

“I can assure you when they get back from this trip, all of these chief nuclear officers will double their safety precautions,” says Dale Klein, who has made the same trip and describes it as “very sobering.”

Klein, who was head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission until 2009, now serves as chair of the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, which advises Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company that once ran the Fukushima power plant and is now responsible for cleaning up the site.

In the eyes of industry experts and the Japanese public alike, the company has proved one thing unequivocally — that it is in far over its head in trying to handle the aftermath of the disaster.






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