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Fukushima Groundwater and Pacific Impacts

by Andrew Kishner, Nuclearcrimes.org (updated 2/12/14)

Over the past 12 months, discoveries of severely contaminated groundwater at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex have been raising eyebrows in activist communities and beyond. TEPCO, the company that owns the nuclear reactor complex on Japan's northeast coast that was crippled by the March 2011 disaster, has been finding in boreholes drilled just meters from the ocean elevated quantities of radioactivity, including cesium-134, cesium-137, strontium-90 and tritium. At first, TEPCO said this radiation, which was found near the shoreline but below the surface, originated 'from initial leaks that have remained since earlier in the crisis' (source) and that stayed near the plant inside the bay. It later turned out that this tainted groundwater had been continuously bleeding from the damaged reactors and flowing - mostly undetected - to sea since the accident in 2011.

Feb. 2014 - SPECIAL NOTICE: I will no longer be maintaining this webpage with updates on environmental radiation measurements related to the Fukushima Daiichi site. I feel that TEPCO is no longer credible in its ability to conduct trustworthy sampling and measurements for radionuclides. Furthermore, I don't believe any changes to TEPCO's methods, management or contractors will restore their lost credibility. When Japan's nuclear regulatory body or another agency takes over monitoring then I will consider resuming this mini-project. Until then, I will be writing about other topics on Fukushima elsewhere on this website and also compiling information for my upcoming book on the disaster - which also covers the role played by the EPA and FDA in the Fukushima catastrophe - which you can learn more about here (it is my opinion that since 2011 the U.S. EPA and FDA have been not credible in helping assess the radiological risks to Americans and their environment from Fukushima radiation.)

With Fukushima, the divide between the real truth (the actual environmental radiation levels) and the public's knowledge of the truth is widening. But there is a silver lining of this disaster - Fukushima continues to cultivate a new kind of awareness in global citizens about radiation dangers and government and corporate dishonesty during nuclear incidents. Citizens must harness this awareness to initiate their own robust radiation monitoring to close this divide, ensure their safety and determine the full dimensions of the public health and environmental dangers from the ongoing Fukushima threat.

Since 2007, Andrew Kishner has been a radiation monitoring watchdog and also a student of historical nuclear coverups though his website Nuclearcrimes.org (formerly Idealist.ws).

UPDATE (Feb. 12, 2014): I WAS RIGHT ABOUT TEPCO AND SR-90 - In a previous edition of this page, I wrote
QUOTE: For over 2 years now, TEPCO has done their informational 'drip drop' thing for all sorts of data, and now they're doing it with strontium-90 levels measured in groundwater. They're withholding most of this data and waiting, very carefully, to release this data until people no longer care or remember there was even data to be shared. ENDQUOTE
Here's the news: 'TEPCO has admitted they knew about the extremely high strontium 90 readings and the issues with their testing equipment back in July 2013 but did not make any of this information public...TEPCO knew of the record high 5 million bq/liter strontium 90 reading in July 2013 but decided it was "inaccurate" and chose not to disclose it.' Fukuleaks.org

'Tepco released the data on Feb. 6 showing that the groundwater contained a record 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive strontium-90. When Tepco reported the data to the Nuclear Regulation Authority last week, it initially claimed that it had only recently compiled the data, NRA sources said. However, the embattled utility later corrected the timing, apparently showing that it had withheld the record readings, the sources said.' - Regulators expected to demand detailed explanation for latest evasion - Tepco hid record-level radiation data last July, The Japan Times

Apparently the real reason for the evasion wasn't exactly to delay disclosing results 'until people no longer care or remember there was even data to be shared,' but rather related to winning the Olympic bid and putting the bid-related corrupt act as far into the past as possible so people wouldn't be so very, very extremely pissed off at TEPCo and Japan when it was found out.

UPDATE (Feb. 6, 2014): PERHAPS IT'S TIME TO REALLY PANIC ABOUT THIS FUKUSHIMA THING - 'On 2/6/2014, Tepco announced they measured 5,000,000,000 Bq/m3 of Strontium-90 from groundwater last July... The sampling location was the seaside of reactor2... In August, when one month had passed since last measurement, they measured 4,000,000,000 Bq/m3 of Strontium-90 from the same boring again.' source - see graph of sr90 values

UPDATE (Feb. 2, 2014): TEPCO will stop analyzing strontium-90 levels in 25m underground layer - 'Since last time they detected 60,000 Bq/m3 of Strontium-90, they have taken 6 groundwater samples. However, they are not going to analyze them about Strontium-90, and will not analyze the potential samples in the future about Strontium-90 either.' - Fukushima Diary

UPDATE (Jan. 16, 2014): TEPCO releases report of strontium-90 measurements from second half of 2012 - peak seaport strontium-90 value is about 100 times TEPCO's most recent published seaport sample (see pp.11-13 for many other similarly high values). Background: per the Asahi Shimbun's Jan. 9, 2014 article titled 'TEPCO withheld Fukushima radioactive water measurements for 6 months' TEPCO had 'withheld 140 measurements of radioactive strontium levels taken in groundwater and the port of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant between June and November last year.' The reason: TEPCO said because of 'inconsistencies' in the strontium data; the strontium levels apparently exceeded the gross beta readings in some instances. On 1/8/2014, Fukushima Diary pointed out that strontium-90 levels can't exceed the gross beta count - except when there are errors in measurement, calculation or reporting. Strontium-90 is a pure beta emitter, like Tritium. The Shimbun article added that company officials, after working out the errors, would 'release correct readings after determining the cause of the discrepancies by the end of this month.' TEPCO released this data on Jan. 15, 2014. TEPCO previously announced in mid July 2013 that it was (a) reducing the frequency of analysis of Sr90 in sea samples and (b) was planning to cease reporting measurements (of Sr90) in becquerels, and instead in units of dose or other parameters.

Strontium-90 Findings at Fukushima Daiichi

SEAWATER RESULTS:
5,800 Bq/m3 (157 pCi/L) | sample date: 6/26/13 | publish date: 7/31/13 | north side of units 5 & 6 water outlet

1,200 Bq/m3 | sample date: 7/15/13 | publish date: 8/29/13 | N side of reactor 5&6 water outlet

720,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 9/22/13 | publish date: 1/15/14 | sea port (PEAK VALUE in datadump)

GROUNDWATER RESULTS (SR-90):

8,300 Bq/m3 | sample date: na | publish date: 12/12/12 beside reactor3

850,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 3/26/12++ | publish date: 6/7/13

1,000,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 5/24/13 | publish date: 6/19/13

1,200,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 6/07/13 | publish date: 7/11/13 boring no. 1

5,100,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 8/22/13 | publish date: 1/15/14 (peak of datadump values)

7,500,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 9/11/13 | publish date: 12/6/13 reactor1 seaside; value, which might be 5-10% lower than the actual value due to 'new analyzing' methods for strontium, is more than six times the previous value, a new record too- source.

5,000,000,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 7/?/13 | publish date: 2/6/14 reactor2 seaside


++During a four-hour leak event (into the ocean) in March 2012, TEPCO had measured - 10 minutes BEFORE finding the leak! - 17 million Bq/m3 of beta radiation in water and five percent of that was strontium-90.
Deep-Underground 60,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 12/10/13 | publish date: 1/07/14 25m underground (32x prev. week's reading)

36,000 Bq/m3 | sample date: 11/??/13 | publish date: 1/31/14 underground (upper permeable layer)

Deep Contamination

Not so strangely, deep contamination is one of the most unappreciated problems also at the Hanford site in Washington State, where nuclear waste from reactor operations beginning in the 1940s was dumped into the soil (Hanford is located along the Columbia River). Like the Department of Energy, which oversees Hanford, TEPCO has been refusing to test for deep contamination. On December 20, 2013, NHK World reported that TEPCo finally started poking into these deep groundwater layers and found beta radiation in a 'layer 25 meters beneath the No. 4 reactor's well facing the ocean.' The value was 67 Bq/L or 67,000 Bq/m3 (note this is not strontium-90, but all beta). Fukushima Diary reported this was the first time TEPCo tested this deep. Fukushima Diary also noted that '[TEPCo] decided they won't analyze the groundwater of deep ground layer on the seaside of reactor1 and 2.' The 'Diary' also reported that TEPCO sampled groundwater 25 meters underground on 12/10/13 and measured 60,000 Bq/m3 of Sr-90, a value 32 times higher than a 12/3/13 measurement at the same depth; note: location of sampling is unclear.


Maximum of 440,000 Bq/m3 of Sr-90 in 225m3 of retained rainwater in two tank areas that presumably entered ground in the days before X-mas 2013 link
Maritime Safety Agency, 'Sr-90 and Cs-137 density in seawater became the highest in past 40 years'

TEPCO has also been less than honest about the strontium-90 levels found in surface or ground-water. The company has been reporting mainly gross measurements in groundwater and seawater samples in the 'beta radiation' category. Beta radiation includes such radionuclide groups as cesium, strontium, tritium, and dozens of other isotopes of chemical elements formed by nuclear fission (look at a trilinear chart; the betas are in broken-lined boxes). Only recently has TEPCO been releasing reports indicating the precise concentrations of strontium-90 in groundwater (although its presence in the porous soil beneath the reactors has been a constant since 3/11).

What is strontium 90?

Although strontium-90 might sound like a chemical created in a lab by physicists, it is actually one of the byproducts of atomic fission, the process by which reactors generate electricity. Strontium-90 is also created in the large nuclear energy releases in fission (aka atomic) bombs. If you weren't alive during the 1950s, the critical worry during that time period, which coincided with the era of atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s, was the build up of strontium-90 in childrens' teeth. This was a chief reason why John F. Kennedy signed the 1963 treaty banning open air nuclear explosions.

Strontium-90 hazardously sticks around in the environment for over 300 years and is very water soluble, meaning that it will travel along the melted fuel-groundwater-ocean-marine life chain as long as the leaks at Fukushima remained uncontained.

How bad are the radiation leaks into the ocean going to get?

Scientists are more or less in consensus - though this is a conservative estimate in my view - that Fukushima in 2011 released into the marine environment 1,000 TRILLION becquerels (What is a becquerel?) of strontium-90 (into the Pacific). In 2012, 2013 and beyond, the quantity of strontium-90 released through groundwater leaks will surpass this, easily. Why?

A) These coriums combined contain well over one *hundred* times the estimated '1,000 TRILLION becquerels' quantity of strontium-90 released in 2011 from Fukushima. (Note that reactor cores 1-3, which are partially melted-through and in the environment, contain about 171 Petabecquerels of Strontium-90, or about five times Castle Bravo's strontium-90 injection in 1954 to the Pacific, which caused irreversible contamination of boats across the entire Western Pacific and the quarantine of 'hot' fish catches in Japan. With Fukushima, there's a constricted daily flow of groundwater to sea - of around 500 tons, or 500 cubic meters.)
B) The corium's whereabouts are unknown.
C) Groundwater contamination is getting worse; on July 12, 2013, a TEPCO worker said 450 tons of groundwater flow into the Pacific everyday.
D) Groundwater is flowing out to sea near the surface and, per one source (link forthcoming), may be going down a fault (line) that runs under the nuclear complex hundreds of feet into an aquifer leading to the sea.

Strontium 90 leaks in the sea are increasing at Fukushima

(Despite the gaps in data collection by TEPCO)...It is clear that the strontium-90 concentrations are increasing in groundwater at the Fukushima site (see chart in light blue color). Because strontium-90 is bioaccumulative, it will concentrate in greater amounts as it travels up the marine food chain into 'top feeders.' Potentially, this leaked strontium-90 at Fukushima will find its way into the mouths (and bones) of the more than one billion people globally who rely on Pacific Ocean wild-caught food for 100% of their protein needs.

Threats to seafood lovers worldwide

Although there are only hazy ideas of the amount of strontium-90 leaked from Fukushima that is now contaminating wild-caught Pacific sea-products, health authorities in the U.S. and Canada insist that expected levels of strontium-90 in our seafood are safe. Presently, or in the near-term, these levels, however, might surpass those found in U.S. foods in the 1960s which contained just 1-5 becquerels per kilogram of strontium-90; these levels were sustained for years and years and, according to one European radiation risk study organization, is linked to the cancer epidemic and might be blamed for tens of millions of cancer deaths globally (read more about this claim in a free book chapter)

Ocean impacts

Over the next several years, it is estimated that the trillions of trillions of becquerels of radiation that were spewed and dumped at Fukushima Daiichi into the Pacific will reach North America's coastal waters. A study titled 'Model simulations on the long-term dispersal of 137Cs released into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima' published in July 2012 indicated that large pockets of floating cesium-137 the area of many Western states will reach North America's coastal waters five years after the tsunami. By 2016 according to the study authors, the radiation levels in these pockets, which will sinisterly float eastward between the latitudes of southern California and southern British Columbia, Canada, could reach up to 1,000 times pre-Fukushima levels.

The study authors were criticized in some online forums for inserting into their modeling software the details of a scenario where only highly contaminated water from the damaged plants in March-April' 2011 was released at Fukushima. By not taking into account any of the meltdown-related airborne releases, subsequent dumping and leakage at Fukushima Daiichi, etc... or other released radionuclides that are radiotoxic and long-lived, like plutonium and strontium-90, the study's suggestion that at 10 years post-tsunami the entire Pacific will have a new background level of radiation about twice pre-Fukushima levels (and 100 times pre-Fukushima levels in the waters off Baja, California) may be interpreted as the best-case scenario.

Recent studies (such as 'Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume' published in 2013 in the journal Deep-Sea Research) suggest that the coastal surface waters of the U.S. West Coast could experience a peak cesium-137 concentration of 20, 25 or even 30 becquerels per cubic meter in the next few years. This is unprecedented for the eastern Pacific Ocean, though not unprecedented for sea waters globally. (There is also the question of the plume's load of strontium-90, which is also arriving soon at the West Coast, which no scientist has yet modeled. What are the projected levels of strontium-90?) View below a graph showing similar and higher (cs-137) concentrations in sea waters globally which were influenced by other events of the nuclear age, i.e. Chernobyl, nuclear testing.
Here are some questions: what does 20-30 bq/m3 of cs-137 in surface sea water do to a nearby population? What are the local dietary intakes of radiocesiums through seafood consumption? What is in the sea spray? What are the levels of tainted silt that become left on the beaches and rocky shores? If beaches aren't closed to swimming and surfing, how much do ocean recreational activities contribute to population exposures? How is the health of these coastal communities impacted by nearby radioactive sea waters? For example, is the health of people living along the seas of northern or northeast Europe deteriorating faster than in inland areas? Since (in this global economy) coastal fishing communities serve cities worldwide with their wild catches, what are the health effects on northern seas seafood consumers in the rest of Europe or Asia?? Finally, in what ways is the comparison of radioactive seas of northern Europe to projected radioactivity in West Coast waters useful and not-useful?

Clearly, the Northern Pacific is a good fraction of the Earth's biosphere and probably already contains far more radiation injected into it from Fukushima quantitatively than in those northern European seas from Sellafield, Chernobyl, Novaya Zemlya, etc... So, perhaps we shouldn't be talking about average levels, because although the average levels of radiation in the Pacific are (or eventually will be) relatively low or moderate, that obscures the point that the Pacific quantitatively has a record amount of radioactive pollution in it compared to other seas or oceans! The Pacific is Earth's life-net and this total load of pollution *could* be linked to the news stories (sightings, observations) that pieced together suggest the beginning of ecological collapse in the North Pacific (i.e., sardines, starfish). Naturally, we would want to prevent this collapse. But would we rule out radiation as the culprit in these marine oddities so easily? Shouldn't we be testing and monitoring the oceans for the Fukushima radioactive plumes and their effects? If our government doesn't want to test, and marine science authorities like Woods Hole/Ken Buesseler want to test but have already made up their minds that the radiation isn't really dangerous to the marine ecologies including the humans that rely on them, then where does that leave us? From all appearances, leading scientific and government bodies are extremely casual about the ocean pollution problem related to Fukushima and are completely overlooking the threat from water-borne isotopes like strontium-90 to marine and public health. Turning a blind eye to problems created by radioactive pollution might work in the short-run but we should not be surprised when it comes back to haunt us in the long-term.


Author's note

Barriers may be built by TEPCO around its reactors, but this is window-dressing; barriers will simply back up the groundwater and result in the following: increase drainage into the fault, overflow scenarios (and faster flows of tainted water), thwarting or overwhelming of pumping AND STORAGE capability, and an increased potential that reactor structures will be crushed from the water pressure! If the entire REACTOR SITE becomes a type of 'soup' - if it is all turned into the quote unquote saturated zone - the reactors could lose their stability and move, or sink. In an earthquake, the moist ground could experience liquefaction: it could behave as water even though it (the soil) is a solid. This would be very bad. Also, the 1,100 (or so) storage tanks at the nuclear complex are holding EXTREMELY radioactive liquid waste, and MANY are leaking. These tanks aren't earthquake-proof. (Even taken out of context of the ongoing 'level 7' Fukushima nuclear disaster, these disastrous spills are considered BAD. As it turns out, the leak crisis has received a distinct crisis categorization, classed 'a level 3' on an eight point international scale (INES)).

Don't look at what TEPCO is telling you. Look at what they're not telling you. Look at what they're afraid of. During World War II, the Allies floated the idea of dropping strontium-90 on the German population. The idea was rejected because the dropping off of the victims would take too long. Well, TEPCo doesn't have that problem. They have the reverse problem. They need people to begin dying of radiation in so distant of a future that the death-giving wounds from their radiological 'stabbing of life' won't be linked to them. That's the gift that the natural laws of radiation biology provides to our masters. It usually takes so long for cancers to develop that cause and effect is not easily established. However, that doesn't mean that liability can't be established and that no judicial remedy for radiation victims is possible.

BETA BURNS FROM PACIFIC CONTAMINATION

The seals and polar bears who suffered external maladies in 2011 possibly were BURNED by radiation

Commentor 'greens-5677457' noted on an April 8, 2012 article titled 'Fur loss, open sores seen in polar bears' on MSNBC.com that:

'Despite what article states, these are OBVIOUS signs of Radiation Burn from the Fukushima meltdown. That is why they occur the same in similar species- Friends of mine in Hawaii have lost pets to the radiation within 2-3 months of the Tsunami (lymphoma, other cancers), don't believe this media blackout- these symptoms will start occurring in humans soon.'

Since the summer of 2011, U.S. scientists have observed several dozen living and dead Pacific Ocean marine mammals with a strangely similar condition of skin sores and hair loss. These animals may be suffering from 'beta burns,' which are caused by significant external exposure to 'beta emitters' such as radiostrontiums, which were released in copious quantities to the Pacific Ocean at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011.

TEPCO workers too were burned

In early April 2011 three TEPCO workers received severe injuries from contaminated water, the suspected culprit: strontium-89. Dr. Genn Saji, a former Secretariat of Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission, commented on a blog he maintained during the early part of the nuclear disaster that "It is very strange that the radiation concentration data by TEPCO continue to igore presence of Sr-89 and Sr-90 in spite of the...injuries..." Dr. Saji postulated that the burns were due to the radiostrontiums. He wrote, "Considering the beta-ray burn incident of the three electricians irradiated in the skin of their feet, it is obvious that these radioactive species should be included in the contaminated water. It is likely the radiation injury was though [sic] Sr-89, considering its high concentrations." (source)

Radiation burns externally and does worse internally

These beta-emitters have been released in staggering quantities into the Pacific and, upon contact with a victim, can cause external injuries including hair loss, sores and lesions. These are the symptoms of the struggling and dead seals and polar bears in the Arctic. Worse for us, strontiums and other radioactive isotopes throughout the Pacific Ocean are available for internal contamination because humans eat sea plants and animals. Consider that Alaska-caught fish and marine mammals in the late 1950s tested by scientists were found to be an order of magnitude more radioactive in strontium-90 content than most land-grown foods. (Source: 'Radiological Health Data,' January 1961, U.S. Public Health Service, p. 21 ('Strontium-90 Concentrations in Food Samples Taken in State of Alaska')) (In the 1950s, which was time when a similar nuke event to a 'Fukushima' occurred, these animals were swimming and feeding in radioactive water that originated from sources thousands of miles away.) This means that food from the ocean on our dinner plates in North America is going to be the most radioactive part of our diet. In 2012 and beyond, migratory fish will bring the radiation with them, and non-migratory fish, like halibut in Alaska, are becoming radioactive because air and water currents have brought radiation towards them. Our concern is that fish harvested over the next 20 years along North America's Pacific coastline may be contaminated with unsafe levels of radioactivity.

Further reading about beta emitters still being leaked at Fuku in spring 2012

Wikipedia says about radiation burns: 'Third and fourth degree beta burns result in deeper, wet ulcerated lesions...After the Trinity test, the fallout caused localized burns on the backs of cattle in the area downwind.[18] The fallout had the appearance of small flaky dust particles. The cattle showed temporary burns, bleeding, and loss of hair'


MORE READING

Japanese Mayor's summarization of the impossibility of stopping radioactive groundwater-sea contamination.

Maps and charts of 1950s-1970s Environmental Radiation Levels in Pacific waters

Tritium (h3) and plutonium in Pacific, 1960s-70s

Cs137/Sr90 in Pacific surface water, 1960s-70s

Western Pacific surface sea water, 1954-55, cs137/sr90, 1950s-1970s

Pacific water column data, 1968

Source for graphics: 'Working Document V: Nuclear Weapons and Radioactive Pollution of the Earth's Environment,' Proceedings of 'A Call from Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,' International Symposium on the Damage and After-Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1977 - learn how to access full document
- 1950s, 1960s radioactive levels of Alaska marine life
Chart of 1963 cs-137 content in U.S. foods
- Radionuclides in Pacific sediment 1 of 2  Pacific sediment, 2 of 2

"Often, when I describe the symptoms of oceans' sickness, I hear remarks like 'they're only fish' or 'they're only whales' or 'they're only birds.' But I assure you that our destinies are linked with theirs in the most profound and fundamental manner. For if the oceans should die - by which I mean that all life in the sea would finally cease - this would signal the end not only for marine life, but for all other animals and plants of this earth, including man." - Jacques-Yves Cousteau




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