Fukushima Disaster Update

Major news in Japan has been relatively quiet but many bits of smaller news do piece together a picture of what is going on now. The disaster continues to evolve and is far from going away.

Lake Kasumigaura in the northern are of Tokyo’s metro area has been concentrating cesium (and probably other isotopes) from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Various rivers run into the lake, those rivers are fed by other rivers and streams. This has turned the lake into a hot spot for contamination in the mud and sediment. Levels in the lake were as high as 5,800 Bq/kg in February. The Onagawa river that runs into the lake was found to have 13,200 Bq/kg of cesium in May. Levels gradually went up and some of the levels went back down slightly on the last round of testing leading some government officials to prematurely declare the problem to be over. Experts say the runoff into the lake is slow and sediment is greatly varied leading to readings that can show a range of readings. The river is a major source of fresh water, 960,00 people depend on it for drinking water. Fish in the lake are also being found to be over limit. Catfish and carp (both bottom dwellers) have tested over the legal limit for consumption.

This should have been expected. Radioactive contamination that falls over land will have some of it wash away with soil and debris. This will follow the natural water routes taking the contamination with.  Some have suggested opening a dam to drain down the lake but this would not solve the problem as the contamination has settled in as mud in the lake. As was found in Russia with lake Karachay, lower levels of water turn that sediment to dust that then blows around causing more problems. Any contamination that would run downstream doesn’t solve anything, it just moves the contamination somewhere else. In this case the river that drains into the Pacific, causing the river to be more contaminated and adding to the Pacific contamination.

Radiation in various freshwater fish around the region are also showing up as highly contaminated. Trout found in one river were 11,400 bq/kg of cesium

Radiation testing done soon after the start of the disaster showed that people outside the evacuation areas also had high levels of exposure. Government dose reconstructions found a woman in the north of Fukushima prefecture had an 11 mSv exposure during the early days of the disaster.

Local government staff shortages as high as 30% are hindering recovery in the north east region of Japan. This seems to be a combination of displaced residents and people unwilling to move the the heavily damaged contaminated region.

The Environment Ministry is planning on using children in Nagasaki as a control group study to compare thyroid damage to children in the Tohoku region of Japan. Information about who or how the study would be conducted was not available. There was a 2001 study of children in Nagasaki for thyroid abnormalities but the study cohort was quite small. That small study found extremely low incidence of thyroid abnormalities of about 1% or less.

Japan’s upcoming election has considerable speculation that the LDP party will take back over from the DPJ and that this will cause even more stagnation in the country. The LDP is frequently blamed with being too entrenched and unable to change, contributing to Japan’s economic problems that existed before the Fukushima crisis. An even worse potential is seen lurking among the election. Osaka’s governor Hashimoto and Tokyo’s former governor Ishihara recently teamed up for a new political party. Now they are busy talking about Japan needing nuclear weapons. Both politicians have a reputation for crazy behavior with Hashimoto going on a witch hunt for public workers with tattoos and Ishihara frequently stoking up the Senkaku Island dispute.

Head of the Fukushima Health Survey, Dr. Yamashita has apologized for the Health Survey Committee holding secret meetings though gave no assurances anything with the health survey would change.

Kansai Electric has removed fuel from a number of their reactors indicating they don’t see them restarting any time soon. Mihama Unit 1 (121 assemblies) Unit 3  (157 assemblies), No. 1 Oi ( 193 assemblies),, and Takahama Unit 1 (157 assemblies).

Better late than never, TEPCO has admitted that March 16th, 2011 there was a considerable spike in radiation that had not been reported. At the time radiation jumped suddenly from about 20 mSv to 80 mSv over about 10 minutes. This was the same time white steam was seen pouring out of the reactor well of unit 3. TEPCO claims they do not know the cause of the two events at this point but they will investigate.

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