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By: Tracy Loew, Statesman Journal

Talk in the Oregon coast town of Bandon often turns to the approaching plume of sea-borne radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

“We’ve been worried about it and worried about it,” said Zac Adams, owner of Bandon Designs construction company. “We’re really concerned about it affecting the fisheries, the wildlife, the tourism, and most importantly our health.”

In March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Japan, triggering a tsunami and knocking out power to cooling pumps at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, causing meltdowns at three reactors.

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released to the sea and continue to build up at the plant.

The radiation is expected to hit the U.S. this year at very low levels that wouldn’t harm humans or the environment. But no federal agency is monitoring it.

So Adams joined a citizen-science project, crowd-sourcing funds in his community to test a sample of seawater that he will soon collect.

Four hours north, the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership has funded two collection sites, in Tillamook and Pacific City.

“Over the last year-and-a-half, it’s been an issue that’s been raising in prominence along the coastline,” said Lisa Phipps, executive director of the partnership. “In our area, there have been groups that have been coming together to talk about what is happening in the ocean.”

And fund-raising is underway for two more sites, in Newport and Winchester Bay.

Altogether about 30 sites, from Alaska to Baja, Calif., have been funded, said Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who put together the project, called “How Radioactive is Our Ocean?”

It uses crowd-sourced money and volunteers to collect water samples along the Pacific Coast, then ship them to Buesseler in Massachusetts to be analyzed on an $80,000 instrument.

Each sample costs $550 to $600, depending on location.

“I really hope everybody gets together so we can fund Woods Hole to do more of these,” Adams said. “There’s a big black hole where information should be.”

Buesseler is looking for increased levels of Cesium-137, which already is in all oceans from previous nuclear testing and accidents; and for Cesium-134, a “fingerprint” of Fukushima.

Because of its short, two-year half-life, any Cesium-134 could only have come from the plant, he said.

So far, Buesseler said, no samples have indicated that the plume has reached the West Coast.

Buesseler posts results on the project’s website. They show Cesium-134 and increased levels of Cesium-137 off the coast of Japan and across the ocean.

“We know it’s out there,” Buesseler said. “We’ve seen it more than halfway across the Pacific.”

Northwest of Hawaii, for example, Buesseler has found Cesium-134 at concentrations as high as 3.8 becquerels per cubic meter.

But to put that in context, he said, the U.S. drinking water limit is 7,400 of those units.

“Every additional radiation exposure causes additional risks for cancer,” he said. “But when the numbers are in the one to 10 range, that’s a very small additional risk.”

That’s the range that is expected to hit our shores, with lower levels coming first.

“As the contamination arrives, we expect the concentrations to go up over the next two years,” Buesseler said.

Buesseler launched the project in frustration after discovering that federal officials weren’t doing any testing.

The Oregon Health Authority takes quarterly samples of surf and sand at three locations, but is not looking for cesium-134, the “fingerprint” of radiation from Fukushima. Its most recent samples, taken May 15, detected no cesium-137.

“There’s a dismissive argument that well, the levels are pretty low, so why bother,” Buesseler said. “The counter to that is it’s good to confirm low numbers. You build public confidence. And we can use the data to model ocean currents for the next time.”

What next time? Well, Buesseler said, there are currently 1,000 tanks of radioactive water on the Fukushima site, containing the more persistent isotope strontium-90. If a major earthquake were to hit the site, that water would be released to the sea.

“We would see it in three years,” he said. “That’s reason enough to be improving our models.”, (503) 399-6779 or follow at

Tokyo –It is not appropriate to say that the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No.1 power plant has been contained, industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday.

“The word, ‘end,’ is inappropriate because many tasks remain unresolved,” Motegi told a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting, speaking of a declaration of the end of the accident that was issued by the previous government.

“We don’t use that word.”

Motegi spoke in response to questions from Yuko Mori, acting head of People’s Life Party.

In December 2011, the then Democratic Party of Japan-led government declared the end of work to bring the accident under control, saying that the affected nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan had been stabilized.

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The Tenth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey was released on February 13, 2013.

The results compiled up to January 21, 2013 revealed that 41,947 (44.2%) of 94,975 children had thyroid ultrasound abnormalities. Together with 38,114 children (13,645 or 35.8% had thyroid ultrasound abnormalities) tested in the last half of Fiscal Year Heisei 23 (FYH23) from October 2011 through March 2012, a total of 55,592 (41.8%) of 133,089 Fukushima children have been found to have ultrasound abnormalities.

FY2012: 55.8% with no thyroid nodules or cysts, 44.2% with thyroid nodules or cysts

The Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey Planning Committee revealed that 10 of 186 eligible for the secondary examination from FYH23 were suspected of having thyroid cancer as a result of the examination. They reported that three of them were confirmed to have papillary carcinoma of thyroid gland and already had surgery. The remaining seven have 80% chance of having cancer based on their biopsy results.

The percentage of abnormalities from FYH24 at 44.2% is higher than previous results of 42.7% and 43.1%, and the overall abnormality rate, for FYH23 and FYH24 combined, of 41.8% is higher than the last result of 40%.  The proportion of children with nodules equal to and larger than 5.1 mm and any size cysts have increased.

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TOKYO (Kyodo) — Tokyo Electric Power Co. blocked an attempt by a Diet-appointed panel to enter the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi complex for an accident investigation last year, saying the unit was “in complete darkness,” which was not true, a member of the panel said Thursday.

The panel members were seeking to determine whether important equipment of the No. 1 reactor had suffered damage as a result of the earthquake on March 11, 2011, before ensuing tsunami ravaged the plant and triggered a nuclear crisis.

“The investigation was blocked because of false explanations,” science journalist Mitsuhiko Tanaka said in a statement, requesting that the state investigate the unit’s emergency cooling system called an isolation condenser.

Tanaka said he was told by TEPCO on Feb. 28 last year that the inside of the building housing the crippled No. 1 reactor was dark due to a lack of lighting and because an outer cover had been installed to reduce the release of radioactive substances into the air.

“It is so dark that one could get panicky. (TEPCO) workers cannot accompany (the panel members) due to the risk of radiation exposure,” a TEPCO official said at the time, according to Tanaka.

The panel members decided that the situation was dangerous and gave up on the investigation.

Contrary to the official’s claim, sunlight was able to penetrate the outer cover of the building, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion early on in the crisis, and mercury lamps had been installed inside.

TEPCO has denied that it intentionally lied, saying, “A mistake was made in the explanation about the dangerous on-site situation.”

In a report compiled in July last year, the panel said the earthquake may have damaged equipment necessary for ensuring the safety at the No. 1 reactor, touching on the possibility of small-scale pipe breaks.

It also said that several workers who were on the fourth floor of the No. 1 reactor building at the time of the earthquake witnessed a water leak on the same floor, which houses two large tanks for the isolation condenser and piping for the condenser.

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Report from Jiji on January 30, 2013 meeting of the Fukushima accident council with summary translation by Fukushima Diary:

[...] Mr. Kurokawa, the chairman of the governmental accident investigation committee commented the SFP of reactor 4 is the crisis in front of us. The entire world is concerned about that.

Mr. Kitazawa, the chairman of the council stated it takes a while to remove all the spent fuel from the pool. There is no appropriate solution for that.

Systran Translation

[...] The same nuclear plant 4 the anxiety for the used nuclear fuel pool of the machine was shown from the group of members [...]

[...] Kurokawa which is National Diet accident pitch chairman is clear Science Council of Japan former chairman “the crisis which is immediately. The inside of the world feels concern” [...]

[...] Chairman Hiroshi Kitazawa who serves the chairman of intellectual person meeting, points out that time is required for the fuel removal. “There is no good solution method” [...]

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Thousands of cows were abandoned in the evacuated zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tōhoku region of Japan and released radioactive materials from the plant.

Now, nearly two years after the disaster, those abandoned cattle were found to be contaminated with radioactive elements. Traces of radioactive cesium, silver and tellurium were found in the 79 cattle analyzed by a scientific team led by Tohoku University engineer Tomokazu Fukuda and published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Fetuses and calves had radioactive materials concentrations up to 1.5 times higher than the adults. The calves had been born, and the fetuses conceived, after the disaster.

In the event of a nuclear Armageddon, don’t eat the steak. Radioactive elements collected most heavily in the cattle’s skeletal muscle.

The cattle showed differences in radioactivity depending on what they had been eating. One group of cows had been kept in a pen and fed grass that hadn’t been contaminated in the Fukushima disaster. These cattle were less radioactive than cattle that had been allowed to graze freely in the area within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant.

None of the cattle showed outward signs of mutation.

The Japanese cattle aren’t the first bovines to be inadvertently irradiated. During some of the very first tests of the atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico, cattle were accidentally exposed to radioactive fallout. Those cows were also studied to help scientists (and potential nuclear doomsday survivors) understand how the steak and milk suppliers might stand up to radiation.

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Nearly two years after the onset of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, over 220,000 metric tons of contaminated water have been collected and stored on site, still another 75,000 tons remains in the reactor buildings.  Every day at least another 40 tons of contaminated water are created, requiring additional storage tanks to be constructed.

Currently the concentrated saltwater receiving tanks are 95% filled to capacity.  Currently 220,761 m3 of contaminated water is being stored, but the total capacity is only 232,000 m3.

The utility has been so far unable to prevent the contaminated water injected into the damaged reactors from flowing out of the buildings into the environment and even escaping directly into the ocean.  Accumulated water levels in the Turbine Buildings are assumed to increase daily, some of the accumulation due to the interaction between the groundwater on-site and the water inside of the buildings.

Workers at Fukushima Daiichi use a water treatment system called SARRY to remove cesium prior to storing water in tanks.  TEPCO is still working to complete construction of multi-nuclide removal equipment, but it is 4 months behind schedule.

The levels of radioactivity measured near the Unit 2 Sub-Drain have been on the rise since November, and while much focus has been justly applied to the continuous aerial release of radionuclides from the reactors themselves, with storage space running out it is critical to control the seeping of contamination through the local groundwater.

Radioactivity Density of Unit 2 Sub-drain

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We’ve documented the spread of radiation from Fukushima to Tokyo for a year and a half.  See this, this, this, this, this and this. Unfortunately, as the following recent headlines from Ene News show, things are only getting worse:

  • Tokyo getting 5 times more radioactive fallout than prefectures closer to Fukushima

And we’ve previously noted that the radiation will spread worldwide (by water and air). For example:

A new study says that the West Coast will get slammed with radioactive cesium starting in 2015 

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Debris set adrift by the 2011 Japanese tsunami has made its way to Hawaii, triggering concerns over the unknown effects of the radiation it may carry from the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor.

Debris has washed ashore the islands of Oahu and Kauai and the state’s Department of Health has been asked to test some of the incoming material for radiation levels. Refrigerator parts, oyster buoys, housing insulation, storage bins, soda bottles, toys, fishing nets, plastic trash cans and even Japanese net boats have all washed up on Hawaiian sands in the past few weeks, triggering serious environmental concerns over both water pollution and radiation exposure.

Long-term exposure to radiation can cause cancer, gene mutations, premature aging and in severe cases, death. The consequences of the influx of debris are unknown, causing local agencies to advocate precaution in picking up the Japanese debris.

After a Kona fisherman discovered a 24-foot Japanese net boat floating along the Hawaiian coast early this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began an investigation to trace where some of the items have come in from and possibly find its owners.

“On behalf of NOAA and the State of Hawaii, we ask that anyone who finds personal items, which may have come from the tsunami, to please report them to county, state and/or federal officials,” William J. Aila, Jr., Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) chairperson, told Hawaii 24/7 News.

Depending on an object’s weight, density and other physical characteristics, it can take months or years to travel from Japan to Hawaii, which explains why many of the same type of items are floating ashore at the same time. Although an estimated 70 percent of the tsunami debris sank offshore, millions of tons of wreckage are still adrift and slowly making landfall, reports LiveScience.

Aside from the unknown radiation risks, some of the debris is bringing invasive species to Hawaii, thereby threatening the island chain’s ecosystem and introducing the possibility of consuming contaminated seafood. The 24-foot boat found by the fisherman was covered in blue mussels, which are native to Japan and harmful to Hawaii’s marine life – especially the corals.

“If it does take hold, the concern is that they will just be able to populate at a fast rate and out compete some of our native species,” Jono Blodgett, the aquatic species program leader at DLNR, told the Honolulu Civil Beat. And even if Hawaiians attempt to kill the invasive mussels, their attempts might be fruitless.

“When species are stressed out and about to die, they might release their eggs or sperm,” he said. The fisherman who discovered the abandoned Japanese boat saw the mussels as an opportunity for a tasty meal, raising additional concerns about Hawaiian locals’ exposure to radiation found in seafood. Blodgett believes the boat likely drifted to sea before the Fukushima reactors had a meltdown, making the attached mussels safe to consume – but the possibility of contamination remains, especially if the creatures are found on some of the other debris.

Even though Hawaiian officials have minimized panic by assuring residents that radiation risks are low, their investigations and detection programs indicate that the concern is still there. The state of Hawaii purchased a $15,000 portable radiation detection device in September, while the Hawaii Department of Health has conducted quarterly shoreline surveillance since the tsunami hit in 2011. This monitoring has increased since the debris began to wash upon the Hawaiian shoreline.

But some of the debris is so small that it becomes quickly buried in the sand on the beach, making it impossible to clean up or even detect.

“Many places on the beach, it’s hard to differentiate the sand from the plastics on the surface,” Nicholas Mallos of the Ocean Conservancy group told LiveScience.

And as long as the radiation risks are unknown, Hawaii residents should avoid collecting floating refrigerator parts or consuming Japanese mussels they might find on washed up debris.

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A murasoi fish, comparable to a rockfish, was found at a port in the area of the now-closed Fukushima nuclear power plant, which contained 254,000 becquerels per kilogram of cesium, an amount which shockingly exceeds Japan’s legal limit for seafood radiation by 2,540 times. This was confirmed by the facility’s owner and operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

An article published in Science magazine said that levels of cesium in seafood in the vicinity of Fukushima had not really decreased since 2011. Ken Buesseler, author of the article, said that samples he collected in August 2012 contained cesium levels that were 250 times what is considered safe by the Japanese government. In October 2012, some 40 percent of bottom-dwelling sea creatures showed high levels of radiation that were 134 and 137 levels above the legal limit. In the same month, TEPCO admitted that radiation leaks coming from the nuclear plant have not yet fully stopped.

Last year, the world realized that the radiation hazard on seafood was not simply limited in the areas near Fukushima, or even in the country. In July, Russia said that it was concerned with the fishes that were caught in its coastlines that were near Japan. Earlier in May, authorities found that Californian coastlines were harboring contaminated tuna. The Japanese government, for its part, did admit that the levels of contamination are “extremely high”; however, it also pointed out that they were only detected in kinds of fish that are found nearest to the plant.

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