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Japan Nuclear Watch, 3/31: Increased Radiation Detected On Land and Sea

Japanese officials on Thursday confronted significantly increased radiation readings, well above safe levels on land and sea. The increases occurred even as they continued efforts to inject fresh water in Units 1-3 reactors and spent fuel storage ponds and pumped contaminated water out of turbine building basements and nearby trenches. [NHK World reports there’s some progress in removing that water.}

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow showed a graphic of the high radiation levels found by IAEA some 40 kilometers northwest of the damaged Fukushima Daiiche Nuclear Station. That’s twice as far as the Japanese Government’s official 20 km evacuation zone and beyond the out-to-30 km “voluntary” evacuation zone. Union of Concerned Scientists and others are citing this as a reason to expand the area of requirement evaculation.

Ocean readings later Thursday showed excessive levels increasing in the ocean near the plant. From the New York Times:

On Thursday workers prepared more tanks for transferring the water from turbine buildings at Reactors 1, 2 and 3 in a quest to keep the radioactive water from flooding into the ocean.

But readings taken in the sea near the plant showed that levels of radioactive iodine 131 had risen for another day, testing at 4,385 times the statutory limit, according to Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The rise increases the likelihood that contaminants from the plant are continuously leaking into the sea, he said. On Wednesday the water tested at 3,355 times the safety standard for the isotope, up from Sunday’s reading of 1,150 times the maximum level.

The same isotope was detected at levels 10,000 the safety limit at Reactor No. 1, Bloomberg reported, citing a report by the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco.

Kyodo News reports the 10,000 times reading near Unit 1 was from ground water. The report also indicates TEPCO is considering spraying a [synthetic chemical] resin around Unit 4 to prevent radioactive dust from being dispersed by winds.

The type of radiation found by the IAEA and mention on Rachel Maddow is particularly troublesome.

The isotope, cesium 137, was measured in one village by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a level exceeding the standard that the Soviet Union used as a gauge to recommend abandoning land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor, and at another location not precisely identified by the agency. Using a measure of radioactivity called the becquerel, the tests found as much as 3.7 million becquerels per square meter; the standard used at Chernobyl was 1.48 million.

In contrast to iodine 131, which decays rapidly, cesium 137 persists in the environment for centuries. The reported measurements would not be high enough to cause acute radiation illness but far exceed standards for the general public designed to cut the risks of cancer.

Also, TEPCO officials confirmed what we already knew: Units 1-4 will never be commercial again and will be written off. That confirmation was followed by the Government’s Minister Edano suggesting they should probably forget about the still (in theory) operable Units 5 and 6 too, given their proximity and the likelihood of continued high radiation levels in the area.

It’s not just the plant site, though; the surrounding community may not be habitable for the foreseeable future. Authorities are already concerned about residents in the required evacuation area trying to come in to retrieve possessions. Not only are they at risk, but the officials who have to watch over them and make sure everyone gets back out are too. And there’s this grim reminder:

Kyodo [News] also reported on Thursday that the bodies of hundreds of people killed by the quake and tsunami lie uncollected in the area near the plant because they were contaminated by radiation, leaving the police and morgue workers unable to safely handle them.

Meanwhile, the French are coming (GE and American NRC and others are already there). Reactor vendor Areva is sending a team of experts to help TEPCO. French President Sarkozy visited Prime Minister Kan, and they agreed they should strengthen nuclear safety standards. Good idea.

Helpful Sources:

NHK World

Union of Concerned Scientists

Kyodo News: Japan Nuclear Crisis

Unit by Unit status updates (pdf) at the IAEA site

NYT Unit status
Washington Post simple graphics

TEPCO press releases
NHK press releases

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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