Monday, 28 March 2011

Greenpeace Japan measures radioactivity

From our radiation sampling team in Japan

Brian Fitzgerald - March 26, 2011
Jacob Namminga, one of our radiation safety advisors, spoke to me via Skype about today's sampling trip in a rural area of Japan, to the north west of the Fukushima nuclear plant. We'll be reporting the details of our findings once they are compiled and have been checked, but I asked Jacob to provide some reflections on what today's trip was like. This is what he had told me.

We are staying in a place in Yonezawa, 45 km from Fukushima city called the Smile hotel. It has a giant yellow smiley on it, which under the circumstances is a bit surreal. We have Internet, the electricity is working. We have it rather easy compared to some of the people here who are refugees, having had to leave their homes and who are living just a few kilometres away. We brought a lot of food in from Osaka and try to eat that and avoid local foods and especially milk.

As we found out today, the radiation levels are high in Fukushima city -- our measurements confirmed levels that have been reported in newspapers and by the government -- in some places so high that you would get your "maximum annual dose" (if you believe in such things) in about 8 days. It's a bit strange to see people biking and going about their business.
At 9am we set out from Yonezawa, and drove for one and a half hours toward the region we wanted to make our measurements.

We do not stay in the high radiation areas longer than necessary in order to minimize our own dosages.
We kept our measurement gear on, but we had to turn off the audio bleeps on the Geiger counter, its constant sound was driving us nuts. The alarms of the devices can't be turned off, and in particularly high radiation areas they'd all go off. There was one place we hit such a high reading that we didn't even stop there. It was windy and dry, and the dust and snow can carry radioactive particles. So if you step out of the car and get dust or snow on you, you might bring radioactive particles into the car and you don't want that. We moved on quickly.

We met the police at a blockade about 35 km out from the Fukushima nuclear plant, and they let us do measurements. Cars were still going in and out that didn't appear to be relief workers or firemen -- it may be people are getting permission to go in and get their belongings, but I'm speculating. It was not busy, but it wasn't deserted: there were still people going in and out.

My biggest impression of the day was that this is a truly beautiful place – the mountains are breathtaking, and if you don't look at the Geiger counters, it's quite a nice place to be. But you look at the Geiger counters and you realise there's a danger, and that you can't see it with your eyes.

Fukushima Nuclear leak causes radiation levels to rocket 1,250 times normal level in surrounding seawater

Risk: Smoke is seen billowing from the No.3 reactor at the Fukushima plant as Japanese officials revealed radiation levels in surrounding seawater have rocketed

By Richard Shears In Tokyo  Mail online 27th March 2011

Residents 18 miles from stricken reactor urged to evacuate

U.S. naval barges rush freshwater towards stricken Japanese plant
Safety concerns in California as scare alert leaves West Coast at risk

Radiation levels are soaring in seawater near the crippled Fukushima plant core, Japanese nuclear safety officials warned today.

Two weeks after the nuclear power plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, tests on Friday showed radioactive iodine had spiked 1,250 times higher than normal in the seawater just offshore the plant.

The latest setback in preventing further leakage was confirmed as engineers tried to pump puddles of radioactive water from the power plant 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Workers, who stepped into radiation-contaminated water at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, are shielded with tarpaulins before receiving decontamination treatment at a nearby hospital

Warning: Radiation readings on Saturday morning in Tokyo are six times higher than normal at 0.22 microsieverts per hour

Read more:

It is feared the containment shield around nuclear fuel rods in the plant might have been weakened, resulting in dangerous material leaking out.

It emerged today that Japanese people as far as 18 miles from Fukushima's nuclear plant are being urged to evacuate by government officials.
U.S. naval barges have provided freshwater to help workers at the plant stabilise reactors which have been overheating since the deadly Japanese tsunami crippled the plant's cooling system earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a defect in the U.S. government's nuclear alert system has left West Coast America unable to immediately respond in the event of a radiation emergency.

Half the Environment Protection Agency's 12 California sensors are sending radiation test data too slowly, leaving Californians at risk during a nuclear alarm, according to an EPA official.

Damage to the containment cone, say analysts, could result in steam escaping from the reactor and carrying radiation into the air - and there could also be leakages into the soil around the crippled Fukushima plant.

If radiation of the highly dangerous quality found in water at the troubled number three reactor rises into the atmosphere, strong winds could carry the contamination as far as Tokyo, 135 miles to the south, and beyond.


Monbiot the cynic

The summit in the art of self-deception has been scaled by the Guardian journalist George Monbiot, who has written here that Fukushima has convinced him that nuclear is our only option. His reasoning is simple:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

How cynical. Monbiot wrote this while firefighters were risking their health and possibly their lives to protect citizens. He wrote this while the nuclear plant was radiating, the levels climbing around it, and still no prospect of an end to the leaks. He wrote this while the people of Fukushima looked on from emergency shelters as their livelihoods were destroyed, possibly for generations, and while tap water in Tokyo was forbidden to babies. Meanwhile, at the time of writing, the plutonium threat in reactor No 3 is still not under control.