Archive for the ‘radiation’ Category

The effects of radioactive waste water released into the ocean

June 17, 2021

when radionuclides are present in seawater alongside commonly-occurring metals like copper, the DNA damage caused by radionuclides to the mussels was increased.

the need for transparency when it comes to nuclear technology has never been greater

After all, we are what we eat: our health as a global community depends on the health of the environment, and a contaminated ocean knows no geographical or political borders.

Nuclear power: how might radioactive waste water affect the environment? https://theconversation.com/nuclear-power-how-might-radioactive-waste-water-affect-the-environment-159483   Awadhesh Jha
Professor of Genetic Toxicology and Ecotoxicology, University of Plymouth     April 30, 2021
 It’s been just over a decade since the fourth most powerful earthquake of the modern era triggered a tsunami that struck Fukushima on the eastern coastline of Japan, causing thousands of deaths and leaving hundreds of thousands unable to return home. That tsunami was also responsible for the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster.

When the 14-metre wave flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it shut down emergency generators, triggering a series of heat-induced meltdowns.Now, the Japanese government’s decision to allow the release of more than one million tonnes of radioactive water from the plant into the ocean has dividedopinion.

Water is a vital tool for all nuclear power stations: it’s used to cool their heat-generating radioactive cores. During the cooling process, the water becomes contaminated with radionuclides – unstable atoms with excess energy – and must be filtered to remove as many radionuclides as possible.

The filtered water is then stored in huge steel tanks or released into nearby bodies of water. As huge amounts of water are required by every plant, most nuclear facilities are built on coastlines – or, in the case of Chernobyl, surrounded by huge lakes. That way, filtered waste water can be discharged into the ocean or lake once it’s been assessed and confirmed safe by authorities.

This is how workers at Fukushima dealt with waste water while the plant was operating. But since the tsunami hit in 2011, authorities have used more than a million tonnes of water to try and cool the plant’s disabled reactors, which are still hot thanks to the long-term release of energy from the nuclear power source. All that radioactive water – which is more contaminated than standard waste water – has to go somewhere. The decision to release it into the oceans is – some would argue – the most pragmatic long-term solution.

What could the impacts be?

The process of filtering and diluting the huge amounts of water to meet safety standards will take a few years to complete. Then, we’d usually expect the water to be released gradually in small volumes through coastal pipelines. That way, any potential effects of releasing the radioactive waste will be minimised. However, the fact is that we don’t know exactly what those effects will be on marine – or human – life, given the sheer volume of water set to be released from the Fukushima plant.

Our own research has shown that a number of marine species could have their DNA damaged through extended exposure to radionuclides in seawater. It’s important to note that our conclusions are mostly drawn from studies in the lab, rather than in the real world; when a nuclear accident takes place, human safety takes priority and biological assessment often takes place decades after the original event.

That being said, our experiments with both marine and freshwater mussels found that when radionuclides are present in seawater alongside commonly-occurring metals like copper, the DNA damage caused by radionuclides to the mussels was increased. Much, much more research is needed to understand the effects of exposure to different types of radionuclides on different species.

In the meantime, anger towards Japan’s decision from fishing communities is understandable. In a world where global dependence on fisheries for food is increasing – and at least 10% of the world’s population depend on fisheries for their livelihood – a potentially contaminated environment could result in a contaminated food chain, raising consumer concerns.

We also know that around 95% of cancers in humans are triggered by exposure to toxic substances present in the environment, food included. If these substances damage genetic material within our cells, that damage must be repaired. Otherwise, the damaged cell either dies or divides. And when the latter happens, the damage – which can cause genetic mutations – is passed on to dividing cells in a process that may lead to diseases like cancer.

If that genetic damage happens to egg or sperm cells, it may be passed down from parent to child, triggering new diseases in future generations. To neutralise these complex threats, it’s key to ensure that only safe levels of nuclear waste are being released into the ocean.

Where do we go from here?

As new nuclear plants emerge in the effort to tackle climate change, the need for transparency when it comes to nuclear technology has never been greater: especially if we are to build public confidence in the benefits of nuclear energy.

When nuclear reactors are mentioned, it’s disasters which tend to spring to mind. Yet considering the long history of nuclear power generation, serious accidents – involving loss of life and severe damage to the environment – are extraordinarily rare. The huge amounts of data gathered from each disaster site have enabled powerful advances in nuclear security, making future accidents even less likely. Meanwhile, waste from the world’s nuclear reactors is being managed safely every day, although long-term solutions to waste disposal still pose a challenge.

Rapidly developing technology like nuclear fusion – mimicking the Sun’s way of generating energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium, and converting that helium into energy – may eventually slash generation of nuclear waste. There’s also room for improvement of our existing nuclear facilities to help minimise waste generation: for example, by forcing radioactive byproducts to decay faster.

But while we still rely on nuclear power, the most urgent priority is to set internationally accepted regulations for radiation exposure levels across different species. After all, we are what we eat: our health as a global community depends on the health of the environment, and a contaminated ocean knows no geographical or political borders.

Restless radioactive remains are still stirring in Chernobyl’s nuclear tomb.

June 17, 2021

‘It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit.’ Nuclear reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl  https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/05/nuclear-reactions-reawaken-chernobyl-reactor

By Richard Stone, May. 5, 2021 ,  Thirty-five years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded in the world’s worst nuclear accident, fission reactions are smoldering again in uranium fuel masses buried deep inside a mangled reactor hall. “It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit,” says Neil Hyatt, a nuclear materials chemist at the University of Sheffield. Now, Ukrainian scientists are scrambling to determine whether the reactions will wink out on their own—or require extraordinary interventions to avert another accident.

Sensors are tracking a rising number of neutrons, a signal of fission, streaming from one inaccessible room, Anatolii Doroshenko of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, reported last week during discussions about dismantling the reactor. “There are many uncertainties,” says ISPNPP’s Maxim Saveliev. “But we can’t rule out the possibility of [an] accident.”

The neutron counts are rising slowly, Saveliev says, suggesting managers still have a few years to figure out how to stifle the threat. Any remedy he and his colleagues come up with will be of keen interest to Japan, which is coping with the aftermath of its own nuclear disaster 10 years ago at Fukushima, Hyatt notes. “It’s a similar magnitude of hazard.”

The specter of self-sustaining fission, or criticality, in the nuclear ruins has long haunted Chernobyl. When part of the Unit Four reactor’s core melted down on 26 April 1986, uranium fuel rods, their zirconium cladding, graphite control rods, and sand dumped on the core to try to extinguish the fire melted together into a lava. It flowed into the reactor hall’s basement rooms and hardened into formations called fuel-containing materials (FCMs), which are laden with about 170 tons of irradiated uranium—95% of the original fuel.

The concrete-and-steel sarcophagus called the Shelter, erected 1 year after the accident to house Unit Four’s remains, allowed rainwater to seep in. Because water slows, or moderates, neutrons and thus enhances their odds of striking and splitting uranium nuclei, heavy rains would sometimes send neutron counts soaring. After a downpour in June 1990, a “stalker”—a scientist at Chernobyl who risks radiation exposure to venture into the damaged reactor hall—dashed in and sprayed gadolinium nitrate solution, which absorbs neutrons, on an FCM that he and his colleagues feared might go critical. Several years later, the plant installed gadolinium nitrate sprinklers in the Shelter’s roof. But the spray can’t effectively penetrate some basement rooms.

Chernobyl officials presumed any criticality risk would fade when the massive New Safe Confinement (NSC) was slid over the Shelter in November 2016. The €1.5 billion structure was meant to seal off the Shelter so it could be stabilized and eventually dismantled. The NSC also keeps out the rain, and ever since its emplacement, neutron counts in most areas in the Shelter have been stable or are declining.

But they began to edge up in a few spots, nearly doubling over 4 years in room 305/2, which contains tons of FCMs buried under debris. ISPNPP modeling suggests the drying of the fuel is somehow making neutrons ricocheting through it more, rather than less, effective at splitting uranium nuclei. “It’s believable and plausible data,” Hyatt says. “It’s just not clear what the mechanism might be.”

The threat can’t be ignored. As water continues to recede, the fear is that “the fission reaction accelerates exponentially,” Hyatt says, leading to “an uncontrolled release of nuclear energy.” There’s no chance of a repeat of 1986, when the explosion and fire sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. A runaway fission reaction in an FCM could sputter out after heat from fission boils off the remaining water. Still, Saveliev notes, although any explosive reaction would be contained, it could threaten to bring down unstable parts of the rickety Shelter, filling the NSC with radioactive dust.

Addressing the newly unmasked threat is a daunting challenge. Radiation levels in 305/2 preclude getting close enough to install sensors. And spraying gadolinium nitrate on the nuclear debris there is not an option, as it’s entombed under concrete. One idea is to develop a robot that can withstand the intense radiation for long enough to drill holes in the FCMs and insert boron cylinders, which would function like control rods and sop up neutrons. In the meantime, ISPNPP intends to step up monitoring of two other areas where FCMs have the potential to go critical.

The resurgent fission reactions are not the only challenge facing Chernobyl’s keepers. Besieged by intense radiation and high humidity, the FCMs are disintegrating—spawning even more radioactive dust that complicates plans to dismantle the Shelter. Early on, an FCM formation called the Elephant’s Foot was so hard scientists had to use a Kalashnikov rifle to shear off a chunk for analysis. “Now it more or less has the consistency of sand,” Saveliev says.

Ukraine has long intended to remove the FCMs and store them in a geological repository. By September, with help from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, it aims to have a comprehensive plan for doing so. But with life still flickering within the Shelter, it may be harder than ever to bury the reactor’s restless remains.

Harm done to people by the Fukushima evacuation, but radiation was still the root cause of all this

April 5, 2021

The Lancet 6th March 2021, “The evacuation was the biggest risk factor in impacting health”, said Masaharu Tsubokura, an expert in radiation health management at Fukushima Medical University. “But [the evacuation] was inevitable, so I’m not saying that it was the wrong choice”, he added. He describes the tsunami-hit region of northeast Japan as a case study in the myriad health issues arising from natural disasters—an interplay between non-communicable diseases, the effect on mental and physical health of sudden upheaval, family separation, and the struggle to provide nursing care in ageing communities that hold little appeal for younger people, including health-care staff, who are worried about radiation and lack of job opportunities.

The evacuation was the most effective way to reduce exposure, Tsubokura said, but added that it had also had the biggest effect on mid-term and long-term health outcomes by exacerbating chronic and non-communicable diseases, notably diabetes, obesity, and impaired bone health and motor function. “Some might say that medically, these are not related to radiation”, he said, “but I would say that in the secondary sense, everything has a connection to radiation”. Evacuees with the financial means fanned out across Japan, with some seeking refuge as far away as Okinawa, more than 1000 miles to the south. Many others moved to temporary housing or found rented accommodation in parts of Fukushima that were considered a safe distance from the stricken plant. Following a ¥2·9 trillion (£19 billion) operation to remove millions of cubic metres of contaminated topsoil from areas near private homes, schools, and other essential public buildings, the government began lifting evacuation orders in 2015. Yet even now, several neighbourhoods located near Fukushima Daiichi remain no-go zones because of radiation levels above 20 mSv a year—the maximum exposure recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Japan raised acceptable levels of radiation for Fukushima residents to 20 mSv per year from 1 mSv per year, although the country insists that 1 mSv remains the long-term goal. Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, and Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, are among those who have challenged the IAEA’s conclusion, pointing to the lack of comprehensive exposure data from the initial days of the crisis.

Burnie and Fairlie cite a 2019 study led by Hidehiko Yamamoto of Osaka Red Cross Hospital that concludes “the radiation contamination due to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents is positively associated with the thyroidcancer detection rate in children and adolescents. This corroborates previous studies providing evidence for a causal relation between nuclear accidents and the subsequent occurrence of thyroid cancer”. Burnie said, “The extent to which the current thyroid rates are due to radiation exposure is not proven. However, given the uncertainties, including dose data, it is not credible to dismiss an association between iodine exposure and the higher incidence of thyroid cancer. The authorities need to continue screening and prioritise other physical and mental health issuesarising from displacement and evacuation, as well as monitor people who have returned”. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00560-2/fulltext

United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report on Fukushima health effects -rushed, inadequate, inconsistent

April 5, 2021

Dr Ian Fairlie, 12 Mar 21, more https://www.ianfairlie.org/news/latest-unscear-report-on-the-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-in-2011/    On March 9, the United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) published an advance copy of its latest (third) report on the health effects from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident which commenced on March 11, 2011. UNSCEAR 2020 Report – Annex B – Advance Copy

The report shows signs of having been rushed out as it is an advance copy and is unfinished. It states 23 electronic attachments with supplementary information on detailed analyses of doses to the public and their outcomes are currently in production and will be available soon on the UNSCEAR website.

I shall look at the Report in more detail when the additional information is published. However at the 10th anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima in 2011, it’s necessary to have an initial look at the Report’s comments on contentious issues arising from the accident – (a) the number of expected fatal cancers and (b) the continuing controversy over the cause(s) of the large observed increases in thyroid cancers (TCs) in Japan since 2011.

On (a), the 2020 Report concludes that there are no observed ill health effects from the accident but this conclusion is inconsistent with UNSCEAR’s own estimates of high collective doses from the accident.  Table 13 (page 72) of UNSCEAR’s 2020 report shows that, in the first 10 years after the accident, the whole body collective dose from the accident was 32,000 man Gy. When we apply the widely-accepted fatal cancer risk estimate of 10% per Gy to this figure, we see that about 3,000 fatal cancers will have occurred due to the accident, correct to one significant figure.  The report’s strange, unscientific conclusion to the contrary is inconsistent with these estimates. The only assumption used here is that radiation’s dose-response relationship follows the linear-no-threshold model, as recognised and used by all the world’s radiation protection authorities.

On (b), the 2020 Report (page 107, para q) concludes that the sharp increase in observed thyroid cancers post-Fukushima was not due to thyroid intakes of iodine isotopes from the accident but due to increased surveillance.

However large collective doses to the thyroid are also published in UNSCEAR’s new 2020 report. In the first 10 years after the accident, the 2020 report states the collective thyroid dose to the Japanese population from the accident was 44,000 man Gy.  Again, this is a high number, but the absence of an authoritative risk factor for thyroid cancer – especially among young children aged 0 to 4 who were exposed to both internal intakes of radioactive iodine plus external exposures to ground-deposited Cs-134 and C-137 means that reliable estimates of  the actual numbers of thyroid cancer cases due to the accident are unfortunately not possible.  The supplementary information yet to be released may enable such calculations to be made. However the large collective dose to the thyroid from Fukushima casts doubt on UNSCEAR’s conclusion that the observed increases are not due to the accident.

I would not be surprised to learn that the negative conclusions in the UNSCEAR 2020 Report might be a reason why an advance copy was rushed out in unfinished form before the anniversary of the Fukushima accident.

I add the caveat that the above analysis is a (second) draft and has not yet been fully peer-reviewed. However many requests have been made for views on the UNSCEAR’s 2020 report, so I’m publishing this quickly. Any errors which are pointed out will be corrected in a later post.

Every hour, Fukushima reactor 2 emits more than 10,000 times the yearly allowable dose for radiation workers

April 5, 2021

Fukushima today: “I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Thomas A. Bass | March 10, 2021

”………..What we know about nuclear disasters at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and elsewhere comes primarily from modelling what is known as the “source term”—the types and amounts of radioactive material that were in a reactor’s core and then released to the environment by an accident. These models are revised as we learn more about the prevailing winds and other factors but are still only models; ideally, one wants to examine the reactors’ cores themselves. Unfortunately, even 10 years later, no one can get close to Fukushima’s reactor cores, and we do not even know precisely where they are located.

As recently as December 2020, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) announced “extremely serious” developments at Fukushima that were far worse than previously thought, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported. TEPCO had discovered that the massive shield plugs covering the reactors were emitting 10 Sieverts of radiation per hour—a lethal dose for humans (though it should be noted that reactor cores are normally examined by robots, unless these, too, are destroyed by radiation). Because Fukushima now has more contaminated material at higher doses than previously estimated, “this will have a huge impact on the whole process of decommissioning work,” said NRA chairman Toyoshi Fuketa.

The effective dose of radiation required to sicken or kill you is measured in Sieverts, a unit named after Rolf Sievert, the Swedish physicist who first calibrated the lethal effects of radioactive energy. A dose of 0.75 Sieverts will produce nausea and a weakened immune system. (Sieverts are used to measure the relative biological damage done to the human body, while becquerels and curies are units that describe the amount of radiation emitted by radioactive material.)

A dose of 10 Sieverts will kill you, if absorbed all at once.

A dose somewhere in-between 0.75 and 10 Sieverts gives you a fifty-fifty chance of dying within 30 days.

Guidelines for workers in the nuclear industry limit the maximum yearly dose to 0.05 Sieverts, or 50 milliSieverts—the equivalent of five CT scans, says Harvard Health Publishing. (This is a high figure compared to the 1 milliSievert per year that is considered acceptable for the general public; a physicist familiar with the industry explained that the thinking is that workers in the nuclear energy industry are implicitly being paid to take on the risk.)

So how many Sieverts are currently being produced by Fukushima’s melted reactors? The latest reading from reactor No. 2 is 530 Sieverts per hour. This means that every hour the heart of the reactor is emitting more than 10,000 times the yearly allowable dose for radiation workers……  https://thebulletin.org/2021/03/fukushima-today-im-glad-that-i-realized-my-mistake-before-i-died/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter032021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_Bass_03102021

Australia was the guinea pig population for Britain’s nuclear weapons tests radiation fallout

November 28, 2020
Paul Langley  Facebook , 5 July 20
It was Operation Buffalo’s series final tonight, on the ABC, so Im interrupting my thread on Fuk ( a crime which, were I just, would see me ban myself from this page) and I want to point out , yea, the British were the spies, and we were the guinea pigs and we did what they said or else.
As late as the 80s the Poms were threatening us with jail in our own land for speaking out it. And yea, the false fallout maps that were published and the real ones hidden, and readings which were under valued by 50%. Here’s the nine maps publically released by the Royal Commission.
Once, years ago, I printed each one onto its own sheet of transparent plastic sheet. There were 12 bombs, but only 9 fallout maps.
But laying those 9 transparent maps on top of one another results in the final combined map, which proves how cunning the British spies were who used us, On Her Majesty’s Service, as guinea pigs. Whereas had the Soviets done the deeds, the nuclear veterans would have been elevated as heroes, instead of traitors for trying to speak. For at least 2 of the bombs, the Poms put a few ton of coal at the base of the bomb towers. The coal vapourised when the bomb went off, and when it condensed again it formed a black sticky goo in small droplets, containing speckles of fission product throughout it. That is what made the Black Mist of 1953 so sticky. Yep, pretty war like and cunning, the British. I am ashamed to say. I wonder why they spared Perth.

Chernobyl’s bumblebees still affected by radiation

November 28, 2020

This new data shows effects on bumblebees are happening at dose rates previously thought safe for insects, and the current international recommendations will need to be re-evaluated.

Ionising radiation – the tragedy of the ”radium girls”

November 28, 2020

They weren’t just making paints, they were doing the painting, too. According to NPR, US Radium hired scores of girls and young women — as young as just 11-years-old — to paint watch dials with the glow-in-the-dark, radium-based paint. As if just working with the paint wasn’t bad enough, they were also encouraged to put the brush between their lips and twirl it into a point. It was the best way to get truly precise numbers and brush strokes, but with each lick of the brush, they were swallowing radium.

the human body isn’t great at telling the difference between radium and calcium. Radium gets absorbed into the bones just like calcium does, and when that happens, the rot starts.

Writer and historian Kate Moore documented the cases of the Radium Girls (via The Spectator) and found that there were a whole host of symptoms. Some started suffering from chronic exhaustion. For many, it started with their teeth — one by one, those teeth would start to decay and rot. When they were removed, their gums wouldn’t heal. In some cases, the jaw would just simply disintegrate at the dentist’s touch. Bad breath was common. Skin became so delicate that the slightest touch would tear open wounds. Ulcers formed for some, and those that were pregnant bore stillborn babies.

THE RADIUM GIRLS HAD TO BE BURIED IN LEAD-LINED COFFINS
The Radium Girls weren’t just sick, they were very literally radioactive. Mollie Maggia was exhumed in 1927, in the hopes that her bones would give still-living Radium Girls the evidence they needed to win in court. According to Popular Science, her coffin was lifted out of the ground, and her body? It glowed. That wasn’t entirely surprising, considering her bones were found to be highly radioactive — and considering radium’s half-life is 1,600 years, they’re not going to stop glowing any time soon.

Eventually, 16 separate sites around Ottawa would be classified as Superfund sites. 

NPR Illinois says that many have been cleaned up, but as of 2018, there was at least one site — a 17-acre plot of land on the Fox River — that still remained a highly radioactive and terrifying legacy of the Radium Girls.

THE MESSED UP TRUTH ABOUT THE RADIUM GIRLS  https://www.grunge.com/181092/the-messed-up-truth-about-the-radium-girls/   BY DEBRA KELLY/DEC. JULY 14, 2020 
History is filled with episodes that prove mankind is just sort of making everything up as it goes. There’s no shortage of things that can kill us or do horrible, terrible things to our soft and squishy bodies, and every time we think we know about them all, it turns out there’s something else lurking around the corner.

And sometimes, it’s disguised as something awesome. Need proof? Look no further than the Radium Girls.

Yes, that radium. Today, the Royal Society of Chemistry says there’s really only one use for radium — targeted cancer treatments, because it’s so good at killing cells. It was first discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, after they extracted a single milligram from ten tons of a uranium ore called pitchblende. And it was pretty darn cool. It glowed, and seriously, how exciting is that? Unfortunately, it was also deadly — as the so-called Radium Girls would find out.

(more…)

Northern Europe: detecting radiation and where it comes from

November 28, 2020

Hiroshima survivor explains why 75 years of radiation research is so important

November 28, 2020

Watch: Hiroshima survivor explains why 75 years of radiation research is so important   https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/watch-hiroshima-survivor-explains-why-75-years-radiation-research-so-important  By Joel GoldbergAug. 3, 2020 , 

Seventy-five years ago on 6 August, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Up to 120,000 people died in the bombing and its aftermath. Some of the survivors, known as hibakusha, would eventually enroll in the Radiation Effects Research Foundation’s Life Span Study, which continues to examine the effects of atomic radiation on the human body. The study’s findings have been the basis for radiation safety standards around the world, ranging from power plants to hospitals. Decades of archival footage and images, survivor  drawings, and the testimony of research participant Kunihiko Iida convey the kind of misery that results from an atomic bombing—as well as the message of peace and humanity that can result from scientific research.