“It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that the stupid people — who constitute the grand overwhelming majority of this and all other nations — do believe and are moulded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies.” – Mark Twain
“Part of the problem with the mainstream press is that they have been ignoring the Fukushima issue so they don’t know what has been going on there for months or years.” – Nancy Foust, Simply Info
“A lot of killers, a lot of killers, what, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?… A lot of people were killed [by the US in Iraq], so, a lot of killers around, believe me.” – President Trump
“Every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on clean renewable energy and one more dollar spent on making the world a comparatively dirtier and a more dangerous place, because nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand.” – Mark Z. Jacobson
How is it possible for the radioactive intensity of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant reactors to worsen when radioactivity decreases, not increases, over time? This is a basic law of physics, but not of journalism (2). A recent Kyodo News story mistakenly implies that the wrecked Fukushima reactor unit 2 is becoming increasingly radioactive (3).
Contrary to an internet rumor, the rate of leakage of contamination from the plant has not increased due to the discovery of high levels of radiation inside unit 2, which Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) estimates to be 530 sieverts per hour.
However, in 2012 the engineers at the website Simply Info (SI) (http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/) estimated a possible worst case scenario of 10 trillion sieverts per hour inside the melted reactor, but this startling news escaped public attention.
Nancy Foust of SI kindly responded to my email questions:
The news media seems to have created some confusion about this ‘high reading’ that made people think it was a rising radiation level or an environmental radiation level at the plant. It is neither. If it is confirmed by the robot and it is likely some sort of hot spot within containment. Further investigation would be needed to determine what structure it is located in.Whether the reading is an anomaly or even much worse than 530 we still do not know. Decommissioning Fukushima will take at least 40 years and cost tens of billions of dollars.
Radiation Levels Inside Reactor Unit 2Tepco’s discovery of “530” sieverts per hour sounds really scary, but whether 5.3, 53 or 5.3 million sieverts per hour, it is largely redundant in terms of danger to humans. Short-term exposure to only a couple of sieverts would likely cause serious harm or death.
The Kyodo report published in the Japan Times was poorly worded, employing the phrase “has reached” which implies an ongoing increase or spiking of radiation at the plant. What the report meant to say is that the “530” sieverts per hour that was discovered was the highest that had yet been recorded by engineers since the accident occurred.
But in 2012 the estimate of “5 gigaSv/h to 10 teraSv/h in the pedestal region of unit 2” or 5 billion to 10 trillion sieverts per hour was given (4).
The plot thickens, as of Feb. 9 we find that in unit 2:
[a]s work progressed and the robot moved further down the CRD rail, the on board camera began to fail. The nature of the camera failure, interference and darkness, appear to have been caused by high radiation. The high radiation resistance of this robot and the short life span it had in containment appears to confirm that there is a very high radiation source inside unit 2’s containment (5).Simply Info notes that “530” was possibly an anomalous reading relating to complex engineering questions and how the radiation is being monitored (6). Other readings found in the same area were much lower such as 20 or 30 sieverts per hour. Foust reported to me that “the radiation reading they found inside containment should be confirmed or ruled out in the next 30 days.”
Robot TechnologyAs Tepco itself admitted a couple of years ago, the means to resolve Fukushima does not yet exist and robot and other technology still needs to be invented. In that sense, setting aside the dangerous environmental and human health effects of the disaster, it has been a boon to the tech industry where “necessity is the mother of invention.”
The way radiation is being monitored inside the reactor uses two methods. One is based on laboratory experiments on the duration that the robot camera can survive intense radiation: the more radiation the camera is exposed to, the sooner it will die. By knowing the camera’s longevity they can calculate levels. Foust told me that the Scorpion robot which they hope to send in “has an on board radiation sensor and would be much more accurate than these camera based estimations.”
Tepco’s IntegrityAs the authority in charge of the 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima, Tepco has not been an entirely honest broker, but it is the main source for information that we have to rely on. Foust noted that:
TEPCO benefits from ‘everything is wonderful type news’ as they are still on the hook for the costs and want to restart the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata prefecture. There will be a point where other Japanese government entities working on this problem have to find the actual data so they can do their jobs. At some point this has to override TEPCO’s desire to downplay the disaster.Therefore, we need to remember that Tepco may filter the truth from the public in order to protect their financial interests.
Note that the government and media did not publish easily available information to the public at the time of the triple meltdowns regarding estimates of 10 trillion sieverts per hour of radiation being present. Although that may have been true they don’t want to scare the public and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
Location Of Corium (Melted Fuel)Where is the corium? No one yet knows, but there is a lot of speculation. Some say it is still inside the reactor buildings, resting on the concrete floor. Possibly there was a enough water that reached the corium in time to cool it before it escaped the building. If it did escape it is probably spread out both vertically and laterally below the building(s).
At what rate would a glob of corium decrease in radioactivity?
This is the million dollar question. There are a number of factors that go into this so there could be many answers. It related to the composition of the corium, the volume of the corium, nearby materials and their ability to cool the corium. All of this information would go into estimating radiation decay rates. This is an area of research that appears to have not ever been done. If you know a starting point for a volume of corium (radiation level and isotope composition) you might be able to make an estimate of radiation decay over time.
Each unit is going to see its own set of behaviors based on how that meltdown progressed and what failed first etc.
Most of the consensus for unit 2 (ours and various research entities, computer modeling etc.) puts the corium in the pedestal where it could burn down. If enough corium collected there it would burn down into the concrete. We have suspected there is some potential for corium to also melt the steel rebar in the basemat concrete, causing faster degradation of the concrete. None of the existing research seems to take that into consideration but we can’t find enough information about the computer modeling to find out if it does.
Could corium burn down into the basemat far enough to make it through to the soil below? Potentially. The meltdown appears to have followed a slow failure similar to what Sandia National Lab reported from their research in 2012:
Some background information on corium-concrete interactions here:
(Foust, email communication).
Contaminated WaterThe frozen wall that was built to prevent contaminated water from leaking from the plant and took a heap of taxpayer money to complete does not function perfectly, which means in essence it is a failure since it does allow some radioactive leakage from the site.
Also, a mind-boggling amount of contaminated water accumulates daily and has to be stored in giant tanks that stretch across a vast field near the site, awaiting its fate. There is a constant threat of leakages from the tanks due to malfunctions.
However, Foust noted:
It is unlikely corium from unit 2 is having a direct influence on the frozen wall. Faster moving ground water and potentially some of the warmer water out of the turbine building of unit 1 that still leaks out may be what caused problems near unit 1 and past unit 4 as they tried to freeze the sea side of the frozen wall. The sea side of the wall is mostly frozen now so it isn’t seeing a continuing major failure in that aspect.Foust emphasized that contrary to some of the recent headlines:
There are no rising radiation levels. There also have been no changes to radiation levels outside of the reactor building like the Kyodo article seems to be hinting at. Groundwater levels within the reactor blocks are controlled between the frozen wall and pumping out contaminated water via the subdrain system. TEPCO had been pumping out MORE water due to it rising around the reactor blocks so the groundwater level isn’t dropping or drying out due to winter.
This site has some basic information about the subdrain pit system used to remove excess groundwater:
Doing a word search at the Simply Info document archive for ‘groundwater’ should pull up extensive documentation of what TEPCO has been up to including managing the groundwater level. They have been managing this closely due to concerns if the groundwater level drops too low the standing water in the reactor building basements that is heavily contaminated would leak out:
So, below the reactor basemats are not drying out (Foust, email communication).
Environment & OceanIf the super radioactive corium had penetrated the buildings you would probably get much higher readings in the area, outside the plant and in Fukushima bay, for example. However, if you check the government website, radiation readings taken in the bay are very low:
Current Information on Radioactivity in Seawater
Not that I entirely trust government/Tepco data which can be gathered selectively; however, if it is roughly accurate, it would seem to contradict or soften internet scare mongering that the “astronomical” levels of radiation from the corium must have already leaked into the soil where it will contaminate the area for millions of years to come. That may still come to pass.
If the government and Tepco were more transparent about these matters it might reduce internet speculation and misunderstandings.
The main debate in the environmental community is to what extent the initial explosions and meltdowns, when huge amounts of radiation were indeed released into the environment, have affected the environment and the Pacific Ocean, a subject I dealt with in previous articles (See: Richard Wilcox, Activist Post Archives).
* Richard Wilcox lives in Japan and has followed the Fukushima disaster since it occurred in 2011. He is a periodic contributor to Activist Post.
1. Japan readies package for Trump to help create 700,000 U.S. jobs
2. No, Fukushima Daiichi Did Not See A Radiation Spike
3. Extremely deadly radiation reading, huge hole found in grate under Fukushima No. 1 reactor vessel
4. Our Unit 2 Rough Estimation Of Radiation Levels In Containment
5. Fukushima Unit 2 High Radiation Damages New Robot
6. Fukushima Unit 2 New Radiation Readings From TEPCO
Image Credit: David Dees Art