Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Physicists detect low-level radioactivity from Japan arriving in Seattle

31.03.2011
University of Washington physicists are detecting radioactivity from Japanese nuclear reactors that have been in crisis since a mammoth March 11 earthquake, but the levels are far below what would pose a threat to human health.

On March 16, the scientists began testing air filters on the ventilation intake for the Physics-Astronomy Building on the UW campus, looking for evidence of dust particles containing radioactivity produced in nuclear fission.

The first positive results came from filters that were in place from noon on March 17 to 2 p.m. on March 18. Readings peaked three days later and then dropped, but have risen slightly since then.

"It's a faint signal. You have to filter a lot of air to see it," said Michael Miller, a UW research associate professor of physics. "We've definitely seen it fluctuate up and down, and we are correlating those peaks and drops with any changes in normal background radiation levels."

The measurements were begun because of concerns about effects of radioactivity on very sensitive physics experiments. They also document that radioactivity in airborne particles arriving in the United States is well within safety limits, said R.G. Hamish Robertson, a UW physics professor and director of the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics.

Using the air filters allowed sampling of 10 times more air than in methods used previously and proved to be a key in successfully detecting larger dust particles that had attracted radioactivity from the Japanese nuclear plants, Robertson said.

The readings allowed the physicists to make some detailed findings, including:

The presence of cesium isotopes in ratios that indicate the radioactivity was a result of fission in a nuclear reactor, not nuclear weapons.

The presence of relatively short-lived iodine 131 and tellurium isotopes, indicating the material came primarily from fuel rods, not spent fuel.

The absence of iodine 133, an isotope with an even shorter half-life than iodine 131, signaling that at least a week must have passed since the reactors were stopped.

"What that means is that they were successful in shutting down the reactors at the time of the earthquake," Robertson said. "The lack of iodine 133 indicates that the chain reaction was shut down."

The researchers speculate that, because they see only three of the many possible products of nuclear fission, the material that arrived in Seattle came from the evaporation of contaminated steam released from the reactors. Similar tests following the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986 found a much broader spectrum of elements, indicating that material from actively burning fuel was being sent into the atmosphere.

While the radioactivity is arriving in the United States at levels far lower than are considered harmful to humans, it can raise havoc with sensitive physics experiments. That includes one called Majorana, in which the UW physicists are deeply involved, that is being planned for a lab nearly 1 mile down in the proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory in the old Homestake Mine in Lead, S.D.

The experiment is designed to determine the precise mass of subatomic particles called neutrinos, and any radioactive dust particles that make it into the lab could wreck the experiment, Miller said. Increased atmospheric radioactivity could cause problems for experiments in other laboratories as well, he said.

"This work helps us to understand filtering efficiency, how well the filters keep the radioactive materials out of the lab," he said.

The findings are contained in a paper the scientists posted on an open-access website called arXiv.org. Besides Robertson and Miller, authors are graduate students Jonathan Diaz and Alexis Schubert and research associates Andreas Knecht and Jarek Kaspar, all with the UW experimental nuclear physics center.

The paper will be updated as new results warrant and eventually will be submitted for publication in a peer-review journal.

For more information, contact Robertson at 206-616-2745, 206-685-9060 or rghr@uw.edu, or Miller at 206-543-4080 or mlm43@uw.edu.

The paper documenting the findings is at http://arxiv.org/abs/1103.4853.

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor
24.04.2017 | DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>