Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers assess radioactivity released to the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear facility

07.12.2011
With news this week of additional radioactive leaks from Fukushima nuclear power plants, the impact on the ocean of releases of radioactivity from the plants remains unclear. But a new study by U.S. and Japanese researchers analyzes the levels of radioactivity discharged from the facility in the first four months after the accident and draws some basic conclusions about the history of contaminant releases to the ocean.

The study, conducted by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution chemist Ken Buesseler and two Japanese colleagues, Michio Aoyama of the Meteorological Research Institute and Masao Fukasawa of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, reports that discharges from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plants peaked one month after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the nuclear accident, and continue through at least July. Their study finds the levels of radioactivity, while quite elevated, are not a direct exposure threat to humans or marine life, but cautions that the impact of accumulated radionuclides in marine sediments is poorly known.

The release of radioactivity from Fukushima—both as atmospheric fallout and direct discharges to the ocean—represent the largest accidental release of radiation to the ocean in history. Concentrations of cesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half life, at the plants's discharge point to the ocean, peaked at over 50 million times normal/previous levels, and concentrations 18 miles off shore were much higher than those measured in the ocean after the Chernobyl accident 25 years ago. This is largely due to the fact that the Fukushima nuclear power plants are located along the coast, whereas Chernobyl was several hundred miles from the nearest salt water basins, the Baltic and Black Seas. However, due to ocean mixing processes, the levels are rapidly diluted off the Northwest coast of Japan.

The study used publically available data on the concentrations of cesium-137, cesium-134, and iodine-131 as a basis to compare the levels of radionuclides released into the ocean with known levels in the sea surrounding Japan prior to the accident. Impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants on Marine Radioactivity is published in the latest issue of Environmental Science & Technology and is available on the journal's website. Buesseler received funding support for this work from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the National Science Foundation’s Chemical Oceanography program.

The investigators compiled and analyzed data on concentrations of cesium and iodine in ocean water near the plants’s discharge point made public by TEPCO, the electric utility that owns the plants, and the Japanese Ministry of Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The team found that releases to the ocean peaked in April, a fact they attribute to “the complicated pattern of discharge of seawater and fresh water used to cool the reactors and spent fuel rods, interactions with groundwater, and intentional and unintentional releases of mixed radioactive material from the reactor facility.” They also found that the releases decreased in May by a factor of 1000, “a consequence of ocean mixing and a primary radionuclide source that has dramatically abated,” they report.

While concentrations of some radionuclides continued to decrease, by July they were still 10,000 times higher than levels measured in 2010 off the coast of Japan. This indicates the plants “remain a significant source of contamination to the coastal waters off Japan,” they report. “There is currently no data that allow us to distinguish between several possible sources of continued releases, but these most likely include some combination of direct releases from the reactors or storage tanks, or indirect releases from groundwater beneath the reactors or coastal sediments, both of which are likely contaminated from the period of maximum releases.”

Buesseler says that at levels indicated by these data the releases are not likely to be a direct threat to humans or marine biota in the surrounding ocean waters, but says there could be concern if the source remains high and radiation accumulates in marine sediments. “We don’t know how this might impact benthic marine life, and with a half-life of 30 years, any cesium-137 accumulating in sediments or groundwater could be a concern for decades to come,” he said.

In June, Buesseler led the first international, multidisciplinary assessment of the levels and dispersion of radioactive substances in the Pacific Ocean off the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plants—a major research effort also funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. During the research expedition, a group of 17 researchers and technicians spent two weeks aboard the University of Hawaii research vessel R/V Kaimikai-O-Kanaloa examining many of the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the ocean that determine the fate of radioactivity in the water and potential impact on marine biota. The results of their initial assessments will be presented in Salt Lake City in February 2012 at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, an international gathering of more than 4,000 researchers sponsored by The Oceanography Society, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, and the American Geophysical Union.

While international collaborations for comprehensive field measurements to determine the full range of isotopes released are underway, it will take some time before results are available to fully evaluate the impacts of this accident on the ocean.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment.

WHOI Media Relations | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Treatment of saline wastewater during algae utilization
14.05.2019 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH

nachricht Plastic gets a do-over: Breakthrough discovery recycles plastic from the inside out
07.05.2019 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

Im Focus: Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale

'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.

However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...

Im Focus: A step towards probabilistic computing

Working group led by physicist Professor Ulrich Nowak at the University of Konstanz, in collaboration with a team of physicists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, demonstrates how skyrmions can be used for the computer concepts of the future

When it comes to performing a calculation destined to arrive at an exact result, humans are hopelessly inferior to the computer. In other areas, humans are...

Im Focus: Recording embryonic development

Scientists develop a molecular recording tool that enables in vivo lineage tracing of embryonic cells

The beginning of new life starts with a fascinating process: A single cell gives rise to progenitor cells that eventually differentiate into the three germ...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Discovering unusual structures from exception using big data and machine learning techniques

17.05.2019 | Materials Sciences

ALMA discovers aluminum around young star

17.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

A new iron-based superconductor stabilized by inter-block charger transfer

17.05.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>