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On radiation

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On fears of widespread radiation poisoning from contaminated seawater around Fukushima, Science put together a primer which begins:

Although radioactive leaks in the Fukushima plant are now plugged, Japan’s coastal waters have taken a beating. Authorities dumped some of the waste seawater used to cool the reactors back into the sea, where it joined contaminated water leaking from cracks in the plant and nuclear fallout from the air. Almost as soon as the reactor broke, contamination of Japanese food exports became a concern. Now the Japanese are screening all fish products, some of which do indeed have high levels of radioactivity, and health officials there have set a radiation safety limit on seafood consumption. It’s unclear whether the contaminated fish were caught in or out of the 20-kilometer no-go zone around Fukushima, water is reported to have spiked at 7.5 million times the legal limit at its highest.

Still, analysts don’t believe that any of the fish have high enough levels of radioactivity to harm human health. For instance, because it takes only 8 days for the radioactive isotope iodine-131 to decay away to half its original level of radioactivity, simply waiting should be a fix. Cesium-137, however, can accumulate in muscles and is a bigger concern with a half-life of 30 years; scientists plan to track it more carefully.

In the meantime, some marine ecologists are curious about how these levels of radiation could be harming marine life itself, but most aren’t terribly worried; the vastness of the ocean dilutes radiation quickly.

Additionally, crustaceans and insects that live in the ocean are extremely hardy and resistant to radiation, according to marine radioecologist Bruno Fievet of IRSN, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety. The level of radiation necessary to kill marine species—or even damage them—is orders of magnitude higher than the level that would harm a human.

Nevertheless, Japan’s neighbours are worried. Korea Joongang Daily reported:

Concern is rising about food security in Korea as rain contaminated with radiation fell nationwide this week as a result of Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“Although the government had said earlier this week that radiation levels found in past rainfalls were miniscule, I’m still worried that it will affect our dinner table,” said Kim Seon-jin, a 28-year-old homemaker. “Even today, when I go grocery shopping, I hesitate in purchasing homegrown vegetables like spinach or Napa cabbage.”

She has also stocked up on salt and other preserved food supplies out of anxiety over radiation contamination at sea.

Sales of salt at Lotte Mart surged 75.1 percent from March 11 to April 3 compared to the previous year while sales of dried seaweed jumped 63.2 percent.

The Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety said yesterday that traces of radioactive elements have been found in rainwater that are believed to be from the Fukushima plant.

Based on its detailed analysis of rain that fell on Thursday, traces of iodine were found in 11 of the 12 detection centers across the nation while cesium 137 was detected in four locations and cesium 134 in five areas including Busan, Jeju, Daejeon, Gwangju and Gunsan in North Jeolla. The highest concentration of cesium was from rainwater samples taken in Jeju.

Xinfua reports Chinese concerns:

China on Friday expressed concern over Japan’s move to discharge radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) released 11,500 tonnes of low radioactive water into the sea earlier this week, amid efforts to resume control over the reactors severely damaged by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

The Japanese side has informed China about the event and China “is naturally concerned” as a close neighbor, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

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