June 22, 2013
This past Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Company said Strontium-90 was found in a groundwater sampling “well” at Fukushima Daiichi. There are a dozen of these sampling wells for groundwater at F. Daiichi. None of the other sampling points show any Sr-90, and daily seawater sampling reveals none escaping. The detected radioactivity is one Becquerel per milliliter, some 30 times higher than Japan’s Sr-90 limit for open release. Tepco says this is not due to a leak, but is likely residual from the cable trench leak found (and sealed) in April of 2011. The 2011 leak soaked the soil with contaminated water from the unit #2 basement containing radioactive isotopes including Sr-90. It is unlikely that the contamination will reach the sea, some 100 feet from the well. Tepco will build barriers to keep it from migrating any further, just to insure that none will escape. End of story?
Not in Japan!
The announcement from Tepco has set off a tsunami of alarming Press articles. Most of them used the very same headline…”High Levels of toxic strontium found in Fukushima groundwater”. The “evidence” for this of fear-inducement is questionable at best, with no balancing statements from actual experts. One paper, Japan Daily Press, posted that Strontium is “the principle health hazard in radioactive fallout”. (1) Their source is Encyclopedia Britannica! Since when is a popular encyclopedia worthy of referential status? If any reputable writer used an encyclopedia as evidence, he/she would be laughed out of the business. Also, the reference itself is specific to bomb fallout, not the releases from nuclear power plant accidents. JDP is appealing to wide-spread confusion over the differences between reactors and bombs — a key underpinning of the Hiroshima Syndrome that plagues Japan.
But, JDP didn’t stop there. The article adds, “Strontium-90 has a 28 year half-life and if not properly removed may impose decades of radiation injury.” Scary? Yes! Realistic? Not even close. Here’s why. The Chernobyl accident in 1986 released more than 8,000 terabecquerels of Sr-90 (a teraBq is a million times a million), which was many, many times more than Fukushima Daiichi released. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report from 2004 (2) says no increases in cancer incidence or mortality was caused by the monstrous release in the Ukraine. The NRC report also says Sr-90 becomes a problem only if quantities are ingested resulting in internal exposure “a thousand times higher than doses we all receive from natural radiation”. If 8,000 teraBq of Sr-90 from Chernobyl didn’t harm anyone, how could one Bq/ml in Fukushima groundwater cause long-term health issues?
It isn’t only the JDP making provocative misleading claims. For example, Japan Times posts, “If introduced into the food chain, radioactive strontium-90, with a half-life of 28.8 years, can remain in the human body for long periods and eventually cause cancer.” (3) No supportive evidence is given by the Times. Once again, we ask…if thousands of terabecquerels from Chernobyl didn’t cause any cancers in the Ukraine, how could one Bq/ml in Fukushima ground water do it?
Plus, how coan the Sr-90 get in the food chain in large enough quantities to be an actual health hazard? Groundwater always flows toward the nearest water body that’s lower in elevation, in this case the Pacific Ocean. In addition, groundwater moves very slowly, measured in a few feet per month. Plus, particulates like Strontium move much, much slower than the water itself because of the soil’s natural filtering property. This is why the detected Sr-90 will not get into the terrestrial food chain. If Tepco did nothing, it would take about 100 years before detectible Sr-90 reached the sea, if not longer. Even if the Sr-90 did get there, it would be massively diluted to the point that it would make no discernible increase to the sea-borne Sr-90 already existent!
So…what’s the big deal?
First, 94% of the Japanese Press admitted last year that they are antinuclear. They have succumbed to the tactic of exaggerating anything related to nuclear energy, radiation and Fukushima. Second, one of the mainstays of antinuclearism around the world is distrust of the companies that own the nukes. The level of distrust toward Tepco by the Press in Japan is monumental. The Sr-90 articles only make trust in Tepco further diminish. Third, any detectible level of radiation in Japan, no matter how miniscule, is presented as the cause of a future cancer epidemic. Radiophobia runs rampant in the news media of Japan…just follow their panderings about radiation for more than two years as I have, and you will see what I’m saying.
So, how does the Japanese Press get away with such overt fear-mongering? Millions of people in Japan believe Fukushima is the third atomic bombing of their country, a-la Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions believe the people of Fukushima will eventually be dropping like flies from all sorts of cancers. Fukushima children will be sterile… or worse, give birth to mutated babies! The Fukushima evacuees are already called the new “Hibakusha” (unclean people tainted by bomb fallout). Radiation is worse than Godzilla to millions of Japanese, and the nation’s Press feeds this belief with as much fodder as they can muster. The Tokyo government can be viewed as an accomplice to the Press since they have made no attempt to educate their people on the realities of radiation exposure. It seems Tokyo would rather have millions suffer the psychological damage caused by unrequited fear than spend the money to educate!
A hundred years from now, the world will look back at the radiation-based scare-mongering now existent in Japan and shake their heads in amazement…just as when we recall the pre-Copernican belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.