Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Radiation Level at Fukushima Is So High It Killed Two Robots

Popular
Photo credit: Greg Webb / International Atomic Energy Agency

By Whitney Webb

While media attention has largely drifted away from the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the years since the disaster, a recent and disturbing development has once again made Fukushima difficult if not impossible to ignore.

On Feb. 2, Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO, quietly released a statement regarding the discovery of a hole measuring 2 meters in diameter within the metal grating at the bottom of the containment vessel in the plant's No. 2 reactor.

Though news of this hole is indeed concerning, even more shocking was the associated jump in radiation detected in the area. According to estimates taken at the time of the hole's discovery, radiation inside the reactor was found to have reached 530 sieverts per hour, a massive increase compared to the 73 sieverts per hour recorded after the disaster. To put these figures in perspective, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's maximum amount of radiation exposure permitted for astronauts over their entire lifetime is 1 sievert.

Human exposure to 5 sieverts would kill half of those exposed within a month, while 10 sieverts would prove fatal to nearly all exposed within a matter of weeks. An official with Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals with the organization had never even considered working with such high levels of radiation.

A nearly 1-square-meter hole is seen in a walkway in the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It is thought that the heat of the melted nuclear fuel caused the walkway to give way.TEPCO

TEPCO initially tried to counter public fears by stating that most of the reactor's nuclear fuel remained in the containment vessel despite the hole. However, on Feb. 3, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura was quoted as saying that "it's highly possible that melted fuel leaked through." At the time, TEPCO said that it would send a robot into the area to survey the full extent of the damage in order to definitively determine whether fuel had leaked outside of the reactor into the surrounding environment.

The first robot, deployed on Feb. 16, was unable to conduct any meaningful measurements, as the extreme conditions within the reactor forced operators to abandon it within the containment vessel. The "scorpion" robot, manufactured by Toshiba, was meant to record images of the reactor's interior and collect accurate—instead of estimated—data on the levels of radiation within. Within three hours of deployment, the device stopped responding to operators despite its stated ability to withstand high levels of radiation. TEPCO has not commented on its new plans to gauge the damage recently uncovered in the reactor in the wake of the robot's malfunction.

When a second robot was sent to investigate, it also failed.

One of the World's Worst Nuclear Disasters Grows Even worse

Despite a lack of widespread media coverage and TEPCO's reassurances that things are under control, there is concern that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima—already one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history—is quickly growing even worse.

PBS News reported last year that more than 80 percent of of the radioactivity from the three damaged reactors was released into the Pacific Ocean, as 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from the reactors every day since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled the plant in 2011.

The Pacific Ocean may have diluted much of the radiation, due to its massive volume, yet radiation and debris from the disaster has been detected along the western coast of Canada and the U.S. Traces of Fukushima radiation were first detected in early 2015, when trace amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 appeared in samples collected near Vancouver Island. Then, in December of last year, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected seaborne cesium-134 along the Oregon coast.

Though no link between the presence of radiation has been officially established, fisheries along the entire western coast of North America have been collapsing. Last month, the U.S. secretary of commerce reported on the failure of nine salmon and crab fisheries in Alaska, California and Washington—all due to "unexpected" yet steep declines in fish populations.

While scientists and government authorities alike are "stumped" as to the cause, fish caught along the West Coast have showed high increases in the levels of cesium for years—as far back as 2014. Researchers have maintained that fish, however, are still "safe" to eat despite the fact that at least one group of doctors agrees that there is "no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources, period."

The Japanese government, TEPCO and mainstream media continue to insist that this massive release of radiation into the environment has had no effect on human or environmental health. However, thyroid cancer rates have soared in Japan, with 131 children developing thyroid cancer in the six years since the disaster. That total is equivalent to about 600 thyroid cancer cases per million children, while the child thyroid cancer rate elsewhere is about one or two children per million per year.

Despite the marked increase in cancer rates, TEPCO and the Japanese government insist that Fukushima radiation is "unlikely" to result in a greater incidence of cancer cases. However, exposure to Iodine-131, the main radionuclide released into the air and water during the meltdown, is known to increase human risk of thyroid cancer and is the most clearly defined environmental factor associated with thyroid tumors, suggesting that a correlation between radiation and exposure likely exists.

This latest breach in one of the plant's damaged reactors as well as TEPCO's inability to even properly gauge the extent of the damage suggests that we have yet to see the full devastating potential of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Reposted with permission from our media associate MintPress News.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less