Some land in Japan too radioactive to farm: study

Nov 15, 2011 by Miwa Suzuki
A deserted field and buildings inside the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station are seen through a bus window near Okuma, on November 12. Farmland in parts of Japan is no longer safe because of high levels of radiation in the soil, scientists have warned, as the country struggles to recover from the Fukushima atomic disaster.

Farmland in parts of Japan is no longer safe because of high levels of radiation in the soil, scientists have warned, as the country struggles to recover from the Fukushima atomic disaster.

A team of international researchers said food production would likely be "severely impaired" by the elevated levels of found in across eastern Fukushima in the wake of meltdowns at the tsunami-hit plant.

The study, published in the journal, suggests farming in neighbouring areas may also suffer because of radiation, although levels discovered there were within legal limits.

"Fukushima prefecture as a whole is highly contaminated," especially to the northwest of the , the researchers said.

The study looked at caesium-137, which has a half life of 30 years and therefore affects the environment for decades.

The legal limit for concentrations in where rice is grown of the sum of caesium-134 and caesium-137, which are always produced together, is 5,000 becquerels per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Japan.

Graphic showing the distribution of radioactive caesium in the soil across Japan, according to a study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal

"The east Fukushima prefecture exceeded this limit and some neighbouring prefectures such as Miyagi, Tochigi and Ibaraki are partially close to the limit under our upper-bound estimate," the study said.

"Estimated and observed contaminations in the western parts of Japan were not as serious, even though some prefectures were likely affected to some extent," it added.

"Concentration in these areas are below 25 becquerels per kilogram, which is far below the threshold for farming. However, we strongly recommend each prefecture to quickly carry out some supplementary soil samplings at city levels to validate our estimates."

The study said "food production in eastern Fukushima prefecture is likely severely impaired by the caesium-137 loads of more than 2,500 becquerels per kilogram".

It is also likely production is "partially impacted in neighbouring provinces such as Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Niigata, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Chiba where values of more than 250 becquerels per kilogram cannot be excluded", it said.

The study was led by Teppei Yasunari of the Universities Space Research Association in the US state of Maryland.

He and his team used daily observations in each Japanese prefecture and computer-simulated particle dispersion models based on weather patterns.

Japan has been on alert for the impact of radiation since an earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the northeast of the country on March 11, crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Its cooling systems were knocked offline and reactors were sent into meltdown, resulting in the leaking of radiation into the air, oceans and food chain.

Shipments of a number of farm products from the affected regions were halted and even those that were not subject to official controls have found little favour with Japanese consumers wary of the potential health effects.

An official in charge of soil examination for the agriculture ministry said government tests had been conducted on soil in Fukushima and five other prefectures earlier this year.

He said contamination levels in Fukushima had exceeded 5,000 becquerels per kilogram, but were below that level elsewhere.

"We are now conducting further checks covering 3,000 spots in Tokyo and 14 prefectures and plan to publish the results later," he said.

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2011
If you add the cost of all the lost revenue from the farm land to the cost of energy production then nuclear quickly becomes un-economical.

With a half life of 30 years for caesium 137 those costs will mount up. Who will pay for this? Somehow I have my doubts that Tepco will. They'l just keep touting nuclear as a 'cheap' and 'clean' energy source and let the taxpayers cough up all the hidden costs.
Nerdyguy
2.8 / 5 (4) Nov 15, 2011
If you add the cost of all the lost revenue from the farm land to the cost of energy production then nuclear quickly becomes un-economical...


There's a problem with your analysis. You've drawn the conclusion that nuclear is "un-economical" by evaluation the disaster that occurred at a single facility. For your formula to approach anything resembling reality, you would need to factor ALL nuclear, ALL development/installation/maintenance costs, and then subtract these cleanup costs from that sum.

Doing the calculation properly would put your conclusion into the common called "laughable". Laughable, as in energy production companies worldwide would be laughing at your conclusion that nuclear is "uneconomical" when it is clearly just the opposite.

Please quit stating political opinions as though they were actual facts.
CHollman82
1.6 / 5 (7) Nov 16, 2011
"The legal limit for concentrations in soil ... is 5,000 becquerels per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Japan."

I love how they tell you what a kilogram is but don't bother mentioning what a becquerel is...
CHollman82
1.1 / 5 (7) Nov 16, 2011
Also, I agree with NerdGuy, a rare miss for AP...
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 16, 2011
For your formula to approach anything resembling reality, you would need to factor ALL nuclear, ALL development/installation/maintenance costs, and then subtract these cleanup costs from that sum.

Well, I'm still betting that this is uneconomical for Japan. Have you any idea what it costs to clean up THOUSANDS of square KILOMETERS of soil? No insurance is going to cover that (and Tepco certainly doesn't have the cash for that stuff lying around).
Fukuchima province has over 13000 square kilometers. If only half of that needs to be cleaned up we're talking something the size of Delaware. No nation could do that without going bankrupt several times over. And you're telling me this is economical? Are you insane?

Tax payer will foot the bill. Most likely they'll just up the safe limit and accept the resulting deaths as collateral damage (just like in Chernobyl).
Nerdyguy
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 16, 2011

Well, I'm still betting that this is uneconomical for Japan.


No argument that there will be high costs for cleanup, both direct and some long-term indirect (e.g., tourism).

I wasn't suggesting that it would be otherwise.

Your original comment was that because of this accident, "nuclear quickly becomes un-economical."

idk, maybe you meant "nuclear in the city of Fukushima" is now uneconomical.

But, nuclear in general is still alive and well. Of course, it was alive and a whole lot MORE well prior to this accident, but that's all about irrational fear mongering.
Howhot
3 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2011
Looking at the graphic, It looks to me that 1/4 of Japan has been contaminated, which is a lot. I heard an story on NPR this morning that Tokyo just dogged a bullet by having an abnormally dry summer, otherwise more water vapor would have brought radiation down to the surface. Instead most all of the radiation has gone out to sea.

Still; its an amazing warning to us all how dangerous nuclear is. It doesn't matter how well you design a reactor. If it can fail, it will with big time consequences.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
Your original comment was that because of this accident, "nuclear quickly becomes un-economical."

Yes, that is the argument. Current thinking simply assumes nothing will go wrong (or that the MTBF is in the billions of years). This assumption has repeatedly been shown to be based on absolutely nothing. Under that assumption (and the unspoken posit that the public will pay for waste disposal, anyhow, it may be economical. But shouldn't the ENTIRE chain - INCLUDING risks and ancillary costs - be included in the price of a product? If not - why not?

No technological system is absolutely safe. So we must always be able to at least clean up any ramifications when anything does go wrong (be it an oil tanker or chemical factory or a nuclear power plant). Writing a part of the planet off is not a viable long term strategy and should not be an option.
CHollman82
1.1 / 5 (7) Nov 17, 2011
Looking at the graphic, It looks to me that 1/4 of Japan has been contaminated, which is a lot. I heard an story on NPR this morning that Tokyo just dogged a bullet by having an abnormally dry summer, otherwise more water vapor would have brought radiation down to the surface. Instead most all of the radiation has gone out to sea.

Still; its an amazing warning to us all how dangerous nuclear is. It doesn't matter how well you design a reactor. If it can fail, it will with big time consequences.


This is dumb... it absolutely does matter how well you build and maintain the reactor... these were very old reactors, modern reactors built today would not have failed. One of my good friends is a nuclear technician on a nuclear submarine, he laughs when people point to this accident as if those reactors even came close to representing the safety and quality of modern ones.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
.. these were very old reactors, modern reactors built today would not have failed.

No. You cannot state that with certainty. Nothing is absolutley proof. Even modern reactors are built to withstand "an earthquake of such and such a magnitude but not beyond". The reactors were built to withstand a magnitude 6.5 directly under the reactor. Later it was evaluated that they could withstand a magnitude of 7.75 ('modern' reactors aren't built to better standards than that, either).
The Japan earthquake was a magnitude 9.0 (and this is a LOGARITHMIC scale)

No reactor is safe from human mishandling (or downright sabotage).

And we DO have these old reactors all over the place. So acting as if they don't exist or saying "modern reactors are better" doesn't improve safety one bit.
Nerdyguy
2 / 5 (2) Nov 17, 2011
Still; its an amazing warning to us all how dangerous nuclear is. It doesn't matter how well you design a reactor. If it can fail, it will with big time consequences.


Yes, it does matter how you design a reactor and the facility that houses it. But, beyond that, it matters how the overall design/implementation/long-term-maintenance process is handled.

It's the reason why there are 432 nuclear plants worldwide, and another 65 under construction, and yet you likely know the names of only two of them: Chernobyl and Fukushima (city names anyway). If you're old enough, maybe Three Mile.

The fact is, mankind has pumped out an enormous amount of power with nuclear, and the ONLY time that nuclear has ever had a negative result, it was 100% human mismanagement at fault.

Nerdyguy
3 / 5 (2) Nov 17, 2011
But shouldn't the ENTIRE chain - INCLUDING risks and ancillary costs - be included in the price of a product? If not - why not?


Yes, it should. However, only when you force the same constraints on all other power producers, particularly oil/gas/coal.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
and the ONLY time that nuclear has ever had a negative result, it was 100% human mismanagement at fault.

I wouldn't call a tsunami 'human mismanagement' (not that some lines were ruptured and that it wouldn't have mattered where the generators were put. At that high a tsunami everything was flooded.)

But basically what you are saying is: "No matter how technically perfect we construct stuff the human factor can screw it up."

Congratulations. you have understood why 'technical savvy' isn't going to reduce the number of incidences here.

It's the reason why there are 432 nuclear plants worldwide

And god knows how many coal and oil powerplants. At least they don't blow up. (and yes: they, too should pay for all the environmental impact they have - we should get rid of them as soon as possible)

Read this list - not having heard of an accident doesn't mean it didn't happen. Just means you're not paying attention
http://en.wikiped...ccidents
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
One of my good friends is a nuclear technician on a nuclear submarine, he laughs when people point to this accident as if those reactors even came close to representing the safety and quality of modern ones.


Excellent point. Let's see, how many submariners have died from a nuclear accident since the very first reactor went in? Add in all other military vessels with nuclear as well. Seems to me that there might be a relationship between the design/implementation/maintenance cycle and the results at the end of the day.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
@antialias: you're a pretty smart guy - do you actually believe that the tsunami was the sole cause of this nuclear accident? To take it a step further, would you believe that if we removed tsunamis as a danger that nuclear would be OK?

In fact, you have your mind made up about nuclear, and no amount of statistics, logic, or rational thought is going to sway you. That's OK, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but it's sad to see you confusing your opinion with a rational line of thinking.

Bottom line: there are billions of people around the world getting power from nuclear. Like me, most of them don't think twice about it. Whereas, I do spend some thinking about how much more coal we will have to burn as a result of irrational fear-mongering by people who simply don't like nuclear and are forcing their opinion on the rest of us.

Is nuclear the best option mankind has to offer? Nope. But all the others suck too. Maybe Rossi will save us all.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
ORAC strikes again!