History Travel

Almost Seven Years Later, I Have Your Answers About How Dangerous Fukushima Dai-Ichi Really Is

Main image is from the upcoming “Godzilla 2” movie set for release on March 2019.

On occasion, I’ll hear people’s fears of traveling to Japan or eating sushi because of the Fukushima incident, so I decided to see if there is something to be afraid of other than Godzilla which is a given.

The short answer is that if you are a tourist traveling to Japan (not specifically to Fukushima ) you have no reason to be afraid, and the only thing you should be afraid of is your karaoke abilities after several rounds of beers.

Once you sober up and before you decide to surf off the coast of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi powerplant coast, I should also point out that the Japanese government does not seem to always be that transparent, along with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Although to compound that the problem, the media is also guilty of click-bait headlines that make matters even worse. The lack of communication is why either source has not garnered the trust of locals, but I did try to dig up quality references to either substantiate or rebuke those fears.

For some, your only real concern to read this article is to find out if the fish you eat from the Pacific is safe, so if you’re wondering if it is, don’t worry, it’s safe. Of course, I am only telling you what the Oregon State University Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics Department had researched and stated. In their findings, they have equated the amount of radiation you’d get from albacore in one of the tests they conducted to “spooning with your partner over 8 hours of sleep each night results in a dose of 13.40 nSv each month from the potassium-40 in their body exposing you to additional gamma irradiation.”

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You can either eat more tuna or spoon your partner  for 8 hours.

On Friday, March 11th, 2011, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear powerplant experienced an 8.9-9.1 magnitude earthquake which was followed up by a tsunami with 30-ft waves.

Not only did Northeastern Japan experience an earthquake, but they got hit by a subsequent tsunami which was caused by the quake.

“To give you an idea how powerful that earthquake was, the strongest earthquake in recorded history happened in Chile in 1960, and it was a 9.5.”

The magnitude 9.0 earthquakes epicenter happened 130 kilometers (80 miles) off the Sendai and Miyagi prefecture which is part of the Tohoku region. The tsunami that occurred soon after created waves anywhere from 3 to 38 meters (10 to 124 ft) in height and got up to speeds of 500 mph that spread throughout the Pacific basin.

To give you an idea how powerful that earthquake was, the strongest earthquake in recorded history happened in Chile in 1960, and it was a 9.5. Compare that to the incidents in the U.S., in 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the SF Bay Area at 5:04 pm and it registered a 6.9 in which that event killed 63 people and injured 3,757 people.

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The double-decker highway collapse in Oakland, CA. Image is being used under Creative Commons.

The below excerpt is taken directly from the OPB website about how powerful a 9.0 earthquake is.

“To help put that exponential difference in perspective, imagine that the energy released from a 3.9 earthquake is equal to a single grain of sand. On that scale, here would be the difference between different earthquake magnitudes:

Magnitude 3.9 = 1 grain of sand
Magnitude 4 = 3 grains
Magnitude 5 = 95 grains
Magnitude 6 = 3,052 grains (a small handful)
Magnitude 7 = 97,656 grains
Magnitude 8 = 3,125,000 grains (about 18 pounds)
Magnitude 9 = 100,000,000 grains (about 572 pounds)”


My laymen understanding of radiation

I did not think I could wrap my head around this topic because I’m no Homer Simpson, and I was not at the top of my class except for maybe art class which I barely passed by Asian standards (I think I had a B+). Although, like usual, my writing ability didn’t stop me, and I decided to give it a go. To make up for my deficiencies, I did do quite a bit of research and cross-referencing to check on the validity and accuracy of the information put out by media and other resources.

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Before you start reading, I want to state that I stuck to science-based resources cited at the bottom of the post, so that you can check out the content first-hand. Also I am not surprised, but there are a lot of conspiracy theories, and videos that are full of disinformation like the graphic below that has been incorrectly touted to be the flow of radiation (it is not, it’s the wave heights of the tsunami).

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Radiation (ionizing radiation) occurs naturally

All radiation isn’t damaging to the point of instant death, but some radiation in particular dosages can be extremely detrimental to fatal. Ionizing radiation can rip electrons off of atoms, and this radiation will damage tissues, cells, and organs.

Here are a few examples of naturally occurring radiation.
  • Sunlight
  • Radon
  • Rocks and soil
  • Radio waves
  • Banana’s
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Eat 10 million of these at once, and you will not feel too well for a number of reasons.
Man-made occurring radiation
  • Nuclear testing by a number of countries like the U.S. on the Bikini Atol islands: some were conducted underground, but a lot were detonated in the air to maximize damage (at approx 1,900 ft for Hiroshima and Nagasaki) although it’s not as devastating as a surface detonation in regards to radiation.
  • Nuclear accidents/disasters: 3 mile island, Chernobyl, to Fukushima to name a few of the bigger ones in the world.
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The United States tested 23 nuclear weapons from 1946 to 1958 which has devastated these populated islands with radiation to the present day….muuuurica
Types of radiation

All radiation does not have the same characteristics.

  1. Alpha particles: can be stopped by a sheet of paper, but they are extremely dangerous if they enter the body via the lungs or ingested. Alpha is the most damaging to cells.
  2. Beta particles: beta and gamma particles can penetrate the skin although they will generally just pass through if inside the body versus being absorbed.
  3. Gamma energy: is not a particle, and beta and gamma are very dangerous when outside of the body.
How to protect yourself from radiation (it is not just an underground bunker)

I always wondered why in movies people would always wear what looked like the suits were the thickness of a wind breaker, or why they would under go a shower. Now that I know that there are different types of radiation, I now understand how easy it can be to minimize the risks of certain types of radiation.

Radioactive particles are “sticky”, and you can protect yourself from fallout by de-contamination:

  • Throwing away your clothes
  • Radiation showers
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I thought you’d need an outfit like this to protect you from radiation in a post-apocalyptic world.
How long does radiation last

I always thought radiation lasts forever, but some radioactive isotopes will usually decay in minutes, days, or in months except for Cs-137 which will stick around like an unwanted house guest.

“In fact, you should also visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities that had atomic bombs dropped on them some 73 years ago now only have the typical amount of  background radiation found in any other city.” – the more you know

How long does it take to decay is called a half-life, and in radioactivity the interval of time required for one-half of the atomic nuclei of a radioactive sample to decay (change spontaneously into other nuclear species by emitting particles and energy), or equivalently, the probable time interval required for the number of disintegration per second of a radioactive material to decrease by one-half.

Examples of the half-life of:
  • Flourine-18 – 109.8 minutes or approximately 2 hours
  • Cessium-134 – 2.06 years
  • Iodine-131 – 8.02 days. In 1945-63, from nuclear testing (*5)
  • Cobalt-60 – 5.27 years
  • Tritium – 12.5 years
  • Strontium-90, 28.8 years, naturally occurring strontium is non-radioactive and nontoxic at levels normally found in the environment, but Sr-90 emits beta particles.
  • Cessium-137: 30.2 years (a byproduct of uranium).
  • Plutonium-239/240: 24,000 to 6,500 year half-life. If you’re interested, you can also read why plutonium is also more dangerous than uranium.
  • Uranium-234, 235, 238 (most common): 245k, 704 million, 4.46 billion years (decays by alpha emissions into thorium-234)
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Uranium ore: “Uranium is a metallic element that occurs naturally. It is also one of the more common elements in the Earth’s crust. Uranium is 500 times more abundant than gold, 25 times more abundant than mercury and about as common as tin.” Image and copy by the Canadian Nuclear Association

uranium-resources

Here are a just few places in the U.S. with radioactivity (there’s a lot more):
  1. Simi Valley, CA
  2. Denver Federal Center, CO
  3. Hanford Nuclear Site
Amount of radiation exposure from:

Some of these amounts varied quite a bit from one source to another.

Microsevert

  • 0.03 μSv Hiroshima ground zero
  • 0.098 μSv: from a banana (if you eat about 10 mil banana’s it’ll kill you).
  • 80 μSv: average dose to people living within 16 km of Three Mile Island accident

Millisievert

  • 1.5 to 1.7 mSv: annual dose for flight attendants
  • 2-3 mSv: in an airliner at an altitude of 33k plus feet.
  • 5 mSv: Chernobyl
  • 8 mSv: dental X-ray
  • 10-30 mSv: CT scan
  • 68 mSv: est. max dose to evacuees who lived closest to the Fukushima nuclear accident
  • 80 mSv: 6-month stay on the International Space Station
  • 10k mSv: Fukushima
  • 80k mSv: astronauts on the space station for 6 months.
  • 160k mSv: radioactive polonium – people who smoke.

Sievert

  • 1 Sv: maximum allowed radiation exposure for NASA astronauts over their career
  • 64 Sv: nonfatal dose to Albert Stevens spread over ~21 years, due to a 1945 plutonium injection experiment by doctors working on the secret Manhattan Project.
Deadly dosages

Acute Radiation Poisoning

  • 1 sievert = illness
  • 4-5 sieverts = death in 30 days
  • 80 sieverts = coma and death in 1 hour
  • 100 sieverts = Instant death.
The stages when exposed to radiation
  • prodromal
  • Latent
  • Manifest illness
  • Recovery or death
Long term effects to radiation
  • Bone and thyroid cancer
  • Leukemia

Fukushima Dai-Ichi

How Much radiation is leaking from Fukushima?

At one point 300-400 tonnes or by Discovery News calculations, about 1,500 bathtubs worth.

Are there people who still live in the radiation area?

Matsumura, he stayed to take care of animals, and he’s not afraid because he won’t get sick for 30-40 years. At that point, he knows he’ll be dead from old age.

How long will it take to clean up?

40 years is the optimistic estimate, but people are saying that it can be up to 100 years.

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Radiation early on was spread via wind and rain which is why the pattern looks like it does.
What needs to be cleaned up?

Top soil, nuclear rods, tools, vehicles, and clothing used in the clean up all become part of the “nuclear waste.” Typically this waste is buried underground, or if you’re the Italian mafia, you take and dump this waste from Italy off of the coast of Somalia.

Why is it so hard to clean up?

The technology currently doesn’t exist to be able to enter the reactors to assess the situation or to the clean-up and decommission of the reactors. The robots we currently have are destroyed by the radiation within hours of exposure, and robots still have a very limited range of capabilities.

Can things get worse?

Hopefully not, but if there is another major earthquake, the holding tanks for radioactive water that had been used to keep the rods cool are susceptible to damage (aka spilling).

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Those are the holding tanks for radioactive water.
Over 15,000 people lost their lives

In memory of all the people who had lost their lives, I wanted to create yet another resource to try to help to clarify the real dangers in the Tohoku region. The people in this region have suffered enough, and I don’t want them to have to suffer again from the ton of stupid on the internet about misconceptions of the Fukushima disaster.

Resources
  1. Snopes: radioactive seepage from Fukushima
  2. Carleton College: radiation and nuclear health hazards
  3. USGS: Publications database and uranium concentrations
  4. USNRC (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission): natural background sources
  5. DNews (Seeker): YouTube 
  6. Veritasium (YouTube)The Most Radioactive Places on Earth
  7. Canadian Nuclear Association: Uranium ore
  8. LiveScience: why plutonium is more dangerous than uranium.
  9. Huffington Post:Why Worry About Fukushima When Hiroshima and Nagasaki Are Safe?
  10. OPB.orgHow Powerful Is A 9.0 Earthquake?
  11. What is nuclearAre Tuna safe to eat after Fukushima? Yes!
  12. National Geographic: After Alarmingly High Radiation Levels Detected, What Are the Facts in Fukushima?
  13. Scientific American “Crippled Fukushima Reactors Are Still a Danger, 5 Years after the Accident.

 

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