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This diary serves as an update to a previously published diary summarizing efforts to determine how much plutonium (Pu) was released to the environment as a result of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster. Plutonium is an alpha radiation emitting isotope that, if internalized, can represent a significant radiological health risk. Previous measurements of Pu in air, soil, plants and seawater following the 2011 disaster suggest that Fukushima released about 100,000 times less Pu to the environment than the Chernobyl disaster did in 1986. New measurements of "black substances" found along roadsides in high radiation areas in Fukushima Prefecture support previous work showing that Pu was released from the Fukushima plant.  Based on the relative activity of Pu to radioactive cesium (137-Cs) the study determined that 2.3x10^9 Bq of 239,240-Pu (580 mg) was released or about 0.00004% of the Pu core inventories. This release from Fukushima is roughly 40,000 times lower than Chernobyl and 5,000,000 times lower than 239,240-Pu released during atmospheric weapons testing in the 20th century.

Sakaguchi and co-workers collected black substances along roadsides in high radiation locations in Fukushima Prefecture in May-September 2012.

Sampling sites of black substances in Fukushima Prefecture and inventory of radioactive Cs-137 (Bq/m2) released from Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in color contour showing numbered locations of samples analyzed
The black substance was found to contain high activities of both 137-Cs (half life ~30 yr) and 134-Cs (half life ~2 yr) with values between 0.43 and 17.7 MBq/kg (MBq = 1,000,000 Bq).  For a primer on units used by scientists to report radioactivity please consult the following diary.  Isotopes of Pu 239 and 240 (reported as the sum of or 239,240-Pu) were detected in the black substance at much lower activities of 0.15-1.14 Bq/kg. By comparing the ratio of uranium (U) to 239,240-Pu the authors were able to determine that the Pu was more likely from the nuclear power plant than from the legacy of atmospheric weapons testing in middle of the 20th century.

Using the total activity137-Cs released to the atmosphere during the early stages of the disaster in 2011 and the 239,240-Pu/137-Cs ratio measured in the black substances Sakaguchi and colleagues calculate the total release of 239,240-Pu to the environment.  Results of these calculations are summarized in the table below:

Table summarizing the % of fuel inventory of 137-Cs and 239,240-Pu released to the environment as determined by Sakaguchi et al. (2014)
Roughly 2% of 137-Cs fuel inventory at the Fukushima plant was released compared to 0.00004% of 239,240-Pu.  The total mass of 239-240-Pu released based on this analysis is < 600 milligrams or 0.6 grams of these long lived isotopes.  

In comparison to the 2.3 x 10^9 Bq of 239,240-Pu released from Fukushima, about 9 x 10^13 Bq was released during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and about 1.1 x 10^16  Bq was released to the environment due to atmospheric weapons testing largely in the 1950's and 1960's.

More studies of the distribution of Pu isotopes in soil, plants and especially seawater are required to improve the release estimates of these alpha emitting fuel components. Release of Pu directly to the ocean from Fukushima is poorly constrained at present.  I will provide updates to these estimates as new peer-reviewed studies are published.

Originally posted to MarineChemist on Fri May 09, 2014 at 12:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Japan Nuclear Incident Liveblogs.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Please keep these diaries coming! (13+ / 0-)

    Actual science is desperately needed on this site and on this topic.


    Enjoy the San Diego Zoo's panda cam! And support Bat World Sanctuary

    by Fonsia on Fri May 09, 2014 at 12:08:25 PM PDT

  •  I once had custody of about 10 watts worth (8+ / 0-)

    of Pu-238, in the form of oxide contained in triple-walled capsules. Which is about 10 grams of Pu-238. They had been used as radioisotopic thermal generator heat sources in nuclear weapons, but I used them to calibrate calorimeters used for doing safeguards measurements on kilogram quantities of Pu.

    Thanks for the memory jog, and for the info on Fukushima.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Fri May 09, 2014 at 12:41:42 PM PDT

  •  The significance of the plutonium found at (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maregug, Creosote

    Fukushima isn't in the amount but rather as an indication of fuel damage and containment failure. That was the earliest proof of at least one meltdown.

    I'm a Vietnam Era vet. I'm also an Erma Bombeck Era vet. When cussing me out and calling me names please indicate which vet you would like to respond to your world changing thoughts.

    by Just Bob on Fri May 09, 2014 at 01:06:33 PM PDT

    •  Not really... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby, Wee Mama, BusyinCA, Creosote

      the readily-apparent iodine and cesium releases were enough to show fuel melt.

      The amount of plutonium released is so small, it takes sophisticated ratio analysis to infer that anything found has anything to do with Fukushima, rather than simply being the global echo of weapons testing.

      This is not a sig-line.

      by Joffan on Fri May 09, 2014 at 02:56:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps that and the chunks of fuel rods (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        scattered about.

        I'm a Vietnam Era vet. I'm also an Erma Bombeck Era vet. When cussing me out and calling me names please indicate which vet you would like to respond to your world changing thoughts.

        by Just Bob on Fri May 09, 2014 at 05:24:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good news Pu levels are far lower than Chernobyl (8+ / 0-)

    Lung cancer is ugly.

    “Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it. " Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D, WVa

    by FishOutofWater on Fri May 09, 2014 at 01:32:18 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for keeping an eye on this and sharing. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fonsia, billmosby, PeterHug, T100R, Creosote


    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Fri May 09, 2014 at 01:52:30 PM PDT

  •  Animals doing worse at FUkushima than Chernobyl (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At 17:00 – Barn swallows in Fukushima, many of them, perhaps 10% so far that have been surveyed are showing patches of these white feathers, just as we documented for Chernobyl. So it looks like the same thing is happening in Fukushima […] It was really shocking to us to see these tumors [...] as high as we were seeing them. We just published a paper summarizing the results of this 10+ years survey […] Much to our surprise — many species of birds were showing signs of decline in the most contaminated parts of Fukushima Prefecture and we then found that again the pattern was very similar to what had occurred in Chernobyl. When we looked at 14 species that were identical in both areas we found that they showed the same sort of pattern but that the strength of the response of the negative response to radiation was more than 2 times in Fukushima as what we currently see in Chernobyl — implying that the effects are stronger in Fukushima, right now at least.

    •  Hi Duckmg (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby, T100R, Creosote

      Thanks for the link.  I urge you to listen to the whole interview that the redacted quote comes from above as well as the other full articles and video that is parsed in the story your link to.  The story in question is a mishmash of three different sources dating back to Oct. 2013. The redactions above serve to conflate information about Chernobyl with Fukushima.  I also urge you think critically about what Mousseau says by going to his studies themselves rather than parsed reporting on the matter.

      The quote in your comment above:

      When we looked at 14 species that were identical in both areas we found that they showed the same sort of pattern but that the strength of the response of the negative response to radiation was more than 2 times in Fukushima as what we currently see in Chernobyl — implying that the effects are stronger in Fukushima, right now at least.
      When ENENews reports that the negative impact on 14 bird species was about twice as great in Fukushima compared to Chernobyl it is not made clear that they are comparing Fukushima immediately following the disaster in 2011 with Chernobyl bird populations 20+ years (2006-2009) after the disaster there in 1986.  Mousseau and colleagues are not suggesting that the impact on birds in Fukushima in the breeding season following the disaster is twice as negative as the breeding of birds following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.  The paper does not contain data to address the question of how bad (and it is bad) Fukushima has been for birds compared to Chernobyl.

      The published work Mousseau is describing is reported in the following paper published in the journal Environmental Pollution in 2012 which you can read for yourself.

      Undoubtedly Tim's work on the impact of Fukushima on organisms in Japan is very important and needs to be done and funded properly which at present it is not.  

      He himself states in the NY Times article on which the report is based that more data is required to determine the impact

      Dr. Mousseau has expanded his work to include similar studies in Japan — he’s made about 10 trips there. Already, he said, he is seeing some Chernobyl-like effects in the contaminated area around the Fukushima plant, but he needs to gather data for at least a few more years before he can be confident about the impact.
      I will look forward to reading his published work on the matter.
      •  Thanks for taking the time to explain this. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        For whatever reason, a lot of people shoot from the hip on stuff like this. Lives too busy or something.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Fri May 09, 2014 at 07:31:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hi billmosby (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          T100R, billmosby, tarkangi

          ENENews does this kind of thing all the time by posting bits and pieces of stories to drive a narrative that might not reflect the original content.  Unless you went and listened and read the news reports and actually read the scientific studies themselves you would conclude as the commenter did that:  

          Animals doing worse at FUkushima than Chernobyl
          Some species certainly were in 2011 when they were studied by Mousseau compared to birds around Chernobyl in 2006-2009 given that it had been almost 30 years since wildlife there was exposed to high levels that could elicit a radiotoxic response.

          It is bad reporting about an important issue. Most people will not go to the original sources. More work needs to be done to determine what the short and long term implications will be for the terrestrial ecosystem in Japan.

          •  There was also this (0+ / 0-)
            At 23:30 in — I just got back from Japan and initial survey of barn swallow population in the most contaminated areas. Anecdotally, things are not looking good for the birds in these very heavily contaminated areas — there’s just very few of them left.
            •  Hi Duckmg (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              It is a complicated issue that defies soundbites.  Some species are doing better at Fukushima (2011) than at Chernobyl (2006-2009).  Your ENENews link does not mention that Mousseau and colleagues have recently published a paper showing that some species at Fukushima have not shown declines despite the same species showing negative effects at Chernobyl (Moller et al. Ecological Indicators 2013)

              We censused spiders, grasshoppers, dragonflies, butterflies, bumblebees, cicadas and birds at 1198 sites in Chernobyl and Fukushima-Daiichi, where major nuclear accidents happened 25 years and 6 months ago, respectively. The mean level of radiation was higher and less variable at Fukushima than at Chernobyl, implying that we should expect more negative effects on the abundance of animals at Fukushima if immediate effects of radiation were important. While all taxa showed significant declines in abundance with increasing level of background radiation in Chernobyl, only three out of seven taxa showed such an effect at Fukushima.
              At present, levels in certain parts of Fukushima Prefecture on average, radiation levels are higher and acute radiotoxic effects are organisms are occurring.  More research is required to determine what the long term impacts and what the specific short term impacts are. Short term population dynamics might reflect shortage of important foodstuffs as well in addition to individual level responses to radiation.  

              If short term declines in barn swallow populations were to occur but long term damage to offspring in the form of significant genetic mutations were avoided then the longer term prognosis of the swallows will be better.  

  •  haven't the japanese been decontaminating? (0+ / 0-)

    it seems odd to be sampling in 2012, after a
    large cleanup campaign and then trying to
    estimate a source term from that.

    •  Hi patbahn (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The results summarized above are consistent with measurements made by other studies as detailed here.

      I agree with you that it would be rather silly for them to visit sites that had already been decontaminated to try to estimate releases.  They measured the Pu, Cs and U content of black substances by roadsides that have not been cleaned up since the disaster.

      •  are they sure? (0+ / 0-)

        The story was familiar to us, as in March this year, while conducting
        radiation checks in a park in the suburb of Watari, we came across a
        newly installed official radiation monitoring post. This station
        showed a relatively low level of contamination when compared to levels
        we had measured previously, however, it was placed smack in the middle
        of a small area that had been clearly decontaminated. New soil had
        replaced the old, but as soon as you stepped off the cleaned area the
        levels of contamination rose sharply, and remained much higher
        throughout the park – with the exception of around the official
        monitoring post itself.
        the JPG has a huge incentive to push the numbers down,
        and miscalculate and interfere.  
        •  Hi patbahn (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          They sampled black substances by the roadside.  They specifically targeted high radioactivity areas of Fukushima prefecture.  The black substances had MBq/kg levels of 137-Cs...not decontaminated.

          The great thing about using isotope ratios of Pu to U and to 137-Cs as the authors above did is that unless a decontamination scheme specifically cleans up one isotope more than another it wouldn't matter if some attempt to sweep something up had occurred.  

          •  source terms matter (0+ / 0-)

            the hardest thing to get a handle on is the source
            term at Fukushima.

            •  Hi patbahn (0+ / 0-)

              More and more measurements allow a more sound determination of the source term and it happens completely independent of what the Japanese Government wishes.

              With respect to your comment below, if you wish to make a case for a communist Japanese government I am sure you could write a diary about it and those with expertise and interest in the area could comment about it.

              The matter is largely immaterial to the determination of the impact of Fukushima on the North Pacific Ocean.

  •  chernobyl and plutonium (0+ / 0-)

    Chernobyl was a uranium core reactor, so
    any plutononium produced was a byproduct
    of operations.

    while the Fukushima reactors were getting MOX loads
    on site.

    so, the two are going to have very different dynamics.

    •  Hi patbahn (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There was about 3.5 times the inventory of 239+240-Pu at Fukushima when compared to Chernobyl.

      Fukushima 8.3 PBq
      Chernobyl 2.4 PBq

      3.5% of the Chernobyl inventory was released compared to 1.2-2.9 x 10^-5 % of the Fukushima based on estimates.  So the Chernobyl release of Pu contributed much more significantly to environmental Pu inventories than has Fukushima according to measurements.  See table in this diary.

      What do you mean by different "dynamics"?

      •  dynamics (0+ / 0-)

        how things change over time.

        I think the fundamental mistake you make on both Fukushima
        and Chernobyl is failing to realize these are both communist

        The sort of lying and misrepresentation and the interference
        with scientific data collection in both countries is extreme.

        I know these are the published literature but at the same
        time, valid science cannot be done in zones of interference.

        •  Hi patbahn (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You have educated me. I was unaware that Japan was a communist country.  I was under the impression that they were a constitutional monarchy somewhat similar to what we have in Canada


          •  externally it's very capitalist, internally it's (0+ / 0-)



            Now, let me tell you something. Even though Japan is technically a Capitalist country because of it's free market economy, while China is a Communist country... Japan's society and the way it's people think is VERY, VERY Communist.

            Many of you Gaijins may not realize this, but take it from someone who is part Japanese and who has also lived the majority of his life in China... JAPANESE ARE COMMUNISTS

            The way the Japanese government controls information (especially with regards to Education), the emphasis on conformity in society, the BRAIN-WASHING that takes place in Japanese public schools, the looking down upon/frowing upon of the individuals who amass great wealth (i.e. the constant media criticising of livedoor's Horie and his aggressive tactics Note: this was before he was exposed for his fraud), and other bull__ that I will not get into for now...

            Some of you may be asking me what is your point? I will be honest with you. Nothing, really... except that you should always do well to remember that even though Japan may ECONOMICALLY be a capitalist country, SOCIETALLY and CULTURALLY it is communist.



            Page 6

            "Everything in Japan makes sense once you realize Japan
            is a Communist Country".

            •  Hi patbahn (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              You provide a link to an anonymous post on a website and a scribd document about a foreigner trying to get a drivers license as proof Japan is a communist country.

              Thoroughly unconvincing and does little to elevate the discussion here.

              •  would the Japan Times make you feel better? (0+ / 0-)


                A common joke among some foreigners here is that everything makes sense once you realize Japan is a communist country. However, the role of privileged ruling Communist Party (or, if you have a literary bent, the pigs in George Orwell’s socialist parable “Animal Farm”) is played not by the perpetual opposition party of that name, but by the country’s bureaucrats. For this reason, Japanese government policies that may at first seem crazy often make sense if you ask the question, “What do the bureaucrats get out of it?
            •  Communism (0+ / 0-)

              is not the same as totalitarianism. You're thinking of state communism with authoritarian central governments, with an authoritarian top-down command structure.

              True communism is based on free association, a bottom-up, non-hierarchical structure, and direct democracy, sometimes called free communism or anarcho-communism.

              Marx and his cohorts quite authoritatively kicked such libertarian communists out of the First International (which the anarchists had had a very large role in creating - they were kicked out of an organization they helped found!). This authoritarian style held sway in Russia, China, and all the Marxist-Leninist inspired regimes ever since.

              The few truly free socialist societies that were established  (anarchist Spain, for example) were crushed, ironically with the help of the Communist Party.

              "The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue." Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays

              by ZhenRen on Sat May 10, 2014 at 03:41:26 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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