This week has witnessed some good news for Fukushima.
Finding the re-solidified mass in the bottom head of unit #2 literally dashes the “nobody knows” speculations to ashes. We can be assured that we know where the unit #2 fuel core ended up, at the very least. Further, the unit #2 discovery suggests that unit #3’s corium is also cooled and pooled inside its RPV bottom head.
Lamentably, this grateful revelation has passed by practically unreported.
Similarly, the news that the surrounding ocean is mostly free from radioactive contamination only five years post-accident should be fuel for widespread relief. It received coverage, but not without slanted editorial perpetuation of evacuation concerns, along with a skewed focus on the largest remaining concentrations of isotopes.
How “highly contaminated” is the harbour seafloor nearest to the damaged plant? The study identified the overwhelmingly indicative isotope, cesium-137, as a proportion of kilograms of fish and square metres of sea floor. Levels were astronomical in 2011. But, as correctly reported by the headlines, they’re miniscule now.
What is the risk now? Is there a safe number of these becquerels (Bq)? Could you actually eat enough Fukushima fish to get cancer?
A comprehensive follow-up in 2012 by Nelson Valverde of the 1987 Goiânia incident in Brazil provides some indication, because it specifically involved this isotope. While four of the most highly exposed people succumbed to acute radiation syndrome after handling pure radioactive cesium chloride out of a scrapped medical device, 50 others who suffered a whole body burden of 185,000 becquerels or higher showed no radiation-related illness decades later (a few died in the meantime of unrelated conditions). This absolute level is indicated on the above figure by the small arrow – around an order of magnitude larger than the highest amounts most recently measured in bottom-feeding fish closest to Fukushima Daiichi.
So no, nobody is at risk of eating enough fish from there to get sick. Cesium-137 isn’t one of those substances which accumulates in specific parts of the body. With a biological half-life of 110 days, it’s excreted rapidly. We also know that human cesium contamination isn’t a problem in the region. The trauma and harm has an altogether different cause.
I never saw the actual results of misinformation until I moved to Fukushima. Now, I see them everywhere.
Residents are uncertain of their future, the news media continues to sensationalise… and the anti-nuclear campaign looks like it will never, ever relent. The Fukushima accident was, after all, exactly what they had been waiting for.
But there’s been no poisoned ocean or uninhabitable wasteland or cancer epidemics. The legacy of everyone who, even now, persists in this mythology will be in the form of the true disaster: the real health and environmental costs of the firm fossil fueled energy required in the absence of nuclear. And constantly asserting that wind and solar should be built to replace it all – as groups such as Greenpeace do (by any means necessary) – effectively prolongs the harm.
If nuclear power was an enemy of renewables, the ‘pro-nuclear’ plans would have less wind, solar and biomass. However, in the pre-Fukushima plans, renewables in… Japan would grow 2.7 times between 2010 and 2030. This is especially remarkable in Japan, with its planned spectacular nuclear growth. In the post-Fukushima plans and scenarios they grow even more: by 3.1-3.3 times, which does not, however, compensate for the dramatic cut in nuclear power. What does then?
The answer is: coal. In the pre-Fukushima scenarios, coal-based electricity declines 2.6-2.7 times, but in the post-Fukushima plans and scenarios, it only goes down 7-10%.