IAEA On Fukushima Plutonium

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It appears the plutonium discovered earlier, which according to some Japanese reports was so safe it was borderline edible, may not be all that safe. Per the IAEA:

After taking soil samples at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japanese authorities today confirmed finding traces of plutonium that most likely resulted from the nuclear accident there. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told the IAEA that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had found concentrations of plutonium in two of five soil samples.

Traces of plutonium are not uncommon in soil because they were deposited worldwide during the atmospheric nuclear testing era. However, the isotopic composition of the plutonium found at Fukushima Daiichi suggests the material came from the reactor site, according to TEPCO officials. Still, the quantity of plutonium found does not exceed background levels tracked by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology over the past 30 years.

Which update however must have come some hours ago, when the Plutonium was still concidered safe. The latest update from TEPCO, via Bloomberg, tells a slightly different story:

  • AGENCY: PLUTONIUM SHOWS SERIOUSNESS OF CURRENT SITUATION

We only have one question: how can the situation be serious if the Plutonium is so safe Kan is preparing to eat it for breakfast with a side of three eyed tuna tomorrow on national TV.

Ironically refuting the IAEA optimism this time around is Japan itself:

But Japan's own nuclear safety agency was concerned at the plutonium samples, whose levels of radioactive decay ranged from 0.18 to 0.54 becquerels per kg.

"While it's not the level harmful to human health, I am not optimistic. This means the containment mechanism is being breached so I think the situation is worrisome," agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama was quoted as saying by Jiji news agency.

Workers at Fukushima are resigned to a struggle of weeks or months to re-start cooling systems vital to control the reactors and avert disaster. Their conditions are extremely dangerous, earning them sympathy and admiration round the world.

On Monday, highly contaminated water was found in concrete tunnels extending beyond one reactor, while at the weekend radiation hit 100,000 times over normal in water inside another.

That poses a major dilemma for TEPCO which wants to douse the reactors to cool them, but not worsen the radiation spread.

Fires, blasts, smoke and steam have posed other hazards.

Japan says a partial meltdown of fuel rods inside reactor No. 2 has contributed to the radiation levels.

The crisis, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, has contaminated vegetables and milk from the area, as well as the surrounding sea. U.S. experts said groundwater, reservoirs and the sea all faced "significant contamination."

With towns on the northeast coast reduced to apocalyptic landscapes of mud and debris, more than a quarter of a million people are homeless. The event may be the world's costliest natural disaster, with estimates of damage topping $300 billion.

The environmental group Greenpeace said its experts had confirmed dangerous radiation of up to 10 microsieverts per hour in Iitate village, 40 km (25 miles) northwest of the plant.

It called for the extension of a 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone. "It is clearly not safe for people to remain in Iitate, especially children and pregnant women," Greenpeace said, urging Japan to "stop choosing politics over science".

In most countries the maximum permissible annual dose for radiation workers is 50 millisieverts, or 50,000 microsieverts, according to the World Nuclear Association Industry body.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from a 20-km (12 mile) radius around the plant. Those within a further 10-km radius have been told by the government to stay indoors or, better still, leave too.

Beyond the evacuation zone, traces of radiation have been found in tap water in Tokyo and as far away as Iceland.

Japanese officials and international experts have generally said the levels away from the plant were not dangerous for human beings, who in any case face higher radiation doses on a daily basis from natural sources, X-rays or flying.

In downtown Tokyo, a Reuters reading on Tuesday showed 0.20-0.22 microsieverts per hour, within the global average of natural ambient radiation of 0.17-0.39 microsieverts per hour given by the World Nuclear Association.

And while we are enjoying the Plut-On, Plut-Off show, here is Kyodo with the latest update on US radioactivity.

Trace amounts of radioactive material believed to have come from Japan's quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been detected in the atmosphere in South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, Reuters news service reported Monday, citing officials.

There is no current threat to public safety, the report said, quoting Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the power generation and distribution company Progress Energy Inc., which operates some of the power plants in the southern states.

Monitors at several nuclear plants in the three states picked up low levels of radioactive iodine-131, the report said.

''If there were radiation coming from one of our own sites, we would be seeing other types of radiation than iodine-131,'' Elliot was quoted as saying.

In the United States, radioactive materials believed to have come from the Fukushima nuclear plant have also been detected in several other states, including Hawaii, California, Nevada and Massachusetts.