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Tohoku tsunami washed arsenic ashore
BY YUMI NAKAYAMA STAFF WRITER 2011/09/04 Print Share Article Mud containing arsenic is being washed ashore in coastal communities already struggling to come to terms with the enormity of the destruction wrought by the March 11 mega-earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. At 36 out of 129 sampling points in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the three prefectures hardest hit by the March 11 disaster, Tohoku University researchers found arsenic concentrations exceeding environmental standards. In several places, arsenic contamination was 4 or 5 times the government's maximum, and at one sampling point in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the concentration was 25 times the standard. "Arsenic that flowed into the sea and accumulated on its floor in the past was apparently stirred up by the tsunami," said Noriyoshi Tsuchiya, a professor of geomaterials and energy science at Tohoku University. The Tohoku coastline used to be dotted with mines, where arsenic and other heavy metals were generated during smelting. Arsenic also exists in nature, and was detected in soil along the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in a 2006-08 survey by Tohoku University. Continued intake of water contaminated with arsenic can sometimes lead to liver and kidney damage. It is also associated with darkening of the skin and hardening of palms and soles. The growth of rice plants may also be affected. Between June and July, Tohoku University analyzed samples of mud that had apparently been disturbed on the seabed by the March 11 tsunami. The samples were taken from the seashore and beside rivers along a section of the coast from Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, to Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. The environmental standard for the maximum safe level of arsenic in water is 0.01 milligram or less per liter. The concentration was over 5 times that standard in samples taken at Ofunato Port, Iwate Prefecture, and about 4 times the standard in Iwanuma and Natori in Miyagi Prefecture and Noda in Iwate Prefecture. "You don't have to be too nervous about it, but if you are removing rubble in areas with concentrations 4 to 5 times the standard, wearing gloves and masks and washing your hands are essential to prevent inhalation," Tsuchiya said.

Twenty-five times the safety standard was detected near the old Oya gold mine which operated until 1976 in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. About 40,000 cubic meters of mining waste containing arsenic from a slag heap that collapsed during the March 11 disaster flowed into nearby fields, a nearby river, and the seashore. Concentrations of 12 and 10 times the government maximum were detected at other stations nearby. Tsuchiya advised people not to drink water from nearby wells or use groundwater and river water for agricultural purposes. The study also found lead in excess of environmental standards at 12 locations. Those concentrations slightly exceeded safety standards in most areas except Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, where the lead concentration was about 5 times the safety standard. Researchers also found an excess of the toxic metal cadmium at one location.

TEPCO tries 'shower' method to cool No. 3 reactor
BY TAKASHI SUGIMOTO STAFF WRITER 2011/09/03 Print Share Article TEPCO began using a "spray-shower" technique to disseminate water into the No. 3 reactor at its troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sept. 1. The method consists of spraying coolant water like a shower above the fuel rods so that water will fall evenly on all fuel rods and cool them efficiently. Until Sept. 1, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been using a method in which coolant water trickles down the inner walls of the pressure vessels at the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors. The No. 3 reactor, however, did not cool down as efficiently as did the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. TEPCO officials have hinted at the possibility that part of the melted fuel in the No. 3 reactor did not fall through to the bottom, but remains on the grid-like core support plate beyond the reach of the trickling water. In the new injection method, water is sprayed inside the shroud, a major component covering the core. TEPCO has also begun considering a review of its plan to remove all highly radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant by the end of this year. Once the quantity of radioactive water has been reduced to such levels that heavy rains would not cause an overflow, the rate of water treatment will be adjusted to minimize the amount of waste generated.

Study: Spread of high radiation areas continues northwest of Fukushima

Print Share Article Radiation fallout from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continues to remain high in some areas even though nearly six months have passed since explosions rocked the plant. A government team on Sept. 1 released the results of monitoring tests that were done between July 4 and Aug. 20. Measurements were taken at 2,696 locations in the no-entry zone, lying within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant, and in the planned evacuation zone, lying beyond that radius to the northwest. The radiation levels were measured at heights of both 1 meter and 1 centimeter above ground. In the no-entry zone, the highest level at the 1-meter height was 139 microsieverts per hour in the Ottozawa district of Okuma town, about 1 kilometer to the southwest of the nuclear plant. The maximum level at the 1-cm height was 368 microsieverts per hour in Matsuzaku, a district in Futaba town, about 4 km to the west of the plant. In the planned evacuation zone, the highest radiation level at the 1-meter height was 41.3 microsieverts per hour in Hirusone, a district in Namie town, about 22 km to the northwest.

CLINICAL RADIATION: 145 children exposed to excessive radiation at Kofu hospital
2011/09/02 Print Share Article Senior officials at Kofu Municipal Hospital talk to reporters on Sept. 1. (Maiko Itagaki) KOFU--Nearly 150 children were exposed to excessive levels of radiation during examinations at Kofu Municipal Hospital during the past 12 years because a radiologist administered higher doses of radioactive materials than the recommended level. A total of 145 children aged 15 or younger were given technetium in doses higher than levels recommended by the Japanese Society of Nuclear Medicine, the Japan Association of Radiological Technologists and other expert organizations. About 40 children received technetium treatment at levels more than 10 times the recommended amount. Some children received more than one examination. The level of whole-body lifetime internal radiation the children were exposed to is estimated to be about 30 millisieverts on average. The highest level was estimated at more than 150 millisieverts. A survey of residents near the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant indicated that the level of lifetime internal exposure for them is estimated at less than 1 millisievert, although simple comparisons are difficult. The children received intravenous injections of medicines containing isotopic technetium, which is used as a medical tracer, mainly for kidney examinations.

Hospital officials, who met reporters on Sept. 1 after The Asahi Shimbun reported on the case in its morning edition, said a radiologist in question, a man in his 50s, exercised his own judgment when administering technetium. "The amount of dosage was determined by the veteran technologist," Kenji Watanabe, deputy director in charge of medical safety, told reporters. "A check system by others was not functioning." Hospital officials said the radiologist believed that examinations would end sooner and images would become clearer if more technetium was used, although experts said larger doses do not produce clearer images. Yoko Nokata, chief of the radiology department, said she learned around April that young radiologists had questioned whether the medicines for kidney examinations contained excessive amounts of technetium. A senior hospital official explained that other radiologists likely shied away from expressing their opposition to their colleague's policy so as not to cause friction. Of 17 radiologists at the hospital, only two have been in charge of examinations, according to a senior hospital official. The hospital on Aug. 31 sent documents notifying families of 84 children who received more technetium than was recommended by the Japanese Society of Nuclear Medicine. The hospital said it will examine anyone who is worried about their health as a result of the treatment. The hospital said it would bear the cost of the examinations. An estimated 1.4 million similar examinations are conducted at hospitals nationwide a year. If the level of whole-body exposure exceeds 100 millisieverts, cancer risks heighten even for adults. Children are three times more at risk than adults in such cases. The half-life period of technetium is short, about six hours. But because it is injected, patients continue to be exposed to radiation until it leaves the body. Still, it is believed that the levels of radiation did not cause immediate health problems to the children who received examinations at Kofu Municipal Hospital. Experts said doctors at the hospital should have checked the amount of doses administered by radiologists. Under law, radiologists prepare medicines for examinations containing radioactive materials based on instructions from doctors. In its guidelines to prevent medical accidents, the Japanese Society of Nuclear Medicine calls on doctors to confirm the amount of radioactive materials being used before injecting medicines into patients. Yoshiaki Kitamura, a director of the Japan Association of Radiological Technologists, said mutual checking by doctors and radiologists are essential to ensure safety. "Radiological technologists need to check whether doctors have given correct instructions because doctors can make mistakes," he said. "Doctors need to check whether medicines for examinations have been prepared in accordance with their instructions." (This article was written by Yuri Oiwa, Maiko Itagaki, Ayako Tsukidate and Misuzu Sato.)

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In 'uncharted territory,' TEPCO drafts fuelremoval plan
2011/09/02 Print Share Article Tokyo Electric Power Co. has drafted a blueprint for removing fuel from reactors and storage pools at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a task described by experts as unprecedented, daunting and even mind-boggling. In the draft plan presented at a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission on Aug. 31, TEPCO said it will fill containment and pressure vessels with water, inspect the condition of the fuel with cameras and then remove the damaged fuel. The meeting was held in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district to study measures to decommission the No. 1 through No. 4 reactors at the Fukushima plant. However, TEPCO failed to provide a specific time schedule for removing the 1,496 nuclear fuel assemblies from the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors. "We are not yet in a position to decide on details (of the plan)," said Kazuhiro Takei, general manager of TEPCO's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Department. It could take up to a decade to even start the fuel-removal process. Fuel melted and accumulated at the bottom of the pressure vessels of the three reactors after cooling functions were lost in the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Experts who attended the meeting described the enormous challenge ahead in dealing with the unprecedented accident, in which meltdowns occurred simultaneously at three reactors. "We will step into uncharted territory as far as working environment and job requirements are concerned," one participant said. "A mind-boggling task lies ahead of us," said another. Some experts said the melted fuel could change shape and lead to nuclear fission when it is being removed. They said workers must carefully monitor conditions while removing the fuel. "We will be required to take a process of trial and error and review work procedures whenever it is necessary," said Hirofumi Nakamura, a senior official at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. In the first step of the draft plan, TEPCO will remove radioactivity inside reactor buildings with robots and remote-control equipment. Workers will then determine the conditions of the containment vessels and repair the damaged parts to prevent water from leaking to turbine buildings and other places.

In the second step, TEPCO will fill the containment and pressure vessels with water to cool damaged fuel, which is emitting heat, and inspect fuel conditions inside the pressure vessels with cameras. Water shields radioactivity. The company plans to vacuum out or grab away the fuel with special equipment. There has been no decision yet on how to dispose of the melted fuel. TEPCO will also begin removing 3,108 nuclear fuel assemblies from storage pools of the No. 1 through No. 4 reactors in about three years because they are not seriously damaged. Overhead cranes and fuel replacement systems will be installed at storage pools of the No. 1, 3 and 4 reactors because fuel removal equipment was destroyed in the hydrogen explosions at the reactor buildings. Fuel removed from storage pools will be kept at a common-use pool near the No. 4 reactor building. Step 2 of the road map for stabilizing the reactors at the Fukushima plant is scheduled to be completed between October and January 2012. Within three years after Step 2 is completed, containers will be installed to cover the damaged reactor buildings. TEPCO hopes to begin removing melted fuel in 10 years, according to its earlier estimate based on the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979. It will take several decades to dismantle and relocate the reactors, according to the estimate. In the Three Mile Island accident, melted fuel remained inside pressure vessels. At the Fukushima plant, damaged fuel leaked to the outer containment vessels. It will be extremely difficult to collect damaged fuel scattered in and outside the reactors. It will be no less easy to remove radioactivity and repair damages because various parts of the plant are contaminated with high levels of radioactivity. (This article was written by Tatsuyuki Kobori and Hidenori Tsuboya.)