Entries in Radiation (42)


Monkeys to Track Fallout from Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Wild monkeys have been enlisted by Japanese researchers to obtain detailed readings of radiation levels in forests near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Professor Takayuki Takahashi and his team of scientists at Fukushima University are fitting nearly 1,000 animals with radiation meters and GPS transmitters in order to track the spread of radiation leaked from March’s nuclear accident -- the worst in Japan’s history.

Until now, radiation monitoring has been conducted primarily by air, using helicopters equipped with testing devices.  Takahashi says aerial monitoring can track radiation across a wide area, but it only gives a general idea of radiation levels on the ground, not specifics on its movement.

“The monkeys can help us get more accurate readings in areas that aren’t so accessible,” Takahashi said.  “We’ll get a better idea of how radiation is spread by rain, by plants, by rivers in the forest.”

Researchers also hope to monitor the amount of radiation exposure in wild animals.

The project is being launched in partnership with Minamisoma, one of the cities hardest hit by the nuclear disaster.  Radiation fears prompted more than half of its 67,000 residents to evacuate in Fukushima’s aftermath.  A third of the city sits inside the 12-mile government mandated exclusion zone deemed too dangerous for people to live in.  In the larger Fukushima prefecture, more than 80,000 residents have been displaced by the nuclear disaster.

With 14 monkey colonies in Minamisoma’s forests alone, Takahashi is hopeful his researchers will get a broad spectrum of readings, from the ground level to the highest trees.  The collars equipped with radiation meters and GPS transmitters will be detachable by remote control, but the plan is to keep the devices on the animals for decades.

Takahashi says his team will begin monitoring levels next spring.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Director of Japan's Crippled Nuke Plant Diagnosed with Cancer

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The director of Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, who abruptly resigned last month, has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Masao Yoshida disclosed his condition to workers at the plant on Friday and TEPCO, the plant's operator, confirmed it at a press conference in the afternoon.  The severity of Yoshida's cancer, however, has not been revealed.

Citing a doctor at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, TEPCO said the cancer was not likely triggered by radiation exposure, adding that it usually takes five to 10 years for a person to develop cancer from radiation.

TEPCO also said that Yoshida had been exposed to 70 millisieverts of radiation since the nuclear disaster began in March, which is below the 100 mSv limit for emergency workers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Fukushima Plant Director Stepping Down After Falling Ill

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The director of Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has been hospitalized for an undisclosed illness and will step down later this week, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said Monday.

TEPCO has not said whether the illness is related to radiation, and has refused to release the amount of Masao Yoshida’s radiation exposure, citing privacy issues -- though they’ve revealed numbers for previous employees.

According to the newspaper Sankei, Yoshida sent a letter to workers saying doctors detected an illness at a recent checkup and advised him to seek treatment right away.

The 56-year-old has headed the nuclear plant since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck Japan in March, triggering the country's worst nuclear disaster.  Yoshida led the effort to stabilize the reactors that were damaged as a result.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radiation Mystery Solved? Budapest 'Probably' the Source

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Nuclear officials said Thursday they believe they have traced the source of a massive, but harmless, radiation plume that has spread across the atmosphere in Europe to an institute in Hungary, but the head of the institute disagrees.

The Hungary Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) said the Budapest-based Institute of Isotopes was "most probably" the source of the continued leak of trace amounts of Iodine-131 into the atmosphere, according to a statement by the International Atomic Energy Institute. Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  first announced they received reports of trace iodine-131 detections from countries "across Europe," but had no idea from where the radiation was leaking.

According to Thursday's announcement, the HAEA said the leak started on Sept. 8 and was just identified and stopped Wednesday. The IAEA repeatedly said the levels of iodine-131 released into the atmosphere were far too low to pose a public health concern.

But the head of the Institute of Isotopes, Mihaly Lakatos, told ABC News that while a filtering problem at his organization may be responsible for some of the iodine-131 detected in Hungary, it could not be the source of detections hundreds of miles away in other European nations.

"Maybe partly we have something to do with iodine-131 over Budapest, but not over Europe," Lakatos said. "The distance is too long."

The IAEA told ABC News Wednesday iodine-131, which has a decay half-life of just eight days, had been detected in at least seven countries -- from France to Slovakia and Poland. Before the HAEA's announcement, the IAEA said they were still working to narrow the list of possible sources for the radioactive leak.

In response to Lakatos' objections, the IAEA referred ABC News to the HAEA, who made the claim initially. Representatives there did not immediately responded to requests for comment.

Budapest's Institute of Isotopes produces radioisotopes "for a broad range of application areas, especially healthcare, research and industry," according to its website. Iodine-131 in particular is commonly used in low doses to help treat thyroid issues.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mystery Radiation Detected 'Across Europe'

Comstock/Thinkstock(VIENNA, Austria) -- Officials are searching for the source of low level radiation detected in the atmosphere "across Europe" over the past several days, nuclear officials said Friday.

Trace amounts of iodine-131, a type of radiation created during the operation of nuclear reactors or in the detonation of a nuclear weapon, were detected by the Czech Republic's State Office for Nuclear Safety starting two weeks ago.

After the group reported its findings to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Agency released a statement Friday revealing similar detections had been made "in other locations across Europe."

The IAEA said the current levels of iodine-131 are not high enough to warrant a public health risk, but the agency still does not know the origin of the apparent leak and an official with the agency would not say where exactly it has been detected outside the Czech Republic.

The IAEA said it does not believe the radiation was left over from the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant in March and the Czech Republic's State Office for Nuclear Safety could only say the source was "likely outside the territory of the [Czech] Republic."

"Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is handled, there is a chance that... iodine-131 will escape into the environment," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.

According to the EPA, iodine-131 can get into the environment after leaking from cracked fuel rods in nuclear plants and, when ingested in higher doses, can lead to thyroid problems. This particular type of radiation is relatively short-lived, with an estimated half-life of about eight days.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Residents Detect Radiation Hotspots in Tokyo

In this satellite view, Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power plant is damaged by an earthquake in March 2011 in Okuma, Japan. DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radiation hotspots have been detected all over Tokyo in the last week, raising new concerns about how far contamination from the Fukushima nuclear accident has spread.  

It is possible these hotspots have settled in areas where the government has not even considered looking, potentially exposing people to levels above accepted international standards.

An elementary school was forced to decontaminate school grounds Tuesday after high levels of radiation were detected.

There had been reports Wednesday of high radiation levels in two other Tokyo districts. In one of these, radiation measured 6.7 microsieverts an hour, equivalent to levels seen only 12 miles from Fukushima.

Wind and rain has scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials far outside the evacuation zone around the stricken plant.

Fueling an already considerable amount of distrust in authorities, the Tokyo hotspots have been detected mainly by local officials and residents, and not at all by the Japanese government.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Gov't: 1,600 Plant Workers Exposed to High Radiation Levels

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- New documents released by the Japanese government show that officials estimated about 1,600 workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant would be exposed to radiation levels that exceeded 50 millisieverts -- the maximum level allowed per year.

The documents from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry were released after a public disclosure request.

The newly released data is significant because both the government and TEPCO, the company that operates the plant, have refused to publicly release any estimates about the extent of radiation exposure until now.  TEPCO has only said that six company employees were exposed to radiation levels that exceeded 250 millisieverts, while subcontractors estimate that more than 400 of their workers have exceeded the allowable limit.

According to the Mainichi newspaper, the document -- dated April 25 -- said,  "Those who in the days ahead will be exposed to over 50 mSv of radiation are expected to number around 1,600."

The ministry expressed concerns that “it will be difficult to secure the safety of other nuclear power plants unless those who have been exposed to more than 50 mSv of radiation continue to engage in radiation work."  The document also said workers should be instructed not to be exposed to over 100 mSv of radiation in a five-year period.

Clearly, many have already exceeded that level.

The numbers are troubling, considering the past history of health issues at Japan’s nuclear power plants.  Government figures show nine out of 10 plant workers who developed cancer were exposed to radiation levels much lower than those at the Fukushima plant.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Leak at Japan's Crippled Nuclear Power Plant?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- There are new fears Thursday that radioactive water may be leaking from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after a drop in water level was discovered at a wastewater disposal building.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, said the latest leak was discovered amid efforts to transfer highly contaminated water from reactors two and three to an improvised storage facility.

The company said the water level in the facility dropped nearly two inches in just 20 hours, meaning nearly 60 tons of water may have leaked from the facility.

The utility has been pumping massive amounts of water in an effort to cool three of Fukushima's reactors, a process TEPCO has said would be completed in three months.  Large leaks have already been reported in reactors one and two, and news of this latest leak marks yet another setback in the effort to stabilize the reactors.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Greenpeace released new data on the impact these radiation leaks are having on marine life.

After running tests on samples collected near the nuclear power plant, the environmental group found that radiation levels in seaweed were 50 times higher than official limits.  It also discovered higher levels of radioactive iodine and caesium in fish and shellfish.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Workers Begin Reentering Damaged Japan Nuclear Reactor Building

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Workers at Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant went back into one of the reactor buildings on Thursday for the first time since a hydrogen explosion triggered a nuclear crises on March 11.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company said a few employees are reentering Unit 1 for 10 minutes at a time, sporting heavy air tanks to avoid radiation contamination.  The workers are installing an air purifier designed to lower radiation levels inside the building so that they can eventually remain inside for longer periods of time and complete the necessary work.

TEPCO says it will take a few days to install the air purifier and filter the air.  Once that’s completed, workers will enter the building to check for damages to the cooling system. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chernobyl Nuclear Accident: 25 Years Later

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As Japan continues work to prevent a meltdown at its badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the world on Tuesday marks a grim anniversary of the nuclear age.

On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions inside reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine resulted in the worst nuclear accident in history.  Following the blasts, large quantities of highly radioactive smoke were released into the atmosphere that spread over Western Russia and Europe.  It’s estimated that as much as 60 percent of the fallout landed in Belarus.

During the five years after the accident, over 350,000 people were evacuated from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine and resettled.

Meanwhile, more than 500,000 workers were ultimately required to contain the nuclear contamination.  The high cost of the operation was a major factor in crippling the economy of the Soviet Union.

It’s believed that 31 people were killed as a direct result of the catastrophe at Chernobyl, including reactor staff and emergency workers, most of them dying within three months.  Estimates of those who died over time due to radioactive contamination vary wildly.  The World Health Organization puts the number at 4,000 while the Russian publication, Chernobyl, says the accident caused 985,000 deaths from 1986 to 2004.

The accident at Chernobyl was rated a seven, the highest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which was recently matched by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  However, that accident is not considered as serious as what occurred at Chernobyl.

An investigation into what caused the explosion at Chernobyl's unit four pinned the blame on a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.

By October of 1986, Russian workers had encased unit four in concrete, which allowed the other reactors at the Chernobyl plant to continue operating until December 2000, when the last reactor there was shut down.  Over time, some of those who were forced from their homes in contaminated regions have returned, including to parts of Belarus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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