Fukushima - How much radioactive cesium is there?
We've been asked a lot about what is happening with the Fukushima reactor situation. And we're certainly watching it.
Well, we're a tech news site, and nuclear power is some awesome technology, and it seems that the technology to contain and fix this problem may turn out to be just as awesome and interesting to learn about. But more importantly, we are here, living in Japan, and wondering and worrying about what is really going on.
And the truth probably is that nobody - on the outside at least - really knows for sure. There have been so many conflicting reports, about what TEPCO and the government are actually doing, news about different levels of contaminated water being dumped into the ocean, different mistakes such as the news recently that a worker accidentally turned off the power to the water pumps cooling the reactors, and on and on…
Many feel that the true state of the situation will not be clear until there is international involvement and assistance in the situation.
Typifying the confusion that we've seen here are two seemingly contradictory articles that came out within days of each other. One warns that there is radioactive cesium (or caesium) being found in material amounts in urine samples and food supplies. The other said that no measurable amounts of cesium could be found.
First, the bad news - Asahi Newspaper
It was reported in the weekly magazine of one of Japan's leading publishing outlets - Asahi Newspaper - on 9/26 - that perhaps 70% of children from newborns to 18 years of age in the Kanto region have been tested to have radioactive cesium in their urine. 58 out of 85 people checked had these levels, with 146 people due to be checked.
Kanto is an area that includes Tokyo, but the tests are being carried out in areas in Chiba and Ibaraki Prefectures north and east of the city - An area about 175km (110mi) southwest of Fukushima Dai-ichi.
The article notes that cesium 134 and 137 were found at levels of 1.683 becquerels per liter in the children, while in adults, it was found to be up to 2.5 becquerels per liter.
The article says that cesium levels are likely coming from the nuclear plant, with exposure likely coming from ingestion of food with higher than normal cesium amounts, although it notes that food naturally has certain levels of cesium.
The impact of increased cesium and other radioactive material is not yet clear but according to Professor Yagasaki Katsuma of the University of the Ryukyus, cesium accumulates in every organ of the body, including the thyroid of children, which is of particular concern. He said that radiation can disrupt the normal operation of cellular tissue, causing dysfunction in the body and there has already been an increase in the occurrence of nosebleeds among children as well as cancer rates in the area.
Now, the good news - Nikkei Newspaper
Meanwhile, the good news that seemingly contradicts the report above was an article on 9/24 in the equally respected Nikkei Newspaper. The newspaper reported that tests for cesium were conducted among 3,200 elementary and junior high school students in the city of Minami Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, only about 30km (18mi) from the nuclear reactor and thought to be a vulnerable area.
In those tests it was announced that radioactive cesium was below the detection limit among the 3,200 students who were tested and that exposure of day-to-day radioactivity is kept low in the city.
Testing was carried out for cesium 134 and 137, as was done in the Kanto tests, and was done using a device called a whole-body counter. Tests were carried out from May until August of this year.
Which brings us to what is the real answer. Right now, we don't know. But what we do know is that there is news and data for both worriers and skeptics to work with.
We'll be watching it here and if there is news that we can bring you, we will.