Tag Archives: Hot Spots

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster: CREST the hill into the village of Iitate, and the reading on a radiation dosimeter surges eightfold—even with the car windows shut. “Don’t worry, I’ve been coming here for months and I’m still alive,” chuckles Chohei Sato, chief of the village council, as he rolls down the window and inhales cheerfully. He pulls off the road, gets out of the car and buries the dosimeter in the grass. The reading doubles again.

Iitate is located 45km (28 miles) from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant hit by a tsunami on March 11th this year. In the mountains above the town, the forests are turning the colour of autumn. But their beauty is deceptive. Every time a gust of wind blows, Mr Sato says it shakes invisible particles of radioactive caesium off the trees and showers them over the village. Radiation levels in the hills are so high that villagers dare not go near them. Mr Sato cannot bury his father’s bones, which he keeps in an urn in his abandoned farmhouse, because of the dangers of going up the hill to the graveyard.

Iitate had the misfortune to be caught by a wind that carried radioactive particles (including plutonium) much farther than anybody initially expected after the nuclear disaster. Almost all the 6,000 residents have been evacuated, albeit belatedly, because it took the government months to decide that some villages outside a 30km radius of the plant warranted special attention. Now it offers an extreme example of how difficult it will be to recover from the disaster.

That is mainly because of the enormous spread of radiation. Recently the government said it needed to clear about 2,419 square kilometres of contaminated soil—an area larger than greater Tokyo—that received an annual radiation dose of at least five millisieverts, or over 0.5 microsieverts an hour. That covered an area far beyond the official 30km restriction zone (see map). Besides pressure- hosing urban areas, this would involve removing about 5cm of topsoil from local farms as well as all the dead leaves in caesium-laden forests.

However, Iitate’s experience suggests the government may be underestimating the task. Villagers have removed 5cm of topsoil from one patch of land, but because radioactive particles continue to blow from the surrounding trees, the level of radiation remains high—about one microsievert an hour—even if lower than in nearby areas. Without cutting down the forests, Mr Sato reckons there will be a permanent risk of contamination. So far, nobody has any idea where any contaminated soil will be dumped.

The second problem is children’s health. On September 30th the government lifted an evacuation advisory warning to communities within a 20-30km radius of the plant. The aim was partly to show that the authorities were steadily bringing the crippled reactors under control.

But these areas are still riddled with radiation hot spots, including schools and public parks, which will need to be cleaned before public confidence is restored. Parents say they are particularly concerned about bringing their children back because the health effects of radiation on the young are so unclear. What is more, caesium particles tend to lurk in the grass, which means radiation is more of a risk at toddler height than for adults. In Iitate, Mihori Takahashi, a mother of two, “believes only half of what the doctors say” and says she never wants to bring her children back. That, in itself, may be a curse. “The revival of this town depends on the children returning,” says Mr Sato.

And even if people return, Mr Sato worries how they will make a living. These are farming villages, but it will take years to remove the stigma attached to food grown in Fukushima, he reckons. He is furious with Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the plant, for failing to acknowledge the long-term impacts of the disaster. He says it is a way of scrimping on compensation payouts.

One way to help overcome these problems would be to persuade people to accept relaxed safety standards. A government panel is due to propose lifting the advisory dose limit above one millisievert per year. This week in Tokyo, Wade Allison, a physics professor at Oxford University, argued that Japan’s dose limit could safely be raised to 100 millisieverts, based on current health statistics. Outside Mr Sato’s house, however, a reading of the equivalent of 150 millisieverts a year left your correspondent strangely reluctant to inhale.

5/15/2011 Washington Examiner: Critics blast report on Grand Canyon uranium mining

Washington Examiner, Published on Washington Examiner (http://washingtonexaminer.com) . Critics blast report on Grand Canyon uranium mining: Conservation groups and officials in a northern Arizona county say there are serious flaws in a new federal analysis of the risks and benefits of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors questioned the report’s conclusion that mining will employ hundreds of people and support thousands indirectly. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and the Grand Canyon Trust agree. The conservationists also worry that water quality could be affected. These groups all support putting federal land bordering the Grand Canyon off-limits to new uranium mines for 20 years. That would still allow perhaps 11 existing mines but end new exploration that could permit more than 700 sites to be explored. Their opinions were contained in responses to an environmental study obtained by the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

These questions have growing significance because a 2-year-old moratorium on new uranium mining issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expires in mid-July, opening the door for mining exploration to resume across about 1 million acres.

An Interior spokeswoman said she did not know when Salazar might make a decision on the issue.

Representatives in Washington County, Utah, are already on record saying they want the federal government to allow more uranium mining. They say it would not cause environmental damage and could bring billions of dollars to the area’s economy.

Representatives from the mining industry also say it would have little environmental impact.

The conservation groups disagree.

“The problem with this area is that there are more unknowns than knowns — especially north of the canyon, there is a huge area where the science has not been done to determine how groundwater is moving,” said Alicyn Gitlin, of the Sierra Club.

She cited the drinking water for the Grand Canyon, which is supplied by a spring on the northern side of the canyon.

When snow melts on the North Rim most years, the water quality in the springs gets cloudy, raising an evident connection between events on the surface and water quality.

Projections on how much the ore could be worth into the future appear volatile, and determining who benefits from the industry is problematic, economic development consultant Richard Merritt wrote to the Interior Department on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“… inaccuracies in modeling the economic impact of the withdrawal … cause us to seriously question the veracity of the final conclusions …” Merritt wrote.

Federal agencies also didn’t adequately weigh the risks of lasting aquifer contamination related to uranium mining, the four conservation groups wrote.

“(The analysis) avoids discussion of the monumental tasks and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars required to clean up deep aquifer contamination, assuming it is even possible. Commenting organizations raised this issue in scoping. Neither the federal government nor industry can guarantee that uranium mining would not deplete or contaminate aquifers,” they stated.

In an April letter, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors asked that a lot of federal land in Coconino County be put off-limits to uranium mining. They raised concerns about the impacts to tourism and questions about cleanup in case of an ore truck overturning.

The county cited “hot spots” of radioactivity at former mines.

The board contended that uranium jobs were possibly counted multiple times, but that tourism revenues might be undercounted, and raised complaints that monitoring for radioactive materials along haul routes into Fredonia, Flagstaff, Page and Cameron wouldn’t be adequate.

“There is entirely too much risk, too many unknowns and too many identified impacts to justify threatening one of the most important U.S. landmarks and one of the most world-renowned national parks to justify the relatively small economic benefit associated with mining of uranium in the Grand Canyon region,” the supervisors stated.