Plutonium Makes Water in Japan Loathsome to Drink
On April 4, 2011, Japan dumped 10,000 tons of highly radioactive water into the sea.
More radioactive water spills at Japan nuke plant
Published March 28, 2011 (Associated Press)
TOKYO – Workers have discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan's crippled nuclear complex that officials believe are behind soaring levels of radiation spreading to soil and seawater.
Crews also detected plutonium — a key ingredient in nuclear weapons — in the soil outside the complex, though officials insisted Monday the finding posed no threat to public health.
Confusion at the plant has intensified fears that the nuclear crisis will continue for months or even years amid alarms over radiation making its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far away as Tokyo. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the complex, said plutonium was found in soil at five locations at the nuclear plant, but that only two samples appeared to be plutonium from the leaking reactors. The rest came from years of nuclear tests that left trace amounts of plutonium in many places around the world.
Plutonium is a heavy element that doesn't readily combine with other elements, so it is less likely to spread than some of the lighter, more volatile radioactive materials detected around the site, such as the radioactive forms of cesium and iodine. "The relative toxicity of plutonium is much higher than that of iodine or cesium but the chance of people getting a dose of it is much lower," says Robert Henkin, professor emeritus of radiology at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine. "Plutonium just sits there and is a nasty actor."
The trouble comes if plutonium finds a way into the human body. The fear in Japan is that water containing plutonium at the station turns to steam and is breathed in, or that the contaminated water from the station migrates into drinking water. Plutonium also breaks down very slowly, so it remains dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
While parts of the Japanese plant have been reconnected to the power grid, the contaminated water — which has now been found in numerous places around the complex, including the basements of several buildings — must be pumped out before electricity can be restored to the cooling system. That has left officials struggling with two sometimes-contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out — and then safely storing — contaminated water.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, called that balance "very delicate work." He also said workers were still looking for safe ways to store the radioactive water. Meanwhile, new readings showed ocean contamination had spread about a mile (1.6 kilometers) farther north of the nuclear site than before, but was still within the 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the evacuation zone. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered offshore at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Nishiyama told reporters. Closer to the plant, radioactivity in seawater tested about 1,250 times higher than normal last week and climbed to 1,850 times normal over the weekend.
The buildup of radioactive water in the nuclear complex first became a problem last week, when it splashed over the boots of two workers, burning them and prompting a temporary suspension of work. Then on Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials said workers had found more radioactive water in deep trenches used for pipes and electrical wiring outside three units. The contaminated water has been emitting radiation exposures more than four times the amount the government considers safe for workers. Exactly where the water is coming from remains unclear, though many suspect it is cooling water that has leaked from one of the disabled reactors.
TEPCO officials said Sunday that radiation in leaking water in Unit 2 was 10 million times above normal — a report that sent employees fleeing. But the day ended with officials saying that figure had been miscalculated and the level was actually 100,000 times above normal, still very high but far better than the earlier results.
"This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven," Edano said sternly Monday.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Fahey in New York and Tomoko A. Hosaka, Mayumi Saito, Mari Yamaguchi and Jeff Donn in Tokyo contributed to this report.
STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MATRIX. There were three phrases in Torah that referred to bad water or bitter water. The chance to have one of them in the 225-letter matrix with PLUTONIUM was about 1 in 452. The chance for an IODINE to be on the matrix at a special case skip (-1, +1, or the absolute skip of the axis term) was about 1 in 5. There was about 1 chance in 15 to have an ELS of POISON with all its letters within 3 letters of each other, and about 1 chance in 8 to have the 4 letter spelling of JAPAN on the matrix (but I could also have sought a 3-letter spelling). There were several other words that I could have used for POISON. Without these considerations, the matrix had about 1 chance in 299,251 to exist by chance, but this is surely an overinflated value because of the caveats just given. The best match for PLUTONIUM is with MADE LOATHSOME TO DRINK THE WATER.