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Japan

Fukishima Springs Water Leak 163

Posted by timothy
from the thought-it-was-hope-that-springs-eternal dept.
sl4shd0rk writes "The Japanese Fukishima crisis took a turn for the worse this week as it was found a barrier built to contain contaminated water has been breached; a leak defined by 20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium. This is yet another problem on top of a spate of errors plaguing the 2011 nuclear disaster site. Nuclear regulatory official Shinji Kinjo has cited Tokyo Electric Power Company as having a 'weak sense of crisis' as well as hinted at previous bunglings by TEPCO as the reason one cannot 'just leave it up to Tepco alone.' If Nuclear energy is ever to move forward, these types of disasters need to be eliminated."
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Fukishima Springs Water Leak

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  • by korbulon (2792438) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:19PM (#44487375)
    "I'd buy that for a doller!"
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Industry doesn't make mistakes, it makes profit. Risk is for the beancounters to calculate and recalculate after the fact.

    • by wmac1 (2478314)

      I was thinking almost the same. Is it possible that the use the leak as a cheaper alternative to gathering/cleaning/storing of those materials?

      I wouldn't be surprised. Japanese people proved to be disciplined, ethical and good while their companies (e.g. Tepco) proved to be irresponsible, corrupt and liar.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:24PM (#44487425) Homepage Journal

    Can we just start measuring radiation in Rads now? Sure would make things simpler to explain...

    becquerels == ORads (Outbound Radiation)

    sieverts == IRads (Inbound Radiation) or ARads (Absorbed Radiation)

    Or just "Rads" as a general term, i.e. "the leak is dumping 20-30 billion Rads into the ecosystem / Nobody can absorb that many Rads and survive! / Background radiation at 2,500 Rads, sir."

    Using terms that the layman can hardly spell, let alone understand, isn't helping to raise awareness. Kinda the opposite.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:29PM (#44487497) Homepage

      It's French! How do you think it got this outrageous accent?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They use the becquerel in the news because it gives much larger units than the curie. It's not as nice a headline if they said Fukishima had released 1100 curies of radiation. PS you can't measure contamination (becquerels) as radiation (sieverts) they are two different but related animals.

      • by Shimbo (100005) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:22PM (#44488185)

        They use the becquerel in the news because it gives much larger units than the curie. It's not as nice a headline if they said Fukishima had released 1100 curies of radiation.

        Becquerel is the standard SI unit; the BBC would generally use those unless the non-standard unit is widely used. Although quoting GBq or TBq rather than the big scary numbers would be best IMHO.

      • A becquerel is the breakdown of A SINGLE atom per second. News reports have standardized on the becquerel because the numbers are so much larger and more impressive. Just the background radiation going on inside you and I and each of us is about 4500 Bq. And yes, any one of those Bq going off inside you at exactly the right place and time could have a mutagenic effect on your offspring.
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:44PM (#44487669)

      Using terms that the layman can hardly spell, let alone understand, isn't helping to raise awareness. Kinda the opposite.

      Actually, the Becquerel is probably the easiest measure of radiation to understand: It's simply one decay per second.

      No arbitrary scale factors based on grams of some rare element that most people have never even seen, and no complicated biological models. Just decays per second.

      • by Dynedain (141758)

        It's an easy technical measure, but horrible for expressing meaning. I read up on the definition of a becquerel, and while I get it, I still have no basis of understanding what 20-30 billion becquerels means.

        Plus, even in the explanation page, it seems that the becquerel is usually expressed with per-volume or per-weight measure. So using the unit by itself is useless to the lay person. How many becquerels to the banana?

        It sounds to me someone used this unit with the express intent of making it sound big an

        • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:58PM (#44488797)

          Plus, even in the explanation page, it seems that the becquerel is usually expressed with per-volume or per-weight measure.

          For radiation release events like this, it's simply the overall amount released for the whole event. You don't need per volume or weight.

          The per volume amount will eventually depend on how much the contamination gets diluted, but that's location dependent and probably unknown right now.

          It sounds to me someone used this unit with the express intent of making it sound big and scary, and that's disingenuous even if accurate.

          More likely, they used it because it's a standard SI unit, unlike the curie. Using curies would be more like quoting distances in furlongs because you think that meters sound "too scary" due to the bigger numbers.

          • by delt0r (999393)

            For radiation release events like this, it's simply the overall amount released for the whole event. You don't need per volume or weight.

            Yes you do. If that leak was a cubic meter of water or a cubic kilometer has a massive impact on the relevance and effects of the leak. Without that information you simply cannot gauge anything relevant from a risk point of view.

      • Also, we should stop using this complicated "ASCII"; good old binary is much simpler.

        Sometimes layers of abstraction are necessary to make sense of things. How much exactly is 1 beq, in terms of health effects? This is where "complicated biological models" are a lot more useful.

        • How much exactly is 1 beq, in terms of health effects? This is where "complicated biological models" are a lot more useful.

          Only if you have a proposed exposure mode, which in this case is all future speculation, and which will inevitably be based on politics as much as on science. The raw number of decays, OTOH, is a relatively precise quantity.

          • by delt0r (999393)
            In this case the exposure model is fairly simple (assuming it was only tritium). Since tritium is a very weak beta emitter, it only matters when ingested and has a short biological half life once you start drinking non contaminated water. It does not accumulate in any particular organ. If its already dilute enough (possible technically), then it would pose very little risk compared to background.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Uh, ASCII is a binary encoding.

      • So you're saying becquerel means radiation-hertz?

    • by djupedal (584558)
      We can sure, but this is Japan we're talking about. Where they have their own earthquake scale, based on destruction of property, meaning if no buildings are in that area, the quake was minimal, regardless, and where you're not counted as a highway fatality unless you die within 12 hours of the accident.

      Because safety.
    • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:50PM (#44487753) Journal

      Ionizing radiating is a complex subject, thus it has a complex set of measurements that mean specific things.

      Dumbing it down doesn't do anyone any good.

      • Ionizing radiating is a complex subject, thus it has a complex set of measurements that mean specific things.

        Dumbing it down doesn't do anyone any good.

        Talking above people's heads doesn't either.

    • by pj2541 (600359) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:05PM (#44487951)
      Actually, this is a relatively small amount of radiation, a Curie is 3.7 * 10^10 becquerels, or roughly 40 billion becquerels, roughly 1/1000 of this leak. If this were a point source, and you were 1 meter away, your dose would be 1000 rem per hour, which would reach a 50% probability of being lethal (300 rem) in roughly 20 minutes. Since it is a disseminated source, and there's no one anywhere close to that near it, I'd say this is pretty much overblown hype. I used to work in the radiation measurement industry, and the preceding is pretty much quick and dirty shortcuts (ignoring quality factors and the conversion to rads, for instance,) but it's close enough for government work.
      • by Meeni (1815694)

        The chemical form of these release also matter. That changes completely how they will come back in the food chain later down the road.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by khallow (566160)
          Tritium is bad in that it is readily accepted into any cellular process involving water. It is good in that there's no natural concentrating mechanism. A fish's liver or the human body isn't going to concentrate tritium, like it would mercury. I'd be a bit more worried about the radioactive iodine and strontium isotopes.

          Given how diluted the tritium leak is (being dumped into the ocean), I'm not concerned.
          • by delt0r (999393)
            Its also good in that its low energy beta, and that it has a fairly short half life (both nuclear and biological) and will dilute with natural water to below background levels fairly fast.

            The bad is I don't see how water with tritium in it won't also have other stuff in it....
            • by MrKaos (858439)

              A list of some scientific studies on the effects of tritium, with references, in case there is any doubt regarding Triated water's effect on living beings.

              Tritium is biologically mutagenic *because* it's a low energy emitter. This characteristic makes readily absorbed by surrounding cells. The available evidence from studies conducted journal a list of effects. From those works;

              Tritium can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through skin. Eating food containing 3H can be even more damaging than drinking

              • by delt0r (999393)
                I never asserted that it was harmless. But the amounts here, given that from a nuclear fission plant, its typically quite dilute, and that it will almost never be alone without other contaminants, its not clear at all there is something to worry about or not. All sea water is Triated to a parts per trillion level because of nuclear testing. That doesn't make it unsafe.

                And note the lots of "may .." and "could .." in these studies. Also note these are really old studies. I am sure i have read more recent
                • by MrKaos (858439)

                  I never asserted that it was harmless. .... I am sure i have read more recent ones, including more recent work on threshold models that involved nuclear plant workers.

                  Not saying that you did, just presenting the info I have. If you have access to more recent studies let me know what they are so I can check them out.

    • I like this idea, because we can then begin developing products like Rad-X and Radaway.

    • Can we just start measuring radiation in Rads now? Sure would make things simpler to explain...

      Given that it's Japan, how about expressing it in units of Gojira. Or possibly monkey barrels.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      Except the rad is a deprecated, non-SI unit. The most useful unit for humans is the sievert (Sv), since it describes the effective absorbed dose regardless of source. 1Sv of alpha radiation does the same damage (give or take, obviously) as 1Sv of gamma radiation to the human body. It's a much more complicated value to compute (since it takes into account all those elements mentioned and more), but it's also much better to use as a comparison. The gray (Gy) is an absorbed dose measurement, which doesn't take
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The problem with sieverts is that it doesn't differentiate between types of exposure. You have to get down to effective dose to know the effect of a given level of radiation on specific organs, and you have to know the type of radioactive material and how it can get inside the body to do that. So far no-one has invented a device that can make that kind of determination automatically, so it is very difficult to set an acceptable limit for exposure and background levels which is safe since you can't just whip

    • by delt0r (999393)
      You seriously thing that using terms that convey no more meaning will help with understanding? Really? You don't try explaining things to the laymen very often do you.

      Also 99.99% of people have turned off their logical part of the brain at the first mention of the work nuclear anyway.

      Now for some better considerations. There is no indication of how dilute this is, and its likely quite dilute. Its tritium which is very low energy beta emitter and only poses a risk when ingested. In fact it could well
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Spelling counts

  • by vadim_t (324782) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:32PM (#44487539) Homepage

    In principle, I think nuclear power is a perfectly sound idea that can be implemented safely and reliably.

    But that's in principle. In practice somehow it turns out to be managed by complete morons that even after getting involved in the center of a huge scandal, still manage to show amazing incompetence and disregard for public safety, even when they know perfectly fine that the whole world is paying attention to them, and is already extremely distrustful.

    And this state of affairs doesn't do their own industry any good. It's precisely crap like this what results in the replacement of nuclear with coal.

    • Welcome to the real world.

    • tl;dr Your two choices are balance and destruction.

      Centralise it all, and you'll end up with one massive monolithic corrupt power structure.

      Leave it to the market, and each entity will abuse every other in the quest for profit.

      Stringently regulate a marketplace in the interests of the country, and everyone except the megalomaniacs and the stupid Is happy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Can it be because nuclear energy is not economically and ecologically viable?
      If it were, it'd not need enormous amounts of spending, negative economic balance on every fracken scale and require concentrated efforts for the next 5.000 - 10.000 years.

      Captcha: saving

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by krovisser (1056294) *

        Nuclear energy is the most ecologically viable option in existence. The problems with not being able to build shiny, reliable new ones is a governmental and societal problem, not a nuclear one.

        Or do you think pumping radioactive coal ash in the air is more ecologically viable?

        • Coal pollution 'could' be stopped - we choose not to due to cost.

          As this accident demonstrates, nuclear radiation from a failed plant can't be contained very well.

          As for ecologically viable? Please, renewables are far and away more ecologically sound. Not quite ready for grid scale yet, but just because nuclear has better 'operational' characteristics doesn't make it 'good' since it will fail at some point. And there's all that waste lying around in spent fuel ponds we still haven't figured out wha
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by camperdave (969942)
            But we have figured out what to do with it. Bury it in Yucatan. However, once again, government and society have gotten in the way.
            • Bury it in Yucatan.

              I suppose that there are plenty of pyramids available there in which to store it, but don't you don't think that the Mexican drug cartels might dig it up and sell it to The Terrorists?

            • by dj245 (732906)

              But we have figured out what to do with it. Bury it in Yucatan. However, once again, government and society have gotten in the way.

              The nuclear industry is getting pretty irritated about this. They (and their electric ratepayers) have paid into a disposal fund for decades. That money was supposed to be used to dispose of their waste. But if they decommission their plant, they get stuck with the disposal bill and have to store the materials on site for decades.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          No, I think stacking spent fuel rods on roofs, in leaky casks and in underground caves lying in seismically-unstable area is the way to go.

          After all, leaving stacks of deadly poison metals lying around (and increasing their number every year) is most ecologically viable option in existence. Solar, geothermal, wind, ocean wave, etc. are all liberal hippy plots to get us to be jobless, hummus-eating, pot-smoking slackers.

        • by Medievalist (16032) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:38PM (#44489361)

          If only there were some options other than nuclear fission and burning brown coal in an open pit!

          Oh, wait, there are.

          Here in reality, decentralized heterogenous power production would be inherently better for human culture and society, since it has less tendency to create economic disparities [businessinsider.com] large enough to engender wholesale regulatory capture [wikipedia.org] or militarization of power production [g4s.us], has fewer military vulnerabilities [cfr.org], and employs more working people gainfully (instead of funneling money to banksters), and would potentially allow a less expensive grid to carry more total power [csicop.org].

          Solar, wind, hydro, and most importantly carbon-neutral biomass energy plants spotted all over the country on a true "smart grid" is the way to go. Solve dozens of social and economic problems while eliminating the pollution caused by burning petroleum.

          Incidentally, I'm not the first to figure this out. Nikola Tesla talked about the idiocy of burning limited resources in 1915, before we compounded the problem by building terrestrial fission plants.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      But that's in principle. In practice somehow it turns out to be managed by complete morons that even after getting involved in the center of a huge scandal, still manage to show amazing incompetence and disregard for public safety

      Remember that you're looking at the worst example in today's nuclear industry - don't ask me how TEPCO manages to be such a bunch of incompetent morons, but France, the UK, China, India, and (these days) Russia for example have nuclear power pretty well licked, safety-wise. No maj

  • Units!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @12:34PM (#44487551)

    20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium

    OK. This is embarrassing. At least use proper units.

    500-1000 Ci of tritium (or Curies).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CANDU#Tritium_emissions [wikipedia.org]
    http://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/readingroom/factsheets/tritium.cfm [nuclearsafety.gc.ca]

    and here is more sensetionalist article, but with some numbers to compare,

    http://www.ccnr.org/tritium_1.html [ccnr.org]

    COMMENTS ON THE DUMPING OF 3500 CURIES OF TRITIUM INTO THE OTTAWA RIVER FROM THE NPD NUCLEAR POWER REACTOR ON JULY 19 1981

    CANDU reactors emit more tritium than the so called massive spill above at Fukushima. Tritium is not very dangerous, especially in water. Even when exposed to tritium, your body has a biological half-life of only about two weeks - you pee it out along with water. Radiological halflife is 12 years so you get the idea.

    Today most CANDU start to capture tritium instead of venting it, and then selling it.

    Anyway, the story is not a very big story. There is a lot of worse things that could be leaked, like mercury. And mercury tends to poison things for much longer than a few years - just look at the state of oceans today and cry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamata_disease [wikipedia.org]

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      Yes, because using a deprecated, non-SI unit is better. The article could've said 20 to 40 terabecquerels, but that would've confused people just as much.
  • If Nuclear energy is ever to move forward, these types of disast that should've dismantled decadeers need to be eliminated.

    Fukushima is an old BWR, nuclear energy has moved quite a lot since then.

  • This is going to add about 0.01% to the world's tritium supply. Which tritium supply represents a very small fraction of the radioactivity we are exposed to daily.

    99.9% of which addition will decay away to nothing within the century.

    I am singularly unimpressed by the panic.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Sique (173459)
      Hm. Similar argument: Adding 100 grams of sodium chloride to your drink will add about 0.000,000,000,000...1% to the world's sodium chloride supply. But for some reason, it will kill you if you drink it anyway.
      • Bad argument. Noone, except perhaps you, is suggesting that it's even possible to drink enough of that tritium to be lethal - it's being diulted in an OCEAN.
  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:02PM (#44487921)

    ...actually means nothing to most readers not in the field. So, some comparisons:

    Radioactivity from potassium in an average human body: 4000 Bq.

    Radioactivity from potassium in entire human population of Earth: ~30 trillion Bq.

    Radioactivity from one kilogram of radium: 37 trillion Bq.

    Radioactivity released during Three Mile Island event: 481 thousand trillion Bq.

    Radioactivity released during Chernobyl event: 5.2 million trillion Bq.

    I'm thinking not to panic just yet.

    • I think only strawmen are panicking so far?

    • Wrong measurement. Becquerels are a rate: decay events per second. Saying Chernobyl was 5.2 million trillion Bq is like saying that the noise at a Van Halen concert was upwards of 440 Hz.
      • It's an appropriate unit of measurement, and also your analogy is off:

        Yes, Bq is a unit of rate of decay. So measuring a release in Bq is saying "this is the rate of radiation the stuff is emitting", and that's what you need to know to know if you're getting a dangerous dose over your lifetime. If they said "atoms" or "kg" of material, it would tell you nothing useful by itself. 1 kg of U-238 is virtually harmless because it is so long lived, so it is infrequently emitting radiation, while 1 kg of Co-6

      • No, I'm pretty sure it's the right measurement.

        One becquerel is one decay per second -- or, to put it another way, the activity of a quantity of radioactive material sufficient to produce one decay per second. While it may not be perfectly proper from a unit-analysis perspective, reporting quantities of radioactive material in becquerels is widely accepted, and quite unambiguous.

        So, the original article, and my list of comparisons, are using Bq as a measure of activity -- from the potassium in one human bod

        • So... the decay rates of materials are constant? The kilo of radium always emits at a rate of 37 trillion decay events per second? What about density? Will it still emit at 37 trillion as a sheet of radium foil, and as a solid ball? Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. I don't know. Is temperature a factor? Does hot radium decay faster than cold radium?

          Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were events. They spanned a period of time. Was the 481 thousand trillion Bq you have listed an instantaneous rate, or
  • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:38PM (#44488413) Journal
    One becquerel is defined as the decay of one atom of a radioisotope per second. So it's a rate. 40 trillion becquerel would be 40 trillion (4*10^13) tritium atoms decaying per second. Tritiated water (T2O) has a molar mass of 22.0315 grams per mole. A mole is 6.022*10^23 molecules. So 6.022*10^23 molecules of T2O has a mass of 22.0315 grams, therefore 40 trillion molecules has a mass of (4*10^13)*22.0315/(6.022*10^23) or 1.46*10^-9 grams. Assuming a density of 1 gram/ml and 1/20th of a ml per drop, we're talking super-heavy water gushing out of this leak at the incredible rate of just under a drop per year.
    • by rkww (675767)
      No, because you've forgotten that there are two tritium atoms to a molecule, and you're assuming all the tritium atoms delay in the first year; the halflife [epa.gov] is twelve years so each year 0.94 remains (since 0.94 ^ 12 ~= 0.5). So you're out by a factor of eight or so, I reckon.
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:41PM (#44488447)
    This secrecy is just stupid. Even when the reactor was in full melt down they were saying "Don't worry, everything is fine, nothing to see here." But then the news were announcing the various radioactives that were being detected outside the plant. Those isotopes are only produced by a reactor in meltdown and only get out if the reactor is in full meltdown and is interacting with bits found outside the core. So long before they said how bad it was my Physics 101 was telling me Holy Crap! That reactor is way out of control! Not just "low on cooling water". That was like saying that someone shot through the heart was "Low on circulatory capacity."

    Hiding the truth does nothing to help them look good, and in the long term adds to their list of mistakes. But if at this point they come clean with every bit of data people not only would know how far to run (and where not to fish) but a world full of engineers and physicists might contribute something helpful. For example, if they reveal that radioactive and water soluble product X is being produced some guy in the physics department in Argentina might say, "Hey if you put some cheap water soluble Y into the coolant it will not only precipitate product X out of the water solution but it will then absorb neutrons resulting in other stable isotopes of one of the atoms in chemical Y." This might be little known knowledge that the guy learned 20 years ago when he accidentally gummed up the university's reactor 20 years ago.

    Also open information allows for people to write better case studies on how(and where) not to build a reactor.

    It is just too bad if all this open information makes a few people look bad.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      Hiding the truth does nothing to help them look good, and in the long term adds to their list of mistakes

      The truth is that in many cases they don't really know what is going on. So they can either say "don't worry, everything is fine" (and rightly be accused of spinning), or they can say "this is what we think is happening" (and be unjustly -- but inevitably -- accused of lying when it turns out to be something different).

      The third option, where they come out and say "we honestly don't know what's going on down there", is probably the most problematic for them, as it would result in responses like "well if yo

  • It would be nice to get the numbers in understandable units. I prefer BED which is banana equivelent dose. I can actually picture what that number will mean.
  • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @03:34PM (#44490103)

    Becquerels ... REALLY?

    What you did was found the smallest unit possible to try and describe the scary damage this has done. Why the fuck didn't you just use the atomic weight of the entire plant, thats about as useful and meaningful.

    You're using an flow rate as a measure of volume ... and ignoring the whole time variable. You really don't have any idea what these things are you're converting about, do you?

    You guys at slashdot are a bunch of douche bags without Taco around. No wonder he left.

  • Most people - I'd say way over 80%, perhaps even 90 or 95% - are simply to dumb and irresponsible to handle anything but the simplest of technology. To dumb to handle knives, cars or guns, to dumb to handle computers, to dumb to handle regular modern garbage correctly, let alone nuclear waste.
    With computers the problems and trouble these people can cause is relatively limited, cars and guns not quite so but still in boundaries (allthoug these are quite big when looking at the problems with guns in the US or

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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