EPA STATEMENT: Update on Ongoing Monitoring

WASHINGTON – As a result of the incident with the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, several EPA air monitors have detected very low levels of radioactive material in the United States consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. EPA has stepped up monitoring of precipitation, milk, and drinking water in response to the Fukushima events. The detections in air, precipitation, and milk were expected, and the levels detected have been far below levels of public-health concern.

Today, EPA released its latest RadNet results, which include the first results for drinking water. Drinking water samples from two locations, Boise, Idaho and Richland, Washington, showed trace amounts of Iodine-131 – about 0.2 picocuries per liter in each case. An infant would have to drink almost 7,000 liters of this water to receive a radiation dose equivalent to a day’s worth of the natural background radiation exposure we experience continuously from natural sources of radioactivity in our environment.

Earlier precipitation samples collected by EPA have shown trace amounts of radioactivity, so EPA has expected to find results such as these in some drinking water samples. Similar findings are to be expected in the coming weeks.

To see results from these samples, please visit:
 http://www.epa.gov\japan2011\docs\rert\RadNet-Drinking-Water-Data-Public-Release-4-2-2011.pdf

In addition, results of EPA’s precipitation sampling and air filter analyses continue to detect very low levels of radioactive material consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. These detections were expected and the levels detected are far below levels of public-health concern. For the latest sample results please visit:

For the latest air monitoring filter data: http://epa.gov/japan2011/docs/rert/radnet-cart-filter-final.pdf

For the latest milk sampling data: http://epa.gov/japan2011/docs/rert/radnet-milk-final.pdf

For the latest precipitation sampling data: http://epa.gov/japan2011/docs/rert/radnet-precipitation-final.pdf

The Fukushima Experiment

A nuclear meltdown survival guide

Japan's Tepco utility executives and government officials are alternately accused of covering-up, withholding information, or downplaying the severity of their nuclear accident.

Truth is, as many of us nuclear meltdown veterans know, those utility executives and officials are as much in the dark as the rest of us.

Disaster fuels debate over nuclear accident evacuation plans

From the Miami Herald:

Dead-center in hurricane alley, South Florida has probably performed more large-scale evacuations than any place in the country.

But a wind-borne cloud of radioactive isotopes represents a different monster, unseen but every bit as scary as a powerful cane. For emergency managers thrust into a crisis like the one in Japan, the concern would not be the few ignoring orders to leave Turkey Point’s 10-mile evacuation zone.

“The big issue is how many people will leave outside the evacuation zone,’’ said Jay Baker, a Florida State University geography professor and authority on evacuation behavior who conducted hazard response surveys for a state study last year. “No one knows, to be honest with you.’’

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New High-Res Photos of Fukushima

Cryptome has published hi-res photos of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

U.S. Dropped Nuclear Rule Meant to Avert Hydrogen Explosions

From the New York Times:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has allowed reactors to phase out some equipment that eliminates explosive hydrogen, the gas that blew up the outer containments of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi in Japan. The commission says it judged that at the American plants, the containments were strong enough that the equipment was not needed or other methods would do.

After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, many reactors were required to install “hydrogen recombiners,” which attach potentially explosive hydrogen atoms to oxygen to make water instead. At Three Mile Island, engineers learned that hot fuel could interact with steam to give off hydrogen. That caused the plant’s reactor to suffer a hydrogen explosion, although it did not seriously damage its containment. By contrast, the secondary containments at Fukushima Daiichi blew apart when hydrogen detonated inside them.

The change in commission policy was pointed out this week by a nuclear safety critic, Paul M. Blanch, who said that he had been involved in installing such equipment at Millstone 3, a nuclear reactor in Waterford, Conn.

“Post-Three Mile Island, they were considered very important to safety,’’ Mr. Blanch said. He accused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of having “gutted the rule’’ because the industry wanted to save money.

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Peach Bottom: Operator Manual Actions

PEACH BOTTOM ATOMIC POWER STATION, UNIT NOS. 2 AND 3­ EXEMPTION FROM TITLE 10 OF THE CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATlONS PART 50, APPENDIX R, SECTION III.G FOR THE USE OF OPERATOR MANUAL ACTIONS (TAC NOS. ME8055 AND ME8056)

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Lochbaum Senate Testimony on Japan Crisis: March 29

Dave Lochbaum, Director of UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project, is testifying this morning to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His testimony on the Japanese nuclear crisis and lessons for the U.S. is available here.


If the past three decades have demonstrated anything, it’s that the NRC will likely come up with a solid action plan to address problems revealed at Fukushima, but will be glacially slow in implementing those identified safety upgrades. A comprehensive action plan does little to protect Americans until its goals are achieved. We urge the US Congress to force the NRC to not merely chart a course to a safer place, but actually reach that destination as soon as possible.

Sievert, Gray, Rem, and Rad

From Slate:

Japan's unfolding nuclear disaster has introduced Americans to the confusing practice of measuring radiation exposure. According to some stories, the water nearby to the No. 2 Fukushima reactor has a radioactivity level of 1,000 millisieverts per hour. But other articles describe radiation levels in terms of millirem per year. And a few sources have referred to exposure in terms of millirad or nanogray per hour. Why don't all radiation experts just use the same unit?

Because some people are afraid to switch to the metric system. As with distance, weight, and temperature, doses of radiation can be expressed in either SI units (sieverts) or U.S. customary units (rem). U.S. scientists and engineers in most fields had switched to metric units by 1964, when the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) officially adopted the international system. But nuclear physicists never made the full switcheroo. That's because a wholesale change in measurement could lead to mistakes, at least during the transition—and even a small mistake can be very dangerous when it comes to radiation exposure. (There is an historical argument for being cautious: In 1999, NASA lost contact with the Mars Climate Orbiter because of a mix-up between metric and customary units [PDF].) On the basis of this concern, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission still requires plants to report radiation releases in rem, while the rest of the world uses sieverts. For the record, one rem is equivalent to one-hundredth of a sievert.

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