Fukushima Fallout Monitoring Needed: April 2011

11. April 2011

Fukushima Fallout Monitoring Needed

Arjun Makhijani

Total releases of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan now appear to rival Chernobyl. As a result, there is now fallout through the northern hemisphere, with hot spots appearing due to rain. For instance, rainwater in Boise, Idaho, on March 22, 2011, was reported by the Environmental Protection Agency at 242 picocuries per liter, about 80 times the U.S. drinking water standard if the level persisted for a prolonged time. The drinking water standard is a common reference number for water purity, even if the water is not used for drinking.

Preliminary risk calculations on the March 22, 2011, rainout event in Boise indicate that the risk from a single such event would be low, even if cows were mostly getting their feed from outdoor grazing, which may not have been the case. However, government agency measurements of milk contamination are limited and appear to be uncoordinated. Ingesting milk contaminated with iodine-131 increases the risk of contracting thyroid cancer, especially for female infants. A low dose would produce a low risk; the risk increases proportionally to the dose.

"We don't have data on iodine-131 levels in milk samples taken from the same areas where polluted rain fell," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, IEER's president. "Such information is important for making reliable estimates of radiation dose and risk. We must ensure that fallout is not rising to levels that could repeat even a small part of the tragedy associated with atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s."

IEER recommendations for government actions in the US, Japan and elsewhere follow.

Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (www.ieer.org). He holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley and has produced many studies and articles on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years.

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