January 5, 2012

Scientist to Test Seals for Radiation, but Sees Japan Link as Unlikely

Ringed seals are dying and getting sick in the waters off Alaska, Russia and Canada, and scientists don’t know why. Could it be radiation poisoning from the reactor leak at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan?

Speculation has run wild as to just how much damage the leak, which was triggered by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan in March, will have on the environment. To address these concerns, John Kelly, a professor emeritus of chemical oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, will be testing tissue from the sickened ringed seals for evidence of radiation.

Kelly told the Associated Press that he does not think he will find a nuclear explanation for the seal’s plight—to date, 60 have been found dead in the waters off Alaska, and 75 are reported to be suffering from a variety of ailments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Damage includes lesions on their flippers and in their mouths, fluid in their lungs, white spots on their livers and abnormal growth in their brains. Those seals that are alive are said to be extremely lethargic.

Kelly sees slim odds of finding evidence of radiation in the seal tissue. “My gut feeling is that there’s nothing there, that the answer lies in something else that’s in the sea,” he told the AP, but added that “you never can tell. … There may be some surprises.”

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March 27, 2012

Radiation Level of Nuclear Reactor in Japan Said to Be ‘Fatally High’

An internal examination of the Fukushima Daiichi No. 2 Reactor has found that it has “fatally high” levels of radiation, according to a report by the Associated Press.

A year ago, the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan severely damaged the reactor, but many reports thus far have suggested that the lingering effects are less severe than they might have been. Today’s report, however, paints a very different picture. Using an endoscope, examiners detected levels of radiation inside the containment chamber of up to ten times the fatal dose.

Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the level was “extremely high,” so much so that it threatened the life, so to speak, of the endoscope itself, which could only last 14 hours in such conditions. For locating and removing the radioactive fuel during the decommissioning, he said, technicians will “have to develop equipment that can tolerate high radiation.”

The reactor was declared stable in December; at that time, the containment vessel was believed to have water at a depth of about 10 meters, but the new report says that the water is only about 60 centimeters deep.

Reactor No. 2 is the only one to have been tested, the AP article said, because the radiation levels in the building are relatively low and there was a slot into which the endoscope could be inserted. Conditions could be as bad, or worse, at the other two. Reactor No. 1 may have had moe fuel breach the reactor core, but radiation at Reactor No. 3 has tested highest.

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