Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, suffering a meltdown in March 2011 after a twin earthquake and tsunami disaster, has registered unbelievably high levels of radiation. Nuclear facility operator Tokyo Electric Power Company measured radiation level in Reactor 2’s containment vessel that reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour — far exceeding the former high of 73 sieverts per hour logged at the same reactor after the tragedy.
Experts who have not tested reactors 1 and 3 yet dubbed the recent readings unimaginable.
Deemed the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl, Ukraine incident back in 1986, this meltdown and the ensuing radioactivity could kill someone with the briefest exposures, and cleanup is taking much longer than anticipated.
So dangerous is it, and should we start to worry?
Don’t Panic Just Yet
According to the National Institute of Radiological Science of Japan, medical professionals had never imagined encountering this much radiation in their work. A robot too would manage to operate for less than two hours in these radioactive conditions before it gets destroyed.
Getting exposed to 1 sievert of radiation could already cause infertility, loss of hair, and cataracts, while 4 sieverts would lead to death of half the people exposed.
Analysts, the Washington Post reported, believe that people who reside in Japan and on the Pacific basin should not freak out just yet. Azby Brown of citizen science organization Safecast said that while the radiation level proves “astoundingly high,” it does not readily represent any alarming radiation level change at the nuclear site. It’s just that they were measured that far inside the reactor for the first time.
“[I]t does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured,” Brown explained on their website, citing similar remote probes planned for Units 1 and 3.
Nuclear expert Hiroshi Miyano also doubted the exact reliability of the reading since it was an estimate, with TEPCO mentioning a 30 percent margin of error.
Cause For Concern
Others, however, are convinced that there is reason for concern. While expecting the radiation levels inside the reactors to be high, some experts still get shocked over such levels six years after 3/11, which killed nearly 16,000 along the northeastern coast of Japan in the tsunami and had another 160,000 lose their homes and livelihood.
“[T]he finding might greatly affect the decommissioning time schedule,” warned nuclear safety expert Fumiya Tanabe, where TEPCO hopes to start removing the fuel in 2021 and kick-start the estimated 50-year process.
The radiation reading could also be 10 times higher than documented since it was some distance from the melted fuel, said Citizens' Nuclear Information Center co-director Hideyuki Ban.
From here, it looks like a truly rough path for decommissioning, with potentially delayed timelines following more investigations needed.
Japanese nuclear power proponents such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been advocating the restarting of the reactors' shut down post-2011. The nagging fear among some scientists, however, is that there is a larger monster waiting to be discovered in the future, making radiation monitoring more important than ever.