[ RadSafe ] Alleged Claim "The Broken Maps of Fukushima"

Roger Helbig rwhelbig at gmail.com
Thu Mar 10 07:04:26 CST 2016

This seems to be a primer for activists to explain why all the
scientists like you are lying to them about Fukushima.

Roger Helbig
---------- Forwarded message ----------

New post on nuclear-news

The Broken Maps of Fukushima

by dunrenard

by Robert Jacobs, March 9, 2016

When we look at maps of Fukushima what we see is disinformation. The
maps of the radioactive contamination of Fukushima contain
contradictions that embody our inability to understand the true nature
of the dangers to people living there. This is rooted in the
difficulty in understanding radiation. If we can separate the maps, we
may be able to grasp the dangers more readily, and thus understand the
situation in a more functional way.

Similarly, one can hold a Geiger counter up in the air in a village in
Fukushima prefecture and declare that there is no radiation present.
The assumption, therefore, is that there is no danger. The ways in
which this can be both true, but only partial truth, are part of what
we need to fully grasp to understand the situation in Fukushima.

I will begin with the Geiger counter.

Radiation is a very difficult thing to understand. For starters, we
tend to assume that radiation is a “thing.” Something is radioactive
or it is not. We are affected by the radiation or we are not. This is
not quite accurate. Radiation is a quality: it is a process—something
radiates. How it radiates can differ, and it is in this difference
that half-truths can be told as whole truths. While there are many
aspects to this, for the present article I will concentrate on the
differences between gamma, beta and alpha radiation. Most of the
discourse that you hear about radiation related to Fukushima is
describing gamma radiation. The danger to most of the people
continuing to live in contaminated areas is in the form of alpha or
beta radiation, so when we hear people talk about radiation in
Fukushima, most of the time they are not talking about what is of most
concern and danger.

Here is a quick primer. Gamma radiation comes off of radioactive
materials in waves. These waves can penetrate anything, and they are
partially filtered by heavy materials, such as lead. You can think of
gamma radiation as similar to x-rays. This is why you have a lead
apron placed on you when you have dental x-rays, and why the
technician goes behind a lead-lined wall. When gamma radiation passes
through your body it does not stay in your body. Like x-rays, when the
source is turned off, they stop and there is no more danger. To limit
the damage to the body from gamma radiation we limit the total
cumulative dose received, hence the person working with it protects
themselves behind the lead wall; the patient receives a small dose,
but if the technicians received that same small dose repeatedly every
day, they would be at much higher risk.

Alpha and beta radiation comes from specific irradiated particles,
such as individual atoms of plutonium, or cesium-137. These particles
cannot penetrate through materials: they cannot penetrate through
skin, or even paper. They are primarily dangerous when we internalize
them inside of our bodies and they permanently lodge there. They
generally give off a small amount of radiation because they are single
atoms. If there are a lot of them present, they give off more
radiation. If one is internalized into the body, it will give this
small amount of radiation to the same surrounding cells for 24 hours a
day. While the amount is small, 24/7 exposure to this radiation may
cause mutations to these cells, and then cancer.

Gamma radiation fills an area equally, lessening quickly as you get
further from the source. This is what most Geiger counters are set to
measure—the levels of gamma radiation present. When you have alpha and
beta-emitting particles scattered in an area, the amount of detectable
radiation will likely vary. In Fukushima City last year (about 50
miles away from the nuclear plants), I held a Geiger counter at chest
level on a street and found a low level of radiation. However, moments
later when I placed that same Geiger counter on the ground, I found
much higher levels of radiation. That is because particles fall and
collect on the ground. When I then moved my Geiger counter to the
gutter at the side of the street, I found dramatically more radiation.
This is because rain washes the particles to the gutter. So the
distribution of the particles is irregular, depending on how long ago
they fell-out of the sky (fallout) and how much wind and rain there
has been.

This is how you can hold a Geiger counter in the air (or place a
public Geiger counter five or twenty feet in the air) and show very
low levels of radiation, and yet there can still be significant
dangers present. If the danger is from alpha and beta-emitting
particles, the readings taken in mid-air can be low. The way that such
particles are dangerous to us is if we internalize them into our
bodies, typically by inhaling them, swallowing them, of having them
enter through cuts in our skin. Once inside the body, they may pass
through, but they may also permanently lodge there. The body is
tricked into thinking that these particles are useful chemicals.
Strontium-90 “mimics” calcium, and the body can put it into the bones.
Since the body puts iodine into the thyroid gland, if someone has
internalized iodine-131 (a radioactive form of iodine) the body may
put that in the thyroid gland. Thyroid cancer is one of the first
cancers to develop from internalized particles, and that is why our
conversation about the health impacts in Fukushima are currently
focused on thyroid cancer. Other cancers will follow as we move
through their latency periods.


Table 1

Some isotopes of concern after a nuclear accident:

Plutonium 239, half-life: 24,000 years, decay mode: alpha, decay
energy: 5.24 MeV

Strontium 90, half-life: 29 years, decay mode: beta, decay energy: 0.546 MeV

Cesium 134, half-life: 2 years, decay mode: beta, gamma, decay energy: 0.698 MeV

Cesium 137, half-life: 34 years, decay mode: beta, gamma, decay energy: 1.76 MeV

Iodine 131, half-life: 8 days, decay mode: beta, gamma, decay energy: 971 keV

Tritium, half-life: 12 years, decay mode: beta, decay energy: 18.6 keV

Decay energy is measured in electron volts (eV), a measure of the
particle’s momentum. 1 MeV is 1,000,000 eV, and 1 keV is 1,000 eV.
According to the table, Plutonium 239 is the most dangerous internal
emitter, but the hazards to public health depend on the relative
quantities released and the relative quantities that people actually
absorb. Some segments of the population are more vulnerable than
others. Is it a matter of a single exposure or a continual exposure
and accumulation?  What parts of the body do different particles tend
to go to, and how long on average do they tend to stay in the body
(the biological half-life)? None of this complexity can be conveyed
with a map and a simple declaration of a “safe” limit of external
gamma radiation exposure. (Table added by Dianuke editor)


These alpha and beta-emitters are particularly dangerous for children.
Children are lower to the ground to start with, tend to put things
into their mouths, and tend to play outdoors and suffer cuts and
bruises, and since their bodies are growing rapidly, damage to cells
can replicate faster. This is why parents agonize over whether to stay
or evacuate an area that has had radiological fallout.

This is also why it is hard to be certain about the contamination to
the food supply. It is virtually impossible to test all food, and so
samples are tested: samples of rice from rice fields, samples of fish
from catches, samples of fruit from orchards. Because the danger to
these crops is not from gamma radiation, which would be equally
distributed, but from their internalizing alpha and beta-emitting
particles, portions of a crop, or haul of fish, can test negative
while other portions contain significant amounts of radiation
deposited on them or taken up through soil and water into the plant or
fish itself.

Our ability to technologically determine the distribution of alpha and
beta-emitting particles is limited because of the irregular deposit of
the material from fallout clouds, and the subsequent scattering of the
particles from wind and water. This is also why it is possible to
“decontaminate” an area only to have it re-contaminated as the wind
and rain redistribute the particles that fell on nearby forests.
Technically it is not possible to “decontaminate” a natural area. The
radioactive particles will remain dangerous for their natural life.
For plutonium that is over 100,000 years. During that time, it cannot
be decontaminated, it can only be moved. We can attempt to contain
these particles, however most of them will long outlive the plastic
bags into which we placed them, at which time they will re-enter the
soil and the ecosystem and begin to cycle through it again.

Understanding the difference between the dangers from gamma, beta and
alpha radiation is the key to understanding how the maps of Fukushima
are broken. Below is a typical map that we see of Fukushima, produced
by the Japanese government:

Map of Fukushima produced by MEXT of the Government of Japan and
reproduced on the website of the IAEA.

There are two things that I want to point out. First, the concentric
circles. These have the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at their
center. The second thing is the color coded splotches and streak.
These show where the plumes of the three nuclear plant explosions
deposited their fallout, in this case specifically measurements of
cesium-134 and cesium-137. Notice how the representation of the areas
of fallout are constrained by the outermost concentric circle.

These two things should be read separately.

Concentric circles describe relative distances from a point. In this
case, distances from the nuclear plant. People were evacuated based on
their distance from the plant. The mandatory evacuation zone was at 20
km and the suggested, or prepared evacuation zone was from 20-30 km
(the key difference between “mandatory” and “suggested” evacuation is
liability). The reason that people had to evacuate from these areas
was because of the high levels of gamma radiation coming from the
melted cores of the nuclear plants, and the high levels of gamma
radiation where the plumes deposited the largest amounts of fallout
close-by. The levels of gamma radiation near the reactors is lethally
high. At this point, no human being can enter into the buildings where
the nuclear cores melted. The gamma radiation levels are so high that
they would be killed in minutes. We have yet to build robots capable
of operating in these highly radioactive locations for longer than an
hour or so. Moving away from the point at the center of these circles
will decrease one’s exposure to radiation. The amount of gamma
radiation coming from the plant is measurable and relatively constant
across the areas at similar distances. Hence the use of circles,
concentric circles marking decreasing levels of gamma radiation.

Here is a map of the evacuations:

Concentric Circles Showing Areas of Evacuation, No-Fly Zone, and U.S.
Safety Zone Around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plants, and the
Populations of Nearby Towns.

When we look, instead, at a map of the radiological contamination of
the downwind area, we are reading entirely different information. The
splotches of color marking the levels of radiation from the plumes is
irregular, unlike the neat and cleanly measured concentric circles.
The colors mark the different grades of radiation from the fallout.
They are created based on the gamma radiation from the fallout,
however, the primary danger to people living in these areas is not
based on the levels of the gamma radiation, but from internalizing
individual alpha and beta-emitting particles. Since there is no single
source, like the melted cores, but rather billions of individual
particles, once the plume has fallen out and the particles have
reached the ground, they begin to move through the ecosystem via the
dynamic motion of wind and water, and then they are internalized in
the bodies of animals. Rain will collect them along gutters and
gullies and transport them. Wind will blow them along hillsides and
valleys. Once these particles begin to move through the ecosystem,
there is no center, no specific source that people must move away
from. The dangers are unevenly distributed, and they are constantly
changing. Once you are over 30 km away from the nuclear plants,
surrounded by their concentric circles, moving further away from the
direction of the plants may or may not provide more safety. The
contamination that comes from alpha and beta-emitting particles is
unpredictable, irregular, and changes over time. Each specific
particle has a specific period of radioactivity and during that
period, it will move through the ecosystem, being taken up by plants,
moved by wind, entering soil, eaten by animals and returning to the
soil when the animals die. They may move in the same direction that
you are moving to get away from the center of the concentric circles,
if the wind is blowing that way.

Here is a map showing the radiological contamination of the region,
which differs from the specific places where the plumes first

Map of Radiation Levels Downwind from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear
Plants in 2014, Produced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority of the
Government of Japan.

The maps of Fukushima are broken. These broken maps are reflections of
the broken chain of information that has been provided to those living
there and grappling with the dangers on a daily basis. Because these
maps, and this information, are broken, disinformation can thrive and
blossom. A March 7th editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan makes
use of these broken maps and the data that they convey to misinform
people in Japan about the safety of former residents moving back into
contaminated areas. With no sense of irony, it’s headline proclaims,
“Correct Understanding of Radiation Needed to Speed Reconstruction.”
Explaining that exposure to radiation is natural, the editorial claims
that, “The government needs to continue carefully explaining to
residents that there will be no health problems as long as the
radiation exposure is at 20 millisieverts or lower.” For this reason,
people need “correct understanding” to cooperate and return to areas
that can only be decontaminated to 20 millisieverts. While there is
significant debate about what level of gamma radiation is safe, and
increasingly convincing data that no level is safe (see here), this
argument ignores the fact that much of that 20 millisievert exposure
is coming from alpha and beta-emitting particles, which pose an
additional danger from that of the external exposure. For the people
being advised to return, the areas they would return to are plagued by
the more urgent risk of internalizing these particles, a danger that
increases dramatically in areas where the external exposure is still
measurably high. Their lives would be filled with the presence of
large amounts of invisible atoms that will very likely cause cancers
if inhaled or swallowed. These dangers are not factored into the 20
millisieverts the editorial writers so casually dismiss.

These broken maps, co-mingling the dangers of external and internal
radiation in one graphic, present the idea that the dangers from
radiation near Fukushima are fixed and knowable. This is not true.
Massive amounts of radionuclides have deposited along large areas of
Fukushima, and they will now pulse and fluctuate within the dynamics
of that ecosystem for as long as each particle remains radioactive.
Most of them will be hard to trace and difficult to control. People
can be moved away from the plants, where the danger is in a fixed
location and is measurable. Where the plumes deposited the particles
the opposite is true. The dangers are unknowable and can move around,
just like the people. This puts the health of those living there in a
very different relationship to the risks.

To fix the maps, we need to fix the knowledge chain. Radiation is
difficult to understand, and that difficulty allows disinformation to
take root–disinformation like that contained in the editorial of the
Yomiuri cited above, and in so many pronouncements from experts who
omit information about alpha and beta-emitting particles and the
dangers of internalized radiation when they speak down to people who
must live with these dangers. For most people having to live with the
radiation scattered by TEPCO’s meltdowns, clear information about
internalized radiation and how these dangers persist in their
communities is essential for them to map their own paths to a future
of their choosing. No one should insist that they live with higher
levels of radiation by changing their understanding to the “correct


Robert Jacobs is a historian of nuclear technologies and radiation
technopolitics at the Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City


dunrenard | March 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Tags: Contamination,
Evacuation, Fukushima, radioactive | Categories: Fukushima 2016 | URL:


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