WBEZ | radiation http://www.wbez.org/tags/radiation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en After 25 years, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has seen an unexpected rebirth in wildlife http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-04-20/after-25-years-chernobyl-exclusion-zone-has-seen-unexpected-rebirth-wild <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//segment/photo/2011-April/2011-04-26/57077137.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Next week marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) nuclear disaster, when a nuclear meltdown of a power plant in the Ukraine forced 60,000 people from their homes and exposed extraorinarily high levels of radiation to hundreds of thousands more. At the time, there was little information released about the potential danger of the radiation; residents of the area were not evacuated for several days after the explosion, and many expected to be back shortly. It is only now, a quarter of a century later, that we are beginning to see the long-term effects the disaster has had on the area, and on the world. We begin a <a href="../../../chernobyl" target="_blank">series</a> today commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) nuclear disaster with writer Henry Shukman, who took a rare extended trip into the zone for the March issue of&nbsp;<em style="color: rgb(2, 122, 198); text-decoration: none;"><a href="http://outsideonline.com/adventure/travel-ga-201103-chernobyl-wildlife-refuge-sidwcmdev_154483.html" style="color: rgb(2, 122, 198); text-decoration: none;" target="_blank">Outside Magazine</a></em>&nbsp;to explore the transformation of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone from an irradiated wasteland into what some call Europe’s largest wildlife refuge.</p><p>"I was just fascinated to go and see it. There was a bit of morbid curiosity; you know, what does Armageddon look like 25 years on?" Shukman explained about his impulse to visit the exclusion zone. "But mostly, I think I really was drawn by the appeal of going to somewhere that was kind of like Europe a thousand years ago, which you can’t find anywhere else really, where nature has been allowed to run its course without human interference. It’s odd and ironic really that it takes a disaster of that magnitude and of that human cost – you know, 2.7 million lives affected by it – that it takes so much to create a space where nature can do his own thing."</p><p><em><strong>Wildlife in the Exclusion Zone</strong></em></p><p>Shukman is referring to the surprisingly abundant wildlife that has taken over the area, which is now teeming with birds, wild boar, elk, deer, lynx, bears, and large wolf packs, creating what he calls a reversion "to a pre-human eco-system."</p><p>Citing the work of biologist Igor Chizhevksy, who has been researching the genetic health of large wild mammals exposed to radiation, Shukman noted that it's been hard for scientists to really get a grip on what impact the radiation has had on the animals, as they can't test a large portion of the population, and they can't gather a history of the animals living there prior to the disaster. The largest body of research that has been done has been with mice, who have been exposed to similar levels of radioactivity and studied afterwards. This work has indicated that genomes have shifted, and that strains of mice have developed radiation resistance.&nbsp;</p><p><b><i>Living in the Exclusion Zone</i></b></p><p>Shukman emphasized that though tourists are allowed to visit some sections of the area, it is not like "hundreds of people are pouring in." It's also important to note that the small groups that do visit are escorted by guides, who point out dangerous areas. But excluding tourists, there are still roughly 300 people who live in the vicinity of the Chernobyl plant, most of whom are elderly and returned soon after they were relocated to Kiev. They are quietly living there, and according to Shukman, life is "even more old-fashioned" than before the explosion, with very few modern accomodations.</p><p>Shukman believes a culture of secrecy in the Soviet Union led to a slower evacuation at the time of the disaster than necessary.&nbsp; Additionally, "...the notion of setting up an exclusion zone is inherently a bit flawed because you’re trying to contain something that simply doesn’t travel in a containable way," Shukman said.</p><p>Shukman noted that though the population of individuals living near Chernobyl is small, and it is difficult to get reliable statistics about their health. He notes that some of them have been living there for over twenty years and "seem to be fine." As seen in parts of Northern Iran and China, where the terrestrial radiation levels are one hundred times higher than the earth average, cancer rates are lower under such conditions, and exposure can be good for the immune system.&nbsp;</p><p><em><strong>Worldwide Ramifications</strong></em></p><p>To Shukman, this by no means validates the use of continued nuclear power. "My own personal conclusion is that we should not build anymore nuclear power stations," he said. "I don’t want to give the impression that because the wildlife is apparently doing well, it's not a human disaster, because it is.</p></p> Wed, 20 Apr 2011 17:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-04-20/after-25-years-chernobyl-exclusion-zone-has-seen-unexpected-rebirth-wild Meltdown feared as water runs out at Japanese nuclear plant http://www.wbez.org/story/earthquake/meltdown-feared-water-runs-out-japanese-nuclear-plant <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-16/Japan rescue nuke_Getty.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says all the water is gone from one of the spent fuel pools at Japan's most troubled nuclear plant. This means there's nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down. The outer shell of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.</p><p>Gregory Jaczko did not say Wednesday how the information was obtained, but the NRC and U.S. Department of Energy both have experts on site at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex of six reactors. He says officials believe radiation levels are extremely high, and that could affect workers' ability to stop temperatures from escalating.</p><p><strong>New power line could solve the crisis</strong></p><p>Meanwhile, the operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant says it has almost completed a new power line that could restore electricity to the complex and solve the crisis that has threatened a meltdown. Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said early Thursday the power line to Fukushima Dai-ichi is almost complete. Officials plan to try it &quot;as soon as possible&quot; but he could not say when.</p><p>The new line would revive electric-powered pumps, allowing the company to maintain a steady water supply to troubled reactors and spent fuel storage ponds, keeping them cool.</p><p>The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday's earthquake and tsunami that pulverized Japan's northeastern coastline.</p><p><strong>U.S. parts with Japan on safety zone recommendations</strong></p><p>The White House is now recommending that U.S. citizens stay 50 miles away from a stricken nuclear plant, not the 20-mile radius recommended by the Japanese. The order comes after President Barack Obama met Wednesday with top advisers and the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.</p><p>As late as Tuesday, the U.S. had not issued its own recommendations, advising citizens instead to follow the recommendations of the Japanese. White House spokesman Jay Carney says the move does not signal a lack of confidence in Japan. He says the NRC is using its own data and making its recommendation on how it would handle the incident if it happened in the U.S.</p><p>Carney says the White House consulted with the Japanese government before making the recommendation.</p><p><strong>U.S. EPA adds more radiation meters along the West Coast</strong></p><p>Federal environmental regulators say they are adding more radiation monitors in the western United States and Pacific territories as concerns rise over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan. The Environmental Protection Agency already monitors radiation throughout the area as part of its RadNet system, which measures levels in air, drinking water, milk and rain.</p><p>But the additional monitors are in response to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, where emergency workers are attempting to cool overheated reactors damaged by last week's magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami.&nbsp; The EPA says data from the monitors are available on its website for coastal states, Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa.</p><p>Officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say they do not expect harmful radiation levels to reach the U.S. from Japan.</p><p><strong>Worsening nuclear crisis rattles financial markets</strong></p><p>Fears that a nuclear reactor in Japan may be in the midst of a partial meltdown shook U.S. financial markets on Wednesday.</p><p>Stock indexes lost 2 percent and gave up nearly all of their gains for the year.&nbsp; All 10 company groups that make up the Standard &amp; Poor's 500 index fell.</p><p>The Dow Jones industrial average fell 242 points, or 2 percent, to 11,613. It was the biggest drop for the index since August 11.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 16 Mar 2011 21:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/earthquake/meltdown-feared-water-runs-out-japanese-nuclear-plant More nuclear power problems in Japan http://www.wbez.org/story/japan/more-nuclear-power-problems-japan <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-14/Japan_Nuclear_Getty_DigitalGlobe.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>There are fears of a third potential explosion at a nuclear plant in northeast Japan following Friday's earthquake and tsunami. </p><p>Officials say the fuel rods in one reactor were fully exposed after it lost its ability to cool down. Sea water is being pumped on the rods to cool them down and prevent another explosion. </p><p>Earlier Monday, a hydrogen explosion at another reactor at the same plant sent a massive cloud of smoke into the air. Eleven workers were injured. On Saturday, a third nuclear reactor at the plant exploded, injuring four workers and causing mass evacuations. Much of the reactor's outer building was destroyed.</p><p>Seventeen U.S. military personnel involved in helicopter relief missions were found to have been exposed to low levels of radiation upon returning to the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier about 100 miles offshore.</p><p>U.S. officials say the exposure level was roughly equal to one month's normal exposure in the environment. The 17 were scrubbed with soap and water, and were declared contamination-free. But as a precaution, the carrier and other U.S. 7th Fleet ships have shifted to another area.</p><p>Meanwhile, stocks are headed for a lower opening as investors assess the economic fallout of a massive earthquake in Japan. The devastating earthquake and tsunami along Japan's northeast coast killed thousands of people and led to what is expected to be billions in dollars of damage. That raised fears of an economic slowdown in the world's third-largest economy.</p><p>Oil prices fell $1.59 to $99.57 a barrel Monday, and Japan's central bank pumped a record $184 billion into money market accounts to encourage bank lending.</p><p>In the U.S., Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it would purchase chemical company Lubrizol for $9 billion in cash.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 14 Mar 2011 12:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/japan/more-nuclear-power-problems-japan Primer: Japan's Nuclear Crisis http://www.wbez.org/story/asia/2011-03-13/primer-japans-nuclear-crisis-83652 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//gr-japannuclear-300.gif" alt="" /><p><p>Japanese officials are struggling to contain a nuclear crisis triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation Friday. Several nuclear reactors lost power after the magnitude 8.9 quake and tsunami – and electricity is needed to run the cooling systems that keep reactor cores from overheating.</p><p>Engineers are closely monitoring problems at a growing number of nuclear power plants in the country, but much of the attention is on reactors in Fukushima Prefecture. Officials suspect a partial meltdown has occurred at two separate reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant along Japan's northeastern coast.</p><p><strong>How many reactors are in trouble at the Daiichi nuclear plant?</strong></p><p>After the quake, the Daiichi plant lost electric power. Three of its six reactors were undergoing routine inspections before the quake and were not operating, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plants.</p><p>But at the other three reactors that were operating, the nuclear fuel rods inside continue to burn — even after officials called for an emergency shut down following the quake. Those reactors at Daiichi — known as units No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 – have experienced problems keeping their reactor cores from overheating since then.</p><p><strong>What caused Saturday's explosion at unit No. 1?</strong></p><p>Water is a big part of the story at Daiichi. The reactors there are boiling water reactors: The nuclear fuel heats water, generating steam that then turns a turbine to create electricity. The water is also used to keep the nuclear rods cool.</p><p>It's probable that hydrogen built up in the cooling system for unit No. 1. When the water gets too hot in the reactor, the hydrogen can get stripped out of the water molecule. Engineers vented some of the hydrogen into the containment building. Hydrogen is combustible, and in this case, it exploded. It didn't damage the reactor, officials say — just the building it sits in. Unit No. 1 is now being cooled by seawater.</p><p><strong>What's the situation at the other Daiichi reactor units?</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Engineers are also pumping in seawater to try to cool unit No. 3, which may have had a partial meltdown. Officials assume a partial meltdown already occurred at unit No. 1. Experts are concerned about the potential for another hydrogen explosion at unit No. 3 like the one that happened at unit No. 1. There are also problems with inadequate cooling at unit No. 2. Engineers may also use seawater to cool that reactor.</p><p><strong>What exactly <em>is a</em> partial meltdown?</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Meltdown isn't a technical term, and nuclear science agencies don't have a strict definition. But a meltdown typically occurs when the core of a nuclear reactor severely overheats, damaging the nuclear fuel rods. Normally, the rods are kept covered in water to keep them cooled. But if water levels drop so that the rods are exposed, they will heat up. The more area of the rods gets exposed, and the longer they are out of water, the hotter they grow – and they can melt.</p><p>A partial meltdown can mean a wide range of things. Just a small portion of the nuclear rods could get exposed, limiting the heat produced. But if enough of the nuclear material melts, it could generate so much heat that the material burns through the containment structure, escaping into the outside world.</p><p><strong>So how serious is the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi site?</strong></p><p>There's no way to know for sure that a partial meltdown <em>has</em> occurred, since you can't get inside the steel reactor vessel, where the fuel is. But officials have found cesium-137 in the air. That's evidence that radioactive fuel — which is supposed to be completely sealed in metal tubes inside the reactor — has been exposed to water or air. That suggests a fuel rod or rods have melted or been broken.</p><p><strong>When will officials know how extensive the partial meltdown was?</strong></p><p>Not until the reactor rods cool down enough – both in terms of temperature and the radiation it gives off – for engineers to get inside the containment vessel. That could take months.<strong> </strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p><strong>How much radiation has been released so far?</strong></p><p>Well, operators continue to release steam and hydrogen from the cooling systems at all three of the reactors under watch at Daiichi. That's to keep the pressure down and avoid another explosion. And venting that vapor can release radiation into the air outside the complex, though officials are not sure how much.</p><p>Authorities say radiation levels around the plant are several times what they should be, though they're not acutely dangerous. There are reports of some radiation exposure — both to nuclear workers and residents.</p><p><strong>What has to happen to avoid a total meltdown and catastrophe?</strong></p><p>One part of it is to get electric power back to make sure the cooling water doesn't evaporate. If the nuclear rods aren't cooled, they could melt within hours. That's what happened at Three Mile Island in 1979 in Pennsylvania – a partial melting that was stopped and contained. At Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, the melting wasn't stopped and the core burned up and spread radiation all over Europe.</p><p><em>With reporting by NPR's Science Desk.</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Sun, 13 Mar 2011 18:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/asia/2011-03-13/primer-japans-nuclear-crisis-83652 Japan in race to avert nuclear disaster http://www.wbez.org/story/asia/2011-03-12/japan-race-avert-nuclear-disaster-83639 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//japan1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The death toll in Japan's earthquake and tsunami could exceed 10,000 in one northeastern state alone, an official said Sunday, as National Broadcaster NHK reported that one nuclear plant suffered a partial meltdown.</p><p>Meanwhile millions of survivors of the quake were left without drinking water, electricity or proper food — as aftershocks continued.</p><p>"This is Japan's most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters, adding that Japan's future would be decided by the response to this crisis.</p><p>The police chief of Miyagi prefecture, or state, told a gathering of disaster relief officials that his estimate for deaths was more than 10,000, police spokesman Go Sugawara said. Miyagi has a population of 2.3 million and is one of the three prefectures hardest hit in Friday's disaster. Only 379 people have officially been confirmed dead in Miyagi.</p><p>Meanwhile, the nation continued attempts to avert possible disaster as nuclear cores at two Japanese power plants overheated.</p><p>The threat prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people living within 12 miles of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, also known as Daishi, one of six reactors at the site 170 miles northeast of Tokyo.</p><p>Reports said that some radioactive iodine and cesium were released from the plant after an explosion blew the roof off a building housing a reactor.</p><p>At Fukushima No. 1, engineers are flooding reactor unit No. 1 with sea-water after its cooling system failed. Some fuel rods may have been damaged and partially melted. Another reactor at this complex is having cooling trouble as well. The lack of electrical power has kept water pumps from circulating enough water through the reactor core.</p><p>Engineers have had to vent radioactive vapor to relieve high pressure and avoid an explosion like the one that struck the complex on Saturday. It damaging the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.</p><p>The government said radiation emanating from the plant appeared to have decreased after the blast, which produced an intensifying cloud of white smoke that swallowed the complex.</p><p>"Radiation so far is onsite and it's not at acute lethal levels, but it is of great concern," NPR's Christopher Joyce reported.</p><p>Officials also relieved excess pressure in the containment that houses a second reactor in the same nuclear complex. Pressure from steam can rise to dangerous levels and even destroy the containment building, which is designed to keep radioactive gases from escaping into the atmosphere in an accident, Joyce reported.</p><p>About 7 miles to the south, at Fukushima No. 2 — also known as Daini — nuclear complex, there are four more reactors. The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that these plants do have electricity for cooling.</p><p>In towns near the reactors, residents are lining up to be tested for radiation exposure. NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao visited a testing facility in Koriyama City, where 1,500 people have been seen so far. But, she says, "Its not yet clear who's been exposed, and how dangerous the level."<em></em></p><p>Japan dealt with the nuclear threat as it was suffering from Friday's double disaster that pulverized the northeastern coast, leaving at least 686 people dead by official count.</p><p>The full scale of destruction was not yet known, but there were grim signs that the death toll could soar. The country has been rattled by more than 150 aftershocks since the initial quake, including a strong one off its eastern coast, closer to Tokyo.</p><p><strong>Trying To Cool The Reactor</strong></p><p>The extent of the ongoing danger from the explosion at the nuclear plant in Fukushima is unclear. Authorities pumped seawater mixed with boron into the damaged nuclear reactor, a strategy nuclear engineering experts in the U.S. say may never have been tried before, Joyce reported. He said one expert called it a "hail Mary" effort.</p><p>Boron helps dampen the nuclear reaction that produces heat in the reactor, Joyce said. Seawater has the advantage of being plentiful at the coastal power plant, but it will eventually corrode and ruin the metal structures in the cooling system.</p><p>The reactor lost power following the earthquake and tsunami. Electricity is necessary to run the water through the reactor vessel and cool the uranium fuel rods, Joyce said. Japanese engineers have been struggling for two days to get the freshwater cooling system back up to keep the hot reactor core from melting.</p><p>Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said efforts to add cooling water to the reactor core had resulted in the production of hydrogen gas, which built up inside the building and then exploded, injuring four workers.</p><p><strong>Evacuations Expand Around Power Plant</strong></p><p>NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao reported that aftershocks continued to rattle the northeast part of the country.</p><p>"I've felt at least three and they were quite strong," she reported from Fukushima. "There were times where many of us had to step out of the building, fearing that there would be some kind of collapse."</p><p>She said local media warned there would be more tsunamis.</p><p>Evacuation in the city widened throughout the day, expanding from a 3-mile radius to 12 miles or more around the power plant. People in the expanded area were advised to leave quickly; 51,000 residents were previously evacuated.</p><p>Officials have not given specific radiation readings for the area, though they said they were elevated before the blast. At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.</p><p>"The government continues to say that [the level of radiation in the area] is still not harmful," Xaykaothao said. According to official sources, it's not to a point where people should be alarmed.</p><p>Authorities were planning to distribute iodine to residents in the area, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iodine counteracts the effects of radiation.</p><p>But, Xaykaothao said, "the community here is certainly not taking any chance; a lot of people are staying away — it's almost a ghost town on some of these streets."</p><p>"Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible," said Reiko Takagi, a middle-aged woman, standing outside a taxi company. "It is too dangerous to go anywhere. But we are afraid that winds may change and bring radiation toward us."</p><p>The Transport Ministry said all highways from Tokyo leading to quake-hit areas were closed, except for emergency vehicles. Mobile communications were spotty and calls to the devastated areas were going unanswered.</p><p><strong>Emergency Work Continues In Wake Of Tsunami</strong></p><p>The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 1,300-mile stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami, packing 23-feet high waves.</p><p>It swept inland about six miles in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars, trees and everything else.</p><p>Images from Japan show scenes of devastation: flooded cities and highways and twisted piles of wreckage where homes once stood. Cars and trucks are strewn haphazardly where the force of the water left them. Hundreds of people were killed, many more are homeless and thousands are without power and water.</p><p>"In some areas, the tsunami reached up to six miles inland," NPR's Rob Gifford reported. The tsunami itself was about 30 feet high; 200,000 people are said to have fled.</p><p>"There are towns that have been completely flattened," he said. "I'm not sure they're going to find any survivors."</p><p>According to official figures, 642 people were missing and 1,426 injured. In addition, police said between 200 and 300 bodies were found along the coast in Sendai, the biggest city in the area near the quake's epicenter.</p><p>Local TV stations broadcast footage of people lining up for water and food such as rice balls. In Fukushima, city officials were handing out bottled drinks, snacks and blankets. But there were large areas that were surrounded by water and were unreachable.</p><p><strong>Rescuers En Route</strong></p><p>Meanwhile, the first wave of military rescuers began arriving by boats and helicopters.</p><p>Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops joined rescue and recovery efforts, aided by boats and helicopters.</p><p>"The Japanese government has mobilized very quickly," Gifford reported, sending several hundred planes to airports in the north of the main island. "Military and civilian groups have all been moving into the area to try to help the people whose homes have literally vanished. And there are tens of thousands of those people."</p><p>Dozens of countries also offered help. President Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially "catastrophic" disaster. Washington has also dispatched urban search and rescue teams, according to U.S. Ambassador John Roos.</p><p>Technologically advanced Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, even a temblor like Friday's, which was the strongest the country has experienced since official records started in the late 1800s. What was beyond human control was the killer tsunami that followed.</p><p>Japan's worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in Kanto that killed 143,000 people in 1923, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.</p><p>Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.</p><p><em>NPR's Christopher Joyce, Jon Hamilton, Rob Gifford and freelance journalist Doualy Xaykaothao contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. </p> Sun, 13 Mar 2011 00:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/asia/2011-03-12/japan-race-avert-nuclear-disaster-83639