The earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011 would have been big enough on their own, but the disaster was magnified by the fact that the natural disaster disrupted the operations of a nuclear power plant in ways that no one had foreseen. New research shows that the impact of that disaster continues today.
Glass particles landed in Tokyo
The earthquake and tsunami flooded the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing the release of radioactive Cesuim isotopes from the plant over the course of several days. Researchers have concluded that Tokyo, which is more than 200 km away from Fukushima, was dusted in radioactive glass microparticles created when the plant’s reactors melted down, and those particles hung around much longer than organic materials would have.
Cesium is water-soluble, and many scientists thought that it posed a lower danger because it could be washed out of the environment by rain. Because glass is inert and the radioactive Cesium was encapsulated in the “glassy soot” from the plant, the rain did not wash away the radioactive glass particles as it would have organic materials. That means the only avenues for removal of the radioactive glass soot would have been direct removal of the contaminated soot or direct washing.
Scientists examined air filters that captured some of the glass particles created during the meltdown. Based on their analysis, the particles were nearly as radioactive in Tokyo as they were when they left Fukushima.
Removing potentially contaminated soil was part of the remediation plan for the affected area, so much of the radioactive glass was eventually removed. The findings are significant enough to make the researchers rethink their approach to monitoring the effects of nuclear contamination on humans. Their concern is for the health of the people affected by the fallout. People inhaled encapsulated Cesium glass microparticles, which proved to be super effective at maintaining so much of their radioactive payload. Knowing that glass particles have a “protective” effect on nuclear radation (even the water soluble kind) allows scientist to better evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of such an accident on human health.
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Photo Credit: Tamaki Sono, via Flickr.com