Why Fukushima’s High Radiation Levels are Actually a Good Thing

Fukushima was just another Japanese prefecture until a tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster struck in 2011.

While the incident happened years ago, Fukushima has again made headlines with some seemingly worse news: radiation levels are soaring and reaching their highest since the meltdown. However, here’s what’s really happening.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) announced that the radiation level of reactor 2 at the destroyed Fukushima No. 1 power plant hit a maximum of 530 sieverts per hour, The Japan Times said. This is extremely hazardous as exposure to just four sieverts is reportedly enough to kill one out of two people. The highest reading previously recorded was 73 sieverts.

That being said, an individual exposed to 530 sieverts would be expected to die from brief exposure. As told by experts, a tenth of a sievert (100 millisieverts) increases the risk for cancer, while one sievert (1,000 millisieverts) could lead to cataracts, infertility and loss of hair. Even robots are only expected to operate for two hours before they collapse. All these make it more difficult for the Japanese government and TEPCO to complete the clean-up process.

However, radiation levels are not immediately increasing. What experts found is just an area with radiation levels much higher than before.

Using a 10.5-meter-long (34.4-foot-long) telescopic arm, TEPCO probed an area of the reactor 2 called the “pedestal” and found a 2-meter hole in melted grating. The hole may have formed from melted fuel rods from a pressure vessel above. When confirmed, it would be the first melted fuel uncovered from the reactor, IFLScience noted. This also means that the discovery of the exposed fuel would significantly aid in fully decommissioning the plant.

IAEA Imagebank / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

TEPCO said in a statement:

“Nuclear fuel in the Primary Containment Vessel (PCV) was exposed to the air and melted from the impact of [the] March 2011 Great Earthquake. As a result of the accident analysis, it was found that a portion of melted nuclear fuel might have been fallen [sic] inside the pedestal.”

Despite the area of extreme radiation, levels around the plant continue to decrease and officials maintain that radiation is not leaking out of the area.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster took place at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima, on March 11, 2011. It was caused by a tsunami that followed the Tohoku earthquake.

Cover Image: naturalflow / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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