It has come to light that readings taken at the Fukushima atomic power plant last year were incorrect, indicating figures that "significantly undercounted" radiation levels.
The news has undermined confidence in the information released by the company so far, and many are asking if the world is being given the facts regarding the fallout from Fukushima.
A statement released by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), owners of the nuclear facility which was destroyed by a tsunami following a massive earthquake in 2011, explained that the readings of beta radiation taken between April to September 2013 were flawed, and 164 water samples will now need to be re-tested.
“These errors occurred during a time when the number of the samplings rapidly increased as the result of a series of events since last April, including groundwater reservoir leakage and a major leak from a storage tank,” the statement explained.
It was stated that the erroneous samples, none of which were taken from seawater, were discovered in October 2013 and measurements were halted. The samples and methods of testing radiation at the plant will now be reviewed by experts from across the world, and steps taken to improve accuracy. TEPCO pours gallons of water into the reactors to keep the melted fuel from overheating, but the damaged buildings housing the reactors are compromised and are allowing radioactive material to seep into groundwater which then flows into and pollutes the sea.
Plans to build an underground "ice wall" to contain the leak were announced in September 2013 by the Japanese government. A row of wells are being drilled around the area, then a liquid coolant is to be released through the wells to cool the soil around them and form a frozen wall. It is hoped that the wall of ice will prevent contaminated groundwater from getting into the environment but there are doubts over its potential efficacy, as some experts fear that the wall will cause groundwater to seep further underground.
Similar technology is normally used as a temporary measure in civil construction so there is no precedent to indicate how reliable the method would be as a long term solution. The Japanese government chose the approach over more permanent solutions like concrete barriers as they believe the ice wall will allow for a quick rebuilding of the wall in the event of a new earthquake.The work is to cost around $320 million in construction and is scheduled to be completed by March 2015.
Meanwhile, the radioactive water continues to seep into the sea and there are now major concerns that its effects are being felt further afield, even across the Pacific on the west coast of the United States and Canada. There are unconfirmed reports that UC Berkeley lab tests have showed high levels of cesium in cattle feed from a California dairy farm, and that asphalt along a roadside in in Los Angeles was found to contain a disturbingly high reading of 3579 pci/kg.
The official account suggests that radiation from Fukushima has not yet reached the U.S., but that very low levels - too low to harm human or animal life - are set to reach the western coastal shores next month. Computer models indicate that contaminated water will first arrive north of Seattle, probably in April, and will then travel down the West coast.
But are the official reports representing the full extent of the problem?
Anecdotal evidence tells of tumors already being discovered in Pacific salmon stocks caught in Alaska: the Local Environmental Observers (LEO) Network in Hydaburg, Alaska claim that they have found tumor-like growths in salmon flesh:
"We were fishing for cohos (silver salmon) at the mouth of the Hydaburg River with line and reel," said LEO representative, Brian Holter, Jr. who described how he saw eight fish containing strange growths that were either white or pink in color. "On the outside the fish looked fine. The growths looked kind of like individual little salmon eggs, and about the same size. Other people were seeing the same kind of growths in their fish as well."
Another LEO volunteer, Sam Kunaknana, from Nuiqsut, Alaska, said that for the past few months they have been catching sick fish displaying bloody lesions or tumors. The fish were caught from Nigliq Channel and upstream from Nigliq Channel to the Colville River. There is no conclusive proof that the abnormalities in the fish are caused by radiation from Fukushima, but the fishermen claim that this is a new phenomenon.
"In all the years I’ve been fishing I never caught any fish like this. Caught 3 more sick fish with same markings and this time one had some kind of growths coming out from its mouth Most people in our community eat this fish," Kunaknana continued.
Some of the lesions found have been explained away as net damage, but the tumor-style growths remain a mystery to local fishermen.
These and other similar reports remain unconfirmed by official sources, and certainly that there are some wildly speculative rumors circulating regarding the effects of Fukushima, but there does appear to be enough anecdotal evidence to sow the seeds of concern in those living in areas likely to be affected. The main problem is that the effects of radiation are not immediate, and therefore it is difficult to directly attribute strange deformities or defects in animals or humans to fallout from Fukushima, unless a dedicating testing programme is put into place.
Until then we can only review all of the available information, both official and unofficial, and attempt to form our own opinions.
What are your views on this subject? Do you believe that the potential threat from Fukushima is being downplayed, or are the scaremongers merely trying to stir up misplaced concerns in the general public? Have you witnessed any strange effects that you believe are due to an increase in radiation levels?
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