Fukushima Fallout

Cesium-137 deposition maps.Credit: <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/108/49/19530.full">Teppei J. Yasunari, et al</a>, 'Cesium-137 deposition and contamination of Japanese soils due to the Fukushima nuclear accident,' PNAS. Click <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/108/49/19530/F1.large.jpg">here</a> for larger image and detailed caption.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

There’s been a flurry of troubling news from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear power plant. Here’s a recap:

  1. The Tokyo Electric Power Company estimates that of 45 tons of radioactive wastewater that leaked from the plant, some 40 gallons (150 liters)  leaked into the Pacific Ocean in recent days, reports the New Zealand Herald.

  2. The Japanese milk-powder company Meiji, whose factory lies within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of the Fukushima plant, recalled 400,000 cans of baby formula after discovering 30.8 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilo in the product, reports the BBC. This level is considered within the safety range, though infants and children are more susceptible than adults to lower levels of exposure, and eating radiation is worse than external exposure. Until now, Meiji had been checking waterborne but not airborne radioactivity levels near their factory, reports the New York Times—hence the “new” findings.

  3. A new paper (open access) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports that two episodes of rain in the days following the disaster dispersed most of the radioactive iodine, tellurium, and cesium now found in Japan’s surface soils. The first rain on 15 March spread the contamination around Fukushima prefecture. The second rain on 21 March transported and deposited radiation on Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, and Chiba prefectures, as well as in Tokyo.

  4. Another new paper (open access) in PNAS reports on the distribution of Cesium-137. With its half-life of 30.1 years—meaning it will lose only half its radioactivity in the next three decades—cesium-137 is the most dangerous of all fallout for livestock and hence human life in the area for decades to come. The researchers found Cesium-137 strongly contaminated soils in large areas of eastern and northeastern Japan, whereas western Japan was sheltered by its mountain ranges. Soils and ocean waters between 130–150 °E and 30–46 °N were estimated to contaminated by 5.6 and 1.0 petabecquerels, respectively.

  5. The Telegraph reports that Japan’s Environment Ministry has finally granted permission to animal welfare groups to enter the no-go zone around Fukushima and rescue abandoned cats, dogs, and other pets. Many are believed to have starved to death, though several hundred are thought to be alive and running wild. Only animals whose owners have requested rescue, and who can prove they can provide shelter, will be allowed a pick up. (Somehow I imagine the rescuers will find a kinder solution than that.)



Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend