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Concept: Nuclear power


After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011, radioactive elements were released from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Based on prior knowledge, concern emerged about whether an increased incidence of thyroid cancer among exposed residents would occur as a result.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Uranium, Nuclear fission, Japan, Nuclear power, Nuclear safety, Electricity generation, Sellafield


The contamination of Japan after the Fukushima accident has been investigated mainly for volatile fission products, but only sparsely for actinides such as plutonium. Only small releases of actinides were estimated in Fukushima. Plutonium is still omnipresent in the environment from previous atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. We investigated soil and plants sampled at different hot spots in Japan, searching for reactor-borne plutonium using its isotopic ratio (240)Pu/(239)Pu. By using accelerator mass spectrometry, we clearly demonstrated the release of Pu from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant: While most samples contained only the radionuclide signature of fallout plutonium, there is at least one vegetation sample whose isotope ratio (0.381 ± 0.046) evidences that the Pu originates from a nuclear reactor ((239+240)Pu activity concentration 0.49 Bq/kg). Plutonium content and isotope ratios differ considerably even for very close sampling locations, e.g. the soil and the plants growing on it. This strong localization indicates a particulate Pu release, which is of high radiological risk if incorporated.

Concepts: Mass spectrometry, Nuclear fission, Isotope, Nuclear weapon, Nuclear power, Nuclear proliferation, Radioactive contamination, Isotope ratio mass spectrometry


To evaluate the environmental contamination and radiation exposure dose rates due to artificial radionuclides in Kawauchi Village, Fukushima Prefecture, the restricted area within a 30-km radius from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP), the concentrations of artificial radionuclides in soil samples, tree needles, and mushrooms were analyzed by gamma spectrometry. Nine months have passed since samples were collected on December 19 and 20, 2011, 9 months after the FNPP accident, and the prevalent dose-forming artificial radionuclides from all samples were (134)Cs and (137)Cs. The estimated external effective doses from soil samples were 0.42-7.2 µSv/h (3.7-63.0 mSv/y) within the 20-km radius from FNPP and 0.0011-0.38 µSv/h (0.010-3.3 mSv/y) within the 20-30 km radius from FNPP. The present study revealed that current levels are sufficiently decreasing in Kawauchi Village, especially in areas within the 20- to 30-km radius from FNPP. Thus, residents may return their homes with long-term follow-up of the environmental monitoring and countermeasures such as decontamination and restrictions of the intake of foods for reducing unnecessary exposure. The case of Kawauchi Village will be the first model for the return to residents' homes after the FNPP accident.

Concepts: Ionizing radiation, Nuclear physics, Chernobyl disaster, Radioactive decay, Nuclear power, Radioactive contamination, Prefectures of Japan, Fukushima Prefecture


A primary health concern among residents and evacuees in affected areas immediately after a nuclear accident is the internal exposure of the thyroid to radioiodine, particularly I-131, and subsequent thyroid cancer risk. In Japan, the natural disasters of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed an important function of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1-NPP) and a large amount of radioactive material was released to the environment. Here we report for the first time extensive measurements of the exposure to I-131 revealing I-131 activity in the thyroid of 46 out of the 62 residents and evacuees measured. The median thyroid equivalent dose was estimated to be 4.2 mSv and 3.5 mSv for children and adults, respectively, much smaller than the mean thyroid dose in the Chernobyl accident (490 mSv in evacuees). Maximum thyroid doses for children and adults were 23 mSv and 33 mSv, respectively.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear medicine, Nuclear power, Radioactive contamination, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Nuclear safety, Three Mile Island accident, Hanford Site


After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) in March 2011, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of the released radionuclides into the surrounding area. We investigated the morphological changes in Japanese fir, a Japanese endemic native conifer, at locations near the F1NPP. Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP showed a significantly increased number of morphological defects, involving deletions of leader shoots of the main axis, compared to a control population far from the F1NPP. The frequency of the defects corresponded to the radioactive contamination levels of the observation sites. A significant increase in deletions of the leader shoots became apparent in those that elongated after the spring of 2012, a year after the accident. These results suggest possibility that the contamination by radionuclides contributed to the morphological defects in Japanese fir trees in the area near the F1NPP.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Uranium, Nuclear fission, Pinophyta, Fir, Nuclear power, Radioactive contamination, Nuclear safety


After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the thyroid ultrasound screening program for children aged 0-18 at the time of the accident was started from October 2011. The prevalence of thyroid carcinomas in that population has appeared to be very high (84 cases per 296,253). To clarify the pathogenesis, we investigated the presence of driver mutations in these tumours. 61 classic papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs), two follicular variant PTCs, four cribriform-morular variant PTCs and one poorly-differentiated thyroid carcinoma were analysed. We detected BRAF(V600E) in 43 cases (63.2%), RET/PTC1 in six (8.8%), RET/PTC3 in one (1.5%) and ETV6/NTRK3 in four (5.9%). Among classic and follicular variant PTCs, BRAF(V600E) was significantly associated with the smaller size. The genetic pattern was completely different from post-Chernobyl PTCs, suggesting non-radiogenic etiology of these cancers. This is the first study demonstrating the oncogene profile in the thyroid cancers discovered by large mass screening, which probably reflects genetic status of all sporadic and latent tumours in the young Japanese population. It is assumed that BRAF(V600E) may not confer growth advantage on paediatric PTCs, and many of these cases grow slowly, suggesting that additional factors may be important for tumour progression in paediatric PTCs.

Concepts: Cancer, Mutation, Oncology, Chernobyl disaster, Tumor, Neoplasm, Carcinoma, Nuclear power


On August 9th 2012, we published an original research article in Scientific Reports, concluding that artificial radionuclides released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant exerted genetically and physiologically adverse effects on the pale grass blue butterfly Zizeeria maha in the Fukushima area. Immediately following publication, many questions and comments were generated from all over the world. Here, we have clarified points made in the original paper and answered questions posed by the readers.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Academic publishing, Research, Publishing, Nuclear power, Nuclear safety, Three Mile Island accident, Lycaenidae


Decisions determining the use of land for energy are of exigent concern as land scarcity, the need for ecosystem services, and demands for energy generation have concomitantly increased globally. Utility-scale solar energy (USSE) [i.e., ≥1 megawatt (MW)] development requires large quantities of space and land; however, studies quantifying the effect of USSE on land cover change and protected areas are limited. We assessed siting impacts of >160 USSE installations by technology type [photovoltaic (PV) vs. concentrating solar power (CSP)], area (in square kilometers), and capacity (in MW) within the global solar hot spot of the state of California (United States). Additionally, we used the Carnegie Energy and Environmental Compatibility model, a multiple criteria model, to quantify each installation according to environmental and technical compatibility. Last, we evaluated installations according to their proximity to protected areas, including inventoried roadless areas, endangered and threatened species habitat, and federally protected areas. We found the plurality of USSE (6,995 MW) in California is sited in shrublands and scrublands, comprising 375 km(2) of land cover change. Twenty-eight percent of USSE installations are located in croplands and pastures, comprising 155 km(2) of change. Less than 15% of USSE installations are sited in “Compatible” areas. The majority of “Incompatible” USSE power plants are sited far from existing transmission infrastructure, and all USSE installations average at most 7 and 5 km from protected areas, for PV and CSP, respectively. Where energy, food, and conservation goals intersect, environmental compatibility can be achieved when resource opportunities, constraints, and trade-offs are integrated into siting decisions.

Concepts: Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Solar energy, Solar power, Nuclear power, Solar thermal energy, Concentrating solar power


Radiation dose rates were evaluated in three areas neighboring a restricted area within a 20- to 50-km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in August-September 2012 and projected to 2022 and 2062. Study participants wore personal dosimeters measuring external dose equivalents, almost entirely from deposited radionuclides (groundshine). External dose rate equivalents owing to the accident averaged 1.03, 2.75, and 1.66 mSv/y in the village of Kawauchi, the Tamano area of Soma, and the Haramachi area of Minamisoma, respectively. Internal dose rates estimated from dietary intake of radiocesium averaged 0.0058, 0.019, and 0.0088 mSv/y in Kawauchi, Tamano, and Haramachi, respectively. Dose rates from inhalation of resuspended radiocesium were lower than 0.001 mSv/y. In 2012, the average annual doses from radiocesium were close to the average background radiation exposure (2 mSv/y) in Japan. Accounting only for the physical decay of radiocesium, mean annual dose rates in 2022 were estimated as 0.31, 0.87, and 0.53 mSv/y in Kawauchi, Tamano, and Haramachi, respectively. The simple and conservative estimates are comparable with variations in the background dose, and unlikely to exceed the ordinary permissible dose rate (1 mSv/y) for the majority of the Fukushima population. Health risk assessment indicates that post-2012 doses will increase lifetime solid cancer, leukemia, and breast cancer incidences by 1.06%, 0.03% and 0.28% respectively, in Tamano. This assessment was derived from short-term observation with uncertainties and did not evaluate the first-year dose and radioiodine exposure. Nevertheless, this estimate provides perspective on the long-term radiation exposure levels in the three regions.

Concepts: Cancer, Ionizing radiation, Chernobyl disaster, Radioactive decay, Nuclear power, Radiation poisoning, Background radiation, Absorbed dose


There is an ongoing debate about the deployment rates and composition of alternative energy plans that could feasibly displace fossil fuels globally by mid-century, as required to avoid the more extreme impacts of climate change. Here we demonstrate the potential for a large-scale expansion of global nuclear power to replace fossil-fuel electricity production, based on empirical data from the Swedish and French light water reactor programs of the 1960s to 1990s. Analysis of these historical deployments show that if the world built nuclear power at no more than the per capita rate of these exemplar nations during their national expansion, then coal- and gas-fired electricity could be replaced worldwide in less than a decade. Under more conservative projections that take into account probable constraints and uncertainties such as differing relative economic output across regions, current and past unit construction time and costs, future electricity demand growth forecasts and the retiring of existing aging nuclear plants, our modelling estimates that the global share of fossil-fuel-derived electricity could be replaced within 25-34 years. This would allow the world to meet the most stringent greenhouse-gas mitigation targets.

Concepts: Economics, Nuclear fission, Coal, Nuclear power, Energy development, Greenhouse gas, Enriched uranium, Light water reactor