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Concept: Plutonium


Although the influence of nuclear accidents on the reproduction of top predators has not been investigated, it is important that we identify the effects of such accidents because humans are also top predators. We conducted field observation for 22 years and analysed the reproductive performance of the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis fujiyamae), a top avian predator in the North Kanto area of Japan, before and after the accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that occurred in 2011. The reproductive performance declined markedly compared with the pre-accident years and progressively decreased for the three post-accident study years. Moreover, it was suggested that these declines were primarily caused by an increase in the air dose rate of radio-active contaminants measured under the nests caused by the nuclear accidents, rather than by other factors. We consider the trends in the changes of the reproductive success rates and suggest that internal exposure may play an important role in the reproductive performance of the goshawk, as well as external exposure.

Concepts: Accipiter, Nuclear power, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Plutonium, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nuclear safety, Chernobyl disaster, Three Mile Island accident


In 2011, 2012, and 2013, in the intertidal zones of eastern Japan, we investigated the ecological effects of the severe accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that accompanied the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The number of intertidal species decreased significantly with decreasing distance from the power plant, and no rock shell (Thais clavigera) specimens were collected near the plant, from Hirono to Futaba Beach (a distance of approximately 30 km) in 2012. The collection of rock shell specimens at many other sites hit by the tsunami suggests that the absence of rock shells around the plant in 2012 might have been caused by the nuclear accident in 2011. Quantitative surveys in 2013 showed that the number of species and population densities in the intertidal zones were much lower at sites near, or within several kilometers south of, the plant than at other sites and lower than in 1995, especially in the case of Arthropoda. There is no clear explanation for these findings, but it is evident that the intertidal biota around the power plant has been affected since the nuclear accident.

Concepts: Nuclear power, Water, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Plutonium, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nuclear safety, Chernobyl disaster, Three Mile Island accident


Plutonium (Pu) and non-natural uranium (U) originating from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) were identified in the atmosphere at 120 km distance from the FDNPP analyzing the ratio of number of atoms, following written as n(isotope)/n(isotope), of Pu and U. The n((240)Pu)/n((239)Pu), n((241)Pu)/n((239)Pu), n((234)U)/n((238)U), n((235)U)/n((238)U) and n((236)U)/n((238)U) in aerosol samples collected before and after the FDNPP incident were analyzed by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS). The activity concentrations of (137)Cs and (134)Cs in the same samples were also analyzed by gamma spectrometry before the destructive analysis. Comparing the time series of analytical data on Pu and U obtained in this study with previously reported data on Pu, U, and radioactive Cs, we concluded that Pu and non-natural U from the FDNPP were transported in the atmosphere directly over a 120 km distance by aerosol and wind within a few days after the reactor hydrogen explosions. Effective dose of Pu were calculated using the data of Pu: (130 ± 21) nBq/m(3), obtained in this study. We found that the airborne Pu contributes only negligibly to the total dose at the time of the incident. However the analytical results show that the amount of Pu and non-natural U certainly increased in the environment after the incident.

Concepts: Nuclear physics, Chemical element, Spectroscopy, Plutonium, Mass spectrometry, Nuclear proliferation, Nuclear fission, Nuclear power


The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident (FDNPP) has caused serious contamination in the environment. The release of Pu isotopes renewed considerable public concern because they present a large risk for internal radiation exposure. In this review, we summarize and analyze published studies related to the release of Pu from the FDNPP accident based on environmental sample analyses and the ORIGEN model simulations. Our analysis emphasizes the environmental distribution of released Pu isotopes, information on Pu isotopic composition for source identification of Pu releases in the FDNPP-damaged reactors or spent fuel pools, and estimation of the amounts of Pu isotopes released from the FDNPP accident. Our analysis indicates that a trace amount of Pu isotopes (ca. 2 ×10-5 % of core inventory) was released into the environment from the damaged reactors, but not from the spent fuel pools located in the reactor buildings. Regarding the possible Pu contamination in the marine environment, limited studies suggest that no extra Pu input from the FDNPP accident could be detected in the western North Pacific 30 km off the Fukushima coast. Finally, we identified knowledge gaps remained on the release of Pu into the environment and recommended issues for future studies.

Concepts: Nuclear physics, Nuclear weapon, Nuclear fission, Spent fuel pool, Isotope, Nuclear power, Nuclear proliferation, Plutonium


Resettlement to their radiation-contaminated hometown could be an option for people displaced at the time of a nuclear disaster; however, little information is available on the safety implications of these resettlement programs. Kawauchi village, located 12-30 km southwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, was one of the 11 municipalities where mandatory evacuation was ordered by the central government. This village was also the first municipality to organize the return of the villagers. To assess the validity of the Kawauchi villagers' resettlement program, the levels of internal Cesium (Cs) exposures were comparatively measured in returnees, commuters, and non-returnees among the Kawauchi villagers using a whole body counter. Of 149 individuals, 5 villagers had traceable levels of Cs exposure; the median detected level was 333 Bq/body (range, 309-1050 Bq/kg), and 5.3 Bq/kg (range, 5.1-18.2 Bq/kg). Median annual effective doses of villagers with traceable Cs were 1.1 x 10(-2) mSv/y (range, 1.0 x 10(-2)-4.1 x 10(-2) mSv/y). Although returnees had higher chances of consuming locally produced vegetables, Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel test showed that their level of internal radiation exposure was not significantly higher than that in the other 2 groups (p=0.643). The present findings in Kawauchi village imply that it is possible to maintain internal radiation exposure at very low levels even in a highly radiation-contaminated region at the time of a nuclear disaster. Moreover, the risks for internal radiation exposure could be limited with a strict food control intervention after resettlement to the radiation-contaminated village. It is crucial to establish an adequate number of radio-contaminated testing sites within the village, to provide immediate test result feedback to the villagers, and to provide education regarding the importance of re-testing in reducing the risk of high internal radiation exposure.

Concepts: Nuclear fission, Plutonium, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nuclear power, Three Mile Island accident, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Nuclear safety, Chernobyl disaster


Krypton-85 is mainly produced in nuclear reactors by fission of uranium and plutonium and released during chopping and dissolution of spent fuel rods in nuclear reprocessing facilities. As noble gas it is suited as a passive tracer for evaluation of atmospheric transport models. Furthermore, research is ongoing to assess its quality as an indicator for clandestine reprocessing activities. This paper continues previous efforts to compile a comprehensive historic emission inventory for krypton-85. Reprocessing facilities are the by far largest emitters of krypton-85. Information on sources and calculations used to derive the annual krypton-85 emission is provided for all known reprocessing facilities in the world. In addition, the emission characteristics of two plants, Tokai (Japan) and La Hague (France), are analysed in detail using emission data with high temporal resolution. Other types of krypton-85 sources are power reactors, naval reactors and isotope production facilities. These sources contribute only little or negligible amounts of krypton-85 compared to the large reprocessing facilities. Taking the decay of krypton-85 into account, the global atmospheric inventory is estimated to about 5500 PBq at the end of 2009. The correctness if the inventory has been proven by meteorological simulations and its error is assumed to be in the range of a few percent.

Concepts: Nuclear fuel cycle, Nuclear fuel, Nuclear fission, Nuclear power, Spent nuclear fuel, Nuclear proliferation, Plutonium, Nuclear reprocessing



The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) in March 2011 caused partial meltdowns of three reactors. During the meltdowns, a type of condensed particle, a caesium-rich micro-particle (CsMP), formed inside the reactors via unknown processes. Here we report the chemical and physical processes of CsMP formation inside the reactors during the meltdowns based on atomic-resolution electron microscopy of CsMPs discovered near the FDNPP. All of the CsMPs (with sizes of 2.0-3.4 μm) comprise SiO2 glass matrices and ~10-nm-sized Zn-Fe-oxide nanoparticles associated with a wide range of Cs concentrations (1.1-19 wt% Cs as Cs2O). Trace amounts of U are also associated with the Zn-Fe oxides. The nano-texture in the CsMPs records multiple reaction-process steps during meltdown in the severe FDNPP accident: Melted fuel (molten core)-concrete interactions (MCCIs), incorporating various airborne fission product nanoparticles, including CsOH and CsCl, proceeded via SiO2 condensation over aggregates of Zn-Fe oxide nanoparticles originating from the failure of the reactor pressure vessels. Still, CsMPs provide a mechanism by which volatile and low-volatility radionuclides such as U can reach the environment and should be considered in the migration model of Cs and radionuclides in the current environment surrounding the FDNPP.

Concepts: Nuclear safety, Uranium, Three Mile Island accident, Nuclear physics, Plutonium, Nuclear fission, Nuclear meltdown, Chernobyl disaster


A simple separation of americium from curium would simplify closure of the nuclear fuel cycle, assist in nuclear forensic analysis and allow for more accurate measurement of neutron capture properties of 241Am. Methods for separation of americium from curium are however complicated and time consuming due to the similar chemical properties of these elements. In this work a novel method for the separation of americium from curium in nitric acid media was developed using sodium bismuthate to perform both the oxidation and separation. Sodium bismuthate is shown to be a promising material for performing a simple and rapid separation. Curium is more strongly retained than americium on the undissolved sodium bismuthate at nitric acid concentrations below 1.0 M. A separation factor of ~91 was obtained in 0.1 M nitric acid. This separation factor is achieved within the first minute of contact and is maintained for at least two hours. Separations using sodium bismuthate were performed using solid-liquid extraction as well as column chromatography.

Concepts: Performance, Actinides, Chemical element, Neutron, Nuclear fuel, Plutonium, Chemistry, Nuclear fission


Plutonium dioxide (PuO2) is used to fabricate a mixed oxide fuel for fast breeder reactors. When a glove box containing PuO2 fails, such as by rupture of a glove or a vinyl bag, airborne contamination of plutonium (Pu) can occur. If a worker inhales PuO2 particles, they will be continually irradiating their lung tissue with alpha particles, and this could cause lung cancer. The nasal smear and nose blow methods are useful for checking workers for PuO2 intake in the field. However, neither method can evaluate the quantitative activity of Pu. No alpha-particle detector that can be used for direct measurements in the nasal cavity has been developed. For direct and quantitative measurement, it is required that a shape of the detector should be a fine bar which inserts itself in the nose to measure the accurate activity of Pu. Therefore, we developed a nasal monitor capable of directly measuring the activity of Pu in the nasal cavity to estimate the internal exposure dose of a worker. Prismatic-shaped 2 × 2 acrylic light guides were used to compose a detector block, and a ZnS(Ag) scintillator was adhered to the surface of these light guides. Silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) arrays with 8 × 8 channels were used as a photodetector. Actual PuO2 particles were measured using the nasal monitor. The nasal monitor could be directly inserted in the nasal cavities, and the activity distribution of Pu was obtained by the nasal monitor. The average efficiencies in 4-pi were 11.4 and 11.6% for the left and right nasal cavities, respectively. The influence of gamma and beta rays from Cesium-137 (137Cs) Strontium-90 (90Sr) on the detection of the alpha particles of Pu was negligible. The difference in the measured Pu activity between the ZnS(Ag) scintillation counter and the nasal monitor was within 4.0%. Therefore, it was considered that the developed nasal monitor could be used in direct Pu determination to estimate the internal exposure dose of workers.

Concepts: Plutonium(IV) oxide, Nose, Ionizing radiation, Nasal cavity, Nuclear reprocessing, Measurement, Breeder reactor, Plutonium