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Concept: Radioactive contamination


The collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant caused a massive release of radioactive materials to the environment. A prompt and reliable system for evaluating the biological impacts of this accident on animals has not been available. Here we show that the accident caused physiological and genetic damage to the pale grass blue Zizeeria maha, a common lycaenid butterfly in Japan. We collected the first-voltine adults in the Fukushima area in May 2011, some of which showed relatively mild abnormalities. The F₁ offspring from the first-voltine females showed more severe abnormalities, which were inherited by the F₂ generation. Adult butterflies collected in September 2011 showed more severe abnormalities than those collected in May. Similar abnormalities were experimentally reproduced in individuals from a non-contaminated area by external and internal low-dose exposures. We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species.

Concepts: Biology, Chernobyl disaster, Uranium, Nuclear fission, Radioactive contamination, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Nuclear safety, Lycaenidae


The Fukushima nuclear accident released radioactive materials into the environment over the entire Northern Hemisphere in March 2011, and the Japanese government is spending large amounts of money to clean up the contaminated residential areas and agricultural fields. However, we still do not know the exact physical and chemical properties of the radioactive materials. This study directly observed spherical Cs-bearing particles emitted during a relatively early stage (March 14-15) of the accident. In contrast to the Cs-bearing radioactive materials that are currently assumed, these particles are larger, contain Fe, Zn, and Cs, and are water insoluble. Our simulation indicates that the spherical Cs-bearing particles mainly fell onto the ground by dry deposition. The finding of the spherical Cs particles will be a key to understand the processes of the accident and to accurately evaluate the health impacts and the residence time in the environment.

Concepts: Solubility, Chemical substance, Chemical element, Uranium, Radioactive contamination, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Government of Japan, Cabinet of Japan


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 study was undertaken to determine activity concentrations for (134)Caesium, (137)Caesium and (210)Polonium in New Zealand seafood, and establish if activity concentrations varied with respect to species/ecological niche and coastal region. Thirty seafood samples were obtained from six fishing regions of New Zealand along with a further six samples of two commercially important species (hoki and arrow squid) with well-defined fisheries. (134)Caesium was not detected in any sample. (137)Caesium was detected in 47% of samples, predominantly in pelagic fish species, with most activities at a trace level. Detections of (137)Caesium were evenly distributed across all regions. Activity concentrations were consistent with those expected from the oceanic inventory representing residual fallout from global nuclear testing. (210)Polonium was detected above the minimum detectable concentration in 33 (92%) of the analysed samples. Molluscs displayed significantly elevated activity concentrations relative to all other species groups. No significant regional variation in activity concentrations were determined. Two dose assessment models for high seafood consumers were undertaken. Dose contribution from (137)Caesium was minimal and far below the dose exemption limit of 1 mSv/year. Exposure to (210)Polonium was significant in high seafood consumers at 0.44-0.77 mSv/year (5th-95th percentile). (137)Caesium is concluded to be a valuable sentinel radionuclide for monitoring anthropogenic releases, such as global fallout and reactor releases, in the marine environment. (210)Polonium is of importance as a natural radionuclide sentinel due to its high contribution to dietary committed dose in seafood consumers.

Concepts: Species, Fish, Concentration, Chemical equilibrium, New Zealand, Radioactive contamination, Region, Pelagic fish


Radioactive isotopes originating from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 were found in resident marine animals and in migratory Pacific bluefin tuna (PBFT). Publication of this information resulted in a worldwide response that caused public anxiety and concern, although PBFT captured off California in August 2011 contained activity concentrations below those from naturally occurring radionuclides. To link the radioactivity to possible health impairments, we calculated doses, attributable to the Fukushima-derived and the naturally occurring radionuclides, to both the marine biota and human fish consumers. We showed that doses in all cases were dominated by the naturally occurring alpha-emitter (210)Po and that Fukushima-derived doses were three to four orders of magnitude below (210)Po-derived doses. Doses to marine biota were about two orders of magnitude below the lowest benchmark protection level proposed for ecosystems (10 µGy⋅h(-1)). The additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted PBFT in the United States was calculated to be 0.9 and 4.7 µSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources. Although uncertainties remain regarding the assessment of cancer risk at low doses of ionizing radiation to humans, the dose received from PBFT consumption by subsistence fishermen can be estimated to result in two additional fatal cancer cases per 10,000,000 similarly exposed people.

Concepts: Ionizing radiation, Radioactive decay, Gamma ray, Radiation poisoning, Radioactive contamination, Radioactivity, Radionuclide, Tuna


This study is dedicated to the environmental monitoring of radionuclides released in the course of the Fukushima nuclear accident. The activity concentrations of β(-) -emitting (90)Sr and β(-)/γ-emitting (134)Cs and (137)Cs from several hot spots in Japan were determined in soil and vegetation samples. The (90)Sr contamination levels of the samples were relatively low and did not exceed the Bq⋅g(-1) range. They were up four orders of magnitude lower than the respective (137)Cs levels. This study, therefore, experimentally confirms previous predictions indicating a low release of (90)Sr from the Fukushima reactors, due to its low volatility. The radiocesium contamination could be clearly attributed to the Fukushima nuclear accident via its activity ratio fingerprint ((134)Cs/(137)Cs). Although the correlation between (90)Sr and (137)Cs is relatively weak, the data set suggests an intrinsic coexistence of both radionuclides in the contaminations caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident. This observation is of great importance not only for remediation campaigns but also for the current food monitoring campaigns, which currently rely on the assumption that the activity concentrations of β(-)-emitting (90)Sr (which is relatively laborious to determine) is not higher than 10% of the level of γ-emitting (137)Cs (which can be measured quickly). This assumption could be confirmed for the samples investigated herein.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear medicine, Concentration, Chemical equilibrium, HotSpot, Radioactive contamination, Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents, Assumption of Mary


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


Analyses of (131)I, (137)Cs and (134)Cs in airborne aerosols were carried out in daily samples in Vilnius, Lithuania after the Fukushima accident during the period of March-April, 2011. The activity concentrations of (131)I and (137)Cs ranged from 12 μBq/m(3) and 1.4 μBq/m(3) to 3700 μBq/m(3) and 1040 μBq/m(3), respectively. The activity concentration of (239,240)Pu in one aerosol sample collected from 23 March to 15 April, 2011 was found to be 44.5 nBq/m(3). The two maxima found in radionuclide concentrations were related to complicated long-range air mass transport from Japan across the Pacific, the North America and the Atlantic Ocean to Central Europe as indicated by modelling. HYSPLIT backward trajectories and meteorological data were applied for interpretation of activity variations of measured radionuclides observed at the site of investigation. (7)Be and (212)Pb activity concentrations and their ratios were used as tracers of vertical transport of air masses. Fukushima data were compared with the data obtained during the Chernobyl accident and in the post Chernobyl period. The activity concentrations of (131)I and (137)Cs were found to be by 4 orders of magnitude lower as compared to the Chernobyl accident. The activity ratio of (134)Cs/(137)Cs was around 1 with small variations only. The activity ratio of (238)Pu/(239,240)Pu in the aerosol sample was 1.2, indicating a presence of the spent fuel of different origin than that of the Chernobyl accident.

Concepts: United States, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Meteorology, Smoke, Radiation poisoning, Radioactive contamination, Financial ratio