It wasn’t a long time ago when three of Fukushima’s Nuclear reactors suffered a major breakdown. Ever since the tragedy struck, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) authorities have been trying to lessen the leakage. As if taken from Pacific Rim, they stopped the radioactive water pollution by building walls of frozen soil around the perimeter of the four nuclear reactors in Fukushima. Should this worry us, especially if we lived outside of Japan? But wasn’t it under control? Wouldn’t we know if something dangerous is about to happen? There are actually three things we must worry about: Radioactive water, Japan itself and water treatment. Let’s try to look at this closer, shall we?
Can water be radioactive?
Radioactive water is considered the result of leaking radionuclide into bodies of water. Although there are radioactive chemicals that are naturally occurring in our environment, the major sources of radioactivity were from nuclear power plant meltdown and nuclear weapon testing. As far as we’re concerned, these happen on remote sandbars and far off into the ocean. Our oceans have contained radioactive molecules that are both naturally occurring and man-made. Freshwater and groundwater also gets contaminated through contact with radioactively contaminated waters. This is why residents near Fukushima are advised not to drink tap water to avoid ingesting contaminated water.
But what about the power plant in Fukushima?
Nuclear power plants like the Fukushima Daiichi utilized a huge amount of radioactive materials to produce energy. The energy released from binding or separating atoms was always so great, that one Uranium 235 nuclear fission reaction could produce energy that is 600 000 times stronger than burning a carbon atom. However, this immense release of energy also produced radiation. Right now, in Fukushima, groundwater continuously flows down the facility due to its location. This water seeps in to the plant and releases some of the contaminants into the surrounding soil. Radioactivity of water increases and so do the chances of disaster.
What is radioactive water by the numbers?
US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking standard for Cesium-137 is 7,400 Bq/m3. Right now, Fukushima has about 310 Bq/m3for Cesium-134 and 650 Bq/m3for Cesium-137. As you can see, the radioactivity in drinking water in Fukushima is not as high as people would think.
What is the scale of radioactive pollution in water caused by Japan?
According to a report, 300 tons of radioactive waste water has been leaking from the Fukushima Reactor into the ocean every day. This leakage may come from the pools of contaminated water that were used to cool down the reactors. In a year, that would be around 110,000 tons of contaminated water.
Do we have to be concerned with this figure at all?
Studies revealed that the radioactive contamination in water in Fukushima is not as alarming as that of the radioactive emission that was released during the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing. The levels of concentration of the radioactive chemicals released into the sea are observed to be stagnant. A simple analogy by the Boiling Point goes this way: the Pacific Ocean contains 680 000 000 000 000 000 tons of water, so the 110 000 tons of contaminated water would be more like a drop of chlorine in a swimming pool. So more than us being affected by this radioactive water, Japan is set to suffer the most from this problem.
So what do the people of Japan face?
Research has shown that people affected by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing increase the risk of leukemia. While long-term effects have never been pinpointed, did you know that 200,000 people died after the bombing from health problems? The heat damage, radiation shock and other intense effects of the bombing all spelled death long after the bomb exploded. There is a huge effort from different institutions to convince people that the concentration of Cesium-137-laced Japan radioactive water leaking into the ocean does not present a huge health threat. But health practitioners from Physicians for Social Responsibility advise that these radioactive substances increase our chances of developing cancer. So whether or not it causes an immediate health threat, it is still very troubling.We cannot visibly detect radioactive waste water pollution. At the end of the day, it’s better safe than sorry, especially if you live on the Japanese coast.
What can be done?
Simply put, we can filter our water. There is not only one kind of radioactive water filter but there area wide number of filter and radioactive water treatment that are readily-available. If you’re interested in how to purify radioactive water, you may be happy to know that it is quite possible and can even be easy. The challenge lies in the amount of water to be purified. Fukushima currently has 7 pools of contaminated water and more than a hundred tons of contaminated groundwater. Decontaminating all this water can be really tricky, expensive and tedious.
Ordinary water purification processes such as filtration can remove up to 60 to 85 percent of radioactive contaminants. Earthen materials such as clay and silt can improve the filtration process by up to 85 percent. All you need is persistence and natural materials.
Possible Solutions for Japan
Here are different kinds of filtering systems that can be used to remove radioactivity in water.
Beds of activated Carbon have been proven to remove iodine-131 from contaminated waters. Iodine-131 is produced during Uranium nuclear fission or nuclear weapon detonation. Iodine-131, together with its fellow Iodine isotope, Iodine-129 is mostly airborne. This makes them superbly hard to contain via filtration processes like Reverse Osmosis. However, Activated Carbon can provide the needed filtration processes for gaseous radioactive substances such the iodine isotopes that can come out of water vapor.
Ion Exchange Filter
Radioactive elements can either be ionizing or non-ionizing. With the help of Ion Exchange Filters, ionizing elements could be removed. 95 percent of ionizing contaminants are effectively absorbed by the polystyrene beads. The absorbed contaminating ions will then be replaced by hydrogen and hydroxide ions.
This filtration process has always used a semi-permeable membrane to get rid of the radioactive molecules. Osmosis was a process by which molecules passes through a semi-permeable membrane to go through the less solute-concentrated area, just like a sieve. Molecules that are small enough to pass through the membrane go to the other side and bigger molecules stayed on the other. Reverse osmosis if of course the exact opposite, where the solvent (liquid) moved into the area of lower concentration to leave out the solutes on the other side. To make this possible, pressure is applied to reverse the natural osmosis process wherein the solutes move out instead of the solvent. Radioactive debris was easily left behind. Filtering systems designed for radioactive water treatment are widely sold in the market. Contaminated water can be easily treated but the problem lies in the fact that this water is present in many aquatic habitats especially that of the Pacific Ocean, an immensely large ecosystem. Water filtration might be done for our water consumption but the effect of these radioactive molecules on animal’s body might raise a bigger concern. Removing all radioactivity in all natural bodies of water is virtually impossible.
Does Japan stand a chance?
For the question that we raised earlier, “Does Fukushima have a Chance?” it indeed does. The problem is the scale and the time involved in cleaning the waste up. With 7 pools of water still oozing with danger, it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of filters. While this generation may not enjoy a clean Fukushima, Japan’s next set of youth may be the beneficiaries.