27 January 2014, 17:54

Japan starts using drones to evaluate radiation levels at Fukushima

Japan starts using drones to evaluate radiation levels at Fukushima

Radiation levels in and around the Fukushima nuclear power plant are starting to be measured by drones. Special unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been created by the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and the Japanese Space Exploration Agency. The machines are controlled with the use of a remote and, unlike their manned counterparts, they can fly at altitudes as low as 984 feet (300 meters).

Two natural disasters, one earthquake and a brutal tsunami took the region of Fukushima by surprise leaving 15,000 dead and 3,000 missing. In turn, the nuclear power plant also felt the effects of the catastrophes that swept through the area, leaving the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in peril after an accident struck the facility. The blow has been said to have caused worse damage than the aftermath of Chernobyl.

As nuclear particles are believed to be running at higher levels than is healthy rate for human exposure, there have been unfortunate delays with the decommissioning process.

The drone set off on its mission around the Fukushima facility and measured radiation levels.

It took to the air about three miles (six kilometers) away from the power plant that has been left in a shambles, in Namie city.

The UAV flew for 30 minutes and was able to gather radiation readings in real-time and then returned to researchers for the data to be properly analyzed.

The route the drone took circled around the plant and the surrounding area. It was absolutely essential to stick to the flight plan to be sure that the information collected would be precise. This makes the data gathered even more accurate for scientists to examine.

The group of researchers is planning to launch more flights to keep testing the drones to see how well they perform in locating radiation. Maximum use of drones in and around the nuclear area is expected to be seen by 2015.

Scientists in search of funding to help monitor Fukushima ocean radioactivity

Scientists are seeking ways to collect cash to help monitor ocean radioactivity due to the Fukushima disaster. Ken Buesseler was one of the very first researchers to examine the water off the coast of Fukushima, Japan after the region was left in turmoil from the meltdown. Now, the marine chemist has created a project called How Radioactive is Our Ocean?. It is a crowd-funding site that encourages people to donate funds to support the gathering of water samples on the west coast of the US.

“When Fukushima happened, the first things we saw were some of the numbers from the Tokyo Electric Power Company [which ran the reactors at the plant], and they had measured levels of the cesium isotopes 137 and 134 on scales of tens of millions of becquerels per cubic meter,” Buesseler said. It is important to point out that before the disaster, the figure was just one or two of those units. Buesseler, along with other researchers, believed that such a difference was unprecedented, especially for the ocean. They realized it was their mission to look into how it was being dispersed.

People should keep a healthy dose of concern in their minds over the possibility of radioactive contaminants. Researcher Buesseler predicts that Fukushima cesium isotopes will be discovered off the US coast. From current projections, the isotopes are to reach the coast by winter.

“I certainly don’t believe the levels we’re going to see on the west coast of North America should be of health concern,” Buesseler explained, “The human-exposure issues are more for the workers and people moving back into their homes on land. For the ocean it becomes quickly a fisheries issue.”

Results from the Bluefin tuna near San Diego, California carried Fukushima cesium. It has been estimated that if a person consumed five times the amount of fish that a typical American would eat, and only ate the toxic fish for a year, for every ten million people, two extra cancer cases would result.

The crowd-sourcing project has a few aims in mind, from scientific ventures to public health concerns. “We’ll actually have data to address that even if it’s below health concern. Because many countries have nuclear reactors on their coasts, things like this might happen again. There’s value in studying this, even if it’s safe,” Buesseler said.

Even though radioactivity has been noted as causing harm in the genetic makeup of people, it is not the level that the scientists are expecting. Buesseler is so convinced that the damage done from Fukushima is so minor for the US coast, that he will not stop swimming in the Pacific or give up seafood any time soon.

Voice of Russia, Japan Daily Press, Nature

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