It seems the efforts aimed at decommissioning the disaster-stricken facility have hit yet another wall.
The radiation levels inside the Fukushima nuclear plant’s reactor no. 2 have been found to be drastically off the charts; estimated at 530 Sieverts per hour at one spot. A manually operated camera was sent to probe the deepest point (so far) inside the reactor. When TEPCO analysed the captured images, one spot within the containment vessel showed an all-time high atmospheric reading, that some experts believe to be ‘unimaginable’.
Even after considering a 30-percent margin of error, this kind of radiation level is still much higher than previous estimate of 73 Sieverts per hour, as recorded by the sensors in 2012. TEPCO, however, is quick to explain that this time camera had explored deeper than before and that these readings were recorded from a single spot. The power company added that radiation levels at other spots are projected be much lower than this.
According to the official Japanese government estimate, the total costs to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – including decontaminating the affected area and the top soil, buildings and trees, holding and storing the radioactive debris, and costs of compensation – is likely to reach 21.5 trillion yen (USD $190 billion). With TEPCO still struggling to discover and extract hundreds of missing blobs of melted fuel rods, the cleaning process is already expected to span over four decades, if not more. Now, these incredulous radiation levels further threaten to complicate and slow down the efforts to safely retire the nuclear plant.
TEPCO and its partners are yet to identify the location and assess the status of the melted debris in the three reactors that were crippled in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It is believed that this melted fuel is located underneath the nuclear reactor’s contaminant vessels. The dangerous levels of radiations make it highly challenging for humans to go in and evaluate the situation more precisely.
Fukushima ground zero is no place for robots either
A remote-controlled robot was dispatched to the plant # 2 containment vessel to explore and locate the fuel waste. But owing to the dangerous levels of radiations, it was pulled out of the chamber early. The robot was built to tolerate nearly 1,000 Sieverts of radiation exposure. Given the amount of radiations present, the robot was only expected to withstand the exposure for less than two hours before it would face problems. And this is exactly what happened.
The noise analysis of the images transmitted by the robot cameras estimated the radiation of 650 Sieverts per hour – purportedly enough to kill a person almost instantly.
A single dose of 1 Sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness, 5 Sieverts has the capacity to kill half of the people exposed to it within a month and a 10 Sieverts could kill within weeks. 
It was the first time a robot was sent to the Unit 2 reactor. The objective was to assess the structural damage and clean-up the passage, before another robot could be sent to gauge the damage, locate the fuel debris and to measure radiation levels and temperature. But this extremely high level of radiation seems to have acted as yet another roadblock to these on-going efforts. TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said, “inadequate cleaning, high radiation and structural damage could limit subsequent probes, and may require more radiation-resistant cameras and other equipment.”  The only good news is that the robots are getting closer to the melted fuel rods.
As a part of the decommissioning efforts, TEPCO must know the status and the precise location of the molten debris, and the extent of the damages in the three reactors. It will help the company determine the best ways to safely extract the fuel. TEPCO has been successful in extracting hundreds of spent fuel rods in reactor # 4, but for the other three damaged reactors, this task seems riddled with lots of challenges, the biggest being the levels of radiation.
TEPCO insists that there is no risk of this radiation leaking outside the reactor, despite the insanely high levels of radiation reading inside the facility.
Meanwhile, a Fukushima nuclear plant worker has sued TEPCO over developing leukaemia due to radiation exposure. He is the first person whose illness have been associated with exposure at the Fukushima plant. He worked at Genkai, and Fukushima No. 1 and 2 nuclear plants.
The collective radiation exposure of the worker was estimated to be 19.78 millisieverts – which is lower than official limits. The current limit laid by the Japanese government allows workers to receive a maximum of 100 millisieverts of exposure accrued over five years. Exposure to 100 millisieverts over one year increases one’s risk of developing cancer.
While many experts claim that this exposure is too low for the worker to develop leukaemia, a health ministry panel favourably ruled that the worker’s sickness was indeed related to his workplace exposure – making him eligible for compensation.
What can you do to mitigate the risks of radiation exposure?
Radiation hangs around for long periods.
For example, Caesium 137, one of the most widespread radioactive isotopes released during any nuclear disaster, can remain radioactive for the next 300 years. It is a toxin that is deposited in the muscle tissue, including that of the heart. Cs-137 can cause irreversible damage to the heart through multiple mechanisms.
Overall, ionizing radiations can do a lot of damage; they impair the immune system, damage the thyroid gland, cause fertility and reproductive issues in both men and women and may cause birth defects. And the most dangerous effect is the damage to DNA that increases the risk of all types of cancers and inherited mutations.
But instead of living in fear and doubt, you can make your body better equipped to deal with the toxic effects of radiations. Studies suggest that Vitamin C, as a powerful anti-oxidant, can help prevent radiation induced damage and reduce overall cancer risk .
We have already discussed the role of many foods and vegetables (for example, sea vegetables, green tea, magnesium, DMSO, N-acetyl cysteine, etc.) that provide excellent protection against radiation damage. You can find these articles here: Fukushima Radiation Detox Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
- Justin McCurry. Fukushima nuclear reactor radiation at highest level since 2011 meltdown. The Guardian. February 2017.
- Radiation levels inside Fukushima too high for robot. CBC News. February 2017.
- Yanagisawa A. Orthomolecular approaches against radiation exposure. Presentation Orthomolecular Medicine Today Conference. Toronto 2011 http://www.doctoryourself.com/Radiation_VitC.pptx.pdf )