Wednesday, December 07, 2011

When will we need geiger counters to go shopping?

Traces of radiation found in Japanese baby formula 
 A Japanese baby food manufacturer has announced the recall of 400,000 cans of infant formula that reportedly contain traces of radioactive cesium connected to the nation's recent nuclear plant meltdown. 
After panicked parents deluged Tokyo-based Meiji Co. with calls and e-mails, officials of the Tokyo-based food and candy maker responded Wednesday that they do not know how much of the tainted formula had reached consumers, but said the milk was manufactured in March and April and shipped not long afterward. 
The incident marked the second time this week that skittish Japanese citizens learned of more radioactive after-effects from the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The facility was struck March 11 by an earthquake-triggered tsunami that knocked out its cooling system and led to several reactor core meltdowns that spewed radiation into the air, water and soil. 
On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, announced that 45 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from a filtration system at the atomic plant, with some of the water possibly reaching the nearby Pacific Ocean. 
Critics say the leak counteracts assurances that Tepco has largely controlled the environmental damage at the coastal plant, located 220 miles northeast of Tokyo. The radiation in the water from Sunday's leak measured up to 322 times higher than government safety limits for various types of cesium. 
On Wednesday, plant officials acknowledged that nearly 40 gallons of water from the weekend leak had reached the Pacific Ocean. The water, which was used to cool the reactors, contained not only cesium, but strontium, another dangerous isotope, the utility said.
Update: The Japanese are trying to tell themselves their land contaminated by radiation will be salvageable.
Those who fled Futaba are among the nearly 90,000 people evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant and another area to the northwest contaminated when a plume from the plant scattered radioactive cesium and iodine. Now, Japan is drawing up plans for a cleanup that is both monumental and unprecedented, in the hopes that those displaced can go home. The debate over whether to repopulate the area, if trial cleanups prove effective, has become a proxy for a larger battle over the future of Japan. Supporters see rehabilitating the area as a chance to showcase the country’s formidable determination and superior technical skills — proof that Japan is still a great power. For them, the cleanup is a perfect metaphor for Japan’s rebirth. Critics counter that the effort to clean Fukushima Prefecture could end up as perhaps the biggest of Japan’s white-elephant public works projects — and yet another example of post-disaster Japan reverting to the wasteful ways that have crippled economic growth for two decades. So far, the government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident, dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled: the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields. And a radiation specialist who tested the results of an extensive local cleanup in a nearby city found that exposure levels remained above international safety standards for long-term habitation. Even a vocal supporter of repatriation suggests that the government has not yet leveled with its people about the seriousness of their predicament. “I believe it is possible to save Fukushima,” said the supporter, Tatsuhiko Kodama, director of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo. “But many evacuated residents must accept that it won’t happen in their lifetimes.”
Map of contaminated area in Japan.

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