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Fukushima-Daiichi radioactive particle release was significant says new research via Manchester 1824

Scientists say there was a significant release of radioactive particles during the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident.

The researchers identified the contamination using a new method and say if the particles are inhaled they could pose long-term health risks to humans.

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The research, which was carried out by scientists from Kyushu University, Japan, and The University of Manchester, UK, was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, it was thought that only volatile, gaseous radionuclides, such as caesium and iodine, were released from the damaged reactors. However, in recent years it has become apparent that small radioactive particles, termed caesium-rich micro-particles, were also released. Scientists have shown that these particles are mainly made of glass, and that they contain significant amounts of radioactive caesium, as well as smaller amounts of other radioisotopes, such as uranium and technetium.

The abundance of these micro-particles in Japanese soils and sediments, and their environmental impact is poorly understood. But the particles are very small and do not dissolve easily, meaning they could pose long-term health risks to humans if inhaled.

Therefore, scientists need to understand how many of the micro-particles are present in Fukushima soils and how much of the soil radioactivity can be attributed to the particles. Until recently, these measurements have proven challenging.

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Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya, Associate Professor at Kyushu University, Japan, and the lead author of the study says “when we first started to find caesium-rich micro-particles in Fukushima soil samples, we thought they would turn out to be relatively rare. Now, using this method, we find there are lots of caesium-rich microparticles in exclusion zone soils and also in the soils collected from outside of the exclusion zone”.

Dr Gareth Law, Senior Lecturer in Analytical Radiochemistry at the University of Manchester and an author on the paper, adds: “Our research indicates that significant amounts of caesium were released from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in particle form.

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The new method can be easily used by other research teams investigating the environmental impact of the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Dr Utsunomiya adds: “we hope that our method will allow scientists to quickly measure the abundance of caesium-rich micro-particles at other locations and estimate the amount of caesium radioactivity associated with the particles. This information can then inform cost effective, safe management and clean-up of soils contaminated by the nuclear accident”.

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The paper, ‘Novel Method of Quantifying Radioactive Cesium-Rich Microparticles (CsMPs) in the Environment from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’ has been published in the journal of Environmental Science – DOI:10.1021/acs.est.7b06693

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