Monday, August 15, 2011

Tracing Radioactive Sulfer Could Give Us An Estimate of Fukushima Nuclear Damage

In the initial aftermath of the March 11th earthquake in Japan and nuclear power plant damaged by the resulting tsunami, there was wide-spread fear that Japan was not going to be able to contain the radiation leak as a few of the reactors went into a meltdown.

And while we know that things were bad at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, we don' know how much.  By studying the radioactive sulfer oxide in the air, researchers at UC San Diego are able to estimate how much radiation was leaked into the atmosphere.

This is how it works:

  1. The nuclear authority in Japan pumped seawater into the damaged reactors to cool them and the steam were released into the air.
  2. An abundance of neutrons from nuclear reactions form with chloride in the seawater to form a heavy form of sulfer (sulfer-35).
  3. S-35 formed sulfur oxide in the atmosphere and the jet stream did the rest as they travel over the Pacific.
  4. Then the scientists would look for how much of these heavy sulfur reach down into the atmosphere.
The researchers found 3 to 8 times the normal amount of Sulfur-35.  From that, they estimated 365 times the level of sulfur-35 at the damaged site.  The next time, the used that data to estimate how much neutrons were expelled into the air.

Needless to say, those of us on the West Coast are fine.  The levels of sulfur-35 is simply way too low for it to affect us at all.  

Source:  Science Mag.

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