Water Sustainability and Treatment
By: Christopher Smith
September 16, 2013
The 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan was one of the most devastating events in recorded history. The earthquake has set off a chain of events, which has proven to be the test of humanity to recover from. The earthquake set off a large-scale tsunami that swept across Japan destroying and killing almost everything in its path. One incident is still occurring two and a half years later at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on the pacific coastline, ran by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Because of the geographical location and the design of the plant, it was known how some care was needed to avoid natural disasters in an area prone to earthquakes and tsunami’s. Mistakes by the company and design flaws of the reactor by General Electric (GE) has shown the world although there is natural disasters, the human element is the most devastating to society and the environment.
When describing water as the normal process of the environment, a hydrologic cycle is used. In the hydrologic cycle, there are several processes that take place. Starting with evaporation, the surface of the ocean begins to lift into the air as water vapor. When the water vapor cools off, condensation occurs to form clouds. Water is transported through the air until the water returns to the surface of the globe as precipitation. Arriving on the surface of the globe, the water can either become groundwater or it can be carried away by run-off. If run-off occurs the water can finds its way into streams, lakes, or even back into the ocean. During each process after precipitation some amount of the water may even become water vapor again, rising in the air to start the process again.
The Fukushima Daiichi site is nestled on the edge of the ocean, the hydrologic cycle is extremely prevalent. The radioactive particles were released into the air contaminating the clouds and the air quality. As normal fallout occurred, the clouds carried some of the particles away. The particles later fell upon the earth through precipitation. Splitting nuclei formed the radioactive fallout particles from the Fukushima Daiichi site. This type of process is called nuclear fission, in which neutrons are sent to other particles to split the nuclei of the atom. The splitting forms two or more atoms while releasing energy. Nuclear power plants use this type of nuclear fission to create energy. As the nuclei are split, an immense amount of energy is released. The amount of energy is described as E=mc2, it may be noticed this is a big number, the speed of light squared. The energy is used to heat water that turns into steam. The steam is directed to a turbine that generates usable energy for people to be happy, continue production of product, and creates transportation. The byproduct of the action is nuclear waste. The waste was dumped into the ocean and released into the air.
In this the problem is; the hydrologic cycle does not stop because of a manmade problem like three nuclear reactor meltdowns and a nuclear cooling pool containing thousands of spent and unspent fuel rods that catches on fire. All four incidents at the location are emitting radioactive particles into the air. Another issue at the Fukushima Daiichi site, is keeping everything cooled down. Although absorbing the neutrons into the control rods shuts down the reactors fission process, the reactors and the rods need to be kept cool. The unstable byproduct of the fission process still generates heat by emitting radioactive particles and energy. This process is nowhere near the same amount of energy or heat in a functioning nuclear reactor, but still dangerous from its unstable form. Some of the particles emitted are light enough to float around the earth until precipitation brings them back to the globes surface. As precipitation occurs the atmosphere is cleansing it self, but the surface of the globe is contaminated much farther.
Results of the Contamination
The incident at the Fukushima Daiichi site has released various types of unstable radioactive particles into the air and sea. According to Tepco (2013), “40,000,000,000,000 Bq of Tritium ( 3 H or hydrogen-3) leaked to the Pacific and still 100,000,000,000 Bq leaking to the sea per day. Also noted is 10,000,000,000 Bq of Sr-90, and 20,000,000,000 Bq of Cs-137 are supposed to have leaked into the Pacific Ocean every single day sense the incident occurred” (pg.61). However, this is on the premise that Cs-137, Sr-90, and Tritium are floating throughout the ocean instead of collecting on the seabed sediment. The fallout and all the leaks have caused 200,000 individuals to be evacuated from part of Japan. Tepco has released information that in fact not only is there a possibility of ground water contamination through naturally occurring processes but also they have lost the cores and signs have shown that the ground water is increasing in radioactive contamination. Tepco has stated their estimates of 300+ cubic metric tons of radioactive water used to cool the reactors and spent fuel rods has been leaked daily into the ocean with several other accidents that has also leaked radioactive water into the ocean. Currently, most of the fish in the area have been banned for consumption. Near by countries also are banning certain fish from being sold. The air quality, ground water quality, and the ocean have all been compromised and said to have reached unsafe levels. The environment has been deemed as unsafe for individuals to live miles from the area. Many areas are still under a mandated evacuation zone. Some of the particles will take several thousands of years before the particles are no longer radioactive or harmful. As the incident still continues at the Fukushima Daiichi site, it could be decades before anyone can come to a real calculation of when the areas will be safe again. The radioactive contamination has spread all over the Pacific Ocean and will continue to circulate. Fish carrying radioactive particles have been found as far out as California, Alaska, and Hawai’i (The Effects of Fukushima on Hawaii, 2013).
For the purpose of this research, Iodine-131 will be the focus for treatment of contamination. Iodine-131 is a radioactive particle with a half-life of eight days. The particle will stay radioactive for two and a half to three months. Iodine-131 is one of the unstable particles that have been released by the catastrophic events at Fukushima Daiichi. Iodine-131 is so small it is considered almost gas like in state.
According to McMahon (2013), “The Environmental Protection Agency recommends reverse osmosis water treatment to remove radioactive isotopes that emit beta-particle radiation. But iodine-131, a beta emitter, is typically present in water as a dissolved gas, and reverse osmosis is known to be ineffective at capturing gases” (para. 1).
Water itself cannot be made radioactive; rather water can carry radioactive isotopes. So in theory it should be possible to filter water to remove the particles. Gamma radiation is a ray of energy, so this is near impossible to removed. Removing the particles that emit this type of radiation is more reasonable. Iodine-131 also releases a small sum of gamma radiation as emitted energy when releasing beta particles. The EPA recommends a three-step process to filter out drinking water. Recommendations are active carbon filter, ion exchange filter, and reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis only filters out item of.0001 microns or larger. Iodine can easily pass through this tiny window. The other step to the process is active carbon. Active carbon attracts radioactive particle and bonds with them. Many newer Reverse osmosis filters are attaching active carbon filters to do both jobs with one filter.
According to US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2013), “With the exception of 67Ga-citrate, the association of activated charcoal with the other radiopharmaceuticals was approximately 100% throughout the 3 h incubation. In conclusion, activated charcoal appears to adsorb avidly with common radioisotopes, and appears promising as an alternative to resin ion exchange pellets used for the measurement of gastrointestinal transit by scintigraphy” (Abstract).
The third process is ion exchange. A similar process for this is used in water softeners. Certain types of resin are used to clean up cesium-137 in Nuclear power reactor cleanups, like the cleanup at the Savannah River Site.
According to J. B. Pickett, W. E. Austin, H. H. Dukes (2013), “1.2 million gallons for Cs-137, at 97 to 99% removal efficiency. The Sr-90 deployment system treated over 5.6 million gallons at greater than 99.9% removal efficiency. Over 75% of both radionuclides were removed from the R-Disassembly basin water by the completion of the deployments” (Abstract).
Lesson about water
Water is a life source. Water is used for many applications for society to survive, comfortably. The use in agriculture, power, and industry can help society be strong and efficient. Society should look into minimizing the effects of what he or she does to the environment. Any changes could cause a halt in society’s progress. The changes could inflict starvation, sickness, and environmental changes that could possible cause global concerns. Global warming or climate change is noted as one of the current situations society is dealing with because of decisions made based on personal needs and wants, instead of survival. It is said, just a two degree rise in the oceans currents could cause a global disaster that could be felt for thousands of years.
According to Discovery (2013), “A 2005 study of the North Atlantic, for example, has shown that this flow of fresh water already has reduced Gulf Stream currents by as much as 30. This effect on the thermohaline circulation of the ocean system could even cause a climate change chain reaction. Ocean currents have a great influence on the climates of different regions around the world. As climate change causes changes in ocean currents, new ocean currents could begin to cause additional changes in regional climates” (para. 2).
The value of water is priceless. The question should be what is the value of life? Water makes up a big portion of the human body and the environment. Water is all around us in the form of pools, rivers, lakes, oceans, evaporation, precipitation, and to drink. Contaminating the water means society is contaminating itself. One wrongdoing could affect everyone on the globe. Humanity should be mindful of the life around us and how it is affected by the decisions society makes. The value of water is represented by the value of all life on earth.
In conclusion, Water should be treated the same as an individual wants to be treated. Respect for the earth and the vast resource it provides allows human life to survive. Devising methods to survive by obtaining resources from the earth could influence change. Changes within the environment could present unmanageable consequences. It could be decades before the incident-taking place at the Fukushima Daiichi plant can be brought to a level of manageability, and it could take thousands of years to overcome the changes the incident has caused. The entire region of the Pacific Ocean has been compromised by human error in the decision to build the plant and not to follow through with proper designing of the plant. It is to soon to know the full extent of what will take place in the environment because of the damage cause. The food source throughout the rejoin has shown signs of change from contamination, Japans land source has been compromised by the contamination, and the environment is struggling to maintain the ecosystem that provides us life. Understanding the need for electricity for survival in the current society and the preservation of the environment is both difficult to answer to when making decisions. I simply do not know if nuclear power outweighs the risk. I do know most of the byproducts of nuclear fission are harmful to humanity and the environment. For society to function and maintain, electricity has seemed to give that answer. Really I find it interesting that most of society has already made their minds about the subject when the subject is so complex. It is as if most of society bases their decision on opinions instead of facts. I can only hope society begins to understand the importance of our environment and how much water contributes to what we enjoy the most, Life.
Discovery. (2013). How does global warming affect the world’s oceans? . Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/global-warming-affect-ocean-currents
J.B. Pickett, W. E. Austin, H. H. Dukes, . (2013). Highly selective nuclide removal from the r-reactor disassembly basin at the sr s. Retrieved September 16,2013, from http://www.wmsym.org/archives/2002/Proceedings/19/208.pdf
McMahon, J. (2013). How to remove radioactive iodine-131 from drinking water. Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2011/04/07/how-to-remove-radioactive-iodine-131-from-drinking-water/
Tepco. (2013). Handouts 130821. Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2013/images/handouts_130821_10-j.pdf
The Effects of Fukushima on Hawaii. (2013). Alaska is hiding the truth.
Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://tinyurl.com/notqk6o
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. (2013). Activated charcoal as a potential radioactive marker for gastrointestinal studies Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9625498