In the days after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and subsequent tsunami, the world watched as the government and people of Japan dealt with a third unfolding disaster – nuclear radiation leaks from disabled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Evacuation zones were established and now, in the aftermath, Japan continues its quest to mitigate areas contaminated in the accident and better understand the long-term consequences for the environment.
"Environmental radiation research will be a long battle," said Dr. Takayuki Takahashi, Vice President of Fukushima University, speaking at a press conference.
As a part of those efforts, Fukushima University announced in July it will open a research center to study the long-term environmental effects of radioactive substances released by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 reactor. The center will study the long-term movements of radioactive substances, the processes by which animals take in radioactive substances through the food chain, and measures for environmental regeneration. The center is expected to start full-scale research activities early next year.
The research center will be supported by Japanese institutions including Hiroshima University, Nagasaki University, the University of Tsukubam in Ibaraki Prefecture, and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences. In addition, the research center will work cooperatively with overseas institutions, including Colorado State University.
“In May, our team from Colorado State University traveled to Fukushima University to strengthen existing and establish new partnerships in research and education,” said Dr. Mark Stetter, Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Colorado State University has a long history of working in the field of radiobiology, and we already have numerous joint radiation research projects in Japan. We are looking forward to expanding those partnerships to the benefit of both nations, as well as to address more global concerns about radiation risk and mitigation.”
In June 2011, three months after the disaster in Fukushima, ground levels of radiation were measured at 11 sites within 20 to 60 kilometers of the disabled reactors. At that time, most of the cesium-137 was found in a 5-centimeter deep upper layer. In March 2012, a study published by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency showed that radioactive materials were found up to 30 centimeters into the soil. The highest densities were found down to 4 to 8 centimeters. According to JAEA, this layer was only 2 centimeters deep in June 2011.
“Radiation in the environment is not static, but is rather a very dynamic entity,” said Dr. Jac Nickoloff, Head of the Department of Environment and Radiological Health Sciences. “Understanding how radiation moves through the environment will greatly help in the clean-up of the Fukushima disaster, as well as help us better understand the long-term environmental consequences of low-level radiation exposures.”