Tag Archives: Radionuclides

Plutonium Inventories at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel at Unit 3

By Jay T. Cullen

The purpose of this post is to provide estimates of the plutonium (Pu) isotopes present at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) at the beginning of the disaster in March 2011. The post is part of an ongoing effort to communicate facts about Fukushima obtained through scientific study of the impact of the meltdowns on the environment. Comments on this site and in other public forums highlight the fact that Unit 3 at the NPP was burning mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at the time of the accident which, because it is enriched in Pu, suggests that these releases are potentially more harmful. Here I report estimates of Pu present in the reactors (Units 1, 2 and 3) and spent fuel pools (Units 1-4) at the site based on burnup calculations. Because fission of low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel produces Pu isotopes during operation there was a significant amount of Pu on site in Units 1-4. During extended operation a MOX fuel burning reactor can produce multiple times the Pu of LEU but this was not so at the time of the Fukushima meltdowns. The amount of additional Pu present due to Unit 3’s MOX fuel is small compared to the other reactor cores and the inventory of the spent fuel pools. The differences between environmental impact of MOX versus LEU reactor core meltdown in this case are small. Estimates of the release of Pu isotopes from Fukushima, based on measurements of air, soil and water suggest 100,000 fold less was broadcast to the environment compared to Chernobyl and 5,000,000 fold lower than releases from nuclear weapons testing in the 20th century. Continue reading Plutonium Inventories at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel at Unit 3


Comparing the Environmental Impacts of the Chernobyl and Fukushima Disasters

Estimated total atmospheric source term for Fukushima compared to Chernobyl in PBq (PBq = 10^15 Bq). From Steinhauser et al. (2014) SciToTEnviron

By Jay T. Cullen

This post reports on a recently published peer reviewed study by Steinhauser and colleagues in the journal Science of the Total Environment (behind pay wall) comparing the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents. The post is part of an ongoing effort to communicate the results of scientific studies into the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the environment. A majority of the radioactivity released from both Chernobyl and Fukushima can be attributed to volatile radionuclides (noble gases, iodine, cesium, tellurium). In contrast, the amounts of more refractory elements (including actinides like plutonium), released by Chernobyl was ~four orders of magnitude (10,000 fold) higher than releases from Fukushima. The most cited source term for Chernobyl is 5300 PBq (excluding noble gases) while a review of published studies of Fukushima carried out by the authors above allow an estimate for the total atmospheric source term of 520 (a range of 340–800) PBq. Monitoring of air, soil and water for radionuclides after the respective accidents indicate that the environmental impact of Chernobyl is likely to be much greater than the Fukushima accident. The post is relatively information dense as I have provided data tables for those who are interested in the estimates and the peer-reviewed studies from which they come. Apologies up front to those who find such information tedious. Continue reading Comparing the Environmental Impacts of the Chernobyl and Fukushima Disasters

The Inventories at and Release Estimates for Radionuclides From Fukushima

A Twitter user interested in the InFORM network asked the following question today:

“…do you have a public list of all products in Fukushima emissions?”

It is important to realize that release estimates are not fully constrained and that estimates improve as more and more measurements are made in the environment. A useful, peer-reviewed, open access study that summarizes release estimates is Povinec et al. (2013) published in the journal Biogeosciences. Table 1 from this study is shown below and can be maximized by clicking the image:


Full references for the table are available in the Povinec paper by following the link given above.  Estimates of plutonium released by the Fukushima disaster are provided in this summary with peer-reviewed studies linked to within the document. Measurements of Pu in soil, air and water suggest that 1 to 1,000,000 fold less Pu was released from Fukushima compared to 137-Cs emissions given above.

Below we present near comprehensive inventories of radionuclides in the reactor cores of Units 1,2 and 3 and in the spent fuel pools of Units 1,2,3 and 4 at the time of the accident as reported by:

Nishihara, K., H. Iwamoto, K. Suyama. 2012. Estimation of Fuel Compositions in Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Japan Atomic Energy Agency, Tokai. Japan.


The following information has been modified from:

Povinec, P.P, K. Hirose and M. Aoyama. Fukushima Accident: Radioactivity Impact on the Environment. 2013. Elsevier Amsterdam.

Tables in the pdf file given just below contain information on the radionuclide, grams of radionuclide present, half-life of element, activity in Bq and ratio to 137-Cs in the core or spent fuel respectively.

Povinec Tables_Fukushima