(NaturalNews) In the three months following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which occurred back in March 2011, a land area larger than 20,000 square miles (mi2) became contaminated with high levels of radionuclides of both cesium and iodine, says a new European Commission report. Using the most realistic estimates in a mathematical model, scientists determined that as many as 43 million Japanese people, and perhaps even more, were exposed during that time to high levels of the two contaminants, which are still being spewed from the shuttered plant to this very day.
As explained in a Science for Environment Policy News Alert, the study calculated the atmospheric deposition of the two radionuclides using a widely respected circulation model and focused specifically on emissions in gaseous form. The study also took into account factors that might affect radionuclide concentrations upon dispersion, including precipitation, wind patterns, particle sedimentation and radioactive decay.
After crunching the numbers using relatively conservative estimates, the research team postulated that a land area measuring 34,000 square kilometers (km2), or about 13,000 mi2, was effectively contaminated with more than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter of the two radioactive substances. This level is considered by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be the threshold for what is considered to be "contamination."
Based on this assessment, nearly 10 million people living within this land area were also affected by the radiation, including many people living in Tokyo, the nation's capital. While the bulk of radioactive cesium, some 80 percent, was blown eastward over the Pacific Ocean following the disaster, most of the radioactive iodine released was deposited locally in Japan due to its physical properties and the way that it is carried by the wind.
"The study estimates that the land area affected by radioactivity from both types of radionuclides above this threshold is approximately 34,000 km2 of Japan, inhabited by around 9.4 million people," reads the News Alert.
Evaluation only looked at cesium and iodine; many other radioactive particles emitted from Fukushima
But these estimates are very likely understated, as separate calculations suggest that radioactive emissions were likely five times higher, at least, than the emission estimates used for the study. Based on these more realistic figures, the contamination range was likely far higher, measuring some 56,000 km2 (ca. 21,000 mi2) and affecting around 43 million Japanese people.
And this estimate only accounts for radioactive cesium and iodine, just two of the many radioactive particles emitted from Fukushima. Since measurement tools for radioactive strontium and other isotopes are not in use or do not exist, the full extent of Fukushima radiation cannot be fully ascertained, which means it can only be assumed that radiation levels were far higher than even this groundbreaking study suggests.
"A separate calculation which assumed source emissions that were five times greater, suggested that a relatively large and densely populated part of Japan - 56,000 square kilometers - would be classified as contaminated," adds the study announcement. "This highlights the uncertainty that is integral to both measuring and modelling emissions (particularly for iodine radionuclides) and the need for more accurate estimates of the emissions."