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Seaborne radiation from Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will wash up on the West Coast of the U.S. this year.

That’s raising concerns among some Americans including the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fairfax, which passed a resolution on Dec. 6 calling for more testing of coastal seafood.

Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident

At the same time, oceanographers and radio-logical scientists say such concerns are unwarranted given existing levels of radiation in the ocean.

The runoff from the Japanese plant will mingle with radiation released by other atomic stations, such as Diablo Canyon in California. Under normal operations, Diablo Canyon discharges more radiation into the sea, albeit of a less dangerous isotope, than the Fukushima station, which suffered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

“There’s a point to be made that we live in a radioactive world and the ocean just has radioactive isotopes in it,” said Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution inMassachusetts, who forecasts the Fukushima plume will arrive in the U.S. early this year. “People have a limited knowledge of radioactivity.”

Leaking Groundwater

At Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station, where three reactors melted down after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, about 300 metric tons of contaminated groundwater seep into the ocean each day,Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident 3 according to Japan’s government.

Between May 2011 and August 2013, as many as 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137, 10 trillion becquerels of strontium-90 and 40 trillion becquerels of tritium entered the ocean via groundwater, according to Tokyo Electric.

Cesium isotopes, which emit flesh-penetrating gamma rays, are among the most dangerous radionuclides emitted by the plant, said Colin Hill, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

Strontium-90, which mimics calcium, increases the exposure risk for humans by remaining in the bones of fish for extended periods. While tritium is less radiologically intense than cesium and passes through fish faster than strontium, it can also contaminate sea creatures that encounter the isotope in high levels, Hill said.

Not Happy

Water exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant would reach the U.S. at levels at least 100 times lower than the U.S.’s drinking water threshold, Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said at a Dec. 6 briefing in Tokyo.

Green Halo Fukushima Radiation Seafood Pacific Ocean Japan Nuclear Power Plant Accident 2

The assurances haven’t eased concerns for some. “I’m terrified,” Doreen Jean Dempski, a children’s book author, said by phone from her home more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific from Fukushima in Carpinteria, California. “My boyfriend is a surfer and he spends hours a day in the water.”

Sharing Dempski’s worries are the Fairfax city council, which passed the coastal testingresolution, and more than 127,000 signatories to an online petition calling for a United Nations’

takeover of part of the Fukushima cleanup. South Korea has already banned imports of fish from Japan’s northern Pacific coast.

Fukushima radiation is being erroneously blamed for everything from sea-lion deaths to sickened polar bears, according to an editorial this week in Canada’s Times Colonist newspaper.

Risk Expectations

Part of the issue is general concern about radiation, and the startling amounts that are released into the environment by the 435 nuclear power plants operating worldwide as of Jan. 3. Measurements that puzzle the public — becquerels, rems, curies and sieverts — don’t aid transparency. And, worse, scientists disagree on the health risks from low-dose radiation exposure.

A report on the Fukushima disaster by the World Health Organization in February last year estimated increased cancer risk for those in the most contaminated areas around the plant, but not elsewhere in Japan. However, the report also notes that better understanding of the effects of low-dose radiation may alter risk expectations from the Fukushima accident.

Less than 100 miles up the coast from Dempski’s home, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo discharged 323 million liters of water into the Pacific in 2012, or about 870 tons a day, according to data from the company on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website. That’s equivalent to 130 Olympic swimming pools and more than twice the daily amount leaking from Fukushima.

Inadvertent Contact

That water contained 3,670 curies of tritium, or 136 trillion becquerels, according to the company, almost three-and-a-half times the amount released from the Fukushima plant into the ocean in the period starting May 2011. The plant also discharged cesium-137, though at lower levels than Fukushima, while its output of strontium-90 is below detectable levels.

Diablo Canyon’s discharges are regulated by the NRC and the plant complies with its licensing requirements, PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said in an e-mail. Total liquid discharges from Diablo Canyon in 2012 were 0.0165 percent of what the NRC allows, Jones said.

The radioactivity in plant wastewater comes from inadvertent contact between the isotopes and cooling water pumped through nuclear plants.

“Tritium is produced when a reactor is operating,” Jones said. “Fukushima is not operating so naturally the tritium levels are lower when compared to Diablo Canyon.”

Rick Castello, a San Luis Obispo-based project manager for a technology company, said by phone that he was unaware of the discharges from the nearby nuclear plant. He also harbors concerns about the approaching radiation from Fukushima.

“It’s not like I think official sources would be intentionally hiding information from the people,” he said by phone. “But sometimes we just don’t know.”

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A research team from Virginia Tech led by Y.H. Percival Zhang just developed a battery that runs on natural sugar that could replace conventional batteries within three years.

Most gadgets today run on lithium-ion batteries, which are costly. Lithium is a limited resource with the majority of the world’s supply found in Bolivia, China, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. Sugars, on the other hand, are abundant in supply and safe to use. The battery technology could serve as the next generation of green power sources.

The sugar battery is cheap, refillable, and biodegradable, and it could be used to power cell phones, tablets, video games and other electronic Green Halo sugar powered batterygadgets in the future. “Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature,” Zhang said. “So it’s only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery.”

Researchers have used sugar to power batteries before, but they were not able to store that much energy. Zhang claims his prototype has an energy density of a higher order of magnitude than others, which allows it to run longer before needing to be refueled.

The impact of disposable batteries on the environment has been well documented – billions are thrown away in the US alone every year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), improperly disposed batteries pose a risk to both human health and the environment, but Zhang says his sugar replacement could stop hundreds of thousands of tons of batteries from ending up in landfills.

The sugar battery combines fuel – in this case maltodextrin, a polysaccharide made from partial hydrolysis of starch – with air to generate electricity, and water is its main byproduct. “We are releasing all electron charges stored in the sugar solution slowly step-by-step by using an enzyme cascade,” Zhang said.

However unlike traditional batteries, the fuel sugar solution is neither explosive nor flammable and it has a higher energy storage density. The enzymes and fuels used to build the device are also biodegradable, and it can also be refilled, much like a printer cartridge.

Even though the sugar battery stores a high amount of energy for its mass, the maximum amount of power it can put out is still lower than that of lithium-ions, thus limiting its potential applications to portable devices (you couldn’t use a sugar battery to run vehicles, for instance).

The team says that the sugar fuel cell could be ready to integrate into our electronics in three years and will eventually be at least one-tenth the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Green Halo Virgina Tech Sugar Battery

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