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Report: Fukushima Released More Radioactive Material Than Was Estimated

An unpublished study by European scientists has found that the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant may have released much more radioactive active material than the Japanese government estimated.

NPR's Richard Harris filed this report for the Newscast unit:

Researchers in Europe have tried to reconstruct the events at Fukushima Daiichi by following the flow of radioactive material through the atmosphere during the days of the multiple meltdowns. Their work is still being reviewed for scientific accuracy and hasn't been published, but it's posted on the web and generating attention.

The researchers say the amount of radioactive material released during the accident could be twice the official Japanese estimate, though the exact number remains quite uncertain. This has little bearing on health effects in Japan because that's based on actual on-the-ground measurements, not estimates from the atmosphere. And they say 80 percent of the radioactive material blew out to sea rather than settling on the land. The new study, if it proves to be reliable, could help engineers piece together what actually happened inside the damaged plant.

Just in case you don't remember, the nuclear reactors were crippled after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March.

The AP spoke to the study's author, Andreas Stohl of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, who cautioned that finding double the amount of radiation in the atmosphere isn't considered a major difference, because "emission estimates are so imprecise."

Last month, The New York Times reported what scientists were finding in the oceans. The paper talked to scientists who said the radioactive leakage was not over and that it was historic. The Times added:

Ken Buesseler, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who in 1986 studied the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the Black Sea, said the Fukushima disaster appeared to be by far the largest accidental release of radioactive material into the sea.

Chernobyl-induced radiation in the Black Sea peaked in 1986 at about 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter, he said in an interview at his office in Woods Hole, Mass. By contrast, the radiation level off the coast near the Fukushima Daiichi plant peaked at more than 100,000 becquerels per cubic meter in early April.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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