Monitoring and managing radioactive contamination information at, below, and around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

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Posted by Neno Duplan

One of the chief complaints of Japanese citizens—and indeed the world community—as the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has unfolded has been the lack of information that TEPCO, the electric utility that owns and operates the plant, (and the Japanese government) have shared. From thousands of miles away, the nuclear community is piecing together forensic analysis [see NYTimes article from April 3, “Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Is Seen Clearly From Afar”: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/science/03meltdown.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=japan%20crisis%20from%20afar&st=cse ] in an attempt to understand the severity of the crisis. As the world braces for the worst-case scenario, the models that these scientists are running are based only on data approximations. It does not need to be that way.

Fukushima is not just Japan’s problem—we’re all going to be dealing with the fallout from this situation for years. The data collection process and the sheer quantity make managing the data a challenge. Having on-site data storage is risky. If the plant blows up and you lose any critical data; using Cloud technology will allow not only aggregation for the sake of TEPCO, but also for the world community. We all need to be able to see and learn from the data to help Japan solve the problem. It’s bigger than they are—especially when it comes to ocean/fish contamination. TEPCO should learn from the BP oil spill and make data immediately transparent. On the anniversary of BP Gulf Oil Spill public still does not have access to the extent and magnitude of contamination caused by that disaster.

Centralized and reusable data now and in the future will help us all make decisions and take action on the cleanup—and improve safety and fail safes at the rest of the planet’s nuclear power plants. The partial meltdown of three reactors and at least two spent fuel pools, along with multiple hydrogen explosions at the site now rate a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale—a level previously pinned only to the meltdown and explosion at the single reactor at Chernobyl. After the immediate crisis at the Fukushima is bought under control, attention will shift to characterizing the impact of the disaster on human health and the environment and on long-term monitoring and stewardship. At this point, an opportunity exists for TEPCO, to get out in front of the crisis and become as transparent as possible about the evolving conditions at the plant and surrounding areas. To do so, it should move all information gathered on the nature and extent of the releases at the facility to the “Cloud”. Soviet and Russian authorities never did this on Chernobyl, and the general public still does not know the exact extent of that disaster to the human health and environment. The amount of data that is likely to be collected by TEPCO and others in the coming years will be a tsunami in its own right and may be as challenging to deal with as the real one unless the proper information management system is put in place. Samples of air, soil, groundwater, and seawater, as well as various biota, including crops and fish, will be collected from all potentially impacted areas. These will be measured for various radionuclides, all of which have various half-lives. The resulting information will need to be evaluated for both short and long-term impacts on humans and the environment. This can best be accomplished if all relevant data is stored in a centralized information management system that is accessible to all stakeholders. The web makes all this not only possible but quite doable. Many US nuclear utilities and US DOE nuclear weapons sites are already managing their operational data in the Cloud and are well aware of the importance of information management technologies that Cloud offers.

Deploying a centralized environmental management system to the Cloud, and placing all data in it, would allow all interested parties to know where samples of various media have been taken, what parties collected them, how the samples were analyzed, what the levels of radionuclides were in these samples, and what the legal limits and long-term effects of each isotope are. The general public is unlikely to have the sophistication to deal with most of this data. Rather, valid conclusions as to the impacts of the contamination are only likely to be drawn by those experienced in statistics, modeling, risk assessment, and/or health physics.

For More information please see: Japan quake data should be stored in the cloud

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