Radiation and the metallic taste phantom.

A story on Enenews describes the ordeal of Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper, on the USS Ronald Reagan, when the ship was in the radiation plume of Fukushima, soon after the catastrophe. She said,

As soon as you step foot on the flight deck and went outside you had this taste of like aluminum foil… We thought that we had felt a plume because there was kind of this warm air that went past the ship and you could kind of tell the differences between jet exhaust — we didn’t have any jets going around at the time. It was like 20 degrees outside and you could feel this warm air and you kind of enjoyed it at first and then you’re like, ‘Is that aluminum foil that I taste?’

A metallic taste (metal mouth) is a common symptom after radiotherapy, and also radioactive contamination of all kinds. It also occurs with certain diseases and after some surgeries.

I am very familiar with this personally. On April 10, 2011 I mowed the lawn, and started coughing. Then I developed a metal taste in my mouth. I was drinking bottled spring water from California at the time… whenever I drank it, the metal taste got stronger. It was like I had a mouthful of pennies. Whenever I ate Pacific fish, I would start tasting it. The metal taste usually appeared 15 minutes – 2 hours after I consumed these substances. It got so bad that I was having metal mouth continuously, and I started drooling. I kept a rag on my desk to catch the drool… I didn’t want to go out in public with this embarrassing problem.

This lasted until the end of April. But after that, foods got more contaminated. I have described this journey in Adventures with radiation in food. This was going on until January 2013, when I started taking medication to counter a pituitary tumor.

This article by Logan et al. describes the metallic taste (and other similar tastes) as a taste phantom. That is, it is not that we are actually tasting something, it is brought on by nerve damage.

Radiotherapy used as an adjunctive therapy in head and neck cancer increases the incidence of chronic pain [8]. Radiation toxicity is divided into early and late effects. Early or acute effects including nausea, skin reactions, diarrhea, and neutropenia are self-limited. Late effects including connective tissue fibrosis, neural damage, secondary malignancies, and pain can occur long after completion of radiotherapy. Neural damage from radiotherapy is well documented, as is the presence of taste phantoms (taste sensations in the absence of stimulation), particularly metallic [23, 33]. Phantom taste is believed to be a proxy for oral structure damage (e.g., neural). We chose to assess metallic taste phantom because we reasoned that it would be most recognizable and salient to survivors. Metallic taste phantoms are associated with taste damage produced by conditions ranging from tonsillectomy to third-molar extraction [10, 18, 46, 48].

So this taste is not exclusively brought on by radiation, but also by other procedures that affect nerves which affect taste.

The chorda tympani is a nerve that originates from the taste buds in the front of the tongue, runs through the middle ear, and carries taste messages to the brain. It joins the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) inside the facial canal, at the level where the facial nerve exits the skull via the stylomastoid foramen.

The chorda tympani is part of one of three cranial nerves that are involved in taste. The taste system involves a complicated feedback loop, with each nerve acting to inhibit the signals of other nerves. The chorda tympani appears to exert a particularly strong inhibitory influence on other taste nerves, as well as on pain fibers in the tongue. When the chorda tympani is damaged, its inhibitory function is disrupted, leading to less inhibited activity in the other nerves. (link)

Another article by Bartoshuk et al. goes into more detail.

The chorda tympani nerve is accessible for anesthesia at two sites. First, the chorda tympani leaves the tongue with the lingual nerve (CN V) and the two travel through the pterygomandibular space. The inferior alveolar nerve, which conveys pain from the lower teeth, passes through the same space; thus dental anesthesia abolishes taste and touch as well as pain. Secondly, the chorda tympani passes through the middle ear after separating from the lingual nerve, so injection of an anesthetic just under the skin near the ear drum anesthetizes taste but not touch. Using both procedures, we showed that anesthesia of the chorda tympani intensifies tastes evoked from the contralateral rear of the tongue, the area innervated by the glossopharyngeal nerve (Lehman et al., 1995; Yanagisawa et al., 1998). This finding supports the earlier evidence of Halpern and Nelson (1965) for central inhibitory connections between the chorda tympani and glossopharyngeal nerves. This inhibition acts as a constancy mechanism: when one nerve is damaged, its input to the central nervous system (CNS) is reduced, releasing inhibition on other taste structures and thus compensating for the loss of input from the damage.

So the chorda tympani mainly inhibits or blocks tastes, in a complex relationship with other nerves. When this nerve suffers damage (from radiation exposure), the other nerves increase their output, in a constancy or homeostatic mechanism. These tastes are also predictors of oral pain and burning mouth syndrome (BMS). So the taste is an indicator of something worse going on inside the mouth. The taste may also have gastrointenstinal consequences.

Bartoshuk also mentions that GABA agonists reduce or abolish the taste. This means there may be damage to the GABA system, the main inhibitory system of the brain. This sort of syndrome is also associated with fibromyalgia. Glutamate, prolactin, and TSH are known to disrupt GABA. TSH is thyroid stimulating hormone, and is elevated in primary hypothyroidism. Prolactin is countered by dopamine agonists, which accounts for the disappearance of this taste in my mouth after I started taking them.

Iodine-131 rises in Chiba prefecture.

The most recent measurements of iodine-131 in sewage sludge from Chiba prefecture indicate the highest amount of I-131 since August. The last measurement was actually made on Dec. 3. It is the third highest measurement since May 2011.

Iodine-131 from Gunma prefecture remained relatively low, as of Nov. 26.

Iodine measurements are affected by wind patterns and rainfall, as well as Fukushima emissions. Chiba is south of Fukushima, and a north wind would blow this way more often in the winter. Gunma is west or southwest of the plant. East winds prevail more often in spring and summer.

Iodine-131 is associated with criticalities. Fukushima Diary has a story about groundwater rising at the plant, and appearing at ground level. Water slows neutrons down and makes criticalities more likely, for any corium on or near ground level.


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UPDATE: I have added Tokyo measurements below. These are the maximum concentrations of I-131 in sludge incineration ash detected in all Tokyo facilities at each reporting period. A value of zero means the amount was less than the minimum detectable amount.

Cesium-136/-137 ratio demonstrates radiation releases from spent fuel pools.

There is a controversy currently raging in the Fuku community about spent fuel pool #4. Tepco and the Japanese government claim to have begun removing fuel rods from the Unit 4 SFP, and have released photos of a nice clean spiffy pool, enclosed in a recently constructed building exterior, that has apparently suffered little damage. Warnings have been issued by Harvey Wasserman, Arnie Gundersen and others about the dangers involved in the removal of these rods, especially if they have suffered damage. Dire scenarios about the fate of the northern hemisphere have been talked about.

The other faction claims that the FOIA documents and news reports from the time talk about a fire in SFP#4 (and #3) starting March 15, 2011 or so. This fire supposedly released all the radiation from these pools at the time, and we are now already in the dire scenario that the other side was claiming might happen.

There is a way to settle this controversy. It is by looking at the isotopic ratios of cesium isotopes that were measured in the soil and air at the time, that is, the ratio or cesium-136 to cesium-137 in these samples.

Caesium-136 has a half-life of 13.16 days. It is produced both directly (at a very small yield because 136Xe is stable) as a fission product and via neutron capture from long-lived Cs-135 (neutron capture cross section 8.702 barns), which is a common fission product. Caesium-136 is not produced via beta decay of other fission product nuclides of mass 136 since beta decay stops at stable 136Xe. It is also not produced by nuclear weapons because 135Cs is created by beta decay of original fission products only long after the nuclear explosion is over. (link)

The ORIGEN computer simulation code was used to estimate the releases of radionuclides from the 3 reactors and 4 spent fuel pools. The reactors release about 28% as much Cs-136 as Cs-137 (for a ratio of 0.28 on day zero). But the spent fuel pools release virtually no Cs-136 at all.

Table 1 shows amounts of isotopes measured at the Daiichi plant, as measured by Tepco, and available at its website. The amounts of Cs-136 were corrected for decay, and it was assumed that the radiation releases all occurred on March 11. This is a conservative assumption. Units 2 and 3 didn’t explode till later. So this is an overestimate of the amount of Cs-136 that was on hand.

Cs-136/-137 ratios                     Cs-136/-137 ratios
     0.420                                  0.202
     0.311                                  0.314 
     0.176                                  0.229
     0.322                                  0.198
     0.238                                  0.272
     0.321                                  0.326
                   average 0.277

This agrees with the ratio of 0.28 generated by the ORIGEN code for day zero. According to Tepco, all the cesium that was released came from the reactors, and none came from the spent fuel pools.

But wait. Researchers from the University of Tokyo also performed measurements of Cs-136 and Cs-137 in locations to the northwest of the plant.

Two locations close to the NPP in the northwest direction were found to be depleted in short-lived (136)Cs. This likely suggested the presence of distinct sources with different (136)Cs/(137)Cs isotopic ratios, although their details were unknown at present.

So some areas had little or no Cs-136 found, even though Cs-137 was there. This could only come from the spent fuel pools. Another article shows the decay-corrected ratios at four different locations (study 1):

Location                                         Cs-136/-137 ratios 
Soil samples in near-zone (<80 km)                     0.22
Air samples in Japan (80–2,000 km)                     0.19
Air samples in Pacific Ocean and US (2,000–12,000 km)  0.22
Air samples in EU (>12,000 km)                         0.20
average                                                0.2075

These figures are significantly below the level of 0.28 which would have resulted if all the cesium came from the reactors. Japan had lower ratios than those in the US and Europe, which means that distant regions received a higher proportion of cesium from the reactors than Japan did. This is not surprising, since the Unit 3 reactor blew sky-high, and its contents entered into the jet stream.

Researchers at RIKEN Wako Institute in Wako, Japan (in Saitama prefecture) also conducted analysis of airborne cesium radionuclides. This attachment contains non-decay corrected measurements from Wako. I performed the decay correction back to March 11, for the non-italicized figures (study 2). The italicized ones were deemed to be unreliable.

0.17          0.11
0.18          0.12
0.19          0.12
0.16          0.11
0.14          0.14
average 0.144

These ratios are much lower than the previous, indicating that this area received a higher proportion of cesium which was released from the pools.

Finally, in this comprehensive Fukushima report, Tables 2.3 to 2.5 estimate the Cs-136/-137 ratio in the inventory of the three reactors separately:

Unit 1  0.27
Unit 2  0.32
Unit 3  0.34
average 0.31

This gives a better idea of the actual amount of Cs-136 in the reactors, which is higher on average than the figures from the ORIGEN code. Study 1 has the ratio of observed ratios to inventory ratio at 0.2075/0.31 = 66.9%, or about two-thirds of the cesium coming from the reactors, and one-third coming from the spent fuel pools. Study 2 has the ratio at 0.144/0.31 = 46.5%, or around 54% coming from the pools.

All the ratios in study 2 were below the expected value of 0.31, the ratio of reactor-only releases. A simple binomial test indicated a two-tailed P<.002, rejecting the hypothesis that all the cesium came from the reactors. All Cs-136 measurements besides Tepco’s indicate a significant cesium release from the spent fuel pools. Since the assumptions were conservative, a range of 33%-60% of the cesium was observed to come from the pools, depending on the location of measurement.

Of course, this does not reveal WHICH spent fuel pools were involved. The FOIA documents and photographs indicate fires in SFP#3 and #4. The other two pools may have been involved, also, but it is less clear. Since there are 4 (not 3) reactors involved, and 2 pools, we can think that maybe a similar proportion of the pools’ corium were emitted as from the reactors… maybe a little higher percentage. Since there are still underground coriums from the reactors still releasing radiation, we can say the same thing about residue from the pools. So it is unlikely that ALL the radiation was released from the pools. There is still goop left over, which is extremely radioactive… but considering the amount of cesium released from them, it is hard to imagine that these rods are still intact.

Strontium-90 is main component of beta radiation in groundwater.

Recently 1.4 million Bq/liter of all-beta radiation (including strontium-90) was detected in groundwater near Unit 2 of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a new record. Tepco, for some, reason, has not released the actual Sr-90 levels, though.

But Fukushima Diary has an entry stating that Tepco has released Sr-90 levels from groundwater near Unit 1, the sample collected Sept. 11. They found 7,500 Bq/liter of strontium-90, where 9,500 is all-beta. Strontium-90 only emits beta radiation.

It can be inferred that the main component of the increasing record beta levels is the extremely dangerous isotope strontium-90. Last March, Tepco found strontium-89 in groundwater also.

These strontium isotopes collect in bone marrow, and cause bone cancer, leukemia, and immune system damage. You can be sure that this groundwater will be entering the Pacific sooner or later.

IAEA tells Tepco to dump Fukushima into the Pacific.

The head of an IAEA mission to Japan has suggested that Tepco dump contaminated water into the sea.

TEPCO may consider discharging contaminated water into sea: IAEA

Noting that groundwater flowing into the complex and its reactor buildings is adding to TEPCO’s struggle to store the contaminated water in makeshift storage tanks, some of which have sprung leaks causing radioactive materials to be released into the sea, Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of the IAEA’s mission floated the idea of releasing radioactive water into the ocean.

“Controlled discharge is a regular practice in all the nuclear facilities in the world. And what we are trying to say here is to consider this as one of the options to contribute to a good balance of risks and to stabilize the facility for the long term,” Lentijo, told a news conference in Tokyo Wednesday. (link)

So they say that it’s OK because all nuclear facilities do this. Most or all of them are located on seashores, rivers, or lakes, and they utilize this water for cooling, and they also use it as a nuclear dump. The Limerick nuclear plant dumps iodine-131 into the Schuylkill river in Pennsylvania, which ends up in Philadelphia’s water supply. Water authorities then blame the radioactive iodine on peeing thyroid patients.

Tritium cannot be practically removed from the contaminated water, since it is radioactive hydrogen, which bonds with oxygen to make radioactive water.

But while TEPCO is increasing the number of storage tanks as it scrambles to contain the radioactive water within its compound, remove highly-volatile fuel assemblies and work to lower the levels of contamination in wastewater, Tanaka highlighted the fact that while highly radioactive water could be decontaminated in around seven years, the amount of water containing tritium will keep rising, topping 700,000 tons in two years.

Tritium is internationally classified as one of the least dangerous nuclear materials, but nuclear experts have repeatedly pointed out that the radionuclide is still a significant radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food or water, or absorbed through the skin. (link)

This is misleading. While tritium is less dangerous per becquerel than say, cesium or plutonium, that doesn’t mean it’s less dangerous. Tritium is extremely mobile in the environment. It shows up everywhere there is water. Our bodies are 70% water. Water is in the plants and foods we eat. Water vapor contains tritium… if you complain about high humidity on a hot summer day, you are breathing tritium. So we get exposed to ALL the tritium, while something like plutonium, which is phenomenally dangerous, binds tightly to soils, especially clay soils, and releases at a much slower rate. And since tritium evaporates like water, because tritiated water is water, it doesn’t stay in the ocean either, but ends up in rainfall over land.

Nuclear experts have repeatedly warned that tritium is a significant radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food or water, or absorbed through the skin. Environmental advocates also urge leaders to remember that the oceans must be protected from being used as dump sites for all hazardous substances, regardless of their concentration. Marine biologists taught us the link between the ocean’s health and our own. The combined message of all of these people is that the world must protect the environment and marine lives.

Tritium damages DNA and chromosomes, and will lead to increasing damage over each generation to human (and all other) genomes, which more autism and birth defects, as well as leading to cancer and autoimmune diseases.

TEPCO plans to start full-scale operation “multi-nuclide removal system (ALPS)” to remove the radioactive material of 62 species from contaminated water, but tritium with properties similar to water can not be removed. (link)

The ALPS system, which does not remove tritium, will be employed to remove other isotopes, such as strontium, cesium, and plutonium. This system was recently found to be compromised with rust and corrosion. This is to be expected with the extremely high amounts of radioactive substances this system has pumped into it. And it did not remove all the strontium-90 that went into it. Also, Iori Mochizuki from Fukushima Diary noted that there was a large amount of strontium-89 in the water, as of March 2013. Since this isotope has a half-life of 50 days, that would indicate that fission has been occurring. Sr-89 is much more energetically radioactive than Sr-90.

And the contaminated waste water from the ALPS system, where does that go? Into tanks? Nobody said anything about what they do with the waste. How much you wanna bet that they will dump that into the ocean too?

In a well on the east side of Unit 2, a record 1.3 billion becquerels per liter of all-beta radionuclides were recently found. A new record for cesium was also detected on the 4th, in seawater outside the silt fence (link).

So it appears that the radioactive dumping is well under way already.

Here is a video about what happens when you drop cesium into water. Hydrogen gas is released explosively… this would be radioactive hydrogen in this case, or tritium.

アルカリ金属の性質 空気酸化や水との反応

Airborne radiation and congenital hypothyroidism of California newborns.

Mangano, Sherman, and Busby have recently released an article, “Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.” They argued that rates of congenital hypothyroidism (CH) in California newborns were elevated after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in 2011, and this was associated with higher levels of gross beta radiation during this period. This disease is associated with exposure to radioactive iodine, and the beta radiation from iodine is a component of gross beta radiation. Further, they assert that radioactive iodine levels were not significant in 2012, when the levels of CH dropped again.

Dr. Paul Yarnold and myself have commented on the statistical methodology of this paper in two articles in Optimal Data Analysis (link, link).

The original article used an obsolete statistical methodology, clouding the validity of the study findings. Developers of the most current statistical paradigm therefore re-examined the data using rigorous state-of-the-art research methodology. The hypothesis that was tested in the original research — that newborns who were exposed to airborne radiation had a greater risk for CG — was statistically supported for California newborns with confirmed CH. Although the finding was statistically significant (i.e., “not a fluke, chance event”), the effect was very weak (i.e., not very many newborns were affected). Therefore a second study was undertaken to determine if the best alternative hypothesis might do a better job. The second study showed that the exposure hypothesis was best.

Unfortunately, the data for all of this research are hopelessly contaminated by a statistical anomaly called Simpson’s paradox, a type of ecological fallacy, which casts all of these findings into question. Although there is no way to prevent this confounding with the current data, the authors point out this may be fixed if radiation data and CH data are collected on a weekly or monthly basis in the future.

The CH data had different underlying statistical structures, and combining them may generate spurious results due to paradoxical confounding. And 2012 radiation data was combined with pre-Fukushima data, without explanation, even though a global radiation catastrophe occurred in between these disjoint time periods.

The authors conclude that the present findings require confirmation using non-contaminated data, but suggest that this avenue of investigation is warranted — reminding all to be mindful that the nuclear disaster in Japan is still unfolding, and to recall that the first articles on AIDS consisted of collections of a handful of case reports.