Last march when the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant was disastrously damaged by a tsunami, plant technicians used seawater to cool the meltdown situation. At the time, that was probably the best way to avoid an even worse situation.
Unfortunately, a new study shows that seawater can actually corrode nuclear fuel. No big deal? What if it created a uranium compound able to travel long distances? That's what the study proposes. The paper, which was published in the January 23 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains that the uranium in nuclear fuel rods exists in a chemical form that's usually insoluble.
But when sodium is present, like in seawater, the fuel could corrode and release tiny clusters of radioactive uranium that could be carried away by sea currents, surviving in the environment for months or years before breaking down and settling to the bottom of the ocean. How fast this can happen, no one knows, according to the lead author of the study, Alexandra Navrotsky of the University of California at Davis.
Luckily, she says, there's no evidence yet of far-reaching radiation contamination. And previous reports say that the sea contamination will likely remain local. But Fukushima is the worst nuclear contamination the Earth's oceans have ever seen; here's hoping those radioactive chunks sink and die with a quickness. [ScienceDaily]