U.S. submarine radiation leak raises concern in Japan

By | August 3, 2008

Submarine USS Houston (SSN-713) leaked radioactive discharge into the ocean beginning in March 2008. The radioactive leakage is thought to be the result of a faulty valve. The Navy did not give specifics about the valve or the radioactive discharge, saying only the radioactivity was in the microcurie range. A microcurie is one millionth of a curie or 37 thousand decaying atoms per second. – toocan

The USS Houston is one of 62 Los Angeles class submarines. Here is a diagram from a paper by Chunyan Ma and Frank von Hippel. I wonder how it is even possible for anything radioactive to get out of the system.

Water containing a small amount of radiation leaked from a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine that stopped by Japan earlier this year, the U.S. Navy and Japanese government said on Saturday, prompting calls by civic groups for full disclosure.

The leak, which was too small to have any impact on the environment, was found during an inspection of the nuclear-powered Houston in Hawaii, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, citing information provided by the U.S. government.

“The amounts were very, very, very small and were not of the sort that would affect the human body or the environment,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference.

The incident comes at a time when the United States has been trying to allay fears over the planned stationing of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington in Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks.

A civic group opposed to the deployment of the George Washington said the leak raises doubts about the safety of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered vessels.

“The claim…that the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered vessels are safe and are not susceptible to radiation leaks has completely broken down,” Masahiko Goto, a lawyer representing the group said in a statement.

Goto called on the U.S. Navy to disclose the causes of the radiation leak and urged the Japanese government to seek complete disclosure.

Many Japanese are sensitive about the use of nuclear power by military forces. The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came under nuclear attack from the United States at the end of World War Two in August 1945. – yahoo

Some locals worried. Seeking full disclosure.

6 thoughts on “U.S. submarine radiation leak raises concern in Japan

  1. Bruce A

    Just mention that word and people freak out. Never mind that we get more radiation exposure standing in the sun for a few minutes than was released in this leak. *sigh* Not that I want to drink or swim in that water but still…

  2. Xeno Post author

    The danger would not be a little radiation so much as chemical toxicity. These subs don’t use plutonium at all as far as I can tell, just uranium. (Uranium is only about as chemically toxic as lead according to one source. This class of sub seems to be powered by about 880 lbs of uranium.

    The toxicity of plutonium is debated, one person who offered to eat it to show it is safe says this:

    Plutonium is constantly referred to by the news media as “the most toxic substance known to man.” Ralph Nader has said that a pound of plutonium could cause 8 billion cancers, and former Senator Ribicoff has said that a single particle of plutonium inhaled into the lung can cause cancer. There is no scientific basis for any of these statements …

    Contrary to what you might read, Ralph Nader is not the source of plutonium’s toxicity information. Nader may have spread the word, but the word on plutonium being so toxic is from Medical Physicist John Gofman, for one. Read Gofman’s credentials.

    …Dr. Gofman is a Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D. in nuclear-physical chemistry and an M.D.) who was the first Director of the Biomedical Research Division of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory from 1963-65 and one of nine Associate Directors at the Lab from 1963-1969. He was involved in the Manhattan Project and is a co-discoverer of Uranium-232, Plutonium-232, Uranium-233, and Plutonium-233, and of slow and fast neutron fissionability of Uranium-233. He also was a co-inventor of the urnayl acetate and columbium oxide processes for plutonium separation. He has taught in the radioisotope and radiobiology fields from the 1950s at least up into the 1980s, and has done research in radiochemistry, macromoloecules, lipoprotiens, coronary heart disease, arterioscleroisis, trace element determination, x-ray spectroscopy, chromosomes and cancer and radioation hazards. – link

  3. Ann

    Gee Xeno, who would think Nadar is nuclear physicist? He’s peoples’ (well, I guess if people = consumer then …) advocate (who’s currently running for the presidency – in case anyone didn’t know.)

    Bruce: “Just mention that word and people freak out” and rightly so!

    Unlike sunlight, radioactive isotopes accumulate in our environment. It takes a long time before they become harmless. The more leaks the greater the treat to our health. Remember Chernobyl? That was one source. There are other sources, other leaks, in the US, as well. (Don’t let any apologist from the US nuclear industry fool you!)

    Whatever the source, it’s the radioactive particles that cause harm to the DNA structure in the nucleus of the cells in our body. Remember DNA? It’s responsible for cellular replication. Once that goes kilter we’re in trouble. Things like cell death or unwanted cellular replication – i.e. cancer – occur.

    So, people are justified to “freak out” when they hear about a leak of radioactivity anywhere in the world. There are, after all, ocean currents and trade winds that carry radioactive particles anywhere and everywhere.

  4. Xeno Post author

    There are different types of ionizing radiation. Some background ionizing radiation is hitting us all the time. Some is from humans, some from cosmic sources. Alpha particle radiation only travels a few inches in air and can’t get past a layer of paper or clothing.

    Uranium decays slowly by emitting an alpha particle. …Uranium is not absorbed through the skin, and alpha particles released by uranium cannot penetrate the skin. – wiki

    So, it isn’t so dangerous unless you breathe it, eat it, or drink it. If you do, it can cause birth defects and immune system damage.

  5. Ann

    Indeed, Xeno but why do we have to add more to what is already in our natural environment causing even greater risk by the continued use of nuclear energy – there will always be accidents. That is unavoidable. Soon or later there will be another Chernobyl. By the way, radioactive isotopes don’t have to break the skin if they enter the food chain and consumed.

  6. Xeno Post author

    Yes, true. My theory is that there are so many billions of humans on the planet now that the value of individual lives (and the need for caution) in our collective consciousness has sunk too low.

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