‘Scientists don’t know why’: Cesium-137 in soil near Chernobyl has half-life of 180 to 320 years, not 30 years as is typical

Published: August 22nd, 2011 at 7:38 pm ET


“Ecological Half Life” of Cesium-137 May Be 180 to 320 Years?, EX-SKF, August 22, 2011:

[…] From Wired Magazine (12/15/2009):

Reinhabiting the large exclusion zone around the [Chernobyl] accident site may have to wait longer than expected. Radioactive cesium isn’t disappearing from the environment as quickly as predicted, according to new research presented here Monday at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Cesium 137’s half-life — the time it takes for half of a given amount of material to decay — is 30 years. In addition to that, cesium-137’s total ecological half-life — the time for half the cesium to disappear from the local environment through processes such as migration, weathering, and removal by organisms is also typically 30 years or less, but the amount of cesium in soil near Chernobyl isn’t decreasing nearly that fast. And scientists don’t know why.

It stands to reason that at some point the Ukrainian government would like to be able to use that land again, but the scientists have calculated that what they call cesium’s “ecological half-life” — the time for half the cesium to disappear from the local environment — is between 180 and 320 years.

“Normally you’d say that every 30 years, it’s half as bad as it was. But it’s not,” said Tim Jannik, nuclear scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory and a collaborator on the work. “It’s going to be longer before they repopulate the area.” […]

See also: Report: Cesium levels around Chernobyl have not declined as anticipated (VIDEO)

Published: August 22nd, 2011 at 7:38 pm ET


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  3. Report: Cesium levels around Chernobyl have not declined as anticipated (VIDEO) April 28, 2011
  4. Cesium-137 in soil 40 km NW of Fukushima Daiichi more than highest levels found at Chernobyl March 26, 2011
  5. Kyodo: High dosage of cesium similar to Chernobyl evacuation levels found in large city 60 km fom meltdowns — 307,000 Bq/kg in soil on Sept. 14 October 5, 2011

42 comments to ‘Scientists don’t know why’: Cesium-137 in soil near Chernobyl has half-life of 180 to 320 years, not 30 years as is typical

  • fuckyoushima

    perhaps more is being generated from local fission or neutron bombardment somehow… i.e. new cs-137’s are being generated.?

    non-nuclear environments should not affect nuclear decay… or can they? temperature. pressure. etc.

    will these more conventional properties of the environment have any effect on nuclear emissions?

    • Pensacola Tiger Pensacola Tiger

      Cs-137 is in the decay chain of Pu-239. If a boatload of Pu-239 was in the fallout from Chernobyl that spread over this area, is it plausible that normal decay would produce enough Cs-137 to cause these readings?

    • Steven Steven

      You can’t expect smart people like physicists to think about stuff like that. So far, to help bolster the ‘big bang’ theory against what is actually observed, we’ve had ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark flow’. Perhaps now we’ll have ‘dark fission’ to explain how atoms of Cesium-137 pop into existence spontaneously from some parallel universe near extant Cs-137 .

  • theypoisonus

    This is astronomical information.

    The whole complete ‘die’ of what we have been reading from has chanaged and we are now looking at an even worse case scenerio.

    Help us all.

  • martinium

    Maybe this is due to that MOX fuel from reactor 3 being a mixture of plutonium and depleted uranium so it may be causing differences in the radioactive isotopes. Regardless of that this is very bad news. I have been lurking on the site since the disaster started but finally decided to register and post a comment.

    • Whoopie Whoopie

      Glad you posted. God damn it all. This is breaking news…sobering. Speechless.

    • @ martinium
      Happy your here and posting, We need everyone’s input in this matter for it affects us all and all should have a voice and be heard !

      It is our world and we have a say, we all can contribute with our thought’s and idea’s !

      I have seen a number of new comer’s post … and this is for the many more looking in, come join us, we need your input too !

  • Nukeholio

    That is only 78% longer. No one will even remember Japan as it was by then. It will just be a wasteland.

    • Flapdoodle Flapdoodle

      600% to 1000% longer

      • Nukeholio

        I was just basing it on the 180 to 320 years listed. I just said “320 is 140 more than 180. 140/180 = 7/9 = 78%.” But I see your logic…the 30 year half life value is probably the “under lab conditions and most preferred number.”

    • mikael

      Its a exponential disingration, and not linear, as pointed out before. The Halflife notion is fals or at best missleading.

      The problem is still in Scandinavia, the tundra and its life forms have 50-60 years ahead, before contamination from Tjernobyl is at a “safe” level.

      And inside a organic compond it will eventualy fry the host, thats why there is no safe Low level. It depends solely on what, and how mutch, thats it. Thats why relocalisation is important, get the dose and exposure down.
      There is no other Safe way than move from the site/surce of the radiation/fallouts hotspots.

  • Flapdoodle Flapdoodle

    Perhaps the quantity of Cs-137 was far higher than admitted.

    • arclight arclight

      i couldnt find the link…and believe me ive been trying but i read that isoyopes disintegrate slower if they are inside a body??? …if that is true i was wondering if bio accummulation might not be a contributing factor in this? any links to support this theory would be useful…

      and to agree with you, im sure all the cesium was not accurately stated to begin with,, i dont believe the testing was done on that macro level…the old ussr had more to gain sweeping chernobyl under the carpet…and the iaea definately swept and is still sweeping this matter under the carpet!

      • arclight arclight

        How does temperature affect the rate of nuclear decay?

        0 Comments Generally, only extreme temperatures will affect this rate, it would increase the rate if it was hot and decrease if it was cold.. Answered – 188 days ago at 12:38am on Feb 15 2011

        The mystery of the varying nuclear decay
        Oct 2, 2008 17 comments
        Was Rutherford wrong?It is well-known that a radioactive substance follows a fixed exponential decay, no matter what you do to it. The fact has been set in stone since 1930

        Fischbach and Jenkins first began looking for fluctuations in nuclear decays in 2006 after they came across the report of an experiment performed at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), New York, between 1982 and 1986. The BNL team found that over that period the decay constant of silicon–32 — relative to a long-lived standard — modulated around its usual value of about 172 years by the order of 0.1%. What is more, the modulation appeared to be almost in phase with the varying distance of the Earth to the Sun: in January, when the Earth is closest, the decay rate was faster; in July, when the Earth is farthest, it was slower.

        It’s a gigantic effect…It sounds as though it’s related to solar activity, but it really can’t be
        John Barrow, Cambridge University

      • dharmasyd dharmasyd

        Not really an answer to why / how; but I noted this in an earlier ene post:

        Sulfur-35 has a half-life of 87.5 days outside of the body, but a biological half-life of 623 days, according to Michigan State University’s Office of Radiation, Chemical & Biological Safety.

        This is in the original Forbes article linked in the ene “rads in yo nads” post. I was startled when I read this; in the case of sulfur 35, it looks like it’s greater than 5Xs more when internal!!

        Go through this link to Forbes Forbes article.

        • arclight arclight

          thanks for that, that was the source! so any bioengineernukepersons here? will the same effect be seen in animals, fish and plants?? need to find studies done on this! off to ggogle translate russian search terms i think!
          peace! later

        • lam335 lam335

          I’m not a scientist, but I was under the impression that a biological half-life simply referred to how long it takes for the body to reduce the amount of a given contaminant inside it by half–i.e., so that it refers more to the rate at which biological processes move a given type of particles out of the body–in contrast to the atomic half-life, which refers to that rate at which that type of particular decays. My understanding was that the atomic half-life didn’t change, but that biological processes took longer or less time to move out various types of particles.

          • lam335 lam335

            Along similar lines, the Chernobyl article seems to distinguish the atomic half-life of the elements themselves from an “ecological half-life” that described the rate at which the environment/ecosystem manages to physically remove/disperse such contaminants out of itself. I didn’t think the atomic half-life was changing, but simply that the environmental processes where not moving the stuff out of the immediate ecosystem as quickly as expected.

            My understanding is that one of the ways that these particles are physically “removed” from the environment is by gradually sinking deeper and deeper into the earth until they go too far down to get taken up by roots or absorbed by ground water anymore. Alternatively, tree roots can take them up, and then they can fall back to the earth as leaves or fruit and go back into the soil by the tree, and then they can be taken up again and again end up in leaves and fruits that will drop (in this way, some of the contaminants get stuck in a cycle where they keep getting re-cycled through the system). But if some of the particles each year manage to escape re-uptake by roots and also miss ground water channels, then they can keep sinking down deeper and deeper into the earth until they are too far down to impact the ecosystem anymore. This is just one way that an ecosystem might “remove” the contaminants; winds might also disperse them farther and farther away. I thought that the article was says that some aspect of these environmental processes–which are the driving forces behind an “ecological half-life” were proving to be less efficient than expected.

            I’m neither a geologist nor a physicist, so take this for what it is worth.

          • Godzilla

            Thanks, Iam, I was about to respond along the same lines but you did it better than I could have.

      • Steven Steven

        I think they measure the amount of decay in a given mass. By this I mean (for instance) that they measure the amount of radiation from an object. Then at a later date they return and measure that object again, expecting a much lower level due to decay.

  • irradiated californian

    you guys realize this is about chernobyl right, not fukushima?

    • Whoopie Whoopie

      WTH? Yes we know it’s Chernobyl. It’s TELLING US THE FUTURE of Japan REAL SOON if not NOW.
      Fukashima is already a Level 7 but it WILL GO PAST THAT. It’s nowhere near contained. good grief.

      • Flapdoodle Flapdoodle

        Exactly. Thanks for pointing that out Whoopie.

      • Whoopie Whoopie

        Even a Nuclear Cheerleader is admitting we’re seeing something NOW never seen before EVER! Relating to this:

        “Data available through Japan’s Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR),22 comparable to the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, give a more complete picture of what chemicals with potential environmen­tal and health hazards may have been present at facilities in heavily impacted locations. In the weeks following the Tohoku disaster, Toxic Watch Network, a Tokyo-base­d nonprofit organizati­on, combed the PRTR data to get a general idea of the chemicals that may have been onsite at affected facilities­. The resulting list includes acrylamide­, asbestos, benzene, bisphenol A, bromometha­ne (methyl bromide), cadmium, chromium compounds, chloroform­, chlorodifl­uoromethan­e, ethylene glycol, dioxins, formaldehy­de, lead, mercury, toluene, and xylene (see map).23 Many of these compounds are respirator­y hazards, neurotoxic­ants, and/or carcinogen­s. Many are potentiall­y acutely toxic. Some are also environmen­tally persistent­, which raises potential issues of long-term contaminat­ion, particular­ly to local soil and water.”
        As if the fallout wasn’t enough! This kind of contaminat­ion will be harder to track than the fallout.

        • Whoopie Whoopie

          I ain’t joking. The Cheerleader is even saying A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME!
          (no answers needed)

          • Whoopie Whoopie

            I.R. You need help, truly. Hiding under the covers will not work!! WAKE THE HELL UP! Get active! The sooner you do, the more LIVES MIGHT BE SAVED. I never understand your comments ESP recently.

          • Flapdoodle Flapdoodle

            Everything is even scarier when you realize we are riding on a ball less than 8 thousand miles in diameter.

          • Nukeholio

            Because they don’t want to spook the un-knoledgable. Then all their viewers/voters will complain they are “scaring them.”

    • Steven Steven

      Yeah it means Chernobyl was an 8.

  • lam335 lam335

    Notice that they say Chernobyl provides insight into “a NEAR worst-case nuclear accident.”

    SInce I was about ten, Chernobyl has been THE poster-child for a WORST case nuke accident. Of course, now they have to leave room for the full unfolding of FUK, so Chernobyl has to get demoted to merely penultimately bad status. Who ever imagined that could happen–particularly a mere 25 years later.

  • sicx sicx

    There has been many studies and observations concluding that the Sun is changing the decay rates of radioactive isotopes.

  • patb2009

    perhaps the complex environment is absorbing neutrons, that half lives assume certain neutron fluxes, and with soil, water, organics, the neutrons are scattering away.

  • farawayfan farawayfan

    Well, if the Soviets lied about the initial contamination levels, that would certainly make it look like it’s decaying much more slowly….

    But governments don’t lie about radiation, right?

  • StillJill StillJill

    Governments ONLY lie when their lips are moving!