Many of our Distributors and retail customers are currently expressing a genuine concern (and worry) over the dangers and threats of nuclear power plants (in general) and the possible danger from the radiation they could spew into the environment. Naturally, this is being fueled by the constant flow of pictures and reports about the horrible aftermath following the powerful earthquake that hit Japan this last week. Naturally, this is a big story on TV, as well as in newspapers and magazines.
In addition to the devastating loss of life and property destruction, one of the current worries is the damaging effect the earthquake has had on several of Japan’s numerous electric power plants. For many years, Japan has depended almost exclusively on nuclear power plants for its electricity since there are virtually no fossil fuels for electrical generation. As the result of last week’s earthquake, several of these nuclear power plants are on the verge of hydrogen explosions and “melt-downs”. Some of this has already happened! The real (or imagined) worry is that these endangered power plants, with their potential nuclear reactions, will threaten not only the millions of local citizens of Japan but also a multitude of people at great distances down stream or down-wind from Japan.
For those of you who may not know what a nuclear meltdown is, here is an informal and simplified explanation:
A nuclear meltdown is defined as a severe nuclear reactor accident that results in core damage from overheating. It is defined to mean the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor, and is a reference to the core's partial or complete collapse. This occurs when damage to a nuclear power plant system prevents proper cooling of the reactor core. This causes the nuclear fuel assemblies to overheat and melt, either partially or completely.
In Japan, in spite of attempts to use sea water to cool the core of these reactors, at least a couple of partial meltdowns have already occurred. Normally a meltdown is considered very serious because of the potential that highly intense radioactive materials with long half-lives and lethal threat could be released into the environment. Fortunately, because the reactors in Japan are sealed off by many feet of shielding material, the danger of spreading from these meltdowns is considered by most experts in this field to be less likely. Only time will tell.
These worries revolve around the compound which is used to make the rods that make up the core of the nuclear reactors. That material is uranium (IV) dioxide. Also known as urania or uranous oxide, it is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uranite. (A mixture of uranium and plutonium dioxide is often used. This is called MOX fuel.)
Uranium (U) is a naturally occurring, radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal, which is found in rocks, soils, plants and of course water. Uranium concentration in water is usually expressed in the mass unit microgram per liter.(ug/l) This is equivalent to parts per billion. (ppb)
Radioactivity in drinking water is not a new phenomenon, having been present to some extent since the earth was formed. Despite this history, uranium in drinking water above the standard may be harmful to your health. Unavoidly taken up with solid and liquid food including our drinking water, uranium is a potential health risk for us humans, as well as all other forms of life. This is due not only to the impact of radiation from uranium’s several isotopes and its decay elements, but also the toxicity of uranium as a heavy metal itself.
Radionuclide testing of public drinking water system has been required since the 1970’s; however, uranium testing has not been required until quite recently. Concentrations of uranium in drinking water above the EPA’s maximum contaminent level, over a period of years is believed to cause kidney damage and to increase one’s lifetime risk of developing certain types of cancer.
If you have not already done so, it is advisable to have your local drinking water tested. Hopefully you will be able to find a local laboratory that can test for uranium. If you cannot locate one, contact your local water company. They should be able to direct you to the lab closest to you. The fee for this service usually in the range of $25-$50 and well worth it.
In the United States, public community water supplies must comply with the E.P.A.’s drinking water standard of no more than 30 ppb. (The accepted maximum “safe” level of uranium in drinking water in Canada is only 20 ppb.) Management of private and non-community water supplies for uranium is a decision that must be made by the water consumers or the well owner.
Several options exist for the removal of uranium but carbon filtration is not one of them. (It can however, be partially effective for the removal of radon, a radioactive gas.) The most effective treatment will most likely require a combination of systems. It will all depend on a number of factors, including what other contaminants are present and the amount of water pressure available.
And now for some good news! Third party laboratory tests have confirmed that water distillers are highly effective in the removal of uranium, along with virtually all other contaminants that may be present in tap water. Therefore we have in effect, removed the dangerous radioactive emissions. For a simple explanation, let’s compare uranium giving off nuclear radiation (Alpha, Beta & Gamma) to a flashlight giving off light. If you can remove the flashlight (in this case, uranium) you get rid of the light (in this case, nuclear radiation). In almost all cases, distillation is by far a consumer’s best bet for contaminant-free drinking water, including uranium. Distilled water! Precious, but not expensive!