Depth distribution of radiocesium in Fukushima paddy fields and implications for ongoing decontamination works

Other literature type English OPEN
Lepage, H. ; Evrard, O. ; Onda, Y. ; Lefèvre, I. ; Laceby, J. P. ; Ayrault, S. (2014)

Large quantities of radiocesium were deposited across a 3000 km<sup>2</sup> area northwest of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant after the March 2011 accident. Although many studies have investigated the fate of radiocesium in soil in the months following the accident, the potential migration of this radioactive contaminant in rice paddy fields requires further examination after the typhoons that occurred in this region. Such investigations will help minimize potential human exposure in rice paddy fields or transfer of radioactive contaminants from soils to rice. Radionuclide activity concentrations and organic content were analysed in 10 soil cores sampled from paddy fields in November 2013, 20 km north of the Fukushima power plant. Our results demonstrate limited depth migration of radiocesium with the majority concentrated in the uppermost layers of soils (< 5 cm). More than 30 months after the accident, 81.5 to 99.7% of the total <sup>137</sup>Cs inventories was still found within the < 5 cm of the soil surface, despite cumulative rainfall totalling 3300 mm. Furthermore, there were no significant correlations between radiocesium migration depth and total organic carbon content. We attributed the maximum depth penetration of <sup>137</sup>Cs to maintenance (grass cutting – 97% of <sup>137</sup>Cs in the upper 5 cm) and farming operations (tilling – 83% of <sup>137</sup>Cs in the upper 5 cm). As this area is exposed to erosive events, ongoing decontamination works may increase soil erodibility. We therefore recommend the rapid removal of the uppermost – contaminated – layer of the soil after removing the vegetation to avoid erosion of contaminated material during the subsequent rainfall events. Remediation efforts should be concentrated on soils characterised by radiocesium activities > 10 000 Bq kg<sup>−1</sup> to prevent the contamination of rice. Further analysis is required to clarify the redistribution of radiocesium eroded on river channels.
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