Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

After Fukushima

By Stephen Luntz

A close encounter with Japan’s tsunami and nuclear meltdown led Candice Raeburn to develop new ways to tackle radiation.

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Candice Raeburn’s undergraduate degree was in Applied Science majoring in biotechnology, but it was her year off that inspired research far beyond the Honours project norm. Having developed a fascination with Japan while attending a conference, Raeburn took a year off before starting Honours to teach English in a town hardly anyone outside Japan could name.

On 11 March 2011 Raeburn felt the distant rumblings of one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded. Coastal portions of her town were devastated by the tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people across Japan, although fortunately she was far enough inland to be safe from the threat. Only later did Raeburn discover that the tsunami had triggered a meltdown in the nearby nuclear power plant, bringing Fukushima unwanted fame.

Raeburn evacuated to Tokyo and says: “Living in Japan after everything happened, I wanted to do more to help than shaking tins”.

Back in Fukushima, large amounts of radioactive iodine and caesium were released into the environment, contaminating soil and water. Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, so most had decayed within weeks, but caesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and is proving a more abiding problem.

Caesium-137 is a strong emitter of gamma rays. Moreover, Raeburn explains: “The body treats it like potassium, so it is taken in and irradiates us from the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.