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Conditions Worsen at Fukushima Nuclear Site

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This is not good. From the Washington Post:

Leaked water sampled from one unit Sunday was 100,000 times more radioactive than normal background levels — though the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, first calculated an even higher, erroneous, figure that it didn’t correct for several hours.

Tepco apologized Sunday night when it realized the mistake; it had initially reported radiation levels in the leaked water from the unit 2 reactor as being 10 million times higher than normal, which prompted an evacuation of the building.

After the levels were correctly measured, airborne radioactivity in the unit 2 turbine building still remained so high that a worker there would reach his yearly occupational exposure limit in 15 minutes….

Japanese authorities say efforts to control Fukushima’s overheated reactors will take months and during that time radiation will continue to leak into the environment, extending a nuclear emergency that already ranks as the most serious in a quarter-century. Several hundred workers now shoulder the responsibility for limiting the crisis, amid potentially lethal radiation levels, and Saturday the chief of Japan’s nuclear agency called on Tepco to improve its worker safety…..

One subcontracted worker who laid cables for new electrical lines March 19 described chaotic conditions and lax supervision that made him nervous. Masataka Hishida said neither he nor the workers around him were given a dosimeter, a device used to measure one’s exposure to radiation. He was surprised that workers were not given special shoes; rather, they were told to put plastic bags over their street shoes. When he was trying on the gas mask for the first time, he said the supervisor told him and other subcontractors, “Listen carefully, I’m only going to say this one time” while explaining how to use it.

This operation is dependent on a limited pool of workers, and both the deterioration of the plant and the haphazard safety measures are troubling. As Richard Kline noted two days ago:

And the more you read the more daffily heinous it gets. So three contractors from the power company get sent into a flooded turbine room to plug in a power cord. At Daiichi 3, the most damaged reactor with the most dangerous mix in its presumably partially melted fuel rods. Only the workmen hop out with radiation burns on their legs. How did they get burned? The water was not only far, far, more radioactive then thought, but so deep it flowed in over their boots. . . . Read that back: the guys weren’t even in full-body coverage. No one did a read on the radioactivity level of the water, or likely anything else in the turbine room. The coolant turbines are presumed to be damaged, and no one even knows whether they’ll work, but every effort is being made to restart them—rather than bring in a functional external pumping system, or at least be working on that 24/7 as a fall back plan.

The level of functional incompetence in this effort just seems to get worse by the hour, let alone the day. I know, I know, they had a tsumani X days ago, and have a problem even feeding let alone planning for several hundred thousand people in the surrounding area. I’d like to think that someone in government over there was capable of making some crisis decisions about manpower, timeframe, and hey! objectives, rather than begging the compromised corporation to make everybody look good faster.

Tom Englehardt gives more cheery news:

Somewhere, someone should write about the official euphemisms that accompany disasters. The roiling set of problems at the Fukushima nuclear complex seems only to grow as one unprecedented situation after another arises, including a possible massive build-up of salt — 99,000 pounds are estimated to have accumulated in reactors 2 and 3 — from sea water pumped into the damaged reactors to cool them. Salt can encrust uranium fuel rods and heat them up dangerously. In the meantime, the “mox” fuel (which contains highly toxic plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years) in reactor 3 now seems to be leaking and venting. The release of mox fuel into the environment represents a situation with which the nuclear industry has little experience. Fears are rising that there could be “a crack or a hole in the reactor core’s stainless steel chamber or in the spent fuel pool that’s contained by a massive concrete container,” which could prove devastating. And that’s just to begin to lay out the problems at the complex itself, which are predicted to go on for “weeks, if not months.” ….

And as for those euphemisms, on Friday the Japanese government widened the evacuation area around the plants from a mandatory 12 miles to a “voluntary” 19 miles. (Previously, residents in the 12 to 19 mile zone were simply encouraged to stay indoors.) According to the Guardian, “The government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, said 130,000 residents in the area had been encouraged to leave to improve their quality of life, not because their health was at risk.”

In fairness, the Japanese hate being direct, it’s considered rude (sort of a cross between liking the sound of one’s voice too much and being pushy about it too), so it’s possible something was lost in the translation…..

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93 comments

  1. Francois T

    The Japanese hate being direct, the Americans crave this false politeness that allow one to utter the most barbaric atrocities (like torture advocacy a la Torquemada…or Jon Yoo) as long as the tone is cold, even, neutral and generate this fake miasma of polished urbanity and higher education, supposed to inspire total respect.

    Both countries are drowning in euphemisms too. And it is not as if our nuclear plants were models of safety. There were several near misses in the last 3 decades.

  2. Maju

    I’d evacuate all the Northern half of Honshu (except Aomori prefecture), based on the fact that dangerous radiation levels have been detected by the Chinese in people arriving to Beijing from Central Japan via Tokyo. Orderly but decidedly. Except all those people needed to take care of the crisis, who’d be rotated. This is I believe what would be done by a more effective government such as that of Cuba in a similar situation (they do in hurricanes and have almost no casualties . instead of the “save yourself if you can” style of the USA and so many other bourgeois states).

    After watching so many movies of Japanese samurai and WWII soldiers, one would have expected more energy and less politeness and paralysis by institutional panic to popular panic. I have the impression that there is lack of clear leadership and of clarity and cold blood in general, something nobody can afford in an emergency such as this one.

    I reckon that the problem has no good solution at this point but the authorities MUST conceive and organize SOME solution, even if it’s a relatively bad one. The more they delay taking action, the worse the health and socio-economic result.

    1. craazyman

      They sure could use a Toshiro Mifune type right about now. Back when he was at his peak, like in Seven Samurai.

  3. Guy Baker

    There is a cement sprayer truck ether there or headed there, donated by another Asian country. The stated purpose of this truck is to spray water into the facility. But — looks like they are possibly setting up to entomb at least one of the reactors if need be.

    Watch what they DO, NOT what they say.

    This is a country where when a patient has stomach cancer, the doctor doesn’t tell them, but the patient understand the truth anyway.

    Tepco apologized publicly and passionately at the start of this, but didn’t give details. That was clue number one. Then the PM came out with the talk about worst situation since the end of Word War II. That was clue number two. Then, the emperor’s appearance on national television was clue number three.

    It’s an extremely volatile and dangerous situation. It’s clear Japanese policymakers are trying to balance public safety with national security. Remember, Japan needs to produce and export to survive and unlike Russia/Chernobyl, the land mass in Japan is tiny.

    On the other hand — massive inflows of foreign money into the Tokyo stock market this past week.

    Interesting.

    I wonder how many of those investors speak Japanese or understand what is happening there. On the other hand, the Us needs to support Japan so they don’t start dumping US treasuries…

    1. Olleana

      This is the correct cultural reading of the official pronouncements, and the way virtually everyone in Asia takes them.

    2. Jackrabbit

      Clue #4 ?: raising annual (emergency!) limit of radiation exposure to 250 mS from 100 mS. The normal (non-emergency) limit for a plant worker is 50 mS.

  4. KC

    Soviet experts said the reactors should be sealed.

    I have a question: What is the difference between sealing it and what the Japanese governments are doing now?

    1. Dirk77

      Hopefully, everyone by now is aware that if spraying water is TEPCO’s solution, they are going to be doing it for many months, even a year or more. So, the Russian “experts” are probably saying what the Japanese and everyone else is thinking.

      All they need to do is get BP on the job to seal it and get it all wrapped up. But for that we need Obama to guide things and he is all busy defending our freedoms in Libya.

    2. Maju

      They have been trying for weeks to get cooldown the reactors by throwing sea water on/in them (but not pumping it out, what makes the exercise pointless in few hours or days, as the heat will evaporate the water spreading radioactive clouds which can only make things worse).

      Then they have tried to restore the cooling systems but all reactors seem to be too damaged for that to happen. Salt in the pipes from the previous attempt has not helped at all.

      Radioactivity from each reactor affects working conditions in the others, making almost sure that workers will die (the only doubt is how long it will take: will they survive for long enough to solve the problem?). The least that the authorities in charge can do is to make sure that their sacrifice is effective: that solves the problem as much as possible.

      The soviet solution is instead to isolate the reactor in a huge concrete box that fends off most of the radiation and leaves the problem more or less safely enclosed. Again it implies the sacrifice of many workers who will have to bear high levels of radiation most probably (I’m not even considering here how can you persuade people to kill themselves in one like this) but promises some level of safety.

      However I see two problems to the Chernobyl solution in the Japanese case:

      1) The reactor is right by the sea, what means that the radioactivity of the reactor(s) in meltdown and other sources will eventually penetrate the soil and reach layers of water. Preventing contamination to the sea may not be possible – the doubt is how much contamination that would be…

      2) As we all know Japan is a highly seismic region, there is hardly any guarantee that a future earthquake or tsunami will not damage the sarcophagus or otherwise spread radiation around.

      Finally, the Chernobyl solution is not perfect, even in the relatively safer conditions of tectonically stable Ukraine: there is fear that the sarcophagus is being eroded by radioactivity itself and may eventually collapse. For that reason another even larger sarcophagus is being planned (but money is lacking and has been delayed).

      Fukushima has very bad solution. And there are many “Fukushimas” around the World waiting for another accident to happen. Nuclear is a huge problem not any solution.

      1. Dirk77

        Interesting. (I mean it; this is not sarcasm.). So the Chernobyl sarcophagus is eroding. And the possible problem of being near the sea. While there hasn’t been much radiation released and the long term effects may be mild, I wonder if indeed that the thought of many readers of this blog may be right: that there exists no political/social system on the earth today (or ever) in which nuclear power can be done right. So sad. Maybe hunting and gathering was the only sustainable model of living for humans. What a bitter truth that would be. I hope that is wrong.

        1. LeeAnne

          I’ve given some thought to your ‘hunting and gathering’ metaphor and come to the conclusion that nothing is more sure to send us into a new dark age than the current concentration of wealth and power dedicated to the status quo.

  5. Wild Bill

    Can I say something without being shouted down as insensitive and uncaring? How can you have any sympathy for the people who remain in the area, despite what has occurred? There is plenty of information available, for free, about the true severity of the incident. I don’t care how broke you are, get the hell out. Start walking. Yet those who remain choose to believe the government’s claims over independent claims. Aren’t these the same type of sycophants who voted for these clowns and allowed them to attain power? They’re going down with their own ship. Hats off to them.

    1. jwl

      @Wild Bill: don’t forget they just had a major earthquake and tsunami. It’s very likely that the people who remain in the area have only limited access to outside information. A lot of communities near the cost probably don’t have power, so cell phones and internet are out. At best, they probably get newspapers with the government line.

      It’s very easy to forget how much impact modern communication has had, but also how fragile it can be.

    2. Wendy D

      People are in a state of shock, I am certain. PTSD leads to indecisiveness and can deeply impact the ability to process the information required that would uproot you from everything you have in the world and send you into the unknown. Especially the old and sick without family members.

      Lack of communication as another said due to power outages as well.

    3. Maju

      It is very much insensible because:

      1. People do not have all the info. The authorities are clearly playing down the severity of the accident and consequences.

      2. There is no gasoline, the state is not providing buses or destinations to evacuate, many have nowhere to go.

      What I’d say is that the Japanese government should have evacuated a much larger area, at least the 80 km suggested by the USA. But that is hundreds of thousands of people. The area where “dangerous radiation” has been detected is almost half Japan by now. They just cannot evacuate such a huge area.

  6. Glen

    Not to point out the obvious, Bill, but you are down wind and they are lying. Better get moving.

  7. bill n

    “The level of functional incompetence in this effort just seems to get worse by the hour, let alone the day…I’d like to think that someone in government over there was capable of making some crisis decisions about manpower, timeframe, and hey! objectives…”

    Uh. Bush? N’Awlins?

  8. YY

    There are many things working out not the way intended. The donut of 20-30km being one. Cautionary instructions created enough fear to isolate from external support this area effectively isolating supply of food and medicine in the area. So it results in encouraging people to evacuate as no news of improvement must mean things are getting worse. Whether the 20-30km zone is any more dangerous than day 1 is not all that clear. They really must regret having created this twilight zone.

    Even dubious data gets disclosed, as non-disclosure leads to accusations of cover-up. Then corrections are made but mistaken, then further corrections are made. The information becomes more accurate but less credible.

  9. Michael H

    At the oildrum they are currently discussing a comment by Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at C.U.N.Y, co-founder of string field theory. Michio Kaku was a protege of Edward Teller, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and was the first in his class in physics. Based on this background, some commenters think he should know what he’s talking about, while others believe he is being alarmist. Personally I don’t know what to believe at this point, and am just trying to get accurate information and keep up with events as they unfold.

    For anyone interested, here’s a link to Dr. Kaku’s blog where the comment was found:

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/31746

    And here’s the comment being discussed:

    “However, the worst case scenario is quite different. If radiation levels continue to rise, then at some point the workers may have to evacuate. (A secondary earthquake or pipe break may also aggravate the situation). If the workers abandon the ship, it means that cooling water (which is being shot into the reactors by fire hose) will begin to fall, exposing the rods, and eventually creating 3 simultaneous meltdowns. Then perhaps a steam or hydrogen gas explosion will completely rupture the containment. This will create a nightmare beyond Chernobyl.

    In the meantime, I have suggested on TV that the leadership of the crisis management be replaced. The utility should be kept on as a consultant, but a top flight international team of nuclear scientists and engineers should take over, aided by access to the Japanese military. The utility is simply overwhelmed by the crisis. Only the mililtary, guided by an international team of top scientists and engineers, can tame this monster.” -

    1. Jojo

      Dr. Kaku has been on ABC many times during this event. He may ultimately be proven correct but to me, he seems like someone intent on getting everyone riled up and excited via plenty of FUD. Exactly what news stations like.

    2. readerOfTeaLeaves

      The utility should be kept on as a consultant, but a top flight international team of nuclear scientists and engineers should take over, aided by access to the Japanese military. The utility is simply overwhelmed by the crisis. Only the mililtary, guided by an international team of top scientists and engineers, can tame this monster.

      I’m no physicist, but this makes more sense to me than just about anything that I’ve seen or read on the topic.

      Without casting blame or castigating anyone, this is now a global crisis.
      It requires the best minds on the planet to produce a global response.
      I can imagine that holds a number of complex and difficult challenges, starting with translation issues. Nevertheless, when one considers the implications for fisheries, radiation traveling in jet streams, and humanitarian factors, at this point it’s obvious to a donut that this utility is in way over its head.

      1. charles 2

        Yves knows more the cultural problem than I do, but I experienced some of it, and I believe it would be difficult (in the Japanese meaning of the word) to operate a mixed Nippo-Foreign team in the current emergency conditions. I think you are under-estimating the proportion of people who :
        a) have critical knowledge of the situation, I.e. whose input must be included in the emergency team decision process
        b) don’t speak any other language than Japanese.
        “Lost in translation” is not a funny topic any more…

        Second, the “foot soldiers” will exclusively be Japanese and the potential dire consequences are restricted to Japan only (despite what the fearmongers would say), so I cannot imagine a foreign team leading it. Try imagining the same circumstances in US Soil, do you think Americans would accept instructions from, say, UN ? Not a chance in hell.

        The only help that foreigners can provide right now are discreet advices and provision of materials (such as Borate, Robots, etc…), plus the occasional public outburst to help one Japanese faction against another (as Yves mentionned in an earlier paper).

        Yes, it would be a PR disaster for US and Europe Nuclear industry if conditions were to worsen dramatically on the site because of wrong decisions in the management of the crisis. Yet, there is nothing more that they can do about it than have their fingers crossed.

        1. readerOfTeaLeaves

          Well, I am far from an expert on nuclear matters.

          I have, however, taken a fair amount of Japanese and back when I used it more frequently, could interpret the basics of a news story or baseball report. It is a highly contextual language, so I take your point about the complexities of translations in a situation requiring extreme clarity.

          As for the nuclear industry…. if today’s German electoral results are any symptom (see my comment farther down with links to news reports of Germans being fed up with Merkel’s decisions regarding nukes in Germany), then the nuclear industry has conducted itself in a fashion that is unlikely to generate widespread support.

          Meanwhile, this disaster in Fukushima is far from over.
          That should concern everyone to one degree or another.

          But temperamentally, utility employees in my experience are not the first people you want in an urgent disaster. No matter their language or nation or origin.

    3. Hal Horvath

      The excerpt is pretty safe speculation (for a “worst case”). It’s obvious enough (I think) to any engineer or physicist, and probably to a lot of people, and many days ago. This was obvious even to me in the first 2-3 days, as a worst case possibility. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not too worried about that one so far.

    4. Roaring mouse

      I laugh @ folks who pound Haavahd credentials and expect the room to immediately become silent. Give me 1 nuclear physicist from a state university who has experience with civilian power generation. Agree this situation would benefit from an international team. Unlike Chernobyl, the Japanese might actually allow such a group to help.

      1. Douglas Beck

        Well, for what it’s worth, I have a Ph.D in nuclear physics from the University of Illinois, as well as experience in civilian power generation. But I agree with what Michio Kaku said in the excerpt above. He’s right as far as what could happen in a worse case scenario.

        Unless they can stabilize the accident using freshwater (and not corrosive salt water)

    5. Maju

      Japanese government acknowledges “partial meltdown” at reactor 2, where the mega-high radiation levels were found.

      There’s no way to tame this monster. A cage can be built at high human cost, as in Chernobyl, but, as I said above, the geography of Fukushima I does not make this solution too safe.

  10. c.

    Actually the statement of the trainer saying “I’m only going to tell you this once so listen carefully” is EXACTLY right.

    And then he tells them. And then the first guy in the line gets asked “and tell me how to use your respirator” and gets corrected. And then the next guy gets asked “and tell me how to use your respirator” all the way on down the line with mistakes being corrected as the trainer goes. Each guy should have to repeat instructions correctly and demonstrate operation ALL THE WAY DOWN THE LINE.

    And yes, he should only give that instruction once – and then correct everyone else. Then he can be sure that each member of the team got the correct instruction.

    1. bob goodwin

      While these developments clearly are bad, and could get worse, I think it is important to note that the actual amount of radiation that has been leaked into the environment has not yet been catastrophic. I know it is rude not to be in full panic, especially with workers getting harmed.

      1. Olleana

        Let’s just hope that TEPCO and the Japanese authorities are telling the truth about the acutal amount of radiation leaked, and the amount that will be forseeably leaked in the immediate future, eh bob?

        1. bob goodwin

          I’ve tried to study the engineering, chemistry and physics behind the situation. From what I have gathered, the worst case scenario is indeed alarming, but for that to occur the cesium within the fuel needs to spread to the water supply and/or into the atmosphere. My understanding is that the radiation is leaking, not the cesium. And the radiation coming out of the plant (from venting and water leakage) is far from a flood. Of course anyone within the complex is exposed to high risk.

          Nobody is hiding that the situation is unstable, and that there remains a risk of the fuel going critical again. That is when the risk of the containment vessel failing rises, and when the actual fuel can escape, causing a situation more like Chernobyl.

          1. psychohistorian

            Bob, it is my understanding that caesium 137 is already leaking….significantly.

            See here: http://www.woweather.com/weather/news/fukushima?LANG=us&VAR=euradsfc

            As I posted elsewhere: There is reportedly 10 times (180 vs 1760 tonnes) more fuel at Fukushima than at Chernobyl. Fukusima is spewing radiation into the atmosphere at a slower rate, so far, than Chernobyl but increasing and approaching or past the total Chernobyl levels for some nasties…like caesium 137.

          2. bob goodwin

            Your link went to a site with “Potential” in the title, which is exactly the worst case I was pointing to, not the facts in the air.

            Cesium is in the fuel, which can propagate in the air from burning fuel and a breached containment vessel, or alternatively from a meltdown that reaches the aquafer.

            What is escaping is the radiation within the air and water around the plant.

        2. NP

          It’s honestly not in TEPCO’s interest to be anything but as honest as possible. Radioactive decay is well understood with well characterized decay constants; it will be easy to determine the amount of radionuclides released after the fact by taking samples and determining the sample size at an earlier time. Also, if people are getting a *truly significant* amount of radiation, it will not be difficult to estimate that amount after the fact from white blood cell count, and so forth.

          For all the claims of cover ups, these folks aren’t stupid. They have to know they can’t hide from what’s going on.

      2. readerOfTeaLeaves

        I don’t personally feel that I’m in any kind of ‘full panic’.
        This disaster has been getting worse for weeks.

        It doesn’t make sense to wait until this plays out in the worse case, mind-boggling scenario before getting resources focused on the problem.
        I’d call that ‘pragmatism’, rather than panic.

        There are already multinational groups working on this problem, but letting TEPCO continue to call the shots at this point does not appear to be a prudent strategy given the potential consequences, on top of the number of things that have already gone catastrophically wrong.

        I don’t know about your experience, but my local electrical utility has some wonderful people who are loyal, dedicated (well paid) employees. But they are not the first people that I’d call for fast response on anything other than getting power lines up after a storm.
        They’re nice people, , but ‘hustle’ and ‘rapid response’ are not their forte.
        They like planning, long time lines, and predictability.
        They’re great when things are ‘normal’.

        They’re not the people you want in charge of disaster management.
        I have obviously made an assumption that Tepco employees and organization has a similar temperament.

        In other words, well-intentioned, decent people. Just not the people you want in charge of addressing this mess.

        1. charles 2

          Yes, you are right. This is why in some countries , the “emergency” team in a NPP is made-up of different people than the “normal” team. At some point in the application of the emergency manual, the “emergency” team takes over. It doesn’t guarantee that they are smarter, but at least they trained for this kind of situation.

    2. charles 2

      Lake Karachai shows exactly what the biggest threat is with nuclear material: getting radio-active particulate airborne or in agricultural top soil.
      Conversely, dissolved radioactivity in seawater or trapped radioctivity in sediments is much less dangerous.
      This is the main difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima as far as release are concerned : as most of the escaped volatile fission products have been dissolved into water, they will either be safely stored or be rejected in the oceans.
      In both cases, impacts on human health are very small. It may trigger suspicion on marine products in case of ocean release, but the area is overexploited anyway :
      see http://www.fao.org/newsroom/common/ecg/1000505/en/stocks.pdf for instance
      A few decades hiatus on fishing on the zone (to wait for full dilution of fission products) could actually be more a positive thing for the fishes than a few “fish cancers”.

      It would be ironic if Japanese finally decided to stop hunting whales and tunas because of fears on radioactivity. If I was in Greenpeace shoes, I would play the line “whale meat has become too radioactive to eat” even if it unlikely to be true (There is a LOT of water in the ocean so it enbles sufficient dilution).

  11. TC

    Who’s checking facts? Am I to believe that, suddenly, investigative rigor transcending political agenda has resurfaced in the mainstream?

    Last check, about 10 million more Americans are at risk of homelessness as a consequence of a scam so encompassing as to make this blog a must read, yet where has the mainstream been in this instance? Promoting another political agenda whose priority lowers factual reporting per the mortgage-backed Ponzi scheme to the status of a quaint relic? And now, per Japan, I am to be swayed?

  12. Hal Horvath

    This is the perfect situation for all manner of speculation and imagination.

    I would not hesitate to be at the workers area near the reactors where the radiation levels are measured on the order of milliservert per hour. Because I paid attention and read up on how much exposure matters. Because I bothered to read up on it. Because physics isn’t a foreign land to me, and I don’t care to use imagination instead of information.

    Is it bad? Yes. Is it as bad as the excerpts suggest. Not as best as I can tell, from reading widely. There is plenty of unknown. Bad possibilities exist, but aren’t especially likely. There is certainly plenty of speculation. In comments I see a mix of facts and imagination.

    Would I eat the spinach and drink the milk? Well, back when the alarm was first raised, yes. Sure, if I was there, and that was the food I had, and it was contaminated like it was 5 days ago where the worst sample of spinach would require one eat (and quickly, before the decay of the radioactive particles progressed too much) about 820 pounds of the spinach to raise one’s lifetime cancer risk by 4 percentage points (say from 42% to 46%). Sure, I’d eat a pound of that, with negligible effect, were I hungry. I take worse risks in my car, driving carefully on crowded roads.

    It isn’t that nothing bad can happen. It’s that people aren’t equipped to calculate the risks well. Under that common condition it makes sense to be afraid, really worried.

    In the beginning days of this, the NYTimes was no better than Yahoo news or bloggers at guessing at the risks. Since then, they’ve improved somewhat, beginning to use actually meaningful comparisons, such as the “yearly allowed dose for nuclear workers”. They still aren’t up to the level of just an average health physicist.

    Why is it that easily available information from health physics seems so far out to so many people?

  13. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Apologize for a third comment on one post, but felt this item at Al Jazeera English worth leaving a link to here, as it seems that it might be a first salvo of changing politics – triggered by the magnitude of the Fukushima disaster, followed by the seemingly endless inability of organizations (Tepco, Japanese government) to solve it:

    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2011/03/201132722346939687.html
    —————————–
    Merkel’s party headed for German poll debacle
    Anti-nuclear Greens likely to form coalition with Social Democrats in Baden-Wuerttemberg, preliminary results show.

    … The Baden-Wuerttemberg state election has been overshadowed by anger at the Merkel”s nuclear policy, as well as decisions on Libya and the euro.

    The Christian Democrats had held power there for almost six decades…
    ———————————–

    The guardian.uk has a similar interpretation: nuclear politics have become toxic for the status quo: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/27/german-green-victory-fukushima

    After reporting that the German Greens outvoted the German Social Dems, the article ends with:
    “The Green vote was helped by the argument in Germany over its 17 nuclear power plants, heightened by the Fukushima disaster. In the aftermath, Merkel performed an 180-degree policy change by announcing the closure of seven stations built before 1980. She also said she was committed to speeding up total withdrawal from nuclear power.

    This was six months after she had ignored public opinion by extending the life of the 17 plants by an average 12 years; in this, one of her most vociferous supporters was Baden-Württemberg’s minister president, Stefan Mappus; he paid the price for his loyalty.”
    ———————————-

    Looks like political tsunamis are following the geologic ones.

    1. charles 2

      Merkel understands the inferences :
      Less Nuclear Power Plants in Germany or in the EU, operated under stringent rules =>
      More Gas purchased from Russia (Coal releases too much CO2) =>
      Less Gas available for internal consumption in Russia =>
      More Nuclear Power Plants in Russia, possibly very close to Germany (one starting to be built in Kaliningrad), operated under less stringent rules.

      Unfortunately for her, the German public fails to grasp it.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        Well, the sympathies of the German voters are a whole other post, but it is a very interesting ‘tea leaf’ to note the Green electoral success, post Fukushima.

        Some would argue that leadership involves explaining things.
        Wikipedia (which should be viewed with a grain of salt) confirms my recollection that Merkel studied physics extensively: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Merkel.
        If Merkel can’t explain the issue, it’s hard to contemplate another political leader who can.

        As for Fukushima, my first worry after hearing the news at 5 am PST, long before any mention of nuclear reactor problems, was to think about potential damage to reactors. In prior years, I’ve had some engaging conversations with friends from Kyushu, one of whom worked for an electric utility. They really struggled with nukes, given the national history. But they had concluded that given the energy needs, it was their best option — although even in those conversations, the dread of Japan’s history of earthquakes came up as a worry.

        In one of those conversations, I’d asked about the PM of Japan’s chances of remaining in power at a time when he seemed relatively safe to any outsider’s view. “Oh,” replied one of my friends, ” we think his basement is shaking.”

        This term “his basement is shaking” comes directly from the Japanese sensibility that before an earthquake hits, the first tremors are ‘in the basement’ and long before the damage is evident, the tremors have begun.

        I have no idea what will happen with nuclear energy, but it would appear that at present moment, it’s overall public support is now in the ‘basement is shaking’ mode.

  14. optimader

    this is the first tangential reflection of the unintended consequences of all the oxygenated seawater TEPCO pumped into these reactors.
    They aren’t addressing a profound consequence of what they did yet, publically at least, but now that they’ve contaminated those hot reactors w/ concentrated (boiled off) seawater, all the austenitic stainless steel piping, valves, pumps are a ticking time-bomb due to the inevitability of chloride stress corrosion cracking. This is a phenomenon that accelerates nonlinearly as a function of temperature.

    They are so, so screwed..

    …..Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) is the mode of failure for a significant percentage of 304L and 316L stainless
    chemical process equipment. For SCC to occur in stainless steels three general conditions must be met: there is a
    source of tensile stress, temperatures must be above 120°F, and aqueous chlorides must be present. The source
    of tensile stress is usually a combination of residual forming and welding stresses. Chlorides concentrate from trace
    amounts present in the cooling water and/or from the product itself. If chlorides cannot be eliminated, or prevented
    from concentrating, an alloy change may be considered….

    1. Hal Horvath

      ah, perhaps this is why the Navy was towing barges of freshwater over. Not just for show.

      Actually, it is another possible way the piping/equipment *outside* the reactors could develop leaks, such as around seals. This is speculative, but consistent with other information. To me it appears currently unclear whether there is a significant crack in the containment vessel, much less the pressure vessel (even with the above process, since the steel is ?6″ thick). A lot of guessing, but I’d guess the thinner stuff in the pipes could go first, if this process is very active.

      1. optimader

        Those reactors are all contaminated w/ salt wether or not theyve added fresh deionized water…the cow is out of the barn so to speak.. The time domain is not their friend on this one

  15. CaitlinO

    Sotegai = Hoocoodanode

    Great article about how TEPCO selectively ignored historical data and subsequently downplayed risks which would have indicated that it needed to build the plant and seawalls to higher standards:

    “it (TEPCO) figured the maximum at 8.6 magnitude, meaning the March 11 quake was four times as powerful as the presumed maximum.

    Shogo Fukuda, a TEPCO spokesman, said that 8.6 was the maximum magnitude entered into the TEPCO internal computer modeling for Fukushima Dai-ichi.

    Another TEPCO spokesman, Motoyasu Tamaki, used a new buzzword, “sotegai,” or “outside our imagination,” to describe what actually occurred.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42295720/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

  16. wtfisthissitedoing

    So the comment went through when I changed the fields.
    This site blocks reader comments WITHOUT WARNING.
    I hope “Transparency” is not one of the topics in this blog.

    My user name was “sensevisual”, if you wish to post my prior NON-PUBLISHED comments to your readers evaluation(mocking?).
    I won’t give email for obvious reasons

  17. wtfisthissitedoingIN2011

    This blog has no FAQ and no warnings that its comments session is “moderated”.
    So, I ended wasting my time writing a bunch of comments in this blog, and they got automatically blocked/ not published.

    I suppose older readers knew about this blog’s “rules”.

    How about a warning for the new readers?

    I don’t remember having insulted anyone’s mother.

    I DO drink alcohol, so maybe I wrote something that breaks your non-existent rules for commenting and I forgot?
    Maybe you’ll like to publish my prior NON-PUBLISHED comments so your readers can rip them apart?
    I posted (or tried to) them under the nick “sensevisual”.

    Other readers, please forgive my english, it is not my native language.
    The cheekiness, I’m sure you WILL forgive, seeing some of the other comments here.

    obs: I’m using FreezePage to register this.

  18. Skippy

    They *still*_do not have_full discovery.

    Every thing to date has been an ad-hoc, shot in the dark exercise.

    The greater area around this site is devastated, inhibiting or denying logistics.

    More effort has been exercised on monetary concerns, loss of immediate wealth over lives and future prospects.

    Not one, not two, not three, but four reactors in various stages of meltdown (pre and post).

    Their completely out side any modeling, the book is being written whilst the clock ticks.

    Skippy…Gezz fire trucks squirting water at piles of rubble or building that have lost the upper third or more of their structure, concrete pumps w/ booms made for delivering thick liquids used to pump water nearly 50m up lolololol!

    PS. Nuclear physicists ha[!], they need to find some guys that rebuilt bombed out factory’s in Germany and Japan during WWII. Level 7 is so close and they know it.

    Good Luck Guys, sorry your bosses are useless, nay part of the problem, like cluster f*&kglue.

    1. psychohistorian

      I do not understand why the military has not taken control of overall crisis management, theirs or ours.
      Added concerns I have are:

      I keep thinking about the fact that there is almost 10 times the fuel as Chernobyl at Fukushima and I read somewhere that the heat of the fuel means it can’t be buried in concrete like Chernobyl.

      If much of that caesium 137 gets into the atmosphere, I assume it eventually comes down somewhere and, with a half life of 30 some years, its seems it could be a health problem for years to come. If there are somewhere north of 1700 tonnes of fuel at Fukusima, how much caesium 137 could potentially be released?

      1. skippy

        What political vertical climbing animal of social assent would want_any of this stink on them_if not already tainted.

        They have been extremely fortunate to date, as they, have / have had, little control over a very complex production facility, which just happens to be using some of the most deadly stuff know to mankind, all after being hit by the one of the most powerful quakes / tsunami in a century (no manual).

        The complexity of these systems is now their worst enemy, not a lot of spare parts, not hand lift stuff, all in a comprised work environment, HVAC/DC / Radioactive site drenched in water and questionable building integrity.

        Skippy…you can’t wish the bad away, its my fear that to get a handle on this people will have to die, expose themselves, to get the discovery done and apply what fixes are available to stabilize this site. Then when you can breath a bit work out a viable long term solution.

        PS. robots don’t work well in collapsed building rubble.

  19. Jojo

    Businessweek
    March 24, 2011
    The Future of Fukushima Prefecture

    In the best case, hundreds of thousands of evacuees will spend months away from home

    The fate of Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, where hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated, appears to lie somewhere between the outcomes at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. There were no evacuations during the Three Mile Island accident, which released about 50,000 curies of radioactive gas. Today you can picnic outside the gates of the plant without fear of lingering radiation.

    Chernobyl, by comparison, was a nuclear volcano, churning millions of curies of radiation into the sky. Twenty-five years later, only official workers are allowed within 30 kilometers of the entombed reactor at Chernobyl, and radiation levels inside the zone exceed normal background radiation by factors of 100.

    Authorities have revealed few details about the particular radionuclides they’ve found in the food and water, and the situation changes daily. On Wednesday, Tokyo officials announced contamination of tap water by iodine-131 and advised parents not to give tap water to infants. Radioactive iodine is linked to thyroid cancer. It’s not the only radioactive component in the fallout. Cesium-137 is also present. According to Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar for nuclear policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, there’s enough cesium-137 in the spent fuel pool of unit 4 at Fukushima Dai-Ichi to equal all the cesium-137 released from Chernobyl’s shattered reactor core. Cesium-137 has a long half-life–30 years as opposed to eight days for iodine-131–and it persists in the environment at dangerous levels for many decades. Because it mimics potassium, it accumulates in muscle tissue as well as in plants, and has the ability to chemically bind to concrete, making it difficult to remove. If the spent nuclear fuel in unit 4′s cooling pool caught fire, some Japanese communities could, depending on weather conditions, become so saturated with cesium-137 that they would have to be abandoned for generations.

    In a stabilized situation, the radiation levels that triggered bans of spinach and milk and other foods will likely diminish mostly because of radioactive decay, and as radioactive particles are washed by rain from plants and into the soil. Once contaminants such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 get into the soil, though, plants absorb them, and they enter the food chain. Chernobyl, an extreme case that Fukushima may not mimic, pumped so much fallout across the northern hemisphere that many European countries still have limits on the consumption of sheep, reindeer, and hogs.

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_14/b4222015089726.htm

  20. Chris Rogers

    Having just spoken to associates in the US Embassy in Tokyo, unlike the reporter for the Washington Post, its fair to say that reports indicating a Chernobyl style disaster are way off the mark.

    Remember folks, these are actual people on the ground 150 miles away from Fukushima – if there was a real danger, the US Embassy staff would be evacuated – I’m referring to essential staff here, and todate this has not happened.

    Whilst the German’s have moved all their Embassy staff to Osaka, the UK, US and numerous other Delegations remain open as usual.

    With friends actually on the ground, let me just say, what we have here is a ‘panic’ driven by media nonsense and those with little or no clue what they are talking about.

    Please read some actual scientific websites that actually know what they are discussing.

    AGAIN, THIS IS NOT CHERNOBYL – having actually lived through that one and had the pleasure of its radioactive fallout descending on one’s home territory, Fukushima is no where near as bad.

    As for alarm bells ring-off all over the show, commentators should remember that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 countries are alert to the fact that some manic may try to import a ‘dirty bomb’ via a port or airport.

    I wonder what would have happened had all this sensitive equipment existed at the time of Chernobyl in 1986 – judging by the US, half your population would have committed suicide or been killed in a mass hysteria.

    DO GET A GRIP!

    1. Maju

      Two people at a distance from Fukushima which is greater than that of Tokyo were detected having dangerous radiation levels by China at Beijing airport (they had not been any closer to Fukushima than the US ambassador). The exact amounts of radiation are not known, much less the exact cause. Probably they just drank tap water or were impregnated by mildly radioactive rain.

      Whatever the case, it highlights that half Honshu is at clear danger right now. Maybe not enough to evacuate essential personnel but non-essential personnel and relatives yes. In fact the US military base in Tokyo Bay proceeded to evacuate relatives to Korea long ago (I do not know if they have proceeded to evacuate further but I know that there were plans to do so if need be).

    2. skippy

      Chris with all do respect, past ignorance is a poor example in mitigating risk and no one here is foaming at the mouth (for that action see ZH blog et al).

      Also I would add the proximity of others to potential harmful effects is nether a metric one would use, to quantify the reality at this site, only the facts, the condition of all systems and structures relevant to safe operations, is the metric by which to judge potential out comes.

      What would be a USAF SAC response to a downed bomber with 4 nukes on-board…eh… see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1966_Palomares_B-52_crash

      Soil with contamination levels above 1.2 MBq/m2 was placed in 250 L drums and shipped to the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, USA for burial. A total of 2.2 ha was decontaminated by this technique, producing 6,000 barrels. 17 ha of land with lower levels of contamination was mixed to a depth of 30 cm by harrowing and plowing. On rocky slopes with contamination above 120 kBq/m2, the soil was removed with hand tools and shipped to the U.S. in barrels.[19]
      Barrels of contamined soil being prepared for removal to the United States for processing

      In 2004, a study revealed that there was still some significant contamination present in certain areas, and the Spanish government subsequently expropriated some plots of land which would otherwise have been slated for agriculture use or housing construction.[25] In early October 2006, the Spanish and United States governments agreed to decontaminate the remaining areas and share the workload and costs, which are hitherto unknown as it first needs to be determined to what extent leaching of the plutonium has occurred in the 40 years since the incident.

      On October 11, 2006, Reuters reported that higher than normal levels of radiation were detected in snails and other wildlife in the region, indicating there may still be dangerous amounts of radioactive material underground.[22] The discovery occurred during an investigation being carried out by Spain’s energy research agency CIEMAT and the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. and Spain have agreed to share the cost of the initial investigation, set to begin in November, but according to a U.S. embassy spokesman in Spain responsibility for clean up costs is yet to be agreed upon.

      In April 2008, CIEMAT announced they had found two trenches, totalling 2,000 cubic meters volume, where the U.S. Army stored contaminated earth during the 1966 operations. The American government agreed in 2004 to pay for the decontamination of the grounds, and the cost of the removal and transportation of the contaminated earth has been estimated at $2 million. The trenches were found near the cemetery, where one of the nuclear devices was retrieved in 1966, and they were probably dug at the last moment by American troops before leaving Palomares. CIEMAT expects to find remains of plutonium and americium once an exhaustive analysis of the earth is carried out.[26] [27] In a conversation in December 2009, the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos told the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he feared Spanish public opinion might turn against the US once the results of the study on nuclear contamination were to be revealed.[28]

      In August, 2010, a Spanish government source revealed that the U.S. has stopped the annual payments it has made to Spain, as the bilateral agreement in force since the accident “expired” the previous year.[29]

      Skippy…will this one be so easy to fix…I hope so.

    3. Maju

      Also it is not “like Chernobyl”: it is different in some details and it is also potentially much worse than Chernobyl. But there is already a lot of uncontrolled “partial meltdowns” officially acknowledged (and therefore the reality is likely to be twice as bad or worse).

      At this moment, reactor 2 is as bad as Chernobyl except that it has not exploded (yet). Reactor 3 is allegedly not as bad but has a huge vertical crack in the safety container and the whole building is destroyed by a explosion that was pretty big. Add to that stored “spent” fuel (which is extremely radioactive, much more than “unspent” one, the fact that radiation and problems in each reactor affect the others, etc.)

      Also population density is much higher, economic relevance is much higher, and complications from being by the sea and seismic movements are high too.

  21. Chris Rogers

    Skippy/Muju,
    I’ve pleaded on these boards a couple of times for a more reasoned/balanced approach to the reporting on events at Fukushima currently.

    Why, well because I believe in objective reporting and not scare mongering.

    One also calls for a comparative analysis of current events – this objective can be achieved by comparing and contrasting with Windscale incident in 1957, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and numerous above ground atomic tests in the late 40′s and 50′s – take your pick.

    Another comparative approach would be with the number of current attributable deaths to the Fukushima incident as of 11 March – 28 March and all those killed in road accidents in the USA in the same timeframe – which is higher and are politicians, green movements and other unlikely allies calling for the abandonment of road travel – thought not!!!

    As for risk mitigation, something I have an expressed interest in. I’m 100% certain corners have been cut by the plant operator, as they are often in other countries, something to do with making a profit I believe. Me, as with finance, I’d have a regulator with balls and prosecute, prosecute, prosecute for any safety breaches.

    Hindsight is nice though, many have already pointed out the crass stupidity of building a plant meters from the coast in an active earthquake zone with a tsunami protection wall less than what it could have been/ should have been.

    I will postulate that even had the plant had a 10 meter high seawall defence against a big tsunami, this probably would have been breeched – as it was certainly breeched in another well defended town with a 10 meter high tsunami wall – why was this?

    Quite simple really, the coast line of the region hit by the earthquake dropped by more than a meter – hence, a 10 meter wall became 9 meters, the result, many deaths – actual deaths caused by a tsunami and not a nuclear incident, the gravest since Chernobyl, but no actual Chernobyl to-date.

    Others on these boards have also stated many similar views, ie, the pollution caused by fires after the earthquake released tonnes of toxic waste, the pollution dumped onshore by the tsunami is highly contaminated with heavy metals and god knows what else – not much fear mongering on this though.

    So I will plead again, lets have a reasoned objective approach to the crisis and compare and contrasts all known deaths caused by the Fukushima incident with those deaths attributable to motor vehicle accidents in the same time scale – we should also extrapolate potential deaths in future from this incident.

    I’ll hazard a guess that within a 30 year timeframe more people will die due to motor accidents than the Fukushima incident.

    Just for the record, I’m neither pro-nuclear or anti nuclear – I still use power though generated by multiple sources from the grid, none of these sources in Hong Kong are nuclear though – in China its a different story.

    Here’s one, can we now all go ballistic over the dangers of the Three Gorges dam and the millions of lives changed by its construction – quite a number of deaths as well.

    Yes nuclear is dangerous, as is driving a car – what do people actually suppose we do under the current financial constraints we find ourselves in – move back to caves?

    On a brighter note, the lessons gleaned from this incident will be used by engineers and scientists in future to build safer nuclear installations, to claim these are/ will be 100% safe is absurd, but they will be safer.

    Apart from that, I wish those workers struggling with the disaster all the best wishes in the world and hope none will die as a result of battling this crisis. The Japanese and these workers have exhibited great stoicism – I only wish others would do the same.

    1. skippy

      Chris,

      This event is with out president, much has happened in the past and sweep under the carpet, ignorance aided non studies of these events (no/false baseline for true future risk assessment). BTW how many years have we been at this (historical background in an ever changing geological playpen, human lifespan / attention spans) nifty bit of kit.

      Look the only thing relevant is what is happening / not happening *on site*, the rest is static. If it gets worse there will be repercussions, if not, but, not buy human design, will it enable further stupidity (historical repetition).

      Personally I view it as a wake up call, because, as a person that has built quite a few complex production facility’s, those photos and videos have bad written all over them.

      How we personally disseminate the broader implications of this event have no bearing on its reality, there will be an out come, hope will not change it and lets not muddy the waters with totally non relevant issue ie: more will die this way or that, etc.

      The other means of personal destruction don’t pollute the entire environment for ??? of Km around, for how long ??? or spread around the globe on the winds.

      Skippy…want to do some risk assessment, try de-mining, its perspective building, I know.

    2. Maju

      Your pretense of “objectivity” is nothing but a last ditch defense of the alleged “safety” of nuclear energy.

      For that you claim that cars kill more people… laughable. Laughable not because it may not be true but because the socio-economic impact of car accidents is rather trivial. The effects of Fukushima is more like if every other car had an accident and highways got clogged and impossible to be used anymore.

      I am sure that you are not taking advantage of the surely falling real state prices near Fukushima in spite of you allegedly believing that radiation is harmless and blah-blah. Why? Because you don’t truly believe that junk: you just have faith (paid or genuine) on nuclear industry and that’s about it… but you won’t volunteer for the liquidator task force nor will go there with provisions for the people stranded.

      You will not live to the consequences of what you happily claim from an ocean of distance. Nor you would if the reactor having problems would be the one near where you live. In such case, you’d probably send your relatives to a safe distant place if you can afford. You’d move with them if you can as well.

      So do not be a hypocrite and either volunteer for help in the affected areas (there’s no risk, right?) or admit that you are a lying coward.

      As for your suggestions about effective prosecutors and blah blah, simply to say that the way to Hell is paved of good intentions. As of now bureaucracies (the state) are totally submissive (in Japan as in the USA or even Europe) to what the Big Capital commands by means of corruption and blackmail (carrot and stick): check and balances do not work: whoever tries to hang the bell from the cat’s neck is quickly thrown to the dogs one way or another, only the submissive to the Oligarchy survive.

      So I am more for directly demanding responsibility from private companies as if they were barons and emirs. Instead of making demands from some obviously powerless PM, president or judge, directly make them to the CEO of TEPCO, Siemens and the others: let the public hold them responsible directly and be lynched if they fail.

      1. Maju

        PS – have there been 200,000 or half a million casualties from car accidents in the Chernobyl area since 25 years ago? I highly doubt it.

        1. Chris Rogers

          Maju,
          May I refer you to the following UN report on the health consequences of Chernobyl:
          http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2008/Advance_copy_Annex_D_Chernobyl_Report.pdf

          Further, and in reference to your remarks how safe I am – please note I shall be in Tokyo in two weeks time – should I be able to venture to the stricken plant, I certainly would, as have many other Journalists who have actually written accurate reports, or about as accurate as you can get, about the current situation.

          One is against hyperbole, not against verified facts.

          I trust the attached UN report is both unbiased, accurate and a true testament to the health consequences of Chernobyl – I also note, no radiation contamination comparable with Chernobyl incident has been reported to-date in Fukushima, its surrounding environs or Japan in general – had this been the case, alarms bells would have been raised globally, just as they were with Chernobyl in 1986.

          Having myself, as with countless others in Mid-Wales, UK been exposed to fallout contaminants from Chernobyl, to-date I have not grown two heads. However, I am currently undergoing tests for colon cancer – do I blame this on Windscale, Chernobyl or a western meat rich diet?

          1. Maju

            As far as I know there was a 40% increase in deadly cancers in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident. I blame all those extra deaths to Chernobyl, as I blame the many childre born in such poor conditions (children are the ones who suffer the most) as you can easily find in many different sources just by googling “Chernobyl children” (I do not have the stomach for most of that, sorry for being so weak and not accepting that even one of those lives is a reasonable price to pay for the nuclear dystopia).

            Also Wales got rather low radiation (it’s as far away from Chernobyl as Hawaii is from Fukushima more or less), what matters most is Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. The same that what matters most in the Fukushima case is Japan, regardless that some radiation may have already arrived and concentrated itself briefly over Northern California as well. While I am aware that Chernobyl’s radiation is still a non-trivial problem in Germany and Scotland for example, the truly big problem is much further east: in Belarus very specially, as well as In Ukraine and parts of Russia. And it is a problem that lingers still today and will for at least some centuries (because radioactivity in form of radioactive materials, once released to the environment, is “forever”: a long enough term to condemn the whole region affected and cause a meaningful threat to much of the rest of the planet).

  22. kievite

    While in this discussion we all are out of depth, and facts on the ground are difficult to interpret even for specialists it is important to avoid radiophobia and do not propagate it consciously or unconsciously. .

    From pure scientific perspective in no way Japan in 2011 situation is close to Chernobyl (no burning graphite on site) and I think that progress is sufficient to state that full meltdown was avoided.

    Now the main danger I think is spreading panic not so much temporary spike in actual radiation.

    Information available is distorted due to extremely low level of understanding of the nature of ionising radiation (which is not uniform and consists of three different types).

    The problem of radioactive contamination of food chain (also with several pretty different sources with different half-life periods) is a completely separate problem which is not that different from presence of dioxin, lead, and other heavy metals in food and water. I think many people who post here do not understand the danger of typical levels of radon in basements of NJ and NY and happy go there to do laundry and other household chores on a regular basis.

    After all US high schools eliminated physics as a separate subject :-)

    Please remember that physicists like Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford and many others worked with radioactive materials without any precautions and none of them died quickly. Also people forget about lake Karachay problem ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Karachay ).

    Also the whole planet is contaminated with Caesium-137 (hal-life 30 years) due to atmospheric nuclear testing in 1946-1963, while some parts of the USA territory are additionally contaminated with very toxic DU powder (perfect dirty bomb component) from DU weapons testing (http://vzajic.tripod.com/5thchapter.html). There was pretty telling incident in which Caesium-137 was distributed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident). I think reading this description of human propagated Caesium-137 dirty bomb is enough to stop fear mongering about Japan case.

    BTW after 1954 the Castle Bravo radioactive fallout (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Bravo) one member of the Japaneses fishing boat crew which was in the area died from radiation sickness after returning to the port. So high levels of contamination of both atmosphere and the ocean are not new. BTW there are life forms that learned to use radiation as energy source and live inside Chernobyl sarcophagus.

    But panic is deadly and can cause immediate harm to both physical and mental health.

    I think that in this particular forum poster under nickname “Maju” can serve as a field manual to this type of phobia. (see for example the statement “As far as I know there was a 40% increase in deadly cancers in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident.”. Is not this blatant fear mongering ? What is the source of this figure??? ).

    This looks like a pretty widespread, dangerous phobia propagated with the help of MSM and I would advocate extreme restraint in related statements especially from non-specialists.

    See

    http://www.saharov.com/eshact/Research/Radiophobia/tabid/123/Default.aspx

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiophobia

    http://www.phobia-fear-release.com/radiophobia.html

    1. Maju

      “panic is deadly”…

      This is a cliché and nothing else. Nobody is panicking, panic, and fear in general, is not necessarily deadly (nature put it there for a reason: to save lives in fact) and, as anybody who has dealt with his/her emotions a little bit there’s no worst fear than fear to fear itself –or panic to panic, as you and others in the pro-nuclear camp often make a key part of your discourses, which are fear-mongering of the kind of “fear losing respect for the authorities”, “fear vague ideas of social chaos”, “fear fear to nuclear radiation”.

      Fear to nuclear radiation is wholly justified.

      More specific points to address:

      1. When we talk of radiation we almost invariably talk of gamma radiation (alpha and beta are rather trivial). It is much more important to discern between raw radiation such as that from an X-ray procedure and radioactive isotopes’ pollution which is likely to be deadly in the short or mid term, depending of the doses and characteristics of the victim (children are those suffering the most).

      2. Comparing to dioxins, asbestos, corexit or heavy metals poisoning does not make radioactive pollution any better. But it’s still probably much worse than any of those extremely poisonous substances not the less because of the ease to be transported by the environment and the very small amounts needed to cause severe harm.

      3. Nuclear tests are bad (and that’s why they were forbidden, first those in open air, then those underground). Even if these tests have generally been performed in remote areas, they have caused deaths. They are not essentially different in terms of released radiation from Fukushima, just that Fukushima happens more in the long run and is in the middle of a rather highly populated area. But if all the radiation would leak, it’d be no different from one of those tests or Nagasaki. Actually probably much worse because the amount of fuel involved is much larger than any single bomb, we are talking of tons of uranium, plutonium and spent fuel (which is the most radioactive of all).

      Also bringing to account the issue of depleted uranium, a well known source of congenital abnormalities and much suffering from Iraq to Bosnia passing by Gaza Strip (and there are already concerns in Libya), is not going to help. Depleted uranium should be banned, mind you.

      1. kievite

        Panic is really deadly. And fear mongering about Japan nuclear disaster is really dangerous and dishonest: some people already hurt themselves by taking excessive amount iodine pills (they were swiped from the shelves). And this is just a start. A lot of crazy things is going on with this mass radiophobia hysteria that swiped the USA (and not only the USA).

        Also we need to understand that coal-burning power plants are more significant source of nuclear poisoning of the USA (see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste) then nuclear plants.

        Here are key points that I think people need to think about:

        Is this a tragedy. Yes. But lessons learned from it as lessons learned from Chernobyl disaster will increase safety of existing power plants dramatically.

        How dangerous is it?. Below level of Chernobyl and ainclunce is by-and-large local. So it is potantially dangerious to Japanese people in the evacuation zone and, especially, workers at the plant. But is this like Chernobyl? No way (amount of radioactive materials released is many times less; absence of burning graphite is the major difference here).

        Reaction to radiation like reaction of other types of poisoning is highly individual. Some people who were present in control room in Chernobyl are still alive:

        Yuri Korneev, Boris Stolyarchuk and Alexander Yuvchenko are the last surviving members of the Reactor No. 4 shift that was on duty at the moment of the catastrophe. Anatoly Dyatlov, who was in charge of the safety experiment at Reactor No. 4, died in 1995 of a heart attack.

        High end estimate of the death rate among people who tried to contain Chernobyl disaster (liquidators) and got high or extremely high doses is 10%. That not that different from natural death rate.

        According to Vyacheslav Grishin of the Chernobyl Union, the main organization of liquidators, “25,000 of the Russian liquidators are dead and 70,000 disabled, about the same in Ukraine, and 10,000 dead in Belarus and 25,000 disabled”, which makes a total of 60,000 dead (10% of the 600 000, liquidators) and 165,000 disabled.[2]

        In 2003 there were 6,328,000 car accidents in the US. There were 2.9 million injuries and 42,643 people were killed in auto accidents.

        In 2002, there were an estimated 6,316,000 car accidents in the USA. There were about 2.9 million injuries and 42,815 people were killed in auto accidents in 2002.

        There were an estimated 6,356,000 car accidents in the US in 2000. There were about 3.2 million injuries and 41,821 people were killed in auto accidents in 2000 based on data collected by the Federal Highway Administration

        As far as I know there were no radiation realted death cases for this disaster. So irresponsible fear mongering that heats this mass radiophobia histeria should be avoided.

        1. Maju

          Nobody is panicking but panic is not deadly, depending on the circumstances. Panic initiates irrational instictive reactions of mostly two kinds:

          1. Remain quiet (hide, avoid a predator)

          2. Run like hell (avoid a predator or some other kind of danger like a wildfire… or radioactivity)

          Panic is therefore a way to call uncontrolled or extreme fear. Just that.

          While I am aware that in some circumstances (football matches and concerts with insufficient emergency exits) panic can cause deaths, this are exceptional circumstances of enclosure that you seldom find in nature or even in radioactive Japan.

          And I do not see anyone panicking but you, the pro-nuclear camp and the Japanese authorities, who seem pretty much paralyzed by panic themselves.

          “… lessons learned from it as lessons learned from Chernobyl disaster will increase safety of existing power plants dramatically”.

          Only if we decide to close all nuclear power plants as result. If nuclear power remains, accidents will happen again and again (not to mention the always open possibility of sabotages and armed attacks by terrorists or foreign agents).

          Furthermore, most extant nuclear plans are very old already. They are old and costly, increasing the odds of accident.

          Also we are exiting a long period of stability and prosperity and entering one of increased uncertainty and disorder. In such conditions we should see that the circumstances that cause loss of control over nuclear plants happen more and more often, increasing the risks many times.

          Call me doomsayer if you wish, I’m just stating the facts.

          “Reaction to radiation like reaction of other types of poisoning is highly individual”.

          By this are you maybe proposing some sort of weird eugenic experiment by which we poison Earth with high doses of radiation and hope that some have the individual genetic configuration to survive?

          If so, what’s would be the point: we have not evolved for high radiation environments and we do not need to adapt to them. We need to adapt our energy production to what is common-sensical: renewables. Renewables nowadays can compete in purely monetary terms with oil and nuclear, we just need political and social determination.

          I’d dare say that those countries or continental blocs which take now the lead and replace as much as possible nuclear and fossil by solar, wind, etc. will be the leaders of the later decades of this century. Those regions which stay stuck in oil and nuclear will fail miserably. We can see that right now in the Gulf of Mexico and in Northern Japan.

          I do not get your point about car accidents: are you trying to promote public transport and bicycles or what?

          “see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

          Page not found. Neither I nor anybody will believe that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste: plutonium is nuclear waste! Please!

          According to you maybe two dozen people died or suffered by Chernobyl. According to what I have read the figure is at least 200,000. Obviously we are not going to agree, so I’d suggest again that you volunteer for the teams of liquidators which will be needed unavoidably to fix the accident of Fukushima. I think it’s only ethical that outspoken advocates of nuclear energy like you who claim that radioactivity is trivial, assume those risks… with all the consequences.

  23. wb

    Hmmm. Radiophobia = ‘an abnormal fear of ionizing radiation’

    “The term has been criticized by Adolph Kharash, Science Director at the Moscow State University because, he writes, “It treats the normal impulse to self-protection, natural to everything living, your moral suffering, your anguish and your concern about the fate of your children, relatives and friends, and your own physical suffering and sickness as a result of delirium, of pathological perversion.”

    My personal take, anyone who is NOT alarmed by the developments at Fukushima must be, well, abnormal… no ?

    Not like Chernobyl ? Impossible for it to be anything like Chernobyl ?

    Well, we shall see. Every day the pro-nuclear shills have been downplaying the risks, and every morning I wake to find the disaster is worse… and worse…

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article27778.htm

  24. zapster

    Gotta wonder–where are the robots? Japan is sposed to be wayyy ahead of us on robots. Sony? C’mon, send those babies in there..

  25. Maju

    “Doomsayer Lord of Radiophobia” here again: some of worst fears becoming real as we debate:

    1. (REF) A ship arriving to Xiamen (Fujian, China) from Tokyo has been rejected for excessively dangerous radiation levels (3.5 microsieverts per hour). The ship had only been a few hours in Tokyo (in March 17, not the day of highest exposure) in a journey from California (but may have been affected by the radioactive plume over the ocean). The radiation levels are not outstandingly high (you can get that when flying at high altitude occasionally) but more than 20 times the safe exposure for any other civilians than nuclear workers from man-made sources.

    2. (REF) Several embassies in Tokyo ordered to take iodide (others, as we already know, have evacuated to Osaka). This reflects the concern that staying in Tokyo implies serious level of radioactive contamination, which may still be tolerable for adults given due precautions and certain assumptions about mortality risks but nothing any parent would want their children to go through in any case (as children suffer much more from such environmental exposures).

    This adds to plutonium being scattered around the plant (REF). IMO from the explosion at reactor no. 3 on March 14 (this has not been acknowledged yet), a crane falling down yesterday on top of a pool of “spent” fuel (much more radioactive than unused fuel – can’t find the link right now) or the official acknowledgement today of Japan being on maximum alert (really? which was the level all this time then?)

    I said three days ago that all the Northern half of Honshu is affected. The level of affection goes from “mild” to extreme but from roughly the latitude of Tokyo metropolis northwards there is a risk you would not like your children to suffer, much less in a sustained manner.

    1. HB

      “3.5 microsieverts/hour”

      OK. So, tell us how long it would take that rate of radiation to become a 1% increase in cancer risk.

      Please.

      1. HB

        Is my math right? I’m getting about 26 years of time for 3.5uSv/hour to add up to 800 mSv.

        But isn’t 26 years long enough for many of the radioactive particles to decay and stop emitting, decreasing the rate?

        So it would be a lot more than 26 years, right?

        Like, 100? 300?

        1. Maju

          Depending on the particle. For example cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years (very fast compared with uranium or plutonium, which are “forever”) but, as a rule of thumb, that means that in order for a polluted area to become acceptable is of some 10x the half-life, say 250-300 years.

          Half of the original radiation vanishes in 30 years, but then only 1/4 in the next 30 years, etc. This assuming that no further pollution happens. There were in fact some issues in the Chernobyl exclusion area because not all the expectations in this regard were being fulfilled and it was not clear why. There was at least one isotope that “refused” to follow the statistical rules but I’m unsure about the details.

        1. wb

          Personally, I must say that I have more confidence in Maju, and his assessments, than I have in either TEPCO or the MSM.

          As I understand it, it is generally agreed that, for safety, the maximum is 50 mSv (5 rem) in any 1 year,

          1. Maju

            Thanks for the trust but please double-check and correct me if I’m wrong. I am not any expert and have not dedicated any extensive amount of time to research this matter. I’m just saying: this is what I just read, this is what I make sense out of the info I (you too) have access to.

          2. wb

            I’m not an expert, Maju, and rely upon what I glean from various sources. But my intuition guides me, and I tend to give more weight to folks who show some genuine sincere concern for the well-being of humans and other species, and the future of the planet, over those who demonstrate techno-utopian fetishism or are obviously attached in some way to the highly profitable and ruthless nuclear industry with its shocking track record of reckless irresponsibility, deceit and cover-ups.

            To quote Chris Busby :

            “The health effects of the Chernobyl accident are massive and demonstrable. They have been studied by many research groups in Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, in the USA, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The scientific peer reviewed literature is enormous. Hundreds of papers report the effects, increases in cancer and a range of other diseases. My colleague Alexey Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, published a review of these studies in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2009). Earlier in 2006 he and I collected together reviews of the Russian literature by a group of eminent radiation scientists and published these in the book Chernobyl, 20 Years After. The result: more than a million people have died between 1986 and 2004 as a direct result of Chernobyl.”

            A million people have died as a direct result of Chernobyl…. over an 18 year period. According to C. Busby.

            http://www.counterpunch.org/busby03282011.html

            Of course, millions more have also died of starvation, disease, violence, car crashes, and myriad other tragedies. Does it matter ? I suppose that depends upon whether a person has a conscience and attempts to lead an ethical existence… as a species, we appear to be hell-bent on trashing the whole planet as fast as we possibly can… What a peculiar, perverse state of affairs !

    2. HB

      Wait a minute, here.

      “100 mSv/yr — Lowest level at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident.”

      But….3.5 microsieverts/hour would add up to only 31mSv/yr.

      Maju, why did you call this “excessively dangerous radiation levels (3.5 microsieverts per hour)”

      ??

      1. Maju

        It’s not me, it’s P.R. China which is rejecting the ship for those reasons.

        I checked at Wikipedia and that’s a radiation you can on occasion get while flying at high altitude and there are some points on earth where it is naturally occurring. But it is way above what the USA considers legally safe for civilians other than nuclear facilities’ workers (0.11 microSv).

        If Tokyo people (and all the residents in the Northern half of Honshu) are being exposed to such levels, there is danger. It is if you wish a “mild danger” but there is no end in sight to this kind of exposure so it is not a place you’d like your children to grow in (or even visit yourself without need).

        Also it raises serious issues about the reliability and trustworthiness of Japanese monitoring because I am not aware of these dangerous levels being reported by the authorities.

        1. HB

          Ok, thankyou. But….! Does that mean airline pilots (who routinely get that exposure, over and over and over….are all secretly (unknown in the news) dying of cancer at age 55 or something??

          No? Well, why not? Could it be in the same article you read, or another, where it says that it matters whether a dose is all-at-once, or gradual? Apparently so.

          This stuff isn’t so black and white it seems.

          1. ScottS

            Do you understand that radiation that mostly passes through you is not the same as radioactive particles that get absorbed into your body and stay there until it’s passed out?

            So yes, in the upper atmosphere you get a dose of radiation. If your body absorbs radioactive particles, it stays in your body emitting radiation for days, months, or years depending on the particle.

          2. HB

            Scott, sure, makes sense. So that implies the Japanese reactor workers, who we’ve seen covered up in those suits and wearing the face masks pretty much almost every photo, must mostly (most of them in most situations) know what they are doing — avoiding the really dangerous breathing or ingestion.

            Right?

            Somehow I’m getting the sense that the people who really understand this aren’t being heard.

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