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Fukushima Update

The London Daily Mail is reporting today:

The boss of the company behind the devastated Japanese nuclear reactor today broke down in tears - as his country finally acknowledged the radiation spewing from the over-heating reactors and fuel rods was enough to kill some citizens

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted that the disaster was a level 5, which is classified as a crisis causing 'several radiation deaths' by the UN International Atomic Energy.

Officials said the rating was raised after they realised the full extent of the radiation leaking from the plant. They also said that 3 per cent of the fuel in three of the reactors at the Fukushima plant had been severely damaged, suggesting those reactor cores have partially melted down.

After Tokyo Electric Power Company Managing Director Akio Komiri cried as he left a conference to brief journalists on the situation at Fukushima, a senior Japanese minister also admitted that the country was overwhelmed by the scale of the tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said: 'The unprecedented scale of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, frankly speaking, were among many things that happened that had not been anticipated under our disaster management contingency plans.

'In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster.'

Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the crisis' severity.

It is now officially on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. Only the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 has topped the scale.

WizBang readers who have been following my posts on the Fukushima accident will not be surprised by the fact that I am still not in a state of panic.  Here's why -- from The Captain's Journal, an entry by Herschel Smith:

Status of the Fukushima Reactor Accidents

  • At 9:20AM (JST) on March 17, radiation level at elevation of 1000ft above Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: 4,130 micro sievert.
  • At 9:20AM on March 17, radiation level at elevation of 300ft above Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: 87,700 micro sievert. At 11:10AM on March 17, radiation level at main gate (approximately 3281 feet from Unit 2 reactor building) of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power station: 646.2 micro sievert.
  • At 7:50PM on March 17, radiation level outside main office building (approximately 1,640 feet from Unit 2 reactor building) of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: 3,599 micro sievert.
  • For comparison, a human receives 2,400 micro sievert per year from Natural radiation in the form of sunlight, radon, and other sources. One Chest CT scan generates 6900 micro sievert per scan.

(One millirem = 10 microsievert, if you are used to the older system of radiation units.)

Let's put this whole thing in perspective.  The Health Physics Society states that radiation-induced health issues cannot be demonstrated in people who have received doses of radiation under 10,000 millirem (100,000 microsievert).  Right now, the radiation level above the station is just under 88,000 microsievert, which is probably within the margin of error for a dangerous dosage.  Considering the perfectionism and the obsession with safety that permeates Japanese engineering, it is no wonder that tears are being shed.  Yet following the Trinity test in 1945, radiation levels from blast fallout exceeding 15,000 millirem (150,000 microsievert) were measured in populated areas (ranches, etc.) surrounding the testing area -- twice the amount of radiation being detected above the Fukushima plant.

Now let's consider Three Mile Island.  Three days after the partial meltdown in the No. 2 reactor on March 28, 1979, which caused the release of small quantities of radioactive cesium, iodine, and noble gas isotopes, the EPA established an intensive environmental monitoring program in the surrounding area.  From Wikipedia:

An inter-agency analysis concluded that the accident did not raise radioactivity far enough above background levels to cause even one additional cancer death among the people in the area. The EPA found no contamination in water, soil, sediment or plant samples.

Researchers at nearby Dickinson College, which had radiation monitoring equipment sensitive enough to detect Chinese atmospheric atomic weapons testing, collected soil samples from the area for the ensuing two weeks and detected no elevated levels of radioactivity, except after rainfalls (likely due to natural radon plate out, not the accident).  Also, white-tailed deer tongues harvested over 50 mi (80 km) from the reactor subsequent to the accident were found to have significantly higher levels of Cs-137 than in deer in the counties immediately surrounding the power plant. Even then, the elevated levels were still below those seen in deer in other parts of the country during the height of atmospheric weapons testing.  Had there been elevated releases of radioactivity, increased levels of Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 would have been expected to be detected in cattle and goat's milk samples. Yet elevated levels were not found.
If "Three Mile Island" is as bad as the Fukushima accident gets, then it will be the least of Japan's worries, as it struggles to rebuild itself from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The Nuclear Regulatory Comission currently defines the "safe" radiation exposure level for the general public to be 2 millirem per hour, or about 7 times the average environmental exposure we each receive over the course of a year, which is around 3.2 microsievert. In Japan, the evacuation of populations near the Fukushima plant (or for that matter, the maneuvering of our Naval fleet away from detected radiation) are simply measures designed to keep exposure levels below the suggested 2 millirem per hour level.  They are common sense safety precautions, not signs of impending doom. 

If you are interested seeing the radiation dosages that you regularly receive from the environment and from standard medical procedures such as x-rays and CT scans, another comprehensive chart of routine radiation exposures is available here.  Interestingly, cigarettes, concrete, and porcelain crowns each provide a higher annual radiation exposure than one would receive living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. 

Engineers at the Fukushima plant are currently dealing with three serious problems.  The first is the complete destruction of the electrical infrastructure of the plant by the earthquake and tsunami.  The availability of auxillary power is still a secondary concern at this point, since workers have not finished repairing the wiring, transformers, etc. to which any external power source can be connected.  The second problem involves the reservoirs that hold spend fuel rods.  Without the cooling system, these reservoirs have been steadily increasing in temperature, and apparently the cooling reservoir within reactor #4 has boiled dry, exposing the rods.  The third problem involves the damage to the three operational reactors themselves, which still have the potential to release large amounts of radiation if their shielding fails.  Problem one must be solved before problems two and three can be adequately dealt with. 

Herschel Smith's article continues:

The main stream media (both print and television) continue to point towards avoiding a core melt event, as if it will announce itself with some sort of trumpet blast and melt through the earth.  As I have explained, it doesn't happen that way.  The corium, if it makes it through the lower reactor vessel head, will disperse and cool from that dispersal, not even making it through the lower basemat of concrete.

The cores for Units 1, 2 and 3 are already damaged.  They are partially melted, and partially shattered and rubblized, sitting in the lower part of the reactor vessel.  Most of the radiological source term (radioactive material released during an accident) that can be expected to be released from the core to containment has already been released.  It is being held up inside hard containments and depleted via radioactive decay, plateout, etc.

The work now has to do with mitigation of the radiological source terms, from water injection into the reactor coolant system, water washdown of plant components, and so on.  If the semi-volatile fission products and alkali metals are in effluent (dissolved in the water flowing out of the reactor area), they will likely not re-evolve to the atmosphere in large quantities.  Most importantly, for now, the Spent Fuel Pools deserve attention, and hopefully the operators will be able to mitigate zirconium fire events in the pools.

The Japanese are performing heroically, and the main stream media will catch up in several days (or weeks).  The current efforts are focused on radiological source term and thus dose mitigation, not the prevention of core melt events.

The mainstream media's vernacular with respect to nuclear power is severely limited -- "radiation", "fallout", "meltdown" -- and they have demonstrated a very poor understanding of the actual meaning of these terms.  They are also incapable of providing clear explanations of actual radiation levels and realistic exposure dangers associated with those levels.  Right now I would venture to guess that those in the media who do understand the situation are being told to keep quiet.  Until the danger has subsided to a point where it can no longer be hyped, sensationalism will continue to rule the airwaves.

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Comments (11)

Michael,The MSM, t... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

Michael,

The MSM, to this day, have never corrected themselves with regard to Three Mile Island nor Chernobyl. I rater doubt the third time will be the charm...

Mr. Laprarie,Panic... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Laprarie,

Panic (or lack thereof) is not the word I would choose, but the response I hear is very similar to what folks often tell me about their perception of the gravity of events... I've heard, for example:

Just because Sadam Hussein was trying to kill our service members by shoot-down on a regular basis for enforcing the agreed upon no-fly zones that ended the first Gulf War ... isn't and wasn't justification enough for us restarting the war with him.

My response: Well then, its true, one's perception of danger or a threat, is directly proportional to one's proximity to it.

Or to put it another way: Imagine the contortions of language and logic one would have to go through, if one were are real estate agent, trying to move ocean-view beach front property in Fukushima, Japan.

FWIW, Semper Fidelis -

Mr. Laprarie, I once cycled... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Mr. Laprarie, I once cycled across America when I was 30... even tried to gain access to the "Trinity Site" in Nevada cause I had a military ID card (to see where it all began). I of course, was denied (move along, there is nothing to see). Of course that's the official version. The troop on the gate told a more relevant story - its been long plowed under - and they ride their ATV's around on it all the time.

I also stayed at some ranches, while I traveled through the state of Nevada. The owners of which told me their livelihood-devastating stories of how they had to bull-doze under their dead cattle herds and sheep flocks following several nuclear blasts in the 1950's and early 1960's.

The bitterness in their voices was obvious, even after all these years... and they are still angry that our government did not, and will not to this day, acknowledge any responsibility, or give an account of as to why or what caused this to happen, or to even acknowledge the existence of these domesticated animal mass deaths. All they ever got was deny, deny, deny. Therefore, I have concluded, our Government has lost all trust, faith, and good will, from them towards it- for the rest of their lives.

FWIW - Semper Fidelis-

You know Mr. Laprerie, one... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

You know Mr. Laprerie, one's exposure to danger is relative to one's experience as well as one's perception. Two examples:

In 1978, I was aboard the USS Midway (CV-41) in the middle of the Pacific ocean, when the Captain sailed our warship right through a cloud of CS (riot control) gas which had been dispensed by a DD (Destroyer)... unannounced to the crew. Why? Navy Captain's don't explain such things to Marine Privates... so who knows? But the results, just like human nature, were predictable.

Navy personel have no experience or training in such things; while gas training is an annual routine event for Marines starting in boot camp. Consequently, hundreds of OBAs (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus - essentially one shot emergency escape devices) were popped off in a desperate attempt by the Navy crew to mitigate the effects of this gas.

I was on the hanger bay by the aft port side elevator when this event started. My nose ran a little and my eyes began to water, and I knew instantly what it was. CS gas! - no big deal right? But the sailors reacted to this heretofore unknown event differently. Many behaved hysterically - running past me for the catwalk to heave their guts; it was total mayhem aboard all around me.

One seaman in particular, which I will never forget, who, as I looked down upon the deck, was on his back, hollering and shaking and wiggling from head to toe like a quaker who had beed hit with a lethal dose of black-flag roach spray (I don't know how else to describe it).

The other event was conveyed to me by soldiers stationed outside the capital of Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. They told me how they received Combat Pay, or Hazardous Duty Pay (or whatever they call it in that branch of service) because they were subjected to the horrible and heinous threat of ghastly death every day from the (ahem, mere) possibility of a deadly SCUD missile strike at any moment... and the emotional distress and strain was enormous... I mean they could hardly stand it, and they were in total danger, wouldn't I agree? Humm... as best I can delicately put it, that was not a good way to make friends with a Marine combat vet.

Well, everybody (at least those who haven't fallen off the turn-up truck since this morning) should know that the main-stream media news is manufactured by emotional prostitutes looking for facts that fit their story... such yellow-press has sold papers (and the like) for centuries... and not just in America.

However, even if folks tell you these horrible things that happened to them in trying times (or you read what someone has written about them), you still have to evaluate it, and assign credibility based not only your perception of events, but to be able to place it within your own experience and historical context... because most everything (excepting perhaps situational ethics) is relative.

FWIW, Semper Fidelis-

Brucepall, I love your anec... (Below threshold)
epador:

Brucepall, I love your anecdotes, thanks for sharing. I had similar experiences talking to folks in the NV off-the-grid areas I explored when working at Indian Springs.

I often tell folks never to get in line behind me at the grocery store or Home Depot. I ALWAYS find myself behind the folks paying in pennies, with unmarked merchandise, or who can't decide which item to do without to get their bill under the limit of their food coupons.

I also was downwind about an hour from Three-Mile when that went down. Yawn. Now I find myself on the West Coast. I am keeping an eye on the weather patterns and radiation counts, and my bug out kit is ready, just in case. Yawn.

We must search alter... (Below threshold)


We must search alternative to produce power

We must search alter... (Below threshold)


We must search alternative to produce power

Prasad, Give it up dude, an... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

Prasad, Give it up dude, and hit the rack.

Brucepall,Thanks f... (Below threshold)

Brucepall,

Thanks for sharing your great stories with us.

You are correct, generally speaking one's perception of danger is related to how close one is to the "danger zone." Except in this case, I think the press smells a "hot story" (something as controversial as nuclear power always is) and so they are playing up the danger level in order to keep viewers tuning in.

Another aspect of the nuclear power issue is that there has always been a small but very vocal group of people who believe that nuclear power plants are the equivalent of doomsday, and they will yell this at the top of their lungs any time the slightest level of danger arises at a nuclear facility. And any time something as serious as the Fukushima crisis happens, these people will be SCREAMING about "lies", "cover-ups" etc. unless their Chicken Little version of events is the official narrative carried by the news media.

The news networks seem to have made it a priority to stay on the good side of the anti-nuke crowd (probably because of shared left-wing ideals) and so they echo the anti-nuke hysteria without fact-checking it (like they do with so much other left wing propaganda). It's also fair to say that most reporters probably have a poor understanding of the physics and engineering related to nuclear reactors.

With respect to Nevada and Arizona, I want to be clear that I am not dismissing the danger associated with those events. It is outrageous that our government conducted so many atmospheric nuclear tests with few warnings, no evacuations, and no compensation for those who lost livestock, crops, land, etc. because of fallout contamination.

The larger point is that Fukushima at its worst right now is only half-way to what we were doing in the desert 55 - 65 years ago, and even though there was damage at the time, the desert was not "destroyed" or rendered uninhabitable.

When it comes to danger, it... (Below threshold)
Brucepall:

When it comes to danger, its relatively easy to to pick apart the actions of others and make fun of their predicament sometimes; its more fun to poke fun at yourself when you find yourself in the same situation:

Back during the beginning of Desert Shield, my Communications Team set up way out in the desert at the Saudi Arabian/Kuwait elbow to handle the comm network along the border. This was way before our defenses were set, and the region was populated with our forces. Even before our team acquired the tools necessary to make a decent stand - if it came to that (when you have comm with the rest of the world, its possible to leverage - let us say acquire - whatever is necessary - NVGs -Night Vision Goggles, cases of grenades, etc.)

For months it was pretty lonely out there. One could drive flat out across the dunes for a hundred miles (to the West or East) and never see another soul for days on end. During daylight hours, visibility was about 40 miles to the horizon -except during a shamal (sandstorm). One of our defensive tactics was to man an LP (Listening Post) orientated 200 yards to the North of our main position during the night, so that we would have some trip warning. Just 12 Marines out in the desert doing the best they could... Thats the set-up.

One full moonlit night, around 2 AM, Private Walls rings me up on the (sound powered) bat phone from the LP - "Staff Sergeant, there is something moving out there." I sleep in my boots and uniform (ever tried to find them in a hurry in the dark and get them on quickly when you needed to?) "Hold tight and don't shoot my ass - I'm coming out," I answered. And I proceeded to low-crawl out to his position.

Once I arrived, the movement was hard to discern... clouds were streaking overhead from a stiff breeze out of the North, the moon-shadows were undulating across the backlit sand-scape; and with the naked eye, it wasn't easy to discriminate. So I whispered to him, "Let just watch for a while," and we hunkered down in our fighting hole at the LP and watched... and waited.

Private Walls was right... there was movement. Some kinda low black object that would stay motionless for up to 30 minutes at a time. And then it would move, left and right, and then sometimes it would completely disappear! What ??? Then it would pop up and scramble some more... ever closer. 300 yards, 250 yards, and then all at once it was headed right towards at us!

To hell with that! I aimed in with the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) and gave it a rip. Tracers immediately kill one's night vision, but I walked them right in... What happened next was most unexpected.

It didn't scream, or be cut-in-half, or stagger, or fall over dead... it just kept coming. Dang!... and I continued to pump bust after burst into what had gotten to be a very personal war, very rapidly. And still no effect on the target! Ack!! WTF is that thing??? I paused to rake the smoking shells away, and looked at Walls... who was as stunned at the turn of events as I was. "Shoot the bastard!" I yelled. And he sighted in with his M-16 in the off-hand and did so... and now we're pumping out rounds together at a cyclic rate.

But this thing is impervious to our fire... It keeps charging... And its down to 50 yards, 40 yards , now 10!! A primordial animal growl is coming out of my throat, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing straight up. I found myself backing up off the useless SAW, and instinctively reaching for my K-Bar (knife). And there it is, sweeping right over our parapet and into our hole!!! ....!!!

Walls and I then both burst out laughing simultaneously... hysterically... as it dawned upon us what this seemingly inhuman ghost of an enemy really was...

A run of the mill every-day common black garbage trash bag!... Although it now had hundreds of holes in it.

Turns out, this trash-bag was getting hung on tumble-weed twigs and so thats why it would billow in the wind. But when it broke free, it would collapse (being only a mil thick), and thats why it seemed to seemingly disappear from time to time. Why it came right at us - was the wind... even then, the circumstances had to be just right for it to end-up in our fighting hole.

Back at our main position, the react force is coiling, and our LP bat phone is flashing - seeking needed urgent information. Meanwhile, Walls and I are looking at this shredded black trash-bag, and then we are looking at each other - I'm having visions of this thing splayed spread-eagle fashion on the hood of my Humvee (vehicle) in the morning... and so without another word spoken between us, we release the trash-bag back to the wind from whence it came. "You going to answer that?," asked Walls, gesturing to the bat phone. So I pick up the receiver and report..." False alarm; stand down the react force."

Semper Fidelis-


Not just in Japan, but radi... (Below threshold)

Not just in Japan, but radioactive contamination should be measure any where in the world where there are nuclear power plants. US is the countries with most nuclear power plants, there should be some measurement there as well.




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