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Fukushima – 18 March morning updates, radiation and tsunamis

There have been further developments at Fukushima overnight that have, according to the IAEA, made the situation ‘reasonably stable‘ (although it is still serious). Given the state of play over the last week, I’ll take any positive sign I can get.

Other points to note, as of the morning of Friday 18 March:

1. FEPC says the following:

Through visual surveys from the helicopter flying above the Unit 4 reactor secondary containment building on March 16, it was observed that water remained in the spent fuel pool. The helicopter was measuring radiation levels above Unit 4 reactor secondary containment building in preparation for water drops. This report has not been officially confirmed.

2. WNN says:

The Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry said at 8.38pm that a cable was being laid to bring external power from transmission lines owned by Tohoku Electric Power Company. This was to be connected when radiation levels had died down after a planned venting operation at unit 2. In addition, one of the emergency diesel units can now be operated and will be used to supply unit 5 and 6 alternately to inject water to their used fuel pools. Later, the power will be used to top up water in the reactor vessels…

After clearing heavy explosion debris from tsunami and the various explosions across the site over the last six days, eleven high pressure fire trucks showered unit 3. World Nuclear News understands that 30 tonnes of water “was delivered” in an attempt to shoot water through the holes in the side of the building, which appear to be very close to the fuel ponds themselves…

Despite high levels of radiation close to the units, levels detected at the edge of the power plant site have been steadily decreasing [the below is given in reverse chronological order].

17 March, 4.00pm: 0.64 millisieverts per hour

17 March, 9.00am: 1.47 millisieverts per hour

16 March, 7.00pm: 1.93 millisieverts per hour

16 March, 12.30pm: 3.39 millisieverts per hour

3. The two statements above are supported by the updates from the NEI:

In Japan, engineers have laid a power line that can connect reactor 2 of the Daiichi facility to the off-site power grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported. Workers are working to reconnect the power to reactor 2 after they complete spraying water into the reactor 3 complex to provide additional cooling to the used fuel pool. Reconnecting to the power grid is expected to enhance efforts to prevent further damage at the plant.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported on Thursday that the backup diesel generator for reactor 6 is working and supplying electricity to reactors 5 and 6. TEPCO is preparing to add water to the storage pools that house used nuclear fuel rods at those two reactors.

Radiation readings at the Fukushima Daiichi site boundary were measured today at a lower level, between 2 and 3 millirem per hour.

Fukushima Daiichi site status

The reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are in stable condition and are being cooled with seawater, but workers at the plant continue efforts to add cooling water to fuel pools at reactors 3 and 4. The status of the reactors at the site is as follows:

Reactor 1’s primary containment is believed to be intact and the reactor is in a stable condition. Seawater injection into the reactor is continuing.

Reactor 2 is in stable condition with seawater injection continuing. The reactor’s primary containment may not have been breached, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and World Association of Nuclear Operators officials said on Thursday. Containment pressure is at 65 psig, an indication that containment has not been breached.

Access problems at the site have delayed connection of a temporary cable to restore offsite electricity. The connection will provide power to the control rod drive pump, instrumentation, batteries, and power to the control room. Power has not been available at the site since the earthquake on March 11.

Reactor 3 is in stable condition with seawater injection continuing. The primary containment is believed to be intact. Pressure in the containment has fluctuated due to venting of the reactor containment structure, but has been as high as 83 psig.

TEPCO officials say that although one side of the concrete wall of the fuel pool structure has collapsed, the steel liner of the pool remains intact, based on aerial photos of the reactor taken on March 17. The pool still has water providing some cooling for the fuel, however helicopters dropped water on the reactor four times during the morning (Japan time) on March 17. Water also was sprayed at reactor 4 using high pressure water cannons.

Reactors 5 and 6 were both shut down before the quake occurred. Primary and secondary containments are intact at both reactors. Temperature instruments in the spent fuel pools at reactors 5 and 6 are operational, and temperatures are being maintained at about 62 degrees Celsius. TEPCO is continuing efforts to restore power at reactor 5.

If all of this is successful, the plant will be able to take over from the workers in cooling the fuel in the reactor.

I’ll provide a further update at the end of today. Meanwhile, you can track the comments on this post (Note: I suggest we switch to this thread for the rest of today), which are once again doing a great job at providing a minute-by-minute feed of the latest developments.

Below I reproduce a short essay by Ted Rockwell. Dr Rockwell is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. His classical 1956 handbook, The Reactor Shielding Design Manual, was recently made available on-line and as a DVD, by the U.S. Department of Energy. Back in 2002 he was co-author on an article in Science journal, “Nuclear Power Plants and Their Fuel as Terrorist Targets“. It’s definitely worth reading as it’s highly relevant to the current situation — if you bear in mind that the ‘terrorist’ in this context was Mother Nature — and a brutal one at that.

Ted’s short essay (Rod Adams has also reproduced this), given below, explains well what I meant by my earlier statement:

What has this earthquake taught us? That it’s much, much riskier to choose to live next to the ocean than it is to live next to a nuclear power station.

—————————-

Fukushima: it’s not about radiation, it’s about tsunamis

A lot of wrong lessons are being pushed on us, about the tragedy now unfolding in Japan. All the scare-talk about radiation is irrelevant. There will be no radiation public health catastrophe, regardless of how much reactor melting may occur. Radiation? Yes. Catastrophe? No.

Life evolved on, and adapted to, a much more radioactive planet, Our current natural radiation levels—worldwide—are below optimum. Statements that there is no safe level of radiation are an affront to science and to common sense. The radiation situation should be no worse than from the Three Mile Island (TMI) incident, where ten to twenty tons of the nuclear reactor melted down, slumped to the bottom of the reactor vessel, and initiated the dreaded China Syndrome, where the reactor core melts and burns its way into the earth. On the computers and movie screens of people who make a living “predicting” disasters, TMI is an unprecedented catastrophe. In the real world, the molten mass froze when it hit the colder reactor vessel, and stopped its downward journey at five-eights of an inch through the five-inch thick vessel wall.

And there was no harm to people or the environment. None.

Yet in Japan, you have radiation zealots threatening to order people out of their homes, to wander, homeless and panic-stricken, through the battered countryside, to do what? All to avoid a radiation dose lower than what they would get from a ski trip.

The important point for nuclear power is that some of the nuclear plants were swept with a wall of seawater that may have instantly converted a multi-billion dollar asset into a multi-billion dollar problem. That’s bad news. But it’s not unique to nuclear power. If Fukushima were a computer chip factory, would we consider abandoning the electronic industry because it was not tsunami-proof? It would be ironic if American nuclear power were phased out as unsafe, without having ever killed or injured a single member of the public, to be replaced by coal, gas and oil, proven killers of tens of thousands each year.

Moreover, the extent and nature of the damage from seawater may be less than first implied. Rod Adams, a former nuclear submarine officer, who operated a nuclear power plant at sea for many years, says that inadvertent flooding of certain equipment with seawater was not uncommon. He includes electronics-laden missile tubes. “We flushed them out with fresh water,” he said. “Sometimes we had to replace insulation and other parts. But we could ultimately bring them back on line, working satisfactorily.”

The lessons from Japan involve tsunamis, not radiation.

———————–

Footnote — Some additional comments from Ted Rockwell, by email correspondence:

I must admit that our Science articles did not give much attention attention to the small-volume containment plants, and we should do so after the information on Fukushima has come in. Our focus was on getting past the proving that scenarios that led to intolerable situations were tolerably improbable. This traditional approach is an essential but not sufficient part of plant design.

My approach was to come in from the other side: To assume that the worst situation was one that led to some molten fuel, coupled with loss of containment integrity, and ask: what then? Does radioactivity get out in great enough quantities, into enough lungs? That’s essentially the TMI situation, and I concluded that it led to the TMI outcome: a disaster for the plant owner, but a wholly tolerable situation radiologically. We’re going to have to go back and apply a wider range of conditions to that analysis.

But radiation must still be treated like any other variable, and not the ultimate injury. It should not outrank death by inhalation of coal particles, for example. The obsessive fascination with radiation as the worst possible danger leads to mass evacuation as the most conservative response. I don’t know any experienced disaster manager who agrees that mass evacuation is always a conservative response.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

201 replies on “Fukushima – 18 March morning updates, radiation and tsunamis”

I’m seeing so much over the top paranoia over radiation here in the States…again, appreciate the science of the event being discussed on your blog.

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It’s interesting to note that the mass evacuation is not the only already taking place. Instituted radiation measurements and controls on farm produce and other foodstuff has already created problems for shop owners in Japan.

They fear that patrons will not buy any food from Fukushima Prefecture based on irrational fears of radiation, even products that were packed before the quake. That could result in food spoilage that’s certainly not good news when a lot of food was already spoiled by loss of electric power to refrigeration.

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When they shut down a Nuclear plant does that mean even if damaged it won’t over heat? Can all workers leave the plant?

Thanks. Great site.

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What is the source of the plume as reported by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, a Vienna-based UN arm and London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre.

Surely an ongoing plume suggests a source that is superheated and what is in that plume? contents of plume would be a great way to determine what is going on in plant.

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Susanne, on 18 March 2011 at 11:23 AM — That is a fairly decent coverage. There is no possibilty that the radiation will have any public health consequences, anywhere in the world.

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Professor,
Greetings from Athens, Greece and thank you for the sane and coherent approach you keep providing us. Our parents’ panic during the Chernobyl accident (which lasted several years after it) has scarred our generation and those traumas have not yet healed: our family physician, roughly my age (mid 30s) advised me one month ago to avoid milk from northern Greece farms for fear of possible contamination caused by radiation during the Chernobyl accident! Of course, as you can imagine, people are already panicking over Fukushima and their panick seems justified, since a well known Greek physics Professor predicted that the radioactive cloud will arrive in Greece in 8 days time! I would appreciate your input, as to whether this statement, which has caused so much panic is correct. Thanks again for all the science and keep up the good work, we really need voices like yours in order to keep our own sanity.

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More media fear-mongering or is there any truth to this?

It’s no surprise the CTBTO International Monitoring System radinuclide stations have picked up the first “fallout”, also within their own weather modelling estimates developed for tracking of airborne radionuclides.

Remember however, that their instrumentation is probably the most advanced in the world, since it’s designed to detect small releases from small underground nuclear tests, which the testing country would do their best to try to hide.

IOW, their monitoring stations have to be extremely sensitive to do their primary work, to deter anyone from attempting to do a clandestine nuclear test without getting caught. Their policy of not releasing actual measurement data is a bit silly though, because all countries deeply involved in the nuclear weapons game will know their exact capabilities anyway.

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Daily update again invaluable. For Ted Rockwell and all commentators, me included, we must not, at any point, say, suggest or insinuate that good people are stupid for being scared right now. Acknowledge fears as legitimate PLEASE, or we lose people for ever.

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It has been mentioned that modern nuclear plants are much better designed with the provision of gravity-fed coolant. Just wondering how could this system work continuously without requiring any power(pumping).

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Barry, thanks again for the site and lets hope radiation levels are really falling meaning level is being recovered or maintained for shielding in the affected spent fuel pools and Reactor vessel primary containments…. No spikes would also indicate no required containment ventings for pressure….

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Susanne, it’s true, but it’s expected. You have to remember that radioactive material is REALLY easy to detect and identify, even in miniscule quantities. Each “click” on a geiger counter represents a single atom undergoing a decay event. Each decay event also creates a little gamma-ray “flash” which is unique to the isotope producing it, so we can identify these elements in minute, incredibly dilute quantities. We WILL detect fission byproducts crossing the pacific. We WILL detect radioactive iodine, cesium, strontium 90 etc., because these isotopes were present in the vented steam and are now in the atmosphere as fine dust. The press will refer to them as “contamination”, describe the isotopes as “potentially lethal”, cancer-causing etc. and pay absolutely no attention to the truly tiny quantities. Expect it, and take with a pinch of salt.

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Thank you for that, Ben. I am one of those scared people and have been turning to this site and a couple of others for good, solid information on this situation. Unfortunately, I cannot find a great deal of reassurance here in the States. It seems every one of our news organizations, be it in print or on the television, is hell-bent on scaring the daylights out of us with forecasts of impending radiological doom and so-called “cancer-causing death clouds” reaching the United States “within a matter of days.” They’ve all but shouted to us, their viewers/readers, “We’re all going to die!”

It’s quite sad, really.

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At some point the industry has to get control of this whole media release issue and make the facts understandable to the average citizen….

Mixed measurements and units, coupled with spokesmen that don’t understand the technology have again shown to be a failure…

This is not to say things are better yet, it’s just a fact of what has gone on for the last week for information sources as the events unfolded…..

If the latest reports are true, we should all be thankful for those that stayed and fought the fight to this point.

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thank you Barry. some promising news overnight for sure. And Ben you are excatly right in your sentiments..we are not children and the diversity of fears need to be properly acknowledged…

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@Ben Heard
Amen to that. Judging people on the basis of their emotional reactions is very easy for someone who at least is convinced he knows what this is all about. Being nuclear experienced is just another way of being streetwise. Same feel, different street. You cant even blame people for being a total nusence under these circumstances. Besides, there may be no fear in Ted Rockwell’s words and i love reading it, but its not free from emotions either. This post and the ones before it have created quite some understanding and destroyed lots of fear. Most people who read this are no experts. Thank you all very, very much.

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TEPCO certainly seems more confident now. They are giving more press conferences and their spokespeople seem calm & confident. ditto for the NISA people. I hope it is not just good PR but things do not seem to be getting worse at least (touch wood).

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Kevin Johnstone, on 18 March 2011 at 12:03 PM — There should still be ‘grave concern’ regarding the #4 spent fuel pool.

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Dave, they are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination yet… But this is indications of a significant turn in events.

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Getting dose rates down at the site boundary that much means they will be able to get closer to the problems and work them off… That’s as simple as I can state it.

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Thank you for the increased frequency of your updates. I’m trying to get reliable, factual updates elsewhere, but informatino seems garbled, so this is my primary source.
It’s also been highly enlightening.

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Are there electricians here to answer this? If the Tsunami inundated the plant while power was live , will the multiple systems surely involved be serviceable again if main power suddenly becomes available? I wonder if electrical devices within the plant have sustained serious damage?

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I know one probably could have gathered this from all the previous tech talk here, but while I gather that “radiation” is measured in some consistent way I also know that there’s different kinds of radiation, and that gamma rays especially are very bad, right?

So anyway I then read this from a Guardian (U.K.) paper concerning those holding ponds:

“Richard Wakeford, an expert in epidemiology and radiation at Manchester University’s Dalton nuclear institute. ‘If the water goes you’ve got no shielding and it’s like having a great gamma-ray searchlight shining into the sky and that is presumably what the helicopters are seeing.’”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/17/japan-nuclear-crisis-deepens-radiation

So, for instance, are all “millisieverts” or whatever just … “millisieverts” so that all are equally dangerous? Or are there “non-gamma-ray” millisieverts and then “gamma-ray” millisieverts, so that the latter are much worse than the former?
Even just articulating it I guess it seems a dumb question because it would seem dumb for them to mean different things, but, still, I’ll ask.

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Am i correct yo understand that this scenario has never been run as a simulation? It seems odd since no component is really new. This approach is not consistent with simulation construction as in f.x. airtraffic.

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rpl, on 18 March 2011 at 12:13 PM — Everything is supposed to have adequate circuit breakers. Mechanical damage from the earthquake and tsunami is certainly a possibility.

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It is really heartening to read your in-depth and right-to-the-point analysis during this difficult time.

Personally I think Japanese government has been handling the case well although they themselves have to rely much on the information provided by TEPCO. They are politicians, not scientists and it is just not right for people to keep accusing them of hiding information or telling lies. They are smart enough to know that anyone with the right knowledge and right devices can easily measure those readings so there’s no point in hiding the information.

My in-laws live in the adjacent area of Fukushima (well, outside the 30-km radius from the reactors though) but yet they chose to remain calm, do their own analysis (eg reading the posts here that I informed them of) and have decided to stay back while taking all the necessary precautionary methods. Although I admit the situation is still alarming, scary and baseless stories pop up in the newspapers (foreign or local) and other media every day and it is like they would like to see an exodus from Tokyo areas? While this is definitely saddening, we are delighted to see a lot of people chose to do their own analysis and stay back rather than triggering further panicking among the residents…

Many thanks again for your invaluable posts. Hopefully this “disaster” will be over soon…

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I think em1ss is completely right on this:

Mixed measurements and units, coupled with spokesmen that don’t understand the technology have again shown to be a failure…

At least here in the US, it’s almost impossible to figure out what the actual status of anything is — they mix the units, they use words like “severe” — even the NYT hasn’t done a great job.

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Anywhere in Japan, I would be concerned. Seems like common sense. But misinformation and media type and no-nukes has turned this tragedy into a worldwide frenzied paranoia fest. I am simply a lay person trying to understand the situation. Thank you to all of those here with the knowledge of nuclear power, physics and plants that are commenting and discussing. When my kids wake up in the morning and ask me “What’s going on in Japan”, I feel like I can give them the best information available.

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Electrical devices submerged in sea water do not fair well, but if cleaned before fault damage may be resorable. I think what you are asking is do you just turn the power back on and all is good? Answer in short is no.

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em1ss seems on the money for me. Currently the biggest concern will be to get the situation at the plant under control to allow more resources to enter.

In the longer term we must consider how to deal with the highly toxic isotopes that may have escaped the plant. The short lived materials should be back to safe levels before people re-enter the area and given the damage of the Tsunami this will take time.

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Without the water shielding you do get radiation streaming. Even a hollow pole inserted in a fuel pool will stream radiation to the surface….. Known fact.

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If I heard right on the TV news someone said the highest cumulative dose received by any repair worker was 220 millisieverts. Hopefully those workers will live long lives and get to enjoy the praise they deserve.

I find it strange how everyone has the heebie jeebies over this incident yet they are blissfully untroubled by Peak Oil or the next El Nino. The next 3 years or so will be a revelation. We’ll see how PO and AGW stack up in the overall scheme of global problems and whether the Germans really will replace nuclear with renewables. Interesting times.

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@rpl
Electric installation answer to protection codes for dust and liquid damage. It is quite possible to estimate damage by submerging ‘on paper’ with some accuracy. My experience: If damage is significant, the component will simply not function. Damage resulting from putting the juice on would indicate design flaw rather than hidden damage.

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Or are there “non-gamma-ray” millisieverts and then “gamma-ray” millisieverts, so that the latter are much worse than the former?

Simply put, no. Sieverts (and the US unit rem) are equivalent dose units and properly calculated they should give you radiations doses where the harm to human (or at least mammal) life are directly comparable to each other, regardless of alpha, beta, gamma, x-ray, cosmic ray, whatever type of radiation and regardless of the source of such radiation. Another way to put it is to say that sieverts were invented as a unit for evaluating health effects of radiation to humans.

When you see units that are not equivalent dose units (such as gray, röntgen, rad, count per minute, etc.), then you need to ask what kind of radiation it is and where it’s coming from to assess the health risks.

However, there are many difficulties in arriving at accurate sievert doses or dose rates from measurements of different things, because the measurement deviced don’t have “synthetic humans” inside to directly measure the health effects, which are extremely difficult to measure anyhow, at least in low doses. So accordingly various conversion factors are at play.

Things get even more complicated when the measured thing is contamination of air, water or even foodstuffs, because then the calculations also need to consider how radioactive particles or can get inside a human being and cause damage there. In the most complicated case you would have to consider the entire food chain from a blade of grass though a cow, to milk, through milk processing, to your table, to your stomach, to your different organs etc.

Sometimes those calculations are very conservative, assuming the worst, while at other times they could be assuming less dangarous than actual effects. The risk of overestimation mostly involves the cheapest kind of portable gauges and short term (dose rate) measurements, where the meters basically assume they are reading the least dangerous radiation and then show that in sieverts with a fixed conversion factor.

The biggest errors on the side of too many sieverts for a total dose come from the most complicated analysis, where a safety factor is applied at each step. So if the government tells you some milk is safe to drink, it’s extremely unlikely that they made an error in the unsafe direction.

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The unit sievert is already adjusted for the different effect of alpha, beta & gamma radiation on man.

1 micro sievert from a gamma ray is the same as 1 micro sievert from an alpha particle.

However because they are less penetrating than gamma rays, alpha particles need more electron-volts to reach the same sieverts.

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Thanks all, em1ss seems to know what i am asking better than I do. bchtd1parrot, your answer is reasonable, but if you mean that the (or some) components may simply not function, I am more concerned about that possibility than about whether they can be repaired in the future. i don’t think this Plant has a long or productive future. A prolonged repair scenario does not look very good in this situation.

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re post by Susanne, on 18 March 2011 at 11:23 AM

Hi Susanne,

In general a reasonably accurate, although not very illuminating and possibly quite misleading article for folks unfamiliar with radiation. Caveat; I have no idea about the accuracy of the dose rate and cesium detection in the final paragraphs of that article.

How misleading all depends on the reader. First, because so many people have no idea that we are constantly being exposed to radiation from entirely natural sources. How much depends on a number of factors…but ignoring man made sources, it’s roughly 360 mrem per year. If you include medical sources (x-rays, CT scans, etc) that goes to about 620 mrem in the USA. There is no evidence that these levels do any harm whatsoever. Meanwhile a multitude of studies over decades show that even levels radically higher than this, even if on a daily basis over long time periods is probably beneficial.

Next, and this is a very good thing about our technical abilities wrt radiation, we are able to detect these types of radiation down to tiny fractions of those background levels. I’m not meaning a fraction of that total annual amount, I’m meaning a fraction of your natural daily or hourly background exposure.

Now, consider that whatever particulate or gaseous radiation is released from the damaged nuclear plants winds up being carried along on the wind, in whatever direction that wind goes, and at whatever speed it’s going. Both of which change over time. The larger or heavier particles tend to drop to the surface or get pulled down by rain, snow, etc.

All of it is decaying along the way at various speeds – which is why it is still radioactive, but is also why the longer it has been out of the plant, the less radioactive it is. Plus, of course, there is massive dilution as the plume is spread out into the atmosphere. Think of smoke from a fire – the plume is dense and very visible right at the fire where it originates, but quickly gets to be less and less dense, less visible, as it gets further from the source, until you can’t even tell it is there. If you were right in the densest part up near the source, you might not even be able to breath. A little distance away, even if you are right in the plume pathway, you might not even be able to tell it’s there. If you are a little distance away and NOT in the plume pathway, you aren’t being exposed to any of it.

So, with a radioactive plume, if you are right up at the source in the plume (as some of the plant workers have been), then you wind up being exposed to higher dose rates. They monitor those rates, and when they are high enough to be really dangerous, they pulled back into a building and waited for those levels to drop a bit. Even as they are working outside, I am certain that they are monitoring the levels and trying to work in the lower dose rate areas as much as possible — just like firemen who are working right up at a heavily smoking areas do it from upwind so they’re just as close to the problem, but not right in the heavy exposure area because it isn’t not being blown onto them.

So think of that smoke plume again – if you are a few miles away, and right in the path of the wind, you may still really smell the smoke, or even see it…. but you could be that exact SAME distance away in a different direction, where the wind hasn’t blown it, and you get none. In between where winds have dispersed the plume and mixed it into the atmosphere, you may get a little, but not as much as if you were in the middle of the plume.

Now, of course, the wind can change direction – and as it does, the plume winds up going over other areas. It’s not a straight line thing between you and the plant.

The point is, that because we can detect such utterly miniscule levels of radiation, and because it travels with the wind, it would be surprising if we didn’t eventually detect it a long way away. We’ll detect it if the winds have blown it that direction, and we’ll detect it there in however long it took the wind to blow it there. But by the time it gets to Tokyo, or Hawaii, or the western USA, the amount of radiation and therefore the dose rate will be greatly diminished – the further from the plant, the lower it will be. By the time it got to the locations mentioned in that article, or to the west coast of the USA, sure, we’ll detect it, but it will be levels that are a small amount of the natural background levels. In other words, utterly harmless. Who knows, maybe even beneficial. I wouldn’t suggest running out to get yourself dosed up (although people do, there are ‘spas’ where you can pay a little to go into either mine shafts or hot springs with higher natural radiation levels for their supposed health benefits), but I sure wouldn’t worry about it either. Shoot there was even a very recent large study that found that people who got 3 or more CT scans of their chests in just a few years wound up with a really surprisingly significantly lower rate of lung cancers after a number of years than people who hadn’t gotten scans.

So – don’t be at all worried that they detect radiation from this a long way away. It’s entirely expected and almost certainly is low level with no meaning in terms of any ill effects for anyone.

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@John Newlands – Well that’s the crux of it, isn’t it. The poor weighting of the real risks associated with this event, are masking a lot of real issues, not the least of which is the potential impact of AGW if the development of nuclear energy is effected.

This is what infuriates those of us that have been familiar with nuclear technology for years when we are suddenly inundated by panic based on ignorance. While Ben Heard is right when he says that there are many with real fear, regardless, I also know that on these pages, and elsewhere, those that should know better are using this event to FUD the story, and elevate concern to advance their own agendas.

So while there is a need to try and get everyone to put this event into perspective, we are working against forces with other objectives, and everyone should keep that in mind.

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Right at the moment, this site is the only one I’ve seen with “real” information and a balanced perspective. It’s too bad there aren’t more “journalists” willing to separate themselves from the herd and come here and learn a little about what they’re reporting on. It might stifle the sensationism a little bit. Thanks. I have forwarded brief excerpts with links to the last few days posts to The Old Jarhead, a US political blog that has an interest in real information. I hope you get an extra 1,000 hits.

Ron Pittenger, Heretic

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Once again, thank you for the updates Barry. Fear-mongering can get to you when reading other outlets so I’m definitely sticking with BNC and WNN for updates in this ordeal.

There’s a small story in the end of Gwyneth Cravens’ book “Power to Save the World – The Truth About Nuclear Energy” that struck me as appropriate when I read this post today.

Rip told me the story about a man who has been warned that a flood is coming. The man says, “It’s all right—God will save me.” As the flood approaches, the police come to his house and tell him to evacuate. He chooses to stay, saying, “God will save me.” When the water reaches halfway up his house, rescuers come by with a rowboat, and he refuses it, saying, “God will save me.” Finally he’s on the roof of his house and his feet are getting wet. A helicopter comes to take him to safety, but he waves it off, saying, “God will save me.” Finally the rising water inundates the entire house and he drowns. When he gets to heaven and meets God, he demands an explanation. “Why didn’t You save me?” God replies, “I sent someone to tell you to evacuate. I sent you a rowboat. I sent you a helicopter. You turned down every chance I gave you.”

Rip shrugged. “One day God could say to us: I gave you the brainiest men and women in human history to come up with an understanding of the atom and its nucleus. I gave you enough uranium and thorium to last you for thousands of years. I gave you an understanding of how when uranium decays it releases energy. You didn’t need to invent anything else. You had everything you needed to provide energy for yourselves and your descendants without harming the environment. What else did you want?

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This event will do serious damage to the case for nuclear energy. What saved the day is the brand new thing. Praise and best wishes to all japanese and even worst cases may not be so bad, but this is a level of stupidity you cant afford when you play with this much fire. This plant would have been as cold as the others along the coast for less than a few hundred thousand at most if anyone would have thought like a child. This is one point where i definitly do not agree with Ted Rockwell. This is not the Tsunami or the earthquake. This is major stupidity. There is an abundance of experience in other sciences in how to approach the mere concept of problems. Thats how we learned how to fly helicopters with broken tailrotors and do cobras with jets. In problem simulation you do not stop when you’re out of questions, you stop when you’re out of answers.That has not been done. Thats gonna hurt.

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@DVD8XL perhaps, but as the old quote goes:
“Do not mistake for conspiracy and intrigue what can best be explained by stupidity and incompetence.”

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Daily update again invaluable. For Ted Rockwell and all commentators, me included, we must not, at any point, say, suggest or insinuate that good people are stupid for being scared right now. Acknowledge fears as legitimate PLEASE, or we lose people for ever.

Well said, Ben Heard. I’ll echo these sentiments.

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@Leigh Bettenay – Having been active in nuclear issues for many years, I can say with some confidence that there is both stupidity and conspiracy active in this field. At ant rate, in this case it should be clear to most that the mainstream media has been overly sensationalizing this story to drive traffic up. Any other interpretation of their motives would be naïve.

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I also agree with DV82XL;

So while there is a need to try and get everyone to put this event into perspective, we are working against forces with other objectives, and everyone should keep that in mind.

However, I think those with said objectives are a minority (albeit, a vocal one), whose many outrageous claims involving this incident – and nuclear power generation as a whole – can be countered with appropriate reasoning that doesn’t involve sniping.

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Rational Debate,

Many thanks. As a lay person with very little knowledge of how this works, I greatly appreciate your sensible, easy-to-understand explanations. For many of us, radiation is a frightening word associated with the development of cancer. And, as a young woman who just three years ago lost her mother to glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer, I am especially sensitive to this subject.

The unending flow of the-sky-is-falling news reports about the Fukushima events does little to help those of us who are fearful. It is comforting that there are others such as you and Barry who can explain these things in a clear, calm and intelligent manner. If only our news reporters and some of their called-upon “experts” here in the States could as well. I really do think they do everyone a disservice with their wild speculation and hyperbole.

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A 1,000-megawatt coal plant also freely disperses about twenty-seven metric tons of radiological material a year, exposing people to much more low-level radiation than a nuclear plant would. But it is the nuclear industry that by regulation must track and isolate the smallest actual or estimated quantities of radioactive substances and foot the gigantic bill for doing so. Like mercury, radon rises invisibly from coal-fired plant smokestacks—scrubbers and precipitators can’t catch these vapors—and eventually decays into daughters that can damage the pulmonary lining, especially in people who are also inhaling tobacco smoke and fine particulates. On average, every year fossil fuels expose the American population to about a hundred times more low-level radiation than nuclear plants do.

Cravens, Gwyneth. Power to save the World: the Truth about Nuclear Energy. New York: Vintage, 2010. 196. Ebook.

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bchtd1parrot “This event will do serious damage to the case for nuclear energy. …”

Disagree. It will do what the de Havilland Comet did for the jet passenger plane, what the USS Thresher did for submarines or what the flight deck fire on the USS Forestal did for the US Navy’s firefighting design and personnel training regimens.

Every engineering/operating group will look at their desiogns and existing plants with eyes-wide-open. This link says what the US industry is doing: http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/information-on-the-japanese-earthquake-and-reactors-in-that-region/nuclear-energy-industry-actions-to-ensure-continued-safe-operations . I wouldn’t be surprised in Naval Reactors in DC was doing the same thing, although naval plants are built with battle damage assumptions to begin with.

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Something else that might work better in the future is dealing with public fear. Fear does not respond to danger, but to threat. The response to danger is caution, which is a whole lot easyer to sleep on. The difference is information. It may be great yo get a post complimented all the time, but it does show the incompetence of proffessional organized public information. Does anyone realize how many people are going to die because this whole nuclear circus took the spotlight of the suffering of millions of victims of the quake and tsunami and by doing so reduced the deeply needed international support? Did anyone over the past week say: “The worst case scenario is twelve cases of meltdown which are still not gonna matter jack so drop it already, will ya!” There are more people gonna die of sensation than of radiation in this story, thats for sure. There is answers to this.

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Many thanks Red_Blue and Andy for your clarification as to radiation measurementation. Very informative.

W/re the proper perspective to put this accident in here’s what I at least thought was a very good piece in the U.K.’s Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1367289/Japan-truly-disaster-biblical-scale-right-worry-nuclear-angle.html

The writer, science editor for the paper Michael Hanlon, says that what’s occurred should be an endorsement of nuke power.

Not saying I agree with all of it, but regardless I thought it was a very good piece of work.

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bchtd1parrot “Is use of seawater as a coolant like it is being used here standard accident management strategy?”

Yes it is part of an emergency plan, but it would only be used when they have exhausted every other means of cooling, as was the case at the Fukushima reactors. Injecting seawater into a reactor is the option of last resort since it would require very expensive repair or decommissioning of the reactor.

Seawater is not something you want in any part of a steam plant and especially not in a reactor as part of normal operations. But in an emergency, as we have witnessed with Fukushima, seawater contamination is of little concern compared to the damage caused by overheating. Obviously reactors 1-3 and most likely 4 will be decommissioned for reasons far more serious than seawater in the core.

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There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

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@Tom Keen – those with a willingness to learn and discuss need to be treated with respect, regardless of the preconceived notions they might have coming in. However I for one will not extend much to those that see this as an opportunity to harangue pronuclear supporters, and make broad accusations of being in the pay of the nuclear industry simply because we will not treat this event as Armageddon-in-progress.

Also you will find that the pronuclear community is going to be pushing back from now on – more so than we have done in the past, and it is not going to be a case of refusing to engage with demagogic opponents, as was the norm before. Antinuclear forces are going to find themselves in a real debate this time.

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@Paul Lindsey
I hope you’re right. I hope future scenarios will be thought through all the way to controlled meltdown, but there’s a lot of ghosts to kill on the way. Here is something i experienced in that respect. Life may be a tricky business that kills you in the end anyway, but the more we come into regions that we can hardly imagine us into, the greater the risk we will oversee some grave danger. I have seen that in the use of pesticides. Fact is: radiation can kill. So does drinking a gallon of aqua dest on an empty stomach, thats not the point, but you can’t do the tabacco industry thing on nuclear power. You have to be right.

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@Essgee

The “passively safe” reactors are designed such that convection will provide enough flow of water through the whole system that it will keep the fuel from melting. So the energy to move the coolant (water) comes from the heat of the core itself. Coolant near the core will get hot and become less dense and move up where it will go through some pipes to a heat exchanger. where it will cool down and thus become denser and sink at which point it will be guided by pipes back to the core but physically lower than where it exited.

The cycle just repeats itself and in an appropriately designed reactor the flow is enough to prevent meltdown. (note: this description doesn’t describe a specific design, just the concept about how it would work)

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Risk has a mysticism and a cachet in society – traveling to outer space, lottery tickets, snowboarding, racing fast cars at Monte Carlo – until we start talking about the “risk of radiation.” 

David Ropeik, the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, wrote an article entitled “Being Afraid of Being Very Afraid” in which he identified things that are riskier than you might think.  For example:  

The sun causes 7,800 melanoma deaths a year in the U.S.  (Don’t go to the beach)  

Medical mistakes kill as many as 98,000 Americans a year   (Don’t go to the doctor)  

Food poisoning kills 5,000 of our citizens a year (Don’t BBQ hamburgers)

Ropeik also includes a list of “risks that aren’t really very risky.”  Guess what the first one on his list is.

Nuclear radiation – “a weaker carcinogen than most people think.”  He offers the starkest example anyone could imagine – that of the 90,000 survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.  Even in this unique act of war, only 500 additional cancer cases were caused among the 90,000 survivors by that intentional radiation.
I would add an additional example:  Three Mile Island.

We just passed the 25th anniversary of Three Mile Island.

Many people do not know that TMI was a non-event from a radiation standpoint.  The maximum exposure to the nearest member of the public was about a third of the NRC’s annual limit for the public.  The maximum exposure to nuclear workers was less than the NRC’s current annual limit for occupational exposure.  The damage was emotional.  And that can be cured with realism.

So, please join me in taking action to “tell the story” – to reach a wider audience and give the public and our policymakers a sense of realism.  I fear that the only things some of our policy makers know about nuclear science and technology and low-level radiation are what they learn from anti-nuclear groups.

Anti-nuclear groups are well organized at the grass roots level.  They get their members to call on policy makers and tell their stories.  On the other hand, we are engineers and scientists.  We are that shy, nerdy bunch who “won’t discuss religion, politics or nuclear power.”  That’s got to change.  We must put a face on nuclear science and technology by getting engaged in telling the story.

I heard a story about a former ANS student member, now a full ANS member, who said that when he was a student he’d go anywhere, to any audience, to talk about the benefits of nuclear science and technology.  Now he’s reluctant to talk about anything outside his specialized field.  He said he doesn’t know where he lost his nerve through his “professionalization.”

You folks are the intellectual elite of our profession and I ask each of you to be a personal advocate for nuclear science and technology through a grass roots outreach to policy makers, the public, the media and educators in all nations.  You have special skills as engineers and scientists.  Some of the special perspectives that are part of your education and your profession are needed in the process of making public policy.

Most legislators are lawyers.  We are engineers and scientists.  We are taught to begin with the facts, do the analysis and then reach a conclusion.  If you are a lawyer, you are taught to begin with the conclusion of your client and then spend your time trying to develop facts and analysis to support that conclusion.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing for our policy makers to act in a more scientific manner?

If you live in a democracy, you have an obligation to offer your expertise to policy makers and discuss legislative issues so decisions are made on the basis of facts.  As a member of a technical society, you have an obligation to correct misstatements by the media meant to promote hysteria rather than understanding.

Foulke, Larry R. “The Need for Realism” Welcome to ITN. Web. 17 Mar. 2011. .

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@DF
The presence of a jumpseat in a jet fighter indicates the willingness to consider total failure as an option with a future. I’m under the impression the plants or this one at least don’t have a jumpseat. Is that incorrect?

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What I at least thought was a very good precis of the current situation, featuring what seems a top-notch, sober guy from G.B.:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/03/18/3167111.htm

Unrelated: One thing that bugs me: Given all the heat swirling around in these reactor buildings, once indeed they start to really get big amounts of water on them isn’t there a good possibility of there being a steam explosion here or there to worry about Maybe, say, even blowing apart #4 pool if indeed it’s dry?

More explosions don’t strike me as good in terms of blowing more radioactive particles up in the air, damaging other stuff and etc.

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Regarding radiation measurement, this is from Kirk Smith at Berkeley. The panic machine is in full swing in the US.
http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2011/03/17/radiation-fears-unfounded-campus-expert-says/

Kirk points out that his house is higher than his campus and he can measure the difference in radiation at the two sites. That difference will be bigger than the also measureable difference the plume will make to US background radiation levels.

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The presence of a jumpseat in a jet fighter indicates the willingness to consider total failure as an option with a future. I’m under the impression the plants or this one at least don’t have a jumpseat. Is that incorrect?

There are no ejection seats in civilian aircraft (with the exception of so called “jet warbirds” of old decomissioned fighter jets) and the only civilian pilots who habitually wear safety parachutes are test, aerobatics, race and glider pilots.

The equivalent system in a reactor is the corium retention pool (also called “core catcher”) which will handle a total meltdown of a core, penetrating the reactor pressure vessel bottom and dropping to the primary containment floor. It is designed to maintain primary containment integrity even in the worst case scenario where earlier designs (like the Mark I here) would rupture, possibly even violently.

It’s a feature of more advanced designs.

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I am not a nuclear scientist, but i tried to get Reuters, who at that point had some 25,000 audience for their live feed, to see the damage that their publication policy was doing and they stonewalled me. I can imagine someone with some more scientific mass might have had better results.

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“In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.” – John Ruskin
I’ve followed this site since the event began. Lots of excellent information, but the constant belittlement of public, individual and media fear or ignorance reflects precisely the quote above. When harnessing natures basic elements, haughty confidence, is a poor substitute for respect.

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@Alberto, on 18 March 2011 at 1:07 PM

I like that story. Puts things in perspective and is a good argument for rational thinking instead of fearmongering and roupthink.

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NHK-TV reports that the level of the spent fuel pool in Unit 1 is falling. Workers will be powering a distribution panel in an administrative building outside reactors 1 & 2. I believe they said the reading was 20 millisieverts/hour at the distribution panel, but I have learned to be cautious of the translators when it comes to numbers and units.

–bks

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@Alberto, on 18 March 2011 at 1:07 PM

I like that story. Puts things in perspective and is a good argument for rational thinking instead of fearmongering and groupthink.

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@Red_Bleu
Would you agree a slightly better preparation for this option could have made all the difference. Or put differently; if some company were to start producing high-impact-resistant-stand-alone-semi-automatic-pool-flooding-equipment-for-mark-I, would you buy shares?

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@Alberto, Cravens story. I think it will resonate with many people here in the US, especially religious people, who have a fear of nuclear power cause of media fear-mongering.

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That is an excellent Q&A with Kirk Smith @ Cal (my alma mater). The problem is the fear issue when it comes to radiation/contamination from nuclear reactors. One click of a Giger couner and people think the sky is falling, but they don’t give a second thought to eating brazil nuts (1,000-7,000 pCi/gm Ra-226). My wife and I have had zero qualms when it came to her getting multiple x-rays, a HIDA scan and a full torso/abdomen/pelvis CT scan. What was I worried about: the risk of MRSA in the hospital.

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It’s depressing to see everyone pick sides. First there are the usual idiots screaming “it’s the end of the world” Then there are the others. Who are busy screaming “It is not! there is nothing to be worried about, nobody is going to get hurt from this and it’s all fine”

The truth is simple. No widespread damage and death. But there are most certainly people who will die or more likely have already died thanks to this disaster. Sure there are people who are working there who might contract cancer and even potentially die from it. The odds of it happening are NOT zero. But I am not talking about that.

I am talking about all the people who are in dire straights from the earthquake and tsunami who are not getting helped, or did not get dug out of the wreckage of their homes in time. Since everyone seems to be busy screaming their heads off about nuclear disasters there are that many people less to worry about helping the tsunami victims.

Granted the reactors NEED attention, but not this much. The true death toll of this accident will never be known. Because everyone will be listing them as part of the tsunami statistic. After all, how can you know which corpses are in body bags because people didn’t help them in time due to distraction and paranoia and fear of nuclear meltdowns.

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Convincing is no ‘ology, it’s an ‘ism. It will never be science that convinces people, but the belief in science and the courage to stand for it. An explanation is not the expression of new knowledge, but a sequence of agreement in understanding. Not too long ago i was involved in the exact opposite thing. The creation of awe over a true historical disaster, the living memory of which is needed to keep it from happening again. That’s just as hard.

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In this talk about radiation, what is missing is the actual toxic material being released. Take alpha radiation which is emitted by Plutonium 239. Now we know that paper will stop alpha radiation, so it appears that Pu 239 is safe, but hold on a second here what happens when you breathe in Pu 239 particulates?????
[Personal unsubstatiated opinion deleted. Please cite your source for re-posting]
Yes, I freely admit I’m opposed to nuclear energy. The Fukushima disaster has only confirmed my viewpoint. The accident at Fukushima was not supposed to happen.

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“if some company were to start producing high-impact-resistant-stand-alone-semi-automatic-pool-flooding-equipment-for-mark-I, would you buy shares?”

No I would not! I think all Mark1 plants should be phased out as soon as possible and replaced by new models.
The problem for nuclear power has been that its natural evolution has been curtailed by anti-nuclear protesters.

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I spent today reviewing the newly released environmental radioactivity level in various political regions in japan. Appreciate that the material is obviously fresh, I found a X10 error that was easily corrected. Here are my conclusions. As of mid day 3/17 the following locations showed:

Miyagi 1.4 uSv/hr
Ibaraki 2.1
Tochigi 1.9
Gunma 1.0
Nagano 0.8

And the natural background is about 0.3 uSv/hr. So we see excess radioactivity in nearby prefects. BUT the levels are very low. The data shows a 1.7%/hr decrease also.

These regions are all more or less nearby the reactor site – I’m learning lots of geography

The Japan Ministry of Education is putting out a great deal of monitoring data. They are doing a good job under what must be difficult circumstances.

This is a very useful blog – thanks

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@Konst: Agreed. Sometimes people need a nudge in the right direction. That parable can really get home the point that our children need nuclear power in the future.

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@Ms Perps
Optimaly, yes sure, even the protesters will agree with you on that, but considering the odds? Besides, protesters are part of any evolution. The trick is not to get rid of them, but to deal with them and thats not the same thing.

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@veryhrm

Thanks for your kind explanation. So, “passively safe” reactors are convection recirculated. However, to keep it passively functional (no power scenario) it is going to require a passive heat exchanger(as a shunt to normal pwer generation pathway), which can only be a massive radiator, .. which will intoduce its own risks, e.g. huge surface area to manage and protect against leaks. We can only push the design boundaries but not make them disappear.
Anyway good work, hopefully things will be under control soon and world will move on to help thousands who are hungry and homeless.

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