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Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean?

Hot in the news is that the Fukushima Nuclear crisis has been upgraded from INES 5 to INES 7. Note that this is not due to some sudden escalation of events today (aftershocks etc.), but rather it is based on an assessment of the cumulative magnitude of the events that have occurred at the site over the past month (my most recent update on that is here).

Below I look briefly at what this INES 7 rating means, why it has happened, and to provide a new place to centralise comments on this noteworthy piece of news.

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) was developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to rate nuclear accidents. It was formalised in 1990 and then back-dated to events like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Windscale and so on. Prior to today, only Chernobyl had been rated at the maximum level of the scale ‘major accident’. A useful 5-page PDF summary description of the INES, by the IAEA, is available here.

A new assessment of Fukushima Daiichi has put this event at INES 7, upgraded from earlier escalating ratings of 3, 4 and then 5. The original intention of the scale was historical/retrospective, and it was not really designed to track real-time crises, so until the accident is fully resolved, any time-specific rating is naturally preliminary.

The criteria used to rate against the INES scale are (from the IAEA documentation):

(i) People and the Environment: considers the radiation doses to people close to the location of the event and the widespread, unplanned release of radioactive material from an installation.

(ii) Radiological Barriers and Control: covers events without any direct impact on people or the environment and only applies inside major facilities. It covers unplanned high radiation levels and spread of significant quantities of radioactive materials confined within the installation.

(iii) Defence-in-Depth: covers events without any direct impact on people or the environment, but for which the range of measures put in place to prevent accidents did not function as intended.

In terms of severity:

Like the scales that describe earthquakes or major storms, each of the INES scale’s seven levels is designed to be ten times more severe that the one before. After below-scale ‘deviations’ with no safety significance, there are three levels of ‘incident’, then four levels of ‘accident’. The selection of a level for a given event is based on three parameters: whether people or the environment have been affected; whether any of the barriers to the release of radiation have been lost; and whether any of the layers of safety systems are lost.

So, on this definitional basis, one might argue that the collective Fukushima Daiichi event (core damage in three units, hydrogen explosions, problems with drying spent fuel ponds, etc.) is ~100 times worse than TMI-2, which was a Level 5.

However, what about when you hit the top of the INES? Does a rating of 7 mean that Fukushima is as bad as Chernobyl? Well, since you can’t get higher than 7 on the scale, it’s impossible to use this numerically to answer such a question on the basis of their categorical INES rating alone. It just tells you that both events are in the ‘major league’. There is simply no event rating 8, or 10, or whatever, or indeed any capacity within the INES system to rank or discriminate events within categories (this is especially telling for 7). For that, you need to look for other diagnostics.

So headlines likeFukushima is now on a par with Chernobyl‘ can be classified as semantically correct and yet also (potentially) downright misleading. Still, it sells newspapers.

There is a really useful summary of the actual ‘news’ of this INES upgrade from World Nuclear News, here. It reports:

Japanese authorities notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of their decision to up the rating: “As a result of re-evaluation, total amount of discharged iodine-131 is estimated at 1.3×1017 becquerels, and caesium-137 is estimated at 6.1×1015 becquerels. Hence the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has concluded that the rating of the accident would be equivalent of Level 7.”

More here from the IAEA:

The new provisional rating considers the accidents that occurred at Units 1, 2 and 3 as a single event on INES. Previously, separate INES Level 5 ratings had been applied for Units 1, 2 and 3. The provisional INES Level 3 rating assigned for Unit 4 still applies.

The re-evaluation of the Fukushima Daiichi provisional INES rating resulted from an estimate of the total amount of radioactivity released to the environment from the nuclear plant. NISA estimates that the amount of radioactive material released to the atmosphere is approximately 10 percent of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which is the only other nuclear accident to have been rated a Level 7 event.

I also discussed the uprating today on radio, and you can listen to the 12-minute interview here for my extended perspective.

So, what are some of the similarities and differences between Fukushima and Chernobyl?

Both have involved breeches of radiological barriers and controls, overwhelming of defence-in-depth measures, and large-scale release of radioactive isotopes into the environment. The causes and sequence of the two events were, however, very different, in terms of reactor designs, the nature of the triggering events, and time-scale for resolution — this is a topic to be explored in more depth in some future post. The obviously big contrast is in the human toll and nature of the radioactive release.

The Chernobyl event killed 28 people directly via the initial explosion or severe radiation sickness, and other ~15 died as directly attributed result of radiation-induced cancer (see the summary provided today by Ben Heard on Opinion Online: Giving Green the red light). Further, Chernobyl led to a significant overexposure of members of the public in the local area and region, especially due to iodine-131 that was dispersed by the reactor fire, and insufficient protection measures by authorities. An increase in thyroid cancers resulted from this.

In Fukushima, by contrast, no workers have been killed by radiation (or explosions), and indeed none have been exposed to doses >250 mSv (with a ~1000 mSv being the dose required for people to exhibit signs of radiation sickness, through to about 50 % of victims dying after being exposed to >5000 mSv [see chart here]). No member of the public has, as yet, been overexposed at Fukushima. Further, much of the radionuclides released into the environment around Fukushima have been a result of water leakages that were flushed into the ocean, rather than attached to carbon and other aerosols from a burning reactor moderator, where they were largely deposited on land, and had the potential to be inhaled (as occurred in Chernobyl).

So is Fukushima another Chernobyl? No. Is it a serious accident? Yes. Two quite different questions — and answers — which should not be carelessly conflated.

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.

158 replies on “Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean?”

According to this document:

Click to access ines.pdf

INES 5 requires ‘at least several deaths by radiation’.

So Fukushima isn’t even an INES 5 on basis of the people impact criterion. TMI wasn’t either.

Based on the release it would be 5.

On People and Environment criterioin, INES level 3 we have seen:

“• Exposure in excess of ten times the
statutory annual limit for workers.
• Non-lethal deterministic health effect
(e.g., burns) from radiation.”

And INES level 5 on Radiological Barriers:

“• Severe damage to reactor core.
• Release of large quantities of
radioactive
material within an
installation
with a high probability of
significant public exposure. This
could arise from a major criticality
accident or fire.”

Definately not INES 7!!!

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Cyril, my judgement is that the INES rating is based on the balance of multiple criteria, not all of which need to be satisfied. Otherwise, you’d be quite correct. The Fukushima Daiichi event includes aspects of Level 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 events, and the overall event (multiple reactor problems, water leakages, hydrogen explosions, spent fuel exposure, etc.) is now considered a (preliminary) 7. It is clearly much worse than TMI-2 or Windscale.

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MODERATOR
As if to confirm the decision to ban him for violations of the commenting rules, tokyo_reside has re-named himself in various ways and is childishly spamming BNC.

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Great interview Barry. I recommend you all take the time to listen to it. Amazing to be interviewed by a non-sensationalist journalist too:-)

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Predictably the MSM has leapt on this upgrading of scale.Just more of the same old,same old on just about any issue.Fortunately I regard news from these sources with a very sceptical eye and the articles can sometimes be amusing if viewed in the cynical mode.

I can’t imagine why the Japanese have gone down this path as the situation on the ground does not appear to have deteriorated to any great extent,if at all.And it is the facts of the situation which matter not essentially meaningless number ratings.

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Podargus,

One reason for the timing could well be a perceived need by the Japanese government to demonstrate that it is treating the situation with the utmost seriousness. That of course does not mean that a Level 7 classification is not warranted.

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I think an important thing to consider is that a number rating does not, and should not, determine what the responsive actions or reactions to these events are – either on ground at the plant, or more broadly in the way we view the technology. The number is not what’s important – it’s the outcome of events that is crucially important.

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Podargus, on 12 April 2011 at 6:03 PM said:
-as the situation on the ground does not appear to have deteriorated to any great extent,if at all.

But the situation of restoring the reactors is still in the preparatory stages, and 1 month later the workers still can not access the reactor buildings. There is still no end in sight and this is X4 -separate units. The risk of another hydrogen explosion remains evident as well as other multiple scenarios that could result in a spike of radiation levels, including the separate reality of an uncontrollable threat, which is from the instability of the region and its continuance to have very large earthquakes.

I am curious as to what stage was Chernobyl rated level 7? For instance, hurricane levels are rated before the damage is done, from the potential of their size. Should nuclear accidents be rated only after the results of the damage are clear?
I feel the risk of the situation in Fukushima warrants the high level rating, of course not because the of number of deaths, but because there is 4 separate reactors damaged, emitting significant radiation levels, that 1 month later still have no end in sight.

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I’m confused. What is the point of a 0 to 7 point radiation danger scale if the 7 rating is for a situation that has killed no one?

The INES is clearly internally inconsistent. This adds media confusion. People want clear ratings with just one number so that they can compare.

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Tom Keen, i strongly disagree with what you said, and also with Barry, who claims that the (original) purpose of the scale was “historical/retrospective, and it was not really designed to track real-time crises”.

the pdf linked by Barry says this:

“The INES Scale is a worldwide tool for communicating to the public in a consistent
way the safety significance
of nuclear and radiological
events.”

Click to access ines.pdf

the classification of a nuclear accident has a direct effect on how bureaucracies and people react.

a higher ranking will immediately trigger bigger support from bureaucracies (for example when you request fire trucks, while the Tokio fire department still doesn t know whether they will need them during later quakes) and among people.

the people living close to Fukushima have made decisions based on this ranking. i think it is highly problematic that it got increased now, without any real change of situation. (basically all the big releases were nearly a month ago)

a comparison with Tschernobyl is problematic. obviously the fire there allowed radioactive particles traveling to further distances. on the other hand, we simply do not know how much radioactive material has leaked into the sea so far.

both events are rather different in effect, but also somehow similar in size. that is exactly what scales are for.

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This is technically a level 7 Major Accident according to one of the level 7 criteria. Look at the IAEA INES Manual p17 which defines the level of the accident . based on activity released. More than 10 PBq is level 7 and the NSC have estimated 630PBq so it is clearly level 7 on this criteria.
As a result of this accident, the IAEA may have to refine their scale , as in the Japan event there have been no deaths from radiation and no public exposure to dangerous radiation levels.

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this simply shows the rating system needs to be revamped just like the one for earthquakes. It throws people who aren’t even remotely involved into a panic. People just don’t know how to deal with the info.

Tepco may also be trying to cover themselves as the Japanese do sometimes, by over rating. At any rate people will panic especially when CNN has headlines like Fukushima being compared to Chernobyl. They had a protest here in Tokyo on Sunday (the best day for sakura viewing). there were only 17,000 people. Lame. There are 33 million people in the Tokyo area.That is within an hours train ride which is not far considering they commute to work everyday this distance. I have a neighbor ( I am in Tokyo) watching the news like grass growing and every-time I see him he is talking about and biting his nails.

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The Capacity Factor has a nice post on releases of Fukushima versus Chernobyl:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2011/04/fukushima-rated-ines-level-7.html

So about 3-6 percent of Chernobyl.

More important, dose rates. No worker over 200 millisievert, no member of the public over 50 millisievert.

The only sound reason to give this INES 7 is when it turns out that large areas are not allowed to be inhabited for years due to e.g. Cs-134 and Cs-137 levels too high.

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More than 10 PBq?

Well the La Hague reprocessing plant has been emitting way more than that activity for every year in the last, uhm, three decades:

http://www.igse.net/typo3conf/ext/naw_securedl/secure.php?u=0&file=fileadmin/kr-85/Pdfs/La_Hague_France.pdf&t=1254131673&hash=5cee7587e84fb93016f380ae28f7bb16

La Hague reprocessing plant has emitted several Fukushimas.

Activity is not a good metric. I’m surprised and disappointed that INES uses this. Most of the activity is noble stuff that just floats out into the atmosphere.

Dose to the public is a very good metric.

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A full month ago, when Barry said:

1. There is no credible risk of a serious accident.

I pointed out that it obviously was already a serious accident since otherwise they would not have evacuated some 40,000 people.

Now that INES has announced that it is an order of magnitude worse than a level 6 “serious accident”, namely a level 7 “major accident”, Barry concludes:

Is it a serious accident? Yes.

There is no citation in support of that completely unsubstantiated personal opinion.

For obvious reasons that do not require citation it would be wise to pay more attention to the numbers of people being evacuated by the authorities that are more fully informed than any commentator (now more than 200,000) and less attention to the pronouncements of “experts”.

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@sod
——————–
“Tom Keen, i strongly disagree with what you said, and also with Barry, who claims that the (original) purpose of the scale was “historical/retrospective, and it was not really designed to track real-time crises”.”
——————–
.
The wikipedia article on INES seems to agree with Barry’s statement that the purpose is retrospective tho:

“Because of the difficulty of interpreting, the INES level of an incident is assigned well after the incident occurs.”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Nuclear_Event_Scale)

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““Because of the difficulty of interpreting, the INES level of an incident is assigned well after the incident occurs.””

i really like Wikipedia, but sometimes it is just wrong.

the sentence above for example is clearly false, as the event has been ranked multiple times now already. the term “final” should be added.

it is also obvious, that sometimes ranking will be easy (for example when people are directly killed by radioactivity) while other are rather problematic. (how about deaths that happen after decades?)

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here is what the IAEA says, in their latest press release:

“INES is used to PROMPTLY and consistently communicate to the public the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation) to 7 (major accident).”

http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html

——————————————-

i also disagree with the optimistic assessment of doses that workers have been exposed to.

we know that workers have been sharing Dosimeters.

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/04/82534.html

we also know, that workers have been standing in radioactive water without proper protection.

i would strongly suggest that Barry should use the term “we have no evidence, that workers have been exposed to doses >250 mSv…”

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Even if Fukushima can justifiably be classified as an INES 7, why didn’t they wait until after the event has come to a conclusion to make what is more or less an academic assessment? Whoever came up with the idea must have known it would instantly cause confusion and generate fear, and as most of us know, fear of radiation is usually worse than radiation itself.

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Frankly I think that classifying an event of this nature, while it is still unfolding is a sterile exercise that contributes little to understanding it. Surely this is something that should be left until a full evaluation is available, and the temptation to engage in spin-control has passed.

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I am in uranium business and have been for 25 years. Therefore I have a vested interest and freely admit it. I also have 25 years experience in dealing with radioactive substances. I agree that the media has been irresponsible. However I believe that the reputation of the industry is rightly in tatters. The mantra has been that the industry was safe. This is not safe! Yes it is an order of magnitude less than Chernobyl but that is semantics for Joe Public. The earthquake could have been the ultimate vindication for the iindustry. The circumstances of this accident
are unforgivable. If you are pro nuclear then you need to change the message. You can only prevent accidents if you admit they can happen. The response of the media and public indicates we have failed dismally in communicating radiation risks. I could go on ad nauseum. I would like to see a new forum to build the new nuclear industry which the world needs. It requires new leadership. The IAEA is defunct

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I’ve been watching this and related blogs and comments for a month. It has been revealing and refreshing to have access to really good data, comments, knowledge and thoughtfulness. What has to happen is a dose of reality. The industry sets criteria for self assessment (read the debate on level of incident 3, 4, 5 and now 7). Work within the goal posts. Fukushima is a disaster. By all means question and evaluate decades of experience in the nuclear industry but it really is a disaster. A 30 km exclusion says lots to me. It might not be daily exposure to radiation but the whole point is cummulative exposure.

Whether you like it or not the Fukushima event has done more to question nuclear power generation than anything else in recent times. You can’t hide behind the idea that technology has improved and new generators would be safer – we are living in the present and will have to deal with current old technology for many years to come.

If you want to get real you should all take the position that if Australia wishes to mine uranium, (possibly enrich it) and possibly generate power from it it has to take the life cycle approach and take responsibility for waste and receive it and deal with it.

The South Australian Government that wishes to generate wealth from uranium has to take back waste (I have no problem with this). Unfortunately most of the general public (and subsequently politicians) will not entertain these thoughts. I live near 300 low waste repositories spread throughout Adelaide (schools, universities, hospitals, radiology centres, waste depots). I would much prefer to have one maximum facility located in South Australia.

However much everyone bangs on about how ‘insignificant’ the risks are to human health from Fukushima they will not win any popular vote. There is too much fragmented and inconsistent discussion and media reporting that will always undo any ‘rational’ argument.

If there is a concerted effort to come up with a policy that is vertically consistent (from exploration, extraction, processing, transport, to waste management) then the general public and subsequently politicians may come on board.

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True, as far as we know no one has died. But on the other hand, after one month, Chernobyl was under control. And the economic effects of Chernobyl to the Soviet Union are miniscule compared to the economic effects of Fukushima to Japan.

–bks

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@David, you have stated my point more eloquently than my previous post. I gave a presentation last week where I said that two lessons will be learned. Firstly that the Caldicott predictions of mass deaths are nonsense and equally that industry assertions of total safety are equally nonsense. The minute I uttered the latter, the skeptical auduence sighed relief and were willing to listen to my message of choices between death by fossil fuel, poverty by renewables or a future with a balanced and sensible risk analysis based view of the future. I agree with your message of responsibility by stewardship. Between Canada and Oz we can exert supply pressure to get the industry to get its act together. I liked Sarkozy’s speech in Japan. He too has cast the IAEA into the wastebin of irrelevance.

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Rick, David, have you two heard of the concept of “GREAT” (Global Rescue Energy Alliance Trust) — which is now taking roots as the Science Council for Global Initiatives?.

NTH: There’s a certain Sixties flavor to your book. You’re very down on business and accuse them of wanting to do nothing but extract profits from the public. You want to solve all this by setting up an organization called GREAT – the Global Rescue Energy Alliance Trust – that will take this technology and spread it across the planet in a benevolent fashion. Isn’t this the same mistake all Utopians make – that if we just set up some new idealized organization, we can eliminate all the human traits that make our current world imperfect?

BLEES: Well, since I set out to propose the best possible solution I thought it sensible to suggest taking the operation of nuclear power plants out of the hands of private companies that might scrimp on training and safety in pursuit of a fatter bottom line. I do believe that we need international control of fissile material too, an idea that’s been around since the dawn of the nuclear age and one that Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s director of the Office of Science and Technology has embraced. Since several countries, including Russia, India, China, Japan and South Korea, have asked the USA to share IFR technology, this is a golden opportunity to make such a control regime a possibility.

NTH: How do you see such a system being put into place?

BLEES: A group of scientists, engineers and activists have joined me in creating an international think tank called The Science Council for Global Initiatives (www.thesciencecouncil.com). We plan to organize scientists from all the aforementioned countries to hammer out the political framework for controlling IFR technology.

If the USA were to share its technology, then you would have a situation where an organization such as GREAT would be not only monitoring these power plants but managing them. The countries involved would surrender a slight degree of energy sovereignty in exchange for having the benefit of superbly trained individuals running their power plants.

NTH: Overall, what do you think are the chances of getting to an IFR-based system?

BLEES: I think the chances are pretty good. Part of the challenge is simply education. With resource wars and climate change becoming an increasingly urgent issue, IFRs represent a way forward that can solve humanity’s most intractable problems. We have a choice to make. We can choose either an energy-poor future rent by wars over ever-diminishing resources, or we can choose an energy-rich future where everyone can enjoy a standard of living comparable to that now enjoyed in developed countries. We in the USA have to quit thinking of our energy issues in parochial terms and accept the global nature of the challenges we face. Once we do that, then we must pursue realistic global solutions, not fantasies.

It may well get some more serious consideration, post-Fukushima and, as you hint, perhaps post IAEA…

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Comparison with Chernobyl is useful in terms of saying that both events have reached and exceeded some threshold criteria. This should be like a binary scoring system (pass/fail; above/below; hit/miss). Some of the discussions here brings to mind the description of being a little bit pregnant.

Both Chernobyl and Fukushima have conceived and delivering quite different outcomes but never-the-less fecund in the isotope stakes.

Only AFL football gives a point for missing (little bit pregnant). Take on the binary approach of football (soccer) and tell it like it is.

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I don’t know if the reason for the elevated rating was strictly a result of a reevaluation of what has happened so far or if other factors were considered but the media here in Japan are hinting that the rating might also be an attempt to signal to the world that the situation is being taken seriously here in Japan. This comes after criticism from various countries (media outlets as well as political figures) over the lack of clear and efficient communication of information from TEPCO, JNES, NSC, the Japanese government etc.
Maybe the decision was strictly a result of a reevaluation and application of the INES rating system but it seems like there may have been some other forces at play as well.

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The Japanese government, Tepco, JAIF, etc… have consistently UNDER reported the seriousness of events during the crisis, so if they are now rating this a 7, I would see no reason to question that assesment, especially given that if they are continuing the same tendency to spoon feed bad news, there are probably criteria being met that we are not even aware of.

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Barry, thanks for the pointer but the last thing I need is to be saddled with an idea that I have something in common with a new world order – my spouse gives me enough of that!

In the end it is common sense. The key is for enough of the ‘right’ people to agree/sympathise

I am for democracies, but as the 1996-2007 period showed in Australia common sense and democracies don’t work, especially when some of us thought that governments should make intelligent and humane policies and decisons and tell the public the truth.

The only course of action would be a revolution, or scientists getting inside the political tent or both. Any intelligent person looses significant faculties when they get anywhere near politics. My concern about changing governments is that the alternatives are not demonstrably better or different.

Taking a mathematical view point to changing politics my own observations are that my local federal member has diminished their margin from >9% in 1996 to increasingly diminishing margins each election to the stage they are Australia’s most marginal federal seat. My concern is that the plot of that dimise is an asypmtote!

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It’s nothing like a new world order David, it’s a new world IAEA — one that actually has the resources and capabilities to properly supervise emergency events, standardisation of builds, and a whole extra raft of issues that arise with the use of large-scale nuclear power. But that’s an issue for another day, anyway, something I’ll discuss in more depth on BNC once this current situation has resolved.

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Does it not seem somewhat odd that the IAEA map of disposition (sic?) of radionuclides reproduced above shows the centre of most intense deposition so far offset from the centre of the Fukushima Daichi reactor?

It seems to me that either the survey that produced the map is flawed in some way, or, alternatively, one of the explosions in the first few days carried a substantial amount of radioactive material away from the plant in the direction of Iiate.

Which is more likely?

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I too have been reviewing these blogs to keep up on the facts of this incident and I greatly appreciate the information provided and the analysis from many who know more than I about NP.

I agree that the INES rating system is essentially for the news media hype. but we should try to understand that thankfully these incidents don’t happen very often and its difficult to assess large events such as TMI, Chernobyl and FD without classifying them similarly…but the system should be improved as it is clear that Chernobyl and Dai ichi are two different events and have two different effects (so far). It is my hope that this won’t get any worse on the local environment and eventually the rating system will rate this event differently than chernobyl…

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@Cyril R —

Activity is not a good metric. I’m surprised and disappointed that INES uses this. Most of the activity is noble stuff that just floats out into the atmosphere.

Actually they’re not! Check the NISA press release — they’re using normalized iodine-131 “equivalents” of activity:

http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110412-4.pdf

This adjusts for health effect — it adds effective doses from inhalation and ground deposition. For example Cs-137 is multiplied by 40x because of its long life (a large dose can be accumulated). Pu-239, if released as airborne particulates, would be multiplied by 10,000x. Noble gases are “effectively zero” and are excluded! This is from Appendix I of the INES User’s Manual:

http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/INES-2009_web.pdf

I’ve updated my blog to reflect this.

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To Jon Seymour, on 12 April 2011 at 11:37 PM:

I would think that you are right.

Since the beginning, NW of DaiIchi has constantly had the highest readings (of available monitoring site data).

http://www.mext.go.jp/english/radioactivity_level/detail/1304082.htm

By opening PDF’s from various days you will find some posts are consistently higher than others. For instance, monitoring points #81 & #83, and points #32 & #33. If you take the time to review the records you will see that they are high, even having reached above 100 microsieverts/hour: Readings at Monitoring Post out of 20 Km Zone of Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP(19:00 March 24, 2011)  (PDF:447KB)

Unfortunately these estimations for high levels of radioactivity to travel NW 30km + were made shortly after the explosions but not released by the Japanese government until the 23rd of March.
http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/04_10.html

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Barry Brook wrote:

Note that this [category 7 level] is not due to some sudden escalation of events today (aftershocks etc.), but rather it is based on an assessment of the cumulative magnitude of the events that have occurred at the site over the past month (my most recent update on that is here).

Wow … this is a serious misreading of the relevant factors involved in the INES category level distinctions. Barry Brook would like to suggest that the designation is almost entirely retrospective in its outlook, and that no workers or members of the public “have been overexposed [to radiation] at Fukushima.” When in actual fact the category 7 level distinctions, and the seriousness of the measure, is prospective in outlook and future oriented, and looks at anticipated “widespread health and environment effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.” It has to do with the consequences of this unplanned release of radioactive material to people and the environment, and anticipated future long term impacts. It is not retrospective as suggested by Barry Brook. [Deleted comment not supported by provided link] It may also have been a precursor to the announcement today that Strontium 90 has been detected more than 30 km from the Fukushima plant.

I’ll respectfully submit that anybody who continues to assert that no workers or members of the public have been exposed to radiation levels that place them at an increased risk of long term health impacts from fission products released to environment around Fukushima (as Barry Brook has suggested in this post), especially in light of this category 7 level assessment, and numerous statements from international and local officials to the contrary, really has to be questioned on their grasp of reality. At a minimum, it suggests a serious misreading of the facts, and a failure to adequately assess the impacts of this emerging and increasingly wide in scope crisis (and reported likely consequences to health, economy, land use, long term containment, and future water, marine, and food safety concerns). I’d recommend you do better in the future, but it’s clear you don’t want to go there, and would rather remain bolstered by a prior view of this incident (not yet an accident in your mind), an outdated category 5 assessment, and view that disregards and contradicts most local official and independent assessments of this emerging crisis.

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I was thinking about something last night. If good scientific observation depends on a controlled test environment, then we can ever expect to have solid scientific analysis of Fukushima. If nothing else, I’m convinced that all data recorded thus far has been done in an uncontrolled, or perhaps uncontrollable environment. For much of the disaster gauges and systems have not been working, on site and off site monitoring of radiation is spotty, inconsistent and haphazardly done. A long period of time has gone by now with less than scientific observation. At this point regardless of the data received or to be mined, no one can make concrete scientific analysis of the situation, the best we can hope for is theories and conjecture based on inconsistent data. Because so much has transpired now with inconsistent scientific observation, and frankly still is transpiring, it would seem to me the truth is something that will forever be mired in theories and opinions, some of them more accurate than others.

What troubles me is the lack of transparency and the slack of good scientific monitoring. That was either by design, or by incompetence. But the real crime is the public will never really know exactly what happened at Fukushima.

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as i said above (but also has been ignored by severalö posters) , even the IAEA says that the INES scale is used to “promptly” inform people.

“INES is used to PROMPTLY and consistently communicate to the public the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation) to 7 (major accident).”

http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html

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I think Tufte would say you have your illustration needs help there.

It looks like the pyramid should be turned over and stand on its point.

The pyramid is like the radiation dosage chart from XKCD — stacked up instead of exploded out flat.

For each level, the size/volume/shape the layer should indicate the range in the amount of the damage.

The smallest number indicates the smallest damage and should be illustrated by the smallest slice (the one that starts at the point and spreads slightly)

The largest number indicates the largest damage and should be associated with the largest slice.

There could be additional levels added above 7.

More visually correct — a geometric shape that bells out — level 6 ends; level 7 starts at an area for “Fukushima” and then level 7 expands to an area 10x greater for “Chernobyl”

Level 7 is a big slice that grows significantly across its thickness — not the little point of the pyramid tapering to nothing.

Just sayin’ — Tufte is always worth a look.
http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi

You can ask his opinion at his blog:

http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a?topic_id=1

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The IAEA fact sheet on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), classes events like Fukushima “by considering three areas of impact”. Any one of the “three areas of impact” reaching a Level 7 is enough to classify the event itself as a Level 7.

Eg: an example of a Class 3 event is given which was a “near accident” that resulted in “loss of safety systems” where nothing actually was released to the environment. Because one of the “three areas of impact” that are considered is “Defence in Depth”, this event was ranked as a 3 because it was a serious loss of some of the defense in depth at the facility in question. It ranked a zero in terms of effects on “People and Environment”, but the event is still classed as a Level 3.

Fukushima could make it to the Level 7 just on the basis of one aspect of one of the “three areas of impact”, i.e. people, of “People and Environment”, or environment. Chernobyl made it to a Level 7 based on 1. “widespread health and environmental effects” and 2. “External release of a significant fraction of reactor core inventory”.

So if one was to dispute whether a Level 7 is justified for Fukushima, these are the main points.

How significant is the radioactive material release: Someone saying Fukushima has been classed too high would bring up the Level 6 event at Kyshtym Russa in 1957 which was a: “significant release of radioactive material to the environment from explosion of a high activity waste tank”. If the 10% of Chernobyl figure holds up it won’t matter if most of it went into the ocean as far as this classification system goes. Either what came out of Fukushima is enough for a Level 7, or it isn’t. If more radioactive material than what’s come out of Fukushima so far came out of Kyshtym in 1957, one could argue Fukushima is a Level 6. Its all grey area here, “significant fraction of reactor core inventory” rather than “x” amount is how the IAEA chart of INES describes Chernobyl, and its “significant release” rather than “x” amount when it comes to describing Kyshtym.

The major health impact at Chernobyl turned out to be psychological, some of it fear of what radiation could do, and some of it just because some people did lose their homes and towns. There is an ongoing evacuation zone and there may be a semi permanent exclusion zone in some area(s) near Fukushima. So there seems to be some way to compare, but it is very early to try.

Under a headline the IAEA makes it very clear “What the Scale is Not For”

And obviously, that is what everyone has been using it for:

“It is not appropriate to use INES to compare safety performance between facilities, organizations, or countries. The statistically small numbers of events at Level 2 and above… make it inappropriate to draw international comparisons”

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Come to think of it the loss of “Defence-In-Depth” alone at Fukushima would be a likely Level 7 by itself, due to the fact that the spent fuel pools loomed large enough at one point to open eyes about this problem throughout the nuclear industry everywhere in the world.

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@EL
—————–
“When in actual fact the category 7 level distinctions, and the seriousness of the measure, is prospective in outlook and future oriented, and looks at anticipated “widespread health and environment effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.”
—————–

EL, i am not sure i undersatnd you right – are you suggesting that the fukushima situation is worse than Barry Brook presents, based on the INES description of category 7?

If so, i would respectfully point out that even the category 5 description mentions “several deaths from radiation”, which has not happened. If we rigidly stuck to descriptions this would not even qualify as a category 5. Therefore insisting that the actual severity of the fukushima accident must be much worse than presented because it has to match its INES level 7 description seems to be a little off.

From what i understand, the decision to increase fukushima to level 7 is related to the total amount of radioactive material released(in Becquerels), not on expectations what the consequences on population health would be. If you have any source suggesting otherwise, please supply it.

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Radiation levels have been monitored on a regular basis in multiple places. The charts are slowly but surely declining. (links to supporting docs have been provided several times on this blog)

Radioactive material was spread by the Hydrogen explosions. That was several weeks ago. Progressive cooling an Nitrogen injection are lowering the probability of a new explosion every day.

The only source of material spreading at present is water leaking or being actively pumped into the ocean. None of this is going to impact the land.

So, why are the Japanese authorities increasing the accident level? This looks more like a political act.

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François,

As I understand it, the level 7 is based on the initial amount of radiation released to date (which qualifies it as a level 7), and the potential for much more releases if the situation is not brought under control. There is still a very uneasy situation. They are barely hanging on to keeping things stable. They are nowhere near normal cooling functions, or a cold shutdown. The potential risk for much more radiation released, is not trivial.

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John Doe, on 13 April 2011 at 1:57 AM said:

@EL
—————–
“When in actual fact the category 7 level distinctions, and the seriousness of the measure, is prospective in outlook and future oriented, and looks at anticipated “widespread health and environment effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.”
—————–

EL, i am not sure i undersatnd you right – are you suggesting that the fukushima situation is worse than Barry Brook presents, based on the INES description of category 7?

If so, i would respectfully point out that even the category 5 description mentions “several deaths from radiation”, which has not happened. If we rigidly stuck to descriptions this would not even qualify as a category 5. Therefore insisting that the actual severity of the fukushima accident must be much worse than presented because it has to match its INES level 7 description seems to be a little off.

—-

John Doe,

How I interpret it, fatalities are one of the markers to qualify for a level, if there are fatalities, but nowhere does it say that they are requirement. The rating as I read it is more based on the total radiation emitted on site and into the outside environment.

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EL wrote: This point is MADE ABUNDANTLY CLEAR by officials in Japan who suggest the release of radiation has been some 10% of Chernobyl to date, but “could eventually surpass that of the Chernobyl incident.”

I don’t know where that quote came from, but it didn’t come from the article you cite. Did you think no one would check?
MODERATOR
The comment has been deleted and EL asked to re-post with link that does confirm his statement.

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JohnG

Here is the source you are asking for;

(Reuters) – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said on Tuesday that they are concerned that the radiation leakage could eventually exceed that of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

“The radiation leak has not stopped completely and our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl,” an official from operator Tokyo Electric and Power told reporters on Tuesday.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/12/uk-japan-nuclear-radiation-idUKTRE73B0NE20110412

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@JohnG

I don’t know where that quote came from, but it didn’t come from the article you cite. Did you think no one would check?

That quote really was reported in Kyodo News; I’m not sure why it’s not in the linked article. Here is another source:

“The radiation leak has not stopped completely and our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl,” an official from operator Tokyo Electric and Power told reporters on Tuesday.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/12/japan-nuclear-radiation-idUSTKE00635920110412

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David,

You wrote:

The only course of action would be a revolution, or scientists getting inside the political tent or both. Any intelligent person looses significant faculties when they get anywhere near politics. My concern about changing governments is that the alternatives are not demonstrably better or different.

I am not sure what good you think that getting scientists inside the political tent could do. The primary function of modern governments is is to protect the holy right of money to make money, this year. Any person who thinks this ‘right’ is in conflict with the long term welfare of humanity cannot get within five miles of the political tent, no matter how much scientific training he or she may have. With an oil priced induced recession barreling down the road toward us and no prospect that an aggressive program of nuclear power construction could lift us out of this recession in a time period shorter than decades, we need some more radical change than government scientists dictating energy policy. You are quite right that we need a revolution. Unfortunately we live in a profoundly conservative age in which very few people are willing to look beyond the social forms with which they have become familiar and comfortable, in spite of the fact that the circumstances which made those social forms appropriate have radically changed.

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Well, It seems to me that we are not wishing to face reality. The said thing is that things are not going good.
According to the latest reports, the amount of released I-131 was 1.3 exp(17)Bq, which is about 7.4% of the amount released in Chernobyl, or about 30 kg of it: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Fukushima_moved_to_Level_7_1204111.html
and

Click to access Chernob6.pdf

The amount of released Cs-173 is also about 7% of the Chernobyl amount (did they sent robots to inspect the reactors or how do they know that?). And the situation still is out of control, and there are 3 cripled reactors in Fukushima instead of only 1 in Chernobyl, and also the pools! So, there are still reasons to worry.
Of course we can point out that things will be brought under control, that in Chernobyl only the I-131 had been a problem and not in Fukushima, etc. If the 20 km area will be closed to people for years because of the Cs-137, all over the world people will think “Chernobyl happened again”!. Fortunately, probably most of that Cs-137 went to the sea, but anyway things are bad. I mean, from the public perception point of view.
We can change the batlefield to argue that in fact there was not a lot of deaths in Chernobyl, so they will not happen here as well, but we have to agree that that is a retreat. It is to fight for Chernobyl instead of fighting for Fukushima (in the public perception). Lost batle, I’m afraid. May be not a lost war, but we’ll have now a long road to walk: to desmith radioactivity and Chernobyl, and to improve safeness in the existing and under design reactors. Both, because we can no longer argue that “this will not happen” again. I know, may be it will not in future reactors, but these reactors are the present affair. For the public.
And how to argue with all those folks that defend renewables on the ground that they are safe, even if they are expensive? I mean, in the public perception? I think Fukushima batle is about to be lost. We’ll have to be pointing to China as an example of rationality, which is not the most credible example for most people, I guess…

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It seems strange they would say such a thing tho(eventually exceeding chernobyl).

If the total radioactive release after one month is 10% of that of chernobyl, then to exceed chernobyl the leakage would have to continue at the current rate for nine more months. TEPCO would have to fail to lessen it despite of almost a year of trying. And a large part of the release is in form of Iodine-131 which would have completely decayed in two months, not to mention nine.

I really don’t see how this could ever exceed chernobyl, unless that TEPCO official knows something we do not.

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@John Doe,
It does’nt seem strange if we don’t think of a steady evolution but on a new sudden release!
We have to understand that the 7% (they round it to 10%, I don’t know why) were released only by the early venting, as long as we know. If we put on thr shoes of the population living around, there are a real risk of further venting (that’s why they are injecting nitrogen) or even any bad evolution of the reactors. I hope it will not happen, but it can happen!
Now, the evacuation is PREVENTIVE, not remedial! So, it makes full sense that given the out of control situation in the reactors (they are stabilized, I think, but that still is to be out of control), they keep the PREVENTIVE measures accounting for the worst possible scenarios.

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@JohnG, I followed El’s ‘ABUNDANTLY CLEAR’ link to evaluate it and read the following two paragraphs within:

1. “The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency upgraded its provisional evaluation based on an estimate that radioactive materials far exceeding the criteria for level 7 have so far been released into the external environment, but added that the release from the Fukushima plant is about 10 percent of that from the former Soviet nuclear plant.”

the criteria for level 7 have so far been released into the external environment, but added that the release from the Fukushima plant is about 10 percent of that from the former Soviet nuclear plant.

2. “The plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. offered an apology to the public for being still unable to stop the radiation leakage, pointing to the possibility that the total emission of radioactive substances could eventually surpass that of the Chernobyl incident.”

Not one contigous exact quotation perhaps, but certainly the exact point, and certainly right there in the link, irrespective of whether one agrees with it. What are you quibbling about, and why?

@John Doe:

Since the TEPCO officials have a history of not publicly releasing information in a timely manner, it would fail to amaze me if they know a lot of things that we now do not.

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“I really don’t see how this could ever exceed chernobyl, unless that TEPCO official knows something we do not.”

Most likely extremely conservative estimate

“For the first two days after the accident, the wind blew east from Fukushima towards monitoring stations on the US west coast; on the third day it blew south-west over the Japanese monitoring station at Takasaki, then swung east again. Each day, readings for iodine-131 at Sacramento in California, or at Takasaki, both suggested the same amount of iodine was coming out of Fukushima, says Wotawa: 1.2 to 1.3 × 10^17 becquerels per *DAY*.

The agreement between the two “makes us confident that this is accurate”, he says. So do similar readings at CTBT stations in Alaska, Hawaii and Montreal, Canada – readings at the latter, at least, show that the emissions have continued.

In the *10 DAYS* it burned, Chernobyl put out 1.76 × 10^18 becquerels of iodine-131, which amounts to only 50 per cent more per day than has been calculated for Fukushima Daiichi. It is not yet clear how long emissions from the Japanese plant will continue.

Similarly, says Wotawa, caesium-137 emissions are on the same order of magnitude as at Chernobyl. The Sacramento readings suggest it has emitted 5 × 10^15 becquerels of caesium-137 per day; Chernobyl put out 8.5 × 10^16 in total – around 70 per cent more per day.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20285-fukushima-radioactive-fallout-nears-chernobyl-levels.html

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Could certainly be a political act – like saying “we’re taking this very seriously and are not downplaying this accident”. And maybe, just maybe, it is possible to get more foreign financial and material aid by increasing the INES rating?

Of course the mainstream media still can’t mention the fact that there are no radiation deaths. Or the fact that radiation has been decreasing for weeks. That would be such an anticlimax.

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John Doe says: If the total radioactive release after one month is 10% of that of chernobyl, then to exceed chernobyl the leakage would have to continue at the current rate for nine more months. TEPCO would have to fail to lessen it despite of almost a year of trying. And a large part of the release is in form of Iodine-131 which would have completely decayed in two months, not to mention nine.

… or, of course, that the rate of release increases.

and I really don’t see how this could ever exceed chernobyl, unless that TEPCO official knows something we do not.

There’s no need to invoke conspiracy. The reactor buildings are currently too ‘hot’ to spend time in. Fuel rods have been uncovered for a month and could have melted their zirconium casings. There are plenty of sources of radioactivity yet to be dealt with.

If the half-life of I131 is 8 days, in 32 days it will be 1/16’th of what it is now. While that’s heading in the right direction, it’s hardly what I’d call “completely decayed” In 64 day’s it will be ~1/256. Again, that’s great, but one has to consider the starting point.

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John Doe, on 13 April 2011 at 3:36 AM said:

If the total radioactive release after one month is 10% of that of chernobyl, then to exceed chernobyl the leakage would have to continue at the current rate for nine more months.
The big releases ended a two weeks ago.

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You Stated: “The original intention of the scale was historical/retrospective, and it was not really designed to track real-time crises, so until the accident is fully resolved, any time-specific rating is naturally preliminary.” So is there a real-time crisis scale for nuclear reactor accidents? Even though I have come to believe nuclear power can be incredibly dangerous, I appreciate your comments and articles. Thank you.

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—————-
“The big releases ended a two weeks ago.”
—————-

Yes i realize that. I was just constructing a worst-case scenario, just to make a point about how unlikely reaching chernobyl-levels is even if the big releases were to somehow continue.

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The time graphs of radiation levels indicate the exposure of fuel rods in the ponds was the main release, more so than hydrogen explosions. I think this is an overlooked aspect of nucleae safety. The back up power failure was an abomination. I think Tepcos communication failures have been more about duress, personal stress and generally being clueless on public communication skills rather than deceit. Furthermore the english translations have been appalling and provide fertile ground for western media mischief and speculation on a dailly basis.

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“The radiation leaks haven’t stopped,” Junichi Matsumoto, general manager of the utility’s nuclear power and plant fitting division, said in Tokyo today. “If the leaks continue, the total radiation from the reactors may exceed” that from Chernobyl.

Source: Bloomberg

It’s a reasonable assertion. For too long people have made assessments based only on the known conditions. Four weeks ago it was said to be impossible to exceed TMI or become anywhere close to the “totally different and flawed design” of Chernobyl. Every time an assessment was made, reality caught up. Now the debate is still how the INES rating is different for the two events. Is Chernobyl the Gold Standard of accidents? Perhaps in 20 years time we will debate how a future event will be unlike Fukushima?

The media has been all over the place, but they have been thoroughly vindicated today. No subject matter expert seems to have come close to a fair likelihood based assessment of the outcome. And it’s not even close to coming to a close.

Once you start comparing fatality counts (not only unethical, but also not an objective measure of severity), people should know it’s time to stand down from a lost debate.

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why can people post obviously false claims here without providing links?

for example:

“The major health impact at Chernobyl turned out to be psychological”

that statement is plain out false. several 1000 people died, even according to WHO documents.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html

—————–

or this one:

“The only source of material spreading at present is water leaking or being actively pumped into the ocean. None of this is going to impact the land.”

so contamination of coast doesn t count at all?

——————————

at the same time, it would have been impossible to explain to people here that this was a INES 7 incident, before it was officially declared one. (because i couldn t get a source for such a claim)

[Comment deleted.]

MODERATOR
Your personal assessment of the situation at the outset of the crisis is just that – unless you provide links to that period affirming your view. 20/20 hindsight is not good enough. Perhaps that is why you(as you state above) “couldn’t get a source for such a claim” before. The link you supplied does not support you claims either. I will leave it here for people to check and judge for themselves – please read it in full.

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Posted on 12 April 2011 by Barry Brook:

“Hot in the news is that the Fukushima Nuclear crisis has been upgraded from INES 5 to INES 7. Note that this is not due to some sudden escalation of events today (aftershocks etc.), but rather it is based on an assessment of the cumulative magnitude of the events that have occurred at the site over the past month (my most recent update on that is here).”

If you could please tell me what is so good about that? What you are saying in this sentence is, that it is much worse than they admitted it to be the whole time and now they just upgraded it to another level on the scale which is something they could have done much earlier, but they refused to do that for some weird reason.

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looking at the 10% of chernobyl number, this NYtimes article gives some ideas:

basically the model did calculate that 20% of the chernobyl amount has been released and they lowered the number by assuming that the soviets cheated with their numbers.

i also have very serious doubts that this model can accurately portrait the release that ended up in the sea.

so i would consider the 10% an extremely conservative estimate, with the real number being much higher.

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JohnG wrote:

EL wrote: This point is MADE ABUNDANTLY CLEAR by officials in Japan who suggest the release of radiation has been some 10% of Chernobyl to date, but “could eventually surpass that of the Chernobyl incident.”
I don’t know where that quote came from, but it didn’t come from the article you cite. Did you think no one would check?

I love it when people appear to be reading, and check up on my links. But you are correct, I read it from multiple sources, and didn’t pick the best press account for the quote. Apparently, it comes from a press conference with Junichi Matsumoto, senior nuclear power executive with TEPCO: “The radiation leak has not stopped completely and our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl.”

John Doe wrote:

From what i understand, the decision to increase fukushima to level 7 is related to the total amount of radioactive material released (in Becquerels), not on expectations what the consequences on population health would be. If you have any source suggesting otherwise, please supply it.

I know how the game is played on this one, and am loath to derail the conversation once again into a detour on LNT, hormesis, Chernobyl, TMI, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Hanford “downwinders,” all the rest. There is a reason why they are extending the hard evacuation zone … and this has to do with health risks. Japanese officials are becoming more forthright about this (despite their best hopes that the situation could have been better contained by this point): “The agency told reporters on Tuesday that large volumes of radioactive substances that could affect human health and the environment are being released in a wide area.” French independent agencies are now recommending food restrictions for vulnerable populations in Europe (children and pregnant or breastfeeding women). The EU has already doubled food safety guidelines to prevent global food shortages. In the US, we are finding milk above EPA food safety guidelines (and rising levels in rain and drinking water). I could look at Japan too, but this is obvious to me (and is the reason why they raised the level to 7 and extended the evacuation zone). I’m of the mind when radiation levels exceeded previously established health safety guidelines (or IAEA operational criteria for mandated evacuations), there is a legitimate reason to be concerned about human health impacts from radiation exposure. Many here seem to disagree (and if you happen to be one who falls into this camp, I’ll concede in advance that we are unlikely to find any common ground on this point).
MODERATOR
As has been pointed out up-thread by some commenters, your links don’t always confirm what you are saying. Fortunately, some on the blog read them in full? Have you?
Any future such violations of the citation policy will be deleted.
You are now on permanent moderation.

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@EL
———————–
“The agency told reporters on Tuesday that large volumes of radioactive substances that could affect human health and the environment are being released in a wide area… .

..and is the reason why they raised the level to 7”
———————–

The article you provided does not directly link the 5-to-7 raise to health concerns, even tho they are mentioned earlier in the article. Instead, it states it is the total amount of leaked material that constitutes the level 7 crisis(emphasis on last sentence):

“The nuclear safety commission, in a joint press conference with the agency, put the estimated leak at 630-thousand terabecquerels of both substances.

One terabecquerel is equivalent to one trillion becquerels. Both organizations say the leak constitutes a level-7 crisis.”
MODERATOR
Thanks for pointing this out. EL has been warned any future violation of the citation rule will be deleted.

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EL, on 13 April 2011 at 7:33 AM said:

Where in the US are we finding milk above EPA food safety guidelines?

http://matzav.com/epa-says-radiation-found-in-us-milk
The Environmental Protection Agency said a March 25 sample of milk produced in the Spokane, Wash., area contained a 0.8 pico curies per liter level of iodine-131, which it said was less than one five-thousandth of the safety safety guideline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
MODERATOR
Thank you for pointing this out. EL has been warned that any future mis-representations of the facts within the links he provides will be deleted.

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Sod @ 6:36am said:

“The major health impact at Chernobyl turned out to be psychological”

that statement is plain out false. several 1000 people died, even according to WHO documents.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html

However the paper he link to says:

About 4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents at the time of the accident, have resulted from the accident’s contamination and at least nine children died of thyroid cancer; however the survival rate among such cancer victims, judging from experience in Belarus, has been almost 99%.

Most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas received relatively low whole body radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels. As a consequence, no evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure.

Poverty, “lifestyle” diseases now rampant in the former Soviet Union and mental health problems pose a far greater threat to local communities than does radiation exposure.
Relocation proved a “deeply traumatic experience” for some 350,000 people moved out of the affected areas. Although 116 000 were moved from the most heavily impacted area immediately after the accident, later relocations did little to reduce radiation exposure.

Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in “paralyzing fatalism” among residents of affected areas.

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The elevation to Level 7 is a quite straightforward consequence of the calculation of total radiation (becquerels) released, by definition:

The highest four levels on the scale (Levels 4–7) include a definition in terms of the quantity of activity released, defining its size by its radiological equivalence to a given number of terabecquerels of 131I.

The IAEA give their rationale for using this basis rather than received dose as follows:

The reason for using quantity released rather than assessed dose is that for these larger releases, the actual dose received will very much depend on the protective action implemented and other environmental conditions. If the protective actions are successful, the doses received will not increase in proportion to the amount released.

Quotes from http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/INES-2009_web.pdf (pg 15)

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“The radiation leaks haven’t stopped,” Junichi Matsumoto, general manager of the utility’s nuclear power and plant fitting division, said in Tokyo today. “If the leaks continue, the total radiation from the reactors may exceed” that from Chernobyl.

Source: Bloomberg

Be careful not to take this quote out of context. The important terms are “if the leaks continue…” and “may exceed that from Chernobyl”

The most important facts left our are how long the leaks are expected to continue and at what rate.

That quote carries no weight even if the guy is from TEPCO as its technically correct statement that can be made by anybody without any information as to the rate of the leak or total release of Chernobyl and be technically correct.

Total = rate x time. Given any rate and enough time any total can be reached. Not all values of time are relevant.

To conclude that this quote means that Fukushima will pass Chernobyl, in terms of radiation release, because the leaks can’t be stopped is a stretch at best.

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Barry’s headlined post outlines why Fukushima is very different from Chernobyl. Another science-based source that helps explain Fukushima vs. Chernobyl is Daniel Garcia, who has a new bulletin up “What does INES and today’s uprate mean?“. Daniel is a researcher at the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency, the author of my favorite graphical status tracking website. A fragment of Daniel’s summary:

1.Released radioactivity is 10x smaller (based on NISA/JNS estimations), enough to be classified one hypothetical level below.

2. Radioactive material spread is completely different: In Chernobyl the whole graphite core exploded and was thrown into the atmosphere/surroundings in ashes/dust; In Fukushima reactors containment remains mostly sound, and leaked radioactivity has been mostly from liquid effluents that haven’t left the premises of the plant. Of course some of it leaked to the ocean and some was released to the atmosphere during H2 explosions, but the majority is still confined within the immediate proximity of the plant.

3. Because of 2, Fukushima plant remains “operable”, meaning that work to contain the radioactivity and limit the impact on the environment remains both possible and effective; Chernobyl couldn’t be approached after the accident.

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Looking back, I’m reminded that this report came on April 4th: http://www.japannewstoday.com/?p=2344

“A 20cm visible crack in a containment pit under reactor two has been discovered and TEPCO officials said this may be the source of the radiation contaminating the ocean…. “This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination,” Nishiyama said.”

(The person in the photo is pointing either to an open square pit, or a crack in the pavement next to it, can’t tell; and from the later information, “under” likely means “downhill from” the reactor)

I haven’t seen estimates of the volume or kind of material released via that route — they may well not have much information about how long it was going on, or where exactly it came from, adding to the uncertainty about the total release in the early days.

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PS – if this and everything above it looks italic, then there’s still an unclosed italic code in the post above.

It’s on 13 April 2011 at 5:30 AM
MODERATOR
Hank – It seems we were working on this at the same time:-)
On the moderation page everything appears normal and I only get to see the formatting errors if I read the actual blog. That is why it is always good to point these things out. Thank you.

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MODERATOR
A reminder to be careful with formatting. Early this morning someone closed an italicised quote with the symbols in the wrong order. Henceforth everything on this thread was in italics. I have traced and fixed it. Please take care.

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According to EL’s EPA link [1], iodine-131 activities in milk were measured at 3.2 pCi/L in Arizona, 8.9 pCi/L in Arkansas, and 18 pCi/L in Hawaii; the EPA’s MCL is 3 pCi/L [2], which was exceeded. But this MCL is for life-long exposure, whereas this I-131 will decay in a few days; it is completely harmless, despite exceeding MCL. For example the FDA’s derived intervention level for I-131 in milk is 170 Bq/kg or 4,600 pCi/kg [2,3]; this is 250x higher than the highest activities detected.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified about this today: she says the same thing I’m saying: [4]

Early precipitation samples collected by EPA indicated low levels of radioactivity. Given the sampling results in other environmental media, EPA expected to find very low levels of radiation in precipitation samples. Similar findings are to be expected in the coming weeks as radioactive materials are dispersed through the air from Japan. While the levels in some of the rainwater exceed the applicable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 3piC/L for drinking water, it is important to note that the corresponding MCL for iodine-131 was calculated based on long-term chronic exposures over the course of a lifetime 70 years. The levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration and are not expected to present any threat to public health.

Results from samples of milk taken March 28, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California showed approximately 3 pCi/L of iodine-131, which is more than 1,500 times lower than the Derived Intervention Level set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children. Iodine-131 has a very short half-life of approximately eight days, and the level detected in milk and milk products is, therefore, expected to drop relatively quickly. Additional information about the broader federal response can be found at: http://www.usa.gov/Japan2011.

Take the whole-body CEDE of I-131 by ingestion. [5] (Disclaimer, I am not a health physicist). At a CEDE of 1.44*10^-8 Sv/Bq, drinking 1 L/day of MCL 3 pCi/L water gives you an accumulated dose of 40 μSv or 4 mrem (the base regulatory definition [6]) after 70 years. (This is, of course, nothing. You get 17,000 mrem (17 rem) of natural radiation in the same time period). If instead you have a one-shot I-131 release, which gives you an initial I-131 level of 3 pCi/L which then decays, you ingest a total of 1 L/day * 3 pCi/L * (8.0 days / ln(2)) = 34.7 pCi, for a total dose of 18.4 nSv or 1.84 μrem. This is ridiculously negligible. With the Hilo measurement, 18 pCi/L, this goes up to 110 nSv or 11 μrem.

[1] http://epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html#milk

[2] http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/iodine/standards_regulations.html

[3] http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074576

[4] http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/16cf19b9b7f7014a85257870006dd410?OpenDocument

[5] http://researchcompliance.uc.edu/radsafety/isotope/isds-I131.html

[6] http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/index.cfm#Radionuclides

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Useful reminder:

“In reality what is occurring at Fukushima Daiichi is a compound event. Essentially there are three reactor accidents in progress simultaneously; there are also what might be called two spent fuel pool incidents and two spent fuel pool accidents in progress at the same time (the spent fuel pool situation is far worse at No. 3 and No. 4 plants, it seems.) So then we have essentially SEVEN simultaneous event chains in progress at the same site, each of which would be newsworthy by itself; all of which are complicating each other. We should keep this in mind when we continue to refer to the “Fukushima Daiichi Accident.”
11:40 AM Eastern Tuesday 4/12
ATOMIC POWER REVIEW”
http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/

That site continues to add detailed drawings and explanations of the plumbing, well worth following.

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Cyril R,
That paper on La Hague was interesting. The table showed Kr-85 emissions of several hundred PBq/year. Was that the only radioactive isotope emitted in significant quantities?

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@ sod, 12 April 2011 at 7:01 PM

Tom Keen, i strongly disagree with what you said

Apologies for delayed reply. I don’t really understand what you disagree with exactly though.

I said:

I think an important thing to consider is that a number rating does not, and should not, determine what the responsive actions or reactions to these events are – either on ground at the plant, or more broadly in the way we view the technology. The number is not what’s important – it’s the outcome of events that is crucially important.

Think about it logically. Let’s imagine a situation where in, say, one month time 100 times more radiological material than from the Chernobyl accident was somehow instantly released at Fukushima. The numerical rating of the event would not change, but the on ground action and public reaction certainly would.

Conversely, 2 days ago the INES rating for this accident was 5. Does this mean 100 times less resources should have been allocated to dealing with the problem 2 days ago?

Is a level 7 event with no deaths 100 times worse than a level 5 event with some deaths?

I’m not trying to play down the seriousness of what is occuring in Fukushima right now. I’m just trying to illustrate that the number, usefull as it may be, ultimately is not the important thing here.

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Barry asked for scientific support on a simple fact based reactor failure calculation. My comment was based on the actual data of one major reactor failure 25 years ago, and the Fujkushima failure now. Those are two failures in let’s say 50 chronological years of commercial reactor use. If we use the basic number of 400 reactors world wide, this is a faliure of 1 failure per 400 x 25 or 1 in 10,000 reactor years of operation. If we as a world build 40,000 reactors, and assume for illustrative purposes, a similar failure rate, then that will be one failure each 0.25 years. This is for illustrative purposes in that a large fleet of reactors will need better stats than what we have seen to date. I think this is an important reference point for any thinking about how many level 7 failures we could see in the future.

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steve lapp, you assume that the probability of core damage for a reactor designed in the mid-1960s is the same as today? You assume that a 1 in 500 year earthquake/tsunami will occur every year? I think you ought to check your reasoning regarding the general field of probabilistic risk assessment. You may be surprised to learn that some rather clever and quantitative people have thought about this issue for a long while.

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With an increasing rate of disasters due to global warming, we will need a measure that will allow an (increasingly jaded) audience to scale the significance of each.
.
Journalists might find useful the concept of a “busload”, in which 50 people die in one day, from the same cause. Politicians could write themselves into history by ordering an evacuation to avoid so-many busloads of casualties, then be later assessed for exaggeration. And so on.
.
Putting a quantity against each disaster would draw public attention to the ones that matter, independently of video footage, or distance. Thus the increasing famines in Africa, say, will out-measure more transient scandals like this one.

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The key difference from Chernobyl is that Japanese authorities promptly evacuated populations at risk whereas Soviet apparatchiks persisted in pretending that:

There is no credible risk of a serious accident.

As a result there will be substantially less damage, both physically and psychologically.

If the opinions of “experts” claiming there was no credible risk had been the attitude of the Japanese authorities rather than the bloviations of “expert” bloggers, Japan would now be faced with having to evacuate some 200,000 people in circumstances of panic like Chernobyl, instead of having done it while radiation levels were still safe for movement.

That is the difference that should be clearly understood.

Other differences are highlighted here for reasons that should be very obvious to readers, even though invisible to the authors of posts approved by the moderators.

So far there’s no sign of “perestroika” here.

But at some point you will stop ignoring the size of the evacuation and actually think about what it implies.

Then you may choose to simply continue your previous strategy simply because nuclear remains the only plausible alternative to fossil fuels. This would be very similar to the greenies pretending that renewables are economically viable because they don’t want nuclear.

As illustrated by the green lobby for renewables, a strategy that simply cannot work can nevertheless be continued with for a long time.

Or you could choose a different strategy that might work. Instead of wasting time on advocating that Australia switch to nuclear power, knowing that it won’t get anywhere for the next few years, you could start advocating a serious Australian contribution to global R&D for cheaper clean energy (with your focus naturally being on reduced cost for gen III and IV nuclear fission).

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Or you could choose a different strategy that might work. Instead of wasting time on advocating that Australia switch to nuclear power, knowing that it won’t get anywhere for the next few years, you could start advocating a serious Australian contribution to global R&D for cheaper clean energy (with your focus naturally being on reduced cost for gen III and IV nuclear fission).

Yes, I basically agree with this sentiment, with the caveat that the need is greater in the deployment and demonstration than the research and development component.

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[Deleted for violation of commenting rules, and commenter now (finally) banned for repeated offences. Suggest you find another (unmoderated) blog to vent your spleen.]

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“However the paper he link to says:”

sorry, but i did link to the WHO paper, that seems to be the source of the false claim about psychology being the major health effect of chernobyl on purpose.

people died. that was the major health effect.

————————–

“Think about it logically. Let’s imagine a situation where in, say, one month time 100 times more radiological material than from the Chernobyl accident was somehow instantly released at Fukushima. The numerical rating of the event would not change, but the on ground action and public reaction certainly would.”

the rating will have an effect on response. that is just how the world works. it is this kind of rankings, that gives urgency and power to the people who handle the catastrophe.

it makes the difference between a “i will check with top guys what i can do for you” and a “take what ever you need” reply, when asking for assistance.

we know that rescue efforts had trouble with the most simply supplies in the beginning. now the question must be asked, if this would have been the same, if Fukushima had been rated INES 7 after the first explosion.

ps: i agree with you, actions can (and would) change if severity increases without a change to crisis level. but it would change less and slower.

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The site will continue to emit for years. Current efforts are focused on essential clean up and it will take time to develop and then implement an effective D&D program.
[Comment deleted. Unsubstantiated personal opinion presented as fact.]The INES 7 status of the accident makes that kind of action much easier to justify politically.
Political cover is presumably also a factor in the decision to keep TEPCO nominally in charge, even though the accident is a national issue well beyond TEPCOs financial, technical and managerial competence.

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[Comment deleted. Violation of the citation policy]
MODERATOR
You provide a link to a 349 page report with a comment that we should read but without giving us any in depth commentary to show that you have read, digested and understood it. This violates the citation policy – see below. Re-submit this for posting with some personal commentary on the research within:

This is not a forum for cut-and-pasting slabs of text, with no other comment other than a link. Tell people why you think they should be interesting in reading this, and what it means for this discussion. Otherwise, you’re not thinking and not contributing. Simple as that.
Citing literature and other sources: appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed, but please DO NOT cite material that you have not yourself read, digested and understood. As a general rule, please introduce any and every link or reference with a short description of the material, your judgement on its quality, and the specific reason you are including it (i.e. how it is relevant to the discussion).

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well, from what i read the japan gov hide fact not to rise to level 7 cause there would panic attack so people would rush outside japan

“Some foreigners fled the country even when there appeared to be little risk,” he said. “If we immediately decided to label the situation as Level 7, we could have triggered a panicked reaction.”

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> Yablokov … from the NYAS site

Good link, and people should take the time to read that carefully and think it through before proclaiming it wrong. I find it ironic that people are so willing to believe the information from the government of the USSR, and so quick to conclude that the people who came afterward must be less careful of the truth.

It says “The scientific literature on the consequences of the catastrophe now includes more than 30,000 publications, mainly in Slavic languages…. The Chernobyl Digest—scientific abstract collections—was published in Minsk with the participation of many Byelorussian and Russian scientific institutes and includes several thousand annotated publications dating to 1990. At the same time the IAEA/WHO “Chernobyl Forum” Report (2005), advertised by WHO and IAEA as “the fullest and objective review” of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, mentions only 350 mainly English publications.”

Some work needs to be done translating these.

It’s not appropriate to insist that if it’s not in English it’s not acceptable information.

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Because of high readings of 137Cs in soil (order of magnitude 300,000 Becquerel/m2), some towns/village are going to be evacuated for a long time (for ex. litate), and long term restrictions on agriculture are going to be imposed.

Therefore, I think the level 7 comes from the fact that “planned and extended countermeasures” are going to be implemented.
Land being more precious in Japan than in Belarus, i wouldn’t be surprised to see a program of “land decontamination” (by scraping the top soil) instead of just giving up the place. Same thing for cities

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