Many people are concerned about possible exposure to radiation as a result of a potential meltdown in the Fukushima reactors.
I’ve only got time for a quick cut here, and will say more in the comments below if asked, but I wanted to point everyone to an excellent blog post by Gia Milinovich which explains some of the scientific issues involved:
From her Twitter feed (@giagia):
By me. What is radiation: http://bit.ly/dZPY5v The physical effects of radiation: http://bit.ly/hwXAH5 Max levels in Japan: 12 millisieverts
I especially like her “Kylie Minogue vs. Mike Tyson” analogy.
A more formal explanation specific to the Fukushima accident is found in this Nature article.
Most of the health effects will be from iodine-131 (131I), a radioactive isotope of iodine that is created as a byproduct of nuclear fission.
Other isotopes created by nuclear reactors are not as worrisome for the environment. For example, tritium (3H, radioactive hydrogen) has a half-life of 13 years. By convention, we say something stays in the environment for 10 half-lives so that the radioactivity is reduced by 1/210 or less than 1/1000 of its starting amount, so tritium “stays in the environment” for about 130 years; but there is a lot of non-radioactive hydrogen in water that dilutes out the radioactive hydrogen and renders it pretty much harmless. Radioactive nitrogen (16N) is produced in large quantities but decays quickly to non-radioactive oxygen.
131I is both relatively long-lived and rare in the terrestrial environment. This means that it’s not diluted out by other “cold” atoms. There is a lot of iodine in the oceans, so if the prevailing winds and weather take the radioactive iodine into the Pacific Ocean, it will have minimal effects on the environment. If it blows back towards heavily populated land (such as Tokyo), there’s a much larger problem.
What’s worse, 131I concentrates in the thyroid gland. Most other isotopes will distribute themselves evenly through the body, reducing the damage caused by radioactive decay.
The technically minded here might like to read this report.
Even in a much, much larger accident such as Chernobyl, there is a small but measurable increased incidence of thyroid cancer especially in children. If you’re worried, stock up on potassium iodide pills.
- How Iodide Pills Work (livescience.com)
- Radiation exposure: How big is the threat in Japan? – Christian Science Monitor (news.google.com)
- Q&A: Is Japan facing Chernobyl threat? (cnn.com)
- Japanese authorities race to control nuclear crisis (ctv.ca)
I’m not really worried about huge clouds of radiation blowing across the ocean.. (though I must admit that even though it’s not entirely rational, my thoughts are still turning somewhat anxiously toward the three grandchildren who presently live in Honolulu… 😦
I do wonder, though, how this will affect North America’s nuclear industry.
We NEED nuclear energy. We can’t all go around witrh little windmills on our hats and solar panels on our T-shirts to generate our personal enrgy needs. And we’re running out of what Mr U calls “dinosaur blood.”
The answer is nuclear, not “drill baby drill.” so… will this be a roadblock to intelligent progress, or a valuable teaching moment?
The United States has an unbelievable amount of geothermal energy available. And unlike wind and solar, it’s there all the time. Unlike nuclear, it produces no waste. So a good answer (in the US, anyway) is “drill, baby, drill”… for geothermal energy, not for oil.
I agree that nuclear has to be one of the options we turn to.
On the one hand, the nuclear industry has done an absolutely horrible job of educating the public. Human psychology is terrible at accurate risk assessment (a subject for a future post, I suppose).
On the other hand, we can and must use this as a “teachable moment” to make nuclear power plants safer and better. Fukushima is 40 years old, so it was near the end of its life cycle in any case.
What scares me is that in the U.S., the nuclear industry has been frozen in time for 30 years or more. We need innovation but with safety paramount. ¡Sì, se pueda!
@Michael… for geothermal energy, not for oil.
There’s also vast amounts of natural gas. Why doesn’t it get more attention?
Unfortunately, the geothermal energy business in the states (and elsewhere) has suffered bad publicity in the form of being implicated in causing … earthquakes. They had to shut down a few tests in California a while ago, and one in Switzerland (as I recall) because they were causing earthquakes, and (as I understand it) their insurance company pulled the plug. No insurance, no test, and I’m guessing that hasn’t changed in the interim.
So it’s not clear to me that geothermal is going to be a winner in the aftermath of this situation.
so… DO I need to worry about my grandkids in Hawaii?
Please, somebody tell me something reassuring.
Fili you are correct in thinking nuclear will have to be a part of any meaningful effort at energy inderpendence. We had a nuclear plant here in Maine for many years that produced power. It has now been taken off line and torn down yet we as a state are still significant energy exporters but even with all of our hydro, wind, biomass, and now tidal power coming on line we still have way too much electrial production tied up with burning natural gas and oil. The country is no different, while conservation must be front and center electrical generation is going to be huge and that is certainly one thing a nuke plant can do.
It is odd to see the blogs over at Fox all wound up that the Democrats ae going to use this to stop all nuke development. It almost seems as if they are a little conflicted though. They so desperately want to diss Dems that they keep stepping on each other. You know it is all GE’s fault and we will have nuke plants only because they own the president. The other Dems that want nukes must only want them because the workers will be unionized (hell not me I say build them in red states and hire minimum wage employees…….tongue lashing to start in 3, 2, 1……)
When Democrats and others are ok with nukes if they are built to strict guidelines they are jumped on for wanting too much regulation if they ok some thing and it tunrs out to be built on a fault line or they must have sold out. Build nukes but build them well and in the right places. To make them pay though is going to require a smart and efficient grid. So lets cut the money for that and just build them in the middle of Manhatten. That should make the right as happy as my other tongue in cheek suggestion makes me. Now for those of you that are fans of the Aussie satire the front fell off picture the nuke version. “Well before the nuke plant melted down wasn’t there environment concerns?” “Of course there were but there is no environmental situation here they are venting the glowing nuke steam straight up and out of the environment and there was no string or cardboard or cellophane tape used in its construction and it met the minimum manning standard of one employee.”
We should still be building nuke plants but the discussions concerning them have alredy melted down.
No. The rate of emission and the distance and dispersion rate would indicate that Hawaii has virtually nothing to worry about. No more than when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. In fact much less.
For one thing, it’s more expensive to transport because of requiring larger pipes or vehicles to carry the same number of units of potential energy. Second, to use it in conjunction with electricity as a replacement for gasoline/diesel results in lower overall efficiency due to conversion/distribution losses. Third, it still produces copious quantities of carbon dioxide (albeit less than petroleum equivalents), making it a less-useful substitute than renewables over the long haul.
That said, emissions are less hazardous than gasoline or diesel, and it’s acceptable as a substitute for gasoline/diesel in short-run vehicles such as public transit buses. It’s used in that way in many municipalities.
@Gator… The rate of emission and the distance and dispersion rate would indicate that Hawaii has virtually nothing to worry about.
Thank you. You’re such a nice Gator 🙂
(Though now I feel guilty for being relieved… because all those little kids in Japan are somebody’s beloved grandbabies, too… 😦 )
These have been caused by the use of hydraulic fracturing through the use of open-ended piping (a technique also endorsed by many in the oil industry for oil extraction). While that method is exceptionally efficient in terms of heat extraction from the earth, it’s far from the only method available. I’d like to think that other methods won’t suffer from the same fate. But we’ll have to see.
@Mainer: Agreed. The Japanese don’t have any seismically stable sites. We do. We should build plants in seismically stable sites with lots of water. If we build the grid right, we can charge it up wherever we damn well please. (“Whenever” is more of a problem, as I understand it, than “wherever”.) I would personally put most of those suckers in Mississippi and Louisiana (such as the Grand Gulf plant, still doing fine, thankyouverymuch).
No one can say. The prevailing wind is from the west, so it will more than likely blow out to sea, but a lot depends on the nature of the failure. If it’s a huge explosion that gets into the jet stream, then yes, Hawaii is at risk. If not, then radioactivity (such as what’s being vented now) will blow out to sea and be pretty harmless.
Still, potassium iodide is cheap and relatively non-toxic. I’d recommend that your (son/daughter) go to the drugstore and get some, just in case. And remember, the drive to the drugstore will be more dangerous than the risk from even a huge exposure to 131I. So tell them not to make a special trip.
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They are not at severe risk either, at this juncture. Time will tell, but if they control the reactions quickly they will be ok. They could flood the containment with sea water but the reactors would be destroyed. Sea water is particularly bad for reactor parts and pieces. The reason that they have had explosions is because the oxygen has been leeched from the water that has been introduced by severe oxygenation within the reactors. Severe oxygenation is basically rust. That leeching has created clouds of free hydrogen which then explodes when exposed to an ignition point. So they are trying to control the reactions while minimizing reactor damage. Flooding the reactors with salt water would completely destroy them.
This just in: a site in Japan monitoring radioactivity in real time.
Dosages are in nano (10–9 = 1/1,000,000,000) Grays per hour (nGy/hr).
Flying in an airplane should give you about 3200 nGy/hr. The highest dose on the chart is half that, at 1560 nGy/hr. Farther away from the Fukushima plant, the radioactivity will disperse a lot so I wouldn’t expect greater exposures (say) in Hawaii.
Gator… haven’t they already been flooding the reactors with sea water for the past day or two?
Yes, they’ve been flooding two of the reactors with sea water, and yes it will render them useless after all is said and done. But at this point, I think that plant is a goner no matter what they do. It’s just a question of shutting it all down in a way that doesn’t result in uncontrolled radioactivity dispersal.
Why doesn’t natural gas get more attention? Transportation and distribution costs for one thing. (Same reason Canadian oil doesn’t get much attention down here, because our oil transport networks are all built assuming that the oil mostly originates in the Texas/Louisiana/Gulf region, which means that transporting oil from Canada to Iowa costs just as much as transporting it from Venezuela or Qatar where it’s cheaper to produce.) If we were to dramatically increase our natural gas production, then that would require significant infrastructure investment, and we all know how leery the current Congress is of any sort of “spending”…
Secondly, we can’t just flip a switch and convert our cars or coal plants to natural gas, so there’s a conversion cost. And even if we could, natural gas simply isn’t as efficient as the petroleum products we usually use now. Gas people will quote BTUs and other numbers at you, but the point is it takes more fuel to go just as far.
And thirdly, it’s still a non-renewable fossil fuel that produces a lot of CO2, so it’s a stop-gap and not a long-term solution.
I’m all for using Natural Gas where it makes sense, but if we want a real, long-term solution, then we’ve got to be looking for something renewable and cleaner than dinosaur farts instead of dinosaur blood.
Nuclear, Geo-thermal, wind and water…
Yes, they’ve been using sea water to cool the fuel rods, since the cooling pumps and ancillary machinery was destroyed by the tsunami. It’s the only option they have.
As Gator says, that will make hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas will then explode. As I understand it, they’re trying to control the explosions so that the containment vessel — the stainless steel vault which keeps radioactivity from getting into the ground — remains intact. If they crack the containment vessel, they’ve multiplied their problems greatly.
Also, let’s say a prayer (a Shinto prayer, if you wish) for the 50 brave engineers who are now trying to control the reactor. Regardless of what happens, they are true heroes.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:13 (KJV)
Not sure if they have resorted to that or not. Haven’t paid that much attention. It is not a threat to us, nor a particularly dangerous threat to Japan, IMO. The threat of disease is far greater and more pressing, but cholera doesn’t play as well as radiation on the nightly news.
I know a fair amount about nuclear technology and as a result I am not terribly concerned over this.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad.
There will however, be many things that arise as a result of this catastrophe that will do far more human damage than radiation exposure.
Those men and women are the ones in grave danger from exposure. We should wish them Godspeed in their efforts.
Treme… my daughter says the official position in Hawaii is that the jet stream is forecast to be well north of the Islands and radiation will dissipate harmlessly over the ocean.
Nevertheless, all potassium iodide is sold out all over Oahu (most is carried just in health food stores) and more supplies are currently being rushed from the mainland.
Thanks so much for all the helpful info. The very best remedy for panic is lots and lots of factual information.
My thoughts about the situation in Japan echo yours. Well said, sir.
Tell ’em to stock up on seafood, especially shrimp. Lots of iodine in seawater, so lots of iodine in seafood.
Thank you ma’am (I think). 😉
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
There’s also vast amounts of natural gas. Why doesn’t it get more attention?
See: Frakking. And not the Battlestar Galactica kind.
Dinosaur flatulence. 😀
Gonna add that one to the quiver for the next presentation I give.
Love FoW! Oddly though, nothing is playing for me on youtube.
And the ‘fear’ link was excellent as well. The problem is that ‘glamor’ leads in the news win over reality leads every time. Hookers are more interesting than the school board voting, but the school board affects us far more than hookers (or one would hope and assume).
And fear sells. The New Yorker just did a piece about the gulf spill. A total of 5600 birds died as a result of the spill. I’ve seen 5600 birds (of a single breed) in one day in one place. You would have thought it would be 100s of thousands or millions based on the news reports at the time. Sensationalism sells the news.
Don’t see what you find novel about this. This place is full of it on a regular basis! And no, I’m not just talking about Max. LOL! Sorry Max it was just too easy.
Sorry. But you can’t set me up like that and expect me to IGNORE IT!
And feel free to let fly (there’s a visual for ya’) with whatever reptile fart lines you can come up with.
While it’s true we have primarily only fear to fear in the case of Japan (unlike the people who live near the reactors), it is not a very sensible attitude to minimize disasters. The number quoted by Gator, “5600”, the number of oiled birds collected almost all of whom can be expected to die. A general rule of thumb is that the true number of birds who died would be 10 times that number.
— and of course, birds, while strongly affected, are not the primary victims of a deep-water oil spill.
That’s why accuracy and care in reporting, along with follow-up research, is vital in understanding the causes of these disasters, their ultimate cost — and how to prevent or ameliorate them in the future.
Hey! So I’m easy?!?!?!
Knew the first time I tried it, I was going to do it as often as possible!
Just look at all the little green-eyed redheads running around!
Purely from a messaging standpoint, I wonder how much damage a story like this will do to the GOP, coming at a critical time when everybody is scared and horrified by the images coming from Japan.
This “cutting tsunami warnings” meme is that dreaded soundbite that has all three dangerous elements… it’s current, easily understandable and relevant for almost everybody. It drives home the fact that …sure, cutting is fine and dandy… but lots of government services are ESSENTIAL.
Does anybody really think this is a time when tsunami warning services should be cut to save money?
Fili that was cutting off money for tsunami warning systems every where but the Gulf. Remember Jindal and his volcano warning waste? Hell some of the money they want to cut from NOAA is going to impact their ability with severe weather. When you have sold the idea that government has no value then it is hard to actually see the value that is there even to the point of wondering why no one told you there was a hurricane or tornado coming.
There are deep cuts planned in FEMA and disaster prep for example. How politicians from hurricane and tornado alley went for that with a straight face amazes me. So if they get th ecuts they want and then no one shows up it will be becaue those damned Democrats had it in for them.
Did any one see that revenues for the Government were at historic lows. Well now we know the answer to that…right…….cut taxes.
SC why must you always be wrong? Is it genetic in nature? Since you wanted to cherry pick quotes from your link, a decidedly biased link I might add, I thought I’d pull some from the same piece…
“Because the proportion of dead birds recovered varies considerably among spills, the only way that we will have an accurate estimate of the true number of birds killed will be if we have 1) a reliable baseline of the abundance and distribution of birds in a given area, 2) accurate maps and projections of the extent and movement of the oil, and 3) studies of the fate of carcasses in the environment.”
“That risk depends on their ranges and on the chance that they come in physical contact with or ingest oil.”
“Several scientific studies have examined the behavior and survival of birds oiled by other spills that have been cleaned and released. Results have varied tremendously.”
” These species will begin arriving in the fall, and could suffer the same fate of the residents if the oil is still present.”
What do these all have in common? They are all ways of saying “We don’t have a clue.” What they do know is that they recovered 5600 birds with oil on them and 3500 died. Which is exactly what the New Yorker article said. And what your OWN LINK said. So MinisculeManacles the numbers weren’t mine, they were from the New Yorker article detailing how overblown the reporting was in relation to the actual damages. Not that there were no damages.
And if it was 5600 or 56,ooo,ooo who gives a rats ass right? I mean it wasn’t as though they were likely voters.
Gator, I might hold off on thinking how over blown the reporting was. I believe there will be some more numbers coming out that will look not so cozy. You ever work a major spill? They don’t even grab off many of the birds that don’t look viable. So if they grabbed off 5600 that maybe they could save and still lost 3500 of them not a very promising result.
There actually is more information coming out and some of it is going to make interesting reading. Look for the Incident Commanders final report some time later this spring or early summer. While it was a Joint Command there was one primary Incident Commander and he will have available the information and data from just about any one that was involved. Not sure the release date.
Mainer I’ve been on/in the gulf 7 times in the last 10 months. I was in Cedar Key and out diving 5 weeks ago. I lived this spill. It’s in my living room.
It was a bad situation. Just not nearly as bad as people thought/think. There is FAR less oil left than was assumed. The gulf has been busy cleaning itself while we yelled about BP (who actually have done a respectable job cleaning up), the government (which was more competent than people think), big oil and so on. Find me a panoramic shot of oil fouled beaches… you can’t. There were none. Contaminated marshes?… about 50 miles worth – total – for the entire gulf coast. And it has all been cleaned. It was bad, but not what we were told. Not even close.
Now Cedar Key is nice and what an interesting history. I would have to agree that some things went better than expected, I have to add that there were others that did not go as they should have but yes that is to be expcted in any thing of this size. Will I give any one a pat on the back yet? Nope. And that includes my beloved Coast Guard. I will wait for the final reports. Oh and Gator…..there were some pretty scummy beaches, and yes they do look pretty good now on the surface but one does not have to dig down very far to find evidence of what was there.
Oh and the marsh areas have not all been cleaned, they ae still working on that as best they can. Most of what is there now is pretty weathered and they are mostly just going after tar globs and vegetation matts that are ruined. I’m still not sure if I would eat shrimp from there but I have always thought our Maine shrimp were better any way, a smaller but much better flavor.
So if it was bad but not as bad as we were told, who lied to us? Thad Allen? Tony the yatchsman, the Lousiana sand berm king, the president, the fishermen? Serious question even if it does not look it.
They just fished the classic there and they actually did not comment on oil which could be a good sign.
That coonass parish president or whatever he was lied his Acadian ass off, for one. That dude actually got a face to face with the Prez! WTF!
The press and partisan haymakers are who lied. Everyone uses these sorts of occurences to make political hay. The press eats that up because they all try to out- sensationalise each other. It’s a giant clusterf***.
Rock shrimp make those Maine mudbugs hide in shame.
Mudbugs?????? Why you low down skunk you wouldn’t know good sea food if it bit you on the ass.
And you say a Loooooouisana politician might prevaricate? But they do it in that accent of theirs so it sounds……..kind of like some politicians up here come to think about it.
With any luck I will get back down there this next year. Kind of wanted it to bethis winter but that didn’t work out.
I found some of the earlier questions about natural gas interesting. With the pipeline running through Maine now from Sable Island and an LNG facility being built in New Brunswick and most likely 2 more in DownEast Maine we are going to see much more of it than in the past. Already there are 2 power plants on it. More communities are putting it in too. I keep thinking of T. Boone when any one talks natural gas as a stepping stone to the future.
Another New York Times story on the brave 50 Japanese nuclear plant workers.
10:22 P.M. |Chief Cabinet Secretary’s News Conference
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, is holding a news conference that is being broadcast live on Japanese television. Mr. Edano said radiation readings started rising rapidly Wednesday morning outside the front gate of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “All the workers there have suspended their operations. We have urged them to evacuate, and they have,” he said, according to a translation by NHK television.
Plants now empty. Meltdown underway.
Interesting Fili I was just reading some of this on other venues. As much as the workers apparently tried to do it was far too little and some too late. Instead of having a concerted set of apparent contingency plans going all the way to the oh ny god level of issue they seemed to try and low ball the situation. Not enough workers and not enough equipment or supplies. Hard I know after such an earth quake and the great wave but I would stake a bet that we could find such planning here.
Another bet, this whole mess is about to cost a Japanese government their jobs. Too little openness, too many supposed spokesmen all seeming to say some different. Nothing much from the electric company at all. It is one thing to want to forestall panic quite another to try and deceive for reasons that are very hard to understand.
Now I guess we all hold cross our fingers for the folks over there. Those into religion might want to go that route. I have a feeling the stocks of nuclear companies may take a serius beating as well as our own envisioned nuclear energy growth. I still think it can be done better than it has been.
After more searching the web I’m going with the crossed fingers a little more.This looks more like a regroup and try some thing dfferent. Maybe the government is getting sorted out on this. They still do not have all the help from our military they could have up and running as every thing seems to need to be negotiated first.
Locals want helicopters moving people and bringing in supplies while the big dogs want to negotiate…..now where have we seen that movie?
Does anybody really think this is a time when tsunami warning services should be cut to save money?
This reminds of the Bobby Jindal moment with his ridicule of “something called volcano monitoring.” Followed by a massive volcanic eruption. It destroyed all talk of Jindal as a presidential contender.
On the other hand, the Deepwater Horizon leak, which highlighted the sorry state of drilling regulation, has not led to an overwhelming call for restrictions on offshore drilling. Of course, even the DeepwaterHorizon disaster didn’t kill thousands of people and result in the possible meltdown of a series of nuclear reactors.
Naturally, I’d expect that if people use this catastrophe as an example of why we need a tsunami warning system — and as a further example of the value of various other government programs as well — we’ll be told we’re just politicizing a tragedy. I fully expect the ideological calls for cuts will continue unabated.
The human tragedy in Japan is awful, and is likely to get worse — and possibly a lot worse. Coming on the heels of the worst worldwide recession in nearly a century as it does, the recovery will be far more painful and prolonged than needed. Yet, again, this will not dampen the calls for continuing — and worsening — the economic conditions and policies that led to the recession.
Nations, it seems, tend to not learn from their previous mistakes.
One of the things that continues to astound me about the situation in Japan is that I keep reading how they were the best prepared for major crises like the earthquake and tsunami. If the result is this disastrous for the best prepared country, how horrific would it have been anywhere else? And the humanitarian and economic devastation is mitigated greatly by the Japanese people’s willingness to cooperate with one another and remain calm. Given their culture, they’re probably the best people on the planet for recovering from disaster.
Those who eschew warning systems and disaster preparedness are blind. We could learn a lot of lessons from the Japanese.
Some more on the ’50’. There are actually 180 workers being moved in and out in shifts of 50. These people are showing amazing bravery. The Japanese will need more.
The way that the Russians dealt with Chernobyl was by using 650,000 workers in very short shifts and monitoring exposure times. This placed a very small amount of exposure risk on a very large number of people. To date they have seen no increase in health issues among those workers. Japan will need to do the same.
Apparently, the global supply of Potassium Iodide pills is being bought up by Americans who are freaked out by the nuclear disaster an ocean away. Considering that Potassium Iodide is really only effective against inhaled iodine-131, and such a cloud is highly unlikely to reach the United States, I would hope that these Americans are purchasing the pills with the express intent to ship them charitably to Japan…
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