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back to article Fukushima: Situation improving all the time

Events at the quake- and tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan went well at the weekend, with two reactors there successfully brought into cold shutdown under off-site power, power lines hooked up to other cores being cooled using seawater and some progress in refilling spent-fuel storage pools. Initial …

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Anonymous Coward

"can't be concealed"

This bloke that says trust the government, these things can't be kept secret... he does know that post-Chernobyl, academic institutions in the UK were ordered not to publish what they knew about radioactivity levels?

Is he trying to tell us there's no way that suppression would be repeated?

Because if he is, I for one don't believe him.

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questions questions

And might you be able to provide any credible reference to academics being told (and ten obeying) these mysterious instructions? In the absence of a reply, I suspect not

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Boffin

I'd hazard a guess

that a few more people have (access to) geiger counters than back in 1986. And that not all of them are in the same Nuclear Radiation Numbers Suppression League.

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We do not live post-chernobyl

We live in the day and age when everyone can get a geiger counter, measure and post the measurement on a blog. So concealment does not work (at least in most developed countries).

In any case: http://xkcd.com/radiation/

Says all that there was to be said here.

Note the banana and the coal plant.

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We had a geiger counter...

...in the school Physics lab.

Even as the deadly radioactive dust from Chernobyl was falling, it barely registered a blip (in Sussex). We set up a sheet to try to collect some of this dust, and failed. To be honest we got stronger readings pointing the thing at each others testicles (hey, it was an all-boys school in the middle of the night, what d'you expect? ;-) ).

Summary: We were more radioactive than this hyped-up radioactive fallout. Need I say more?

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Silver badge

We also had a geiger counter

And our physics lessons on radiation were rendered useless, by the standard sources being less radioactive than the Cornish granite walls.

If anyone hasn't seen it; the XKCD comparative radiation chart is a superb illustration of the amounts of radiation being talked about:

http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/03/19/radiation-chart/

I had a CAT scan last month, judging by the dose I received I should be developing superpowers any day now.

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Unmitigated drivel

Well, I was doing a postgrad degree, in what's now the "Dalton Nuclear Institute" at Manchester University - then the Department of Nuclear Engineering - that's news to me.

I even ended up discussing them on a BBC local radio discussion, through a connection with a mate from undergrad days, who'd joined the BBC.

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Anonymous Coward

Does it rain a lot in Sussex?

There may well be more Geiger counters around now than back then.

Anyway, Sussex may not have had radioactive rain, but other places did. Think wet places in north Wales, north west England. That's all for now.

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Indeed drivel

I've posted this elsewhere but after Chernobyl the pharmaceutical research site I worked at in NW England ( >2000 km) from Chernobyl, spotted the radiation very quickly as it was concentrated on the ventilation filters. The news got around VERY quickly.

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JLH

Dose meters

"that a few more people have (access to) geiger counters than back in 1986."

Err... well no not really. 1986 was not that primitive a year.

Ionizing radiation detectors have been around for over a hundred years, beginning with gold leaf electrometers and cloud chambers.

"Geiger" counters as you term them are pretty standard bits of kit in any physics lab, or health physics setup, and were certainly common in 1986.

In 1986 I was a student at university, working at a CERN experiment.

My PhD is in experimental particle physics - so I know a thing or two about radiation detection devices - and I have also worked for several years in a medical physics department.

I really don't like the term "Geiger counters" being used by the media - there are many, many types of radiation detectors, which are relevant to the type and energy of the radiation you are tyring to measure (spark tubes, scintillators, ionisation chambers, Geiger counters, filem dose badges, calorimeters, semiconductor detectors, drift chambers)

What you see on TV are dose meters - which are likely to be ionization detectors.

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Troll

don't like the term Geiger counter?

Yeah! It's the Geiger-Muller counter, get it right!

[or is it an "halogen counter"?]

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Armchair psychology now.

"Public health consequences also look to be nil based on reports thus far, apart from possible psychological problems from needless stress and panic."

So, along with not being a nuclear expert, Lewis is also doing armchair psychology. Please, don't ever to be a journalist though.

Lewis, why are you reporting that things are improving when you were reporting there was nothing wrong last week?

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Anonymous Coward

Haven't you heard?

Nuclear accidents cure cancer. Any contamination in your milk will actually make you healthier. That's why the nothing wrong is now even better.

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@Steve Murphy

"So, along with not being a nuclear expert, Lewis is also doing armchair psychology. Please, don't ever to be a journalist though"

So, along with not being a nuclear expert, Steve is also doing armchair criticism. Please, don't ever to be a psychologist though. [sic throughout]

Far be it for me to defend Lewis, who I'm sure is perfectly capable should he be bothered, but anyone who has a modicum of intelligence and education could, rightly, associate stress and fear with longer-term psychological problems in a sufficiently large population. In addition, he pointed out in earlier articles several worse-case scenarios, which despite having happened, are being controlled better than could be expected.

And remember, this is the country that had an outbreak of hysteria over Pokemon...

e.g. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/410728_4

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Armchair psychology?

Nope. It was found after the Chernobyl event that stress, fear, anxiety - justified or not - had a significant health effect on the "victims" - whether they'd actually been exposed to radiation or not.

http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Chernobyl/chernobyl.pdf. Page 20.

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Stop

Unfortunately, thousands will die ...

There is a huge health risk, unfortunately, and it may well kill tens of thousands over the next few months as a direct result of the reactor outage at Fukushima Daiichi.

See, Western Japan and Eastern Japan do not share an electricity grid; because of an historical accident, in the 1890s when they were first getting electric lighting, one utility chose to run at 60Hz and the other picked 50Hz. Consequently there's no grid interconnect between the two halves of the Japanese electricity supply system.

Eastern Japan has just had 15 nuclear reactors scrammed by an an earthquake. Some of them may be checked out and approved to start delivering base load again over the coming months, but they all need a thorough inspection at this point -- and we know for sure that at least three of them will never work again (not after they've had seawater pumped through their primary coolant circuit).

We are now heading into summer. And Tokyo doesn't have enough electricity to maintain power everywhere even in spring.

Summer in Tokyo is savage: temperatures routinely top 35 celsius with 100% humidity. In a heat wave, it can top 40 degrees for days on end. Back when I visited in 2008 the heat wave had broken and daytime temperatures were down under 37 degrees again -- the week before it had been over 42, and joggers had been dropping dead in the street.

Greater Tokyo also has 30-million-odd people, of whom a large proportion -- maybe 20% -- are 75 years or older.

Elderly folks do not handle heat waves well; they get dehydrated easily and if they don't have air conditioning they die in droves. Normally it's not a problem in Tokyo because 80% of households have air conditioning, but with rolling blackouts and insufficient power it's another matter. They can try and evacuate old folks into school gyms with aircon and portable generators, but the logistics of moving several million geriatrics are daunting, to say the least. Not to mention feeding them, keeping them hydrated, providing their medication, and handling sanitation.

If Tokyo experiences a heat wave this summer, the deaths (from heat stroke, among the other-75s) may well outnumber the direct fatalities from the earthquake and tsunami combined.

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Heat wave

I won't say I dissagree with you, but I'm not sure what this has to do with Fukushima. or Nuclear power in general. If they had been using any other form of power generation, they would likely be in this same situation. the lack of power is caused by the earthquake and tsunami, not thier inability to restart thier reactors.

if they had used Hydro and the dam was damaged, how long would it take to repair? If they used coal and that plant was damaged, how long would it take to repair? it's all just useless speculation. If you want to question the old descisions that led them to have a split power grid, thats all well and good, but its academic and mostly pointless.

Thousands may die as you say, but it will be as an indirect result of the massive natural disasters. I don't see how any blame can be laid at the feet of nuclear power for this one.

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Boffin

There is interconnection...

... using back-to-back high Voltage DC (HVDC) converters maybe not enough capacity (total capacity is 1.5GW - according to Wikipedia...)

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Dead Vulture

Natural selection?

I mean, who the fuck goes jogging in 42° heat?

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@Abremms

"I don't see how any blame can be laid at the feet of nuclear power for this one."

Clearly, you're not a "journalist" or a "newspaper editor", because they can see clearly that those deaths will have been caused by that dastardly killer Nucular Enurgee, even if no radiation has been involved (or so the boffins say, but as we can't see that radiation we can't verify that (which we won't do anyway because as newspaper editors we have to get the news out, not bother with wasting our time on verification))

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Heat wave

Irony doesn't work well on the net: my point was that the *absence* of nuclear power from the Fukushima plants may well cause a ton more deaths than a full-on Chernobyl grade disaster, or even a magnitudfe 9 quake followed by a once-in-a-thousand-years tsunami.

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Boffin

Not so sure I agree with Abremms

While a fossil-fired power plant would have received the same inundation that Fukushima did, it would not have caused the intense environmental impact/review that a nuclear plant would do. An oil-fired plant might have resulted in a mid-sized oil spill, but the supplying pipeline could be shut down pretty easily, so the spill shouldnt be more than a 500 barrels or less. A gas-fired plant could be shut down even more easily with even less environmental impact. A coal fired plant would have mostly resulted in a pile of wet coal, with the only environmental effect being if a lot of coal ash was still onsite waiting to be shipped out at the time of the tsunami.

Damage to all these types of plants would probably taken them offline, but because there would be less decontamination/exposure concerns, possibly only for a month or two, depending on the level of structural damage.

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Dead Vulture

Correction

I mean, who the fuck goes jogging?

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@Charlie Stross:

I agree that the Japanese are going to have a tough year or so while they take stock, lick their wounds, draw up plans and rebuild their damaged infrastructure.

But we're talking about a nation that has already survived being on the losing side in World War 2, as well as suffering *two* direct hits by *nuclear bombs*.

They've been through much worse than this. It'll be hard, certainly, but they'll recover. (And I'm sure the resulting cultural changes will make for an interesting novel or three for you to write.)

Toshiba has been working on mini-reactors for a few years now. (More info here: http://www.economist.com/node/17647651) I wouldn't put it past them to see this as more of an opportunity than an obstacle. Such "mini nuclear reactors" could be used to *save* hundreds, if not thousands, of lives by providing emergency—perhaps even permanent—power.

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Excellent article.

Thanks for helping to get things into perspective, Lewis. I'm not a particular fan of Nuclear Power but I am fed up with the "we're all going to die" paranoia being touted by most media outlets.

Even worse, they are mixing up information within the articles:

<Paragraph on power station situation>

<Paragraph on power station situation>

<Paragraph on wider impact of power station situation>

<reminder of the number of people killed or missing from the earthquake/tsunami>

<Paragraph on power station situation>

This makes it look like the power stations have cause thousands of casualties.

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I've noticed this too

I agree with you here. I've noticed that most of the coverage on the BBC news website seems to lead with a big scary 'Nuclear Disaster' headline, but when you read the article it has one line about the plant and then just talks about the numbers of dead. it doesn't even qualify that the dead are not from the nuclear issues. Scaremongering at its worst.

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Come on be fair

The BBC has also run a 'nuclear disaster - did the media overreact?' story. Admittedly nowhere did they suggest that their meldownathon coverage might have had anything to do with scaring people half to death.

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BBC coverage

I couldn't believe the lack of clarity and the constant tone of paranoia in the BBC coverage of this crisis either. I wouldn't normally bother getting annoyed about this kind of thing enough to write 'Tumbridge Wells' style complaints, but I get the feeling the mainstream media are desperate to milk this for all it's worth, and cause mass fear and anxiety in the process. I sent this to them, but I somehow doubt it'll get published:

"What is wrong with you (the BBC)? There is no information in your reports, just knee-jerk scientifically illiterate alarmism, unfounded and disproportionate insinuations about possible food and water contamination (presenting normal safety precautions as warnings of impending doom), and lazy speculation dressed up as reporting, achieved by linguistically conflating the terrible tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami with the real, but hardly catastrophic crisis at Fukushima. I get the impression the BBC and other news organisations are tangibly disappointed by the lack of human culpability in the earthquake and tsunami, and are almost willing there to be a real nuclear disaster in order to obtain some juicy hand-wringing headlines and prance around like some sort of vindicated Cassandra, able to point a finger of blame for the whole natural disaster at mankind. Please compare the lazy and ill-informed BBC coverage of this incident with the sober, scientific, informative and rational coverage from The Register and hang your heads in shame."

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BBC, and Other Definitions

The Six O'clock news on BBC 1? The World at One on Radio 4? The rolling news on the BBC World Service?

The stuff I heard in the radio wasn't especially doom-laden. Perhaps you should have just turned the telly off.

Now.

"Scientific."

Scientific journalism?

Really?

There's science journalism. But that's just journalism. It has a different yardstick for measuring truth. Three quotes to other websites does not a scientific paper make. Lewis might well have a better angle on this than other hacks, but your portrayal of his pieces on Fukushima is "scientifically illiterate".

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BBC pfft

ah yes the BBC...

beautiful headline on the evening news last week;

"Threat level at Nuclear plant raised to level 5, two levels below Chernobyl"

After I heard that I wrote a complaint. A main headline like that, no context to go with it. I think they were having a "let's write the worst headline we can with the least amount of information we have/can give" day.

Jokes

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This might interest a few

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

I've not checked his methodology as I was only just sent the site but have a look.

Cheers for the article Lewis. If I were a paranoid man I'd draw the conclusion that Big Oil was planting anti-nuclear propaganda...but I'm not, I just think it's people being stupid. Stupid trumps conspiracy any day.

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Boffin

As might...

http://xkcd.com/radiation/

Comes complete with a note of sources.

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deaths-per-twh

That was an excellent topic to pursue. While I earlier read some of the reports and commentary I was thinking how useful it would be to have actual figures of casualties per unit of energy generated, in different industries.

I have my doubts though if the casualties in the Uranium mines where properly accounted for, especially in earlier days of nuclear energy, and in more opaque places like the Soviet Union. Although I doubt that they would tip the balance.

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Casualties in uranium mining

The overwhelming majority of uranium mining is "open cast", as opposed to deep mining. The quantities of spoil that have to be shifted mean it has to be a VERY rich deposit to make deep mining economic. That's much, much safer, and also means things like radon exposure are readily managed.

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Badgers

re: The overwhelming majority of uranium mining

I heard it was mostly done by In-Situ Leaching http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/nuclear/dupr/qupd_tbl2.html

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Not yet?

I'm not entirely sure it's time for those fighting the fires to remove the bike-clips from thier trousers yet. It seems to have been a really close thing between cooling the reactors and them getting a bit too warm.

We've not been told what's actually going on - been told 'it's steam' when the news vids showed smoke.

Also not yet had any info as to how much damage has been caused to those who managed to connect the power back up again or those who were fighting the fires at close quarters.

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Whole lot of water

3 tonnes per minute = 180 tonnes per hour * 13 hours = 2340 tonnes.

According to wikipedia: "The tonne (unit symbol t) or metric ton (U.S.),[1] often written tautologously as metric tonne, is a unit of mass equal to 1,000 kg (2,204.62 lb) or approximately the mass of one cubic metre of water at four degrees Celsius."

So this means the fire engine sprayed 2340 m3 of water, or in El Reg units, approximately 507 elephants worth.

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@Whole lot of water

@"3 tonnes per minute = 180 tonnes per hour * 13 hours = 2340 tonnes."

It makes me wonder how much of this water will run off back into the sea?. The ground around the reactors are undeniably highly radioactive and that much water being dumped on and over the reactors will result in some of it running off and dumping high concentrations of radioactivity in the sea (and on the sea bed), which is a major issue for the local fishing industry, as it will get into the food chain. (It will happen with the rain anyway, but this will increase with that much water being dumped over the reactors directly).

Also the local concentrations of radioactivity will inevitably be higher in the sea than on the land, not least because the wind has also been blowing over the sea for much of the time the reactors were leaking badly.

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WTF?

Say again?

"The ground around the reactors are undeniably highly radioactive"

What makes you think so? There's been no leakage or spillage of highly radioactive material, and in general the surroundings of a reactor have to be kept very clean so that people can work there. I've seen no suggestions that any of the reactor surroundings have significant levels of radioactivity.

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@ MinionZero

I think you will find that the pollution caused by all of the industrial chemicals being washed into the sea will dwarf any radioactive runout making its way to the sea.

Thats assuming there was some sort of radioactive problem to run out which as the cores have not been affected certainaly doesnt look like the case...

Either way, i wouldnt recommend eating any fish caught off the coast of Japan in the coming months, but not because of radioactivity!

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Err, no

"Also the local concentrations of radioactivity will inevitably be higher in the sea than on the land,"

For the opposite of "concentrate" is "dilute". And when you dump something in hte Pacific Ocean you do tend to (as long as it dissolves in water of course) dilute it. So tyhe correct phrasing is

"Also the local dilutions of radioactivity will inevitably be higher in the sea than on the land,"

Something which really doesn't sound quite so worrying, does it?

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Radiation sources.

Indeed - most of what I've seen suggest that the great majority of exposure at Fukushima is gamma - that's more likely to come from back-scateer reflection from exposed fuel ponds, etc.

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WTF?

"What makes you think so"?

@"What makes you think so"?

WTF! makes you deny if FFS!

Have you not heard the radiation doses around the buildings?!

@"There's been no leakage or spillage of highly radioactive material"

WTF! try reading some news about what is leaking. Its been too radioactive at times to enter the area, but according to you not highly radioactive, BULLSHIT!. If there isn't any highly radioactive material around that building, then you go sit on the lawn around the reactors and take a pack lunch. In fact, have a good time, try staying there all day, you would do the world a favour as the average IQ of the planet would go up!

Oh and as you clearly can't work it out for yourself, try also imagining water also entering and leaving the reactor buildings or can't you imagine that far.

By the way, here's some more info for you to ignore and that's before you also ignore the about 350 references this page has also got. Plus that's just for starters but I'm sure you will ignore even that info.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_nuclear_accidents

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Clues that the site might be dangerously radioactive.

What makes *me* think the site around the reactors is radioactive is that if it wasn't, a man with a pair of eyes would have been sent to check the water level / temperature in the storage ponds. Perhaps he would be lowered by helicopter if the stairs are all blocked by the explosively destroyed upper storeys, and the collective might of the Japanese fire brigade neglected to bring a long ladder with them.

Of course, he's not going there at all, even in a helicopter, because it's too f-ing dangerous.

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longsuffering sigh

there is radioactivity, and then there is radioactivity. As has been stated in Lewis' articles and elsewhere, the vast majority of radioactivity at the fukushima site is from short half-life isotopes in the steam. when they vent the steam, it is very dangerous in the immediate vicinity, but that majority of the radioactive material has decayed by the time it crosses the street.

back to the topic at hand, I used to work with a guy who had previously worked for the EPA on cleaning up nasty nasty chemical spills and Very Bad Things. he always used to say "the solution to pollution is dilution". things that are very nasty at 100% concentration become decidedly less scary at .001% concentration.

Besides, as stated earlier in this thread, we should be far more concerned with the chemicals washed out to sea by the tsunami from other sources.

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#"What makes you think so"? a.k.a Calm down lad.

Awwwsomeones not had their Wheatabix today.

If you've been paying attention like a good little boy then you would have learnt that the radioactive isotompes that were released where very short-lived, mere minutes. That's the reason behind the fluctuations ( that big word means going up and down) in the level of radioactivity. And so far, the longest lived isotope detected outside the reactor is Iodine-131 which has a half-life of 8 days.

Thus the radioactivity won't last long at all. Not just from the dilution in the ocean from any contaminated run-off, but becaus the most of the isotopes would have decayed to a more stable element before the water even carried them to the sea. And Iodine 131 would be effectively gone in weeks (and the small amount released would ensure dilution to conentrations barely detectable above background radiation levels)

Maybe you sould read read and learn about this issue from something other than The Sun or a GreenPeace pamphlet and not be such an angry 'tard, asking someone to kill themselves because they pointed out errors in your 'reasoning'.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: #"What makes you think so"? a.k.a Calm down lad.

Alright boys, take it down a notch please.

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@lglethal

lglethal:@"I think you will find that the pollution caused by all of the industrial chemicals being washed into the sea will dwarf any radioactive runout making its way to the sea."

That's a straw man argument. I'm not talking about industrial chemicals worldwide or whatever, I'm talking about *additional local sea life problems from local radiation*.

lglethal:@"Thats assuming there was some sort of radioactive problem to run out which as the cores have not been affected certainaly doesnt look like the case"

Wow WTF!, especially "which as the cores have not been affected" ... WOW, just WOW! … that's an incredible statement of jaw dropping troll like ignorance (and I think you are trying to troll), especially considering it was bloody obvious even on the first Friday night (over a week ago!), that due to the finds of Isotopes of Caesium & Iodine in the grounds around the reactors, that the only way you get these found in sufficient quality is from broken open fuel rods. Yet they (their government) didn't at first want to admit that. Even now they are only just starting to admit to some fuel rod damage. They also held back for days on telling us the full truth about how far the cores were exposed. They didn't even at first want to admit the cores were exposed at all. Well we are far beyond that as well now.

Plus that's just a fragment of what I could say about the state around the buildings, but clearly you & your down voters don't want to read up on what is happening and it appears prefer to troll forums to put down anyone for daring to use the word radiation.

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Anonymous Coward

Radiation != radioactive substance

'Radiation' means emitted alpha, beta and gamma particles (or neutrons). If not covered by shielding, radiation beams out of the spent fuel rods and said man with a pair of goggles would indeed be irradiated. As soon as shielding (water in this case) is restored the RADIATION drops to normal levels. For the ground to be contaminated RADIOACTIVE ATOMS need to be separated from the spent fuel and spread over the ground - they then emit RADIATION from the ground, and the ground indeed needs to be decontaminated. This is why fire in the spent fuel rods is a problem as vaporised material from the fuel rods is thrown everywhere. However in the absence of actual spread rod material, high radiation readings above the spent fuel pools might mean absolutely nothing about contamination of the ground whatsoever.

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