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The situation seems to be a lot worse than Japan has been letting on and world media attention is conveniently focused elsewhere now so you might have missed this snippet of news.
It's now official. THREE nuclear meltdowns occurred within 100 hours of the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima last March.
The official reason for keeping the lid on this information was because they were afraid it would mass panic. (No kidding). According to the Japanese government, the timing (ie only making this news public two months after the event) was because people needed time to "get used to the situation".
The real reason the Japanese govt has finally fessed up could be because UN inspectors and experts arrived a couple of days ago to have a look around the stricken nuclear power plant for themselves.
It seems that the containment chambers are leaking too.
May 25 (Bloomberg) -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the containment chambers of damaged reactors at its Fukushima nuclear plant were likely breached, identifying additional source of radiation leaks that may exceed Chernobyl.
Last week Greenpeace said they'd found radiation levels of over 10,000 Becquerels per kg in seaweed that fishermen were planning to harvest. 10,000 Bq is the maximum their equipment could measure so actual radiation levels could be a lot higher than this. From what I can gather, the generally accepted maiximum "safe" level of radiation contamination is 100Bq. This means that the seaweed is definitely not very safe to eat or used as a beauty treatment, fertilizer or whatever.
Ironically the demand for seaweed soared in Japan after the disaster because people believed it would protect them from radiation poisoning.
Right now it's the demand for geiger counters that is soaring though. It seems that geiger counters in Japan are hand made (?) and it takes three or four months to make one (?) so they're in rather short supply.
However the Huffington Post had a rather bizarre story today asking why 40,000 radiation dosimeters sent by countries such as the US, Canada to help Japan deal with the disaster are still sitting in a warehouse in Tokyo and hadn't been distributed to people living near Fukushima.
@ sbe thanks for the info i was only saying to someone last week how this whole story had seemed to have dropped right of the radar.
on a fun note off to indo next tues, so looking forward to some warmth,diving,cold beers: not neccessarily in that order
I might be weird, but I'm probably still moving to Japan, at least for a year... I'm going to study Japanese, and that includes a year abroad to Japan.
I don't know about Japan (they seemed to be giving a ton of different numbers regarding the legal maximum dose of radioactivity), but in the Netherlands, the legal dose is 1 millisievert (mSv) per year for the whole body for a normal person, and 20 millisievert per year for someone who works at a nuclear plant. (a sievert is the amount of absorbed energy in joule divided by the mass of the bodypart which is exposed in kilograms) From 4000 mSv onwards, the chance of catching a lethal disease caused by over-exposure is pretty high.
Becquerel is the unit for the activity of a radioactive particle (ie the tempo in which the particle decays).
So that's some background info on radiation (thank you high school physics), it actually helped a lot when determining if what the newsstations weere saying was crap or not. I don't know about other countries, but here they mostly tried to explain the concept of a meltdown every single time, instead of explaining how radiation etc is measured.
Very good point Kitebo! I spent quite a lot of time yesterday trying to discover what "safe" levels of radioactivity in food were yesterday and it seems there's no simple straightforward answer.
It depends on the type of radionuclide, what kind of food it is, how commonly it's used in the diet, whether it undergoes any manufacturing processes (eg whether the seaweed is dried), who eats it (babies and pregnant women etc), the weight and the kinetic metabolism of any given individual etc.
In fact there are so many variables that the WHO can't give any specific recommendations about safe levels of radioactive contaminants in things like herbal remedies. Article 3.3.3 on page 20 in the link below says basically it's whatever the local authorities say it is. And they add that the levels they recommend could well be more to do with risk management rather than any actual risk assessment (ie they have no real clue either).
Greenpeace don't say what the isotopes they were measuring in that report were but I'm guessing it was mostly Iodine 131 because seaweed is a very rich source of iodine...that's why people were rushing to buy it right after the accident. (Taking non radioactive iodine helps prevent your thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine). Very high levels of Iodine 131 usually occur immediately after a nuclear incident like this but the half life is short, just 8 days, so toxicity falls rapidly. In the first few days levels were probably very high indeed because Greenpeace took a while to go and get those measurements.
Mind you it's unclear whether I131 is still being emitted from the nuclear meltdowns...I can't fathom out whether the cores are still spewing out radioactivity or not. I'm quite interested in finding out more about what is coming out of reactor No3. It apparently used a rather nasty "dirty" fuel ... a plutonium uranium mix called MOX (which Chernobyl didn't use).
Anyway, that figure of 100Bq was quoted in some articles that came up on a google search about what safe levels of Iodine 131 might be in seaweed... eg this one...
Here are some other figures I found while I was meandering about the internet looking for a simple answer as to how dangerous that seaweed fishermen were planning to harvest would actually be to eat. Interestingly it seems that the EU allows significantly higher levels of radioactivity in food than Japan does.
At the same time the Japanese govt now says that kids in playgrounds can be safely exposed to the maximum levels of radiation permitted for workers in German nuclear plants. Sounds like another example of risk management to me... it would be rather a headache displacing the whole population to safe areas.
I've just seen there's a new update on the Greenpeace site today which clarifies a few things.
They say the Iodine 131 levels in the samples they collected were actually far higher than their on-site equipment could measure and that the contamination is widespread along the coast.
Also the data suggested that contaminated water is continuously leaking from the plants. Radioactive iodine level (which decays rapidly) is still much higher than the radioactive Caesium readings.
Here's a C&P of the report:
"Two week’s ago we released preliminary results from our marine radiation monitoring work off the coast of Japan, near the melted-down and leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. These results showed worrying levels of radioactive contamination in seaweed – a staple of the Japanese diet.After having difficulties finding a lab in Japan to do detailed analysis, we sent samples of seaweed, fish, and shellfish collected by our radiation monitoring teams both onshore and on the Rainbow to professional labs in France and Belgium. The results of the details analysis are back – and we can say that the situation in the ocean along the Fukushima coast is worse than we originally thought.
The new data shows that some seaweed contamination levels are not only 50 times higher than safety limits – far higher than our initial measurements showed – but also that the contamination is spreading over a wide area, and accumulating in sea life, rather than simply dispersing like the Japanese authorities originally claimed would happen.
Other samples showed lower than expected concentrations of caesium, but much higher levels of iodine than expected, which raises serious concerns that contaminated water is continually leaking from the nuclear plant.
Iodine has a short half-life of around eight days, comparing to caesium isotopes' half-lives of two years or more. Having higher iodine levels than caesium indicates that there is a significant, ongoing discharge of contaminated water coming from the damaged plant - despite the authorities only officially admitting to three releases into the ocean to date. This could have severe, prolonged effects on the marine ecosystem and all those that rely on it for their livelihoods.
Most of the fish and shellfish we sampled were found to contain levels of radioactivity above legal limits for food contamination, whichis just one of the multiple, chronic sources of radiation exposure those living in the greater Fukushima area are faced with.
In April, the authorities raised official limits for levels of radiation exposure to 20 mSv per year for everyone – including children. However, this only accounts for external exposure - radioactive materials that are ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin increase exposure and the risk of developing cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.
It is not enough for the authorities to keep putting band-aids on each problem as it appears. The Japanese government must launch a comprehensive, ongoing analysis of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, fully disclose all information about the release of contaminated water, and make proactive protection and compensation efforts to support the people most affected and at risk from this disaster."
Sorry to keep harping on about this but I've spent last week almost entirely devoted to trying to fix my ignorance about what is going on in Fukushima and I'm more than alarmed now.
My conclusion so far? Put it this way... I think it's a really major mistake to assume that the deafening silence in mainstream media means things are all just just hunky dory now and things at the Diashii plant are under control.In fact I think it's going to get much much worse and make Chernobyl look like a minor blip.
The Diachii plant at Fukushima has/had a total of 1760 metric tons of fresh and used fuel on site last year. Reactor #3 (the one that used MOX) contains/contained 90 tons of fuel. The storage pool above reactor #4 contains/contained 135 tons of spent fuel. Chernoby only had 180 tons of fuel and 3 mile island a piddling 30 tons.
What we have now is what experts said would be a worse case scenario back in March....yet nobody is explaining what that means in real terms or what could happen next.
Japanese TV news presenters are calmly announcing oh my f*cking god news day after day and it's obvious to anyone with a measurable IQ that the situation is totally out of control and that nobody has a clue how to deal with it.
Here's the Japanese TV news for yesterday, May 30th (with a few inserted annotations by someone who's been paying a lot more attention than I have to the Fukushima disaster).
One thing everyone is complaining about is the lack of accurate radiation data getting released to the public. Here's a press release report I found, dated May 24th from Tepco itself, which every news source in the world appears to have either missed or ignored last week.
If you scroll down you will get Tepco's evaluation of how radioactive the water that they have already poured into the sea is.
No wonder Greenpeace were refused permission to measure seawater contamination levels near the plant (way too lethal) and no wonder the contamination levels they did find miles away were so much higher than they'd expected.
People in Japan are currently living and going about daily activities in areas outside the evacuation zone of 20km which have soil contamination levels above the levels considered dead zones around Chernobyl (areas with over 1.48 million Bq per square meter)
Soil samples showed one site with radiation from Cesium-137exceeding 5 million becquerels per square meter about 25kilometers to the northwest of the Fukushima plant, according toKawata’s study. Five more sites about 30 kilometers from Dai-Ichi showed radiation exceeding 1.48 million becquerels persquare meter.
Nuclear scientists have been speculating that the explosion in Unit #3 (the one containing MOX fuel...a uranium/plutonium mix) was not a hydrogen explosion but a nuclear explosion. A Tepco spokesman seemed to indicate they thought that had happened too.
When asked to comment on the report today, Tokyo Electricspokesman Tetsuya Terasawa said the radiation levels are in linewith those found after a nuclear bomb test, which dispersesplutonium. He declined to comment further.
Nobody seems to be measuring plutonium BTW... geiger counters can only measure things like radioactive cesium and iodine. They've been chucking radioactive earth about while decontaminating the soil in school playgrounds with unacceptably high levels of radiation so they can keep schools open and not have to pay compensation and evacuate people further away.
It seems that inhaling or ingesting even a minute quantity of plutonium is really bad for you and no one is getting checked for internal radiation levels....only 40% of the workers at the plant itself have been tested for internal radiation levels.
Yesterday Tepco announced there would be no upper safety limits for radiation exposure for its workers any more.
Dear expert nuclear physicist,
There seems to be a real risk that the radiation levels on the Fukushima site will become so high that nobody will be able to work there. Reactor #4 building is leaning and on the verge of collapse. If that happens because of some typhoon (we're just entering the typhoon season now) or a wee earthquake then nobody will be able to enter the plant to pour water on the reactors etc.
So what would be the probable chain of events then.
It's a highly probable scenario yet I can't find one expert on the internet willing to speculate about what that would mean. Is there a risk of a huge nuclear explosion which would destroy practically all life on this planet or not?
As I understand your question, you are asking if it is possible for a nuclear power plant to turn into an atomic bomb. The answer is no. An atomic bomb requires you to compress enriched uranium or plutonium to many times its original density. It is not an easy thing to do. The scenario of a nuclear power plant erupting into a giant mushroom cloud only happens in Hollywood movies.
The explanation here is short and to the point
Do a search for "bomb" to get to the relevant part.
Nuclear plants have exploded (Chernobyl) but it is not an atomic bomb-type explosion.
It's a highly probable scenario yet I can't find one expert on the internet willing to speculate about what that would mean. Is there a risk of a huge nuclear explosion which would destroy practically all life on this planet or not?
So no mega explosion.... what would happen then?
Because nothing I've read that was written about "worst case scenarios" back in March when the accident first happened (including your link Goonistik) had envisaged the possibility that there would be a breach of containment even if there was a meltdown. Nuclear experts thought it couldn't possibly happen with this kind of reactor.
There's been a 100% failure rate in the containment vessels of reactors #1,2 and 3...they're all breached and are all leaking like sieves
Soooo....what I was wondering about was, what is "the more disastrous event" that Mr. Matsumoto of Tepco was referring to on May 16th after acknowledging that the meltdowns had indeed happened.
The nuclear industry lacks a technical definition for a full meltdown, but the term is generally understood to mean that radioactive fuel has breached containment measures, resulting in a massive release of fuel.
"Without the injection of water [by fire trucks], a more disastrous event could have ensued," said Mr. Matsumoto.
Radiation leak means near the plant (and near is a relative thing) radiation will leak into the atmosphere and into the ground and the surrounding ocean. It could reach the point where it is lethal in a short time, but more likely has long term health effects. For those of us thousands of miles away, the only real risk is from contaminated food grown or caught near the site OR from plutonium (with it's very long half life) which has the potential to travel much further given it's long lasting capacity (but it's heavy, so it doesn't move as far or as easily in water or fallout). For the most part, if you don't live in Japan you don't need to worry about this. If you live in SEA, worry about traffic accidents or liver flutes, both of which are FAR more likely to have an immediate and ugly effect on your health.
Just seen a theoretical physicist explaining what would have happened if they hadn't dumped seawater on the reactors
and another nuclear expert said this back in April.
Tepco now admits radiation levels are in line with those found after a nuclear bomb test so I'm guessing his analysis was pretty accurate.
The difference with a nuclear explosion, however, is the explosion itself launches nuclear particles far into the atmosphere, where wind hauls them a long way. So the fallout is much more widely distributed. Then, of course, there's the destructive power, which is absent in a straight meltdown. The other variable is how much of the generated radiation will leak from the reactor vessels, and that remains to be seen. In any event, this is a largely local phenomenon, and I am not concerned about it here.
There probably won't be anymore explosions at the Fukishima plants. The radiation leaks are much more concerning and I think terminating them, and finally cooling the reactors, is more of the issue at this point.
Well, although nobody else seems at all concerned, I have been thinking about the SE Monsoon and whether it will blow radioactive stuff towards you lot in SE Asia.
I really recommend you read or listen to the excellent podcast in the link below entitled "Winds have turned, hot particles to head south From Fukushima- Advice is to leave Tokyo if Unit 4 collapses".
The guy who is talking is an expert nuclear engineer who advises the NRC and he gives a very good overview of just how bad things are at Fukushima now.
Keep checking the news... the mainstream media is ignoring this so you'll have to dig.
(Don't know where you're moving to Kitebo but I'll hazard a guess that if Unit 4 does collapse there is no way you'll be able to get a seat on a flight out Tokyo.)
SBE: Hopefully Tokyo, but I won't go to approximately 2014 or 2015 so I've got ample time to see how things go ;)
And on the concerned level: I think there probably still is a fair amount of people who are still concerned, but the fantastic vagueness of the Japanese gov and more importantly, Tepco, doesn't help. It means we need to do the research on our own, as you have been doing, but most people just can't be bothered to take that step.
The winds from Japan blow in general to the east - that is, across the pacific. It is unlikely to effect the US or Canada, but that would be the first area of concern. The monsoons are irrelevent.
As for "winds turning south" - it is a very long way from Tokyo to Thailand. Very long indeed. for particles to reach this area, they have to move in the upper atmosphere, and those winds NEVER change direction.
"Keep checking the news... the mainstream media is ignoring this so you'll have to dig."
That's because for those of us not in Japan, it's not much of an issue. As I said before, traffic deaths - that's a real issue. Gun violence in Thailand, that's a real issue. Liver flutes, causing one of the highest liver cancer rates in the world - that's a real issue. Radioactivity from Japan - way down at the bottom of the tottem pole.
Sorry but I think it's time for a brief Fukushima update again.
Today's episode is called "boiling frogs".
Yesterday Tepco and the Japanese gov't admitted that the emissions during the first week contained at least twice as much radiation as they'd previously said. Having watched this story unfold I can almost guarantee the figure now will be revised upwards later. They keep doing this... ooops sorry we seriously underestimated how bad things were before...and they keep revising the revised estimations too.
Anyway, that was just the revised estimation of radiation emissions for week 1 and we are now almost week 13. Since then the damaged reactors been spewing out smoke and steam and contaminated water non stop. Nothing is being contained in reactors 123.
It's assumed that the radioactive cloud that circled the entire northern hemisphere earlier this year mostly came out of the MOX reactor #3 because it had a much more violent upward explosion than the others and the building is now a worse heap of rubble than the others. In fact, looking at close ups of unit 3 you can't even see the reactor any more...it seems to have disappeared...where did it go? (This news story has yet to break)
The MOX fuel rods contained really fine particles of plutonium because it improves fuel efficiency and these particles have no problem traveling long distances. None of the usual radiation monitors and geiger counters can detect these particles but they are very carcinogenic if you inhale or ingest them because they stay inside you emitting radiation constantly (unlike Xrays etc). In Seattle people are breathing in only 50% fewer hot particles than people in Tokyo are.
Unit #4 (which also blew up) still seems to have some intact fuel rods cooling in water that is rapidly reaching boiling point. They can't put too much water in to cool them because the building might collapse under the extra weight. They are going to try and reinforce the structure. Here's the news item from yesterday on Japanese TV.
FYI there is no way they can complete that building work in 100% lethal levels of radiation by July. In fact there has been no sign of ANY human activity on site since Tepco set up the live webcam on May 31st. Also all the footage seen on TV is reruns of old footage taken weeks ago (April?).
Anyway, today's big news is that it's not just 3 confirmed 100% meltdowns any more.
They now think it's 3 confirmed melt throughs which is a lot worse. I don't know if that means the whole planet is about to explode like in the Hollywood movie though. Nobody knows what happens next because it's not in any nuclear physics textbooks. This kind of thing simply cannot happen (but it has).
Back in poor old Japan, Tokyo radiation readings are rising and thousands more people outside the exclusion zone are fleeing from the area ... three months too late.
Japanese gov't today admits it failed to release data between March 16 -April 2 about the levels of contamination in areas outside the 20km evacuation zone.
Oops sorry, we somehow forgot to tell you how dangerous it was to stick around there.
"They now think it's 3 confirmed melt throughs which is a lot worse. I don't know if that means the whole planet is about to explode like in the Hollywood movie though. Nobody knows what happens next because it's not in any nuclear physics textbooks. This kind of thing simply cannot happen (but it has)."
Nuclear explosions can not be generated accidentally. The physics of generating a nuclear explosion are complex. Nothing going on in Fukushima can generate a nuclear explosion - let alone a nuclear explosion that would destroy the world (which would require a chain reaction turning earth into a small star). Why are you so concerned about this? Even if the containers totally collapse (not confirmed as your post indicated) it would still be a largely local problem. Have you looked at the numbers of cancer increases in post Chernobyl Europe done by neutral observers? Outside of the Ukraine and White Russia they were insignificant.
Depends what you mean by "neutral" observers... like this study you mean?
Come on SBE, do your homework. None of those individuals are neutral observers. They all either had an axe to grind against the Soviet system of the period and / or were strident anti-nuclear activists. They are all associates of Dr Christopher Busby, who is well known as a virulent opponent of the nuclear industry and also known to present illegetimate studies as factual.
Again, what makes you so obsessive on this subject?
i think it is a matter of scope. it doesn't necessarily seem to me that we have an end-of-the-world scenario here either, but if things went really really wrong with a nuclear power plant (and things certainly went at least really wrong here), then the consequences would be devastating and wide spread. didn't germany use this incident as the basis to accelerate their scheduled abandonment of nuclear power?
i'm interested in the potential spread of any fallout from this meltdown too, but my experience is that both the mass media and local government are addressing this issue. because of the jet stream and its predominant easterly flow, where i live in southern Utah, USA, is more or less in the path of any potential fallout from the meltdown. far from ignoring, however, our local media and health department directly spoke about that very issue soon and often after the accident.
Quick update in case anyone is interested.
Tepco now estimates that the total amount of Cesium 137 already released is around 360,000 terabecquerels.
To put that into perspective:
Hiroshima only released 89 terabecquerels of cesium 137 and Chernobyl released 85,000 terabecquerels.
As Tepco has consistently lied and played down the gravity of the accident ever since it happened I think it's safe to assume that 360,000 terabecquerels is an underestimate.
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