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Fukushima Fate

Nuclear power sounds like a good idea, until something like this happens. The cleanup process at the Fukushima reactors is slow going and high stakes. Humans must in essence give their lives to save the lives of others, and while this sounds glorious in some military venues I don't think many of us would volunteer. The fuel rods need to be removed, the normal systems for their removal have been destroyed, and a mistake could cause a meltdown that would additionally contaminate the immediate area severely and the planetary atmosphere as well, though at what level it is impossible to know. There is talk, and some movement by those who have the means, away from higher risk areas. The southern hemisphere is likely to be far safer than the northern with regard to radiation for the foreseeable future. What interests me is how few people here in the US seem to care one whit about it. Radiation is invisible, and we already have cancer, so how much worse could it get? And will we continue to sell nuclear reactors around the world for the purpose of powering televisions and washing machines? Is there any movement toward less dangerous low tech solutions? I'm not seeing it.

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
ford_prefect42
Sep. 29th, 2013 07:53 pm (UTC)
Do you know how many people are dead from radioactive effects in Fukushima? Zero. Do you know how many are sick? Zero. Do you know how many are ultimately predicted to get sick? Zero.

Everything in that article is pie-in-the sky, "might", "If", and "under the wrong conditions". none of it has any real world probability of ever claiming a single life.
liveonearth
Sep. 29th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC)
My goodness! While I agree that the fearmongering is often exaggerated, your "zero" tally for injuries, illness, death and predictions of these is ludicrous. How do you derive your real world probabilities? Or do you think that radiation is good for us?
ford_prefect42
Sep. 29th, 2013 11:28 pm (UTC)
Okay, some people were killed during the incident. They weren't killed by radiation, or anything else nuclear. They were killed by conventional chemical based explosions.

As for radiation deaths since then, 49 of the fukushima 50 (the people that stayed inside for the entire incident are still alive, and the one that's dead is dead of a pre-existing cancer. Nothing to do with the reactor.

As for the predictions of future deaths, how is the WHO as a source?
http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/05/world-health-organization-weighs-in-on-fukushima.html

There is literally zero evidence that the Fukushima Daichi reactor incident has or ever will kill even a single person due to radiation exposure.

liveonearth
Sep. 30th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
WHO is lukewarm as a source, and they admit that their predictions are based on models and I might add on the assumption that we don't have a meltdown. The freakout is about the difficulty of cleanup and the chance of meltdown, which is only a chance. IF that meltdown did occur it would blow all previous meltdowns out of the water with regard to toxic release. IF it does not happen then what, me worry? I'm not a worrier anyway, but I find it interesting that people's attitudes range from frantically packing their belongings (as a bunch just did from this town, admittedly guided by visions or god or somesuch) to you who is certain that it is overblown and harmless. I think the truth is in between the extremes.
ford_prefect42
Sep. 30th, 2013 06:03 am (UTC)
There's only one problem. Spent fuel that's more than a year old doesn't melt down. Melting down requires a sustained nuclear reaction, which you can't get either without water as a neutron moderator, or using spent fuel, due to the over-abundance of isotopes that poison a chain reaction. There's some unpleasantness that you *can* get, like Hydrogen explosions and steam burns, but not a meltdown.

What most people don't understand is the "half life" concept. I know that you're familiar from drugs, but you might not have extended it to this. We hear a lot about the virtually infinite time that spent fuel is radioactive. But it gets those long half lives by *not being particularly radioactive*. Now, spent fuel straight out of the reactor is HELLA radioactive. It's been in a chain reaction environment for a year or 2. BUT, because it's so radioactive, it's decomposing pretty fast. that means that the radioactivity is dropping dramatically over time. For the first week after you pull it out of the reactor, it'll boil water. After 5 years, it's warm to the touch (I don't advise touching it).

So, let's look at what specific isotopes tend to be harmful to humans. The big one is iodine 131. It's dangerous, not because it's particularly radioactive, but because it collects in the thyroid gland. It has an 8 day half life. That means that in 3 months of the cessation of fission (10 half lives), it's basically gone. Then there's strontium 90, which is stored in bone. It's not an acute problem, more of one of those "if you live off the land for your entire life, you *may* build up enough to be harmful. 28 year half-life, so it's around for a good while, but again, not particularly radioactive. Try to avoid eating it, which means, if you live on the bikini atoll, try to vary your diet, at least a little. Less dangerous, but still an issue is Caesium-137. It doesn't build up in the body, and has a 30 year half life. But because it's got a metabolic half life of 70 days, it's only generally dangerous if you *keep* eating it at pretty high levels.

All of these isotopes, I should mention have not been found in the surroundings of Fukushima in anything more than 1% of a dose that a reasonable person would call "dangerous".

Freaking out about contingencies that violate the laws of physics is not productive.

I find that those most knowledgeable about the science are almost always the most sanguine about the scenarios.

In general, I agree that WHO is lukewarm, they've been caught in some outright lies. Mostly the one that jumps to mind is suppressing data about HIV transmission rates through heterosexual sex because "it sends the wrong message". That said, they generally err on the side of more alarmism, not less. For the rest of it, I'll await evidence of even 1 sick person.
liveonearth
Sep. 30th, 2013 05:46 pm (UTC)
Maybe you forgot that I grew up in Oak Ridge, TN, completely immersed in the culture of the National Laboratories and the "Atomic Energy City". LOL I do understand half lives.

What's your source for the statement that cesium does not bioaccumulate? I have conflicting info on this point.

Also, can you explain to me further why you think a meltdown is impossible? You say that we won't have a meltdown "without water as a neutron moderator, or using spent fuel, due to the over-abundance of isotopes that poison a chain reaction." Are you saying that the remaining fuel isn't pure/strong enough to push a chain rxn? There are lots of scientists who are saying that no only is it possible, but that if it happened it could set of reactions at neighboring facilities.

Thanks as always for your independent perspective!
ford_prefect42
Sep. 30th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
Actually, I never knew where you grew up.

http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/node/3165

estimates of biological half life vary, but ALL the sources do indicate that it does self-cleans. Albiet it takes a while, however FAR less than it's radiological half-life. I guess that means that you *could* say that it bio-accumulates, meaning that if you keep eating it, your level of it increases over time, at least for a few years. But when you stop, it drops, and pretty fast at that. In any case, it's not an acute exposure risk, only a long-term lifetime exposure one. You don't get apocalypses out of radioactive cesium.


Spent fuel is spent for a reason. The reason being, that it's getting difficult to sustain criticality with it, due to the low proportion of fissile u235 remaining in it, as well as the prevalence of neutron capturing isotopes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_poison

Now, had the fuel pool completely lost all water during the actual incident (when there was very fresh fuel in it), problems would have been possible, because the fuel was still capable of getting hot enough to melt itself, and IF enough of them did that, you *could* get criticality in the puddle of uranium slag on the bottom of the dried out pool. A year out? No. there's no reasonable chain of events that leads to a "meltdown" in a spent fuel pool.

How worried are you about extinction level asteroid strikes?
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/9943048/Nasas-advice-on-asteroid-hitting-Earth-pray.html

Or an actual, literal zombie apocalypse?
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-02/fyi-could-scientists-really-create-zombie-apocalypse-virus

There are always "scientists" willing to say *anything*. That's why it's important to look at the facts yourself.

As for the "chain reaction meltdown" where a meltdown at fukushima "sets off others? That's just stupid. Consider the mechanics of that. Either they're saying that the chain reaction in the spent fuel of fukushima will emit neutrons *far enough away* through multiple layers of concrete, steel, and water shielding, to start a reaction in those pools (roughly the equivalent of me shining a flashlight in NY and starting a forest fire in Colorado), or they're claiming.... what? What is the mechanism by which a melt at one results in a melt at another? Is it plausible, given real world physics and conditions? No, this is nothing more or less than attention seekers succeeding.


That said, future reactors should avoid putting the spent fuel pools on the top floor of the reactor building. DUMDUMDUM!
liveonearth
Sep. 30th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
Have you heard about the new designer drug from Russia that has arrived in Arizona? It's called Krokodil because your skin turns green before it falls off. The zombia apocalypse is started already.

There are four, or is it five, different reactors at the fukushima site. You sound very certain of your conclusions, however your certainty does not convince me. Too many people with more specialized training in the area of nuclear power generation have come forward with comments too the contrary. I am not easily swayed by anyone's opinion, which is why I'm still mulling on it. I will watch and wait, and continue to study on the medical side of the equation which is where I do have a chance of understanding.

For your risk calculator: People get their highest doses of radiation, and the most lung cancers, from breathing radon gas in their basements. So before you start building anything zombie proof, test the air in your home. =-]
ford_prefect42
Oct. 1st, 2013 12:25 am (UTC)
If you're sitting in your radon filled basement, watching a CRT tv from 2 feet away, using acetone to remove nail polish, wearing freshly dry-cleaned clothes, talking on your cell-phone, and eating saccharine sweetened coffee, do you know which of these things has the strongest correlation to cancer? The answer is sitting.

For the nuclear stuff, I guess we'll see. Still, I find it quite telling that, for all the scare-mongering that was going on during the event, not one person is sick, nor is one person expected *ever* to die. People on the *east coast* were buying iodine tablets!

Krocodil being codeine pills mixed with *gasoline* (or other fuel products), yeah, I can see where that's pretty bleeding harmful! But they don't shamble through the streets biting people, and even if they did, they'd spread aids, not zombieism. Dammit, zombie apocalypse would be SO much cooler than most of the other doomsday scenarios!
liveonearth
Oct. 1st, 2013 03:04 am (UTC)
And since ten out of ten people die irregardless of disasters, perhaps we ought to just enjoy ourselves?

Have you seen the (current) move: The World's End?? Speaking of Zombia apocalypse-----it had me laughing harder than a movie has in some time. I recommend.

You can see the trailer here but maybe it would be better not to spoil it.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1213663/
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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