15 March 2011
There is no doubt that what is happening at the Fukushima Nuclear plant in Japan is alarming. I’ve even seen reliable reports that one of the containment vessels may have been damaged in an explosion early Tuesday, Japan time. Unfortunately, some people are taking advantage of most people’s lack of any rudimentary knowledge about nuclear power to spread fear.
There’s a lot more unknown than there is known, but here is an update with some facts instead of rumors (as of 12:10 AM Tuesday March 14 U.S. CDT -2 PM Wed. 15 March in Tokyo). I urge you to also read some of the following blog posts that are providing accurate science on the situation.
Known facts (Much of this from WNN):
1.A loud noise was heard at reactor two (at around 6 AM Tokyo time) Tuesday morning. It’s almost certain this came from the suppression system, which is shaped like a donut (torus to be precise) below the reactor vessel. The reactor vessel is where the nuclear fuel is and it seems to be intact (late word: there is a distinct possibility that it’s not).The suppression system contains a lot of water and is used in an emergency to cool hot steam.
2. Radiation levels spiked after the pressure in the “torus” dropped from 3 to 1 atmospheres. This means the pressure inside the torus is the same as outside the plant. The whole thing (torus and reactor vessel) is surrounded by a thick steel and concrete structure that will hold any fuel from a melt down. I have seen no statements that this is damaged, but if so, that IS bad news.
3. Radiation levels reached 11,000 microseiverts/hr (briefly) after the “torus” noises. This is 1.1 rem of radiation per hour. A dose of 100 rems of radiation in 30 days will give you radiation sickness. Death is possible in less than 5% of the population if no medical attention is received. 350 rem of radiation is lethal to 50% of those exposed. The radiation has now dropped considerably, but just how much is unknown.
4. The average person gets a little less than half a rem per year by just living and eating and breathing. (See this post)
5. It is unknown what isotopes are producing the radiation (They likely know, but we do not). Cesium 137 has a half life of 30
days years, so it is not nearly as serious as radiation from Uranium 235 which has a half life of 4,740 million years.
6. The explosions at Fukushima 1 and 3 were caused by hydrogen produced by hot water coming in contact with fuel rods over 2200C. The reactor vessels in these two plants are still intact.
7. The worst news: The fuel rods have been totally exposed at reactor two and they cannot seem to cool this reactor (internal pressure inside is too high to pump water against it). It also seems POSSIBLE that the reactor containment may have been breached. This is very serious.
8. I looked at the wind flow from NWP weather models this evening, and a surface low is going to rotate the air from near the plant cyclonically around Japan over the next 36 hours. Then a NW flow of air will develop and blow radiation out to sea. (See the model graphics.)
9. The radiation levels will drop dramatically by the time it spreads out across the Pacific. There is no need to worry if you live in North America.
You actually get more radiation living next door to a coal fired power plant than a nuclear facility. Particulate pollution from these dirty coal plants is causing millions of premature deaths worldwide, along with serious problems due to acid rain. The disruption to our planet from using coal and oil for energy is thousands of times greater and hundreds of times more deadly than nuclear power (even when you consider Chernobyl and Three Mile Island). Just ask the widow of a coal miner in China or West Virginia. Then stop by the Gulf Coast.
The next generation of nuclear power plants can be designed to be far safer than these old plants. You can even develop nuclear plans that produce spent fuel that is much lower in radioactivity than the plants in use now. If you really want to understand how it is possible, read Tom Blees book.
One last comment:
There are without doubt some serious safety issues raised by the catastrophe in Japan, but we have no choice about getting off of coal. It must be done and done soon. Anyone who tells you otherwise is giving you politics and not science. If the world had started working 15 years ago to develop green energy, then the amount of nuclear power needed to bridge the gap would be a lot less. Not now.
The world has done little to face up to the reality of rising CO2 levels. There are armies of extremist political ideologues who spend their energy calling climate scientists frauds. A rather scary collection of these folks can be found by searching for #AGW on Twitter. None of these people seem to have any science training, but they are right while all of the world’s top experts in climate physics are wrong! Silly, yes, but they have succeeded in delaying any real action to solve the problem.
So, the choice has been reduced to warming the planet into the significant danger zone or living with more nuclear power, while green energy like wind and solar is developed on a massive scale. Your senator may not like it, but unless he can repeal the laws of physics, he or she will just have to get over it.