Before today’s entry concerning Fukushima itself, it seems appropriate to consider the nuclear situation in Japan in comparison to the horrific earthquake and tsunami impact. The quake and tsunami have inflicted a level of death and misery on the Japanese that is literally impossible for other people around the world to grasp. I seriously cannot get my mind around the scope and magnitude of what has happened and what is happening because of the quake and tsunami. I pray for the Japanese people and their terrible suffering. However, I am mad as hell concerning the western news media’s continual effort to make the world think that the nuclear accident situation at Fukushima is either just as significant (which it clearly isn’t) and potentially as devastating as the natural disaster itself (which it will never be). It’s a clear case of guilt by association and appealing to common public misconceptions concerning anything nuclear. By giving the nuclear situation as much coverage as the true disaster itself, it tends to make a naive world think the nuclear accident is just as worthy of terrifying news coverage as the quake/tsunami. Disgusting? Yes! Unexpected? Unfortunately…no.
Should we blame the news media for something monumentally unethical? I say “NO!”. The news media is doing what they clearly believe to be correct, for two reasons. (1) They are following the same process of event coverage that the news media utilized at Three Mile Island. It worked for them three decades ago, so they are doing the same thing now. If there was a thunderous public outcry for the news media to follow the reputable and realistic path…they would! News reporting is a profitable business. As long as scare-mongering keeps the ratings up and the advertizing money pouring in, the news media will follow the path of fear and trembling, even if what is being reported is unrealistic. They don’t see themselves as educators. Rather, they entertain us with the “news”, and fear sells better than anything else. (2) The news media is subject to the Hiroshima Syndrome, just like most of the people of our world. They erroneously believe there is a real and serious relationship between reactors and bombs. They falsely believe fallout and radiation itself are one-and-same. They believe there is no absolutely safe level of radiation exposure. Fear inspired, fictitious “what if” scenarios abound. The news media coverage concerning the Fukushima accident is convincing, before-your-eyes proof that the Hiroshima Syndrome is a world-wide problem that needs to be addressed and corrected…forever!
Back to Fukushima…
Since yesterday, the level of decay heat being generated by the shutdown reactors at Fukushima Units 1, 2, and 3 has dropped some more. The possibility of yet another “catastrophic meltdown” (a news media phrase) is much less likely than at this point yesterday. The fuel cells would have to be uncovered by water for an hour or more before melting would begin. There’s just not enough heat being generated to cause any melting of fuel in a more rapid fashion. Almost remarkably, one of the more severe sources of anti-nuclear rhetoric, guardian.co.uk, has caught on to this (ref. 1), reporting “The fuel rods will already have lost around 90% of their heat and without further setbacks, the reactors could be cold and rendered safe within a week to 10 days.” Their 90% heat percentage is a measure of the total amount of potential heat which could be generated over a period of months. It is not an actual measure of current production levels. I think this is, in itself, misleading. It’s the decay heat level that ought to be considered, not the total potential heat produced over a several month period. Regardless, even some of the nuclear critics are catching on.
Late last night (Eastern time), a new “threat” emerged. It seems some sort of fire broke out on the refueling deck (see diagrams; March12) of Fukushima Unit No. 4. Fukushima 4 has been shut down for many weeks for refueling and maintenance. The reactor itself is not operating, and hasn’t for quite some time. Very, very little decay heat is being generated in the storage pool on the refueling deck, and almost all of that from the exhausted fuel cells from the current refueling. The pool of water in question is located above the reactor containment, imbedded in the deck’s thick concrete floor. It contains the storage racks for the exhausted reactor fuel cells. The fuel cells are stored upright in a highly organized fashion, with at least 10 feet of water above the stored fuel cells. There are literally hundreds of exhausted fuel cells in the pool. The sum total of decay heat from the exhausted fuel cells is so low that it is questionable if the huge pool of water could ever get hot enough to boil off.
The components in the pools are the uranium fuel, the fuel-encasing zirconium cladding, and stainless steel structures for the fuel cells and storage racks. Of course, there is the water, too. None of the above are in any way flammable. However, initial news media reports place the Unit No. 4 refueling deck fire inside the pool! (ref.2) If the fire was actually in the pool, we currently have no information whatsoever as to how such a fire could happen in such a bizarre place as the pool itself. If we must speculate, let’s assume the fire was inside the refueling deck area near the storage pool, and not in the pool itself. Could the fire have lasted long enough and been hot enough to heat up the pool’s water, causing it to boil? Maybe…but that too seems to be a stretch. Clearly, more actual information needs to be available before firm conclusions are drawn. All we can say is there was a fire on the refueling deck of Fukushima Unit No. 4, and for some reason the spent fuel pool has been affected. Anything else is pure speculation.
Yet another issue is being constantly reinforced by news media coverage, is the radiation being released from the plant complex. It must be emphasized that evacuations and other “safety” precautions are entirely based on the old, incorrect no-safe-level notion (Linear, No-Threshold hypothesis, or LNT) used to allegedly estimate the risk of radiation exposure since before Three Mile Island. This seriously flawed model was created in the United States in the 1960s, based on the unquestionably toxic effects of enormous exposure levels that can only be reasonably associated with nuclear bomb blasts. The data from Hiroshima/Nagasaki of actual death rate versus actual radiation dose level was graphed, but literally no data for exposures below about 1.5 sieverts (150,000 millisieverts or 150 REM) was used. Creators of this high exposure dose-response model then arbitrarily continued the “best-fit” line (ask any high school algebra student what this means) down to zero radiation dose, without any actual data to support it. This arbitrary line indicates that any radiation dose, no matter how tiny, poses some risk of lethality.
Governments around the world have used this arbitrary area of the LNT model to justify emergency plans and radiation risk assessments ever since Three Mile Island. However, a literal mountain of world-wide research evidence since 1991 have revealed that radiation exposures below 1 sievert (1,000 millisieverts or 100 REM) pose no biological harm whatsoever! This is called the radiation hormesis model. While the overwhelming body of evidence over the past 2 decades clearly demonstrates the no-safe-level theory (LNT model) for exposures below 1.5 sieverts to be a total fiction, governments around the world ruthlessly cling to it and essentially look the other way when radiation hormesis is brought up. If the realistic radiation hormesis model for radiation exposure was used instead of LNT, existing nuclear emergency evacuation plans would be placed in serious question, specific to total whole-body dose levels. If evacuation plans must exist, they should be based on potential contamination levels from Strontium, Cesium, and Iodine that have been scientifically demonstrated to be actually harmful. A three kilometer evacuation zone to prevent the potential for harmful ingestion of radioactive contamination seems to be reasonable. Regardless, the potential exposures being reported by the press from Fukushima are about a hundred times less than the high-dose region of harm demonstrated by the radiation hormesis model. Nobody is being harmed, and no-one will be harmed.
The worst radiation release for a nuclear power plant accident in history, Chernobyl, produced doses to the public precisely in the middle of the totally safe region of the radiation hormesis model. World Health Organization reports on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident (2006) concluded there have been no long term health effects, and no radiation-related deaths to the public exposed by the Chernobyl accident. Zero! Precisely what the radiation hormesis curve demonstrates. In fact, last year’s cancer death rate across all of Eurasia dropped nearly 7%, which is a trend that has been going on since 2000. For more information on radiation hormesis, go to the radiation page of this site. But, for a virtual Mount Everest of good information…Google it! Type “radiation hormesis” into the search browser, and spend a few days (literally) to educate yourself on it. You might be be glad you did.
- “Nuclear scare grows with an orange flash and a violent blast”; guardian.co.uk; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/14/fukushima-nuclear-power-plant-japan
- “IAEA Update on Japan earthquake”; IAEA.org; International Atomic Energy Agency; http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html (perhaps the least terrifying information on the Japanese situation on the internet)
- “Fukushima blast shows nuclear is not the answer”; guardian.co.uk; http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/15/nuclear-earthquake-tsunami-energy-industry?intcmp=239