True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster

On March 11th, 2011 the Tōhoku earthquake and resulting tsunami wreaked havoc on Japan. It also resulted in the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl when the tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Radioactive particles were released into the atmosphere and ocean, contaminating groundwater, soil and seawater which effectively closed local Japanese fisheries.

Rather unfortunately, it has also led to some wild speculation on the widespread dangers of Fukushima radiation on the internet. Posts with titles like “Holy Fukushima – Radiation From Japan Is Already Killing North Americans” and “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima” (which Southern Fried Science has already throughly debunked ) keep popping up on my facebook feed from well-meaning friends.

I’m here to tell you that these posts are just plain garbage. While there are terrible things that happened around the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan; Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast aren’t in any danger.  These posts were meant to scare people (and possibly written by terrified authors). They did just that, but there is a severe lack of facts in these posts. Which is why I am here to give you the facts, and nothing but the facts.


The radioactive rods in the Fukushima power plant are usually cooled by seawater [CORRECTION: they are usually cooled by freshwater. As a last ditch emergency effort at Fukushima seawater was used as a coolant.]. The double whammy of an earthquake and a tsunami pretty much released a s**tstorm of badness: the power went out, meltdown started and eventually the radioactive cooling seawater started leaking (and was also intentionally released) into the ocean. Radioactive isotopes were also released into the air and were absorbed by the ocean when they rained down upon it. These two pathways introduced mostly Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and Cesium-134, but also a sprinkling of Tellurium, Uranium and Strontium to the area surrounding the power plant.

There aren’t great estimates of how much of each of these isotopes were released into the ocean since TEPCO, the company that owns the power plant hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with information, but the current estimates are around 538,100 terabecquerels (TBq) which is above Three-Mile Island levels, but below Chernobyl levels. And as it turns out, they recently found contaminated groundwater has also started leaking into the sea. TEPCO, the gift that keeps on giving.


Units of Radiation are confusing. When you start reading the news/literature/blogs, there are what seems like a billion different units to explain radiation. But fear not, I’ve listed them below and what they mean (SI units first).

Becquerel[Bq] or Curie[Ci]: radiation emitted from a radioactive material  (1 Ci = 3.7 × 1010 Bq)

Gray [Gy] or Rad[rad]: radiation absorbed by another material (1Gy = 100 rad)

Sieverts[Sv]* or “roentgen equivalent in man”[rem]: how badly radiation will damage biological tissue (1 Sv = 100 rem)

Simpsons Guide to RadiationYou can convert from Grays and Rads to Rem and Sieverts, but you have to know what kind of radiation it is. For example alpha radiation from naturally occurring Polonium-210 is more damaging to biological tissues than gamma radiation from Cesium-137. Even if you absorbed the same number of Grays from Cesium or Polonium, you would still effectively receive more damaging radiation from Polonium because the number of Sieverts is higher for Polonium than Cesium. And kids, Sieverts and Seavers  are both dangerous to your health but please don’t confuse them.


Cesium-137 is product of nuclear fission. Before us humans, there was no Cesium-137 on earth. But then we started blowing stuff up with nuclear bombs and VOILA!, there are now detectable, but safe, levels of Cesium-137 in all the world oceans.


There are a bunch of maps being thrown around on the internet as evidence that we are all going to die from Fukushima radiation. I’m going to dissect them here. Apologies in advance for dose of snark in this section because some of these claims are just god awful. Spoiler: radiation probably has reached the West Coast but it’s not dangerous.

MAP OF TERROR #1: The Rays of Radioactive Death!

This is not a map of Fukushima Radiation spreading across the Pacific. This is a map of the estimated maximum wave heights of the Japanese Tohuku Tsunami by modelers at NOAA. In fact, tsunamis don’t even transport particles horizontally in the deep ocean. So there is no way a Tsunami could even spread radiation (except maybe locally at scales of several miles as the wave breaks onshore). Dear VC reporter, I regret to inform you this cover image could be the poster child for the importance of journalistic fact-checking for years to come.


I mean I guess this is a bit better. At least this map used an ocean model that actually predicts where radioactive particles will be pushed around by surface ocean currents. But it still gets a BIG FAT FAIL. The engineering company that put this image/piece of crap out there couldn’t even be bothered to put a legend on the map. Their disclaimer says “THIS IS NOT A REPRESENTATION OF THE RADIOACTIVE PLUME CONCENTRATION.” Then what do the colors mean?


It’s true, oceanographic models have shown that radiation from Fukushima has probably already hit Aleutians and Hawaiian Island chain, and should reach the California Coast by Fall 2014 [Behrens et al. 2012]. The map above is showing the spread of Cesium-137 from the Fukushima reactor would look like right now, I mean radiation is apparently EVERYWHERE! But what is missing from most of the discussion of these maps is what  the colors ACTUALLY mean.

We shall now seek guidance from the little box in the upper right hand corner of the map called the legend**.  The colors show how much less radioactive the the decrease in the radioactive concentrations of Cesium-137 isotopes have become since being emitted from Fukushima. For example, the red areas indicate the Fukushima Cesium-137 is now more than 10,000 times less radioactive concentrated than when released. The California Coast, more than a million times less. The punchline is that overall concentrations of radioactive isotopes and therefore radioactivity in the Pacific will increase from Pre-Fukushima levels, but it will be way less than what was seen in coastal Japan and definitely not enough to be harmful elsewhere (we’ll get to more of that later).

** As Eve Rickert has thoughtfully pointed out, my description of the image is a little confusing. I’ve added corrections in blue to clarify.


Practically, what does ten thousand or a million times less radiation mean? It means that these models estimate the West Coast and the Aleutians will see radiation levels anywhere from 1-20 Bq/m3,while Hawaiian Islands could see up to 30 Bq/m[Behrens et al. 2012, Nakano et al. 2012,  Rossi et al. 2013 ].

I could write a small novel explaining why the numbers differ between the models. For those that love the details, here’s a laundry list of those differences: the amount of radiation initially injected into the ocean, the length of time it took to inject the radiation (slowly seeping or one big dump), the physics embedded in the model, the background ocean state, the number of 20-count shrimp per square mile (Just kidding!), atmospheric forcing, inter-annual and multi-decadal variability and even whether atmospheric deposition was incorporated into the model.

Like I said before, the West Coast will probably not see more than 20 Bq/mof radiation. Compare these values to the map of background radiation of Cesium-137 in the ocean before Fukushima (from 1990), it’s only 4 Bq/min the Pacific. Radiation will increase in the Pacific, but it’s at most 10 times higher than previous levels, not thousands. Although looking at this map I would probably stop eating Baltic Herring fish oil pills and Black Sea Caviar (that radiation is from Chernobyl) before ending the consumption of  fish from the Pacific Ocean.



No it will not be dangerous. Even within 300 km of Fukushima, the additional radiation that was introduced by the Cesium-137 fallout is still well below the background radiation levels from naturally occurring radioisotopes. By the time those radioactive atoms make their way to the West Coast it will be even more diluted and therefore not dangerous at all.

It’s not even dangerous to swim off the coast of Fukushima. Buessler et al. figured out how much radiation damage you would get if you doggie paddled about Fukushima (Yes, science has given us radioactive models of human swimmers). It was less than 0.03% of the daily radiation an average Japanese resident receives. Tiny! Hell, the radiation was so small even immediately after the accident scientists did not wear any special equipment to handle the seawater samples (but they did wear detectors just in case). If you want danger, you’re better off licking the dial on an old-school glow in the dark watch.


For the most part the answer is YES. Some fisheries in Japan are still closed because of radioactive contamination. Bottom fish are especially prone to contamination because the fallout collects on the seafloor where they live. Contaminated fish shouldn’t be making it to your grocery store, but I can’t guarantee that so if you are worried just eat fish from somewhere other than Japan.

Fish from the rest of the Pacific are safe. To say it mildly, most fish are kinda lazy. They really don’t travel that far so when you catch a Mahi Mahi off the coast of Hawaii its only going to be as contaminated as the water there, which isn’t very much.Hyperactive fish, such as tuna may be more radioactive than local lazy fish because they migrate so far. As Miriam pointed out in this post, there is a detectable increase of radiation in tuna because they were at one point closer to Fukushima, but the levels are not hazardous.

To alleviate fears that you may be glowing due to ingestion too many visits to your local sushi joint, Fischer et al. figured out exactly how much damaging radiation you would receive from eating a tower of tuna rolls. Seriously. Science is just that awesome. Supermarket tuna hunters would receive 0.9 μSv of radiation, while the outdoors subsistence tuna hunter would receive 4.7 μSv. These values are about the same or a little less than the amount a person receives from natural sources.

To put 0.9 μSv of radiation in perspective check out this awesome graph of radiation by xkcd. You’ll get the same amount of radiation by eating 9 bananas. Monkeys might be doomed, but you are not.


I hope this list of facts has answered most of your questions and convinced you the Pacific and its inhabitants will not be fried by radiation from Fukushima. I certainly feel safe eating sustainable seafood from the Pacific and so should you. If you are still unsure, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.


There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments about the contribution from the groundwater leaks. I did some homework and here’s what I came up with. (Also thanks to everyone for the interesting discussions in the comments!)

The ground water leaks are in fact problematic, but what has been released into the ocean is MUCH less than the initial release (although I admit the groundwater itself has extremely high radiation levels).  The estimates from Jota Kanda are that 0.3 TBq per month (1012 Bq) of contaminated groundwater is leaking into the ocean, which has added another 9.6 TBq of radiation into the sea at most.  The initial releases were about 16.2 PBq (1015 Bq), about 1500 times more radiation. With this in mind, the additional radioactivity leak from ground water isn’t a relatively large addition to the ocean.

The models by Behrens and Rossi used initial source functions of 10 PBq and 22 PBq, which is on par with the most recent estimates.  Since their models used a much higher source function, that says to me that this relatively smaller input from groundwater still won’t raise the radioactivity to dangerous levels on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii.  Recent observations around Hawaii by Kamenik et al. also suggest that the models may have even overestimated the amount of radiation that hit Hawaii, which is good news.

But there are caveats to this information as well. The leaking groundwater contains strontium and tritium which are more problematic than Cesium-137. But it sounds like strontium accumulates in bones and is only a problem if you eat small fish with the bones in, like sardines (and it will only affect sardines caught near Japan since they don’t travel far). I suspect there might be some precedent for understanding the dangers of tritium in seawater from the 20th century nuclear testing in atolls, but I really don’t know. There is also 95 TBq of radioactive cesium is in the sediment around Fukushima, which is still super problematic for bottom dwelling fish and therefore local Japanese Fisheries. Lastly, another source is terrestrial runoff. These numbers haven’t been quantified but they are probably minor because they contain a fraction of the total deposition from atmospheric fallout, which itself was a fraction of what was released into the ocean.

So even with the new groundwater leaks, the available evidence still tells me I can eat fish from the West Coast, Hawaii, and Alaska.


For more in depth articles about radiation from Fukushima in the ocean you should definitely check out some of Marine Chemist’s Posts at Daily Kos. Written by Jay T. Cullen, a Marine Chemist at the University of Victoria, the posts walk you through the most current research on Fukushima Radiation from a variety of sources. I especially recommend his most recent post on Update on Fukushima Radionuclides in the North Pacific and Off the West Coast of North America, were he discusses the recent detection of Fukushima radiation off the coast of Canada. The most recent observations from June 2013 shows the spread of Cesium-137 was on par with the predictions by Rossi et al., but the concentrations are safe and lower than predicted.


[DISCLAIMER: The creators of the NOAA tsunami map work in my building. I secretly fangirl squeal when I walk past their offices. I recently had coffee with Joke F. Lübbecke, who also works in my building. It was caffeinated.]

*Confusingly, oceanographers also co-opted the acronym Sv for Sverdrups their unit for volume transport. 1 Sverdrup = 1 Sv = one million cubic metres per second = 400 Olympic swimming pools just passed your house in one second.


Behrens, Erik, et al. “Model simulations on the long-term dispersal of 137Cs released into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima.” Environmental Research Letters 7.3 (2012): 034004.

Buesseler, Ken O., et al. “Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the ocean and biota off Japan.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109.16 (2012): 5984-5988.

Fisher, Nicholas S., et al. “Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2013).

Nakano, Masanao, and Pavel P. Povinec. “Long-term simulations of the 137 Cs dispersion from the Fukushima accident in the world ocean.” Journal of environmental radioactivity 111 (2012): 109-115.

Rossi, Vincent, et al. “Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume.” Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers (2013).

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution FAQ: Radiation from Fukushima

Explained: rad, rem, sieverts, becquerelsl. A guide to terminology about radiation exposure


283 Replies to “True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster”

  1. Here I thought this was going to be another site regarding how fast we were all going to die from the Pacific radiation. What a surprise to finally see (at least from what I have found) a single page dedicated to realistic and scientifically based explanations of those dumb charts and what is really happening out there in the Pacific.

    Thank you Dr Martini

  2. This is greatly misleading. As one who tested the safety systems of the GE Mark I & II BWR’s, and later served as Senior Engineer for the largest non-governmental power company on Earth, I can tell you we could lose North America if these TEPCO goobers keep screwing up.

    We are hindered by a Japanese social system that cannot admit error, and the managers will continue until we are all dead.

    I think this author has not worked with nuclear power himself, and only reads his information. I suggest HE go pull the damaged fuel rods from the four Spent Storage Pools and see if he can do it and still survive.

  3. After reading this article I decided to do a little research comparing Fukashima to Chernobyl and the results dont look very good.

    Here is a link to a good documentary on the Chernobyl nucleur incident:

    In short, the Russians responded faster and handled a smaller (but still massive) scale disaster effecting (and still effecting) hundreds of thousands. Russia and Ukraine also pretty much bankrupted themselves cleaning up the mess. The melting reactor was covered up for 30 years at an immense cost. The reactor and debre is still poisoning the surrounding lands. A lot of people died.

    Chernobyl reporting is similar to the reporting of Fukashima. All the same stops/tricks appear to be pulled. Lying, playing down stats, increasing the safe radiation limit for humans (yes the Russian did that too, same tactics happening again).
    The reason for this was there was little they could do and little the world could do. So the masses are told, “everything is ok” to prevent panic.

    The end result, Russia realised the epic disadvantages of nucleur energy at which point they abandoned nucleur energy and started dismantling some of their nucleur arsenal.

    Now Fukashima has multiple reactors, some of which are exposed to the ocean. They are not dumping thousands of tons Boric Acid on it to try neutralise it, like in Chernobyl. Nor are they cementing it closed.
    All that radiation, and there is alot of it from multiple reactors is washing into the air and ocean…
    Looking at what happened in Chernobyl, my spidey sense says what is happening in Japan is worse.

  4. Three melted corium cores somewhere in the earth only meters from ocean interacting with ground water and flowing directly into the ocean, you make no mention of this. I assume your calculations are only from the initial event, so what will the radiation be 50 years from now off the California coast? If this were three hundred tons of oil flowing into the ocean everyday it would be headline news.

  5. Does this article only pertain to the release after the accident and explosions? Which was primarily fallout.

    TEPCO knew groundwater was flowing from the higher elevations above the plant,through the destroyed cores, and into the sea long before last summer. They released a “groundwater bypass plan” last February (I’m sorry, I can’t find the link). That “ice wall” is intended to divert groundwater from uphill around the plant.

    The monitoring of the full spectrum of radionuclides, including the plutonium from the MOX in Reactor 3, is in Japanese. Plutonium is heavy and will fall to the silt, where it will be taken up by bottom-feeders and recycle through the foodweb. It has a half-life of 24,000 years.

    They’re also facing a storage crunch in the (badly designed) above-ground storage tanks (ASTs), and they can’t get their ALPS water treatment system working. When they do, they will have a backlog to clear, but will then need to discharge the treated water into the sea.

    And even if everything works the way the engineers promise us, the labor situation is unreliable, to say the least.

    I can’t find a source I trust – but it has been an education to be reminded of how much Russia and China still hate the Japanese! The “greens” are alarmists (Helen Caldicott drives me nuts); the engineers don’t understand hydrogeology or operation;, and the academics have very constrained mindsets.

    We’re not all going to die, but it’s almost worse that cancers can go up and we’ll never really know which ones are a result of the Fukushima disaster.

  6. This may be accurate with regard to the amount of radiation which has been released so far, however my understanding is that there is still a great potential, if not likelihood, of huge further radiation releases from the plant.

  7. Let me know if you need more proof!

    Fukushima: The Ticking Nuclear Bomb. Over 800 Tons of Radioactive Material …

    On a test made on 15 dead tuna, all 15 were found to be contaminated with radiation. Of the fish being sold to Canada, in 2012, the Vancouver Sun recorded the number of specimens testing positive for Cesium-137, namely: 100 per cent of monkfish, carp, seaweed and shark; 94% of cod and anchovies; 93% of tuna and eels; 92% of sardines; 91% of halibut; 73% of mackerel.

  8. Tokyo Electric Puts Off Tainted Groundwater Removal at Fukushima Plant
    Tokyo, Nov. 28 (Jiji Press)–

    Tokyo Electric said Thursday that a shortage of water storage tanks has forced it to postpone removal of contaminated groundwater at its crippled Fukushima Plant.

    The postponement would allow radioactive groundwater to continue to flow beyond soil hardened with chemicals between the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors and into the sea.

    Early this month, about 6,000 becquerels per liter of strontium 90 and other beta ray-emitting radioactive substances were detected in groundwater in an observation well between the two reactors, far exceeding the standard for water to be released into the sea.

  9. Elevated Rates of Thyroid Disease in California Newborn Linked to Fukushima …
    San Diego Free Press – ‎1 hour ago‎

    fukushima A new study indicates that rates of a thyroid disease in California newborn spiked after they were exposed to fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. The peer-reviewed study, “Changes in confirmed and borderline cases of congenital …

  10. This is a fairly good article, its main weakness being that it doesn’t specify what it aims to address, and what it doesn’t. No scientific article would omit such a statement of intent, but Dr. Martini thinks it’s not needed in an article for lay persons. Her air of arrogance is not helpful, though common among scientists speaking to the public. As noted, Martini’s article appears to address only the initial release, not the ongoing release of contaminated water—which has just been estimated by TEPCO to be 33% greater than previously estimated. And this says nothing about atmospheric releases—so no point criticizing it for that omission!

  11. Your article is designed to curtail the potential of wide spread panic and economic fallout. Since Tepco wasn’t forthcoming with the facts your article is based on assumption. I would tell everyone to stay away from the Hawaiian islands and to forget eating fish from the pacific ocean. Take a trip to the islands, bring a Geiger counter, take water samples, and test fish for radiation, then you will be in a position to speak with authority. Two local dairies in Hawaii have started treating their cows with boran to remove the radiation from their milk. Unfortunately, once it’s in the cows milk its in the entire food chain. Residents of Hawaii should be taking potassium iodate and boron to help protect and rid their bodies of radiation. Our country is not concerned about it people’s health, it concerned about its economy. Instead of warning its residents of the dangers of higher levels of radiation in their enviorment and what they can do to protect themselves, they raise the safe levels to reflect the current unsafe levels.

  12. I question your entire article’s worth. You start by claiming that saltwater is used to cool the radioactive rods; that is wrong. Saltwater was used as an emergency coolant, and its use has rendered the plant inoperable even if they could fix everything that was damaged in the earthquake and afterwards.

  13. I’d love to believe Dr. Martini but my first thought is who hired her to provide this positive SPIN on the situation at Fukishima. (Fishing, tourism, Japanese government?!? I’m not an expert as she is, but I know that nuclear radiation is LONG LIVED, INVISIBLE( except in the deformities and birth defects, cancers etc etc that it causes) and VERY DANGEROUS !!! fukishima is out of control and the EXPERTS don’t have a clue what to do. The latest news from Japan, that they are clamping down on the press(therefore the truth and free speech) is not encouraging, holding my breath and astonished at comments like those of Dr. Martini! And by the shameful incompetence of TEPCO who will be protected from scrutiny by Japan’s new whistleblower laws…..

  14. I am the chief editor of DSN. Dr. Martini, DSN, nor anybody here at the site, is/was paid to write here. DSN is strict pro bono website where we all volunteer our valuable time to write and deliver ACCURATE science to the public.

  15. “Her air of arrogance is not helpful, though common among scientists speaking to the public.”
    Mmmm generalizations about scientists. Wonderful!

  16. A generalization is a statement characterizing an entire group of people, e.g. if I had said, “Scientists are arrogant,” which I didn’t say.

  17. i did the math again. i took the model of pacific dispersion developed after chernobyl and had a look at its assumptions. they assumed a radioisotope release 1×10-8 the size actually admitted to by tepco, and that’s not even including tritium.
    with open cores (as demonstrated by gamma ray bursts preventing overflight in the weeks following the accident) and lost cores (spontaneous steam jets coming from the ground, it is logical to assume that at least one core is sitting in ground water, churning out tritium to add to the mix.
    then we have the infant thyroid issues in the states. the stats show a marked increase. what are the odds that that is unrelated?

  18. Fukushima is an interdisciplinary disaster, and requires multiple expertise. Dr. Martini’s specialty, ocean currents, is one.

    They can fire all the nuclear engineers because their expertise is, uh, OBE (overtaken by events). They need industrial wastewater and stormwater specialists, hydrogeologists, and marine biologists with expertise in radioactive substances and the aquatic food web (try Sellafield).

  19. So…. according to DSN we need not be worried about Fukushima radiation over here on the west coast of Canada but according to DSN followers/commenters we do….

    I have seen that people on Vancouver island are using digital radiation detectors to test kelp, etc. and are getting readings of 25-45 cpm (counts per minute). They don’t seem to have background information. Is this a high reading. Could it be natural radiation?

    I just want to know if I should cancel my vacation to Maui and go to Cuba instead……

  20. First off, not all Scientists are men. I am a woman.

    And yes, I agree there is still a lot of radiation at the Fukushima site that needs to be cleaned up and TEPCO has been pretty shady with their reporting (which I note above). But this post discusses whether the radiation from the disaster is dangerous once it spreads and dilutes throughout the ocean. It is not.

  21. I’m sorry you feel that I was arrogant, it was not the tone I intended. This is intended as a fact sheet about what the real radiation danger of the Fukushima accident is.

    It’s unfortunately recently come to light that there are ongoing releases of radionuclides, but the amounts are unknown. Currently that is probably only affecting the region around Fukushima and not the greater Pacific, although that could change in the future. What is important to note, even the maximum amount of estimated radioactive discharge (which were independent estimates) still did not elevate radioactive levels in the Pacific to harmful levels

    Contributions from atmospheric sources of radioactivity was addressed in all the Pacific Models. The Nakano et al. paper explicitly modeled the atmospheric fallout plume and the area of deposition and determined the contribution was much smaller than the seawater contribution. The Behrens and Nakano paper incorporated the additional atmospheric addition in their source term.

  22. I do mention it in the fifth paragraph. It’s not yet clear how much is seeping into the ocean right now, we just know it is. The bad effects of this additional radiation will probably only be felt locally before the concentrations of radionuclides are diluted to un-harmful levels across the Pacific. But the “new” source of radiation will probably force Japanese Fisheries to still stay closed this year.

  23. Mmmm generalizations about scientists. Wonderful!

    Thats PAID scientists that are told to give FALSE info to the public..God forbid the public knew the truth, the fishing industry you are protecting would go belly up..

    There are whistleblowers and then there are your kind..

  24. Amazing how you are sugar coating this event. Who is paying you to keep the fishing industry feeding the sheep radiated fish? Odd how many fish have been checked and they are filled with Cesium..seals dying, sardines gone, starfish melting, elk dying, salmon depleted, cancer rates rising..ALL ON THE WEST COAST! I have not seen one starfish for MONTHS. Why? Immune system has been compromised..CALLED RADIATION.

  25. Please note the comment I made below. This site is strictly pro bono. I do find it odd though your reaction, given we are striving on a unbiased account of the situation. We are not personally vested in one side over the other, i.e. I have no dog in this race. We are simply trying to get the truth to the public. Yet when that truth goes against your world view you question our motivation. If you don’t understand our mission here at DSN please go read our about page. I also warn you and other commenters here that I will delete any further ad hominem

  26. Dr. Martini is correct. Most legitimate complaints here are based on the fact the issue was a narrow one, i.e., transmission of radionuclides by ocean current.

    But the dismissal of the out-of-control masses of Corium, and problems with removing fuel rods from four spent fuel pools makes it sound as if she accuses us of not fully considering the matter.

  27. Actually there is a starfish wasting disease hitting the west coast triggered by the recent warming of the east Pacific…

    where did this “theory” come from? Higher cancer rates on the west coast are from the warming of the pacific too? Along with the elk, sardines, salmon, seals, birds..the list is long. Its just too weird that this is happening here but NOT IN THE East coast.. You have checked for immune deficiency or radiation type of illnesses in all these animals? Are you kidding me?? You actually believe in what you type?

  28. Ditto on Dr. M’s comment.

    I don’t think there is anything positive about Fukushima, but evaluating what the real and perceived risks from the radiation leaked is crucial to figuring out what sort of mess needs to be cleaned up. Scaring people with false information does not solve real problems and this post aims to combat that misinformation so we can direct our resources where it counts.

  29. I think one of the irritants here for many to the original Dr. Martini piece is an almost flippant dismissal and inferred lack of risk to the whole Fukushima situation. It is serious and as we are only being informed largely about reactor # 4 where the current spent fuel rod removal sort of got under way and is now silent. There are other reactors where no-one really know their condition as they are too radioactive to get too close to. In situations as serious as these it makes total sense to be somewhat over paranoid particularly as we have been repeatedly under-informed by The Japanese government, TEPCO and GE.

  30. Does anyone have any comments on this statement?…FUKUSHIMA RADIATION CONSUMING PACIFIC OCEAN- ” I see the catastrophe as absolutely horrifying and ongoing. There is no discernible end in sight to this tragedy, radiation will continue to seep into the Pacific Ocean for decades […] when they have problems they are always global in scale. […] These toxins will remain dangerous for hundreds of generations and will disperse throughout the planet. […] the sickness and contamination resulting from the disaster will last for hundreds [of generations]. […] they knew that there had been a full meltdown on the first day of the disaster, and three full meltdowns by the third day, they denied this for almost three months.” -Professor Robert Jacobs, Hiroshima City University, Nov. 27, 2013

  31. Nuclear specialists have no chapter for this scenario… and to claim radiation levels are not unsafe, especially when there is no containment is sight is tough to wrap my head around. Dr. Martini and Dr. M… If your claim of not receiving compensation is true… You are doing a great job sugar coating Frankenstein.

  32. It’s great to see the variety of people who read this article; additionally the thoughtful attention that Dr. Martini has provided in her responses is likewise commendable. That being said, there are a number of people whose comments merit special attention and reference to one of my favorite studies of all time and helps highlight some of the difficulties academics have in communicating their research. Yes, this is a wikipedia link (for brevity) but links to the actual study are at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

  33. Comparing this event event to Chernobyl and saying it is safe to swim off the coast of Fukushima shows the amount of arrogance in your article. Three reactors cores more than likely have burned through all human containment and only meters from the ocean and you belive the ocean can absorb this and will have no affect on the ocean’s aquatic life, only time will tell but if your wrong no big deal its only the Pacific Ocean and a raddiated North American coast line. The only analogy I can think of is Tepco is fighting a forest fire by trying to piss on it.

  34. 80% of commenters above seem – sadly – to fall into the “How Dare You Inject Facts Into My Moral Panic!” category.

    An illustration of the difficulties in communicating science if ever there was one. The scientist comments “There is more than one kind of number with more than one kind if meaning” —– the public responds “But I read this one really big number somewhere and so you must be trying to distract me with maths!


  35. Well, first off, I am not a scientist, just Josephine Public. When Fukushima happened, I set up a google alert so that I could follow the news on this event, because I somehow thought it would be a good chance to follow the echo chamber, watch the political l fallout about nuclear energy and see the debate about the dangers and solution develop. Who new the disaster would continue to unfold? I’ve tried to sort out real news from alarmists. This is how I stumbled upon this article by Dr. M and the following conversation.

    My husband thinks it is silly for me to be following this whole topic and can’t see the point in it even after trying to explain. I appreciate Dr. M’s article, because I feel like she is trying to put a scientific spin on the misinformation that is out there. I also love the following debate occurring ( after the insults are over ) and reading the discussion on the finer points of the situation that has occurred.

    A couple of things from the unscientific bystander who wants to understand. Nuclear energy is over most people’s head. As elementary as Dr M’s explanation tried to be, the one that helped the most was the Homer Simpson cartoon. The graph she linked to was good too, though it needs to be simplified. I did post it on my Facebook page, though, because it does show a comparison.

    But I do understand food chains and food webs. I saw in my google alert, where Korea had taken fish off the menu and Korean fish whole sellers had no buyers. Regardless of the facts, what people perceive to be the truth, matters. People perceive this to be a threat, and will respond accordingly, regardless of the facts.

    I am a vegetarian, so I don’t do fish, but the idea do eating fish from the Pacific scares even me. I like Dr. M’s explanation about “lazy fish” was helpful, but was concern about the bottom feeders. Then Kimberly Davis explains how Plutonium will work its way into the food chain and the shelf life of the radiation is something like 24,000 years. And Elarne says in her/his comment “Scientists just don’t have a play book for this disaster”. Those two statements equal serious concern for most people!

    I appreciate Dr. M saying that spreading misinformation helps no one. I agree with Kimberly Davis’, comment that the public doesn’t feel like we have a source we really trust. Money, economics, cover ups, lack of an interdisciplinary approach to solving this problem is causing everyone’s anxiety level to go way up when anyone thinks about it.

    I use to buy food products from Japan, but now I’m concerned about where the product comes from inside of Japan. Nori for Sushi, for example, is sea weed that is harvested somewhere in Japan. Is it safe? Where exactly do they harvest the seaweed? How close is it to the contaminated area? How do we know if it is safe ? This is just one example!

    We recently learned that the Japanese government kills dolphins and sells it as tuna on the open market. I’m sure everyone is familiar with “The Cove.” Dr M mentions tuna being hyperactive, what about dolphins? Too many unanswered questions are making the situation worse.

    I’m sure you are also familiar with Dr. Watson and the Sea Shepard that was on the Discovery Channel. Watson battled the Japanese whaling industry for years and has tried to expose their “whale research program” as an excuse for killing whales for the market place.

    I don’t think the Japanese government has a very good reputation for transparency, or eco friendly policies. The Fukushima disaster is just one more example of their disregard for environmental sensitivities. Why would anyone think they could build a nuclear energy power plant in a location prone to natural disaster and think it be,Ok?

    We are dealing with a situation that lends itself to misinformation, panic, alarmists, and fear.
    I’m glad someone is trying to have a rational debate. This article and subsequent conversation has led me to deduce, is that we have a mess on our hands and no one seems to have a reasonable explanation.

  36. Mike, yes, that statement captures the long-term. ongoing contribution of radioactivity. And we need specialist understanding for affects on the food web for those radionuclides with long-half lives (e.g., plutonium at 24,000 years. Which bioaccumulate? Which can result in mortality among the lower taxa? I don’t know, but I’m not hearing from anyone who does.

    Here is a resource on concentration limits in food:

    This resource on Sellafield discusses groundwater interchange:

    Hydrogeology – this is in French – click on Translate in Google – scroll down for a cross section of the subsurface conditions and groundwater/seawater interface.

  37. Applause to Drs. M and Martini. Please keep up the excellent work and thank you!

    Fukushima is a very serious situation, I think we can all agree on that. It will not be made better with wild speculation and emotionally driven name calling. We can’t just ignore it, but overreacting (no pun intended) is just as irresponsible. A carefully considered and fact driven response is needed. “Sky is falling-we’re all doomed” responses will never help anything except, possibly, to hasten an undesirable outcome.

  38. You state: ““Sky is falling-we’re all doomed” responses will never help anything except, possibly, to hasten an undesirable outcome.”

    Does that include those of us who actually did studies of the GE Mark I & II BWR safety systems for the Nuclear Regulation Commission? I was a Research Engineer at the time, before I joined the power utility and became a Senior Engineer in Technical Services.

    The problem is, the potential consequences are so realistically disastrous, ANY chance of them happening is unendurable. These are not wild imaginings, these are actual processes going on right now of which we have no control, no experience, and little knowledge.

    Want a discussion of the genuine worries? You won’t want to read it.

  39. I think what the authors need to realize is that most laypeople (and some scientists) have no idea what the scientific data surrounding this issue really means. I have watched over the years people who have no expertise in a field make grand, sweeping assumptions not based on facts or science but rather on a certain predisposition to find malfeasance and conspiracy based on political views, emotion and sometimes just outright paranoia. In a functioning, democratic civilization you HAVE to have experts who are deferred to. This article and it’s authors seem to fit that description. There is no agenda other than dissemination of valid data and conclusions based on said data. Every major event in recent world history has a subtext of conspiracy and what an article like this does is bring out the extremes. The comments on this subject are proof of that and I think the authors and the objective readers would be better served by deleting the authors of the ad hominem attacks and stick to the agenda of creating an environment for reasonable discussion. Well done, Dr. Martini and crew.

  40. That is untrue, the models assumed a initial concentration of 12000 Bq/m^3 of Cesium-137 radiation. This is consistent with independent observations

    The models looks at Cesium-137 because of all the radioactive isoptopes released, it would have the most harmful effects. Other radionuclides were released in smaller quantities, need higher doses to cause harm, or had a really short half-life (ex. Iodine-131 is 8 hours) so they decayed before the damaging effects were spread.

  41. Arrogant? Flippant? Paid poster? These posits do not help further the conversation. I would like to see the concept of “safe levels” discussed. I have recently listened to a news conversation about some imported products with lead, that exceeds the “safe level” for children’s toys. I thought 0% was safe. I know there are “naturally occurring contaminants but to surmise that we are not affected in any significant degree by this chemical or that radiological release, in isolation, misses the greater point. As we diddle around with the DNA of our food sources and introduce species accidentally and purposely into new environments – what can we expect? Is it too late to formulate a base-line to measure what should be stopped or reversed? I can weather Dr. Martini’s dose of “snark”. In fact it’s welcome. What I really need to know; along with all the other stuff I’m ingesting and living with, will this “safe” dose of Cesium-137 still be hanging around to be joined by another “safe dose of Cesium-137”?

  42. We should be worried about us in the U.S.A !!! I find it insulting that YOU would suggest in your Article that we have nothing to WORRY about. You should not be writing Articles like this.Your credentials do not indicate sufficient knowledge on this subject,neither do mine.Just explain to me how you can explain the sudden problems with Wildlife/Sea life which includes die offs,beachings at a large rate and so on?All this in the past year?…/us-west-coast-fried-by-nuclear…

    US: West Coast Fried by Nuclear Radiation from Fukushima

  43. “…There seems to be no end to stopping the toxic waste leaks [at Fukushima], but the new legislation would allow the administration to plug the information leaks permanently….[E]ven politicians inside the ruling bloc are saying, “It can’t be denied that another purpose is to muzzle the press, shut up whistleblowers, and ensure that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima ceases to be an embarrassment before the Olympics.”

  44. I think your air of superiority in stating that arrogance is “common among scientists” was enough to communicate your true feelings ;)

  45. We suggest Dr. Martini and her ‘unpaid’ colleagues try to do a little fact checking before making blanket statements that are unsupportable. Anyone who starts off with “The radioactive rods in the Fukushima power plant are usually cooled by seawater” clearly doesn’t know even the basics of what is happening at the triple meltdowns site. EnviroReporter, however, does know what’s going on as our 4,811+ radiation tests of food, water, air, snow and other substances around the globe attests. Trite dismissal of this threat is to be expected by meltdown deniers as if the Pacific were some giant trashcan for radionuclides that can never be affected by them. Hogwash. But while you continue to snipe at folks who don’t believe this ‘Pacific is safe and sound’ hooey, we invite you to see how Fukushima radiation is the most likely source of the huge radiation readings we detected in Death Valley National Park in just the last week:

    I will not hold my breath that this comment will even appear as the august “Dr. M” has already threatened that dissent to Dr. Martini’s weak dissertation will not see much light of day here. However, if this comment appears, it is not to challenge warped assumptions but to show you folks just how very real this threat is.

  46. I admit, that was an error. Seawater was only used as a last ditch emergency method to cool the rods. I’ll correct it above.

    But your assertions that rain in Death Valley are contaminated by Fukushima are based on really shoddy testing.
    1) You tested rain you wiped off from your car hood, which is completely contaminated by particles from the road. For an uncontaminated sample, try collecting the rainwater in a cup first.
    2) How are you differentiating Fukushima radiation from radiation from other sources? You can’t, as your radiation monitor does not differentiate between alpha, beta and gamma radition nor does it identify what sort of radioisotopes is emitting the radiation.

  47. Hi Martie, this was a very thoughtful comment. I can’t answer all your questions, but I will answer the ones I can.

    TEPCO has certainly not been forthcoming about the amount of radiation that has been released, but the numbers I present above were determined by independent scientists so I do trust them.

    Not all radiation is the same. The statement “the shelf life of radiation is something like 24,000 years” is misleading. Only Plutonium-239 has a half life that long. The other radioisotopes that were released decay A LOT faster. Cesium-137 has a half life of 30 years so it’ll stick around a bit, while Iodine-131 has a half life of 8 hours (practically that means after 48 hours, it’s 1/64 of it’s original value). So when you think of radioactive damage, you have to think of how long that source will stick around.

    Anyway, hope that helps!

  48. Dr. Martini is correct about the water samples. In addition, if one lives downwind of a coal plant, chances are most of the radionuclides are from the coal plant.

  49. If, what you are saying here is really an unbiased information, it will make this guy’s theory to be true:

    But you will need to by pass his hatred words and see the facts, you will need to watch in full and then you may rethink your information here, or simply agree with him.

  50. Just realised that the comments here needs to be approved by moderation before being released hmmmmmm interesting…
    Anyway, I just came here because I was really looking for opposite information around this subject, as I am looking in each part of the world I will be moving next, due to my job I have options ;)

    So, after you watch I would love to hear your comments about Dr. Martini and Dr. M.
    Thank you!

  51. Dr. Martini commented, “[T]his post discusses whether the radiation from the disaster is dangerous once it spreads and dilutes throughout the ocean. It is not.”

    Does that take into account, Dr. Martini, the phenomenon of radioactive particles sinking to the ocean floor where they are consumed by bottom feeders which are consumed by fish which are in turn consumed by people?

  52. Dr. Martini’s own-goal biff on the seawater cooling of the Fukushima reactors is just the tip of the iceberg in the inaccuracies of her piece which reads more like a truculent kid’s term paper without sourcing other than ‘tude: “I’m here to tell you that these posts are just plain garbage.” Clearly, Martini jumps to self-satisfying conclusions that fit her emotional reaction to the fact that there is an avalanche of data showing Fukushima radiation affecting Pacific sea life, especially in Alaska. This ‘conclusions-first-damn-those-pesky-facts’ attitude is evident in her trashing our Death Valley rain sampling and detecting as “really shoddy testing.” Let me tell you how the tests were done: whether the hood or the windshield, we made sure that they were absolutely dust-free before allowing rain to accumulate on them. After taking more than 4,800 rad tests since Fukushima’s start March 11, 2011, knows that simple method. [Note – we didn’t expect it to rain in DV but also know that a clean windshield is a great way to get clean samples hence why not having lab glass available was A-okay.] Martini just assumes that samples were “completely contaminated by the particles from the road,” one of just many wrong-minded assumptions by someone who made it her mission to debunk what she doesn’t fully understand in the first place which is understandable since nothing on this website indicates her having any experience with radiation science. Let us tell you how we differentiated Fukushima radiation from other sources: the rain’s ionization was from beta particles as you can see in the video – we pull the Inspector away from the sample and the ionization ceases. That means it is beta or alpha radiation or a combination thereof. Not shown on video was our closing of the back plastic door of the covering of the Inspector to see if it would decrease the measurement indicating alpha presence. It did not leaving us, through deduction, the only possible source of the radiation, beta. You do not need to know which beta-emitting radionuclide(s) caused this huge overages to know it’s beta. At these levels of radiation, the source had to be quite significant and since there are no meltdowns ongoing in California, or coal-fired plants next to Death Valley, the most likely source is the most obvious one: Fukushima. The reason we even addressed this supposed debunking nonsense is that it started with the snotty swipe at the VC Reporter with its admittedly stupid cover art. Martini uses it as a diving board in her taking the flying leap at acting like an expert radiation debunker. She is not. Martini simply did not do her research and relies on ‘atta-girls’ from equally unversed ‘scientists’ to give credence to her screed. I do agree, though, about that VC Reporter cover because the editor and art director made a huge mistake using it without consulting the article’s author about its appropriateness. That author was me. I suggest Martini get past the laughable cover and actually *read* the cover story I wrote if she wishes to understand the *facts* about Fukushima’s impact on the Pacific and North America.

  53. I apologize for posting “Her air of arrogance is not helpful, though common among scientists speaking to the public” without more explanation. It was easily misunderstood. I have a strong professional and philosophical interest in the communication of science to the public. My background is in science and I’ve made my living since 1995 as a freelance science editor, mostly dealing with technical reports and with articles for peer-reviewed journals for Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and NMFS. So I’ve mostly worked with writing on physical and biological oceanography and on fisheries topics from management to genetics. It is my long experience that MA and PhD scientists are not always good writers (or I’d be out of a job) and not always so good at communicating with the public on science topics. The air of arrogance is inculcated in grad school, and is an accepted part of academic culture, where it can be a useful survival tool! But it is not useful in all contexts. I would not characterize scientists as arrogant; but their writing for the public too often is, with a tone that’s read as snobbish and superior by non-academics. I wish I had phrased my comment more like: “It would assist lay readers if Martini would state who she is (undergrad? grad student? post doc? prof?), what her area of expertise is, and what specific aspects of the F. disaster she is addressing—contextual information that would be included in any scientific article.” Posting, “I am here to give you the facts, and nothing but the facts” sounds to the lay public too much like a Superwoman type proclaiming, “I’m the expert, I can tell you everything you need to know about it.” Whereas in fact, as brought out by various commenters, no one person is an expert even on every aspect of physical oceanography; and this complex disaster requires the expertise of nuclear scientists, meteorologists, hydrologists, atmospheric chemists, medical doctors, and many others to really understand what’s going on and its possible consequences. I have read widely on F. and I find all sort of experts holding forth on the area of their own expertise as if it is the only type of knowledge that’s relevant. There is widespread frustration due to the fact that information is coming out in all sorts of dribs and drabs, and is not being assembled into any sort of big picture (at least that I can find).

  54. I think the point has been missed, west coast seafood is “still safe to eat”. Why try to to stop that until it has been proven otherwise? Talk about being paid, of part of an organization like peta or green peace. How many here have sailed the 8000 miles to Japan from the west coast? Or even out of sight of land? I think you should listen to the good Docs, no scare tactics there. Problem? Of course. But over reaction does no one good. As for thyriod problems, I’d be looking a little closer to home…

  55. Tried yesterday, nothing showed up. You claim to be a scientific group, so why not?

    Joseph B. Stone, Ph.D.

  56. Thank you Martha. As a lay person who reads voraciously about everything I am hopelessly “well versed” in nothing.

    “Could radiation released from an event such as Chernobyl have any link to the problems of declining pollinators (directly or indirectly)”?

    This is the type of question that the public is beginning to consider. It seems that advanced science is practiced in such narrow corridors, to look outside one’s “cubicle of expertise”, invites disaster.

    I would encourage some professional “prairie doggin'” to see who can feel comfortable sharing their expertise and thoughts. Brainstorming can bring about some outrageous ideas and laughable conclusions – But I doubt it can be more harmful than what we’re facing in silence.

  57. That was a mistake on my part, thanks for pointin that out. I’ve been trying to respond to the comments quickly and I read the info on the page wrong.

    My general policy is when I find an error I will go back into the post, note the error and make a correction. We all make mistakes and I try to be as transparent as possible.

  58. The problem is framing one’s understanding based on the 3/11 accident/incident. All the papers Dr. Martini cites are pegged to that one incident. Leaving aside the spent fuel rod risk, the groundwater contamination will be ONGOING FOR DECADES! Here’s where I think we need to jump up and down and yell, because I am not seeing wide understanding of this continuous ongoing flow into the sea.

    One can estimate the effects of a “dose” of radiation from an event like Chernobyl, which will then diffuse and dilute. But this is an ongoing and continuous release.

    And while the focus on human health is of course important (and I say this as a human, myself), what do we know about the effects on the marine food web? They found strontium accumulating in kelp and the shells of macroinvertebrates (e.g. lobster) in Norway from Sellafield.

    I studied PCBs – nasty stuff which essentially never decays. While not miscible in water, it circulates through the sediment, into bottom feeders, up through the food chain of which all organisms eventually die and the whole nasty cycle continues.

    This is why, with all due respect Dr. Martini, focus on oceanic currents is misleading.

    With all the focus on the spent fuel rods, I haven’t heard about the groundwater bypass “ice wall” in weeks. Did they ever get the ALPS up and running to treat the cooling water plus pumped groundwater? They are facing a storage crunch in the tanks. This is an operations issue and we’ve got six blind men all looking at one piece of the elephant.

  59. Iam a Washington sport fishermen who consumes quite alot of pacific salmon. Given that the evidence of flotsam on our west coast beaches from Alaska to California indicates that whatever entered the pacific ocean is now upon us. Salmon are definitely not a lazy fish,so would like to see some research numbers on them.I am hopeful that this is not an understatement of available information. At this point I feel far more concern for the Pacific from pollution generated acid and it’s known effects.

  60. Six blind men and the elephant is interesting.

    My previous post included a statement that said, “to look outside one’s cubicle invites disaster”. What I meant was; it’s a disaster for the individual who dares say anything not related to their “home turf”. It is met with invectives instead of helpful additions or redirections.

    I understand the need to qualify ones professional strength with strong statements. Once established, it would be helpful to everyone to proceed amicably and establish an ongoing discussion with useful “take aways”; including what will happen in the future given the spread of this ongoing disaster by ocean currents.

  61. Imo, the worlds armed forces could be anchored off Japan’s coastline and scientists would live on the aircraft carriers trying to fix this. Nothing less will do! This is the point where we could all come together and really change the world. This is our now.

  62. Something like that is certainly needed. There must be top-level teams concentrating on separate needs – state of the Corium, conditions of the fuel rods in the other three Spent Fuel Pools, the contaminated water leakage, the storage of highly-radioactive water, and the invention of tools and procedures to deal with all of this, not seen in our experience. At present, we cannot even view the remains of the melted reactor vessels, blobs of exothermic monstrosity, out of our control.

    Those who warned of these potential calamities were scorned, vilified, joked about,as if our experiences in the field were unimportant. Now, the same folk want to minimize the problems from their self-righteous hubris.

    Sell your Westinghouse/GE/Hitachi stock.

  63. This is a classic case of correlation vs. causation. You find high radiation in your environmental samples. This correlates with the Fukushima incident. However, you have not fully by the design of your sampling or by any tests able to rule out other scenarios. You simply think it was caused by the Fukushima incident. Simply put you have meet the burden of proof.

    This simplest way to explain this correlation vs. causation idea is that every year I get older, gas prices also go up. Therefor there must be something about how old I am that is impacting global prices for oil. Of course we know this is ridiculous.

  64. Good example of causation vs correlation Dr. M. and thanks for explaining about the different types of radiation’s shelf life. 8 days vs 8 hours, I won’t split hairs. My anxiety level did go down a bit when I read that one.

  65. George: you say that you’ve worked on the “safety system” at nuclear plants, yet you don’t actually say you are a nuclear engineer. With a statement like “boron is a neutron moderator,” one extremely doubts that you are a nuclear engineer or can repeat any of the most basic, qualitative aspects of the field. It’s as if you are attempting to mislead readers of comments into thinking that you are knowledgeable regarding nuclear systems. What is your profession, topic of educatoin, and in what ways did you “test” the Mark I and II BWR safety systems?

  66. Maggie, how is radiation different from “nuclear radiation,” as you call it? How do you know that it is long lived and invisible? How do you know that it is very dangerous? You have the opportunity to learn a lot from this:

  67. CPM is a measure of intensity, which includes the inefficiencies of the instrument and the environment. Without knowing the energy of the radiations, it is impossible to determine weather or not that is a dangerous reading. Furthermore, a radiation survey meter is an electronic device with amplifiers that will produce counts when the gain is turned high enough. For example: placing a survey meter near a CRT computer monitor or television will give a count rate, even though there are probably no any particles being emitted from the CRTS.

  68. Mike: of course this is a disaster, but looking at gross numbers wont really give an idea of how bad it is. In order to get that type of an idea, one would have to compare the increase in mortality due to radionuclides from Fukishima against something like chemical contamination of food, groundwater, air. While I don’t have the time to do something like that right now, I think that it is just very important to realize that radiation is not inherently dangerous (just like chemicals aren’t)–it’s all about the concentration, the time spent accumulating, and the location of accumulation. I suspect that we are already suffering much worse from contaminants other than radioactive species, but people do not perceive these to be as dangerous to humans and often are unaware of their existence and influence.

    As a matter of fact, the way radiation causes cancer is most often indirect; it causes the ionization of the water in our bodies, which forms free radicals that can then damage dna, which can cause cancer. This is no different than the cancer caused by chemical contamination.

  69. Eric, the proper word is “irradiated,” not “raddiated [sic].” Please, just how dangerous is a burned/melted reactor core, relative to anything else?

  70. George, I would love to have a discussion of the genuine worries! It’s a bad habit to try to discourage scientific, rational discussion by threats of unpleasantness. Could you elaborate on the studies you did? Were these the PRAs of the general fault trees or did you work on electrical subsystems or the like? What is a research engineer? This is your second post in which you attempt to portray yourself as a nuclear expert, but it is very concerning that you do it with an air of deception and misdirection. What sort of engineer are you?

  71. This is a great debate and as with others on here I have learned a good deal. This matter still remains, irrespective of some obvious over exaggerations that are circulating nobody and I will repeat that, nobody knows what the outcome of Fukushima will be we have not faced anything like it before; directly adjacent to a major ocean which is already suffering from plastic pollution and the debris of the tsunami that hit Fukushima. And it is entirely possible that another earthquake could strike before any meaningful decommissioning has happened, in fact it is almost certain. We have a cabal of government and corporations doing all they can to suppress any news of what is actually going on and we cannot simply sit back and wait whilst we split hairs about what might happen; we simply do not know; no-one does. So we must remain vigilant and perhaps over react to over protect ourselves that is far better than the alternative.

  72. EnviroReporter: the background radiation count rate is a function of the sensitivity of your device. For example: one can hold a GM tube survey meter next to a cathode ray tube television or computer monitor and measure a high intensity. Alternatively, one can change the range settings on the meter and hold it up to a radioactive source and read nothing. Detectors are not simple on-off systems that are applicable to all situations.

    The effect you are seeing with the rain is called “washout.” By collecting the water on the paper towel and putting the detector in contact with it, the person in the video has concentrated the thing that they are trying to measure (by the way, the detector is now contaminated and unreliable!) Dilution/concentration of contaminants is of the highest importance when it comes to determining whether or not something is dangerous. One could stand next to a swimming pool and measure no counts above background and then boil off the whole volume of water to concentrate the things in the water other than H2O and then make a startling count rate measurement. The point–and this relates directly to the pacific ocean–is that the ocean is unimaginably large and the dilution of anything put into it is extreme.

  73. Interesting blog and even more interesting discussion about the communication of scientific information. Thanks to Dr. Martini and (most of) the various commenters.

  74. Wouldn’t it be refreshing and probably comforting to hear a scientist opine that “nobody knows what the risks are exactly becasue we’ve never had a triple meltdown on a coastal shore where the government deliberately ambiguates and dissembles information.”

    Now that I could believe.

  75. Comment:
    George: you say that you’ve worked on the “safety system” at nuclear plants, yet you don’t actually say you are a nuclear engineer. With a statement like “boron is a neutron moderator,” one extremely doubts that you are a nuclear engineer or can repeat any of the most basic, qualitative aspects of the field. It’s as if you are attempting to mislead readers of comments into thinking that you are knowledgeable regarding nuclear systems. What is your profession, topic of educatoin, and in what ways did you “test” the Mark I and II BWR safety systems?

    This was not yet posted as I replied.

    Thank you for asking. No misrepresentation is intended or expressed.

    No, I am not an engineer by training. I am one by experience and title, having served in engineering professions in several industries with many technologies. In the case of the GE Boiling Water Reactors, I worked for Scientific Service, Inc., to test the efficacy of the downcomers into the suppression pool when the reactors were unloaded. If you saw China Syndrome, that was the cause of the destructive shaking when the turbine tripped. If you want a complete explanation of the water hammer and bubble oscillation, you’ll have to read the report.

    I had been working on it for weeks when TMI II melted down. As my bosses were telling me it was a total waste, the core had melted and would cost over a billion dollars to clean up, Metropolitan Edison was still misinforming everybody. I felt sorry for the nuclear engineers who took the hard courses to Do Good in their profession, and deliver to society this advancement. Instead, it was a Faustian Bargain.

    As I did the tests, I used my access to get NRC reports, and saw how they classified the explosion of a Breeder Reactor in Idaho (INEL) which killed three people because it got too hot too fast from a fast fission, as a non-nuclear “steam explosion”, to cover their tracks. I read of Fermi I and Brown’s Ferry, and others, was in the control room of Rancho Seco, and looked into the industry. It is too deadly to the profit motive run it.

    Afterward, I became an engineer then a Senior Engineer in Technical services for Pacific Gas & Electric, which was then then building two and decommissioning one nuclear reactor. My Master of Science is in Environmental Management, specializing in Energy and Integration.

    Nope, I’m not a “real” engineer, which I love when I teach the 33,000 I have had in my seminars. By the way, nukes are dead, and they didn’t even need Fukushima. I just read the 47-page report on the economics. Want to read it?

  76. Thanks for the details on your experience. Interestingly, given my field, I have not seen that movie–but I wouldn’t need to in order to understand what you’re talking about in regard to downcomers and water hammer–I’m in the middle of a comparative study of CHF (critical heat flux) correlations!

    My BS and MS are both in nuclear engineering, covering reactor/nuclear physics, heat transfer, design of safety systems and radiation detection and measurement. Outside of my degrees, my experience is in radioactive sources and detection.

    It’s (almost) never the nuclear reaction that leads to the disasters, it’s the mechanical systems. Do you mean the SL-1 at Idaho Falls, or EBR-1, because SL-1 was not a breeder reactor but did kill three people in a legitimate steam explosion (caused by an operator pulling out the central control rod!!!). By fast fission, you mean a rapid increase in fission rate, right? “Fast fission” is already a term for fissions caused by non-thermalized neutrons (by fast neutrons).

    Fermi 1 had a blocked coolant channel and browns ferry lost control of it’s safety systems when electricians (who were using a candle to check for air leaks in the control room) ignited the foam that they were sealing the room with.

    I don’t think there is anything inherently uncontrollable about nuclear technology (you called it a Faustian bargain)–anything that works by physics can be engineered. Almost all of these problems were due to human stupidity. Greed trumping safety, on the part of the owners, is also a major concern.

    As for being dead, I don’t think it’s a permanent death for three reasons. First, depletion of resources will eventually lead to an acceptable price for nuclear power. Second, there are uses for high heat sources other than power generation, ie desalinization, hydrogen production and metal smelting. I would be surprised and impressed to see solar, wind or coastal geothermal (if there were such things near coastlines) sources of heat that are strong enough to carryout any of these processes. Third, the only way to actually get rid of the accumulating spent nuclear fuel is to transmute the radioactive isotopes in a burner reactor/accelerator driven system. These plants may not produce power, but they will be nuclear reactors none the less and it is a better alternative to burying the problem (which doesn’t make the waste really go away).

  77. You are 100% correct. I do not, however, trust Humans with nukes. Sorry. The potential harm is too great. We are a pitiful bunch, with all kinds of idiosyncrasies hangups and deficiencies.

    But we do not need nukes, and really can get sufficient energy from those sources to continue and prosper. It takes an intelligent selection of resources for flexibility, efficacy, and reliability, if one is to do it economically.

    We have been doing something like that for over 30 years. The “secret” is Integration. Just as we are an integration of disparate organs, operating with synergy, so do our systems. Having been in various industries, I was hired in 1980 to help Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest non-governmental power company on Earth, to reduce the waste in the facilities of their customers. With stringent clean-air laws, we had to find new “capacity” any way we could.

    We did it: My little group concentrated on colleges, universities and hospitals, and we saved an average of 20% on their bills with little of no capital costs for the organizations. At the same time, we diversified our sources of supply, getting our power from super-critical gas boilers, geothermal sources, photovoltaic, solar thermal, landfill gas, nuclear units, hydropower, pumped storage, wind, and even the emergency generators of the customers, dispatched directly by the utility.

    The range of energy producing and energy-harvesting systems will surprise you.

  78. I think it’s reasonable to say that the Fukushima disaster is an international problem. The danger of huge radiation releases from Fukushima Unit 4 has taken on a new dimension; the world community must intervene! That’s why I signed a petition to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General, United Nations and Barack Obama, President, United States of America, which says the following:

    “At Fukushima Unit 4, the impending removal of hugely radioactive spent fuel rods from a pool 100 feet in the air presents unparalleled scientific and engineering challenges. With the potential for 15,000 times more fallout than was released at Hiroshima, we ask the world community, through the United Nations, to take control of this uniquely perilous task.”

    Will you sign this petition? Please click this link:

    Thank you.

  79. If you want to see the bias of this site, see what they had to say about the BP oil spill, the world was coming to an end when it came to oil, hydrocarbons very bad, very dirty, nuclear good very clean. Don’t worry I won’t bother with this site again, the hypocrisy is amazing

  80. News on the ALPS – they’re still not working:

    I do not care who is to blame. I do not care if they put it in the wrong place. I do not care if it was a “black swan” event that they couldn’t have been expected to plan for.

    I do care that none of the scientists or journalists whom I am following are representing this ongoing disaster from a systems approach, including the relationship among the unknown status and location of the destroyed corium, the ongoing accumulation of contaminated groundwater from flooding the cores, and the need for a functioning ALPS to clear the AST storage crunch and then continue to pump and treat–and discharge into the sea–FOR DECADES! And the focus only on human health, not the food web, from this continuous and ongoing release of radioactivity.

    And now the Japanese government is about to classify it as treason to even talk about it.

    And radiation is invisible, so they could get away with it.

  81. WHAT? Kimberly Davis said “And now the Japanese government is about to classify it as treason to even talk about it”

    Is this true? I always have to have things verified in three separate factual sources. Surely that would be picked up by major news sources if this was happening. TREASON?

  82. I did not mean to infer that there is no risk and I do mention there are still problems in Japan in the original article. Local Japanese fisheries are closed, the radioactive material still needs to be properly disposed of and there is an issue of contaminated groundwater leaking into the ocean. But the potential ill effects of Fukushima Radiation have been greatly exaggerated elsewhere. This is a summary of what scientists know right now and I’ll stand by my claim that there is relatively little risk from Fukushima to the West Coast and the greater Pacific.

  83. Were there no other positions? You ARE aware this is a site for discussion, aren’t you?

    What did you expect, wild and rabid groupthink? You have to go the conservative sites for that adolescent nonsense.

  84. Dr. Martini,

    Thank you for having the guts and integrity to start and continue this topic. Most folk do not understand these problems stem not from scientists but from businessmen who own and operate all of us, making decisions based on “self-interest”.

    My own limited experience is with the hardware, although I also had to do studies of the effects of nuclear weapons for the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, which are similar in the residues of construction and use.

    What do we do now? Insist on International help?

  85. Indeed, “…the potential ill effects of Fukushima Radiation have been greatly exaggerated elsewhere”, but Southern Fried Science and your post, Dr. Martini, still focus only on the March 2011 incident, in particular atmospheric fallout and ocean currents (not ecosystem effects). Look again at the dates of the papers you cite.

    We have no idea what is being discharged via groundwater. And while that issue was only “revealed” (love that word) this summer, it has been going on since the meltdown, and no one has ANY IDEA when it might be abated. We need to think of this risk as ongoing cumulatively for DECADES to come!

    TEPCO’s monitoring reports are in Japanese, but one can track alpha and beta. Do you have access to current (last couple of weeks is fine) monitoring data within and without the harbor? Strontium-90 and Plutonium in particular.

    I have expertise in ASTs, groundwater, environmental health, and persistant waterborne toxics.

    Dr. Martini, again with all due respect (woman scientists are awesome!), but I do not believe that if you read all these posts, stripped of politics and polemics, that you can still “…stand by [your] claim that there is relatively little risk from Fukushima to the West Coast and the greater Pacific.”

  86. Thanks Kimberly Davis for link to Washington Post article. I do share your concern about the potential misuse this new law and agency could pose on freedom of speech and data regarding radiation. However, the purpose for creating this new legal structure had a much bigger purpose than trying to silence descenters. There is a whole new National Security apparatus that is being built in the 21st Century that addresses cyber warfare, nation allies, friend vs. foe etc., and a National Level of concern about security leaks is being addressed here. (Or at least, that is how I took it)

    The potential of abuse exists, as it does in the US, however, Japan is a Democracy and if they become too authoritarian, there will be a tremendous backlash. In today’s 24/7 news media, it is hard to totally control descent. Ask Iran and Syria, they have tried. China is the only reason Norh Korea has been able to maintain their posture. We either believe in the power of democracy to shape our government or we do not. So far it has worked and I trust it will in Japan as well.

    The National Security issues are real concerns for most governments. A projected population growth within the next four or five decades for our planet is 9 billion people. We can’t even feed all the people that are living on this planet now. What happens when the population continues to grow and the limited resources become the focus of national security and competition? Which leads us back to the energy question that caused the Fukashumi nuclear mess that Japan is now dealing with.

    Our need for energy as a species, does not even begin to address the strain we are placing on the natural world and the other species that also inhabit our planet. Energy is just one piece of the puzzle. My hope is that Japan will cut its teeth on this horrible disastrous nightmare at Fukushima and pull together a group of experts that will become equipped to handle this on a global scale should it happen somewhere else, and you know,it will.

    This is the Exxon Valdez equivalent for the Nucleary Energy industry. The Exxon Valdez disaster impacted one localized ecosystem that took years to clean up. The question the Nuclear Energy industry has to address is the question about how widespread will the impact be for the nuclear disaster at Fukushami? What I hear from the scientists is that no one really knows. The scientists have to take each piece of the puzzle and carefully examine it and put together a picture that will help them see where and what has been mostly impacted by the ongoing problems that TEPCO is facing in their clean up effort. What is the overall impact and how do we fix what ever needs fixing?

    The panicked concerns are out there because radiation is not contained in one ecosystem the way an oil spill would be contained and we don’t know how far and wide this will spread.

    The mass hysteria does not help the situation. Is it understandable? Of course! TEPCO and that Japanese government have to get control of the information that is spilling out all over the place just as much as they have to get control over the leaking radiation. If not, they will have mass rioting in the streets and a lot of damages along with deaths which it can not allow to happen. When people riot, the government has to crack down and restore the peace. It’s what governments do. ( some more humanely than others, some not so humanely, which begs a whole new set of assumptions and discussions, that do not fit into the context of this debate. )

    I am glad I found this website and found Dr. M.’s article. It is just one piece of that jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t hear Dr. M. say that she had the definitive answers, but that she was just trying to look at the way to assess the amount of radiation by some comparison to other uses of radiation and the different types of radiation. That assessment and comparison is just one piece of the larger question that must be addressed.

    Granted people don’t like the idea of nuclear radiation, but tolerate nuclear energy, nuclear medicine, nuclear science. They just don’t like nuclear waste, nuclear contamination, nuclear disasters, because the consequences are so wide spread and the damage is so hard to calculate.

    At least her article gives me a place to begin to understand and sort out facts from fiction or panicked concern.

  87. Yes, this mid-August article is the most comprehensive I saw, but this discussion has faded in to the background.

  88. Have you read ANY of the comments?

    Most of us here with some experience in the industry differ with you. I understand your use of industry verbiage, but I suggest you actually READ THE COMMENTS.

    BTW, those of you with an interest in the economics of nuclear power can look up:

  89. I wouldn’t be hysterical if I could find some grownups I could trust on this issue.

    I don’t really blame anyone; effects of radioactivity on marine ecosystems is not well understood (see: Sellafield).

    But I’d feel better if someone (not anti-nuclear activists) would at least frame the question properly.

  90. I’m grateful for the information shared by knowledgeable people on this site and will probably not be posting further on this thread.

    I can’t help but feel that;

    There will be hysterical panic on the issue and the news media will focus on those “visible” individuals or groups, which will provide sanitized entertainment to the general public (intentional or not).

    The industry and government Reps will make every effort to shield themselves personally to protect themselves from undeserved or deserved blame for any action that can be used against them in a myriad of legal, personal and professional manners.

    But . . . we have to make noise about this debacle or it will continue to be a bleeding sore on the face of the earth and mankind long after anyone of us is dead and gone..

  91. It is your question, say it.

    There is no one question, because this is not one problem, it is an integrated set of disasters with which we must deal. The consequences are horrendous if we screw up again. It is multidisciplinary, and one cannot evaluate any part of it separately.

    The physicists and metallurgists and chemists must try to understand the condition of the former reactors and their cores, which have turned to molten blogs called “Corium”. They are out of our control, and highly exothermic. Three times they got signs of Neutron activity signalling fission, . . SELF-FISSION. It seems to have ended, but we do not know the conditions in those areas because the radiation is too high even for our robots, which get fried by gamma and Neutron flux.

    What happens to the oceans is still dependent on what happens in our attempt to stop what is slowly happening to the world.

    No anti-nukes? I am anti-nuke, but because of professional experience. How did you get your opinion?

  92. Dr. M. I agree Andrew David Thalmer’s article is excellent. Mix will post his closing comments about Scaremongering. ” To put things in perspective, the Fukushima disaster released approximately one ten-thousandth of the total radiation produce by the world’s coal power plants annually. That number will either be reassuring or terrifying, but, really, it should be both.

    There is another reason why articles like this are so compelling, particularly to those in rich, developed countries. It gives us the ability to blame the “foreign other” for our own environmental crises. It’s not our fault that salmon stocks are collapsing, it’s the Japanese! We aren’t the ones driving polar bears and marine mammal moralities, Fukushima did it! The West Coast of the United States is being fried. It’s being fried by over-fishing, agricultural run-off, runaway development, and a host of other issues, but it’s not being fried by Fukushima, and articles that promote that fallacious argument are distracting us from the dominant causes of environmental degradation on our coasts: Us.”

    Amen, amen.

  93. The problems here are our fault for the most part, but I do not hear anybody blaming others.

  94. To continue, those reactors are our design, not Japanese. We do not blame the Saudi for our oil addiction. We can face up to our problems better than others, I think.

  95. George, I have read your comments, but as I have explained, I have lvery ittle understanding of most things nuclear. I read your comments and it is like a foreign language that I can only understand it bits and blurbs. I have even tried to retread some of your comments to try and understand them. Yes, you have credentials and a wealth of experience, but I don’t understand what it is you want? What do you want to happen that is not happening?

    I don’t expect the nuclear industry to agree with me. Chuckle. Far be it from me to try and tell a nuclear scientist anything! But I do know what I have read on my google alerts is wanting and lacks anything that points the public eye in the direction that will help them understand. Please help us understand!

    If you could summarize your point and say what it is you would like to see happen, that might help. Facts that mean nothing to the uninitiated does little to make it something we can wrap our brain around!

  96. Well, I do not have the credentials, but some experience. This topic requires a broad range of sciences and more information than we have to assuage my fears. It is hard to know where to start, but I will.

    I will write it off-line and post it here.

  97. @ George

    “You have to go the conservative sites for that adolescent nonsense”

    That’s funny, I was going to say the same thing to people like you. ie. Media Matters, Huffpo, Liberals Unite, etc. Talk about groupthink!

    You ARE aware this is a site for discussion, aren’t you? Not a site to bash people of different political ideologies?

    Thought not. [comment removed by editor]

  98. Ps. Let’s hope that happens. But let’s give them a chance and hope our governments will respond to their prompting, making sure the clean up happens correctly and the analysis happens transparently.

  99. George,
    Thank your comments here. Please do refrain from making comments that are simply attacks on alternative views.

  100. Fukushima Concerns
    Nuclear fuels are used as solids, oxides, packed into tubes, clustered in racks or assemblies. When put together they fission and get hot. There is theoretically no effective limit on the temperature reached by fission. But we control it with moderators, such as graphite rods and Borated water to keep the activity (the Neutron flux, or stream of those deadly particles) down. Most of a nuclear powerplant is the part that keeps it from killing us – the redundant safety systems designed by mere mortals.

    The designers are not idiots. They thought they had all those potential happenings all figured out and considered. but cannot count on perfection. They put these systems into hardened pressure-resistant domes called The Containment, to “contain” any bad stuff that could never happen. Inside that is the reactor itself, usually of multiple walls of steel, containing the core of fuel assemblies, each containing fuel rods. They move water really fast through the reactor, cooling it and getting the water really hot. That water is flashed to steam and used to drive turbines in those Boiling Water Reactors designed by GE.

    If the water cooling is lost, the reactor can got so hot the Zirconium cladding on the fuel rods creates hydrogen with the steam and burns, as well, releasing their radioactive contents. No longer separated from each other, portions of the molten rods now liquify and collect in the bottom of the reactor vessel, creating an out-of-control fission reaction that we cannot stop, burning through the reactor vessel and through the concrete under it. This has happened at Units 1, 2 and 3. We really, really, hope it does not reach the water table right under it, and have the steam explosion send it all into the air.

    So, they are pumping hundreds of tons of water per day over the blobs we cannot see, hoping to conduct away sufficient heat so they do not melt more and re-start another self-fission. We already saw three indications of it early on, from the Neutron flux that results. Meanwhile, some of that highly-radioactive water escapes, mixes with the 300 tons/day of lesser-radioactive water from the polluted watershed above the powerplants, and washes out to the sea – continually.

    Meanwhile, we have the Spent Fuel Pools of the four reactors with which to contend. I’ll do that next. Remember, this is my view.

  101. As a physicist who sometimes do work in radioactive and contaminated areas, I have tried to inject facts into such debates before. So has other physicists at my institute (incidentally all women actually, but I’ll get back to that). We are always met with elaborate conspiracy theories in return. My gender has also repeatedly been questioned because there apparently exist some sexist idea that “women get it when it comes to nuclear power” so therefore I cannot be one because I support nuclear energy. Which I don’t, and which I always state upfront because I know that’s the first accusation they’ll throw at me. Fukushima is a good example why we should avoid nuclear power WHEN POSSIBLE. Coal power releases more crap, including radioactive material, into the atmosphere than nuclear energy does though. Renewable energy is the only viable answer. Still I’m apparently bough and paid by the “industry” for bringing forth facts about radiation.

    If Fukushima fallout scares you to death, never ever travel by aircraft again, make sure you don’t live in a house made of bricks or concrete, rip out your smoke detectors, and to be safe, stop eating bananas! The average US citizen receives about 17 uSv a day, or 6.2 mSv a year, from natural background radiation and medical/dental xrays etc. The maximum additional dosage allowed for radiation workers by the US Department of Energy is 1 mSv a year. For airline crews the exposure is usually much larger, about 3 mSv if I recall correctly. Space is full of ionising radiation, and at 35000 feet your above most of the protective mass of the atmosphere. Still, no one panics about that.

    I find it quite baffling that people fight so hard to hang on to their fears. That said, radiation is scary. You can receive a lethal dose without noticing it. It is important to have respect for it. Therefore radioactive areas are highly controlled and constantly monitored. Anyone trained to work in such areas knows the basic principles. Stay as far away from high radiation zones as practically possible. Radiation levels falls by a factor of four every time you double you distance. Don’t spend more time there then strictly necessary etc. For the public there are no such regulations and strict control. Exclusion zones serve this purpose. Alarmists getting worked up about tiny levels of radiation need to get a sense of proportions however. Radiation itself is perfectly natural. Both the sun and the earth’s core are massive nuclear reactors, fusion and fission respectively. The ground is full of radioactive material, and we’re exposed to radiation from above and around us every single moment of our lives. We, as all other life on earth, have evolved to handle this with fairly wide safety margins. As long as levels are being monitored and remain low, they pose no danger. There is the risk of accumulation of radioactive isotopes though, which also needs to be monitored. But the experts do know what their doing. Increasing radiation limits is not as scary as it sounds either. They’re orders of magnitude lower than actually detectable risk levels. I need to multiply my allowed dosage a 100 times to increase lifetime cancer risk by 0.5%, it’s already in the 20% range anyway. If this bothers you, the for the love of gods don’t ever smoke, or do any of the multitude of things humans do that increases cancer risk. As a colleague of mine pointed out: existing the radiation zone for a smoke is riskier than to stay put.

  102. George, thank you for explaining.

    Jackeline I did watch the you tube video you posted. It was heart breaking to see the footage of the tsunami again. Some of the footage we did not see here in the USA. Heart wrenching. Poor Japan!

    As far as the conspiracy foot noted in the follow up articles, ridiculous! There is no way on Earth that humans caused the earthquake. I have studied enough geology to understand the great forces that lie beneath our feet. It might make a good Batman or Superman comic strip or movie. Very creative thinking on someone’s part. Quite an elaborate conspiracy theory. But facts, no way.

  103. Maybe I can help give some context. I was a P.E. for over forty years, and engineered a score of nukes, including nine like Fukushima, a GE Mark I, and the follow on Mark II and Mark III. These are containment designs; in parallel GE developed their Boiling Water Reactor, BWR 1 through 6 designs, bigger, more energy dense, more powerful and more systems. I do not judge the Japanese disaster, a real one, can impact any US soil, there is a vast ocean between their dirt and ours. I do not judge they are in control of the disaster and are very vulnerable to either screw ups, bad luck, or acts of God.

    I gave up comprehending the various pronouncements, from all factions, due to the reasons discussed in this excellent clarifying article. The public is being grossly misinformed, again, as it was at Three Mile Island. (A personal and life long friend, and engineering colleague was instrumental is safely resolving that crisis.)

    At the end of the world, or at any other time, it is an axiom of western nuke designs that electric juice must be available at all times. Nukes need uninterrupted power for active systems: sensors, computers, indicators and pumps to avoid disaster. fuel melt down. Minutes after a major quake hit the island, a hundred ships should have left Toyko, one of the most advanced ports on earth, steaming at battle speed to the rescue. Photos taken the next day did not show a row boat off shore.

    These plants were sited in the 1960s, via the use of slide rules. But they violated common sense in the basic design; You do not put your emergency electrical systems in the basement of a site prone to flooding (like we did in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina hit). This was Japan’s first nuke, but not their first tsunami. Japan knows more about seismic destruction than any people. After the discovery of plate tectonics, the ubiquitous computer, and advances in hydrodynamics, TEPCO was told by a Japanese scientist several years before that their design basis flood was not conservative. Their management ignored him. It would have been a simple matter to station a small back up generator “up the hill”, on dry land, and some doable switching options.

    These terrible management decisions killed their chances, a $100 Bn error.

    Their saving grace is that the plant is located where the prevailing winds and storm waters flow offshore. Whether this is luck or wisdom, I do not know.

    They live in uncontrolled unending danger. I am not current but the dangers lie in three melted cores, and spent fuel pools filled with spent fuel. (It is important to understand that spent fuel retains some 95% of its potency, what is spent is the “tin can” which holds the fuel. Its material properties are slightly lessen against steam hammer etc. Technical people are poor verbal communicators.) The task ahead is to achieve (or maintain) no uncontrolled fission and its resulting energy release.

    Nuclear power can be both safe and cost effective. It simply requires good engineering, and management, meaning smarts and integrity, particularly by government Every nuclear disaster lacked one or both in this unforgiving technology.

  104. I tried to hunt around for some reliable numbers to compare the how much radioactive material was leaking now compared to the initial disaster but came up empty handed. Would have been useful to compare what was used in the models above to the additional input.

  105. This is sort of true, sort of not true. The length of time that radiation sticks around your body is dependent on the biological half-life of that isotope, which is the time it takes your body to reduce the amount by half. It’s different for different isotopes because of the way they act in your body. For example, the biological half-live of cesium-137 is only about 70 days but for plutonium it’s 200 years. Eventually the concentration of radioisotopes will decrease after the initial exposure, but some will always stick around. But whether you are at a higher risk to getting cancer because of the the additional exposure to radiation is dependent on how much radiation you were initially exposed to. And the studies I posted above indicate this is not true when eating seafood from the west coast.


  106. I don’t have any comments because I started watching this and had to stop because of the racist undertones in the beginning. I personally believe that if your argument relies on racism, you can’t give credible and unbiased information.

  107. I appreciate you taking the time to write a clarification.

    I think we can both agree that science communication is hard. You have to write in such a way that summarizes the available information, is clear and precise, and engages the reader. This is what I have tried to do here. The tone was probably a bit harsh, but it really was one borne out of frustration due to all the misinformation and fear mongering about Fukushima radiation being spread on the web. You may not like my tone, but if I wrote in another tone maybe another reader wouldn’t like it either. And I think it’s only fair to ask that if you are going to scrutinize my voice, you also cast a critical eye on the tone of other posts about Fukushima radiation as well.

    I stand by my statement that this is the facts. I have presented here a summary of the current literature (my sources are listed at the bottom), digested for the public to read. Yes, I am not an expert on all these areas. No one is. But at I am least trying to translate the information provided in these papers for a lay audience. And because you asked, I received a PhD in Physical Oceanography from the University of Washington in 2010 and just started working at JISAO in Seattle (my bio has not been updated to reflect this). Perhaps I’ll see you around and we can talk more about translating science.

  108. I second this link to the FAQ: Radiation from Fukushima a great unbiased resource from one of the world’s leading institutions on research the oceans.

  109. I’m getting so much input on this. Kind of overwhelming. Think about it… Hey, you monitor this while she monitors that. Too many global catastrophes. Still think this is way too serious to undermine. Too bad cores 1,2,3… Didn’t have black boxes or gps devices. How’s that groundwater? These combined catastrophes are too big to brush under
    rug. Get the right minds together now. It might be too late.

  110. Nobody who writes for DeepSeaNews gets paid. We’re just a group of marine scientists trying to bring facts to the public. We all have day jobs at different institutions.

  111. Dr. Martini comments that radiation can be more concentrated in bottom dwelling animals in the very first line of the section “Can I eat Fish from the Pacific”

  112. Jackeline T.: as I am not affiliated with this site and have a high threshold for insult, I watched the video you linked to. It left me to wonder…what was the point? All I saw was some man make some racist slurs and then show several clips of the tsunami devastation.

  113. Your first image is broken. I think you may have linked to an image hosted elsewhere rather than hosting it locally, and when VC changed their page your image “died.” If I’m understanding your post correctly, I think the revised image can be found here.

    I’d recommend getting copies of images like this rather than linking to them elsewhere, as you’ll give your wonderfully informative post more longevity.

    Thanks for the insights.

  114. Thanks for pointing that out. Rereading what she wrote does make the issue of ocean spread considerably clearer, however I’m not sure at what point she and other scientists might be more concerned if radioactive water continues to flow into the ocean at Fukushima over the next several decades.

  115. Thanks for some sanity. I don’t know why people like to read all the disaster porn-same reason they go to horror movies, I guess. I am a journalist in Japan and I have been covering Fukushima and Tohoku from the get-go–been into the zone many times both legally and illegally, and into the plant itself. Of course it is a horrible mess, and will continue to be, but we actually dodged a bullet, considering what could have happened with the airborne radiation released in the first days if the wind patterns had been different, and for the fact that now the fuel is cooled enough to prevent any likelihood of a nuclear fire in any of the SFPs, coolant or no.

    That being said, I think it is time to give a hard look to the absolute fantasy of the probabilistic risk assessment models being used. Accidents will happen–they will–or there will be terrorist or war-related attacks on nuclear facilities. It is absolutely necessary to look at the potential impacts of these things, instead of insisting that they are vanishingly rare. They are not and never will be. And then there is the question–looming larger every day–of nuclear waste. Even with modern reactor design that is melt-down proof, we have not yet begun to realistically face the disposal problem–instead SFPs the world over are being crammed to capacity with spent fuel assemblies.

    This is pure irresponsibility. The potentials for contamination of large areas with long lasting radionuclides is real and growing. We were very lucky with Fukushima; we may well not be so lucky next time. If it had been Hamaoka instead of F1, we might well now be looking at resettling 50,000,000 Japanese. If something happens to Indian Point? It’s time to look at and discuss realities, and let people decide the true cost/benefit scenario acceptable to them.

  116. Just to brighten up the mood a bit please allow me to remind everybody that put into the context of cosmological time and space (billions of years and lightyears) Fukushima is a non-event. Just like we and our planet is a non-event from a cosmological point of view we have not – and will not – been able to screw up things outside our own little realm. If I would have been a believer I would have said “thank God for that”.

  117. Thanks for the article & great cite to the xkcd graphic.

    Big picture, this old world has been at the quintessential crossroads for over a generation now: either we embrace with fervor the magnificence of that c-squared term in the mass-energy equation, or we condemn twenty generations with the results of what the Olympian oceanographer Roger Revelle famously labeled as, “a great geophysical experiment.” It’s a balance pan. On the one side we can see quite clearly how difficult it will be to dissuade several billion agrarians from developing the advanced life, based upon combustion. On the other, if we were to go with balls-to-the-wall nuclear fission (the only play to have climatic consequence), we should probably need a follow-on development of a full plutonium economy within several decades. Comparing the outer reaches of the downsides of each fork, it may not be entirely hyperbole to suggest that this choice is in some sense existential.

    There are many puzzle pieces to place in the competing pans, and it is a quite daunting problem that great depth in specific sources of expertise, while indispensable to the development of a panoramic depiction of our predicament, may only weakly equip us mere mortals for the correct assessment of the choice. From my perspective, the hapless complicity of the American left, and its environmental establishment, in hobbling the nuclear endeavor, is deeply rooted in an all but willful ignorance of matters sieverts, bequerels, and the arithmetic of ionizing epidemiology. (Gottah finish later.)

  118. It is worse than you think, and here is why:

    The fuel is extremely exothermic, and becomes more so as other fuel gets close to it. These radioactive materials naturally emit Neutrons as the atoms decay. Those Neutrons break up other atoms, releasing more Neutrons that break up other atoms. It cascades rapidly in a chain reaction, and with every Neutron released, we have energy. The atomic bomb is a runaway chain reaction. We slow it down in a nuclear power reactor by limiting the number of Neutrons screaming around with “moderators”, such as water, Boron, and Graphite, which can slow down and absorb them. But if the fuel is not carefully controlled, it can get away from us, . . . . obviously.

    If the water is removed from the fuel rods, they can fission, and there is no limit to the temperature reached, since the Neutrons are essentially the physical equivalent of 2,000,000 degrees. The fission creates extremely nasty by-products such as Plutonium, appropriately sharing its name with the God of the Underworld. A millionth of a gram inhaled can give you lung cancer. If the fuel rods in any of the spent fuel pools are exposed without moderation, they can instantly melt, collect into self-fissioning blobs, and kill everybody near with lethal doses of radioactivity. It will also be completely uncontrollable. Since many fuel rods in the Spent Fuel Pools ARE already damaged, we do not have confidence they can be removed without touching and fission.

    There are four Spent Fuel Pools. The one at Unit Four is structurally unsound, and is being tried first. It is also the least-damaged, so the job will be much easier than the other SFPools. There was some special concern with the fuel mix in Unit Four, and whether its special MOX (Mixed Oxide) fuel, spiked with Plutonium, was fissioning from the Neutrons emitted by the other units as they melted down.

    So, because they are “cool” now, does not mean we are out of any woods.

  119. The writer obviously does not understand Alternative Energy and the plethora of renewable resources at our control and use.

  120. One correction. I have been saying Dr M when I meant Dr Martini. Thank you Dr Martini.

    Also thank you Veronica for your reasoned response!

    Imam loving this website and article + comments. I have been hoping to find a site like this where I could learn about the Fukushumi incident without being scared out of my mind.

    I’m getting very value able information here and I do,appreciate you taking the time to help those of us who what to understand, factual information

  121. David Peters, I am one of those lefties who is ignorant of sieverts, bequerels, and the arithmetic of ionizing epidemiology. But I am here trying to understand. There are many lefty environmentalists who write about reconsidering nuclear energy, though the lack of understanding by the public and concern about its safety contribute to the overall rejection of considering it as a viable option. Do you really understand the alternative energy options and possibilities out there that are being developed? I always thought Spain’s solar tower was a good start. The whole idea of the alt energy mindset is that we move away from centralized energy production and move toward a localized production of energy. Is this not a better way if it can be done? Is that not a more earth friendly way of meeting some of our energy needs?

    I could list numerous examples where this is being tried and is impacting those who,live in poverty in Africa. Human beings change slowly over time. It takes ten years to build a nuclear power plant I’ve read. The costs are prohibitive and the political resistance is enormous. If we invested time and money and talent at really trying to develop alternative energy, do you believe that it is not possible? Fukashumi is an excellent opportunity for the public to learn more about nuclear energy. You have to find a way to make that happen.

  122. Unfortunately these people are FUNDED by the US Government through the form of GRANTS. I have looked each and everyone up and their employers. So, if they gave the public the truth, their grants would be cut off and they would be UNEMPLOYED.

  123. So, on the import of the Fukushima puzzle piece. My conviction that fission is an indispensable climate remedy, indeed the only silver bullet we really have at hand, is long standing. I took a year out in the late eighties, to fight to save an N-gigawatt, Rancho Seco, on climate grounds. Alas, our victory at the polls was ephemeral, and it was soon closed. A dozen years on, I wrote this: “Within the window of the last quarter century, had Americans consciously been led to pose the choice between climate and nuclear as one of comparative probabilities, the near inevitability of climatic upheaval should have alerted us to the relative risklessness of a breach of containment. Indeed, the first is all but a certitude and the latter all but an impossibility. Even a small number, when divided by near zero, yields a result which approaches the infinite. If one misses an infinite obviousness on an issue of world-shaping import, one is not remiss in reaching for superlatives, to describe such error.”

    I happened to benefit from daily briefings in Washington, as the Three Mile Island episode unfolded, given by a brilliant chemist who had helped build the bomb, and had contacts inside the group mobilized to its control room. I can tell you that the engineers were grappling in real time with a device that they suddenly realized had been deliberately under-instrumented, and that un-vented hydrogen was an urgent concern. Why was the hydrogen sequence at Fukushima not hard-vented to atmosphere–three decades later? Because the nuclear community lives in an underworld–afraid of its own shadows. Eskimos have fifty words for snow, they say, while we have one harrowing term, “radioactive,” applied to physics across thirty orders of magnitude. A cut finger “spills” radioactive potassium, but differs from puking a core to the Pacific.

    When I wrote that paragraph, I was dismissing the fears that motivated my generation to deliver commercial nuclear to posterity as a still-born, in America. The French have proven it to be a free salvation from climate concerns, on the electric side, because French delivered residential power costs a third less than that of its half-dozen, combustion-based neighbors. But the question looms, should Fukushima instruct me that I was wrong? Was its “containment breached?” Responder Marshall points to an important aspect to the proper interpretation of this episode, namely the whims of wind patterns during the most consequential release days. But I watch the two-thirds empty capacity of the great Colorado River reservoirs as well, and wonder what will become of the millions in Vegas and Phoenix dependent upon conventional notions of normal precipitation.

  124. Hi all, I have written a few pieces that summarize current understanding of the situation in the north Pacific and the risk for North America’s west coast from Fukushima sourced radionuclides in the ocean. You can find them here:

    Also there is a special open-access issue on Fukushima’s impact on the ocean here:

    Nice job Martini.

    Follow @JayTCullen

  125. So. It’s that simple. France has it kicked. I wonder what they do with the waste.

  126. That is not what I said. I said there is no danger eating fish from outside of Japan. Unfortunately Japanese Fisheries are STILL closed due to ongoing contamination.

  127. Dr. M,

    Appreciate the article.

    It’s hard at this point to decipher what is accurate.

    For example:

    I have a timeshare in Hawai’i and honestly wonder if I should eat sushi in a few months from Hawaiian waters.

    I don’t panic by nature but it’s a concern.

    I’m wondering if there is a reliable resource to check about testing. will endeavor to downplay any problems while many sites try to scaremonger.

    Thanks and again, thanks for your article.

  128. I added an update regarding the additional radiation that is entering the ocean from groundwater seepage above.

    But even if the leakage continued for the next 30 years at a rate of 0.3 Tbq per month that would only amount to an additional 108 TBq of radiation in the ocean (i didn’t account for the half lives of the isoptopes which would make this number less anyway), which is only 1/180 of the initial release. With that in mind, it indicates that the greater Pacific still won’t see harmful doses of radioactivity, unlike the waters offshore of Fukushima which are STILL having problems due to the leak.

    But yeah, I’d probably be pretty worried if they threw a chunk of the reactor in the ocean ;)

  129. It’s unfortunate that you stumbled across that article about the tuna. The levels of radiation found in Tuna were detectable but not harmful, Miriam has a great explainer here

    The article also mentions that more radiation is seeping into the ocean, and it is but in light of my update to the post above I say that it won’t increase enough to cause harmful levels of radiation. And to make you feel better, recent research has shown that harmful levels of Cesium-137 have not been detected off the coast of Hawaii.

    I’m gonna say you can totally eat sushi in Hawaii. I am heading there for a conference in the Spring and am looking forward to having some Poke myself!

  130. I have to disagree. While you were getting briefed by those who make their living in things nuclear, I was doing the tests that showed the hydraulic shock from a BRW scram was dangerous and unmitigated.

    BTW, the owners of Rancho Seco shut it down, after a ridiculous series of incidents that showed the system and its operators were dangerous. When I was in the control room, I wanted to ask where the electrician dropped the light bulb into the control panel, shutting off the cooling system, and leading to the unfortunate series of ECCS diesel engines trying to start: Three failed, the last one started. Should I mention the time the one person who knew how to stop serious problems hyperventilated and passed out, hitting his head?

    The French cover all their nuclear activities with a strict “National Security” blanket, since they make oodles of Plutonium. None of anybody’s nuclear waste has, been successfully stored for long periods yet, and we really do not actually know how to do it. There are serious problems with every approach we have imagined.

  131. Your response is an age-old chestnut that shows many people still don’t understand how science is carried out. Putting aside for a minute the fact that we don’t all work for the same type of organisation, you get grants based on scientific merit of your proposed research, which has to address some priority that the agency in question and the anonymous peer reviewers who evaluate your proposal both consider important. After the grant is awarded, academic freedom is jealously guarded and the Government has no say over the outcomes of the work. So long as you do what you said you would do in the proposal, they are happy. To get a grant cut off you have to engage in serious malfeasance (fraud etc). Also, just because you don’t have a grant doesn’t mean you’re unemployed; a standard academic appointment is 9-months, you only have to find enough salary to cover the summer. That said, several of us, me included, have 12 month appointments and are not reliant upon grant income at all. Your response is therefore unwarranted and poorly-informed.

  132. Why do you not mention Strontium or Plutonium, or any of the deadly actinides?

  133. I think George Kamburoff has established himself here as being a very knowledgeable, if highly opinionated, person, and I for one am very much interested in any comments that he makes.

  134. I think that everybody–the knowledgeable pro-nuclear crowd, the knowledgeable anti-nuclear crowd, and the un-knowledgeable anti-nuclear crowd–can agree that the biggest factor in this accident was that the Tepco was running plants that were built and designed by people that had died decades ago. These things were beyond outdated and the non-government-regulated industry in Japan had decided that the numerous retrofits discovered and implemented in the United States were just not worth cutting into their enormous profit margin. As a nuclear engineer, I know exactly what I am saying when I say that these types of plants have got to go.

    As an analogy, it is like we’re all living in the year 2013 but everybody is driving a Ford Model-T; note that unit one reactor became fully operational in 1971, but it took years to build and many years before that to design it (going back to the 1950s, really). So here we are in 2013 and people are getting into car accidents in these ancient cars that have no safety equipment (airbags, seat belts, head restraints, safety glass) or passive safety features (ie crumble zones, fuel shut-off valves). Remember, seat belts in cars didn’t become a federal law until 1968. In the US, the NRC has ordered retrofit after retrofit of those ancient reactors, something that just wasn’t done in Japan because it was VOLUNTARY in their system.

    If we are to have any measure of rationality in regard to our own safety as it relates to technology, we have to keep in mind that technology changes–hugely so in the case of nuclear reactors and cars. We have learned with great depth what needs to be done to build a predictable nuclear power system. I don’t call them safe because that’s a buzzword that the uniformed are scanning for but they are predictable. Your model year 2000 car is not safe, but it is predictable. We know how they can fail and have engineered and tested and proven that failures can be controlled.

    Much like modern cars, modern power plants are pretty much all about accident situations. Those original model-Ts were built to get the idea of a car out there and popular–they were not thinking about crash performance. The reactors at Fukushima were only a few years out of prototype status. Only in the 1960s did engineers start to suggest maybe there had better be some serious containment buildings.

    In my life, I plan to continue using a car because it increases my access to all sorts of activities and locations, but I am aware that there are risks (and it’s far more likely to hurt me than than nuclear power). As a society we cannot look at people having accidents in model-Ts that have had seat belts bolted in and a pillow taped to the steering wheel and decide that cars are just not worth the risk.

    For anybody who wants some pictures of what the old fashioned plants at Fukushima are supposed to look like, check out this link:

  135. Martie–“Do I really understand…..”

    Way, way back, there was this guy, I think he got his start in thinking thru scale, in India. I think he wrote “Small is Beautiful.” Sommerfeld comes to mind, but I read him and an economist named Heilbroner several years before I met Amory Lovins. And these guys were talking DEVELOPMENT, in the third world, before you had a grid. And they were saying it was better to jump straight to gridless, because it took too much time and $ to build concentrated power distribution. It was in this restricted zone where the great mirage originated. Now, cut to Rachael Maddow, and her add that what we really need to do is build out the most humongus GRID imaginable, so as to get Kws to Alabama from the windy Dakotas! Balance out the intermittent load. Look into Lovins early writings as well. He’s all about the WASTE from transmission. So….somehow, the argument has morphed so drastically, it no longer knows its antecedents. This much I KNOW: you cannot simultaneously root for small scale, distributed, “soft path” solutions, and thousand mile transmission systems. And be consistent.

    I worked photovoltaics in 1978, and believed that paradise would be denied us on that front, by physical law. You exploit the low end of the spectrum with one material, and you lose the energy of the potent photons. Go for those, and you under-employ the former. Light involves polarity and to capture it, you have the problem of orthogonality. Design for East/West, you lose North/South. It’s dark at night. Diffuse light under cloud cover is weak. So, by the time you keep dividing things in half, and again in half, and again, you were selecting fewer and fewer folks who would be willing to pay for this route, long term. In my thinking at the time.

    The focus of my days in the government was upon political vulnerability and foreign exchange flows stemming from a dearth of remaining, permeable targets for domestic fluid hydrocarbon exploitation. We did not know what drove the Pleistocene glaciations. We thought of carbon as a mid-21st century threat–not knowing about the full suite of anthro-gases, and how they would essentially halve the “time-to-problem” status of perturbing the radiation budget. (When Carter killed the breeder, in spring 1977, climate played no roll whatever in that deliberation. Yet, no single more far-reaching climate decision was ever made.) So, thought patterns got set in stone, well before the emergence of the climatic dimension. It was an AESTHETIC thing: who could be against efficiency, or conservation?

    But, when the fate of the future rests upon these questions, it ought transform the discussion. After all, one can small-ly and softly dry clothes with a line. If you care about humanity in 2113, you do so. No one does. I am sure that two hundred new nuclear plants could dry our clothes without compromising our climate–and that the long term consequences of the trans-uranic storage issue pale in comparison to climate a million-fold. People may someday change, and honor posterity. Perhaps to the point of using clothes lines. But it is far more likely that posterity can be guarded with nuclear energy. Using photovoltaics to dry cloths would require a conviction, by the common man, that greatly exceeds the trouble of deploying the clothes line.

    Similar thing with wind. The irreducible physics are that speed is found high off the ground friction. Power out is a cubic of exploited speed. Towers to reach heights suffer from the same thing that enables ants to carry multiples of body weight, which would crush elephants: strength grows with the square of scale (cross section), while weight stress with the cube. So, wind towers are never going to get cheap, and there is little left to learn about improving them. Same argument: if you are to save the world w/wind, you got to get people to pay four to ten times as much for power to the grid–even Rush Limbaugh listeners. They would probably line-dry clothes below that threshold. There is utterly no prospect for revolutionary developments in either of these groups which would alter the fundamental choice: to get uncaring combustors to quit using carbon, below the clothes-line threshold, you only have one option: French nuclear. They did it forty years ago. There is no doubt whatsoever that they did this, where we failed.

    We may have another couple of decades. More likely, it is already too late. To save Miami Florida, say. I spent forty years believing that by now, we would be nearing the end of exploitable methane in the lower-48, from flowing rock reservoirs. Now we are burning gas from nano-darcy shales. So, certitude is a luxury. I’m not sure Kansas City will resemble Furnace Creek in a century, but I am sure that no one knows it won’t in a few. A couple guys wrote a paper last year advancing the claim that an ice-free Arctic will unbalance the buoyancy regime that causes equatorial air to sink at the edges of the tropics. If so, there is no middle ground, it could only then sink at the pole. Winds in Nebraska would thereafter originate in the North East, instead of the West. Perhaps fifty souls in the world are equipped to evaluate their efforts. Another piece in the balance pan. Two-thirds of our autumn boreal float-ice is now gone.

  136. Also, remember that the region (the roads, the power lines) had been literally washed away. Those model-T reactors depended on roads and power lines to keep themselves cool when they were shut down.

    Modern reactors (like one design I just presented on this morning) are being designed as to never need electricity for cooling–ever.

    Also, don’t forget that Japan literally had to wait for the NRC emergency response team to fly there from the US because they could not deal with the technology and systems that they were responsible for.

  137. The workers in Unit ! reported a large LOCA before the Tsunami hit, correlating with high readings by radiation detectors on the perimeter of the facility, minutes before the Tsunami.

  138. You assert: ” This much I KNOW: you cannot simultaneously root for small scale, distributed, “soft path” solutions, and thousand mile transmission systems. And be consistent.”

    Why be an absolutist? It makes perfect sense for transmission lines to connect distributed and smaller local grids. It is like those who think we either will have coal or nukes or wind turbine generators or hydro all by themselves, when we have been integrating all these and many more together for efficacy and efficiency for decades in California.

  139. To continue, we already do that for the municipalities with their own power systems, many fed from grids supplied by hydro miles away. The energy densities required by manufacturing and cities are better served with baseload plants not located in urban areas.

  140. Author: Dave Peters
    Martie–“Do I really understand…..”

    Dave, I hear you and I share your pessimism too at times. I stumbled upon an interesting fact a while ago that made me rethink the whole climate change debate, which is off topic I realize so I will be brief. You are probably already familiar with it but Milankovitch cycles in its simplest form explains that the earth wobbles on its axis. The Earth’s axial tilt determines climatic patterns and every 26,000 years it completes a cycle. Within this wobble cycle it creates astronomical seasons.

    I guess what It tells me is that even if we did convert to alternative forms of energy OR switched to nuclear energy, we could not stop great shifts in climate that are coming.

    I hear people have built survival bunkers out in the Midwest that will allow them to survive for some time underground. I think the 1% are investing in their development, which is kind of funny when you stop and think about it.

    I will say the same thing here that I tell my son when he becomes overly pessimistic and gloomy about our prospects of survival.

    We live on an ancient planet spinning through space and time. We either are or are not part of the evolutionary process that has shaped this planet we call home. We either believe it or we don’t. I for one believe that Mother Nature ultimately will decide our fate and what happens here and now and also in the distant future. Does this make me a pacifist? Not really, but it does allow me to lay my head on my pillow at night and sleep peacefully.

    Even mankind in our ignorance will succumb to the laws of nature and we will either evolve or perish as so many other species have on this planet. Perhaps nuclear energy is the one thing we have that can provide a way to go beyond the space and time that we call “now”.

    You know they say that there are probably multiple universes. I think this is called string theory. So much left to discover, so how can we not hope that it will some how work out in the end, when ever that may be.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dave.

  141. I was waiting for a comment like this. Seems like there is a lot of information that is not being shared or rather so inconclusive yet to be speculating about. If there are 3 coriums that have water flowing over and around them, and into the sea underneath the plant, that is very worrisome. Guess we wont know for a while since they cannot even get close to the 1, 2, 3 buildings. All we can do is pray that they don’t mess up moving the rods to safety and there is not an earthquake in the process. Tepco’s track record has me not so optimistic.

  142. @para_sight that was an extremely polite explanation.

    For those unfamiliar with the logic chain:

    1) Discover scientific article that says something you disagree with.

    2) Clearly it must be biased!

    3) Go in search of reasons why it must be biased. (Hint: Any association with public or private funding automatically makes it suspect.)

    4) SUCCESS!

    5) ????

    6) PROFIT!!!!!!

  143. Martie: I think that our chances of survival as a species are better if we can get off this planet (and spread like mold to another slice of bread in space). The only power source that we can take into space is nuclear. Solar can’t give the power or warmth that we will need–and it only works when your close to the sun. The solar panels are extremely susceptible to damage from debris.

    To some, what I am writing about getting away from the capricious mother earth likely reads as outlandish and impossible. Having spent time in the upper echelons of engineering academia, however, this is a very real thing that people are starting to work on.

    (Sorry for straying from ocean currents, but our continued contamination of this planet in any and all ways and the willful destruction of ecosystems is making the case for our needing a way out of here–as a species.)

  144. Hawaii..warning…radiation in food supply …local dairies are treating their cows with boron because the radiation is in the cows milk. Once its the cows milk its in the food supply. Check out Dr. MERCOLA`S website.

  145. I’m sorry
    I’m just one of the stupid mortals, that have to try and wade through the different opinions of the PERFECT!!!! But my gut tells me that the Pacific Ocean has been administered a lethal dose of death by man!! And the leak has not stopped, it’s still leaking, because I have it from a source in japan close to the action. They are still emptying the coolant sea water into the sea, because there is no where else it can go!!! Unquote!!
    We are up the creek and thank you for offering your cardboard paddle!!!

  146. study by one of the world’s leading institutes in the field of marine sciences, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research based in Germany, shows the spread of contaminated Fukushima waters. The first picture shows the spread of contaminated waters 16 months after the accident at the nuclear plant, the second shows 30 months after the accident and the last illustrates 80 months after. As a result of the Fukushima catastrophe, scientists suggest that Fukushima radiation could reach the U.S. West Coast in five years. Provided by GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

  147. It is true that about 70 percent of Japan’s territory is polluted,” said Kim Ik-joong, microbiology professor at Dongguk University. “According to PNAS, a scientific journal published by Japanese scholars, about 20 percent of Japanese land, including Tokyo, is contaminated with highly toxic radiation. It is obvious that agricultural products are also contaminated as the land is polluted with radioactive materials. The contamination on land will last approximately 300 years.”

  148. Great information and intelligent discussion here from ALL ! IF ONLY YOU ALL RAN THE COUNTRY! YES George and Neutronium–I would love to read ANY reports you have.

    I am a retired academic who writes & publishes about a variety of topics. I like what you all say here. Our trust in the governments and corporations that monitor these plants has waned…and the human element is the real problem here–despite the improvements we may make in the plants, the mechanics, and the systems.

    Neutronium– I agree with your paragraph about the reasons we will not abandon nuclear plants. I don’t expect to be around to see the outcome of all this, but it would be great to think we could discover and create other effective sources of energy.

  149. Another recent article on the issue of water at and from Fukushima and it storage and passage into the Pacific…”Experts also cautioned that decreasing the amount of groundwater could cause the ground to sink in some areas with soft structure. Such vulnerable locations include the area where hundreds of tanks have been built to contain highly radioactive water, said Hitoshi Tsukamoto, a geologist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. He said measures to increase stability underneath the tanks should be taken.”

  150. The one comment I have is that Cesium 137 is a fission product and spontaneous fission of uranium does occur naturally albeit at a small fraction and probability. Nevertheless, because uranium does spontaneously fission, and there is a distribution of fission products from fission, one of them being Cs137, then Cs137 is NOT manmade en toto on this planet.

  151. One more reference to the water disposal issue in The Guardian (UK)…”Tepco has cut the trees down now, to make room for 1,000 huge metal storage tanks. They hold more than 360,000 tonnes of radioactive water, enough to fill 140 Olympic swimming pools. The volume rises every day. Over the next three years, Tepco wants to add storage for another 270,000 tonnes of radioactive wastewater. Ultimately, the water must be returned to the Pacific. There is nowhere else for it to go.”…

  152. You really need to reconsider that statement. George is completely wrong on almost everything he has written so far. See my next post (not that i’m trying to be a jerk–i just care about the facts)

  153. George: in the interest of maintaining the level of accuracy that this article started off with, I have felt compelled to correct a few of the things you have said that are simply wrong. These are not matters of opinion or points of view.

    Nuclear fuel doesn’t have to be an oxide (Fukishima was)

    There is an average energy release per fission
    Fission is not really controlled, in the sense of being kept down, by moderation. Moderation promotes thermal fission, so the way it controls fission is by making it happen more often.

    Again, boron is not a moderator in any way.

    Activity is a unit of radioactive decay (the Becquerel or Curie)—what you want to say is fission rate.

    Just because something is a particle doesn’t make it dangers. I’ve spent a lot of time working in rooms filled with neutrons (and I’ve even walked through a few neutron beams!). It the energy that is important.

    Statements like “keeps it from killing us” betray your emotional bias.

    The majority of redundant safety systems are for thermo-hydraulic concerns, not fission reaction rate.

    Again, you betray your bias with a phrase like “mere mortals.” You give the impression that physics is too tough to control; do you think nuclear power is an example of hubris?

    In a BWR, there is no flashing to steam during normal operations. It is a gradual shift from liquid water to a mixture of steam and water (a two-phase flow, in terms of matter states).

    Cooling of a shutdown core is not required indefinitely—it’s only until the radioactive decay of certain fission products makes the mass of decaying matter greatly decrease. This is why used fuel ends up in dry storage.

    The zirconium water reaction is the same thing as the “burning” of the cladding. The burning term is just an analogy for a chemical reaction conceptualization.

    Cladding can be damaged without necessarily having a breech, but usually if the cladding is already decomposing, emergency water isn’t going to get in there soon enough.

    It is not at all a requirement that the melted core restart fission. In fact, without water in the core, it is much less likely that there will be a fission reaction, let alone a sustained reaction, because there is no moderator.

    In addition, control rods and structural materials are melted together with the fuel, so there can be a lot of poison in the melt.

    If a fission reaction is out of control (as in a melted or slumped core) it is actually extremely unlikely for it to last more than an instant or so. The heat generated changes the geometry and the reaction stops. That’s why there were three separate detections of neutrons and gammas indicating a (fission) criticality event, at the wrecked plants.

    Just because something is out of control doesn’t mean that it is increasing—thermodynamics usually sees to it that out of control things stop.

    The decay heat of one of those melted cores (unit 1, for example) is about 11 MW—this isn’t exactly the face of the sun. The cores were elevated and there was tens of meters between them and the rock before they melted the vessel. Nobody knows how far down they’ve gone, but there is an awful lot of thermal conduction and convection going on there. If you want to make some calculations, check out this paper that has thermal properties of rocks and minerals:

    There is no way that anybody has shown that the 11MW of core has burned through everything below it. I’m not saying that it can’t have—I’m just saying that that is not a fact, just gratuitous painting of an emotional picture.

    Something that is melted cannot “melt more.”

    Removing heat from a melted core is not going to stop it from having criticality excursions. The temperature is not a factor in the way you say it is.

    If pouring water onto the melted core doesn’t make a steam explosion, then why do you think there will be a steam explosion if it were to go as deep as the water table? Concrete is full of water—which is why it blows up when heated—I haven’t heard of any recent concrete explosions.

    Self-fission is not a phrase that makes sense.

    It was probably not a neutron count that made somebody “say” fission—it was probably a gamma signal.

    What does highly radioactive mean, as opposed to moderately radioactive?

    If the water poured onto the core is being continually washed out to sea, then what is being put into those tanks?

    (All of the things that I’m bringing up are not matters of opinion—they are matters of science and logic).

    Fuel is not “extremely exothermic.” Exothermic is a word typically applied to a chemical reaction; nuclear fuel does not run on chemical reactions. I have plenty of pictures of ME posing with real nuclear fuel rods, holding them in my bare hands and smiling for the camera!

    These same fuel pins (that I’ve posed with) are stored in tubes with perhaps a dozen of them lying on top of each other. Thus, bringing them close together does not make them any hotter.

    Neutron emission is a very uncommon form of radioactive decay.

    Only a handful of elements (the fissile atoms) will break up (fission) if they are hit by a neutron.

    There is no reason why a chain reaction has to increase in population. If that were the case, there would be an infinite number of all species of animals (population statistics apply to all populations).

    The release of a neutron in fission is not where the heat is—it is the kinetic energy (the speed) of the two parts that were split apart—they fly apart.

    Atomic bombs are definitely not run away chain reactions. They’d never work if they were out of control—the control part is what makes it a bomb. As I’ve said before, out of control things tend to take the shortest path to stopping whatever is happening.

    Moderators—and this is a really REALLY terrible mistake—are not what controls the neutron population in a nuclear reactor the way you are describing.

    Boron (for the third time) is not a moderator. Actually, in all western commercial cores, there cannot be a chain reaction if the moderator is not there. What you said is the exact opposite of true.

    Neutrons are not “2,000,000 degrees.” That makes absolutely no sense—you didn’t even provide units (Celsius, Fahrenheit)! Temperature is a measure of the average speed of a population of particle (see Kinetic theory of the gasses). The rest mass energy (the E in E=mc^2) is not the same energy as the momentum. The temperature of a neutron is its kinetic energy. A room temperature neutron is most probably moving at 2200 meters/second, for example. This is also called a thermal neutron.

    Plutonium is not a by-product of fission. In fission, one big thing breaks up into two smaller things. Plutonium is bigger than uranium, so I really don’t see how something that is real (as in, not just a mathematical construct) can break into parts that are larger than itself.

    God of the underworld, huh? I’m getting the feeling that you are afraid of nuclear power and want to feel justified in your fear by having others feel the same way. How do you feel about Francium? It’s named after France!

    1/1E6 of a gram can give you lung cancer? Maybe. But it also might not. Statements like that have no scientific value.

    Exposed fuel rods in a spent fuel pool with definitely not instantly melt. They are producing less power than when they were taken from the core. They might have a chemical reaction with the air, but it’s only because they’re made out of zirconium alloy. And only if they’re hot enough. Stainless steel rods wouldn’t have the same problem.

    Moderation is not a way of controlling a spent fuel pool in the way you are describing. If enough moderation were added, there would be a fission reaction. The water is there to keep them cool, but also to keep air off them and to keep the radiation from going far.

    “Kill everybody–” Everybody everywhere? Without water in the spent fuel pool, I doubt there will be too much fission—just a good amount of heat. (Tens of MW thermal power).

    “Spiked with plutonium?” You pick biased, emotionally charged words.

    What knowledgeable person thinks that the MoX fuel in a spent fuel pool at unit 4 was made to fission by the MELTING (melting is a heat thing, not a nuclear thing) in other units? That sounds really interesting and I’d like to read it.

  154. Can you provide a link to a documentation of that? Just because a plant leaks water doens’t mean there is a LOCA (loss of coolant accident).

    According to the documents I’ve seen, there was a loss of flow and a loss of power. If there were a large break LOCA, then there would have been no way to use the safety relief valve to drain the core 2.5 m/hr after the tsunami hit.

  155. Well, gosh, where to start? Is MOX spiked with Plutonium? Yes or no?

    We were discussing the oxide of BWR’s were we not? Take your misleading complaint elsewhere.

    Let’s put eleven Megawatts of heat into a small place and see how hot it gets. The molten blobs are out of your control, Mister Neutron. You can’t even look at them, and do not know their temperature now. Trying to minimize the danger of thousand-ton molten radioactive cores may be good for the industry, but misleading to the rest of us. Tell the folks here what happens if one gets to the water table. Be specific and complete.

    Shall I show you the probabilities of magnitude 7 or more earthquakes in the next year at Fukushima? They range from 70% to 90%. If one happens when they are trying to extract damaged fuel rods, what happens?

    Are you really interested in the charge of possible fission from the intense Neutron flux? I do not think it is so but others do.

    You want to dispute the effective temperature? Wiki: “Neutron sources generate free neutrons by a variety of nuclear reactions, including nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Whatever the source of neutrons, they are released with energies of several MeV.

    Since the kinetic energy, E, can be related to temperature via:

    E=frac{1}{2}mv^2=frac{3}{2}k_B T

    the characteristic neutron temperature of a several-MeV neutron is several tens of millions of degrees Celsius.”

    If you doubt whether the loss of cooling water can cause the rods to catch on fire, I will look it up for you.

    You allege “Plutonium is not a by-product of fission.” but where did we get ALL of it on Earth today? It is from Uranium reactors. Ever hear of “breeding”?

    Boron 10 is a Neutron moderator. Why do you think the US Navy sent tons of it to the Japanese immediately? Why else did they dump into the TMI II reactor cooling loop?

    I am not “afraid” of nuclear power, I fear the folk who think they understand it, and repeatedly and repeatedly get shown they cannot be trusted to deal with this stuff.

    “The release of a neutron in fission is not where the heat is—it is the kinetic energy (the speed) of the two parts that were split apart—they fly apart.” Nope – Gamma carries the heat. Things do not get hot from speed, they get hot from absorbing Gamma, turning to thermal. Flying away does not make things hot.

    Fuel rods are not used “lying on top of each other”.

    You allege “Statements like “keeps it from killing us” betray your emotional bias.” without knowing I got the statement from the GE tutorial on the history of the BWR, with the Mark I, II, and Mark II Containment and the differing configurations of the cooling systems. I changed their word “safety” to the more realistic description of Fukushima.

  156. Sorry for the inadvertent tone of my response. I appreciate the writings of Neutronium, his input, and this dialogue.

  157. George, as I should have tried harder to convey it was not my intention to piss of someone I don’t know. I was just correcting what I saw as counterfactual and /or non-true. Everything I wrote was with the notion that you’d read it, see what I was saying, and then verify my points for yourself. It seems as if you like nuclear power—you know more than almost anyone because almost no one knows anything. I happen to be one of the very few experts. I, like my peers, got into nuclear-in-general field because the topic was really interesting to us. Nobody paid me to find it interesting in the first place. I am sorry to have “unloaded” like that, but I was in great need of some procrastination from the projects I ought to be working on.

    I wasn’t disputing whether MoX was being used and contained plutonium. Technically, ‘mixed oxides’ means a mixture of anything that is oxidized—it could be rust and water (iron oxide and hydrogen oxide) and still called MoX. If you read carefully, I was pointing out the use of the word spiked. Unit 3 was fueled with MoX.

    11 MW in a small space? I don’t know if the melt is in a small space or a large space. As someone knowledgeable (formally educated) in heat transfer, there is much opportunity for conduction and convection. That 11 MW isn’t staying put. In fact, it can now lose heat more easily, due to contract with dense solids (ie steel), than it could when it was trapped in tubes and suspended in the air. Given that “they” are pouring water on them but there isn’t any steam…I have no indication that it is exceptionally hot.

    As an aside, as a nuclear engineer I have absolutely no good words for Tepco. I see them as an existential threat to my field and a criminal corporation. I LOATHE criminal corporations, I assure you. I am no authoritarian.

    The mass of the core is not what makes it dangerous. I don’t work in industry (or in reactors or in reactor design)—I’m just highly educated in this field.

    Why the water table? Why would it go there rather than stick to the floors of the building below it or the rock? If it’s melted, then why is it imagined to be remaining as a blob rather than spreading out as a disk? Gravity affects a liquid by flattening them out, like an ice cube melting. The melted ice makes a disk–it doesn’t stay as a cube. If a molten core—as an unrealistic ball—went into “the” water table then I guess it wouldn’t really stop moving. The water table is not a subterranean lake—it’s just the depth at which the solid and/or compressed rock mixture is saturated with water (like a sponge). If the now-low power part of melted core that went through all the rock above met rock saturated with water below, I don’t think that it would have reason to stop. The thermal conductivity of the saturated rock wouldn’t really be that much different than the solid rock above. As I said, if there are no steam explosions on the concrete, then why would there be if it remained as one blob and kept going down? 11 MW thermal is easily cooled via natural convection in water. Considering the density of water is much less than the density of steel and/or concrete, I don’t really see the core destroying everything in it’s path.

    As for telling me to be specific and complete—I do understand that you were trying to describe nuclear reactors in plain terms, but I couldn’t help myself since this is my ‘thing.’ I don’t know what would happen and that’s not really a nuclear question. The radioactivity is not the governing phenomena–it’s the heat, heat transfer, chemistry and material properties. I am confident that I haven’t said anything wrong, though. I am versed in heat transfer and have an uncommon intuitive grasp of physics that leads me to make the points that I make.

    I never contested the danger of removing the spent fuel, so I’m not sure why you are asking a “what happens as if” question in relation to that. I don’t know what would happen—this isn’t a nuclear question—as a certifiably learned engineer in one field, I’d guess that is more of a civil engineering and construction logistics issue. I think it is an extremely dangerous thing to do and it has more potential to negatively impact me than most other people.

    I am extremely interested in the idea that neutrons from a melting core (a melting core is not melting because of fission–this is because small fission products are radioactive and are decaying) from a shielded reactor containment building hundreds of meters away caused criticality excursions in tubes in a pool of water (filled with water and boric acid (and maybe BorAl)) on top of a containment building. Seriously. I am a nuclear engineer. That’s like telling an automotive engine designer that fuel leaked from the car down the street and caused your car engine to start up—that engineer would probably want to see how that worked. That’s why people become engineers—they want to know how things work. Radiation intensity follows an inverse-squared law in distance, so neutron intensity at that distance from the source is something I need to see second hand (at least).

    Yes I do want to dispute that effective temperature. I am made out of matter, all of the atoms in my body other than hydrogen-1 have neutrons. What is my temperature? The average fission neutron energy is between .9 and 1.0 MeV, not several. Check that link I sent; here is another that applies to fission neutrons:
    It’s called the effective temperature, rather than “the temperature” for a reason. The reason is because that is the velocity distribution that you would expect of a gas measured to have such a temperature. “Effectively” is like saying it’s “as if” it were that temperature—that is not actually the temperature.

    As someone who wrote a 120 page thesis on a particular type of neutron source, I tell you with firsthand knowledge as a researcher that neutrons can be produced with no kinetic energy at all. That’s what I was getting at with the kinetic theory of the gases. See ultracold neutrons:

    More on the kinetic theory of the gasses: the only way you can get a temperature is to have a population of particles, each with some finite velocity. One single neutron that has .9 MeV of kinetic energy does not have an effective temperature. The keyboard you are typing on is made out of hydrocarbons, I venture. There are an awful lot of neutrons in that keyboard you’re typing on—are your hands burning at tens of millions of degrees Celsius?

    If you think that I wrote that a loss of cooling water cannot cause rods to catch on fire—then you should re-read what I wrote. As I said, it depends on how long they have been burned. My Facebook picture is of me holding a fuel rod and my (bare) hands are definitely not on fire.

    Zirconium oxidation by steam happens at very high temperatures. Fuel rods that have been left to cool off are no longer producing enough heat to make this reaction possible:

    Breeding is not the result of fission; breeding is when something adds neutrons to something else. A core, for the purposes of this discussion, needs to have U-238 in it for plutonium to be bred. A core running on pure U-235 would have zero plutonium in it. A Thorium-U235 core will have zero plutonium in it. You said that Pu is a byproduct of fission. It is not.

    In modern commercial reactors in the west, there is U238 in the core and it absorbs neutrons that are coming from the fission reactions. This is called also called neutron activation. The phrase by-product is indicative of the resultant of a (chemical)—this is not a byproduct.

    (to be clear, I have a dual BS, one subject in nuclear engineering, the other in physics, and an MS in nuclear engineering. I really do know what I am talking about!)

    George, (I have been trying to avoidad hominem arguments)—do you really want to argue that boron is a moderator? I’m honestly questioning whether you are serious or some sort of agent provocateur. You should read this wiki to understand what a moderator does: . Then—try to see why nobody would want to add moderation to a meltdown in a thermal reactor.

    You bring up that the boron was put into the cooling loop—I’m curious, why is that significant? Boron in not a coolant (nor is it a moderator). The reason: easy access—it was close and available.

    “Fear the folk that think they understand it?” […]

    You argue that “the” gamma ray carries the heat? What is the speed of a gamma ray? What about it’s effective temperature, via the kinetic theory of gasses. (I’ll help—a gamma ray has no mass and travels at the speed of light. It has no effective temperature because it has no mass).
    You previously accepted that the kinetic theory of the gasses is a representation of heat and then argue that the momentum of particles is not the definition of heat.

    I didn’t say that fuel rods are used lying on top of each other. I said that’s how they are kept (and they are).

    So—you took the phrases of GE writers, found in technical documents and swapped out their words for ones that you felt were appropriate and now claim that the statement made by the author in the original document is unchanged.

    George, like I said, it was not my intention to piss of someone I don’t know. I was just correcting what I saw as counterfactual. It is not personal because it can’t be—I don’t know you. I have no interest in fighting. I was pleasantly surprised to find somebody that knew anything at all about anything nuclear, when i found this page.

  158. Response to Maureen Smith
    Maureen – Let’s try to address your “gut”-instincts, by thinking about your body-potassium. So, roughly, you’d best have enough potassium in you to fill a block about an inch & two-thirds on edge, because it does all manner of wondrous things for us, including allowing our neurons to think. Now, a tiny, tiny (~one per ten-thousand) fraction of those potassium atoms are quite peculiar: not only are they stable enough to always be with us (only half vanish in a tenth the age of the universe), but quite-rarely, they triple-route decay (by either beta, gamma, or positron emission). They are radioactive!

    So, to visualize this portion, we have gone from a bit more than a golf-ball of comforting and quite vital potassium, to about as much terrifying p-40, as would fill a space roughly sized so you could think of it as half a rice-grain. Much of the disquietude which feeds our fears of radioactivity stems from the all but un-image-able tiny-ness of the atomic realm. Thus, the facts thus far mentioned, might lead one to surmise, that not much could be happening in that rice grain. The famous historian of the A-bomb, Richard Rhodes, analogized that each fissioning atom releases about the energy of an exploding popcorn kernel, but radioactivity is only a percent or two as powerful. How-some-ever, if you still had half of your p-40 left, or a quarter-rice grain, even should you live for a billion years, you might think not many kernels are a’popping, say, per hour. The fact is, 4,400 of your p-40s blow up each second!

    Potassium is a metal, and should we be able to hold
    our imaginary broken rice grain in our hand—its heat would surely be sensible to the touch. There is no easy way to sort out the rice isotopes from your potassium golf ball, thank Christ, but if there were, and if one could place it in a specific location in our bodies, it would rather magically transform itself from harmless “us”, into something similar to the ultra terrifying menace of inhaled plutonium. Well, not quite similar, because plutonium is an alpha emitter, but, the mechanism which makes microscopic plutonium dust-specs lethally carcinogenic, is their capacity to repeatedly bombard and damage the same adjacent cells in the human lung. This “magical” dimension to ionizing radiation is rather subtle, however. So, for example, one could lie on a bed of metallic plutonium, warmed by its decay without harm, because the alphas cannot penetrate a piece of paper, or your outer layers of un-living skin.

    Now, lets think about the 4,400 decays each second in a 154 pound, typical human, and try to relate this to Dr. Martini’s depiction of the Fukushima radiation enhancement in the Pacific. Simple divisions gives us a potassium shine of 29 disintegrations per second per pound. This is near to the decay rate of each gram of full potassium (31), and about double the dose in a banana, which is fifteen pops-per-second. THIS is our becquerel: One fifteenth of a banana’s p-40 decay rate. One atom-burst per second.

    Thirty becquerels is also the maximum potential enhancement cited for Hawaii, while the Aleutians and West coast could see from 1 to 20—per cubic meter of seawater. A cubic meter of sea water weighs roughly 1030 kilos, and floats 0.04% (wiki—seawater), or 412 grams of potassium. At 31 becquerels per gram, that works out to 12,770 Bq of natural background for each cubic meter of the seas, against which the Fukushima pollution ought be compared. The max Hawaii Fukushima enhancement, expressed as a percentage of this natural p-40 “poison” of seawater, is 2.3 tenths of one percent. And that’s not counting the carbon-14, uranium and thorium floating out there.

    I take this length to respond Maureen, not to lecture or condescend, but because I believe unless humanity crosses over from “gut” to mind in these matters, its chance of passing along an Earth as we have known it, is vanishingly small.

  159. Random findings: (After reading article and lively commentary)

    In 2007, GE CEO Jeffery Immelt told the
    London Financial Times that wind power
    is economically a far better investment
    than nuclear power. (GE previously said that Nuclear Power generation was TOOOO risky and they would be betting/gambling the worth of the company pursuing it)


    (2012) Nuclear waste-burning reactor moves a step closer to reality. Feasibility study shows GE-Hitachi’s proposed Prism fast reactor could offer a solution to the UK’s plutonium waste stockpile.

    So. . .

    Am I to feel good about this direction? As a GE stock-holder? As a simple naïve, out here among the great un-washed – trying to decide to keep or sell my tillable 50 acres?

    I can hear Kenny Rogers singing “The Gambler” in the background. . .

  160. “(2012) Nuclear waste-burning reactor moves a step closer to reality. Feasibility study shows GE-Hitachi’s proposed Prism fast reactor could offer a solution to the UK’s plutonium waste stockpile.”

    Yes, we can trust then THIS time, . . . . . . . can’t we?

  161. This is to respond to the request for information on a possible LOCA (Loss of Cooling Accident), wherein a large part of the cooling water is lost to a pipe break. The LOCA is the single most planned-for situation, and they thought they had every event covered, but it was only hubris, not intelligence.

  162. Mexico, Mexico Mexico.

    Our southern neighbor who we treat as an unwanted step child – except for oil and cheap labor to assemble our cars etc.

    It’s now being taken over lock stock and barrel by drug cartels. They are diversifying. Smart business model? Wait till they step on the toes of our beloved corporations . . . You thought the Iraq invasion was “shock and awe”?

    But, staying on point. What is happening around the world to nuclear stock piles (waste) – the reactors, at least a great number of them, are very close to waterways and I think the waste is being stored nearby. Scientists agree that the ocean level is expected to rise, and hurricanes, typhoons etc. are getting stronger. Is this being addressed in a mature manner. Is it being given more rational consideration than rebuilding a rollercoaster on the New Jersey coast??

  163. I appreciate your long posts in this forum. I do not intend to irritate someone with an “intuitive grasp of physics”. Nor am I telling you what will happen. I am telling you possibilities, not probabilities. Do you know the probability of a 7-level earthquake there in the time period they are trying to extract the fuel rod assemblies? I read 70-90%. I am not telling you it will happen.

    I have to go today, but will return and continue the discussion.

    Thank you for your participation.

    You havee an extensive technical education in the field. I am taking issue with points. Some of your answers are irrelevant examples or assume the rest of us do not understand anything .

    My field is the integration of systems. I am a generalist, having been a technical spook in the Vietnam War in Electronic Reconnaissance, Got to be on X-15 Launch Teams,

  164. Before I go, I have one Question for Neutronium: You did a thesis on Neutron sources? Krytrons, perhaps? Do you work in the world of “boosted fission”, of tampers and Beryllium?

    If so, we have another full field to discuss.

  165. Can I ask your opinion on the scientific feasibility of this article:

    which contains this quote:

    “The un-irradiated rods inside the Unit 4 spent-fuel pool are, in all probability, made of a new type of MOX fuel containing highly enriched plutonium. If the frame collapses, triggering fire or explosion inside the spent-fuel pool, the plutonium would pulse powerful neutron bursts that may well possibly ignite distant nuclear power plants, starting with the Fukushima No.2 plant, 10 kilometers to the south.

    The scenario of a serial chain reaction blasting apart nuclear plants along the Pacific Coast, is what compelled Naoto Kan, prime minister at the time of the 311 disaster, to contemplate the mass evacuation of 50 million residents (a third of the national population) from the Tohoku region and the Greater Tokyo metropolitan region to distant points southwest.(7) Evacuation would be impeded by the scale and intensity of multiple reactor explosions, which would shut down all transport systems, telecommunications and trap most residents. Tens of millions would die horribly in numbers topping all disasters of history combined.”

  166. It is unlikely that there would be unirradiated fuel in the spent fuel pool. The spent fuel pool is where spent fuel goes when it is pulled out of the reactor. Adding fresh fuel (unirradiated) to the pool makes very little sense, given that the plant wasn’t undergoing a refueling and that space in spent fuel pools is at an extreme premium. This is because the businessmen want to maximize the risk so that they can take home the most profit. Spent fuel pools, in these reactors (which includes those in the US) were never meant for storage like this. Politicians and intervenes that are against nuclear power have created an extremely dangerous situation where the plants have no way of disposing of their waste. If these were coal power plants, they could just dump the coal in lakes and have golf courses and luxury homes built around it–but that’s another story. ( )

    Fresh fuel consists almost exclusively of alpha radiation which can’t get out of the cladding. The gamma ray intensity should be pretty low. I checked the reference that your link cited for the claim that there is fresh fuel in the spent fuel pool and, not surprisingly, that article says nothing of the kind. Read it here:

    Plutonium is not really more dangerous than uranium, from a criticality point of view. Plutonium is more dangerous from a human toxicity point for view.

    While it is often good to ask what if type questions, one needs to keep a measure of reality in mind. What that means is that some people find it oddly satisfying to contemplate the worst occurrences they can possibly imagine without regard for reality or precedent. For an example, see all of the disaster and alien invasion movies.

    That said, a question like “what if the frame collapses” is probably warranted because it is in regard to an engineered system. While I don’t and haven’t searched out information on the subject, I don’t see crane and other rigging systems collapsing all that often, on the news. One would hope that in such an important procedure, there would be extra measures of safety involved, both on the civil engineering and nuclear engineering sides of the problem.

    Humans have learned to not mess around with materials in criticality situations without the use of numerous forms of neutron poisons and absorbers (such a BORON and gadolinium). It seems obvious that these pools with be covered with dissolved poisons and chunks of poison material that would prevent excursions if the racks collapsed onto each other.

    Without knowing the thermal power of the spent fuel that is in the pool, one cannot say whether it is still hot enough to make the zirconium oxidation reaction happen. If it were to catch fire, that would not be because of fission but because the fission products in the spent fuel are literally hot because they are decaying and the charged particle (electrons and helium nuclei, or beta and alpha) radiation these emit is bumping into the electrons that surround the other nuclei in the spent fuel. The result is an electromagnetic “pushing” of the other nuclei in the spent fuel which is effectively causing them to move, which is the definition of heat.

    As for powerful neutron bursts “igniting” distant plants: this is totally non-physical. Before I explain why, note that fission is not any type of burning, so the word ignition doesn’t apply. Sometimes it is used as an analogy, but it also indicates that whoever is using the word really doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    If it were the case that neutron sources could make distant facilities critical, then, for example, the USSR or the USA could have set off nuclear explosions in their own territory and wiped out the enriching capabilities of the opponent and/or destroyed their cities that had power plants with out ever needing to fly to the opponent’s location. If this were possible, no one would ever have built any power plants anywhere because that would be too easy of a target.

    For every 1 meter (3 feet) away from a single point where neutrons are emitted, the intensity of the radiation decreases by 92%. At a distance of 10 km (kilometers), there would neutron intensity would only be 7.9577*10^-10 as big as it was at the source. As a percentage, my calculator doesn’t have the ability to distinguish the decrease in neutron intensity as something less than 100%. This is also assuming that there was literally a vacuum between the source and the distant plant.

    I could write more, but I have work that I need to attend to. Let me know if you have more questions–I may have more to say later today, also.

  167. George: a loss of coolant accident (LOCA) is when all of the water leaks out of the reactor. There are a great many water systems in a nuclear power plant that have varying degrees of earthquake protection. It is pure speculation, and quite human, for those various workers to assume the worst and think that the main feedwater supply had been lost. To this end, that is why there are backup routes.

    The loss of the feedwater supplies (one or all of them) is not a LOCA. What is being described in you link, and agrees with my “insider” documents, is a loss of flow and a possible loss of feedwater systems.

    To see a detailed document of the plant heat transfer systems, check out this document:

    Page 86 of this pdf document (not the actual page number in the document) shows a decent cross section of what the core and main pressure boundary looks like. What should be noted is that as loss of the ability to put water into the containment is not a LOCA. These BWRs are a little different from other power plants because the shape that is shown on page 86 IS the containment–it is a totally different style than in a PWR. All of those outer concrete and steel buildings are not the containment. Check out page 25 of the pdf (again, not the document’s page numbers) to get an idea of the number of things that could have been leaking–and that is just the primary system, no backups shown. All fluid systems would be equipped with “check valves” in several locations to prevent the backflow of water from a pipe that has sheared or ruptured.

    Another great document is this one:

    It was produced in Germany and gives a good description of one of the accident time sequences.

  168. It also seems clear that the people that stole the truck knew what was in it. Given that the source is dangerous, why was it not guarded? This is a story about corruption.

  169. I find that just as interesting. I worked with 0.5 to 3.0 MeV electron beams for industrial purposes and industrial CW lasers. Also interesting stuff.

    How do you accelerate a neutral particle?

  170. BTW, TEPCO itself says there were 22 fuel rod assemblies of unirradiated fuel, whether it makes sense or not.

    I think it ties to the speculation of what they were doing with Mox. I do not believe the theory of neutron-activated flux causing an explosion in Unit four. But how did it happen?

  171. “George: a loss of coolant accident (LOCA) is when all of the water leaks out of the reactor. There are a great many water systems in a nuclear power plant that have varying degrees of earthquake protection. It is pure speculation, and quite human, for those various workers to assume the worst and think that the main feedwater supply had been lost. ”

    I got my information from the words of one of the workers, who said a major break occurred, and the radiation detectors on the periphery of the plant went off at the same time. It was minutes before the Tsunami.

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