Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Truth: Locally Chernobyl
    By Sascha Vongehr | March 20th 2011 08:07 AM | 48 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    For decades we have been told that with the lessons learned from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, nuclear energy is safe. As the still unfolding mayhem at the Dai-Ichi plant in Fukushima, Japan, proves, nothing could be further from the truth.

    The fuel rods in at least three reactors are partly molten. All six reactors are in trouble, although most were not on-line during the earthquake! In spite of all downplaying by officials, the nuclear industry, and science apologists, a complete meltdown of some reactors and a nuclear chain reaction of molten fuel are still possible. A few science bloggers keep up honest reporting about the current state. I will here provide a deeper overview and in a second part tomorrow additionally try to give a rational long term outlook.

    Before the Present Fukushima Disaster

    2007, after an earthquake at another plant belonging to the same TEPCO power company, radioactivity was leaked. The leak was kept secret, the public only informed days after, too late for any simple precautions like staying indoors.

    The Fukushima plant is 40 years old and was supposed to be dismantled, but is kept alive just like many frail reactors all over the world. Already during an earthquake in 2008 did water leak out of a fuel rod storage facility at the Fukushima plant.

    Reactor schematics of the boiling water reactors in Fukushima

    This history is important, because it clearly shows that the nuclear science is not the problem. One cannot honestly discuss the so called “irrational panic” of the public without discussing the fact that safety records have been falsified and problems downplayed routinely. The public’s distrust and fears are mostly rational and justified.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    An earthquake with a subsequently to be expected tsunami wave triggered the far reaching problems in the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. It needs to be stressed: This was the trigger, not the reason for why the mostly off-line reactors are in trouble. As we will discuss, the reason is the same as it was in Chernobyl in 1986, the same as for the 1979 Three Mile Island incident before that: nuclear power is inherently unsafe and too complicated to be safely handled by humans under the pressures of human society, which includes economical and political pressures.

    Carter Leaving Three Miles Island

    Merely three of the reactors in Fukushima were running at the time. The widely praised automatic emergency shut-off did therefore little to prevent the catastrophe. A boiling water reactor needs active cooling even when “switched off” – that means, you cannot actually switch it off! It keeps going at a steady rate of at least 3% normal for over 30 years. Remember, we are talking 3% of the power output of a nuclear reactor, which is huge and the reason for why such reactors have been build in the first place.

    After the diesel generators failed to keep the cooling water pumps running, batteries only lasted one hour. The water necessary to cool the fuel rods started to boil away. External diesel generators were brought to the plant, but could not be connected because the batteries’ sockets were under the waterline that one would expect in the basement suffering flooding. None of this involves nuclear physics. These are failures that humans always encounter with long and well known technologies. No future advance in nuclear technology is expected to improve the usual error rate when humans meet conventional technology.

    Chernobyl is often conveniently blamed on “the stupid Ukrainians messing up”. Keep in mind: The present failures occurred in the technologically most advanced human society, which arguably is Japan!


    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    The tips of the fuel rods in block 1 and 3 are not surrounded by cooling water anymore. How far is not known because the water level sensors fail.

    At half past three in the afternoon, the pressure inside the reactor core of block 1 rises to 8 mega Pascal, double the normal operating pressure (remember – it is supposedly “switched off”!). There is no other choice: radioactive steam has to be vented into the environment.

    The vented gas contains hydrogen, which ignites and blasts the roof and the top walls off of block 1. Radioactive Iodine and Cesium are released. All three, hydrogen, iodine and cesium, prove that the core partially melted! Hydrogen results if the zirconium in the fuel rod shells melts and reacts with the water steam at around 2500 degrees Celsius.

    Melting reactor core

    This means that against all downplaying by the media, already on day two it was clear that the fuel rods partially disintegrated and uranium pellets were likely falling to the floor of the reactor core. In case water totally evaporates, the pellets can melt together and go critical, leading to a nuclear chain reaction. There are no so called “diluting core catchers” at usual, non research nuclear plants.

    Nevertheless, only a 20 kilometer radius zone around the plant is evacuated. This is very similar to the 1979 Three Mile Island incidence near Harrisburg. Human failure lead to 50% melting of the 36 thousand fuel rods, which in turn lead to a uranium “swamp” that scientists are still not sure about why it did not go critical. Do not feel reassured – it was a different reactor design from Fukushima. As always, the power company denied any danger and tried to silence the news about the released radioactive steam. Only two days later, a 12 kilometer radius was evacuated. Just like today, those that fled further away were called panicky irrationals. In fact, we now know that they were doing the right thing and that those that stayed behind were lucky. It is still not known why Three Mile Island did not blowup or how much radiation was really released (see link above).

    In the evening, the engineers at the plant know it all too well: Block 1 could go critical. In a desperate measure, they pump seawater into the reactor. Not only does this increase the pressure yet further, but it destroys the reactor. A reactor is supposed to be cooled with distilled water, not with dirty, at high temperatures corrosive salt water. The reactor in block 1 is thus condemned to become a radioactive monument like Chernobyl, still for our grand children and their grand children to be concerned about.

    To help you grasp the desperation of this act: The engineers were well aware of that the water level monitors did not work and that there was no way to tell whether the sea water even reaches inside the core. Yet they pumped, because it was the very last option.

    At around ten at night, the fuel rods in block three start melting. These are no ordinary rods. They contain MOX fuel, a mixture of Uranium and highly poisonous Plutonium, dangerous not only as a nuclear fuel that easily goes critical, but also highly chemically poisonous in minute quantities. If this stuff collects on the reactor floor, pray that the steel below melts soon enough to let it fall right through before going ballistic.

    If it falls through and encounters the water in the outer reactor building, it may however still explode badly enough to lead to a Chernobyl like incident also globally. Luckily, as of now, it has overtaken Three Mile Island in terms of severity, but resembles Chernobyl only quite locally. Released Plutonium would make northern Japan a wasteland for generations to come.


    Reactor block 3 was vented during the night, releasing radioactive steam. TEPCO admits for the first time that fuel rods in block 3 were partially sticking up to three meters out of the cooling water. While some officials are still trying to argue that no melting in block 3 is possible, experts now know that the rods are partially molten also in this reactor.

    And indeed: Hydrogen has collected under the roof of block 3. At 11 in the morning, the second explosion propels the roof from block 3. Although it is likely that the containment vessel with the Plutonium has cracks, the public hears nothing but downplaying of the danger. Internationally, popular science websites link to and translate an article titled “Why I am not worried about Japan's Nuclear Reactors”. It is written by a cooperation risk management researcher with cozy industry ties, but referred to as an MIT expert, as if to say nuclear scientist. While the internet is widely hailed as somehow allowing new oversight over the corporate media, a dark chapter in science on the internet unfolds, still not admitted to be another tragedy all by itself by science bloggers. Only few counter pieces like “Why You Should Be Worried About Japan's Nuclear Reactors”, have appeared.


    Around noon, reactor 2 heats up to result in a pressure that calls again for the desperate flooding with seawater. Another reactor turns into a pile of radioactive trash for generations to deal with. It is announced that all is successful. Shortly afterward the opposite is announced: The fuel rods are completely dry and melting. Radioactivity in the surrounding area goes up. The international atomic energy agency IAEA is still telling people that no melting has occurred in any of the three by now actually partially molten reactors.


    Block2 experiences an explosion, the pressure container is breached. In the immediate surrounding of the plant, radiation rises to eight milliSievers per hour (8mSv/h), forty thousand times the natural background radioactivity.

    Shortly after: Bang number 4. Block 4 explodes. This reactor was not in use during the earthquake! This time it is not even the reactor, but the so called “spent” fuel rods in the close by storage pool are to be blamed. Please read this again and remember, taking reactors automatically off-line in case of an earthquake does not ensure safety. This is basic physics: You cannot switch of radioactive decay!

    The explosion rips two 8 meter large holes into the building. The fuel rod storage is exposed to the environment, the water evaporates. Fire breaks out, the smoke carries radioactive Iodine and Cesium outside. Outside block 4, a radiation level of 400 mSv/h is reached, millions the natural background. Three hours here and you will likely die soon after.

    At these levels, also the control room of block 4 is being abandoned, and 750 workers are immediately evacuated. 50 stay “voluntarily”, to be understood in the context of Japanese culture, where the individual exists for society rather than the other way around. These are the walking dead.

    In block 4, fire breaks out repeatedly. Smoke carries radioactive Iodine and Cesium particles as far as Tokyo. While NHK television shows the burning storage facility, Reuters goes along with the Ministry of Economy in Japan, telling us that nothing burns.

    Temperatures rise now also in the already before the quake “switched off” blocks 5 and 6.


    Reactor 3 burns, radioactivity rises to 1000 mSv/h. Control room 3 is abandoned. The Japanese government decides to increase the legal limit of radiation exposure to five times the US limit in order to not be liable for the workers being exposed. 250 mSv/year is the new maximum. The workers however are long past that limit. Close to the reactors, 600 mSv/h and above are now the norm.

    Helicopters drop sea water into reactor 3. This is the fourth reactor that now turns into a Chernobyl like monument for sure. Some Helicopters cannot reach the reactor as the radiation is just too strong.


    The fuel rods in the rod storage in block 3and 4 are dry and their temperature rises. They are completely open to the environment now, with block 3 having plutonium in the rods. With lead plates somewhat protected helicopters dump water on the buildings. The crew can fly maximally four times before the radiation limit is reached. Most of the water does not reach the intended aim, radioactivity keeps rising.

    At around eight o’clock they try to employ water cannons that the police purchased to disperse anti nuclear protesters. It fails due to high radiation levels. The Japanese Military has more powerful cannons and douses the block 3 and 4 with some water.

    Friday again

    Finally, electricity cables reach the plant. However, they cannot be connected to the pumps, as the electrical structure in the plant is damaged. More than a hundred fire fighters and military keep pumping water into the general direction of the reactors. It is unclear how much hits the intended target.

    Block 2 starts to smoke. It cannot be doused in water, because the roof is still intact. Japanese officials for the first time admit that even if all goes well now, the reactors will have to be treated just like the ones in Chernobyl.

    Governments and scientists still play down the risks, however, they also tell their own people to evacuate as far away as Tokyo at the same time (!), for example France and the journal Nature.


    Only two blocks have been connected to electricity. Venting of radioactive gas is going on.


    The crisis is far from over. Pressures in the plutonium carrying reactor rose again. Venting a cloud dense with radioactive Iodine, Krypton and Xenon may be necessary. Moreover: The wider consequences start to become apparent:

    Radioactivity in spinach and milk from areas as far as 75 miles away exceed safety limits. Tap water turned up radioactive iodine in Tokyo and other areas. Safety officials finally admit that protective iodine pills should have been distributed near the plant days earlier:

    A “nuclear safety official said the government was caught off-guard by the accident's severity and only belatedly realized the need to give potassium iodide to those living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. […] The official, Kazuma Yokota, said an explosion at the plant's Unit 3 reactor last Sunday should have triggered the distribution.”

    There have been sadly few scientists/ science bloggers who took the lessons from the surprisingly large number of earthquake and tsunami survivors seriously: Preparedness is the most important fact in any disaster. Very few told you since day one: Potassium iodide belongs into your disaster preparedness kit! Do not hope that in the heat of a large disaster, your government will be able or even willing to get them to you! Their main concern is avoiding panic and the appearance of not being in control, not the health of your family. If you are anywhere near nuclear facilities, which you are in any industrialized country, you should have potassium iodide in your first aid kit at home! You do not? Get it now!


    you fear monger. why don't you spread the truth!!!!! three mile island was engeriling faults, in russia you would of had to be a idoit to try to test the reactor to the point of melt down and they found the results of they test was fatel, now in japan it was piss poor engineering faults so if your going to report, report the truth

    Yes, you are probably right. They all had "engeriling faults". So will the next one and the next one and the next one. Will it make you happy if your family dies as long as it is just "engeriling faults"?
    I personally feel that those who underplay love to accuse people of being fear mongers, and those who overplay it exaggerate it. Let's put it this way... Fact: 160 people at the plant are sick with symptoms. Fact: There's radiation in the food. Fact: The radiation in the food is low but needs to be studied, which is exactly what they are doing. Fact: Officials are handing out potassium iodide to their people. There must be reason! Fact: We need alternative fuel. Fact: There are older nuclear plants that are more dangerous than the newer ones and should probably be shut down. We should put some serious attention to this. Fact: A nuclear melt-down is not the same thing as the bombing of Hiroshima! Fact: Nuclear melt-downs hurt people. The real decision is whether the dangers outweigh the benefits. No one is making people live near nuclear plants (though they are arguably difficult to avoid in the northeast!) Fact: People who underplay and overplay the facts are not telling the truth. I get really annoyed when I see scientists get on tv and make it sound like there's nothing to worry about. They're lying. I get equally annoyed when people overstate the extent to which these liars are lying lol.

    ... and if you are going to comment you should learn some basic grammar and spelling otherwise people might think you are an opinionated and illiterate lout.

    So many of you simply do not get it! Who fucking cares why it happened? The engineering? The people? The government? Nuclear power does not exist in a vacuum! Let me reapeat that! NUCLEAR POWER DOES NOT EXIST IN A VACUUM!!! The best engineering and the best intentions, and the most conscientious care in its operation are all IRRELEVANT!. Something unexpected WILL happen! An earthquake; a tsunami; an honest failure in judgement; an unexpected failure in the finest equipment; a terrorist attack. WHO FUCKING CARES???!!! IT WILL HAPPEN, AND WHEN IT DOES, ALL THE SECOND GUESSING AND OTHER ARGUMENTATIVE BULLSHIT WON'T CHANGE THE FACT THAT MILLIONS WILL DIE AS A RESULT, AND AN ENORMOUS PIECE OF REAL ESTATE WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOREVER!

    Gerhard Adam
    Don't be a bloody fool.  Even if you were using a wood-burning stove for heat, you'd still have the situation of where someone can start a fire.
    Historians agree that on Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, the Chicago Fire did indeed start in the barn of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick and Catherine O'Leary. While the blaze ironically spared the O'Leary home, located on the city's West Side at 137 De Koven Street, much of the rest of Chicago was not so fortunate. Before the fire died out in the early morning of Tuesday, October 10, it had cut a swath through Chicago approximately three and one-third square miles in size. Property valued at $192,000,000 was destroyed, 100,000 people were left homeless, and 300 people lost their lives.
    While you may think you're being a concerned citizen, the reality is that you are totally clueless about the causes of death until you have to deal with have no energy at all.   Here's a newsflash for you.  With 7 billion people on the planet, the only way you're going to sustain a population of that size with its attendant energy requirements is to incur some risk.  So your choice is whether you plan to manage that risk as much as possible, or you can throw up your hands and go live in a cave.  But, make no mistake, your blind hysteria solves no problems and would result in far more deaths than anything nuclear energy can do.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Most people here will agree that here there are some huge overstatements more intending to scare than to reflect the truth of the problem...Based on actual Chernobyl experience:

    - ''MILLIONS' shoudl be replaced by 10-100s (being objects of discussion even today, but certainly not ''millions'')
    - "UNINHABITABLE FOREVER' should be replaced by 'uninhabitable for decennia' (By the way many of you have read that nature has bloomed around Chernobyl , species coming back as people has returned them a bit of their ancient territories )

    We see very frequently in the media a confusion between the enoumous devastation created s of the tsunami on the region, including many big petrochemical fires releasing tons of black smoke full of carcinogenic agents into the air with the effects the tsunami on the central of Fukushima (which is the object of discussion in this note).

    So you don't mention that the initial 100 msv/year limit has just been reached and workers were told to take a break? Or that the radiation limits on the food still doesn't pose a threat? You would have to eat that spinach everyday for a year to make any impact. How about mentioning the standard msv rate of an x-ray or a ct scan? Because that would put your numbers into perspective and make your claims irrelevant. Media has made the genral public scared of their own shadow, Seriously, this is just like a graph, you can make the numbers say anything you want, but if you put something as a reference your claims are completely unjustified. Deny it all you want, this is nothing more than scaremongering.

    But how could the author have included facts and actual radiation levels? That would have undermined his whole story.


    Gerhard Adam
    What "facts" and "radiation levels" would make it OK?  The question becomes really simple if we put it into every day terms.

    What would you do if you were living there?

    The truth is that none of us would be comfortable with the information being provided and Sascha is absolutely correct that one has to consider their own safety and precautions before accepting the reassurances of officials.  Everyone that is offering an opinion ultimately has "no skin in the game", so talk is cheap and easy.

    If it were my family, then I would be leaving the area, taking whatever radiation precautions I could and not trusting anyone.  Is that fear-mongering?  Only if your intent is to get people to stay where they are.  As I said previously, if you wouldn't stay there, then it is wrong for you to downplay the risks and suggest that its OK for others to stay.  If you would have KI on hand, then it would be wrong to suggest that it is scare-mongering to tell others to get it.

    It is all well and good to talk about risk management and how the situation is being kept under control, but that isn't the question that the person on the street necessarily needs to consider.  Their interests don't coincidence with those of government and industry.

    The truth is that for everyone providing assurances about how its not so bad, will be the same people that shake their heads 10-20 years from now and talk about those poor people and their medical problems from radiation exposure (notwithstanding Ann Coulter's recommendations).

    Objectivity is easy for someone that doesn't actually have to deal with the problem.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Who said anything about not leaving? Of course they should evacuate to a safer distance. "In case" something happened.
    The problem is that he is saying that the situation is way worse than it actually is. THAT is fearmongering. No way around it. He uses these radiation levels like they are already at the level that Chernobyl was at. But if you look at what "normal" everyday radiation levels are around the world, it makes those same numbers seem like they are slightly elevated. It is rediculous. All it does is make people more scared than they need to be. No matter where you are. The blog he said was written by someone with "cozy ties" to nuclear industry is now posted on MIT's nuclear engineering homepage. And has been added to, scrutinized, and corrected numerous times already by people that actually know what they are talking about. Some of the absolute top experts in the field say it is literally not possible to even remotely get close to what Chernobyl was. Who are you going to believe, the experts or some fearmonger in the media? Plutonium is a byproduct of nuclear fission, therefore it is in every single fuel rod, not just MOX fuel. MOX fuel rods are pretty much recycled nuclear fuel. Only about 1/3 of the nuclear material burns during the fission process, they can seperate the material and reuse it to make MOX fuel.

    And saying that the nuclear reactor could go critical, you should hope so! Critical is when a reactor is producing the same amount of energy that it is releasing! In other words saying that it is stable! So you yes, you better hope that it is in a critical state. Right now they are trying to get it in a sub-critical state. This entire article is a joke. So much time to make it look like there are relevant facts when really there are none.

    The MIT blog is written by real experts, sober, factual, and indeed most informative.

    Gerhard Adam
    How factual can it be, if they aren't actually there?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, some safe distance probably helps in being factual.

    Not so for the author of this article. Each new article in his series on the Fukushima disaster introduces a new low. Now we see "Chernobyl" in the title. What will the next low be?

    Gerhard Adam
    Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano, said earlier today a radiation level of 33 millirem per hour was measured about 20 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi plant earlier this morning. He said that level does not pose an immediate health risk.
    Well, I certainly like how straightforward the science is here.  After all, it's not like we have to parse what the word "immediate" means in this context. 

    Of course, it would be helpful if someone tried to calculate what the accumulated exposure for people in the area actually was since even 24 hours puts them over the average annual dosage from natural and man-made sources.  Even this quote, begs the question of what the levels are within the 20 km radius.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, it is about the accumulated exposure. An instantaneous measurement does not carry much information.

    Haven't seen the quote you refer to. But to put it in perspective: a sustained exposure to 33 millirem/hr (0.33 mSv/hr) for more than a month would equate to the exposure airline crew members are professionally exposed to during their career. That would be a concern. And that is very, very unlikely to happen.

    Ill-informed media, doomsday prophets and attention seekers like the author of the above nonsense are trying to make this a second Chernobyl. It isn't.

    Gerhard Adam
    The quote is from the MIT site.
    ...limit occupational radiation exposure to adults working with radioactive material to 5,000 mrem (50 mSv) per year.
    Your sustained exposure is almost 24 rems and I have a hard time believing that this is acceptable over a 30 day period.  More to the point, if radioactive materials are present in dust and topsoil, there's no explanation for how much might be inhaled (and over what period of time) after people come back into the area.

    The point is simply that if it is safe, then an unequivocal statement to that effect would be appropriate.  Unfortunately that's something you'll never hear.  It'll always be couched in qualified statements with various dosages reported, which everyone recognizes as the traditional CYA to avoid liability.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, it's certainly not doomsday, and perhaps it's not Chernobyl.  However, it is much closer to the latter than "business as usual".

    The INES rating at this point puts it at a 5 (although some claim it is closer to a 6), which is telling in itself.  It should be obvious that any such rating is somewhat arbitrary and can't truly be assessed until well after all the downstream factors have a chance to play out.

    The problem is always the same in these cases.  Everything is normal and under control until it isn't.  Then to avoid a panic, we start back-pedaling on everything to indicate that things are still OK. 

    It's real simple.  Get those people out of there!  Then you can take your time and assess whatever you'd like, but I suspect the problem is much more widespread that the small radius they've drawn around those plants. 

    This whole thing is already taking on the "save the economy" tone.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    "In case" something happened.
    So you feel quite comfortable in telling people and their families that there is nothing to worry about (now or in the future)?  You feel quite comfortable that if it were you, you'd continue to live in that area?
    Who are you going to believe?
    What kind of a question is that?  Unless there's an expert actually on-site that is directly involved, their opinion doesn't mean much.
    The blog he said was written by someone with "cozy ties" to nuclear industry is now posted on MIT's nuclear engineering homepage.  And has been added to, scrutinized, and corrected numerous times already by people that actually know what they are talking about.
    I beg to differ.  Anyone that is not actually there, is merely offering an opinion, whether it be expert or not, they can't possibly know the reality of what's taking place.  As a result, they are NOT behaving very scientifically if they are offering assessments or reassurances without actual first hand knowledge.

    I find it interesting that the concern seems to be in raising the "fear" in people.  What should they feel?  My biggest problem is that they should feel anything at all based on the statements of experts or officials alike.  There aren't any of them that have anything worth saying to a person actually living in that area, since they don't have to be there.  I would bet that not one of the experts would enjoy spending a month living with one of those Japanese families that they've been reassuring.

    There will always be people that behave stupidly and panic, however those aren't the people I'm interested in.  The one thing that is absolutely true though, is that you will NEVER hear an official tell people that they are in danger. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Once again, you are putting words in my mouth, I said, I would NOT stay there, "in case" something happened, you guys are very good at taking things out of context.

    There is nothing you can do to stop a natural disaster, another quake could hit and make a bad situation even worse, nobody can argue that, I would get out before something else goes wrong. So is what you are saying is that you guys are trying to scare people into leaving by making the situation out to be worse than it is? If so, touche, very noble of you. If that is not your intention, then provide what FACTS you do have and let people make a decision for themselves. All he is doing here is providing speculation and a bunch of numbers, and what did he intend those numbers to represent? Byt the way he presented them, it was meant to say that the experts were lying and saying that these numbers were horrible. But were they really horrible? If he had provided a baseline, you would see that the numbers he gave were not as bad as he was making them out to be. But then he wouldn't have anything to write about.

    You say that the expert opinions do not mean anything because they are not there, then what does this guys opinion mean? Even less.

    saying that these numbers were horrible.
    Were did I say that?
    Exactly what I was saying about context. re-read what I said, you were making them out to be horrible. So you now say they aren't? Because your entire article is about how the officials are downplaying the situation and that it is worse than they are letting on. You can't have it both ways.

    Gerhard Adam
    You say that the expert opinions do not mean anything because they are not there, then what does this guys opinion mean?
    Well, that's the crux of it isn't it?  The only responsible thing to say is that people should evacuate for some indeterminate period of time and that NO ONE knows what the risks are and whether they are better or worse than anticipated.  Then people could do some actual data gathering and investigating instead of always having to spin it to avoid "panic".

    As I said previously, the only reason "panic" is a consideration is because they still have people in an area that could be potentially far more dangerous than they've let on.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Than who has let on? The Japanese government or the IAEA? Like I said, how many experts on the ground does it take to judge the situation so you all feel comfortable to trust their determination?

    The Titanic is safe. Build from the best engineers and scientists. The ship can't sink.
    We had the Titanic. We had Chernobyl. Now we have Fukushima.
    ("you don't learn from your mistakes Riddle" Harry Potter)

    Not get carried away by hype and media frenzy? Sure, good point.

    Trust the nuclear industry? No effing way.
    Gerhard Adam
    From one milk sample from the village of Iidate less than 30 kilometers north of the nuclear plant, 5,200 becquerel per kilogram of iodine-131, about 17 times the 300-becquerel limit set by law, was detected.

    From a sample from the town of Kunimi nearly 70 kilometers northwest of the plant—the most distant among the four locations—1,400 becquerel per kilogram of iodine-131 was detected.

    Even if consumed, these levels "don't affect human health," Mr. Edano said, adding that Japan's radioactivity standards for food are very strict. The normal amount set by Japanese law is 2,000 becquerel per kilogram.

    Any impact on Japan's agricultural sector will mostly be concentrated on the domestic market. Japan imports far more food than it exports, and even some of the most basic ingredients in Japanese cuisine, such as soybeans, are mostly imported. In 2009, the total value of the country's food imports stood at $53.5 billion, while its exports came to only $3.27 billion, said the Japan External Trade Organization.

    Yes, this explains it quite well.  So, we go to the trouble to set standards until we exceed them and then suddenly the standards are arbitrarily strict or not really necessary.

    Of course, much more telling is the concern about the markets. 
    But municipal government officials say they are in tough position of how to break the news that certain agricultural products have been contaminated without pushing the panic button. Consumers could be put off if any radioactive material is detected, even when the amount is well below the standard set by law.
    ... and this gives voice to the lie.  The concern isn't any "panic", but rather that people may decided that it isn't worth the risk and simply avoid consuming those foods.  In other words, the only people that would "panic" are those that fear that sales would plummet, so unless they can convince people to keep consuming as usual, then they have a problem.

    All of this reeks of officials being less than honest and forthright with the citizens because their interests are divided among a large number of different components.  Unfortunately, the people themselves aren't actually one of those.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Yet when some of the "radioactive" food got to taiwan, their safety inspectors set up specifically to make sure the food wasn't toxic, decided it was not outside their limits.

    And your fist quoted text there contradicts itself nicely, first saying the limit is 300, then farther down saying it is 2000, so where did they get those numbers? They can't even get that right!

    The IAEA is onsite, taking readings every 30 minutes all over the place, the watch dogs of the nuclear industry. And they haven't contradicted the japanese 20km evacuation zone, or said that the problem is worse than what they are letting on. So how many experts onsite does it take to judge the situation? Let them know so it will make you all feel better about it.

    Gerhard Adam
    And your fist quoted text there contradicts itself nicely, first saying the limit is 300, then farther down saying it is 2000, so where did they get those numbers? They can't even get that right!
    Actually the 300 refers to milk, while the 2000 refers to other foods.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    The search is being hampered by a shortage of equipment and facilities necessary for accurately measuring radioactivity in food. Also slowing the process is the absence of a central authority that can oversee the wide-reaching investigation and decide what steps should be taken.

    In truth, I couldn't care less if you think this is much ado about nothing.  All I can say, is that talk is cheap when you aren't there.  I do find it ironic that those that don't trust the government to tell them the day of the week are suddenly accepting everything reported as being truthful.

    The fact is that if spinach from 60-70 miles away is picking up increased radiation, and you can be assured that it isn't from a plume, then what does that tell you?  Nothing has been mentioned about any other foods grown in those regions.

    In fact, half the statements made regarding contaminated milk are an outright lie, since no one can be stupid enough to make general statements about exposures without considering the differences between children and adults.  So such a "once size fits all" answer is already wrong as soon as its spoken.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The public’s distrust and fears are mostly rational and justified.


    'Official reading material'

    Wooo, 16,000 msv exposure during the first few hours at Chernobyl, not THAT is a lot of exposure! And yes, I'm guessing everyone exposed to that much in that short of time had died. 134 people were exposed to between 800 and 16,000 msv in the first few hours and 28 of those died. So how can anyone compare what is happening in Japan to Chernobyl?

    What is really interesting in that is the U.S. nuclear employees are allowed to be exposed to twice what the japanese nuclear employees are per year. Really makes you wonder who is coming up with these numbers.

    I just want to thank the author for this information. Thanks....

    Thank you for your honest reporting and analysis. A person qualified in physics with an actual philosophical/ethical outlook is all too rare. I have been to Belarus, I have been to Mogilev and Zlynka. I have seen countless sick chidren, I have seen the terrible consequences of the Tchernobyl meltdown as far as 500, 1000 miles from the plant. The consequences are unimaginable. Most of the commenters here have no idea of the cumulative effects of even "smallish" doses of radiation on cancers, cardiovascular diseases, lowering of fertility, and an incredibly high number of grossly deformed, mentally disabled children. What happened in Fukushima is extremely serious, as you pointed out. The japanese authorities have been more than disingenuous, and they have started to admit as much. The situation is still not under control, as heavy black smoke emissions from reactor No. 3's used MOX fuel cooling pools have demonstrated today. The extent of food and water contamination is also much more serious than "expected".
    Unfortunately, you are being proven right.

    For all the commenters attacking you here, how dare you ? Have you done your homework ? Have you studied nuclear accidents and policy/corporate precedents ? The author obviously has.
    Please read this status update, straight from the horse's mouth.
    After reading this, can you still say that the author is "exaggerating" or "fearmongering" ? Just because people in Tokyo are not shitting blood doesn't mean there won't be very serious consequences in the long run.

    Hold tight, and keep on blogging. We need more people like you.

    To the more general point about the human element in the process, this adds weight to Sascha's position:

    More from the Guardian: Radiation renders Tokyo tap water 'not safe for babies'

    More MSM hype?
    My question was answered by today's Pacific Ocean radioactive levels off the coast--after days of pounding the reactors with heli-water drops and water cannons--I was wondering where the hell is all that water draining to--seems like a lot of it made it to the ocean and water table....also--would the cameras inside the reactor rooms have back-up power--it sure would be interesting to watch the tapes. It's incredible how mainstream media is suppressing the story, especially the larger conglomerate owned press which are constantly putting a positive spin on every "news" release. Lastly, if geiger counters can't measure plutonium and similar readings--what can?

    This is a wonderful blog from the crystal clear waters of truth that risky human nature should not dabble in risky v.high stakes science,and a wonderfull site science 2.0 for airing it..I think Sascha should be given a Billy Graham type campaign and pulpit to shout his message to the world.

    Can someone please explain why all of this rhetoric leaves out the fact that new nuclear power technology eliminates all of these issues? Yet, the preponderance of "news" articles flatly state that (ALL) "nuclear power" is unsafe, as is stated blatantly here in the very first paragraph of this "news" article. It seems from all of the hype that none of the experts even know about safe nuclear technology! Is it simply mythology that the newest forms of nuclear power generators are able to use fuel cycles that consume the old-technology fuel rods? (No need for Yucca Mountain repository) And, the new style of fuel cycles are completely free of materials that can be used in bomb production? (no nuclear proliferation issues) And that we have so much "waste" fuel laying round that it will never again be necessary to put a shovel in the ground to dig for uranium? (eliminate polluting our land and water) And that in the case of earthquakes or tsunami or terrorist attack that the systems automatically shut down and go cold? (Safety issues) But, sadly, no. The politically correct "news" is that nuclear power is bad. So, as a result, we see the same story parroted from all four corners of the world. Where is the genuine science reporting? So, as a species, we once again flush down the toilet a perfectly great opportunity to educate ourselves! Have you ever noticed how the human species so easily allows political correctness (left/right/or stupid) to foster mass self delusion? The Japan crisis is a perfect case in point.

    Gerhard Adam
    You fail to grasp that the safety issues are not science or technology problems.  They are political and economic.  The difficulties at the Fukushima plant are a direct result of cost-cutting measures and failure to adhere to safety inspections.

    This isn't a matter of political correctness, it is a direct result of normal human behavior when politics or money is involved.  As a result, all technologies can be rendered unsafe when it comes to non-technical people making economic decisions to advance themselves or their companies.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard, Do you have some specifics?

    I realize there were some safety issues, but from what I've seen, the only one that impacted this accident was the spent fuel that should have been removed sooner, and I suspect in the end, that isn't the worst of the problems they had. But even if it had been scheduled to be removed on time, this earthquake could have happened before that date.

    Now, let me say that I'm sure there are companies who are as guilty as you insist they are. And it does seem that there were some stupid design mistakes there.

    But, how strong an earthquake should the plant have been built to withstand? The government (from what I've read) only required it to survive an 8.0 quake, it was built to 8.2. Yes it would have been better if it was built to take a 9.0 quake, But why not a 10.0? And if 10.0's good, why not 12, or 15? Let's say they could build it to 10.0, but it's 100x the cost of 8.2. I'm sure at 100x it wouldn't have been built at all. What is the likelihood of there being a a 10.0 quake there? If scientist say that's a 10 thousand year event, do you build it at that level if it's only going to be used for 40-50 years? What if an 8.2 is a 1 thousand year event? Was it under built? We know now that the answer was probably yes, but what's the future risk of another 9.0 quake in the next 50 years? Is it higher because it happened, or is it lower because the stress has been relieved?

    I don't think decisions like this are solely based on cost, I'm sure there were studies on how big a quake it might see during it's expected lifetime. Do you really think after spending however many billions to build it to 8.2, they'd just cross their fingers if the study said a 8.5-9.0 is quite possible? I don't. Now they might have been presented with a range, and probabilities, But CEO's and Companies disappear when you write off a 10 or 20 billion dollar investment. And yes there was probably insurance, but they too investigated the risk of a loss. The government okays it, TEPCO was putting up billion to build it, some insurance co covered it's risk. All of them on the hook for a huge amount of money if it was under spec'ed. Now, if the operation issues were minor, and they thought they could get an extra 10 years out of it, I can see that. I'm sure this will be picked over with a microscope, so we'll find out if there was a real disregard for safety, and if there is, TEPCO could very well go under. But I'm thinking that the corporate world will be watching this, and after seeing the bill that BP got, this will keep a lot of CEO's up late at night.

    I've been involved in many large corporate purchases on both sides of the PO, and rarely is a discount price the driving factor.

    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I'll try to get more specifics later, since I'm just doing a quick fly-by.  However, the issue here isn't the earthquake, but the total lack of preparedness for the tsunami (which shouldn't be an unknown factor in Japan). 

    As for the spent fuel rods, my understanding is that they had 6 years worth of this material on site.  So this wasn't a scheduling problem, but the direct result of a management decision.

    Large corporate purchases aren't necessarily driven by discount pricing, but ongoing operations invariably are.  I haven't seen a company yet, that doesn't strive to cut costs, and they will pursue this objective almost obsessively if the risks are deemed either acceptable or too esoteric.
    Mundus vult decipi
    my understanding is that they had 6 years worth of this material on site

    Under 'normal' circumstances I don't know this is a huge issue, and is in part due to a lack of someplace better to store all of the spent fuel, due to absurd site requirements. Do we really need a 10,000 year site now? Could we not possibly accept a temporary 100 year site, knowing that we'll know a lot more in 100 years than we do now? We went from the Model-T and ice stored during the winter for your refrigerator to 767's, and the space shuttle in less than 100 years.

    but the total lack of preparedness for the tsunami

    One of the stupid things I referenced, though I suspect it was more a matter of wacked expectations, as opposed to 'total lack'. Again, we'll learn more in the future.

    almost obsessively if the risks are deemed either acceptable or too esoteric.

    You're right, but this gets back to risk management, what was the level of tsunami it was suppose to be safe at?
    Never is a long time.
    Sascha is clearly our science evangelist with some fire in his belly and having experienced the wow factor of the love of the truth himself feels burdened until he passes it on to others.His warnings are unfolding before our eyes with todays news bringing more confirmation.He will be believed in future because of this if he keeps on going this way .Loving the truth and following it.WOW!

    Hi Sascha, ich habe diesen link von Gerd Wohlenberg bekommen .. Ich nenne Dithmarschen mein Nest und lebe in England. Ich bin sooo angenehm ueberrascht von Deinem Artikel und kann nur sagen .. Great.. endlich mal hat jemand Klartext geredet in English. Falls du auf facebook bist wuerde ich gerne mich verlinken.. Take care .. Isma

    Danke sehr Isma. Ich kann leider von China aus facebook, twitter und so fort nicht ohne Schwierigkeiten benutzen.
    How many meltdowns does the world need before you people wake up! A meltdown is a fire that WILL NOT GO OUT!!!!!!!

    Gerhard Adam
    You obviously aren't familiar with coal mine fires...
    Mundus vult decipi