Posts Tagged BraveNewClimate

Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean? « BraveNewClimate

I saw this yesterday and promptly faxed it to my parents, before they call me up and ask if we are glowing in the dark yet or why we have not fled the country. I have not read any mainstream press articles on this subject, and won’t be any time soon.

The BNC blog includes a moderated discussion which is always informative and stimulating. Check it out. I also recommend the World Nuclear News and the IAEA sites (links in the sidebar, and also referenced in the BNC blog entry itself), and the Nuclear Energy Institute website.

Hot in the news is that the Fukushima Nuclear crisis has been upgraded from INES 5 to INES 7. Note that this is not due to some sudden escalation of events today aftershocks etc., but rather it is based on an assessment of the cumulative magnitude of the events that have occurred at the site over the past month my most recent update on that is here.Below I look briefly at what this INES 7 rating means, why it has happened…

However, what about when you hit the top of the INES? Does a rating of 7 mean that Fukushima is as bad as Chernobyl? Well, since you can’t get higher than 7 on the scale, it’s impossible to use this numerically to answer such a question on the basis of their categorical INES rating alone. It just tells you that both events are in the ‘major league’. There is simply no event rating 8, or 10, or whatever, or indeed any capacity within the INES system to rank or discriminate events within categories (this is especially telling for 7). For that, you need to look for other diagnostics.

So headlines likeFukushima is now on a par with Chernobyl‘ can be classified as semantically correct and yet also (potentially) downright misleading. Still, it sells newspapers.

via Fukushima rated at INES Level 7 – what does this mean? « BraveNewClimate.

The whole thing is long. It’s “boring” (unless you’re personally interested, like me). It will not sell newspapers. But it will give you a clearer idea of what is going on, and what the “level 7” means.

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BNC, one of my regular stops for solid news and perspective on the Fukushima nuclear crisis (tho most posters and commenters are pro-nuclear power, so that should be borne in mind), hosts Guest Post by Dr. William Sacks. His article contains some sobering reminders of how we can be misled by the very media which is supposed to be the antidote, the “fourth estate” which is keeping government and the authorities honest. Ha!

Bill is a highly experienced physicist and radiologist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Rice University in 1959, a PhD in Harvard in 1966 (cosmology and general relativity), then did a medical degree and  two-year postgraduate training at Connecticut Medical School, finishing in 1979. He followed this up with a residency in nuclear medicine and radiology at George Washington University through to 1985. He subsequently worked for 10 years as a general radiologist at Kaiser Permanente and later as a medical officer in the Office of Device Evaluation in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health for more than 7 years. In that time he worked with statisticians, physicists, other physicians, and many other specialties. He later worked as a clinical radiologist in Tuscon, and recently retired to spend time researching and writing on energy, climate change, evolutionary biology, economics, history, and physics/astronomy/cosmology.

Early media concentration on the nuclear plant at Fukushima Daiichi created a great sense of fear in people around the world.  Reporting was distorted by both exaggeration and omission, focusing more on the reactors than on the quake and tsunami that killed over 20,000 people according to recent Japanese government estimates.  Media reports still contain phrases like “222 times higher than the legal limit,” “higher than normal,” “radiation found in the water,” all of which are meaningless without comparisons that permit us to evaluate their significance.  The patchwork of “experts” who were interviewed to explain the events, each with her/his own particular knowledge and set of interests, added to the confusion instead of replacing it with a sense of proportion.

An example of omission is the absence of follow-up on the oil refinery fire at Chiba, about 20-30 miles east of Tokyo and over 100 miles south of Fukushima. In fact, it killed 12 workers and required 10 days to put out the fire, which spewed toxic smoke and chemicals far and wide, as well as CO2 into the atmosphere that adds to global warming, and resulted in unknown numbers of latent cancers, heart attacks, asthma, and deaths. Yet once TV images of the flames, falsely linked through association with the nuclear reactors, lost their usefulness, they disappeared from sight.

Nor did the media report widely, if at all, on a hydroelectric dam in Fukushima prefecture, burst by the quake, that flooded 1800 homes, with unknown numbers of deaths.  In addition to the estimated 20,000+ tsunami deaths, homelessness and ongoing lack of water and electricity affect hundreds of thousands of people.

via BraveNewClimate.

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More from the BNC on the Fukushima crisis. Not a blow-by-blow update of news, but of interest all the same. It includes a link to a video of US radiology expert Robert Gale, whose opinion I value (click the links to see earlier posts that mention Gale).

Apart from getting on with my life (e.g., building a new computer, catching up with my backlog at work, spending time with the family, etc.), I’ve been spending the last few days reading widely on what other people have had to say, in reflection, on the Fukushima crisis. Here are some highlights:

via BraveNewClimate.

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The BNC blog is one I visit daily to get informative interpretations of what is going on at Fukushima.  Here is an excerpt from their latest update, April 1st. The first item on the agenda, you will notice, is, not surprisingly, plutonium. Barry Brooks offers some new interpretations, which while I di not take as gospel, I take as “grist to the mill”:

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis has moved off the front page of most newspapers, but a lot continues to happen, and the situation remains unresolved. Below I offer some personal perspectives on some of the things that have been widely reported over the last few days, and then I conclude with some official updates.

Disclaimer: What follows is my interpretation of the sparse and often confusing information being made available by TEPCO, NHK etc. Take or leave at your discretion.

1. Plutonium detected in the soil around the plant. A few isotopes of plutonium (Pu) have been found in soil at various test sites at the FD plant. This has sent some folks on Twitter apoplectic. So where does it come from?

One theory, and quite a reasonable one, is that it is the global residual left over from the extensive atmospheric atomic weapons testing of the 1950s — 1970s. That would help explain the presence of Pu-238, for instance — an isotope not readily created in a power reactor.

Another thought is that there was a local source, either from volatilisation of sloughed material in the drying spent fuel ponds, or perhaps from the reactor cores (that was then carried away in minute traces via the vented steam). Being a heavy metal, however, the Pu would not mobilse readily and would deposit very locally. Remember, Pu is present in all spent fuel, via the U-238 –> Pu-239 transmutation pathway. All reactor fuel elements that have been fissioning will contain plutonium. It is not something peculiar to mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel (which was being used in FD unit 3), as some have implied — there has been a lot of nonsense written about this during the past few weeks

Go read the whole thing, via BraveNewClimate.

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Some intelligent comments on the Fukushima nuclear crisis

The following are excerpts from comments culled from the BNC blog. I recommend it as a source of informed opinion and discussion (moderated) on the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis and on the ongoing debate over nuclear power. The comments are all from the guest post by Dr. Josef Oehmen, which I blogged briefly yesterday.  I’m not interested in the guest post, but some of the comments have direct bearing on the present situation, which is what I’m interested in.

  1. We are talking real deaths here. 9 moment magnitude quakes are NOT safe and 14 meter tsunamis are NOT safe.Perspective is important. Opportunity cost is important. Closing nukes means more fossil fuels which kill certainly. While I agree that lessons can and MUST be learned from Fukushima, nuclear safety does NOT stand on its own, isolated from everything else. You must always think in terms of alternatives. Make no mistake. Nuclear can always be made safer by investing more. Unfortunately there are limited funds, funds can also be spent on building tall tsunami dikes around population dense areas and this can save many lives whereas the nuclear radiation killed no one and is not likely to kill many. It shows that design of the plants has been done with adequate risk analysis.

    In a world of limited resources, we must make decisions. Delaying nuclear construction means killing peoply by fossil fuels. We must do what we can on safety but you can’t protect against all disasters.

    The fact that people disagree with this line of argument shows that people are not aware of risk assessment and the fact that we live in a world of limited resources but unlimited desires.

    I don’t see how this is counter-productive. I feel people do not know rational risk assessment and do not know enough perspective. The media does not care about perspective. If you look at the media coverage you’d almost think all the misery is caused by the Fukushima plants while in reality, the real deaths and misery are caused by a devastating tsunami and earthquake.

    Finally I would like to note that newer plants were not in trouble. The newest already have passive cooling for emergencies. So yes for new build this must be stressed. Nobody is building 1960s technology mark I containment BWRs with full electric power requirement for decay heat cooling. (Cyril R)

  2. his event is beyond TMI, and is currently classified correctly. That I would bet on.In my opinion, the only reason it would get beyond Chernobyl in classification is the ultimate land based release area.

    Technical data released currently only supports localized land based area issues of public concern. I fully recognize this event is not over and reserve final judgement on it’s classification or effects. The area of coverage could grow, depending on the efforts ongoing at the site to contain the current multiple release problems.

    Currently though, referencing the release data released, it does not yet approach Chernobyl for land mass area affected long term.

    This event may indicate an industry wide analysis weakness for multiple large reactor site release and exposure calculations though. A weakness we all should consider.

    This assumption may be traced back to an original industry based assumption, 1 reactor, 1 accident, design basis accident.

    At the Fukishima site, we have multiple reactors affected with multiple beyond design basis accidents. This results in mutiple reactor releases and a complete new out come for those calculations.

    Validity of the reported data and that assumption is a problem that is confounding even those that would attempt to predict the current damage or outcome. (em1ss)

  3. are you seriously arguing that the opportunity for cascade failures does not increase with increasingly complex and interconnected systems? A fair number of system scientists would disagree with you on that, as would an observer without bias either way on this particular issue.I happened to talk with someone working on uranium-enrichment plant design while stranded in an airport Sunday. Of interest was his description of the modeling done for disaster prevention. It was of interest that the industry now models for cascade failures in a far more substantive way than was done even half a decade ago. This points out that at least some of the industry not only recognize the issue, but are also willing to do more than mouth simple lip service to the concept. (Raspu10)
  4. The next couple of days brought the whole spent fuel problem into focus. I had never read about the SFPs being a problem in a nuclear accident. What I initially read did not sound good. Information was lacking or uncertain on the actual state of the pools. I could see that enough radiation could be released locally to almost preclude the operators from controlling the reactors or the SFPs. What would happen then I had no idea. …
    Now that was more pessimistic than it actually turned out to be, but given the uncertainties and lack of information I thought it was a fair assessment of the possible risk. As I have learned more over the last few weeks, I would reduce my assessment of the potential risk…
    [He advised a friend’s daughter living within 60km of Fukushima to leave] Just the emotional strain of dealing with the earthquake, the aftershocks “wants to get off this ride. It shakes too much”, the tsunami disaster, the rolling blackouts, the empty store shelves, reactors “blowing up” and worried parents would be enough to convince a lot of people to leave for a while, regardless of the physical risks. I hope she goes back when things settle down and a proper assessment of the situation has been made. (William Fairholm)
  5. Coal v. nuclear“Relative to watts produced, coal kills 4,000 times more people than nuclear power,” Grist contends. “Our pervasive sense that nuclear is more dangerous, when the opposite is so clearly true, comes at least in part from a cognitive bias called the ‘availability heuristic’ – memorable events that are easier to think of, like nuclear disasters, tend to seem more common.”

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Josef Oehmen and Fukushima – Would I have believed myself? « BraveNewClimate

Josef Oehmen, whose post “Why I am Not Concerned about Japan’s Nuclear Reactors” was posted March 13th and which quickly went viral, is revisiting his original piece, which is again being hosted by Brave New Climate. The comments are particularly interesting. Dr. Oehmen’s follow-up piece,  the title suggests, is about the media and how readers decide whether a piece of writing is trustworthy or not.

I haven’t read it, and don’t intend to. Who cares, at this stage, with the Fukushima crisis still critical (!), whether Dr. Oehmen thinks his original article was believable or not?

Personally, I was very pleased to read Dr. Oehmen’s original article. Although I was a little sceptical of the upbeat optimism, I was very glad for the detailed, technical information because it provided me with a framework of reference within which I could place the info coming from the TV and newspapers. I live in Japan and have friends and relatives in Tokyo, and I was very worried. This article helped calm me down, but I did not become complacent or stop watching the news. Over the following days, the Japanese TV pundits came out and explained all the things that Dr. Oehmen had explained. It was satisfying and calming to see them repeating or confirming much of what he had written, but following the story since the beginning has been an emotional roller-coaster ride.

The day after I read the Oehmen article, I got a call from a friend who lives in Tokyo and wanted to leave. He seemed very worried indeed, and I mentioned the Oehmen article. He said he’d come across it, but dismissed it because it seemed so positive!

On Sunday, March 13, my cousin in Japan posted an email I had written to him on his blog in the early morning at 3am EST. The email explained the context of nuclear physics and engineering, as well as discussed the events at the Daiichi-1 reactor until that point. It also featured my very strong opinion that they are safe. By lunchtime, it was the second most twittered site on the internet (you can read the whole story at At the end of the day, it had been translated into more than 9 languages (often multiple times), and after 48 hours had been read by several million people. Two weeks into my unwanted and luckily rapidly cooling off Web 2.0 stardom, I have begun working through the trauma and reflecting. Thanks for sharing, you might think. But one question in particular came up that also has some general relevance:

Would I have believed myself if I came across that blog and had no prior knowledge of nuclear physics and engineering? Or asked another way: How do you judge the quality of TV, radio, print and internet news reporting on topics that you are only superficially familiar with?

via Josef Oehmen and Fukushima – Would I have believed myself? « BraveNewClimate.

Dr. Oehmen, who cares? Perhaps once this crisis is safely behind us, assuming it has a happy ending, I might have the luxury to read your follow-up article, but not today.

I haven’t read all the (to date, 61) comments yet, but I was most impressed with this one by Francois Manchon:

Thank you so much Josef for putting together your original text. And many thanks again to Barry for his incredible information compilation task.

When the mass media talk about some topic that I *really* know of, I am very often struck by the blatant errors, simplifications, misunderstandings and superficial explanations. Of course, some journalists do better, but the whole media business is about making audience. I can understand why they prefer spectacular titles such as “the Fukushima nuclear plant is out of control” (yes, I read this) rather than facts.

Josef, your text was a crystal clear explanation of what happened. I would only blame the overly optimistic point of view: your text is clearly written to ensure the readers that they are safe. That is perfectly acceptable for a private communication. For a public post it opens the way to the attacks which you experienced.

Dogs bark, the caravan goes on. Please keep up the great job

There are even better ones further down on the BNC blog.

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Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident – 26 March status « BraveNewClimate

Pro-nuclear power but always provides lots of data: BraveNewClimate. In today’s update, they reproduce a summary from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

Below is a very brief summary of some key events of the last few days, since the previous status report:

1. There has been concern about salt accumulation in reactor vessels 1-3 (as steam evaporates the injected sea water, the salt is left behind, and if concentrations build to beyond the saturation point, it will begin to deposit and potentially insulate the fuel assemblies). However, NEI now reports the following welcome news:

Fresh water is being injected into the reactor pressure vessel at reactor 3 at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

TEPCO said that radioactive materials discovered at the reactor 3 turbine building possibly came from water from the reactor system, not the spent fuel pool. TEPCO made that statement after collecting samples of contaminated water in the reactor 3 turbine building and conducting a gamma-emitting nuclide analysis of the sample. The reactor pressure and drywell pressure at reactor 3 remained stable on Friday, leading TEPCO to believe that “the reactor pressure vessel is not seriously damaged.

Cooling efforts at Reactor 1 already had switched back to fresh water cooling. Reactor 2 is still being injected with seawater, but is expected to switch to fresh water soon.

The temperature at the bottom head of the reactor pressure vessels are now 149 C (unit 1), 104 C (unit 2) and 111 C (unit 3) — detailed data in reports below.

2. TEPCO Workers laying cables in the turbine hall of unit 3 stood in ankle-deep stagnant water and their feet were irradiated with beta rays (~180 mSv dose), with shallow burns, after ignoring their dosiometer warnings. They have since been hospitalised. Details in the reports below. 17 personnel have now received doses of >100 mSv, but none >250 mSv — the dose allowed by authorities in the current situation

via Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident – 26 March status « BraveNewClimate.

Workers “ignored their dosimeters”? I find that hard to believe. Maybe they weren’t wearing any?

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Twitter feed – iodine 131 in Tokyo water drops

Some tweets from today, related to the post-earthquake/tsunami/Fushima nuclear reactors (what else?). First, two items that I’m sure will make all Japanese everywhere heave a big sigh of relief:

Steve Herman
 JMA: Yellow substance on ground in Tokyo after rain is not radioactive, it’s pollen.
(This mysterious tweet was explained by the Daily Yomiuri Twitter feed:
The govt says it’s been flooded with calls about “yellow radioactivity” falling from the sky. It’s actually just pollen )

via Twitter / Home.


Steve Herman
 USFJ: No problems found with water, food on US military bases in

Steve Herman also links to an article by Michio Ishikawa (Chief Adviser of Japan Nuclear Technology Institute (JANTI) in the Denki Shimbun (that’s “denki” not “genki”). Long and technical but worth reading if you are interested in how the Fukushima is similar to Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl accidents (it’s quite similar to TMI but completely different from Chernobyl). Ishikawa was himself trapped in Hitachinaka City after the earthquake and only had a radio to tell him what was happening in the outside world:

By estimating what is happening in the reactor cores of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station based on the facts and developments of the Three Miles Island (TMI) accident, I would like to urgently state what are expected to happen from now on and what measures can be taken.

However, I’m now living in a disaster area of Hitachinaka City. I could not contact the outer world for three days until March 14 because of a power outage. As for news sources, I only could listen to a radio. I could eventually watch TV the night before last and knew what was happening in the world like Rip Van Winkle. So, I’m barren of specific values (information about the realities). As this report is the outline of a story reasoned from facts, I think that there are many particulars that are wrong.

Read more.

And BraveNewClimate tweets an article in Nature, that is not behind a subscription screen.

Barry Brook
Great article on in Nature (but you might need a subscription – my Uni has one…): The meltdown that wasn’t:

It will probably be years before anyone knows exactly what happened inside the three reactors at Fukushima Daiichi that seem to have partially melted down in the wake of the tsunami. But from press reports, public statements and interviews with experts, it is possible to work out the most likely scenario. And already it is clear that decisions made in the initial 24 hours by the handful of operators in the control room probably averted a much greater nuclear catastrophe than the one that now faces Japan.

In the moments after the power was lost, the operators “would have literally been blind”, says Margaret Harding, a nuclear engineer in Wilmington, North Carolina. Harding worked for two decades with General Electric, which designed Fukushima’s boiling-water reactors, and she witnessed a similar outage in 1984 during a safety test at a boiling-water reactor in Switzerland. “Basically the emergency lights came on and all the panels went black,” Harding says.

During the Swiss test, the power returned in 5 minutes. At Fukushima, batteries ran a handful of emergency lights in the control room and a few instruments tracking the reactor’s vital signs, such as the pressure inside the core.

The core was next door.

And a few more tweets just in (15:44 JST, Thursday March 24, 2011):

W7VOA Steve Herman Kyodo: Radioactive iodine in Tokyo water drops below limit for infants. #Fukushima

W7VOA Steve Herman NISA: 3 workers at Fukushima-1 over-exposed to radiation.

24 minutes ago  »

W7VOA Steve Herman

TEPCO: Radioactive iodine level rising in sea water near #Fukushima-1.

25 minutes ago  »

TimeOutTokyo TimeOutTokyo by W7VOA Tokyo’s deputy governor says the levels of iodine have dropped, more contaminated water may remain in the pipes.

1 hour ago  

W7VOA Steve Herman NHK: Chiba Pref. Gov’t also issues advisory on halting drinking water to infants due to radioactive iodine level.

3 hours ago 

W7VOA Steve Herman Saitama reports level excessive for infants also detected in its water supply. #Fukushima 

4 hours ago  

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10+ days of crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – 22 March 2010 « BraveNewClimate

Update: Detailed graphical status report on each reactor unit is available. Here is the picture for Unit 2 — click on the figure to access the PDF for all units

via 10+ days of crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – 22 March 2010 « BraveNewClimate.

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