The news out of Japan keeps getting worse. First, we were told that the situation was “contained”. Then we were told that one reactor “may” have melted down. Then we were told that three reactors HAD melted down. Now we are told that three reactors had melted through their containment vessel floors.
What’s the difference between a melt-down and a melt-through? A melt-down occurs when the heat generated by nuclear reaction exceeds the heat removed by the cooling system. Normally, the zirconium cladding surrounding the nuclear fuel rods is used to control the nuclear reaction by exposing more or less fuel rod. In a melt-down, excess heat melts both the cladding and the nuclear fuel causing the molten mass to puddle at the bottom of the reactor. The danger is significant. First, it is difficult to clean up and because it continues to generate uncontrollable heat it requires a great amount of cooling water. Second, because it’s boiling the water it is releasing radioactive steam into the environment. Third, we do not have the technology to clean up molten nuclear fuel so it must continue to be cooled with water until it solidifies. And last, it creates hydrogen gas which is volatile and can explode.
In fact, this is what happened at Fukushima. Explosions blew apart containment buildings. This also exposed spent fuel storage pools, at least four of which lost cooling water exposing several. As mentioned in my previous article; “In fact, reactor No. 4 fuel pool ran dry, burned several times and blew up, strewing highly radioactive debris outside the containment building and adding to TEPCO’s difficulties in cleaning up the site.” Also, at least one nuclear reactor exploded so now radiation-contaminated cooling water has entered the environment as well as contaminating the water table which is impossible to clean up.
In a melt-through, the super-hot, molten nuclear fuel burns through the pressurized reqadtor and puddles on the water-filled floor of the containment structure. What happens after this is anyone’s guess. We’ve never been here before. A melt-through is far more serious than a melt-down; first because far greater radioactive material is released into the environment and second because we have no experience in dealing with it and we have neither the experience nor the technology to clean it up.
Julian Ryall for The Telegraph Nuclear fuel has melted through base of Fukushima plant reports, “A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the company is presently revising the road-map for bringing the plant under control, including the time required to achieve cold shutdown of the reactors.”
“In a best-case scenario, the company says it will be able to achieve that by October, although that may have to be revised in light of the report.”
No kidding! Most of the reports I’ve read calculate it will be at least two years before cold shut-down is achieved. So, once again TEPCO is understating the severity of the disaster.
Given, the trajectory of the news from Fukushima so far, we can expect worse in the future. And, given the utter incompetence that we have seen from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and it’s propensity for cover-up, it’s safe to say, it will get much worse. How much worse? Nobody knows. We’ve never been here before. We are in uncharted territory.
Again, I rely on my statistical analysis education (U of Winnipeg) and training (6 Sigma) to warn you that the soothing declarations from the authorities and the nuclear industry cheerleaders are utter BULLSHIT and extremely dangerous to the health of you and your loved ones. Regular readers of this blog know my contempt for government statistics and official pronouncements. Let’s examine some of the lies and propaganda.
Propaganda: “Tepco said it is trying to contain the contaminated water and prevent it from leaking into the sea,” according to The Telegraph report above.
Reality: elevated levels of radiation have been confirmed in the ocean off the plant for several months already. Once again, TEPCO is lying to us.
Propaganda: We are being told “Not to worry, perfectly harmless, no health threat, etc.”
Reality: the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima contain thousands of times more radioactivity than the bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Fukushima holds more than 2,000 tons of nuclear fuel VS 180 tons at Chernobyl. The latest reports indicate twice as much radioactive material has been released than was previously reported. Expect this number to increase.
More Reality: to call TEPCO lying whores would be an insult to prostitutes so we can safely assume we are NOT being told even half the truth.
Propaganda: common activities like airline travel also expose us to radiation.
Reality: airline pilots and flight attendants have higher rates of breast and skin cancer than the general public according to Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2003.
Propaganda: watching TV also exposes us to radiation.
Reality: Dr. Brian Moench writing for Truthout explains the different types of radiation. The photons emitted by TV are like Ping-Pong balls whereas radioactive beta particles are like bullets. You might watch TV if it shot Ping-Pong balls at you but you wouldn’t watch TV if it were shooting bullets at you, even if it were only a few bullets.
Propaganda: The increased radioactivity measured in North America is too small to be of concern.
Reality: Bioaccumulation makes the small amount of radioactive material in our air, land and water more dangerous than you might think. Bioaccumulation increases the concentration of contaminants and radioactive material as you move up the food chain. This is why tuna fish have higher concentrations of mercury than the water they swim in and why beef has more dioxins than cattle feed they eat. We humans are at the top of the food chain for bioaccumulation and that includes fetuses and breast milk
Propaganda: we are 5,000 miles away from Japan so we’re safe.
Reality: nuclear expert Robert Alvarez – a senior U.S. Department of Energy official during the Clinton administration – and journalists Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon wrote in 1982 in a book called Killing Our Own: state, “That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn’t as comforting as it seems…. Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China. It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.”
Propaganda: we are surrounded by naturally occurring radiation so a little more can’t hurt.
Reality: radiation damage varies depending on which organs are exposed. Dr. Moench, using his bullet analogy says, “spraying a few bullets into a large crowd can hardly be considered safe for everyone in the crowd, even if the ratio of bullets per person is very low.”
Propaganda: TEPCO is working to restore power and cooling to the stricken nuclear plants.
Reality: Do you believe that the electrical system, pumps and water lines in the plant pictured below are ever going to work again? You can see steam which is highly radioactive pouring out of the plant.
Below is what’s left of the roof of reactor No. 4 which wasn’t even operating at the time of the tsunami but it did contain a large amount of fuel in the spent fuel pool which drained, exposed the fuel to air, caught fire and blew out the building. Notice steam here also even though fuel had been removed from the reactor and stored in the fuel pool before the tsunami. This likely means that some of the reamining fuel in the fuel pool has also melted. TEPCO either doesn’t know or they’re not talking.
More Reality: we’ve learned since atom bombs were first dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that there is NO safe limit to radiation exposure. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, opposed the development of nuclear bombs for this reason. The only two-time winner of the Nobel Prize, Linus Pauling, began warning the public in the 1950s that no amount of radiation exposure was safe. Even though President Kennedy signed the nuclear test-ban treaty, Drs. John Gofman, Arthur Tamplin, Alice Stewart, Thomas Mancuso and Karl Morgan, researchers for either the Atomic Energy Commission or the Department of Energy were fired for proclaiming that exposure to nuclear radiation was not safe at any level. This sort of shoot-the-whistleblower and cover-up continues to this day.
This from Washington’s Blog: As nuclear expert Robert Alvarez – a senior U.S. Department of Energy official during the Clinton administration – and journalists Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon wrote in 1982 in a book called Killing Our Own: … “…vulnerability of infants in utero and small children to the ill-effects of radiation. Exposure of the fetus to radiation during all stages of pregnancy increases the chances of developing leukemia and childhood cancers…. embryos are most vulnerable to radiation in the first trimester–particularly in the first two weeks after conception. This period carries the highest risk of radiation-induced abortion and adverse changes in organ development. During this stage of development the tiny fetus can be fifteen times more sensitive to radiation-induced cancer than in its last trimester of development, and up to a thousand or more times more sensitive than an adult”.
More from Washington’s Blog, “Many epidemiologic studies show that extremely low doses of radiation increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birth-weight babies, premature births, infant mortality, birth defects and even diminished intelligence.”
Alexander Higgins reports Physician and Epidemiologist Say 35% Spike in Infant Mortality in Northwest Cities Since Meltdown Might Be the Result of Fallout from Fukushima
“Now, a physician (Janette D. Sherman, M. D.) and epidemiologist (Joseph Mangano) have penned a short but horrifying essay asking whether a spike in infant deaths in the Northwest are due to Fukushima:
The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:
4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 – 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)
10 weeks ending May 28, 2011 – 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week)
This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant.”
Another report from Philadelphia which is in Pennsylvania (not on the West coast) but has experienced higher than normal rainfall:
Fukushima Day 99- Infant Deaths up 48% in Philadelphia USA since Japan meltdowns
There are many recommendations for what you can do to protect yourself in my article of April 17 entitled Japan Nuclear Disaster and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself.
Here are a couple more:
1) If you change your own vehicle air filter or you are a worker who does, make sure to wear a face mask, take care in disposing the filter and wash your hands afterwards. Vehicles and diesel powered machinery “breathe” large volumes of air so air filters become hotspots by accumulating radioactive dust. Radioactive filters are being found in the Western states and provinces. This does not make the rest of the country safe. It’s a matter of degree. Remember, there is no safe limit for radiation exposure.
2) When you change your vacuum filter bags, also make sure you wear a face mask, take care in disposing the filter and wash your hands afterwards for the same reasons above.
3) Avoid milk and milk products until reports are verified. There are far too many reports about radioactive milk in North America.
4) Avoid spinach until reports are verified. Broad-leafed plants collect radioactive particles.
I’ll keep posting as more news becomes available.
Precaution update – Aug. 7, 2011
Geiger Counters – Geiger counters detect Gamma radiation. They do NOT detect Alpha and Beta particles. Alpha and Beta particles are ONLY dangerous if they are ingested either through inhalation, eating or drinking, or through a cut in the skin. Radioactive iodine, Cesium. Strontium, Uranium and Plutonium are examples of Alpha and Beta particles. Once inside the body, they irradiate the surround tissue but their rays are not detectable outside the body. The best prevention for Alpha and Beta particles is to avoid ingesting them. It takes only a one microgram particle to cause cancer. If a dollar bill is one gram and you cut it into one million pieces, each piece is a microgram.
Revised safety standards – Beware, some authorities are trying to revise allowable levels of nuclear contamination. Be aware that if new so-called ‘safe’ levels are higher than the old ones, they may not be safe to consume. If a level of contamination was internationally recognized as ‘unsafe’ before the Fukushima disaster then it is still unsafe regardless what some so-called expert tells you on TV. Remember, the National Academy of Scientists say, “There are no safe levels of radiation exposure” and many scientists believe current radiation standards are 1,000 times higher than what is really safe for our bodies.
Stay out of the rain – Fukushima is still spewing radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. Rain washes it out of the atmosphere so avoid being outdoors when it’s raining. If you have to go out in the rain then wear a rain jacket or use an umbrella. If you get wet, shower as soon as you can and treat your wet clothing as though they’re contaminated. In other words, launder them before they dry otherwise you’re introducing hot particles into your home. Don’t let kids and pets drink rain water. If you collect and use rain water for whatever reason, consider it radioactively contaminated.
Rainwater tests in California weeks after the Fukushima melt-through measured 18,100% above safe levels or 20.1 Becquerel / liter. In South Korea, schools were closed and people wore rubber gloves when rainwater was measured at 2.0 Becquerel. Yet, here in North America, we heard nothing about such commonsense precautions.
Zeolite – This can attract and capture some radioactive contamination in your home or fridge. See “Fukushima disaster update, July 16, 2011” in this Category for more details.
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