Fukushima tired of being out of the news, makes new play for spotlight
August 5, 2013 9:32 AM   Subscribe

 
At least tritium^ only has a half-life of 12½ years. Just postpone having kids for a decade or so and they won't come out with that pesky seventh nipple. As long as there aren't any other nuclear disasters during the next decade, of course.
posted by XMLicious at 9:48 AM on August 5, 2013


*also only wear lead-lined bathing suits when you go swimming and only drink original Four Loko and wine bottled before 2011 during the next decade
posted by XMLicious at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2013


Hey, the ocean's big, right?
posted by octothorpe at 9:57 AM on August 5, 2013


Great! Just great! Tired of no fish or seaweed.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's okay, guys! All the melting ice in Greenland and the North Pole is going to dilute this!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:19 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


also only wear lead-lined bathing suits when you go swimming

Let's get one thing straight. There is some pretty well understood science here and one should stick to it.

Tritium's decay emits a low energy Beta particle that can't penetrate your skin. Beta particles are high energy electrons which are quickly absorbed by water molecules (or the outermost dead layer of skin). They travel on the order of 6 mm. Tritium is basically harmless unless you ingest it and absorb the radiation internally. A regular bathing suit - or no bathing suit at all - will protect you nice and fine. Dispersing it into the ocean - as long as it is dispersed - is not a problem.

Hey, the ocean's big, right?

The Pacific is the biggest of all. And the scientifically sensible thing to do is to disperse all of this radioactivity broadly into it. Deepwater sewage pipes are positioned where the current takes the effluent away. This is the obvious solution for what to do with all of this radioactive wastewater, but politics has to bend to the public's denial of science so instead they are trying to prevent groundwater from leaking into the ocean? Good luck with that.
posted by three blind mice at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


scientifically sensible thing to do

Citation needed. "I'm sciencey and everyone else is ignorant" is not an argument.
posted by MillMan at 10:29 AM on August 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sure, tbm, and big sky theory has been working out for us really well in recent years, too.

In fact, if recent history has taught us anything, it's been that we can always safely assume infinite resource consumption and economic growth without negative long-term consequences. Heck, we've got more clean lakes and rivers for potable water than ever before now!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:34 AM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tritium is basically harmless unless you ingest it and absorb the radiation internally.

Good thing nobody who swims ever swallows the occasional mouthful of water. Or eats fish or plants that ingest the water.
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's no information here about how radioactive the water is. It's pretty pointless to automatically assume this is the worst thing ever without that information.

Bananas are radioactive too, and we don't freak out each time someone eats one. Dose matters far far far more than the weird binary label "radioactive or not" implies.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:11 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Citation needed.

Any decent book of physics. Radioactive decay is as well-known as any physical effect. The biological effects of radiation (thanks in part to two large clinical trials conducted in Japan in late 1945) are equally well understood.

"I'm sciencey and everyone else is ignorant" is not an argument.

But this isn't my argument. I'm saying "There a pretty simple science here and anyone who glibly ignores it is ignoring it."

Climate change deniers are not ignorant, they simply refuse to ever accept the validity of any necessary solution needed to combat it and that is what drives them to ignore the science.

The anti-nuclear crowd is sadly much the same. They could never accept just dumping this into the ocean could be a valid scientific answer, so it is not and that to me is anti-science and every bit as "ignorant" as denying man made climate change.

Bananas are radioactive too, and we don't freak out each time someone eats one.

So are the salt water oceans. So is your body. Potassium 40 is also a Beta emitter. It is a matter of dose (albeit cumulative dose) and so long as the dose can be kept to a manageable level through ocean dispersal, no one should be any more concerned about doing this than eating a banana.

But instead, it's a strategy of containment. Building crazy underground containment walls to stop the flow of ground water? What toxic chemicals are involved in that? What sort of other negative biological effects could that sort of costal construction have?
posted by three blind mice at 11:21 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any decent book of physics.

It's not a physics question, it's an ecological question. Do you have studies that look at the effects of tritium release on ocean ecology and the food chain? Do we know for sure that only tritium is being release and how much? TEPCO as it is has been about as transparent as any three letter agency.
posted by MillMan at 11:44 AM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


From the last link: Tritium is far less harmful than cesium and strontium, which have also been released from the plant. Tepco is scheduled to test strontium levels next.

They've also released lots of more dangerous radioactive waste water, but they haven't released any information yet about how much of the more dangerous forms of radiation they've leaked/are about to leak.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:49 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, Tepco's improvised efforts to stop radioactive water leaking into the sea include sinking an 800-meter-long steel barrier along the coastline, injecting the ground with solidifying chemicals and possibly even freezing the ground with technology used in subway-tunnel construction.

Used in subway construction AND the containment of Chernobyl..

Anyway, there is obviously a lot of politics obscuring the search for engineered approaches to handling this massive clusterfuck. Engineered, as in, this is indeed an ecological problem, wich requires engineered mitigation. Basic physics helps inform us a little, but really doesn't do much to address the practical issues.
posted by Chuckles at 11:58 AM on August 5, 2013


There's no information here about how radioactive the water is. It's pretty pointless to automatically assume this is the worst thing ever without that information.

This is water that has been used to cool the melted down cores of the reactors and prevent them from going critical two years after the disaster. Also to keep the storage pools for used fuel filled. They have issues because they are trying to store it until they can figure out how to decontaminate it.

Also, this and this.

So you can probably assume "pretty radioactive".
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 12:22 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"culture of cover-up" rings a bell, translates well.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 12:24 PM on August 5, 2013


politics has to bend to the public's denial of science so instead they are trying to prevent groundwater from leaking into the ocean

Like most nuclear power facilities, Fukushima is one of those denial-of-science errors, in the first place. You might check your sarcasm unless you live downstream of the toxic plume, which appears to be directly connected from the Japanese coast to northern California and points between.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:25 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


the toxic plume, which appears to be directly connected from the Japanese coast to northern California and points between.

Isn't this characterization, though, a pretty good example of the on/off "it's radioactive or it's not radioactive" model being criticized above, though? I mean, sure, you can detect radioactivity that has traveled from Fukushima as far as California, but absolutely nothing in the waters off California is remotely threatened by that radioactivity: the levels are detectable, but insignificant.

It's really hard to get a good understanding of the dimensions of the threat posed by the Fukushima plant because all the reporting does tend to be in this on/off mode: if radioactive material releases into the environment then that is a "disaster"--regardless of whether we're saying "thousands die tomorrow" or "there is a small, theoretical risk that some non-zero number of people might see their lifetime cancer risk rise by two or three percentage points." It does seem odd to me that the Fukushima incident--to which no deaths at all can be attributed and which may have a total future casualty list of 0--remains in many ways the biggest news story out of a natural disaster that killed about 19,000 people.
posted by yoink at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, local effects are bound to be more pronounced. People tend to have a bad habit of thinking the ocean's so big, it just dillutes every pollutant down to nothing, but that's not really usually the case. Sometimes, pollutants don't disperse at all but concentrate in specific ways. For example, consider the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Who's to say we couldn't end up with a Great Pacific Radioactive Garbage Patch in the end, rather than radioactivity so broadly dispersed it's rendered ecologically insignificant? The reality is, we don't really know what the full ecological and human impacts will be, and any indirect impacts (like bumped up cancer or birth-defect rates) will forever be rejected as inconclusive by interested parties regardless, given the amount of money at stake and the genuine belief still held among many that nuclear must remain a long-term part of our energy production mix.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:55 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Plastic, CO2, and mercury have environmental "half-lives" much much longer than 12 years. Those are the ones we really need to do a better job containing / eliminating.

At least tritium dispersed in the ocean will decay relatively quickly.
posted by anthill at 1:22 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


TBM, most of the contaminants are bio-accumulative, and work their way up the food chain, becoming concentrated on their way to us, kind of like how the mercury in the ocean is very dilute but there is enough in tuna that you're supposed to limit your consumption.

It's the "just let the ocean dilute it" idea that is simplistic and ignores the science In favor of intuition, not the attempts to contain contamination.
posted by anonymisc at 1:38 PM on August 5, 2013


It does seem odd to me that the Fukushima incident--to which no deaths at all can be attributed and which may have a total future casualty list of 0--remains in many ways the biggest news story out of a natural disaster that killed about 19,000 people.

It may help if we clarify some terminology: What happened at Fukushima was not an unavoidable natural disaster, but an entirely avoidable man-made disaster. When these two notions are conflated, it seems easier to brush off the consequences, disputed as they seem to be, to "stuff happens".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:45 PM on August 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is water that has been used to cool the melted down cores of the reactors and prevent them from going critical two years after the disaster. Also to keep the storage pools for used fuel filled.

The core is being cooled to keep intact whatever fuel rod containment remains. If the water is not replenished, the core will not achieve criticality as it has no moderator, and has probably been contaminated by boron anyways. Basic usage of wikipedia and reactor physics can help us all avoid random scare words thrown about. Water being used to fill the spent fuel pools is not a concern, because that is water going in, not out.

I'm not sure where you're getting this information about the source of the water. Clearly the plant is leaking in some way, but from the first link
One of its biggest headaches is trying to contain radioactive water that cools the reactors as it mixes with some 400 tonnes of fresh groundwater pouring into the plant daily.
...
Instead, the utility wants to stem the flow of groundwater before it reaches the reactors by channelling it around the plant and into the sea through a "bypass".
It seems like much of this is actually groundwater from off-site that's coming through the site on its way to the ocean, and but then mixes with leaks from the reactor, causing a large volume of "mixed" water even though amount of radioactivity is diluted? There's really not a lot of information given here. "Pretty radioactive" isn't a reasonable assumption since we can't even get a clear picture of what water we're talking about.

TBM, most of the contaminants are bio-accumulative

Tritium is not, and has a biological half-life of a week or two, which you can easily read about on the Wikipedia page.

It's the "just let the ocean dilute it" idea that is simplistic and ignores the science In favor of intuition,

This is laughably wrong. Radiation behaves in really well-known ways. Simple math can be used to estimate the effects. This is not that hard.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:56 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It may help if we clarify some terminology: What happened at Fukushima was not an unavoidable natural disaster, but an entirely avoidable man-made disaster. When these two notions are conflated, it seems easier to brush off the consequences, disputed as they seem to be, to "stuff happens".

That's too clean cut a distinction, BP. What happened at Fukushima was certainly avoidable, but it was still triggered by the consequences of a terrible natural disaster. When you say it is avoidable you're saying "we should have foreseen the possibility of this disaster and A) not built the plant in this location or B) built the plant in such a way that it could withstand these threats."

I cannot believe that among the 19,000 odd deaths that resulted from the earthquake and tsunami, some significant fraction of them could not have been avoided by making different design decisions in the light of the foreseeable consequences of such a natural disaster (building construction, wetlands destruction, town planning, advance warning mechanisms etc. etc. etc.). To single out the one which, however headache-causing, has caused zero casualties as being The Big Story to the exclusion of every other possible lesson that might be learned from the disaster (at least, in terms of media discourse outside Japan) does seem a little bit like a symptom of the "OMG, radioactive monsters are going to eat us all!!!!" problem that any conversation around nuclear power degenerates into. The amount of panic seems incommensurate to the actual harms.

I'm not a "we have to go nuclear to save the world" nut, by the way. I just get sick of the fact that this seems to be an issue on which it's almost impossible to find a sober discussion that makes a genuine effort to look at ALL the costs and benefits as honestly as possible. It feels like it's entirely apologists on one side vs. wild-eyed alarmists on the other.
posted by yoink at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kiltedtaca - your focus on tritium is part of why it's a good thing you're not calling the shots with your ill-informed simple maths.
posted by anonymisc at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2013


Yoink, a lot of people choose option C - the power station was brought low not by the tsunami, but by corruption and negligence and a tsunami.
posted by anonymisc at 2:05 PM on August 5, 2013


Another reason Fukushima is a story is that it is a disaster in progress and unfolding, while the tsunami is a disaster that ended years ago.
posted by anonymisc at 2:07 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


yoink: I think it's also a factor that most of the other dangerous situations that emerged immediately in the aftermath of the natural disasters that created this situation have since stabilized and are no longer seen as critical, developing threats. The problems at the nuclear plant are still not even at the stage where anyone can authoritatively say the situation has been stabilized. That's why it continues to be relevant. There's still a nontrivial risk of even more things going very badly there. Other sites, presumably, aren't still in full-on crisis mode this far into the aftermath of the earthquakes and tsunamis.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:07 PM on August 5, 2013


Another reason Fukushima is a story is that it is a disaster in progress and unfolding, while the tsunami is a disaster that ended years ago.

The problem, of course, is that that encapsulates the most disastrous tendency of human beings in assessing erratic but catastrophic risks in a nutshell. Sure, that tsunami "ended" years ago: but how do we go about planning for the next tsunami? What lessons are we learning about construction, about where we build, about what environmental destruction we've visited on the land that makes the effects of the tsunami more deadly etc. etc. etc.? It is in the aftermath of a natural disaster that the media really needs to keep a spotlight on future planning and innovation so that the next time one happens many fewer lives are lost. All too often, though, we get sidetracked by some Shiny Object and we go back to building in the flood zones or devastating the wetlands or what have you.

Yoink, a lot of people choose option C - the power station was brought low not by the tsunami, but by corruption and negligence and a tsunami.


That's not "Option C"--that's what I was describing. I'm not denying the corruption and the negligence and the bad planning, I'm saying that without the tsunami, none of it was sufficient to produce the disaster. I'll bet you, though, that there was lots of other corruption, negligence and bad planning that cost thousands of people their lives in the tsunami. None of that has risen to the level of Global Media Story, however, while the Fukushima situation; which--serious as it is--is yet to cost a single person his or her life, is one of the biggest media stories of the past several years. I think there is a disproportion here.
posted by yoink at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2013


To put this another way, how many people in Japan, today, are losing sleep over the possibility of being hit by another Tsunami? How many of them are losing sleep over some vague, unspecific danger posed by Fukushima? I'll bet the number of people in the second group vastly outweighs the number in the first, and that would be--from any sane risk-assessment and risk-avoidance point of view--nuts.

Now, I don't read Japanese so I may be completely wrong about how people in Japan are seeing things, so I wouldn't push that argument too far. But here in the US, I know that people are FAR more consumed with the "Fukushima teaches us that nuclear power plants are DANGEROUS" story than they are with any "we should think about the very real threat of a tsunami" story. And again, from the point of view of "what things are actually likely to kill me or my loved ones" tsunamis should come a long, long, long way ahead of Fukushima-style nuclear accidents.
posted by yoink at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2013


I think that's apples and oranges - you're assuming that the unfolding disaster story is stealing focus from the construction stories, but you and I are just reading the disaster story because that's the one we're interested in. I lost a big part of my town to an earthquake, and while people viewing from afar like us wouldn't see the reconstruction stories, they utterly dwarfed the disaster coverage.

It's also not at all clear to me that more people in Japan than are worried about Fukashima than earthquakes. I've read coverage about both causing previously established trends to shift.

I also think that while it's not exactly concern-trolling, there is a persistent form of argument I see that tries to downplay by wringing hands that people exhibiting interest or concern about one thing must be at the expense of other thing, and I just don't buy that premise. International news coverage of an unfolding disaster does not impede the rebuild of a previous disaster, or mean that regulations and developers and culture aren't a hotbed of innovation, or that our regulators and techs and insurance companies and hollywood movies aren't moving the things being learned into our own systems and behaviors, etc.

If we're going to talk about Fukushima, then talk about it. But talking about Fukushima to say how we shouldn't be talking about it because there are more pressing issues in the world... that just seems like derail to me.
posted by anonymisc at 2:43 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect there is also an inherent presentation bias in this sort of thing. Take me for example, I'm much more concerned about earthquake than nuclear disaster, but when I show up in a thread like this, that's completely invisible to you.
Furthermore, it might be the case that the topics like this one related to particle physics animates me to discussion, while addressing earthquake issues are (to me) just a chore I work at, something I wish I didn't have to do, and so I'm just not very motivated to talk about it.

Hop online, and it looks like all the attention is on the weird thing, but in fact it's actually that you're only looking at the recreational sliver of people's attention, and weird makes for better recreation.
posted by anonymisc at 2:57 PM on August 5, 2013


So, as I understand it, they are trying to contain the groundwater downstream of the reactors, and failing, because the water table is rising. Anybody who has ever had a wet basement knows the thing to do is to divert the water upstream. Wouldn't some sort of a relief channel upstream/uphill of the plant relieve the hydrostatic pressure & slow the percolation, so the radioactive isotopes would have more time to decay?
posted by mr vino at 2:58 PM on August 5, 2013


The whole situation is a mess, but it's not entirely apparent how serious the situation is. A couple of issues that come to mind are the fact that contamination isn't limited to the coast off of Fukushima. Miyagi is right next door, and after that the Iwate Sanriku coastline, before the tsunami the main source of oysters, varieties of seaweed and other aquaculture products in Japan. To the south lies Ibaraki and Chiba, which have the largest fishing ports in Japan. We spent three months in Japan last year, and fish caught on the Pacific side of Japan are merely labeled "Pacific" whereas in the past they would have had the port of origin, and no one wants to eat fish from Fukushima, Ibaraki or China anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:12 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


In response to yoink, there have been regular anti-nuclear demonstrations in Tokyo that attract tens of thousands of people. The pathetic Western media chooses to invent stories about "rising Japanese nationalism" while ignoring the biggest grassroots protests in Japan in fifty years. Huge anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:16 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


@yoink

"Now, I don't read Japanese so I may be completely wrong about how people in Japan are seeing things" No comment. I'll let that stand.

"To put this another way, how many people in Japan, today, are losing sleep over the possibility of being hit by another Tsunami?"

I don't have polling data for you, but people do worry. And, you can see it all around you. New tsunami warning signs. Signs giving your elevation above sea level all over. Those luxury seaside condos just keep getting cheaper. And, when I was at the beach in Chiba over the weekend, people's ears certainly perked up when the PA carried a message beginning "This is an announcement from city disaster prevention center..." And, there weren't that many people at the beach to begin with on a sunny Saturday. Booked an ocean view hotel room for cheap 3 days before I went. So, yes, people worry.
posted by Gotanda at 4:25 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't have polling data for you, but people do worry.

I'm sure they do, but my question was comparative: are more people asking "is enough being done to correct design and planning issues that lead to needless lives being lost as a result of the tsunami" than are asking "is enough being done to address safe nuclear plant design and operation?" Because the first question is one on which the lives of tens of thousands of people hang, and the second is one on which very, very few lives hang.

Oh, and it seems a weirdly obtuse kind of "gotcha!" to quote me pointing out very explicitly that I don't read Japanese and that I am making no strong claims about how the Japanese view these issues. If Bad Design/Planning Decisions that Cost Thousands of Unnecessary Lives is a bigger story in Japan than Fukushima, that's great: is it? It is very clearly, however, no one's take on the "lessons" of the Tsunami outside of Japan.
posted by yoink at 4:44 PM on August 5, 2013


It is very clearly, however, no one's take on the "lessons" of the Tsunami outside of Japan.

No, it's very clearly the opposite.
posted by anonymisc at 4:59 PM on August 5, 2013


Yoink, Maybe I shouldn't have pulled that line, but you set up a false comparison and then say you don't have access to the answers. As KokuRyu and others have said, the whole situation is a mess. Trying to compare which parts are messier or more life-threatening doesn't seem particularly productive when they are all messy and all life-threatening.

People should be learning more about and trying to do something about Fukushima as a nuclear safety issue and as an ongoing humanitarian disaster.

"It does seem odd to me that the Fukushima incident--to which no deaths at all can be attributed and which may have a total future casualty list of 0--remains in many ways the biggest news story out of a natural disaster that killed about 19,000 people."

I agree that the local story of tragedy got lost in the "Oh no! Nucular!" that started in the US press almost immediately. But think about why. "Oh no, scary!" sells, but "Look, old people are still dying, and the local communities have been destroyed, and TEPCO got away with it." just makes people feel sad, guilty, and powerless. Scared sells.

But, it is a false choice. Cover the very real danger of Fukushima Daiichi's problems. (Anyone for 7.0+ quake in the area to trash the whole weakened structure and makeshift fixes?) And, cover the fact that redevelopment has moved at a snail's pace, money not spent and/or wasted, TEPCO protected by the government from claims from locals, and tsunami protection is needed there and elsewhere.

"Fukushima teaches us that nuclear power plants are DANGEROUS" Nuclear power plants are dangerous. Otherwise, we'd all have one. But so are a lot of things and just about all other ways of generating a lot of electricity. The lesson to be learned--and the lesson from the stories in this post--is not physics, but that the primary danger comes from secrecy, poor management, cover ups, and collusion between regulator and regulated. And, we know how common those things are, right?
posted by Gotanda at 6:27 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think another aspect of why there's so much interest among American audiences in particular on this subject is that we're still reeling from the experiences of the BP spill, the financial collapse, countless recent terrifying natural disasters of our own, and a fairly steady drumbeat of press about nuclear power being so vital to the US energy future. We're all used to thinking of Japan as technologically more sophisticated in some ways. If even their regulators can't get this right, how are we supposed to have confidence that ours can? And as for trusting science, well--I think most would agree we've seen how reliable science is in the hands of powerful economic interests operating under lax regulatory systems.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:56 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where's "Science!" when you need it?
posted by rmmcclay at 9:12 PM on August 5, 2013


OK. This could be the only downside to moving to Seattle.
posted by scblackman at 9:20 PM on August 5, 2013


"The impact of the radioactive water that has and will be released into the Pacific is hard to estimate, as Tepco has been slow to conduct studies and reluctant to release results to the public."

- Fukushima radioactive groundwater leak an ‘emergency’ – Japan’s nuclear watchdog
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a map of the no-go and evacuation zones (for some reason the scale of things is expressed in terms of Vermont's geography).

It appears that some areas close to the plant are ready to be re-inhabited.

In regards to a comment I made upthread about there perhaps being little attention paid to contamination in the neighbouring prefectures, here's a recent English-language paper describing the contamination of the Abukuma River, which serves as the physical boundary between Fukushima and Miyagi prefecture.

The Abukuma River lies immediately to the north of the highly contaminated Iitate Village, and so the river's watershed lies, to a certain extent, within the exclusion zone.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 AM on August 6, 2013


I think this would all go a lot better if anyone other than tepco were handling it. I am somewhat of a "nuclear apologist", but their complete mishandling of this entire situation makes my position difficult to defend. I do think that responsible nuclear power is possible but it requires strong regulation that is independent, transparent and has teeth. I'm not an expert, but I can't see how the world is going to wean itself off of the fossil fuels that we all agree are terrible for our climate and environment without nuclear power as a big part of the mix, unless there is an amazing advance in fusion or zero-point energy or something.

Nuclear power scares a lot of people. There is a lot there to rightfully be scared of, but there has to be some way that we can harness it in a safe and responsible way. Smarter people than I will have to figure that out, though. Until then, the oil and the coal keep burning.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2013


I doubt there is an organization in existence outside of maybe the military (and martial law has its drawbacks) that could manage a disaster the size and scope of Fukushima better than TEPCO.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:30 PM on August 6, 2013


KokuRyu: which I think is an argument that humanity is demonstrating an inability to handle nuclear power safely.
posted by MillMan at 2:31 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I skimmed this thread, so, sorry if someone's mentioned it, but isn't a real fallout from this the food chain? Toxins increase in concentration as they go up the food chain. You may not have ingested tritium, but the fish you eat may well have.
posted by eggtooth at 1:51 PM on August 7, 2013




And people wonder why I don't eat seafood.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:16 PM on August 7, 2013


Here's a pretty good and level-headed overview in English of the problems presented by Fukushima.

I skimmed this thread, so, sorry if someone's mentioned it, but isn't a real fallout from this the food chain? Toxins increase in concentration as they go up the food chain. You may not have ingested tritium, but the fish you eat may well have.

The assumption is that contamination is localized (i.e., off the Fukushima coast), so don't eat fish caught there. Anyway, eating fish higher up on the food chain isn't a great thing to do in optimum conditions, anyway, because they already feature high concentrations of toxins such as heavy metals, and such fisheries are fundamentally unsustainable. Best thing to do is to eat smaller, short-lived fish if you are going to eat fish at all.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a pretty good and level-headed overview in English of the problems presented by Fukushima.

KokuRyu, thanks for that piece, it's a good overall summary. It also makes pretty clear that we're talking very low and very theoretical risks to human populations.

Government and Tepco now admit 300 tons of radioactive water flowing into Pacific daily.

Daily.


But this, again, is a good example of the "its radioactive or its not" style of reporting. "300 tons of radioactive water" is a meaningless statement. That would be almost exactly the same actual "threat" if the same quantity of radioactive material were diluted into one liter of water and poured into the water off the coast of Fukushima or if it were diluted into 600 or 900 tons of water. The question is not "how many tons of radioactive water" but "how much actual radioactivity and what kind of radioactive material?"
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2013


But this, again, is a good example of the "its radioactive or its not" style of reporting. "300 tons of radioactive water" is a meaningless statement.

OK, then howsabout this: Highly radioactive water from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is pouring out at a rate of 300 tons a day, officials said on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the government to step in and help in the clean-up.

Highly. Daily.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:52 AM on August 9, 2013


"Highly" is not sufficient information, by any means. And again, this 300 tons number (tenth of a large swimming pool, for comparison) appears to be ground water passing underneath the plant + some sort of contamination, not 300 tons of material coming out of the reactor building itself.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:41 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arjun Makhijani^ on PBS NewsHour last night:
...so far, we have been concerned about an element called cesium, cesium 137 and 134, which is radioactive. But now they have found strontium-90, which is much more dangerous, at levels that are 30 times more than cesium. So to give you an idea of the level of contamination, if somebody drank that water for a year, they would almost certainly get cancer. So it's very contaminated.

So that's one problem. The other is the defenses to hold back this water from the sea seem to be overcome. So now the contaminated waters, 70,000, 80,000 gallons is flowing into the sea every day.

...

...when it goes into the sea, of course, some of it will disperse and dilute. Some of it goes into the sediment and some of it is taken up by the life in the sea.

And the unfortunate thing about strontium especially is that it bioaccumulates in algae, it bioaccumulates in fish. It targets the bone, because it's like calcium.
If I'm interpreting the Wikipedia entries on those isotopes correctly, since they're fission products of uranium that means there's actually reactor fuel being released into the ocean, right? So, a considerably worse situation than was portrayed by the initial Tepco announcement that only mentioned tritium, which is "low level waste" resulting from non-fuel materials becoming activated after exposure to radioactivity.
posted by XMLicious at 11:47 AM on August 9, 2013


So to give you an idea of the level of contamination, if somebody drank that water for a year they would almost certainly get cancer

I can find a dozen things in my house that "if you drank them for a year" you would be dead--many if them products that ultimately find their way into the storm sewers or otherwise dispersed in the environment. As a measure of toxicity, this is hardly dramatic. Clearly this is in the "we need to do something to fix this" basket, but it just isn't in the "OMG the apocalypse is upon us!" basket that much of the more breathless coverage seems to suggest.
posted by yoink at 12:00 PM on August 9, 2013


All of those wildfires out in the Western U.S. are nuthin'! Why there's stuff around my house that's flammable! The firefighting would barely make it onto my to-do list!

I mean, seriously, it's only as bad as dumping 80,000 gallons of rat poison into the ocean every day? That's, what, a Baia Mare spill every few weeks? It seems like the details you claimed were vital up above are actually irrelevant to you if you're still trying to scoff at this point and denounce any characterization of the situation as an emergency.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 PM on August 9, 2013


It seems like the details you claimed were vital up above are actually irrelevant to you if you're still trying to scoff at this point and denounce any characterization of the situation as an emergency.

No, I'm saying that the details do not amount to "OMG cataclysm!!!" level. I'm saying that water which, if you drank it FOR A YEAR would leave you "almost certainly" facing cancer is not very highly toxic, so that stressing the point about how many OMG OMG OMG liters per day of this not very highly toxic water are leaking into the sea is focusing on a pretty arbitrary BIG NUMBER because it helps make a rhetorical point--not because it usefully conveys any meaningful scientific knowledge about the actual scope of the problem.

Of all the problems facing the world--even if we limit the field of those problems simply to "poisonous crap that we are releasing into the environment"--Fukushima comes pretty low on the "will kill X many people over next hundred years" scale. It is receiving a disproportionate amount of coverage and a disproportionately breathless and doom-laden coverage because of the magic word "nuclear."
posted by yoink at 1:24 PM on August 9, 2013


Oh, I forgot to add--the Baia Mare spill is a pretty good example of my point. That was a MUCH worse disaster than Fukushima, which got minimal press coverage comparatively. Most people in the US would be unable to tell you what the Baia Mare spill was today; 13 years from now they'll still remember Fukushima as a "terrible" event from which we should draw all kinds of important lessons about the dangers of nuclear power.

And the Baia Mare spill serves my point in another way, as well. Drinking a cup of what was spilt at Baia Mare would kill you instantly, on the spot, in seconds. That is a different order of magnitude altogether from "drink it for a year and you almost certainly would suffer some consequences which might or night not be lethal."
posted by yoink at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2013


I would have thought the magic word is "emergency", which was actually used by the actual Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Japan to describe the situation, and which seems like a pretty fair justification for responding to this nuclear reactor fuel leak as though you've been told it's an emergency. As a MeFite I'm all for sneering down upon the obtuse and cretinous notions had by "most people" but it doesn't appear to be to blame in this case.
posted by XMLicious at 4:59 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if you understand anything *at all* about the culture of official pronouncements from the Japanese government, you'll know that even coming close to using the word "emergency" in describing a situation means that it's fucking serious. In all likelihood the situation is, guess what? Fucking serious.

Sure, some people go screaming down the halls at the merest hint of bad news. No doubt. On the other hand, others, very well represented in this and other nuclear/Fukushima threads here at Mefi, tend to fall all over themselves with indications that it's *really not that bad*. And ususally with a healthy dollop of the by now all-too-familiar "you people who don't understand science are overreacting" kind of condescension that has become increasingly impoverished as an arguing point.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:20 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Nation: Fukushima's Invisible Crisis
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:09 AM on August 20, 2013


There's a good story about how Hanford can provide lessons for Fukushima. In some ways Hanford is a worse situation than Fukushima, and while no one was evacuated, the Hanford plant is responsible for an increase in cancer deaths in the region (comparable to the distance between Tokyo and the Fukushima reactor).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]






Japan Times: Rate of radioactive flow to Pacific alarming
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:09 AM on August 22, 2013


Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima: "It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean."

BBC News: Fukushima leak is 'much worse than we were led to believe'
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:02 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]




« Older "I coulda played a great street urchin or...   |   No brain! No suffering! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments