The most interesting and important current news, interesting if confirmed, is that plutonium has been discovered in soil near Fukushima. With all this talk about radiation, it is easy to forget that some of these elements are extremely poisonous in their own right. Plutonium is a very nasty poison. I’ve not seen the news reports or any details yet … as of this writing, this is just reasonably reliable rumor. I’m off the intertubes for the rest of the day, but I’ll update tomorrow on this topic.

The cooling systems are still not operational and a huge amount of radioactive water has been found in a trench that communicates with the reactor/turbine complex that either TEPCO was unaware of the existence of, did not think to look in, or has known of but remained silent about since March 11th. I’m not sure which is worse, a zillion gazillimsuts of extra radioactive dihydrogen oxide they didn’t know about, their ability to selectively not mention very important things for very long periods of time, or the astonishing incompetence demonstrated by ignorance. I guess we’ll find out eventually.

Now, on to Ana’s feed:

Ana’s Feed starting at about 10 after midnight, today, March 28:

Re: reactor no.4, from video evidence – The crane has fallen onto the spent fuel rods – “the likelihood of damage to the fuel cannot be denied.” Also, the yellow lid of the containment vessel can be seen … off to the side … there was no fuel in the reactor at the time of the quake. (NHK)

  • Clarification: There was no fuel in the reactor CORE at the time of the quake. It had all been moved upstairs to the spent fuel pool which is now crushed by crane
  • Seawater continues to be pumped by truck onto the spent fuel area – white steam/vapor continues to rise.
  • (this entry slightly edited to reflect later corrections)

The plan to pump highly contaminated water from the turbine rooms into the condenser units for storage has hit a snag in that the condenser units are full. The next plan of moving the water from cond. units to “outside pools” has also been challenged by the fact that these pools are also full. -NISA

Some residents with homes inside the 20km evac. zone have left shelters and returned. Officials believe there are about 30 people in violation of the order, but given the danger in the area, no one has gone in to check. SDF forces may be mobilized to extract them forcibly. (NHK)

TEPCO has sent soil samples taken from around the plant on March 22 to independent research centers where they will be checked for highly toxic plutonium. Results are expected in the next days. (NHK)

Edano on reactor no.2: It is possible that the water inside the pressure vessel has come into contact with melted elements. That is a possibility. (NHK)

  • Q: Does the fuel continue to melt?
  • A (Edano): NISA will give an expert report.
  • Analiese Miller Gauge-topping readings of 1,000mSv/hr. are confined to the interior of the no.2 building. There is concern about this material seeping into groundwater. (Edano presser)
  • My understanding is that entombment is not an option so long as the fuel has heat – that doing so would only increase the likelihood of nuclear explosion – that, in fact, it has been the “controlled venting” of the reactors that has kept them more or less intact to this point. I haven’t heard anything about this rationale from Michio – haven’t heard him acknowledge that concern.

Is it possible, given that soil samples have been sent off-site, that the equipment in use at Daiichi does not allow for detection of the weak gamma-ray emissions of plutonium? Someone tell me this is not a possibility.

I-131 found at levels 1,150 times normal in the sea, 30m N. of discharge pipes of units 5 and 6.

  • NISA spokesman says: Generally speaking, the current here moves N. to S., but the sample was taken near shore, so maybe those currents don’t hold. The assumption is that the contamination moved along the shore from S. to N., but that is not certain.

“Highly radioactive water has been found outside the reactor building.” (NHK)

  • There is a pipe-lined, underground trench running horizontally from reactor no.1 – no.3, at about 16m deep. The pipes in this trench can be observed by workers on the ground through a manhole. Workers have looked into this manhole and have seen water. It has nearly filled the observation column to the surface, and is of the same radioactivity as found in the adjacent turbine room of reactor no.2, 1,000mSv/hr. (NHK analyst)
  • (When talking 1,000mSv/hr., we’re talking more than that – apparently no one’s got a dosimeter that can read anything higher.)
  • TEPCO says that the trench does not directly connect to the sea.
  • see this

As of 16:00 March 28, 2011 – some very high readings outside the evac. zone.

(Ana’s Feed is a collection of Analiese Miller’s facebook status entries posted as she takes in the news live in Japan.)

Links to news stories and updates:

International Atomic Energy Agency update edited for brevity. See this link for the rest, and for radiation monitoring information.

The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remains very serious.

The restoration of off-site power continues and lighting is now available in the central control rooms of Units 1, 2 and 3. Also, fresh water is now being injected into the Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs) of all three Units.

Radiation measurements in the containment vessels and suppression chambers of Units 1, 2 and 3 continued to decrease. White “smoke” continued to be emitted from Units 1 to 4.

Pressure in the RPV showed a slight increase at Unit 1 and was stable at Units 2 and 3, possibly indicating that there has been no major breach in the pressure vessels.

At Unit 1, the temperature measured at the bottom of the RPV fell slightly to 142 °C. At Unit 2, the temperature at the bottom of the RPV fell to 97 °C from 100 °C reported in the Update provided yesterday. Pumping of water from the turbine hall basement to the condenser is in progress with a view to allowing power restoration activities to continue.

At Unit 3, plans are being made to pump water from the turbine building to the main condenser but the method has not yet been decided. This should reduce the radiation levels in the turbine building and reduce the risk of contamination of workers in the turbine building restoring equipment.

No notable change http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/03/japan_quake_tsunami_nuke_news_5.phphas been reported in the condition of Unit 4.

Water is still being added to the spent fuel pools of Units 1 to 4 and efforts continue to restore normal cooling functions.

Units 5 and 6 remain in cold shutdown.

We understand that three workers who suffered contamination are still under observation in hospital.

For more information and essays about the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Reactor problems in Japan CLICK HERE.

Comments

  1. #1 phillydoug
    March 28, 2011

    (from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/japanese-race-to-pump-radioactive-water-from-nuke-plant-limit-soil-seawater-contamination/2011/03/28/AFrvcXoB_story.html)

    “Crews also found traces of plutonium in the soil outside of the complex on Monday, but officials insisted there was no threat to public health.

    Plutonium — a key ingredient in nuclear weapons — is present in the fuel at the complex, which has been leaking radiation for over two weeks, so experts had expected some to be found once crews began searching for evidence of it this week.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. official Jun Tsuruoka said only two of the plutonium samples taken Monday were from the leaking reactors. The other three were from earlier nuclear tests.”

    (from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/28/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110328

    “A partial meltdown of fuel rods inside the reactor vessel was responsible for the high levels, although Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the radiation had mainly been contained in the reactor building.

    But TEPCO later said radiation above 1,000 millisieverts per hour had been found in water in underground concrete tunnels that extend beyond the reactor.

    That is the same as the level discovered on Sunday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a single dose of 1,000 millisieverts is enough to cause hemorrhaging.

    TEPCO officials said the tunnels did not flow into the sea but the possibility of radioactive water seeping into the ground could not be ruled out.”

  2. #2 phillydoug
    March 28, 2011

    (from:http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=11340)

    Date: June 29, 2005

    Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm

    WASHINGTON — “A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council.

    The report’s focus is low-dose, low-LET — “linear energy transfer” — ionizing radiation that is energetic enough to break biomolecular bonds. In living organisms, such radiation can cause DNA damage that eventually leads to cancers. However, more research is needed to determine whether low doses of radiation may also cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, which are now seen with high doses of low-LET radiation.

    The study committee defined low doses as those ranging from nearly zero to about 100 millisievert (mSv) — units that measure radiation energy deposited in living tissue. The radiation dose from a chest X-ray is about 0.1 mSv. In the United States, people are exposed on average to about 3 mSv of natural “background” radiation annually.

    The committee’s report develops the most up-to-date and comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. In general, the report supports previously reported risk estimates for solid cancer and leukemia, but the availability of new and more extensive data have strengthened confidence in these estimates.

    Specifically, the committee’s thorough review of available biological and biophysical data supports a “linear, no-threshold” (LNT) risk model, which says that the smallest dose of low-level ionizing radiation has the potential to cause an increase in health risks to humans. In the past, some researchers have argued that the LNT model exaggerates adverse health effects, while others have said that it underestimates the harm. The preponderance of evidence supports the LNT model, this new report says.

    “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial,” said committee chair Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

    Assessing Health Risks

    The committee’s risk models for exposure to low-level ionizing radiation were based on a sex and age distribution similar to that of the entire U.S. population, and refer to the risk that an individual would face over his or her life span. These models predict that about one out of 100 people would likely develop solid cancer or leukemia from an exposure of 0.1 Sv (100 mSv). About 42 additional people in the same group would be expected to develop solid cancer or leukemia from other causes. Roughly half of these cancers would result in death. These particular estimates are uncertain, however, because of limitations in the data used to develop risk models.

    Survivors of atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, were the primary sources of data for estimating risks of most solid cancers and leukemia from exposure to ionizing radiation. The committee’s review included an examination of updated cancer-incidence data from tumor registries of the survivors, and of research data on solid cancer deaths — which is now more abundant because the number of deaths available for analysis has nearly doubled since the Research Council published its previous report on this topic in 1990. The committee combined this information with data on people who had been medically exposed to radiation to estimate risks of breast cancer in women and thyroid cancer. Data from additional medical studies and from studies of people exposed to radiation through their occupations also were evaluated and found to be compatible with the committee’s statistical models. Follow-up studies should continue for the indefinite future, the report says.

    Adverse hereditary health effects that could be attributed to radiation have not been found in studies of children whose parents were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs. However, studies of mice and other organisms have produced extensive data showing that radiation-induced cell mutations in sperm and eggs can be passed on to offspring, the report says. There is no reason to believe that such mutations could not also be passed on to human offspring. The failure to observe such effects in Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably reflects an insufficiently large survivor population.”

  3. #3 healthphysicist
    March 28, 2011

    Of course they are going to find plutonium, it is a product of neutron absorption in uranium.

    If they didn’t find it, I’d be shocked. There’s nothing particularly interesting about it.

    Meanwhile, about 230 U.S. citizens died of foodborne illness and almost an estimated 1,500 U.S. citizens died in auto wrecks, since the tsunami occurred in Japan.

  4. #4 Andrew
    March 28, 2011

    healthphysicist: How normal is it to find plutonium on farmland?

    I’m not sure if I get your reference to food poisoning and auto wrecks in the US. How is that relevant to plutonium in Japan?

  5. #5 Emily
    March 28, 2011

    Andrew, Heatlhphysicist is under the impression that large numbers cause smaller numbers to become equal to zero.

    For example, if a chemical plant is putting a toxin in the groundwater of a community so that all the babies die a miserable death before they reach the age of five, that’s OK because more people die of car crashes.

    Until the Fukushima affair kills more people than die in car crashes globally, nothing bad is happening in Fukushima.

    Shame he is such an idiot because he does seem to have some knowledge about the topic. Or, perhaps, he is merely capable of copy/paste from Wikipedia or some other source.

  6. #6 healthphysicist
    March 28, 2011

    Andrew – You would expect to find plutonium everywhere in very minute amounts (naturally occurring + nuclear weapons fallout). You’d obviously expect to find it in higher levels in areas surrounding an ongoing nuclear plant(s) accident. If there were no known nuclear plant(s) disaster, it would be shocking to find plutonium by itself at high levels (but of course, there are lots of other isotopes there as well, the word “plutonium” sells from a mass media perspective. It scares people.).

    My point about food & auto deaths in the U.S. compared to plutonium in Japan, is to keep industry risks in perspective for Americans (I’m assuming most readers are American, but non-Americans can get their own data).

    In other words, some tend to focus on certain safety issues in society which pose a minor risk to most people. But largely ignore higher risk issues for a greater number of the population.

    I was trying to highlight that inconsistency.

  7. #7 Adela
    March 28, 2011

    Is there a measurement for that plutonium and its isotope number? Unfortunately cold war weapons tests fallout has put traces of plutonium in soil all over the damn place and you will always have some of it around when there is uranium around. Volcanic areas often have traces of plutonium and other radioactive elements too.

    All that water being sprayed and dumped into the pools had to go somewhere. The total volume has been high enough for over spill.

  8. #8 healthphysicist
    March 28, 2011

    Emily – Why do you insist on making stuff up? I never said or implied that large numbers make small numbers become zero.

    There is such a thing as triage. You don’t worry about treating a cancer, when a victim has a gunshot wound. You don’t worry about paying your mortgage if you’re being invaded by masked gunmen.

    If one is ratio-nal (ie, ratio your actions based on the evidence of what is occurring), then I would expect to see Greg blog about all the hazards we face in life in proportion to the risk they pose to us.

    The Japanese event has little direct impact on Americans. There are plenty of deaths occurring around the world for a variety of reasons that could be blogged about over and over. In fact our tax dollars are causing a lot of that needless death. All of that is ignored, all domestic Americans deaths are ignored, but this Japanese event has been an ongoing topic.

    It’s Greg’s blog and he can focus on what he wants. He actually has an opportunity to be scientifically accurate and educate, but instead he has quoted anonymous sources or finds plutonium “interesting” or “nasty”.

    I don’t know why.

    Thank you for calling me an idiot….it tells us enough about you.

  9. #9 Aldo
    March 28, 2011

    From Reuters we have “But TEPCO later said radiation above 1,000 millisieverts per hour had been found in water in underground concrete tunnels that extend beyond the reactor.”

    Does 1 sievert just sound too gross for general consumption or are Reuters lacking science reporters?

    Thank you Greg for a level-headed approach to PR insanity. Is it not time to escape MSM & TEPCO lulling tones and start a demand for, at least, entombing the entire site at Fukushima? Couple 1Sv with Ana’s most excellent Feed and the latest close-up video from brave helicopter pilots, parts of the site appear quite beyond salvage and in exceedingly dangerous condition…

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    March 28, 2011

    The information on soil samples is just coming out now. I’m in class, so I may not be able to pass it on just yet, but if I can I’ll post it. It will be part of Ana’s feed in the next installment.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    March 28, 2011

    From Ana’s feed:

    ‎”Density of detected Pu-238, Pu-239 and Pu-240 are within the same level of the fallout observed in Japan after the atmospheric nuclear test in the past. Activity ratio of Pu-238 detected in site field and solid waste storage against Pu-239 and Pu-240 are 2.0 and 0.94 respectively. They exceed activity ratio of 0.026 which resulted from the atmospheric nuclear test in the past, thus those Pus are considered to come from the recent incident.”

  12. #12 Ana
    March 28, 2011

    The quote above comes from TEPCO’s analysis, found here (first attachment): http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11032812-e.html

    Thanks, Aldo!!

  13. #13 Vince whirlwind
    March 28, 2011

    @Healthphysicist:

    My point about food & auto deaths in the U.S. compared to plutonium in Japan, is to keep industry risks in perspective for Americans

    I’ll play that game:

    American auto owners can get insurance.
    American restaurant owners can get insurance.
    Nuclear power plant operators can NOT get insurance. Anywhere.

    Now, *THAT* should keep industry risks in perspective for you.

  14. #14 Adela
    March 28, 2011

    Numbers indeed make a huge difference in building an accurate picture of what’s going on.
    The two exposed workers have been released from hospital and the exposure estimates has been adjusted again. Since everyone is saying they did not need treatment and the third was uninjured I’m thinking beta burns.
    NEI is reporting the iodine and cesium contamination in picocuries. Blargh more math conversion. Time to find/write a software script macro to do it for me.

  15. #15 AML Exam
    March 28, 2011

    The thing that some people have feared to happen has already happened. I am not saying that I’m totally against nuclear power plants but look at the great danger that it is giving us and the environment. I just wish that this would not go beyond what it has reached now. We really can’t afford to experience what happened in Chernobyl 25 years ago.

  16. #16 Donna
    March 28, 2011

    Japanese News Agency:

    Plutonium found in Fukushima plant soil

    Tokyo Electric Power Company says plutonium has been found in soil samples from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    It says the radioactive substance appears to be related to the ongoing nuclear accident, but the level detected is the same as that found in other parts of Japan and does not pose a threat to human health.

    TEPCO collected samples from 5 locations around the power plant over 2 days from March 21st and found 2 samples contaminated with plutonium.

    Plutonium is a byproduct of the nuclear power generation process. At the number 3 reactor of the Fukushima plant, plutonium is an ingredient in mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel.

    Radioactivity from plutonium can be shielded by a sheet of paper. But it can remain in lungs and other organs to cause long-term damages including cancer.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the detected level is the same as that found in the environment and not health-threatening for workers who conducted the sampling, nor residents in surrounding areas.

    The agency said it is awaiting the results of another survey by the Science Ministry outside of a 20-kilometer radius from the plant, as well as a further survey by TEPCO in the plant compound.

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011 02:20 +0900 (JST)

  17. #17 Giliell
    March 29, 2011

    Does 1 sievert just sound too gross for general consumption or are Reuters lacking science reporters?

    I would guess that they’re just trying to keep the unit consistent, because it already confused a lot of people when they had to change from Microsievert to Milisievert.
    It’s easier to compare 1.000 Milisievert to 250 Milisievert.

    @Vince

    Nuclear power plant operators can NOT get insurance. Anywhere.

    Sorry to correct you, but they do, but only in minuslce sums. In Germany ALL nukes together are insured with up to 250 millions Euro. That covers for small accidents and such, but of course not for something Fukushima-sized.
    I’ve heard that they’re planning to nationalize Tepco because they will not be able to pay anyway, which means that in the end the victims will have to pay for the whole disaster.
    BTW, this makes nuclear power so “cheap”:
    If you wnat to put solar panels on your roof (in Germany), or put up a windmill, you have to be insured against 100% of possible damage. That adds to the cost of the energy, while nukes of course don’t have that cost. They also usually made nice deals with the govenrment about waste disposal. In Germany, they “suddenly found out” (actually the researchers were told not to mention the problems with the temporary deposit for nuclear waste whe exploring an old salt mine) that they have to empty a temporary deposit where they just threw down the stuff in barrels again and repair it. It will cost several billions, which have to be paid by the tax payer.

  18. #18 phillydoug
    March 29, 2011

    Healthphysicist: “In other words, some tend to focus on certain safety issues in society which pose a minor risk to most people. But largely ignore higher risk issues for a greater number of the population.

    I was trying to highlight that inconsistency.”

    It is always easier to dismiss hazards when speaking in abstractions, and when thinking of people you don’t know, and won’t ever meet. If it were you’re spouse or child exposed, you might be less cavalier.

    There are some logical missteps in your statements that I want to address in more detail, and I’m a slow typist, so I will try and put together something coherent later; I hope you read it as a sincere effort to clarify why I disagree with what you posted.

    In the meantime, sometimes (often?) brute facts speak more eloquently than I’m capable of:

    (from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/29/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110329)

    “A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say.

    They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix.

    Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor’s containment mechanism had been breached.

    “Plutonium is a substance that’s emitted when the temperature is high, and it’s also heavy and so does not leak out easily,” agency deputy director Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference.

    “So if plutonium has emerged from the reactor, that tells us something about the damage to the fuel. And if it has breached the original containment system, it underlines the gravity and seriousness of this accident.”

  19. #19 aldo
    March 29, 2011

    Thanks to you Ana & Greg, we now have a much clearer picture of the levels of damage at Fukushima.

    I do sincerely hope sufficient knowledgeable people will study the _ongoing_ after effects of all the ‘accidents’ and deliberate nuclear tests that have contributed to an ever rising incidence of cancers and malformations _all_ organic life on this benighted planet are experiencing to one degree or another. Can this phenomenom be entirely attributed to man’s greed, arrogance & incompetence or is there some on-going concerted effort to weaken the majority on this planet?

    I just cannot get the final part of the script of Dr.Strangelove out of my head, for some reason probably connected to the Georgia Guidestones and Heritage Foundation policy on Eugenics.

    Thanks for your forbearance on my somewhat off-topic musings.

  20. #20 healthphysicist
    March 29, 2011

    To Vince Whirlwind – you lose:

    http://www.amnucins.com/

    To philly doug:

    I’m not being cavalier. We all face health risks everyday and we need to address them. It is only rational to start with the worse offenders and not be distracted by the trivial offenders. I have spent over 20 years in the nuclear industry and almost died once. That was from food poisoning, though. I ate a tainted hamburger, vomited, tore my esophagus and suffered internal bleeding. I almost died from loss of blood, because there is no sensation of the tear. Perhaps you would be less cavalier if you were exposed to both radioactive materials and bacterial contaminated food, as I have been, and put the risks in perspective.

    Now, my personal story is just anecdotal. And my arguments have nothing to do with that, though it is a factual coincidence. When dealing with public health, we have to look at statistical data. If the data said that my risk of death from radioactivity was much greater than from food poisoning (or auto death or gun death or…), I’d be arguing from that perspective. But the data doesn’t support that.

  21. #21 Wyatt
    March 29, 2011

    It is only rational to start with the worse offenders and not be distracted by the trivial offenders. I have spent over 20 years in the nuclear industry and almost died once.

    Translation: I am a shill for the nuclear power industry and my main objective it to convince as many as possible that nuclear power accidents are trivial in comparison to other risky things.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    healthysicist, there is a disconnect between your logic and your activism. Essentially, the conclusion one must draw from your apparent philosophy is that the engineers working at the Fukushima plant should spend their time working on food safety issues, which are probably very real given supply lie problems in that part of japan, and later, when the chance of food poisoning has been reduced, go back to the nuclear power plant and see what they can do there.

    And yes, I recognize that this is not what you intend to say (or at least, I hope that is the case) but it is in fact what you are saying.

    And facts don’t lie. According to you.

  23. #23 Finch
    March 29, 2011

    Sitting here reading this with my Gouldian Finch makes me question many things in the Nuclear industry. I wonder if the people in Japan are still as pro nuclear as before.

  24. #24 healthphysicist
    March 29, 2011

    This is like discussing evolution with creationists. They already have all the answers and ignore the evidence. First, I’m not a shill for the nuclear industry. I am a board certified health physicist….I specialize in RADIATION SAFETY! Whether in the nuclear industry, in the medical industry, in the academic industry, in space travel, etc. I don’t ignore nor exaggerate the risks.

    Most industries provide benefits and there are risks to providing those benefits. My only “activism” (as Greg calls it) is to address public health issues rationally. I have not said much at all about the engineers at Fukushima, because for them the threat of radiation exceeds the threat of food poisoning. Obviously, using triage they should attend to radiation safety issues. BUT FOR AMERICANS (as I’ve said many times throughout these posts), also using triage, the threat of food poisoning (or auto deaths, etc.) exceeds the risks of radiation. Since most readers of this blog are American, I’m just emphasizing that concern should be based on risk, not a perceived risk, but statistically valid risk.

    It is a disservice to the health of Americans to hype an event in Japan, while ignoring the major health risks Americans actually face.

    There is a science of epidemiology. I thought this was Science Blogs….I must have found the cartoon section.

  25. #25 daedalus2u
    March 29, 2011

    Greg, it is ironic, but one way to increase food safety is the judicious use of irradiation to kill insects and bacteria.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation

    If food irradiation was widespread and deaths from food poisoning did go down, would those live saves be attributable to nuclear power?

    If the events in Japan delay the implementation of food irradiation, are those food poisoning deaths attributable to nuclear power?

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    Healthpfiz: If you main point is that Americans should not worry about being irradiated by Fukushima, then you have misjudged your audience.

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    daedalus2u: Yes, I’m aware of that! In fact, I once gave the keynote address at a major international conference on food safety, in which radiation was one of the main topics (along with thermal processing in general).

    If food irradiation was widespread and deaths from food poisoning did go down, would those live saves be attributable to nuclear power?

    As far as I know food irradiation is not done at or with nuclear power plants.

    If the events in Japan delay the implementation of food irradiation, are those food poisoning deaths attributable to nuclear power?

    Well, that is in fact what is happening now, but on a broader level. Generally speaking there are tens of thousands of Japanese people who are not getting basic health related services. NHK did a piece on elderly who have died in the tsunami zone because their life-sustaining medicines ran out and have not been replaced. People in the Fukushima zone are worse off than many others in the Tsunami zone because of the dual issues of destruction of property and evacuation (and the related in ability of helping agents to go into the evacuation zone). So the people in the zone where they are told to stay inside also find themselves in a zone where help that might arrive hasn’t.

    So, if an elderly woman living in Fukushima dies of a heart attack because she was unable to obtain a critically important drug because of the evacuation zone, that is a nuclear power death, if a person who smokes and live near a coal plant gets genetically potentiated lung cancer is a coal death. Otherwise not. Or, to be more exact, it was a stupid question to begin with.

    And please note that I have not pushed a position or interpretation of any of these things. Quite the contrary. I’m strongly stating that these comparisons and counts are unscientific unsupportable politically motivated bullshit. We are not at present trying to decide whether to cause the cost of a car to be 1% higher, an increase required by some new safety regulation, the cost of a meal in a restaurant being 1% higher, owing to some food safety regulation, or the cost of energy to be 1% higher by requiring that nuclear power plants be built inside giant swimming pools so we can flood them by turning a valve with a robot instead of borrowing helicopters and fire trucks. Everything is connected to everything else if you do enough drugs. In real life, we tend to compartmentalize our policies unless it becomes politically expedient to hide some reality (like that nuclear power is terribly expensive) that we find inconvenient for political reasons (because regardless of any science or engineering considerations, pro nuclear power is Republican/Conservative/Centrist and anti-nuclear power is Hippie/Treehugger/Liberal)

  28. #28 phillydoug
    March 29, 2011

    Health Physicist,

    The logical missteps I referred to when I initially responded to your post seem to be present in your most recent reply to me:

    “Most industries provide benefits and there are risks to providing those benefits. My only “activism” (as Greg calls it) is to address public health issues rationally. I have not said much at all about the engineers at Fukushima, because for them the threat of radiation exceeds the threat of food poisoning. Obviously, using triage they should attend to radiation safety issues. BUT FOR AMERICANS (as I’ve said many times throughout these posts), also using triage, the threat of food poisoning (or auto deaths, etc.) exceeds the risks of radiation. ”

    The logical errors I see are of two primary types: false comparisons (inappropriate selection of terms to compare), and false choices (predicated on false assumptions). Let me beg your pardon, but I am using your post as an exemplar
    for much of the reasoning I’ve read or heard from nuclear advocates.

    The first type of logical error in statements like the one in your post (referring to the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents), involves false or misleading comparisons Since, as a total, more people die in car accidents (in the US, given the number you cited) than from ionizing radiation (presumably), it is unwise, or illogical, to want the use of nuclear power to end, while still driving a car. What makes this a misleading or false comparison, is that the terms and metrics are not directly comparable. As has been made clear on this discussion board, the hazards of radiation increase as a function of dose over time. The risk of driving is not determined by how many people die in a year, but rather, taking each mile driven over the course of a year as a ‘dose’; from this, we can get better sense of the hazard. So, for instance:
    (from: http://www.motorists.org/other/crash-data)
    “Fatality figures — a simple tally of the number of people killed in automobile accidents — are the least useful criteria for analyzing highway safety trends. Reports and studies based on the numbers of fatalities have little merit or meaning within the context of highway safety trends… The fatal accident rate, which is the number of fatal accidents on a per-vehicle-mile-driven basis (fatal accidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled), is the most accurate means of measuring highway safety trends… The reason fatality rates and fatal accident rates are a more accurate measure of highway safety trends is because they are based on the concept of “exposure.” A motorist who drives 50,000 miles a year has 10 times the accident exposure risk than a driver who logs 5,000 miles in a year. Fatality rates measure the risk of being killed in an accident based on the number of miles traveled, or exposure.”
    Nationally, although fatalities increased by 90 from 1995 to 1996, from 41,817 to 41,907, the fatality rate actually declined. So, while the public saw headlines that read, “Fatalities increase . . .,” the media unknowingly failed to also tell the public that the fatality rate dropped 2.2 percent, from 1.726 to 1.688. In reality, for the individual motorist, the highways had become safer!
    when the rate is determined by using population as a denominator, the numbers show similar results (9.73 fatalities per 100,000 people in New Jersey, versus 11.54 fatalities per 100,000 people in North Dakota). Just as the “per-100,000-licensed-drivers” baseline is meaningless because it does not account for exposure, so is a rate based on population.”

    Every word of this could be applied to evaluating the hazards of ionizing radiation—the use of population based totals as a metric of ‘risk’ provides a false estimate of the hazards one is actually exposed to. With a false or misleading basis of comparison, it is impossible to make a meaningful statement along the lines of ‘driving is more dangerous than nuclear power, because 32,000 people died in accidents last year, and not so many (it is claimed) died from exposure to radioactive materials associated with nuclear reactors’.

    The second type of logical error that I see quite frequently in posts by nuclear advocates, including yours, involves false choices. In the purest sense, any reference to the relative safety of nuclear power when compared to other sources of power purported to be less safe (‘riskier’), rests upon a Hobson’s choice—

    Hobson’s choice (noun)

    –the choice of taking what is offered or nothing at all
    [named after Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), English liveryman who gave his customers no choice but had them take the nearest horse]
    (from: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Hobson's+choice)

    In this instance, the false assumption the Hobson’s choice is predicated upon is that we must take either nuclear vs. fossil fuels, since the implicit assumption is that no combination of renewables, conservation (reducing demand), and modifications to the distribution grid could meet global energy demands in the foreseeable future.

    In no way do I choose to ignore that the world we have inherited from previous generations includes nuclear and fossil fuel plants; the decisions that brought is to today, to Daiichi, were made before most of us were born (and I’m well into middle age). But to say we’re stuck with these options is to take an assumption as axiomatic. And it serves the interests (personal, financial, political) of nuclear advocates to present this assumption (energy demands can only be met with nuclear, fossil, or a combination) as axiomatic. Since I don’t accept the axiom, I reject the Hobson’s choice. Accordingly, I also don’t have to simply take as given the ‘levels of acceptable risk’ of those who offer me this Hobson’s choice. No risk for something unnecessary is acceptable.

    As a slight tangent, the notion ‘acceptable risk’ also rests upon various implicit predicates, including: a) who participates in the definition of acceptable, b) what information is deemed relevant to that determination (e.g., the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of ionizing radiation—any measurable quantity can damage human DNA, and so can cause disease and death may be considered, and minute levels seem to be considered by many, perhaps including you, to be so remote and negligible as to be functionally equivalent to ‘no hazard’), c) who is responsible for data collection methods and the interpretation of that data– is there independent verification of the data, how it was gathered, etc. (as when Tokyo Electric asserts ‘no risk to humans’ with levels of plutonium detected, and broadcast media resort predominantly to analysts with strong personal and financial ties to the nuclear industry—they’ve worked in it their whole lives—to buttress these assertions; in other words, the source of the data and the interpretations, unfortunately, does matter, and scientific conclusions have often been strongly influenced by considerations of money and professional status).

    A variant of the Hobson’s choice that straddles ‘false choice’ and ‘false comparison’ logical errors is the ‘pick your poison’ choice. This is expressed in the presentation of other things that may kill us, like driving a car (hence statistics of people killed in car accidents), with the implication that the hazards of nuclear plants are diminished in the comparison. I tend to think of this as the ‘Mao, Mussolini or Franco’ choice of dictators—by the numbers, Mao was a whole lot worse, so I’d be foolish not to choose one of the others as ‘more acceptable’.

    There are some aspects of this kind of logical error that bear making explicit. The first is the notion that ‘since some things I choose may kill me, I must accept other things that putatively will be less likely to kill me’. If we accept such an argument, then permitting mountain climbing and scuba diving as permissible choices requires me to accept nuclear reactors. No, it doesn’t. Individuals are at liberty to put themselves in harm’s way. Nuclear reactors put everyone in harm’s way, whether they choose it or not. Also, there is the ‘nihilism/utilitarian’ factor. Borrowing from an undergraduate philosophy course—‘over a sufficiently long period of time, human mortality in all cases is 100%, only the circumstances differ regarding the proximate cause of death’. If we use this standard to reckon with, I can evaluate the harm I cause to others (for instance, using nuclear reactors) in purely utilitarian terms—the assumed benefits to those other people, of the reactor, outweigh the harm, because if not the radioactive isotopes, then something else of less utility will kill them anyway. No, it doesn’t logically follow that whatever hazards I may face in life, many by choice, I have to assume an additional hazard (of any level or degree of severity) because of its presumed value relative to the risk of harm. I simply don’t have to get that next dental X-Ray. Nuclear power advocates, however, are imposing that hazard on me, my spouse, my children, the people of Japan, etc.

  29. #29 healthphysicist
    March 29, 2011

    My point is not about the direct radiological impacts on the U.S. from Fukushima. My point is about stigmatizing an imperfect industry, which provides society with benefits, without any sense of relativeness to other imperfect industries.

    And based on many comments, in that regard, I have not misjudged your audience.

    The average annual radiation levels to which real Americans are exposed has almost doubled in the last two decades. This is due to increased radiation usage in medicine, particularly CT scans. Some doctors inappropriately use it, some manufacturers have equipment problems, some technicians don’t use the machines right. On the other hand, CT scans help to diagnose real problems.

    One could stigmatize the medical radiology industry for this tragedy regarding dosing Americans by an increase of about 250 mrem/yr, EVERY year!

    Where is all the CNN coverage, the blogs, the cries for shutdowns, etc.??? Those money hungry, evil doctors! (There actually has been some coverage, yet most people recall Three Mile Island from 30 years ago, much better than being aware of this real risk.)

    Now if a nuclear power plant caused this sort of radiation increase, or even 1/100 of this, there would be screams of “evul nooks”!

    We need to look at risks and benefits and make rational decisions. Hyping is a distraction and unscientific. Just going to the hospital has its own nonradiological risks:

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/11856.php

    For more info on what the FDA is doing to minimize real radiation exposure received by real Americans:

    http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationSafety/RadiationDoseReduction/ucm199994.htm

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    My point is about stigmatizing an imperfect industry, which provides society with benefits, without any sense of relativeness to other imperfect industries.

    Not it isn’t. If it was, you would haver realized when you started in this conversation that nobody here is doing that. Your point is to stonewall criticism and deflect questions.

  31. #31 healthphysicst
    March 29, 2011

    I respectfully disagree. You may be unintentionally stigmatizing, but I have the opinion you are because of this sort of stuff:

    “The most interesting and important current news, interesting if confirmed, is that plutonium has been discovered in soil near Fukushima. With all this talk about radiation, it is easy to forget that some of these elements are extremely poisonous in their own right. Plutonium is a very nasty poison.”

    The plutonium find isn’t particularly interesting or important. The lack of finding plutonium would be interesting and important (where would it go?). But “plutonium” is a buzz word to raise the excitement level.

    “All this talk about radiation” is primarily originating with you(on Science Blogs website). See the irony?

    Plutonium is a nasty poison, but not at the concentrations found. But why fail to mention that last bit? Spoils the hype.

    This is perjorative:

    “I’m not sure which is worse, a zillion gazillimsuts of extra radioactive dihydrogen oxide they didn’t know about, their ability to selectively not mention very important things for very long periods of time, or the astonishing incompetence demonstrated by ignorance. I guess we’ll find out eventually.”

    A “zillion gazillimsuts” is funny, but grossly inaccurate. The “they didn’t know about”…as if they’re a bunch of Homer Simpsons stumbling about. These people have just experienced a huge earthquake & tsunami, and are at work (instead of tending to their personal needs) under very harsh conditions trying to get a handle on things. Too bad they don’t know what you think they should. Of course, you don’t know either.

    Their communications systems have been damaged, their measuring systems have been damaged, the people are tired, and you are complaining because you don’t have the information you want. I hope it didn’t keep you awake last night. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.

    The last bit is extremely perjorative…”astonishing incompetance demonstrated by ignorance”. Based on what?

    Now I’d call those examples of stigmatization, that you are doing just from this post. You’ve done similiar on others. But I do commend you for posting my comments.

  32. #32 daedalus2u
    March 29, 2011

    Cesium 137 is used to irradiate things.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    Plutonium from the plant is interesting and important. Insisting that it isn’t is a form of whitewashing, unless it isn’t. That would be a correction. Are you telling us that it isn’t from the plant? As far as I know, the Japanese are indicating that the plutonium found in samples outside the plant looks to them like it came from within the plant.

    How is this stigmatizing anything? It is a simple statement of fact, and to be more exact, it is a simple statement of what the engineers at Fukushima have stated in their public communication.

    “All this talk about radiation” is primarily originating with you(on Science Blogs website). See the irony?

    Well, no, it isn’t the case that the primary source of conversation on the plane earth about Fukushima vis-a-vis radiation (and there is quite a bit of it) originates from this blog or scienceblogs.com in general. And you totally missed the point. In fact, if you were not blinded by your own excssive whitewashing, you would have recognized this statement for what it is … something you might actually agree with. A statement about how people need to not just focus on the radiation, which is this scary word that means many things, many of which are not bad compared to other things. Are you seriously telling me that when I need to shut up about Fukushima because food poisoning kills more people, but when I divert attention away from radiation and on to something else I also need to shut up? WTF?

    This is perjorative:

    “I’m not sure which is worse, a zillion gazillimsuts of extra radioactive dihydrogen oxide they didn’t know about, their ability to selectively not mention very important things for very long periods of time, or the astonishing incompetence demonstrated by ignorance. I guess we’ll find out eventually.”

    Duh. Indeed it is. I find it inexplicable that this problem (and they, not me, are calling it a problem) could have been suddenly noticed. I’m calling bullshit. You’re telling me to shut up. I’ve got a valid question about their methods, their rhetoric, their communication of the situation, and you are white washing.

    A “zillion gazillimsuts” is funny, but grossly inaccurate.

    I thought it was hysterical. It is not even a tiny bit inaccurate. How can an over the top absurdity meant to make people laugh be accurate or inaccurate?

    The “they didn’t know about”…as if they’re a bunch of Homer Simpsons stumbling about.

    Sometimes it looks that way. I’m watching, I’m calling it like I see it, asking questions, criticizing now and then. You are telling me to shut up. I am engaging the issue, you are whitewashing.

    Now I’d call those examples of stigmatization, that you are doing just from this post. You’ve done similiar on others. But I do commend you for posting my comments.

    I think you don’t know what stigmatization means, and I don’t actually think you know what intellectual honesty means either.

    I also don’t think you know how to engage in an argument, make a point that people will listen to, or, and this is important, recognize who is agreeing with you vs. those who are not. YOU, not me, have stigmatized … you see the world as an us vs. them dichotomy when it comes to nuclear power, you think you know what constitutes membership in each camp, and you think you can identify someone as being in one camp or another. Yet you are utterly wrong. You are abysmally wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.

    The very last thing I need is your commendation for posting your comments. One of the main functions of my blogging on this issue is to address the meta issue that you are utterly missing. Your comments fit in nicely. You demonstrate a certain perspective. I’m glad to have that documented here.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    daedalus2u: Sometimes. Cobalt-60 is much more common. Cesium-137 comes from processed spent nuclear fuel, but the technology is not available commercially, so Cesium 137 is used in only a small number of actual applications, and not really ever for commercially processed food.

  35. #35 healthphysics
    March 29, 2011

    Of course the Pu is from the plant. There was just a nuclear accident, or did you miss that? In these types of nuclear accidents you expect low levels of Pu. Do you think nothing happens in a nuclear accident? I assume not. So what happens? Stuff in the core leaks out. Surprise! That’s not whitewashing. Oh, you might find it interesting to point out that smoke accompanies fire.

    I never said to shutup about Fukushima. Please provide the date/time of such an imagined comment. I have posted plenty…so it should be easy. When you can’t, you’ll realize you’re delusional.

    I don’t see the world as us versus them on nuclear power. For a given set of circumstances I’m anti-nuclear power, for another set I’m pro-nuclear power. I think most people are of the same mind set.

    Since you are not providing a reasonable context, I decided to comment. If you provide a reasonable context, I’ll have no need to comment. Blog about Fukushima, and enjoy that energy consumption.

    If one of your main functions is to address the meta-issue that I’m completely missing….why not have a post about the meta-issue? I haven’t seen that term used in the last few blogs I’ve read. Please provide the date/time of such a blog. Maybe you are failing at your main function and that is why I’m missing it.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    March 29, 2011

    In these types of nuclear accidents you expect low levels of Pu. Do you think nothing happens in a nuclear accident?

    … soooo.. you want me to shut up about things that we expect to happen? Interesting.

    I never said to shutup about Fukushima.

    You just did.

    If one of your main functions is to address the meta-issue that I’m completely missing….why not have a post about the meta-issue?

    I have written extensively about it.

    Please provide the date/time of such a blog. Maybe you are failing at your main function and that is why I’m missing it.

    My main function certainly is not doing the homework of the guy who keeps telling me to shut up.

  37. #37 Stephanie Z
    March 29, 2011

    Since you can’t be bothered to read everything Greg’s written on the topic before telling him what he’s written on the topic: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/03/if_chernobyl_is_as_bad_as_it_g.php

  38. #38 healthphysicist
    March 29, 2011

    I never told Greg what he’s written on the topic…only on the topic within the last few blogs which I have read. I specifically said that. Why do you need to exaggerate what I’ve said?

    I guess for the same reasons Greg needs to read “shut up” in other stuff I’ve posted, in which I never said that.

    Oh well, I prefer reality.

    Enjoy the cult.

  39. #39 phillydoug
    March 29, 2011

    Health Physicist: “I have not said much at all about the engineers at Fukushima, because for them the threat of radiation exceeds the threat of food poisoning.”

    What would you say the threat from radiation is for people within the following radii from Daiichi– 10km? 20km? 50km? 100km? 200km? For how long?

    Is your view that the materials with longer half-lives won’t migrate far from the plant? If so, what evidence from other examples of unintended dispersion of radionuclides are you basing your conclusion on?

    Would you say that having to leave the village where your family has lived for three, or four or five generations, and never being able to return, constitutes a personal horror, even if you suffer no illness or other injury?

    “I prefer reality”

    As do we all. To repeat the point I’ve been trying to make (and failing I guess) is that nuclear advocates, especially those who have devoted years to study and work in the field, have a lot invested in maintaining a narrative that is based on the premise that nuclear reactors are basically safe and reliable. This represents more than making reasoned judgements based on evidence– it represents (sorry to get fancy)a series of existential commitments, a web of beliefs about the world and self. To challenge the belief system about the world threatens the view of self that makes sense to them — ‘I’m a smart, well-educated, well-informed person who makes rational decisions devoid of emotion and self-interest’.

    Stated differently, to question assumptions about what is ‘safe’, and what constitutes ‘acceptable risk’ is like saying ‘you’re view of youself and your beliefs about the world– what you’ve held to be axiomatically true– may need to be reconsidered’. Or, despite your expertise and confidence in your views, some of your conclusions may be based on faulty assumtions. Leading to incorrect conclusions. Are you open to that? I’m watching and reading about thousands of people being forcibly evacuated from around Daiichi. Why is that happening, in your view? And why is that not relevant to Indian River, or Diablo Canyon?

    The reality, which you say you prefer, is that there are dozens of ‘incidents’ that occur at nuclear reactors every year, including in the US, and that there are ‘accidents’ several times a year in which emergency actions are required, and that catastrophic failures (radioactive materials released into the environment) have occurred at least once every ten years since 1957.

  40. #40 phillydoug
    March 29, 2011

    And as if on cue:

    (from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42324053/ns/us_news-environment/)

    “Long before the nuclear emergency in Japan, U.S. regulators knew that a power failure lasting for days at an American nuclear plant, whatever the cause, could lead to a radioactive leak. Even so, they have only required the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors to develop plans for dealing with much shorter blackouts on the assumption that power would be restored quickly.

    In one nightmare simulation presented by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009, it would take less than a day for radiation to escape from a reactor at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant after an earthquake, flood or fire knocked out all electrical power and there was no way to keep the reactors cool after backup battery power ran out. “

  41. #41 capsiplex
    April 3, 2011

    This represents more than making reasoned judgements based on evidence– it represents (sorry to get fancy)a series of existential commitments, a web of beliefs about the world and self. To challenge the belief system about the world threatens the view of self that makes sense to them — ‘I’m a smart, well-educated, well-informed person who makes rational decisions devoid of emotion and self-interest’.