A Few Things Ill Considered

Open Thread: The Fukushima Problem

(The following is posted by het)

I have noticed some comments here about Fukushima and I thought it might be useful to have one post to capture that conversation. So please, have forth here.

I live in the middle of Canada. Fukushima is on the other side of the world. The only information I have about what goes on there is what I get via the media. And therein lies a problem. Basically, who do you trust?

  • There are the mainstream media who are liable to print almost anything.
  • There are TEPCO, General Electric and the Japanese government.
  • There are regulatory agencies NISA, JAEA, IAEA etc.
  • There are a range of items from anti-nuclear activists and pro-nuclear industry lobbyists who post news with their slant.
  • There are several quasi-scientific organizations who have posted on the subject. I’m thinking of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Wiki encyclopediaists and such.
  • There are several scientists who have published peer reviewed papers. (see List below)

[Complicating this matter, I regularly see news items stating that the company and/or the government are engaged in cover-ups.]

Originally I was going to write a “What Do We Know” section with information I pulled from old AWOGWN issues, but then I asked myself…

What do we want to know?

  1. How long until the four Fukushima plants can be completely decommisioned?
  2. How far has the melted nuclear material [corium] penetrated into the base concrete or into the earth?
  3. What are the health effects on the local and the non-local populations?
  4. What is the danger of low level radiactive material bio-accumulating in the human food chain?
  5. When can the Fukushima prefecture people go home?
  6. What precisely is the source of the elevated radioactive material in the ocean nearby?
  7. What is the danger of radioactive fish in other parts of the Pacific?

Which simplified my task considerably, because as far as I know the answers are…

  1. Unknown.
  2. Unknown.
  3. Uncertain [likely will only be revealed in decades].
  4. Uncertain.
  5. Unknown [see #1].
  6. Leaking reactors bathed by sea water [despite what TEPCO says].
  7. Uncertain.

Those “Uncertains” mean that ongoing monitoring will be required.

Okay, over to you. What’s missing? What’s wrong?

<regards>

-het


Some Radioactive Isotopes

Isotope Half life
———————– ———————–
Iodine-131 8.02 days
Cesium-134 2.0652 years
Cesium-135 2.3 million years
Cesium-137 30.17 years
Strontium-89 50.57 days
Strontium-90 28.8 years
Plutonium-239 24,100 years
Plutonium-244 80 million years
Xenon-133 5.2475 days
Xenon-133m 2.19 days
Xenon-135 9.14 hours
Xenon-135m 15.29 minutes
Uranium-235 703.8 million years
Uranium-238 4.468 billion years
———————– ———————–

Peer Reviews Papers

>EOF

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Lewinski
    New Mexico, United States
    December 5, 2012

    As far as “Who do you trust” goes, I think the geeks have scored some points this round:

    http://www.livescience.com/20977-japan-geiger-counter-citizens.html

    I know some folks who have been in full blown panic mode “this is going to wipe all life off the face of the earth”. I tell them about the natural reactors that formed at Oklo 1.8 billion years ago in the hope that they’ll relax just a little. Yes, it’s terrible but it isn’t the actual end of the world.

  2. #2 Eamon
    Tohoku
    December 5, 2012

    The peer-review literature, and the follow-up comments thereof are key – and I’m very glad to see them there at the end of your piece. However, there can be problems with people cherry-picking papers and neglecting to give the full picture that the researchers present. A good example is Ken Buessler’s papers. Good research, well presented, but often held up as “OMG! The Pacific is radioactive!” – which is something that Ken is at pains to discount in the paper itself.

    Illnesses from radiation dose is another problem area, and even those experts in the field often say “exposure” (environment) when what should be said is “dose” (what our body gets). There are also problems when statistically significant information gets mixed up with that which is not so solid – when people hear that 100mSv is the limit for attributable illnesses and then hear that is is so much lower then they are entitled to scratch their heads. There is also a lot of one-sided stuff coming from both sides of the debate, and as with Ken Buessler’s stuff there is a lot of cherry-picking.

    A good example of this is Dr Lydia Zablotska’s recent paper on illnesses in Chernobyl clean-up workers. This is presented as proof that any radiation is harmful, when the study’s average does was 92 mSv. Even worse, the major disease found, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), is rare in the Japanese population. Zablotska points this out in her writing on the paper – but none of it gets into the media.

    Add in the fact that “Low Exposure/ Dose” seems to be a term which covers whatever the writer wants and the web is full of apocalyptic blogs – filled with the same cherry-picked information, spreading panic and not information.

    It is a sad indictment of society that when searching for information on a report of a scientific study in the media, one can only find panic-inducing screed – and no sight of thoughtful analysis, or even the paper itself. It can be a herculean task to actually find such material.

  3. #3 Vince Whirlwind
    December 5, 2012

    Never mind illness – how much has this *cost* the Japanese economy?

  4. #4 Eamon
    December 5, 2012

    There are large costs being borne by the Japanese economy.

    There’s clean-up costs which may reach 10 trillion yen – about 130 billion dollars.

    There’s the fuel costs for the plants that are covering the electricity lost by shuttering the NPPs – about 4.3 trillion yen in 2011.

    We also have to rebuild the areas hit by the tsunami. estimated as near 17 trillion yen.

    We have other costs too – trade lost to China due to right-wing moves on disputed islands, lost tourist revenue, and given the tunnel collapse this week – increased infrastructure maintenance. We may also have a massive renewables build to fund.

    Our exports are suffering because of the strong yen and high costs – and most political parties do not want to join the Pacific Free Trade Pact, the TPP, as they are concerned about the rice farmers.

    The future isn’t bright here at the moment…

  5. #5 Vince Whirlwind
    December 5, 2012

    So what you’re saying is that the Fukushima plant doubled the cost of the Tsunami.

    …but you didn’t include any costs for evacuated land that loses its productivity in part or in whole as a result of the contamination and/or the cleanup.

    Now, the comment by Mike, at the top, refers to some “natural reactors” that went off 1.8 billion years ago. Which economy did this affect and how high was the cost?
    Because if it affected no economy and cost nothing, then such a red herring is usually a glaring bit of deliberate misdirection, usually employed by somebody in denial of some reality or other. In this case the reality would be the vastly immense cost represented by risks posed to our society by the nuclear industry, an industry that is unable to produce power economically and therefore relies on taxpayer subsidy in order to exist.

    The Monju power plant in Japan has cost the Japanese taxpayer 200 billion yen so far, since 1996, and it has produced 1 single hour of electricity in all that time.

    Even when they don’t blow up, they can cause an economic catastrophe.

  6. #6 kai
    December 9, 2012

    whirlpool, you should try to understand that renewables do not provide constantly stable electricity, whereas nuclear plants do. basta! nuclear power plants are the most efficient engines to provide us with reliable energy.

  7. #7 Jan
    December 9, 2012

    That Kai thing has an extremely naive stance towards nuclear power.

    If one compares the benefits with the potential risks of nuclear power, the only conclusion can be that nuclear power is unjustifiable. Even more so when you realise that after spending trillions of dollars of public subsidies on developing nuclear power it still ranges under “also ran” as far as its contribution to world energy is concernd, i. e., a mere 2%.

  8. #8 Vince Whirlwind
    December 11, 2012

    Kai, name me a single renewable project that has been as unreliable as the Japanese Monju nuclear reactor which has cost 200billion Yen and produced just 1 hour of electricity in the last 15 years.

  9. #9 Vince Whirlwind
    December 11, 2012

    For bonus points, tell us whether the Monju nuclear plant operates under free market conditions, or whether it is made possible through socialist redistribution of taxpayers’ money to a large nuclear power corporation?

  10. #10 Eamon
    Tohoku
    December 11, 2012

    So what you’re saying is that the Fukushima plant doubled the cost of the Tsunami.

    No, 10 trillion is 10 trillion – not 17 trillion, which would have caused a doubling.

    …but you didn’t include any costs for evacuated land that loses its productivity in part or in whole as a result of the contamination and/or the cleanup.

    I didn’t include it because there are no solid figures available. However, figures of 4.5 Trillion have been bandied about as the cost of compensation to TEPCO.

  11. #11 Eamon
    Tohoku
    December 11, 2012

    Kai, name me a single renewable project that has been as unreliable as the Japanese Monju nuclear reactor which has cost 200billion Yen and produced just 1 hour of electricity in the last 15 years.

    Monju is an experimental reactor, not designed to commercially produce electricity, which is why its total generating capacity is a paltry 280 MW. In addition, it has not operated for those 15 years due to court rulings and government vacillation. Any renewable project would face problems generating electricity if they were shut down as was the case in Monju.

    For bonus points, tell us whether the Monju nuclear plant operates under free market conditions, or whether it is made possible through socialist redistribution of taxpayers’ money to a large nuclear power corporation?

    It is run by the Japanese government – not a corporation..

  12. #12 Vince Whirlwind
    December 12, 2012

    So you admit that
    a/ No renewable project has proven an expensive failure as this nuclear project

    b/ This nuclear project only exists because taxpayer money is used to fund it

    I think we should remember those two facts next time a renewable project asks for a little bit of R&D investment from the government.
    Not that that happnes very often – renewables tend to be able to stand on their own two feet, cover their own risks, and tend to avoid economic catastrophes.

  13. #13 kai
    December 12, 2012

    cold water whirlpool, as always, you are 200% wrong – due to religious co2 and renewable biases and for all reduced realism awareness due to perception impairments due to climate hallucinations:

    the biggest catastrophe for society is a total blackout for let’s say a month or so in a nation: and that’s what you get with the cursed renewables: take winter time, inversion weather etc.: no sun, no wind, frozen water in the rivers etx. etc.: where does the reliable energy come from: 1) nuclear power plants, 2) gas and coal power planrts: nothing else, you stupid. stop talkig about one japanese nuclear which fits your insanity as excuse for your life lies of rotten climate change idiotisms and improve your intellectual abilities through learning and more knowledge about nature

  14. #14 Eamon
    Tohoku
    December 13, 2012

    Vince,

    you have a great tendency to take factual statements, twist them around, simplify and then present them as coming from the stater. Add to this your inability to get facts right, e.g Monju being operated by a corporation, and you end up not adding anything to the discussion. In fact, it seem like only me and Mike Lewinski have contributed to the discussion that Het was trying to start.

    Here’s my reply to your points now, I’ve taken the liberty of editing them into a more discussion-friendly style:

    You know Eamon, no renewable project has proven an expensive failure as this nuclear project

    Well, Vince you know that first – we are comparing apples and oranges. We might have to compare the costs of developing a new version of a particular renewable technology against Monju, and then factor in how legal delays would have affected it. If you have the information please share it with us.

    This nuclear project only exists because taxpayer money is used to fund it

    That is true – but the same can be said of a multitude of projects worldwide.

    I think we should remember those two facts next time a renewable project asks for a little bit of R&D investment from the government.

    I think there is a lot of R&D going on from governments, in the States the Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory work on renewables.

    Not that that happnes very often – renewables tend to be able to stand on their own two feet, cover their own risks, and tend to avoid economic catastrophes.

    I don’t know what the situation is where you live, but in Europe and Japan renewables require massive feed-in tariff support. As for economic catastrophes, that I guess depends on your point of view – I’m not looking forward to paying for renewables and increased fossil fuel use here in Japan. There’s also the over-selling the good points of renewables, and the ignoring of the bad points to consider – that way leads to economic disaster if legislatures do not perform due diligence in reviewing power policies. One good example here is the Japan Future Party, which appeared last month, and aims to get rid of nuclear power in 10 years. They say it is possible because Germany is doing it – but ignore the fact that Germany can get power from the rest of Europe. Japan, with intractable problems with all its neighbors cannot do that.

  15. #15 Wow
    December 13, 2012

    “Well, Vince you know that first – we are comparing apples and oranges.”

    No, renewables and nuclear.

    Nice try at changing the subject, but no bikkit for you.

    “If you have the information please share it with us.”

    The cost of developing nuclear is known for 50 years. It’s huge. If you have any figures on how much has been put into developing solar PV for example, please share it with us, because all we have are a tiny fraction of the money poured into Nuclear.

    “”This nuclear project only exists because taxpayer money is used to fund it”

    That is true”

    Yup, it’s true. So why are you wanting more government waste? Let the private industry try paying for it. If it can’t even after 50 years of R&D subsidy, then it can’t be done profitably.

    “I don’t know what the situation is where you live, but in Europe and Japan renewables require massive feed-in tariff support.”

    Well, I know you don’t live in Europe or Japan, then, because that statement is complete bollocks.

    “I’m not looking forward to paying for renewables and increased fossil fuel use here in Japan.”

    But ARE looking forward to paying lots and lots more for nuclear? Yeah, you’re not big on rationality, are you.

    “There’s also the over-selling the good points of renewables”

    Bollocks. There’s a huge hype over the bad points of rewnewables “If you don’t go nuclear, you MUST HAVE COAL!” and “Renewables just don’t work” et al.

    “and the ignoring of the bad points to consider”

    How can that be happening when every single fucking time renewables come up, some tosspot like you goes all alarmist about catastrophe with renewables???

    “that way leads to economic disaster if legislatures do not perform due diligence in reviewing power policies”

    Which you define as “Go ahead with Nuclear” only, right?

    “They say it is possible because Germany is doing it – but ignore the fact that Germany can get power from the rest of Europe.”

    And Germany is a net value exporter of energy to the rest of Europe.

    And lacks more than somewhat of a coastline.

    My god, you’re a retard! You claim to live in Japan but have forgotten that Japan has quite a lot of coastline for its area.

  16. #16 Eamon
    Tohoku
    December 16, 2012

    Ah Wow,

    still having anger and profanity problems I see. Crazy extrapolations of what people wrote too.

    “You claim to live in Japan but have forgotten that Japan has quite a lot of coastline for its area.”

    What on Earth are you taking about?

  17. #17 Wow
    December 16, 2012

    Eamon, still having relevancy problems, I see.

    Got something other than ad hom? No?

    Never mind.

    And it seems you don’t even know what renewable energy is…

    Sad.

    Very very sad.

  18. #18 Eamon
    Tokoku
    December 26, 2012

    Wow,

    I see my question remains unanswered – what does your comment on Japan’s coastline mean? Wind, Wave, Tidal?

    As for an Ad Hom, your post of December 13th contains:

    bollocks-“you’re not big on rationality, are you.”-Bollocks-“some tosspot like you”-“My god, you’re a retard!”

    So yes, anger and profanity issues are evident.

    “Well, I know you don’t live in Europe or Japan”

    にほんにすんでるですよ!

  19. #19 Wow
    December 28, 2012

    Your question was answered.

    You didn’t understand it but then this could be a combination of idiocy and pig-headed refusal.

    Renewables are fine and they consist of solar which can produce power 24/7 tides that produce a consistent power surge, wave energy that gives some power 24/7 and wind that is easily predictable and is enhanced by two meteorological phenomena you have no clue about: sea winds.

    Morning and night you get onshore and offshore winds.

    Quite powerful.

    But you don’t know about and don’t want to know you merely want to push nuclear because you’re an ignorant twat.

  20. #20 Eamon
    Tohoku
    January 1, 2013

    Coby,

    Is the abuse laid out by Wow the standard on this blog? I want to engage with him, but anything I get from him is peppered with pretty base insults.

    Any suggestions for dealing with this?

    Eamon

  21. #21 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    Eamon, still crying to daddy?

    You get abuse when you define “abuse” as “disagrees with me” a lot don’t you.

    Your assertions on the science are fairy tales and bunkum.

    And you call the calling out of these facts as “abuse”.

    Deary me, what a whiny little opinionated idiot you are.

  22. #22 kai
    January 2, 2013

    wow, you coward hide behind anonymity and are a primitive green-leftist activist who believes in authoritarian governments. your doomsday is quickly approaching and satan will punish you for all your sins

  23. #23 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    laughable coming from you, you idiot.

  24. #24 coby
    January 2, 2013

    Hi Eamon,

    My moderation policy is to moderate as little as possible, preferably not at all. I think wow is trying to prove this policy is inadequate by becoming the first person ever I will have to ban.

    My advice to people is always to ignore anyone who is abusive, reply to any substantive points if you want to, but otherwise just don’t respond.

    That isn’t because I think it is the ideal approach, just because very good moderation is hard and time-consuming, and I believe in general that no moderation is better than bad moderation.

    I do want to engage you a little bit about nuclear power, and will do so when I have a bit more time. Mostly I have some questions that I have always wanted to put to someone who does appear to advocate nuclear power.

    Thanks for your comments!

  25. #25 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    Gosh, so in what way am I worse than kai or IC, nancy-boy?

  26. #26 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    Hang on, I know.

    It’s because I’ll insult you for your [snip], isn’t it?

    If kai had been nasty to you, he’d have disappeared ages ago. As long as he’s not calling YOU in a heap, though, he’s just an annoyance.

  27. #27 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    PS for the illumination of others decrying nasty words here, coby is quite all right using swearwords and similar in emails he gives out.

    Turns out the spineless little twat is just shy about appearing as he is in public.

  28. #28 coby
    January 2, 2013

    Wow,

    You are worse than kai and Insufficient Combatant because you are not starting from an irrational position like YE creationism or obviously just a troll so you really should be able to say something intelligent. You are also continually abusive to people who show a lot of patience and treat you with an undeserved civility, most people are giving as good as they get from kai. On top of that your insults are particularly vulgar and immature in nature as well as being sexually discriminatory.

    Yes, I called you a useless asshole in my “get lost” email, so what? The fact that you are unable to discern a difference in expected behavior in private and public discourse is more evidence of your lack of maturity. I would note too that you have not in fact “got lost” so your protest about some imagined preferential treatment toward kai is just a bit off.

  29. #29 Wow
    January 2, 2013

    Am I worse than kai, or is “worse” synonymous with “actually insults ME! HOW DARE HE?!?!!?”?

    I think it is.

    Go on, look at kai’s posts.

    “your doomsday is quickly approaching and satan will punish you for all your sins”

    Aaaw, so full of pleasantries and niceness.

    You’re a frigging opinionated hack who hates taking responsibility for their actions.

    And a hypocrite too.

    Here’s how.

    Look at what you say when you’re telling everyone else kai is therei fault: “Don’t respond to him and he won’t post”.

    IF you are right (and I doubt it) and everyone follows your demands (why?) then the result is kai no longer posts his crap here.

    That means what you say you want is him to stop posting here.

    But he posts his crap here because YOU let him.

    THIS is my problem with you, [snip]. You blame others for what you allow.

    It’ll be interesting to see when you banhammer me whether kai is kept on to insult people left right and centre (as long as he doesn’t include you).

  30. #30 Wow
    January 3, 2013

    see, coby.

  31. #31 Wow
    January 3, 2013

    hey, and are kai’s ravings on quarrantine?

    nah, he’s not insulting you, is he, [snip].

  32. #32 Joffan
    January 8, 2013

    Interesting questions in the article. I think your answers are unnecessarily imprecise, though. It’s usually possible to put some boundaries on “unknown” and “uncertain”.

    1.How long until the four Fukushima plants can be completely decommisioned?
    – Unit 4 will probably be decommissioned relatively quickly. Current plan is to get all spent fuel out in the next two years, then my guess is that another two years will see unit 4 fully decommissioned.
    Units 1-3 need special tooling to work on the corium. My guess is that one of the units will be completely decommissioned in 15 years and the others will follow at intervals of no more than 5 years each. (I also believe it could be done much more quickly; but I do not now think it will be).

    2.How far has the melted nuclear material [corium] penetrated into the base concrete or into the earth?
    – Best guess of the worst case is that the corium stayed inside the primary containment, penetrating the internal concrete some distance in unit 1. Speculation of further travel would still have the shell of primary containment and a very significant depth of foundation concrete beyond that, so even this scenario could not reach “earth”.

    3.What are the health effects on the local and the non-local populations?
    – Health effects are dominated by the stress of evacuation. Clearly there is a massive gap in personal autonomy here; the locals were given no choice about which risks they prefer to face, and virtually no information to make that decision.

    Expected number of excess cancers over the next fifty years is zero, on the exposure numbers for the public, and zero-to-one for the workers.

    Non-local people should have no health effects at all, but anxiety by spread of ridiculous doomsday scenarios will have a well-documented toll.

    4.What is the danger of low level radiactive material bio-accumulating in the human food chain?
    – The material to consider is cesium. The iodine is long gone and no other material is present in the environment from Fukushima in quantities of any concern.
    http://www.nuclearactive.org/docs/BF_FS.pdf is a good discussion on bioaccumulation. Cesium does not significantly biomagnify through the food chain – the data at LANL shows lower cesium concentration in animals than on the ground.

    5.When can the Fukushima prefecture people go home?
    – Most of Fukushima prefecture people are already home of course, but limiting consideration to the evacuation zone, many parts of this are now open again (although not as open as I would expect, given the data). I’d guess that some small portions of the zone will probably stay closed for another ten years, while the cesium weathers off the land.

    There’s certainly no need for people to wait until the reactors are fully decommissioned to return to the evacuation zone.

    6.What precisely is the source of the elevated radioactive material in the ocean nearby?
    – There was a good deal of radioactive material deposited in the ocean nearby in March/April 2011, so that’s some of it – probably most of it. That includes material blown directly off the bulidings, subsequent dust, airborne leakage and run-off/seepage from the inital attempts to cool the reactors.

    Since then there was a decreasing but continuing trickle of groundwater and airborne radioactive contamination direct from the site. Probably a bigger input of radioactive contamination today is from the rivers as run-off from contaminated land reaches the ocean.

    Curiously, coby, this was the only question to which you claimed a definite answer, but your answer was at least incomplete, and if you were intending express it as a current radioactive source, it was wrong. The reactor vessels of units 1, 2 and 3 are definitely leaking, but they are equally definitely not cooled using sea water and the water extraction from the buildings is higher than the water being pumped into the reactors.

    7. What is the danger of radioactive fish in other parts of the Pacific?
    – Nil.
    There is detectable radioactive material from Fukushima in fish elsewhere in the Pacific, but since you use the word “danger”, the answer became simpler.

  33. #33 Joffan
    January 8, 2013

    tl;dr answers:
    1. 5-25 years for different units
    2. Not beyond containment
    3. Stress effects only (important to deal with these)
    4. Negligibly small
    5. Phased return between now and 10 years
    6. Mixed sources, today essentially none
    7. Nil

  34. #34 Eamon
    Tohoku
    January 15, 2013

    Thanks for the reply Coby

    My moderation policy is to moderate as little as possible, preferably not at all. I think wow is trying to prove this policy is inadequate by becoming the first person ever I will have to ban.

    I thought that that might be the case, but I’ve been on a few blogs/forums where abuse by certain posters was used to shut down opposing views.

    My advice to people is always to ignore anyone who is abusive, reply to any substantive points if you want to, but otherwise just don’t respond.

    Good advice.

    I do want to engage you a little bit about nuclear power, and will do so when I have a bit more time. Mostly I have some questions that I have always wanted to put to someone who does appear to advocate nuclear power.

    I look forward to it. If you want to use my email address, as input on the comment form, feel free. Be warned that things are busy with me right now, so responses may be very delayed.

    Thanks for your comments!

    And thanks for the blog, HTTTAGWS is a great resource!

  35. #35 Wow
    January 15, 2013

    Whine whine whine whine whine.

    You pretend that the ONLY renewable is solar PV so you can go “Huh, what if the sun goes down, yeah?”.

    Well, it isn’t the only renewable.

    The windfarm continued to produce when the nuclear station was out of commission.

    And whilst it is done for profit, nuclear power is just too damn dangerous.