Monday, March 14, 2011

More stupid hype

Fears and shortages in stricken Tokyo

Fears? Well, I suppose there must be some people who are scared. But the city is hardly stricken, it's not even getting any power cuts because it is far too important for that (the cuts are planned for the surrounding areas, but they didn't happen yesterday and in fact I've not heard of any happening anywhere yet). The trains are certainly a mess, and when everyone runs out to the shops to buy the same thing, of course the shelves get empty, but there are no real shortages.


silence said...

They just had one heck of a big blast at No. 2, and significant pressure drop in the suppression chamber. Radiation release. Plant workers evacuated.

If I was as close as Tokyo and downwind, I would be pretty scared right now.

Anonymous said...

"If I was as close as Tokyo and downwind, I would be pretty scared right now."

Which is exactly my situation. I'm sorry, but asking us to be scared is hardly helpful. I will only continue to act sensibly and try to minimise my risk. There is very little I can do. To quote Russian diplomat Ivan Drago, "if he dies, he dies."

Unusually for a fellow climate scientist, I'm in complete agreement with James and feel that he's copped a lot of flak here unfairly. His comment is only that what the media is telling us about panic and shortages here is demonstrably untrue. I did manage to find a greengrocers with a queue out the door earlier, but the one next door was basically empty. Perhaps people just liked the first one.

Of course we're all absolutely gutted about what's happened. The average Japanese probably much more than I am too, as it must be a much more personal experience. People here are a bit subdued. But I'm going to take a leaf out of their book and do my best rather than just panic.

good luck to everyone,


Steve Bloom said...

James, when I saw the headline I assumed you must be referring to this effort by a recent co-author of yours. :)

Hugo, there is a chance, probably small but even so a chance, of a worst case scenario wherein the fuel melts into a blob, re-commences fissioning and finds the water table. How should people be reacting?

James Annan said...

Well I'm a fair way past Tokyo (Kamakura) and predominantly upwind :-)

Also, I've got a whopping bag of rice at home, many bottles of water and a spare tank of LPG to cook it with. I could lock the doors for a couple of weeks if necessary.

Steve, the one thing I can safely say people should not be doing is buying up bread and other perishable items to stockpile, which is what some are now doing. It's just incredibly stupid. This stuff won't even keep, especially in a power cut. Idiots. What do you think they should be doing?

Steve Bloom said...

As you say, food that will last plus a means to cook it and plenty of water (good to have in earthquake country anyway). Specific to a radiologic emergency, I would add materials for sealing doors and windows, high-efficiency filter masks and lightweight rad suits. Also, of course, the standard emergency supplies like a basic medical kit, one of those hand-cranked radios that will recharge your cell phone, etc.

Anonymous said...

Please don't misunderstand me. These all sound like very sensible measures to be taking and I really hope that people here get the right info so they do the right stuff.

All I object to is the media reporting things that aren't happening and the spreading of panic for panic's sake.

Certainly, my own thought process is not functioning normally. For one thing, I'm commenting on things on the internet, which is not something I've done before. I've managed to resist commenting on gags aimed at me on James' previous post, but it's probably only a matter of time...


James Annan said...

Steve, all Japanese have always known to keep a supply of non-perishable food precisely for the event of such an earthquake.

I'm sorry, but lightweight rad's ridiculous. *IF* the worst happens on-site with a massive release of radioactive material (which many experts say is actually impossible) *AND* the wind blows this way *AND* a significant amount rains out *THEN* I can just stay at home for a week or two, and at that point, yes I do think it would be appropriate to worry. But that is a long way down the line.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, the lightweight sort isn't really a big investment (the mask is more of one), and I'm pretty sure you've got similarly vulnerable reactors closer (and there's that other big fault to worry about). Even so, in the admittedly unlikely event you get a Pu-laced breeze from up north in the near future, what's in the air and able to get on your skin will become issues. It's that MOX fuel that would tip me toward the suit and mask, BTW, Pu being truly nasty stuff. That said, being prepared to seal your doors and windows and stay home for a while is considerable protection.

Alice from Raccoon City said...

Don't forget anti-zombie flashlights.

James Annan said...

Alice, I thought zombies were best dealt with by cricket bats, but maybe I'm missing something.

Steve, I didn't have you pegged as a survivalist. There are plenty of pigeons in the forest behind our house if things get desperate. And there's a generous supply of bamboo shoots - have to be careful with these though, rumour has it they are carcinogenic :-)

J Bowers said...

Someone's notes on Sir John Beddington's talk with the British Embassy in Tokyo today:

"15 March 2011 10:31AM [GMT]

At around 5 PM Japan time today the UK government’s Chief Scientific officer John Beddington spoke to the British Embassy in Tokyo, and to others listening in on the teleconference, and gave us some information about worst case scenarios at the Fukushima plant.
I made the following notes on what was said and found it very reassuring:

1. Worst case scenario (reactor explodes) problems would only affect a 30 km radius around the plant.
2. No health problems expected outside this 30 km area. Today's reports of increased radiation in Tokyo are trivial. The increase in radiation they are reporting is not significant. It would need to be 100s of times that level to cause any problems.
3. An allowable dose would be 100 times the background radiation.
4. They can monitor radiation levels in the area from outside Japan, so there is no cover up going on. Conspiracy theorists stand down.
5. In Chernobyl the top blew off the reactor and then the core caught fire and burnt. This convection pushed all radioactive material higher and higher into the air where it reached 30,000 feet and so the spread was much larger.
Here, a build up of pressure as the radioactive material interacts with the containment floor would cause an explosion that would only reach as high as around 500 meters. This would contain any dangerous material within the 20 to 30 km exclusion zone.
6. If all attempts at cooling the reactors fail, a worst case scenario, then there would be an explosion, but this blast would only throw radioactive material up to 500 meters, and the 30 km containment zone stands.
7. Acceptable levels of radiation are based on the most susceptible members of society (children and pregnant mothers). So right now, the levels outside the 30 km zone are fine for all members of society.
8. No matter how strong the wind, the radioactive material released after an explosion of the core wouldn't make it to Tokyo.

These are just the main points I picked up, a transcript/podcast will apparently be uploaded to the British Embassy's Japan Web site. It was reassuring to hear a calm but informed perspective."

Justin said...


I agree that where you are you have absolutely no risk.

The Fukushima accidents, however, are highly troubling. I think Joseph Oehmen's analysis would be spot on if everything was as it seems.

Unfortunately, it isn't; ie what you see is not what you get. The problem is that the reactors appear to be showing a series of design faults. To get an idea of the problems, it is worth reading this description:

The sequence of accidents we are seeing does seem to indicate a problem with the core shroud as predicted. We also have a rolling problems with the spent fuel storage pools, that don't appear to have been designed to the same degree of safety in depth as the working reactors.

Incidentally, I've dealt with TEPCO management over the years, and these scandals have been endemic to the company.

You also don't have to be beholden to TEPCO and government reporting. Radiation levels are available on the web.

The server is a pain but be patient for this site. Over the last emission, it was possible to see something was severely wrong 5 hours before the mainstream media picked it up.

I don't think the accidents will impact you down in Kamakura but they could severely impact three or four prefectures close to the reactors. They are also disastrous for Japan's nuclear program, its electrical generation capacity over the short term and the fiscal deficit.

There may not be a lot of two-headed chickens knocking around, but the impact on Japan is really bad.


Steve Bloom said...

Survival is good, considering the alternative.

Justin, do they have neutron monitors set up outside those reactors? That would be key information. In fact the absence of it is a little suspicious.

Has anyone seen any information on core age? I vaguely recall when I was learning this stuff (too long ago to remember the details) doing calculations of core heat transients based on that. Granted that this wouldn't give us a yes/no answer about a meltdown, but since that sort of calculation is surely being done, the apparent absence of any public discussion makes me suspicious.

Also, Justin, I would disagree with you about the risk in Kamakura being zero unless it's the case that Kamakura is never downwind of the reactor site. If it is, it's certainly close enough to be affected by a meltdown plume. To paraphrase my favorite climate aphorism, the acceptable number of Pu atoms you want to inhale or ingest is zero.

Carl C said...

jeez Hugo I hope you realize I'm just taking the piss. You were my favorite Oxford student! Of course that isn't saying much! ;-) I only get mean and angry when James is bitching about uniform priors...

Steve Bloom said...

Just saw some footage on the Beeb showing what appeared to be local public safety workers (perhaps directing the evacuation) dressed up in the very rigs I mentioned.

James Annan said...

Steve, if I was planning a holiday up there, I would certainly dress for the event. "Zero risk" is a bit of a straw man. Thanks perhaps to my habit of cycling to work (without wearing a helmet, shock horror), I'm well used to discussions over, and analysis of, danger and risk. Which might be one reason why I'm not too bothered.

Justin, I am sure the fallout will be pretty big - but only in a metaphorical sense (except perhaps in the immediate vicinity).

Steve Bloom said...

See, James, it's proof positive of your hardheadedness. I'd ask Jules for more, but I'm feeling kindly toward you just now. :)

According to the NYT, radiation levels over Tokyo ~20 times normal were detected some hours ago, although they receded subsequently, and Americans at Atsugi and Yokosuka (your immediate neighborhood, yes?) have been urged to take radiation precautions (whatever that means). (Maybe with a little more actual threat they'll be joining the cheese-eating evacuation monkeys? The color schemes of those flags are after all suspiciously similar.)

But all things considered, no, I wouldn't be panicing either as yet, although I might be starting to think about devoting the time to a thought process that could lead to panic at some point in the future. :)

James Annan said...

20 times sounds like a mistranslation or miscommunication, it's not been seen in the local press. Or on the local web pages with geiger counters.

There was a detectable spike yesterday, but not 20x background and not to a level that is anywhere near significant in health terms - some parts of the world have higher background levels...

James Annan said...

OK, I found the 20x, though the actual quoted level seemed the same as I already saw. The peak is still way below the level that is dangerous *even if sustained* which of course it isn't. Hugo will get a far far greater dose on his flight which is due to take off soon :-)

Steve Bloom said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that it was dangerous, but rather an indication that the wind from there reaches your vicinity. Likely a for-real meltdown would be need for levels where you are to qualify as any sort of health concern. But anyway, let's not forget that my original point was simply that prospects for such an outcome are greater than zero.

David B. Benson said...

I've been carefully following the events at Fukushima Dai-ishi Power Plant, mostly via Australian climatologist Barry Brook's Brave New World.

The operators have dumped boric acid into reactors 1,2 and 3, effectively ending significant radiation production. The remaining issue appears to be the so-called spent fuel rod pool of shut-down reactor #4, where if matters become worse they are preparing to dump borates in there as well.

In the meantime, it seems to have rained up that way; climatologists will understand the consequences for aerosols far better than I.

So I rather doubt there is any off-site risk, but it seems that the IAEA is putting together a team to go to Fukushima and take the required measurements.

I suggest the air quality risk of simply passing through Tokyo on the way to wherever is a far greater hazard than Fukusima Dai-ichi, as long as you stay off that site.

Justin said...


Yes, they do have monitors at the plants. Usually readings around the plant are posted on the radiation monitoring site I referred to. The is a Japanese govt sponsored site so should be reliable:

Unfortunately, they are not now posting readings for the two prefectures home to the troubled reactors - Fukushima and MIyagi. If I was charitable I would say these monitoring stations were knocked out by the quake. But given there are a lot of sites, I suspect they have taken them off line so they can control the news flow so as to facilitate orderly increases in evacuation zones if they should need.

Data from the Fukushima Daiichi is available from the TEPCO web site. It is distributed as periodic pdf attachments to press releases.

The latest releases is here. It is in Japanese but I can lead your through the columns; date, time of day, place in plant, radiation reading, gamma radiation, neutron radiation, wind direction and wind speed.

Where the place in plant column has two Japanese characters that is the main gate of the plant.

You will get updates of this site here:

I presume you don't read Japanese, just click through the latest releases and look for the pdf attachments. There will be other press releases, but you should hit the right one after a few attempts.

The most easily accessible Tokyo CPM data is here. Updated very 10 mins and presented in graph form:

The bottom graph reading is pre quake which they have put up there for comparison.

Finally, the best blogger for up-to-date reactor information is here if you want to access Japanese media sources with the key points translated into English. Done by a professional interpreter. Hats off to his dedication. Don't know how he has been getting any sleep:

Finally, as regards the commentary on Brave New Climate, I am pro nuclear and would agree up to a point. But some of the posts assume everything should function as it should. They don't take into account, for example, poor construction work. TEPCO has been beset by scandals over its plants over the years. I should know as I previously covered the stock at work; every time a scandal hit, the stock price would fall and the investor relations guys would come to my office to bow in apology. I can tell you, it was a regular occurrence.

Japan as is sometimes a strange mix of super efficiency and cutting edge technology with a strong dash of cronyism and pork-barrel corruption and TEPCO is a fine example of that.


William T said...

meanwhile, the truly horrific devastation from the tsunami is almost lost from the world news reports...

James Annan said...

Exactly. That is the real, ongoing, tragedy in all of this.

(Actually, I don't think it is quite that bad - they are not really being forgotten. But just for example, a minor collection of aid from some people in Yokohama has been postponed because some people are apparently worried about going outside!)

Justin said...

I agree that the main tragedy has been pushed to one side in terms of attention by the nuclear leaks, but the government is partially responsible. They haven't given the public to timely data on radiation and then put that data into context. Numbers are coming out all over the place in nano and micro Grays and micro and milli Sieverts - and as geiger counter CPMs. Government should put up a page with all relevant numbers and what they mean in terms of health risks.

And in terms of access to decent information, radiation levels are also reported by Tokyo, Saitama and Chiba local governments. Data is here

Tokyo (the underlined link in the pink box, it occasionally doesn't work when they are changing data)

Chiba (click today's date and then on top pdf)


This covers the gap in not covered at


FYI This is Beddington's speech on the threat to Tokyo from the British Embassy

Steve Bloom said...

Many thanks for all that info, Justin.