Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nuclear meltdown in Hokkaido

Debito is back on Fukushima again, in full-on hyperventilate mode. "It's time for the naysayers to capitulate".

By which, apparently, he means me, quoting (without attribution) part of a comment I left on his site previously, after he had posted several screeds of anonymous scaremongering.

Of course, after challenging me to admit that I am wrong, he then censors my comments on his blog. Classy.

My position hasn't really changed since this post. Of course, it goes without saying that TEPCO and the JGovt are corrupt and incompetent, and will try their best to cover up the health risks. But that doesn't change the fact that in this case, there really aren't any significant health risks, and no amount of blogorrhea will change that. That's really where the story ends for me. Statistically, I suppose some modest but as-yet-unknown number of people will suffer genuine health effects due to radiation (more will suffer from the evacuation, stress and worry), and obviously this plus the overall effects presumably make it one of the largest industrial accidents ever, but that still leaves the risk way down in the noise for people like me. If I (a) had young children and (b) lived much closer to the centre of attention and (c) expected to stay indefinitely then I might well think it worth a more detailed risk assessment. But as a middle-aged person living well south of Tokyo for a few more years, with a significantly foreign diet to boot, it just isn't worth worrying about. I've got bigger problems, like the newly expanding hornet nest in the neighbouring temple :-)

I don't really object to people who were not capable of rationally assessing the risks and who decided that they would prefer to leave. I do object to them still saying, months later when the reality of the situation is well-known, that the sky is falling and we are all going to die horribly. It may not be a perfect comparison, but it seems that bananas are an order of magnitude more radioactive than the "contaminated" beef that was in the news here recently, for example.

Stoat also has some more interesting posts. It may be worth pointing out that while hundreds of thousands have been evacuated from their homes, and many may never return, in the case of the Fukushima refugees, this is an essentially precautionary and preventative measure, ie it has happened as an alternative to any direct impacts. For those displaced by the tsunami itself, they are the survivors of a catastrophe that killed about 20,000 and destroyed hundreds of kilometres of coastline. There really is no comparison.


Anonymous said...

I posted over at Debito's too - though I haven't checked back as to responses yet (due to both time constraints and a need to avoid stress).

There's a bit of a show-trial feeling about that post, not conducive to free and open discourse at all. The dark flip-side of activism I guess.

Hank Roberts said...

> statistically, I suppose ...

I recall health physics people some months ago said they don't expect to be able to detect a blip from this event in the health statistics, over coming decades; it really is too small an exposure for the population involved.

A tidbit for the modelers:

""We did not publish the modeling results because they were based on a number of assumptions and were subject to uncertainties"

EliRabett said...

FWIW Eli is in favor of the authorities being cautious as was the case with the two recent local unpleasantnesses. When you deal with large numbers of people even small risks can result in multiple deaths and injuries.

In short, all praise to the US FEMA and all of the governors whose states were in the paths of the storm and earthquake.

James Annan said...

Standards are a good thing, but it's important to realise that they are set very conservatively and any limited breaches are not an immediate cause for panic.

The latest JGov target for maximum exposure for schoolchildren would probably outlaw trips to parts of the UK such as Cornwall!

Hank Roberts said...

> Cornwall

Well, I wonder. This seems to make sense of the units:

"The sievert is the SI unit used for the dose equivalent and for the effective dose equivalent"
"The rem and Sv were developed to account for different efficiencies of different types of radiation in producing harm."
"Types of doses expressed in rem or Sv include:
dose equivalent (applies to single organ)
committed dose equivalent (applies to single organ)
effective dose equivalent (applies to total body)
committed effective dose equivalent (applies to total body)"
"The equivalent dose is obtained by multiplying the absorbed dose by special factors called radiation weighting factors (WR) that are intended to account for different efficiencies of the different radiations in producing biological damage."
(and much else, see the link for more)

So these measurements aren't simple counts, they're inferences about damage, mostly about inducing cancers.

Naturally occuring isotopes can be tallied (Cornwall has natural uranium and thorium in the rocks, and in the soil).

Cesium has no naturally occurring radioactive isotopes. Most of what's known about how it behaves is recent, based mostly on industry accidents and animal studies.

Per a one-cow dissection study (I quoted at Stoat's) the standard for cesium assumes it's evenly distributed throughout the body -- but the dissection identified cesium concentrated in some tissues far more than others. Handy to know if you're a butcher; awkward if you're working up assumptions of damage based on distribution being even.

Cesium's both a beta and (via a short-lived breakdown product) a gamma emitter.

So -- without clarity on if, and where, it concentrates -- how do we get a good comparison between ingested cesium (a single pulse, decaying over time) versus Cornwall's granite and soil background?

James Annan said...

The caesium doesn't really "decay" meaningfully (30y half-life) but neither does it stay in the body for long (unlike say strontium): the relevant time scale for consumption is the residence half-life which I think I saw written somewhere is a few months perhaps. But (when talking about the habitability of affected areas and whether children can go to school there) the JGovt is primarily talking about a per-year dose in the context of an ongoing exposure to ambient conditions, which seems a fairly straightforward comparison to background radiation in other regions.

Anonymous said...


any buzz in your workplace about Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama? His testimony before the Diet is very popular on Youtube, but despite his being the director of the Radioisotope Center at Todai I cannot find any work in that field by him on Google Scholar...

Steve Bloom said...

Here's an interesting development re those recently shaken Virginia reactors; they may have exceeded their design ground motion limit. Also, I hadn't noticed this:

"An NRC task force set up in the aftermath of the Japan crisis urged a shift in the NRC's safety regime that would force plants to plan for catastrophes far worse than design specifications allowed for, as well as require that companies assess seismic and flooding hazards at plants every 10 years."

The first one in particular is a good idea, but as a reasonable application of it would mean the end for some existing plants I expect it won't be implemented.

Re the general issue of radiation in the environment, I'm a lot less worried about it than about the increasing load of chemicals we're all carrying around. OTOH, that doesn't make the radiation benign.

Probably, though, the largest health issue is with people who, thanks to the gov't/TEPCO collaboration that just seems to keep on giving, lingered in contaminated areas in the days immediately following the containment breaches.

James Annan said...

I've seen the video but otherwise know nothing. I do wonder if he's related to the "Kashiwa hotspot" stories (Kashiwa being a Todai campus). I find all of this "think of the children" wailing a bit silly, when it considers only one risk to the exclusion of many others (see bicycle helmet posts passim).

Steve, I agree that the Govt and Tepco were incompetent and/or dishonest in various proportions, which has added to the mistrust.

Anonymous said...

There's also the incompetence of the Bureaucracy to mess things up too - The Nuclear Safety Commission ignoring the SPEEDI predictions of radioisotope dispersion, the Farm Ministry not knowing that cattle can be fed rice straw, and thus not banning its use and allowing beef to be contaminated. I'm sure there's more Keystone Kapers waiting to see the light of day from the bureaucracy, the true government of Japan.

Anonymous said...

Debito seems to have processed the backlog of responses on his recent Fukushima post - one of yours is in there.

Jesús R. said...

May I ask in what specific points Govt and Tepco has proven to be incompetent and/or dishonest? (it's a sincere question, I don't mean they weren't, it's just that I don't know :) )

Anonymous said...

Jesús R,

before starting, let me say that in my mind, the government includes the politicians and the bureaucracy, and in Japan the latter seems to have more power.

As for specific incompetencies, some of which are systemic - here's a few I can think of a few off the top of my head:

* One part of the bureaucracy ignoring data from another part of the bureaucracy that evacuees were being moved into areas that were probably hot spots.

* The Farm Ministry banning the use of hay for feeding cattle, as it may have been contaminated by radioisotopes - but forgetting that rice straw could also be used as a feed, and was subject to the same environment as the hay. No farmers or farming organizations seem to have queried the use of rice straw either.

The Farm Ministry was later found to have also forgotten about how compost was made - leading to contaminated compost entering the market.

* TEPCO had recently concluded that a 10 metre tsunami could possibly hit Fukushima - but there seemed no urgency on this point (how could they know what was soon to happen?). To be honest, this is more a systemic failure - as TEPCO was asked by the nuclear regulator, NISA, to investigate the matter. Such things should be done by regulators, and more specifically whatever branch of the bureaucracy is concerned with preventing disasters. To be honest, if there was a more coherent approach to disaster in Japan perhaps the death toll in Tohoku would have been much lower, after all - if TEPCO could conclude a large tsunami would hit their plant, perhaps a Disaster Prevention Agency could have reached such a conclusion earlier and warned municipalities to guard against such an event.

James Annan said...

Yea-mon has beaten me to it. I wouldn't particularly blame the current govt (ie DPJ, only in power since 2009) but the past 50y of governance leaves a lot to be desired. AIUI we could reasonably add that the 10m tsunami risk is something that they should have known right from the start.

Anonymous said...

AIUI we could reasonably add that the 10m tsunami risk is something that they should have known right from the start.

And it shows how self-obsessed some people are that TEPCO can be forthrightly condemned for that (and they and others probably should) but no condemnation, or even query as to who was responsible for checking the safety of the areas where 25,000 people lost their lives.

I wouldn't particularly blame the current govt

Too true. It's particularly galling to see the LDP avoiding any responsibility for the mess they helped set-up. Unfortunately Japanese society expects the current people in charge of organisations that cause problems to resign to "take responsibility" - this act wiping the slate clean, and avoiding any soul-searching for insights as to why the problems occurred in the first place.

James Annan said...

Well for better or worse we place greater safety requirements on nuclear reactors. After all, people can (and did) evacuate, if your house is only built to last 20y then a ~1 in 100y risk might well seem entirely acceptable.

Jesús R. said...

Many thanks for your answers!

Anonymous said...

Well for better or worse we place greater safety requirements on nuclear reactors. After all, people can (and did) evacuate, if your house is only built to last 20y then a ~1 in 100y risk might well seem entirely acceptable.

I agree with you point on the safety requirement of nuclear reactors - but while people can evacuate from the path of a tsunami, they really need to know that there's a chance that it could be a large one to make the best decision. Lots of people were lost actually returning home, or taking time to collect belongings. If they'd known there was a large 1000 year tsunami overdue for the area they might have made different choices and still be alive today. Who was supposed to inform these people is a question that no one seems to be asking.

lrn said...

As far as you know, are there any stories in the media dealing with the government's plans for providing for Japanese who lost their means of livelihood because of the nuclear disaster? For instance, I know that at least one onsen town in Fukushima has lost most of its income since tourists from other parts of Japan have no interest in a place they view as being tainted. Ryokans are closing, and the people who live in town and worked in those ryokans are now without jobs. Also, small mom and pop businesses are suffering because of the lack of customers. Many of these citizens only know one trade and lack the resources to move and the schooling to obtain another job.

Anonymous said...

Irn, I don't think there's too much planned yet - the politicians have more important things to do like jockeying for a better shot at the PM's seat next election time.

James Annan said...


I think in principle TEPCO is supposed to be compensating everyone for all "consequential" losses, according to the report I read this remains the case even if the losses are due to irrational fear rather than any real problem or govt warning. Sounds a bit bonkers to me to be honest. Of course all the money is going to be coming from the govt as TEPCO is bust anyway.