More on Japan’s nuclear plants

I’m going to make a minor retraction of a portion of my previous post on this topic.

First, I stand by my statement that the danger is not nearly as great as the MSM is implying – both by factual errors and misleading headlines. One headline I saw yesterday actually said “Nuclear fuel exposed”. While true in one sense, that is extremely misleading – the fuel rods were “exposed” in that they were not completely covered by water, but they were not exposed to the environment as the headline implied. The reactor vessel itself, as far as I could gather from the reporting*, remained intact and maintained containment of the core.

Having said that, however, it is becoming clear that the scope of the damage may be greater than the article I originally linked to  claimed would occur. Specifically, I quoted the following paragraphs:

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

By “significant” I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.

It’s becoming clear from the news reports* that this may not be the case. One story reported levels of 400 mSv (40,000 mrem) near the Fukushima Daiichi No. 4 reactor (with no  indication of what they meant by “near”, of course – is it one mile, or one inch?). There also appears to be the possibility of a small and indirect, but significant, “leak” in the containment vessel of one of the reactors. To quote the same story:

Concerns center on damage to a part of the reactor core known as the suppression pool, which helps cool and trap the majority of cesium, iodine, strontium in its water. The nature of the damage was unclear, as was its impact on the containment structure, a thick steel vessel that surrounds the core.

If there is a leak, it will be worse than my previous post indicated. Barring any major changes in the situation, it will still not be Chernobyl bad, but there’s a strong likelihood it will be worse than Three Mile Island (which was not nearly as bad as the media and popular culture have made it out to be).

A good source on normal exposure levels, with some actual numbers, appears here at the University of Iowa Hospitals website. Also note that there are two main units of radiation dosage in use around the world, and thus in the various articles you may read: rems and Seiverts (Sv). When comparing the two, remember that 1 Sv = 100 rem, or 1 mSv = 100 mrem = 0.1 rem.

Remember the MSM’s apparent inability to get the facts right, though. That same story I linked to above goes on to state that “Exposure to over 100 millisieverts a year is a level which can lead to cancer, according to the World Nuclear Association.” Yet the University of Iowa site I linked to states “Studies have not found increases in cancer in populations who received doses less than 100,000 mrem”. When you convert so that you’re comparing the same units, you’ll note that the news story’s 100 mSv = 10,000 mrem: far less than the 100,000 mrem indicated by the studies – a full order of magnitude difference.

That same story also says “Radiation levels in the city of Maebashi, 100 km (60 miles) north of Tokyo, and in Chiba prefecture, nearer the city, were up to 10 times normal levels, Kyodo news agency said.” Without numbers, and keeping in mind how the article’s statement I’ve already shown above is wrong, I have to be very hesitant about accepting that claim. If you see a similar claim that actually gives numbers, keep in mind that the U of I site states “Background radiation accounts for an individual receiving, on the average, about 300-350 mrem [3 – 3.5 mSv] each year. For example, a cross country airplane flight results in a dose of 4 mrem [0.04 mSv] per trip. A routine chest x-ray is about 10 mrem [0.1 mSv] per film.”

I don’t know about you, but I would trust a university research hospital’s published figures before anything quoted by the MSM.

I’ll say it again: Yes, it’s bad, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the media is making it out to be. When you read these stories, remember, “Nuclear meltdown” sells papers.

* Take that for what it’s worth, given the MSM’s history of “accurate” reporting.

END OF LINE

[Source: Reuters article on Yahoo! News, retrieved 3/15/11]

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