Friday, March 25, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi Plant, Water, and a 'Bad Sunburn'

It's been a while since the Lemming re-posted Google's resource for folks looking for family and friends in Japan, following the March 11, 2011, earthquake:

A 'people finder' for Japan, in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese (simplified), and Chinese (traditional):

Now, about what's happening today:

"Japan reactor core may be leaking radioactive material, official says"
CNN (March 25, 2011)

Military officers on Friday hold a blue sheet over people exposed to high levels of radiation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant. AFP/Getty Images, via CNN, used w/o permission"Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

"Contaminated water likely seeped through the containment vessel protecting the reactor's core, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

"Three men working near the No. 3 reactor Thursday stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant, Nishiyama said. An analysis of the contamination suggests 'some sort of leakage' from the reactor core, signaling a possible break of the containment vessel that houses the core, he said.

The three men have been hospitalized - but their burns may not be the sort of '50s horror show thing we see in the movies. The Lemming will get back to that.

The reactor core may have sprung a leak, as the article says: or the 10,000-times-over-normal radiation level in that water may have something to do with the tons of water that have been poured over the plant, cooling the reactors down. Water is a pretty good solvent - and that's another topic.

"Radiation Burn:" Serious, But Not Like the Movies

Movies can be good entertainment, but they aren't, in the Lemming's opinion, all that reliable as science teachers. A person can learn quite a bit about science fiction from Hollywood, Bollywood, and all: and that's another topic. (Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space, "Science Fiction in the Movies: 'The Satan Bug' to 'The Matrix' " (January 26, 2010))

That's a photo of a radiation burn. It's what the top of my head looked like on July 23, 2007, after I'd neglected to wear a cap. "Radiation burn?!" That's just an ordinary sunburn. Right on both counts.

Back to the CNN article:

"...Nuclear power experts cautioned against reading too much into the newest development, saying the burns suffered by the workers may not amount to much more than a sunburn."

"Moreover, evidence of radioactivity in the water around the plant is not necessarily surprising given the amount of water sprayed onto and pumped into the reactors, said Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts institute of Technology.

" 'I am not particularly alarmed,' he said...."

Which reminds the Lemming of what someone said, decades back, after hazardous materials were found in a neighborhood. 'They say it's safe: so how come they always show up in moon suits?'

Moving on.

The reactor that may - or may not - be leaking 'hot' water is the same one that made white smoke on March 16, and encouraged a serious evacuation of the folks trying to fix problems at the plant.

"...That reactor is of particular concern, experts have said, because it is the only one at the plant to use a combination of uranium and plutonium fuel, called MOX, that is considered to be more dangerous than the pure uranium fuel used in other reactors...."

"...The hospitalized employees were working to reconnect power to the No. 3 reactor building when they encountered water that was about 5 inches (15 centimeters) deep. Water rushed over the boots of two workers, who received what is called a "beta burn." The third worker had taller boots but was hospitalized as a precaution, according to Nishiyama.

"The men were exposed to the water for 40 to 50 minutes, said Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant...."

Two of the three workers have the highest level of radiation exposure so far at Fukushima: the one in his 30s, 180.7 millisieverts; the one in his 20s, 179.37 millisieverts. ("milisieverts?" see (March 18, 2011))

"...[Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency's Hidehiko ] Nishiyama said the third man -- who was exposed to 173 millisieverts but at first did not go to the hospital because his boots were high enough to prevent water from touching his skin -- has also gone to the same research hospital out of 'an abundance of caution.'

"Beta rays given off by radioactive substances don't penetrate deeply into materials, including flesh, said Nolan Hertel, a professor nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech. Consequently, the danger is relatively limited, he said.

" 'Basically, a beta burn would be akin to a bad sunburn,' he said...."

There's quite a lot more in the article.

The bottom line seems to be that folks living in Japan are still dealing with a major disaster - and will probably continue doing so for a long time.

Somewhat-related posts:More:


Prasad said...

Japan is suffering with radiation now which is the worlds biggest issue. All over the World is now watching how Japan will recover from the earthquake and tsunami & terror of nuclear power plants. Now this the situation all of us (World Countries and its leaders) should help Japan as quickly as possible. We all need to generate the power with the other resources like thermal, solar energy so we need to forget to build Nuclear Power Plants. They are very dangerous.

Brian Gill said...


Agreed! Japan can probably use help for the next year or so. Maybe longer.

As for using ambient sunlight and the sort of natural hotspots found in Iceland and Yellowstone: Solar and geothermal energy seems practical for out-of-the-way places, or areas with relatively low power needs.

However, there's only so much heat available in the world's hot springs: and sunlight, plentiful as it is, is also a finite resource.

Although there are places with little vegetation, like the Sahara desert - most parts of Earth's surface have a comparatively thick covering of vegetation.

Glowing reports of the advantages of solar power, in my experience, ignore the ecological effects of paving, say, Brazil, with solar collectors - the Lemming suspects that depriving plants of sunlight on the scale necessary to maintain current power levels in many countries.

Nuclear power is dangerous. No doubt about that. So are coal power plants, horse drawn vehicles, and flint knives.

More about the dangers of *all* technology: (March 16, 2011)

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