Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seven-Point International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale: and a Ranting Lemming

"INES / The international nuclear and radiological event scale" (pdf)
International Atomic Energy Agency

"The INES Scale is a worldwide tool for communicating to the public in a consistent way the safety significance of nuclear and radiological events.

"Just like information on earthquakes or temperature would be difficult to understand without the Richter or Celsius scales, the INES Scale explains the significance of events from a range of activities, including industrial and medical use of radiation sources, operations at nuclear facilities and transport of radioactive material...."

The four-page pdf document explains what sort of events are described for each of the seven (eight, counting the zero, or 'nothing happened') levels of severity: and gives brief definitions of the terms.


The reactor failure at Three Mile Island, back in 1979, was very scary, very expensive, and not, in the Lemming's opinion, all that dangerous to people who didn't have money invested in the power plant. Not compared to, say, housing developments built on toxic waste dumps. And that's another topic.

Still, the Lemming's gotten the impression that for some folks, particularly chronic journalists, Three Mile Island is spelled "THREE MILE ISLAND! THREE MILE ISLAND!"

Yes, the Three Mile Island accident was the worst nuclear power plant malfunction in American history to date. But, expensive and scary as it was, the containment building held - and there doesn't seem to have been a serious health risk involved. Unless someone decided to go inside in his skivvies. ("Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident," NRC)

Or maybe everybody in Harrisburg and York, Pennsylvania, died horribly; and those space-alien, shape-shifting lizard people have kept us from finding out. You probably don't know anybody in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: YOU SEE? THAT PROVES IT!!

Quite a few news sources - the ones that the Lemming's seen, anyway - seem to have calmed down quite a lot since the '80s. As far as THREE MILE ISLAND! THREE MILE ISLAND! is concerned, anyway. Even so, there still seems to be quite a bit of emphasis on that 1979 overheated core: that may have done more damage to the bank balances of a few individuals, than anything else.

Moving on.

And taking a more 'global' approach:

It looks like the Soviet Union won the nuclear disaster race in one category. The top two occurred at soviet-era reactors. The winners, looking at this as a contest, so far are:
  • Category: People and Environment
    • Level 7: Chernobyl, 1986
      • Widespread health and environmental effects
      • External release of a significant fraction of reactor core inventory
    • Level 6: Kyshtym, Russia, 1957
      • Significant release of radioactive material to the environment from explosion of a high activity waste tank
    • Level 5: Windscale Pile, UK, 1957
      • Release of radioactive material to the environment following a fire in a reactor core.
  • Category: Radiological Barriers and Control
    • Level 5: Three Mile Island, USA, 1979
      • Severe damage to the reactor core.
    (source: "INES," IAEA)
As disappointing as it may be to the 'America first' folks, it looks like the United States was beaten by the Soviet Union - and edged out of the top of category 5 by the United Kingdom. That's assuming that hurting people is worse than hurting equipment - which is how the Lemming sees it, but that is an assumption.

INES Scale: What Those Numbers Mean

Here's a sort of short, and not-terribly-informative, rundown of what those seven levels of severity mean.
  • Major Accident
    Level 7
  • Serious Accident
    Level 6
  • Accident with Wider Consequences
    Level 5
  • Accident with Local Consequences
    Level 4
  • Serious Incident
    Level 3
  • Incident
    Level 2
  • Anomaly
    Level 1
  • No Safety Significance
    (Below Scale/Level 0)
    (source: "INES," IAEA)
Like the Lemming said, that's not terribly informative: but that's probably why the IAEA put all those definitions and illustrations in the rest of the flier.

"INES," Fukushima's Reactors, and Getting a Grip

As for Japan's Fukushima power plant: depending on who you ask, yesterday it was at level 6, or 5. Maybe 4. (CNN)

As the Lemming recalls, the Japanese government's assigning a level 4 to Fukushima was
  • After
    • The earthquake
      • Which doesn't appear to have seriously damaged the reactors
    • The tsunami
      • Which took out the primary cooling system
  • Before
    • The backup system ran out of power
    • Other systems failed
    • Explosions started happening at intervals
The fires aren't helping the situation at Fukushima's power plant any, either: in the Lemming's opinion.

Doesn't the Lemming Care About the Horrors of [insert phobia]?

The Lemming, as this blog's name suggests, is "apathetic." That's been discussed before. The Lemming's "apathy" means not caring - hysterically, irrationally - about the "right" things.

Nuclear power plants are dangerous. So are those using oil, natural gas, or coal for fuel.

There's no such thing, in the Lemming's opinion, as a "safe" technology. (March 12, 2011) Even knapping flint is risky. What's changed in the last million years or so is the scale of problems we're dealing with.

Happily, along with dangerous technologies like fire, sharp rocks, scissors, and nuclear reactors: we've also developed increasingly powerful and sophisticated societies. We didn't all die of manure pollution in the 18th century - and I'm pretty sure that the folks in Japan will deal with what's happening at Fukushima.

And if they don't, we'll all have learned something.

Now, about caring: Yes, the Lemming cares.

It's possible, maybe likely, that tens of thousands of people were killed last Friday. That's a terrible loss. Many more are facing sub-freezing temperatures and snow today. That's not good, either.

But the Lemming won't make the situation better by wringing his paws and agonizing. The Lemming can give a link back to a list of probably-okay charities, assembled for the Haiti disaster. (The list is what was assembled: with one exception, the charities had been around for a while.)

Most of the organizations on that list are global, or connected to international outfits: and although Japan is a major nation - this week, they might be able to use some financial help. Just a thought. Here's that link:About the Fukushima power plant: News reports today say that the facility has been evacuated, except for a relatively small number of folks who are staying behind to do what they can to control the situation. In the Lemming's opinion, it's very likely that they will not survive. That is a sad thing: but what they are doing may save a great many lives.

So, yes: the Lemming cares.

Somewhat-related posts:In the news:

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