Monday, April 4, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Plutonium Perils, Poisoning the Pacific, and Getting a Grip

Reuters did not say that Japan was poisoning the Pacific. The Lemming suspects that the venerable news service's editors are savvy enough to realize that folks won't buy that.

Actually, the headline is fairly dry:
Still: 11,500 metric tons of radioactive water?!!! Oh, the horror! The horror!

Or, not. The Lemming will be back, after the conventional headline-and-excerpt:

"Japan to dump 11,500 metric tons of radioactive water"
Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl, Editing by David Stamp, Edition: U.S., Reuters (April 4, 2011)

"...Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) was forced on Monday to release low-level radioactive seawater that had been used to cool overheated fuel rods after it ran out of storage capacity for more highly contaminated water.

"TEPCO said it would release more than 10,000 tonnes of water about 100 times more radioactive than legal limits in order to free storage capacity for more highly contaminated water.

" [Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency deputy director general Koichiro] Nakamura, citing information from the company, said the 10,000 tonnes needed to be dumped into the ocean to make storage space for higher-radioactive water now in reactor unit 2.

"Another 1,500 tonnes was accumulated ground water in a drain pit of units 5 and 6....

"...Jukka Laaksonen, chairman of the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association and head of Finland's nuclear safety body, said normal sea water also contained radioactivity.

" 'In a few cubic kilometres of sea water you have much more radioactivity than what is being dumped from this accident,' he told the same news conference. 'It will not raise the total radioactivity of the sea water.'..."

TEPCO and all don't seem to have been entirely open about just what's been going on at the Fukishima power plant. (April 2, 2011)

Still, the Lemming is 'apathetic.' It's possible that dumping 11,500 metric tons of radioactive water wouldn't really make that big a splash in the Pacific Ocean. Even though the Fukushima plant used plutonium. (March 25, 2011)

TEPCO, Radioactive Water, and Lots of Zeroes

11,500 metric tons of water is a lot of water. But the Pacific is a pretty big ocean.

After a little research, and a figuring, the Lemming came up with a few numbers.1

11,500 metric tons of water, radioactive or not, would fill 11,500,000 one-liter water bottles. That's a lot of water. Even if you think of it as 1,916 one-liter six-packs, plus four bottles.

There was a major labor strike in 1916, in Minnesota's Iron Range, and that's another topic.

Where was the Lemming? Water. Bottled water. Lots of bottled water. Fukushima nuclear power plant and the Pacific Ocean. Right.

In terms of volume, 1000 liters of (fresh) water fills One cubic meter. One cubic meter of fresh water weighs one metric ton.

There are 1,000,000,000 cubic meters in one cubic kilometers.

How Many Metric Tons of Water in the Pacific?

The Pacific Ocean's water has a volume of about 645,000,000 cubic kilometers.

So the Pacific Ocean would weigh about 645,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons. If it were fresh water. It's salt water, so it'd weigh about 1.025 times more - but let's say it's 645,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons.

We're looking at putting 11,500 metric tons of radioactive water in 645,000,000,000,000,000-plus metric tons of water that's already slightly radioactive - like everything else on this planet has been for a few billion years.

The Lemming's no expert, but 11,500 of something mixed in with 645,000,000,000,000,000-plus of the same sort of thing - is a pretty thin mix. Very roughly 1.15 parts per 64,500,000,000,000.

The Lemming wouldn't want to eat fish that were caught near the dump site, not for a few months, anyway. But it doesn't look like we're looking at a catastrophic crisis causing calamitous consequences, either.

Even if, a few weeks or months from now, someone detects trace amounts of that water off Marina Del Rey.

Although if that happens, we might get a movie about mutant fish attacking Venice Beach. And that's almost another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

1 Let's look at how much the Pacific Ocean weighs. Roughly.

"...1 liter of water weighs 1 kilogram, so 1 cubic meter — 1000 liters — of water weighs 1000 kilograms or 1 metric ton...."
("Commonly used metric system units, symbols, and prefixes," U.S. Metric Association (USMA), Inc., via USMA Webmaster, Web hosting courtesy of Colorado State University)

Volume of the Pacific Ocean: 645,369,567 cubic kilometers ("Ocean: an illustrated atlas," Sylvia A. Earle, Linda K. Glover, National Geographic Society (U.S.), via Google Books (2008)) The Lemming will round that down to 645,000,000 cubic kilometers.

There are 1,000 meters in a kilometer, which makes a cubic kilometer 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 = 1,000,000,000 cubic meters.

So a cubic kilometer is 1,000,000,000 cubic meters. If you had a cubic kilometer of fresh water, you'd have 1,000,000,000 metric tons of water. Sea water's density isn't quite the same: 1.025 to fresh water's 1.000. That's at the ocean's surface. On average.

A cubic kilometer of sea water - the kind at the ocean's surface - on average - would weigh 1,025,000,000 metric tons. Multiplying that by the rounded-down volume of the Pacific Ocean, 645,000,000 cubic kilometers, the Lemming got - a bit of a headache. Let's try that again, except with 645,000,000 times 1,000,000,000 - the weight in metric tons of a cubic kilometer of fresh water.

If the Lemming remembers high school math right, that's 645,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons of water in the Pacific. Assuming that it's all fresh water. The actual weight is a bit more, since it's salt water - and the Lemming has been rounding down.


Philadelphia medical weight loss said...

Its Plutonium that concerns. It is the most dangerous element in the world today.It only takes tiny particles to kill and is carried in the air and water...Ma¬ny of the rods in Japan are plutonium.¬We must monitor radiation very carefully and actually tell the people what we find.If the wackos in the house want to not pay for monitoring I wish they would discover for themselves why we must monitor..

Brigid said...

Interesting capitalization: "Water. Bottled Water. Lots of bottled Water."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...

Philadelphia medical weight loss,

Yes. Plutonium is dangerous. Chemically and because it is radioactive.

Plutonium exists on Earth.

All Plutonium used in Japan comes from Earth.

Earth is big, very big.

Plutonium, concentrated in fuel rods, is a legitimate concern.

Plutonium, what little may have washed off fuel rods - and dissolved in the biggest ocean on this planet - may be a concern in the immediate area of the leak.


The Lemming is "apathetic."

The Lemming also does not believe that name-calling is effective in supporting an opinion - although recognizes the emotional satisfaction involved.

Brian H. Gill said...


Agreed - I'm fixing that. Thanks!

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory