The nuclear situation is a "sideshow." The real concern is the aftermath of the tsunami.
Update: For more information about radiation see the post for 3/1/2012 here.
Update: See the post for 4/21/2011 here.
Between the mainstream news and questions I’ve been getting from folks, I’ll try to help clarify the status of the Fukushima nuclear power plants, and hopefully relieve some people’s concerns.
Q: What is the current status of the Fukushima nuclear reactors?
A: According to the Nuclear Energy Institute as of 3/17/2011:
The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are in stable condition and are being cooled with seawater. They are in the process of restoring off-site electricity to provide power to the control rod drive pump, instrumentation, batteries, and the control room.
The reactors at Fukushima Daini are shutdown with normal cooling being maintained using residual heat removal systems.
Q: Could the reactors blow up and have a ‘meltdown’?
A: Technically they could, however it would only affect the local area (30km around the reactors).
According to the Chief Scientist for the U.K.:
Reasonable worst case scendario: If the Japanese fail to keep the reactors cool and fail to keep the pressure in the containment vessels at an appropriate level, you could get the dramatic word “meltdown” where the basic reactor core melts, and as it melts, nuclear material falls through to the floor of the container. There it reacts with concrete and other materials. In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion. You get some radioactive material going up to about 1600 feet into the air. That is serious only for the local area (30km around the plant).
Q: How would a ‘meltdown’ affect Tokyo? Other parts of Japan? The West Coast of the U.S.?
A: Again from the Chief Scientist for the U.K.:
Even if there were an explosion and then the worst possible weather situation (i.e. prevailing weather taking radioactive material in the direction of Greater Tokyo and rainfall bringing the radioactive material down), there would still be absolutely no impact on Tokyo or anywhere outside of the 30km radius surrounding the reactors. [ed. note: That includes the West Coast.]
Q: How would this compare to Chernobyl?
A: With Chernobyl, the top of the reactor blew off and then they had a massive fire at the graphite core which lasted for a long time, causing the heat to push the material up 30,000 feet. It lasted for months, putting nuclear radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere for a very long period of time.
With the Fukushima reactors, there would be a single explosion, not a continued explosion, so the material would be sent up only 1600 feet.
In the case of Chernobyl, they established an exclusion zone of 30 kilometers, just like in Fukushima. Outside of that exclusion zone, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate people had problems from the radiation. The problems with Chernobyl were people continued to drink the contaminated water and eat contaminated food. That’s not going to be the case here. The Japanese are already testing food for contaminants.
Radiation level effects on the human body
Q: What about radiation?
A: According to this chart by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, the maximum allowable amount of radiation that won’t show any clinical symptoms is 200 millisieverts/year. This translates to a sustained amount of 22.83 microsieverts/hour.
[1 millisievert = 1000 microsieverts]
Please note that this would need to be a SUSTAINED dosage, meaning you should get 22.83 microsieverts/hour continuously for ONE YEAR for it to be cause for concern. Any sudden spike should be okay if it does not last for several hours (or days).
Take a look at the these charts of radiation levels in Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures. See the numbers for yourself – there is a spreadsheet of hourly recorded radiation leves in Fukushima.
Q: How can we trust what you’re saying?
A: The Japanese authorities are providing information to the appropriate international agencies, which are watching the situation closely. Besides,
the radiation levels can’t be concealed because they are being monitored throughout the world.
KEEP IN MIND: The news we receive in the U.S. is generally 36-48 hours behind what is currently happening in Japan.
I will post more updates as I can.