Blogs Mar 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm


Sure, that's easy for you to say.

You don't have to fight Godzilla or the genetically modified sea bass.
Well, the good news is that they've already evacuated almost everybody for miles around this thing.

The bad news is that the ones who haven't been evacuated are going to glow in the dark now.
after reading, this song comes to mind:…
Yeah, well, FTE, that will at least make it possible to read during the rolling blackouts....

(gallows humor)
Oh, I'm the master of gallows humor. Or so I've been told by a bud of mine who's a neurosurgeon, and if anyone should know, he should.
So Chernobyl is where the bar is set? Anything less than another Chernobyl and nuclear power is all hunky dory?

"Don't panic" is some pretty banal advice, by the way.

I really take issue with the conclusions at the end of the article you linked to in the aside. Dr. Oehmen has been proffered as a nuclear expert. From what I understand, he is not and he has a decidedly pro-nuclear agenda given his conclusions which are speculative at best. Dr. Oehmen's credentials seem to be in supply chain risk management but I've seen tons of fallacious arguments from authority today using this as a reference. If you want to cite sources, at least give us articles from nuclear engineers or state the context of their expertise (rather than just being the son of a nuclear engineer).

For balance, I think you should at least post a link to the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog on this:
@7: It's a Douglas Adams reference. Right? Embossed helpfully, right on the cover.

And no, it's not a bar set below Chernobyl. It's a comparison that should be rationally done among the alternatives to nuclear power, going forward from this place.

This is it. Really. The worst case scenario. A 9.0 earthquake, tsunami all hitting a forty year old plant, with one of the least intrinsically safe designs in operation.

It's not a popular thing to say now, but as bad as nuclear power is from an environmental POV, it's probably better than continuing to burn fossil fuels.
There are about 30,000 deaths/year from coal pollution in the US alone. The nuclear power situation in Japan has to get orders of magnitude more serious before it comes even close to the human suffering caused by coal.

Every story on the nuclear disaster takes attention away from the hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who are acutely suffering the after affects of the tsunami. A responsible media would be reporting on ways for people to help those in need rather than scaring us with nuclear holocaust nonsense.
Finally, a voice of fucking reason. Thank you for being it, Mr. Golob.
Yes, of course Chernobyl is where the bar is set, and for good reason. That was not a steam reactor, as these are, so that even in a true worst-case scenario, it's impossible for this to be that bad.
more like the Union of Concern Troll Scientists

Re: Coal burning plants. What will it take to increase nuclear energy capacity since they take so damned long to build? Coal burning plants.

Re: Mining, yes that's something we can agree on. Increased mining because of ravenous consumption is not good for the environment nor the colonized populations the minerals are stolen from. However, this doesn't mean we should make the trade for increased uranium. Every stage of the processing (without accidents or tactical events): mining, enrichment, fission, waste disposal and retention is a long-term danger and increases carbon emissions* at the same time.
It would be more prudent to look into ways to prioritize a balance to that consumption and continue research into fusion and improving manufacturing processes and efficiency for solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc.

*assuming that mining/enrichment equipment will be gas and coal powered for some time to come.
Dirac: It's a fair point, and I really do love the UCS and can see their points

I'm honestly torn in this situation--a bigger calamity than felt to be possible with a boiling water reactor.

Yesterday we were being assured a full meltdown was "impossible". Today we're hearing all the workers are ready to bug out and stand back and watch, staring a full meltdown in the face.

Pretty much every step in this whole chain of events was, we were told ahead of time, impossible. The bizarre logical twist is that the ones making these incorrect predictions don't want to be held to account precisely because they said each of these things was called impossible.

See how that works? Where I would say they are clueless and incompetent for not anticipating that these things were going to happen, they delude themselves that their reasoning was sound because it only applied for all the stuff they did plan for. The stuff they didn't plan on happening doesn't count against them. Even though it did happen.

It's exasperating but it's always exasperating dealing with people suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect.
Thank you, Mr. Golob, for being a real journalist.
I'm with #11. Thanks for your continued calm voice, Dr. Golob.
How does this mesh with your post about vitamins from several days back?


Japan Faces Prospect of Nuclear Catastrophe as Workers Leave Plant

TOKYO — Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared immiment, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.

Japanese Prime Minsiter Naoto Kan made a televised address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time to discuss the latest developments in the crisis.

The sharp deterioration came after government officials said the containment structure of the No. 2 reactor, the most seriously damaged of three reactors at the Daichi plant, had suffered damage during an explosion shortly after 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

They initially suggested that the damage was limited and that emergency operations aimed at cooling the nuclear fuel at three stricken reactors with seawater would continue. But industry executives said that in fact the situation had spiraled out of control and that all plant workers needed to leave the plant to avoid excessive exposure to radioactive leaks.

If all workers do in fact leave the plant, the nuclear fuel in all three reactors is likely to melt down, which would lead to wholesale releases of radioactive material — by far the largest accident of its kind since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

Containment breech or not (and it looks like it's inevitable) Japan is done, forever. There is no energy to rebuild, and Japan was in trouble before the quake. The impact of this will have devastating repercussions across the globe, regardless of a containment breech. We are all Japanese now.
@19: Reread that post. I actually said there was little to no health risk here in Washington.

For the irrationally panicky, I suggested vitamins as something relatively harmless.
@21, thanks Chicken-Little. Due to Chernobyl we're all living in pressure domes deep beneath the Earth's surface, god knows what we'll do when Japan is just a radioactive wasteland. Take a vitamin and chill the fuck out.
Jonathan Golob tips his hand to his bias in his statement, "nuclear power is...probably better than continuing to burn fossil fuels", without acknowledging the overwhelming evidence of waste contamination, exhaust, run-off, and the negligence of authorities to maintain site safety, as well as Golob's selective reference to pro-nuclear power assessments of damage. Contra Puck Falin, Jonathan Golob's argument shows gaps in its reasonableness. My lot is with Dirac!
No, you were right, bud - there's little to no risk, with a heavy emphasis on "no." There's little to no risk even for people living in Japan right now, though you may see a few hundred cases of radiation sickness before this is all over. In the great scheme of things, that's nothing to get excited about.
Dr. JG, can you please repost some previous slogs about the new reactor designs? I don't remember when you posted them, I figure you have easy access to your previous posts? (actually I am just semi drunk and lazy)
I'm no nuclear reactor expert, but I do know I'm tired of hearing how various levels of radiation and other toxic chemical releases that occur over the course of a week are nothing compared to what happens in a year.

Forgive me, but there's just something that doesn't sit right with me about getting a year's worth of radiation exposure in a few days (not to mention, you still get an additional year's worth in a year). (Or, a day's worth of radiation in a few seconds; which is why I'm happy to keep myself in the control group of the TSA's radiation exposure experiments.)

And I dot know what news sources you've been reading, but nobody's been seriously talking about a thermonuclear detonation... they have been talking about a meltdown, and that event seems increasingly plausible.
@27 Remember that you even stated that you are not a nuclear expert. You have to consider that an x-ray or CT scan is putting WAY more radiation in your body than this nuclear leak. Also every time you fly in an airplane you are exposed to increased radiation from less atmosphere to protect you. Your smoke alarm also emits radiation into your house.

It is worth being cautious about and I appreciate that you are just expressing a feeling but this is why we have to stick with the facts and the science. People are scared of nuclear anything due to various pieces of pop culture.
And yet, the Japanese government is now telling 140,000 people to seal up their houses and is handing out iodine tablets in Tokyo.

I don't know about you, but every time I've gotten x-rays, they put a big lead smock on me, the doctor leaves the room, and I don't get blasted by x-rays continually for a week.

I'm not saying we're at apocalypse here, but can we agree this is worse (for Japan, at least) than a smoke detector or normal ambient radiation? Do we need to wait for people to get cancer or their gums to start bleeding before we admit that their nuclear reactor fucked up?
Vitamins are the mind killer.

Caffeine ftw!
@29, No. Just last night people were still saying that they were detecting Cesium and Iodine only because they were venting, not because of potentially damaged fuel rods and loss of containment. Perhaps for some the illusion of control must be maintained.
Great summary and lots of good info here:…
What do the labels on that graph mean?
@31: detection of cesium indicates some degree of damage to the fuel rods. It does not mean breach of the reactor vessel, or of primary containment, because they have been venting. Other developments indicate some breach of primary containment in unit #2, and I have not read any information about the state of the reactor vessels themselves in units 1-3. However, there may be no way of knowing whether they have been breached or not at this point.

We do know that the secondary containment buildings have been destroyed significantly in units 1 and 3, which is the last line of defense. So unless the more primary lines of defense hold, which is completely unknown territory at this point, it could become very bad very fast.
see also: Debunking a viral blog post on the nuke …:

A viral blog post claimed that there was no chance "significant radiation" would be released from damaged reactors in Japan, but despite having been republished widely around the Web, the post has not held up to scrutiny.

Identified as an "MIT research scientist," Dr. Josef Oehmen wrote the post over the weekend with the title, "Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors." It was a modified version of an e-mail he sent to family and friends in Japan on Saturday evening, according to the blog where it was originally posted.

Oehmen, it turns out, does work at MIT but has no special expertise in nuclear power. And his key claim -- that "there was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity from the damaged Japanese reactors" -- appears to have already been proven false. While clearly the situation is still developing and all the facts are not yet known, the New York Times reported today that an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant released "a surge of radiation 800 times more intense than the recommended hourly exposure limit in Japan," leading to the evacuation of 750 workers. Meanwhile, the government has ordered 140,000 within 20 miles of the plant to stay indoors.

h/t @lensassaman

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