Radiation levels at Fukushima Nuclear Power Station Explosion

A third explosion has struck Japan’s beleaguered Fukushima nuclear power plant in as many days, after Friday’s 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. This time, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) says radiation levels reached 8,217 microsieverts per hour near the plant’s front gate, roughly two and a half hours after the blast. If the Japanese are admitting there’s ANY radiation release, things are much worse than imagined. The new concern, and actually much worse than any reactor going critical is the chance of pools of radioactive waste stored on top of the reactors catching fire and spewing deadly clouds of smoke.

Radiation levels at Fukushima Nuclear Power Station

The latest news of radiation levels at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station was announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to be up to 400 MILLIsieverts, “levels that can impact human health”. 400 Millisieverts is “160 times higher than the average dose of radiation a typical person receives from natural sources in a year” only of course you get that dose in an HOUR. Everything in quotes is from Edano btw. This morning the numbers released were 8000+ MICROsieverts, the amount one would get in three years time. So hey if you want to argue these numbers are my opinion and that they aren’t dangerous then take it up with Edano.

“The pools “contain very large concentrations of radioactivity, can catch fire, and are in much more vulnerable buildings,” he warns. If the pools lose their inflow of circulating cooling water, the water in the pools will evaporate. If the level of water drops to five or six feet above the spent fuel, Alvarez calculates, the release of radioactivity “could be life-threatening near the reactor building.” Since the total amount of long-lived radioactivity in the pool is at least five times that in the reactor core, a catastrophic release would mean “all bets are off,” he says.” Extremely scary.

Radiation levels at Fukushima Nuclear Power Station

Though the nuclear chain reactions have already been stopped- that happens very quickly once they insert the control rods that absorb excess neutrons. For this, additional moderation isn’t needed. They’ve stopped the reaction of U-235. The heat that is being generated now comes from the byproducts of fission- unstable daughter nuclei, isotopes of elements produced as U decays. These decay spontaneously at a fixed half-life, completely independent of any known external conditions. The only solution is to apply coolant and wait for the short-lived decay products to all decay away.

A recent entry on the BBC live newsfeed for Japan coverage reads: “0052: Details are now emerging about radiation levels after the blast at Fukushima’s reactor 2 at 0610 local time (2110 GMT Monday). Tokyo Electric officials say that one hour of exposure at the nuclear plant would be equivalent to eight times at what a person might experience naturally during the year.”

I’ve no desire to actually start a debate about this, but a tragedy of this magnitude makes it hard to think nuclear power is worth it. I know the same can be said of other resources… maybe it’s the scariness of radiation, its alien quality and how comparatively little we seem to know about it… oh, and maybe radioactive decay. Not that all the oil in the gulf is gone, but nature will be able to patch that up a bit faster than, well, what’s the half-life of what’s leaking?

This latest situation demonstrates the real hazards of nuclear reactors placed in high-risk locations (earthquake prone). The worse-case scenario of a nuclear meltdown would bring high levels of radiation that is detrimental to both human and animal life and the environment. In such scenario, how would they prevent the spread and effect of radiation emanating from such reactors? Could dumping carbon or polymers or any substance that can absorb the radiation (if there are any), contain such radiation from the reactors? If the increase in temperature cannot be controlled and radiation starts emanating from the reactors, can the rest of the environment be shielded from the radiation by containing it with adsorbent or absorbent materials capable of decreasing the intensity of the radiation?


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