Americans Dig In Preparing for Disaster

Americans voting with their “shovels?” This is hardly a statement in favor of nuclear power or disaster preparedness in the United States. Of course, it is probably the American idea that if you throw enough money at a problem you can fix it. (We only believe that now about certain subjects.) It might be better to have a FEMA that we can trust but after the disaster in Louisiana, that kind of trust is never coming back.

James Pilant

Sales of deluxe doomsday bunkers up 1,000% from CNN

A devastating earthquake strikes Japan. A massive tsunami kills thousands. Fears of a nuclear meltdown run rampant. Bloodshed and violence escalate in Libya.

And U.S. companies selling doomsday bunkers are seeing sales skyrocket anywhere from 20% to 1,000%.

Northwest Shelter Systems, which offers shelters ranging in price from $200,000 to $20 million, has seen sales surge 70% since the uprisings in the Middle East, with the Japanese earthquake only spurring further interest. In hard numbers, that’s 12 shelters already booked when the company normally sells four shelters per year.

“Sales have gone through the roof, to the point where we are having trouble keeping up,” said Northwest Shelter Systems owner Kevin Thompson.

Radiation Release in Japan 20 to 50 Percent of Chernobyls

From Reuters

The release of two types of radioactive particles in the first 3-4 days of Japan‘s nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 percent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days, an Austrian expert said Wednesday.

That’s not encouraging. The numbers 20 and 50 percent are not as wide a variance as might be thought. They are referring to two different kinds of radiation.


The Austrian institute’s Dr Gerhard Wotawa stressed the two isotopes from Fukushima he had sought to estimate — iodine-131 and caesium-137 — normally make up only one tenth of total radiation.

Based on measurements made at monitoring stations in Japan and the United States, Wotawa said the iodine released from Fukushima in the first three-four days was about 20 percent of that released from Chernobyl during a ten-day period.

For Caesium-137, the figure could amount to some 50 percent.

Japanese Nuclear Plants Evacuated

The crisis continues. As I said yesterday, the Japanese utility company and the government are unwilling to give an accurate view of the disaster. So, one day we hear encouraging news which will be partially or totally dispelled by the next day’s news.

From the Associated Press

(AP) Tokyo’s utility company says black smoke has been seen emerging from Unit 3 of the crippled nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, prompting a new evacuation of the complex. Officials with Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that workers from the entire Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have been temporarily evacuated. Operators of the power station have been desperately trying to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools at the plant after it was damaged by this month’s tsunami, which knocked out power to the cooling systems.

Power cables reach Japan’s nuclear plant (via Al Jazeera)

The good news is that electric power is available at the six nuclear plants. The bad news is that some of the plants are so damaged the pumping systems no longer function. And the further bad news is that the sea water used to cool the plants apparently ran back into the ocean with a high level of radioactivity.

You must recall, of course, that the Japanese have been unfailing optimistic when anything went their way in this mess. So, I strongly suspect that things have not improved as much as they imply.

But I very much want to say how grateful I am that a meltdown is more likely to be avoided now.

James Pilant

From Al Jazeera

Power lines to all six nuclear reactor units at Japan’s quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi complex have been connected, its operator said, but electricity has not yet been turned on.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) warned on Tuesday that equipment still had to be checked before power could be properly reconnected, which would mark a significant step in bringing the reactors back under control.

Engineers have also been able to cool a spent fuel pool that was nearly boiling, bringing it back to 105 degrees after dumping 18 tonnes of seawater into a holding pool.

However fears have been raised over the possibility of radiation in seawater near the reactors in northeastern Japan, with reports that some radioactivity has been detected in the sea.

Experts are concerned about sea water that has been used to cool the reactors and their spend fuel ponds after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.

Radioactive iodine in the sea samples was 126.7 times the allowed limit, while caesium was 24.8 times over, Kyodo news agency said. But TEPCO said that still posed no immediate danger.

“I’m interested to know how this water is being disposed… if it is being disposed or just allowed to drain to sea,” Najmedin Meshkati, a nuclear and environmental expert at the University of Southern California, told the Reuters news agency.


“High Degree of Confidence”

Japan nuke crisis does not warrant U.S. changes (via Salon)

The nuclear crisis is Japan, while severe, does not warrant any immediate changes in the U.S, a top U.S. nuclear official said Monday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s executive director for operations, Bill Borchardt, said officials have “a high degree of confidence” that operations at the 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states are safe. He said inspectors at each of the plants have redoubled efforts to guard against any safety breaches.

I feel all better now. “A high degree of confidence” and “redoubled efforts.” Is this some kind of bad disaster movie where the Russian Premier forgets to tell the United States of a doomsday device because it’s his birthday?

We can hope that we get through the Japanese crisis without a meltdown. But there is no way, any objective observer can believe that the nuclear industry isn’t about to have its most dramatic shakeup.

Let me remind you for the umpteenth time – none of this was supposed to be able to happen. It was outside the realm of possibility. You can go to the internet, date a search before the earthquake and tsunami, run nuclear safety as a search, and pull up dozens of studies and hundreds of web sites explaining the complete and total improbability of a nuclear meltdown – not to mention, the most vicious slurs as to the motives and intelligence of those questioning nuclear power.

So, the world of nuclear energy is going to have a shake up. Unfortunately, there is no possibility of any discussion as to whether or not nuclear power should be a part of this nation’s energy policy. That decision has already been made and it’s carved in stone.

So, we can only hope that changes are made that render a U.S. nuclear disaster less likely.

James Pilant

Industrialized Civilization and its Accidents (via Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon)

I was waiting for “Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon” and J. N. Nielson’s take on the disaster at the nuclear plants in Japan.

He did not disappoint.

Please read this excellent piece.

James Pilant

Industrialized Civilization and its Accidents Wednesday Previously in Impossible Desires I attempted to point out some of the ways in which industrial accidents are intrinsic to industrialized civilization. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has caused so much death and destruction is a particular case in point. Japan has one of the most advanced industrialized economies on the planet. It is second to none in the development and implementation of high technology. Moreover, the J … Read More

via Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon

Iodine-131 and Cesium-137

I found this on the web and added Wikipedia’s description of the dangers.

James Pilant

From Popular Mechanics

Courtesy Bethesda Games

The biggest radioactive risk right now comes from the byproducts of fission. Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the reactors, has reported releases of both iodine-131 and cesium-137, the two primary radionuclides that nuclear fission creates. According to Hutchinson, strontium-90 has also been detected, and the presence of cesium and strontium indicates fuel melting.

Iodine-131 moves through the atmosphere more easily than cesium-137, but it has a half-life of only eight days, according to Classic. That means it would be all but gone within weeks. Cesium-137, on the other hand, attaches itself to particles or debris. That means that eventually cesium-137 will fall out of the air onto the ground, and there it will stay until it decays. The isotope’s half-life is about 30 years, so it would be a long time before an area it traveled to would be free from radiation. Depending on the level of radiation, the area would have to be sectioned off or the material dealt with by a hazardous waste disposal team. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to radiation from cesium-137 near a nuclear accident site could significantly increase the risk of cancer. Trace amounts of cesium-137 are already in the environment worldwide, mostly because of nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and ’60s, but most of that has decayed.

The effects of exposure to Iodine-131 from Wikipedia

Iodine in food is absorbed by the body and preferentially concentrated in the thyroid where it is needed for the functioning of that gland. When 131I is present in high levels in the environment from radioactive fallout, it can be absorbed through contaminated food, and will also accumulate in the thyroid. As it decays, it may cause damage to the thyroid. The primary risk from exposure to high levels of 131I is the chance occurrence of radiogenic thyroid cancer in later life. Other risks include the possibility of non-cancerous growths and thyroiditis.

The risk of thyroid cancer in later life appears to diminish with increasing age at time of exposure. Most risk estimates are based on studies in which radiation exposures occurred in children or teenagers. When adults are exposed, it has been difficult for epidemiologists to detect a statistically significant difference in the rates of thyroid disease above that of a similar but otherwise unexposed group.

The risk can be mitigated by taking iodine supplements, raising the total amount of iodine in the body and therefore reducing uptake and retention in tissues and lowering the relative proportion of radioactive iodine. Unfortunately, such supplements were not distributed to the population living nearest to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the disaster,[6] though they were widely distributed to children in Poland.

The effects of exposure to Cesium-137 : from Wikipedia

Caesium-137 is water-soluble and chemically toxic in small amounts. The biological behavior of caesium-137 is similar to that of potassium and rubidium. After entering the body, caesium gets more or less uniformly distributed through the body, with higher concentration in muscle tissues and lower in bones. The biological half-life of caesium is rather short at about 70 days.[4] Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 3800 μCi/kg (approx. 44 μg/kg of caesium-137) is lethal within three weeks.[5]

Accidental ingestion of caesium-137 can be treated with the chemical Prussian blue, which binds to it chemically and then speeds its expulsion from the body.[6]


Fallout from Chinese Nuclear Test Traveled to the United States in Six Days

I’ve been looking for this for days. I remembered that when I was a little boy that the Chinese tested a nuclear weapon and the fallout reached the United States very quickly. (I was ten years old.) My father used to make sure I saw historical things on television like all the Mercury and Gemini launches, so it was probably something he made sure I saw. I did not think I would find it but there it is, fallout traveling from the Lop Nur Test Site in China to all over the United States.

If any of you have any more on this, I want to see it.

James Pilant

Fig. 1. The Fifth Chinese Nuclear Test was Detonated on Dec. 28, 1966. It “involved thermonuclear material,” and, according to the AEC press release, was a nuclear test in the atmosphere at their test site near Lop Nor.” As indicated above, by the end of Dec. 31, 1966 the leading edge of its fallout cloud extended as far east as the dotted line shown running from Arizona to the Great Lakes. ORNL DWG. 73-4611

Fallout from China Nuclear Test Traveled to U.S.

From the web site –Nuclear War Survival Skills

It produced fallout that by January 1, 1967 resulted in the fallout cloud covering most of the United States. This one Chinese explosion produced about 15 million curies of iodine- 131 – roughly the same amount as the total release of iodine- 131 into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. (The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s preliminary estimate is that 10-50 million curies of iodine- 131 were released during the several days of the Chernobyl disaster; in contrast, its estimate of the iodine- 131 released during the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, the worst commercial nuclear power plant accident in American history, is about 20 curies.)

Fig. 1 is from an Oak Ridge National Laboratory report, Trans-Pacific Fallout and Protective Countermeasures (ORNL-4900), written by the author of this book in 1970, but not published until 1973. No classified information was used in any version of this report, that summarized findings of the unclassified Trans-Pacific Fallout Seminar funded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. This seminar was attended by experts who came from several research organizations and deliberated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for two days in March of 1970.

Later in 1970 a final draft of this report was submitted to Washington for approval before publication. It was promptly classified. Publication without censorship was not permitted until after it was declassified in its entirety in 1973. None of the recommendations in this pioneering report were acted upon, but many of them are given in this chapter.

The findings and conclusions of the above mentioned 1970 Oak Ridge National Laboratory Trans-Pacific Fallout Seminar, summarized in the 1973 report, were confirmed by a later, more comprehensive study, Assessment and Control of the Transoceanic Fallout Threat, by H. Lee and W. E. Strope (1974; 117 pages), Report EGU 2981 of Stanford Research Institute.

Fallout from the approximately 300 kiloton Chinese test explosion shown in Fig. 1 caused milk from cows that fed on pastures near Oak Ridge, Tennessee and elsewhere to be contaminated with radioiodine, although not with enough to be hazardous to health. However, this milk contamination (up to 900 picocuries of radioactive iodine per liter) and the measured dose rates from the gamma rays emitted from fallout particles deposited in different parts of the United States indicate that trans-Pacific fallout from even an overseas nuclear war in which “only” two or three hundred megatons would be exploded could result in tens of thousands of unprepared Americans suffering thyroid injury.

March 17th, 2011 Satellite Image of the Fukushima Daiichi Plant

Institute for Science and International Security

DigitalGlobe has released a new commercial satellite image of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site in Japan taken at 10:55AM local time on March 17, 2011.  Steam continues to vent out of the top of the Unit 3 reactor building.  Steam also appears to be continuing to vent out of the side of the Unit 2 reactor building.