Comments: It's All One Atmosphere

I don't trust the press or the experts on this topic. Also, toxins become more concentrated as they move up the food chain. I remain very skeptical about the quality of the information we are given.

Posted by Rob Payne at March 31, 2011 11:52 PM

Speaking of the quality of information given us by the press, the New York Times has dedicated a page, with regular updates, to Status of the Nuclear Reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/world/asia/reactors-status.html

Posted by mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at April 1, 2011 07:32 AM

Hey Aaron- did the chart come with a note saying where the samples were taken? (e.g. ground level?)

Posted by aric at April 1, 2011 08:28 AM

I believe these are near ground-level samples.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 1, 2011 10:16 AM

I generally follow the rule that the truth is likely much worse and uglier than will be admitted, but figuring out what the truth is, especially in this area for a nonphysicist, can be dauntingly difficult. Are there any reliable articles for us lay dummies available on the web(other than by Aaron)? Who writing about this can be at trusted at least somewhat?

Posted by N E at April 1, 2011 10:58 AM

In the search for reliable sources of info that are at a non-technical level, I have come across Arnie Gunderson

http://fairewinds.com/content/what-we-do

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at April 1, 2011 11:13 AM

But does this represent one time exposure? OR exposure for months on end. Doesn't it accumulate in our bodies and food we eat?

Posted by em at April 1, 2011 11:55 AM

N.E.

Counterpunch has done a great job of covering the Japanese nuclear disaster. You ought to check them out.

Posted by Rob Payne at April 1, 2011 12:53 PM

Also, what I meant by "experts" are those often unknown sources one reads in the news media. I was not referrng to Aaron whose posts are quite interesting.

Posted by Rob Payne at April 1, 2011 12:56 PM

I-131 has a half-life of 8 days. In one year, the 2.4 million curies will decay exponentially to a few hundred millionths of a curie (4x10^-8 curies). So while biological activity concentrates the radiation, physical activity will dissipate it. Not just through dilution, through radioactive decay. It's the long half-life elements that are the really worrisome ones, the ones depicted by the red and green lines at the bottom of the graph for example. They are apparently not being released in large quantities according to this chart.

Posted by Don SinFalta at April 1, 2011 02:49 PM

@Don SinFalta - I agree with this, but look at the numbers. If there were 2.4 million Ci released, but the isotropic distribution only accounts for 50,000, then someplace there's a really high concentration of radioactive iodine.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 1, 2011 03:20 PM

I'm a startled Chicagoan.

The sky was deep blue just a bit ago. I remember seeing on TV that Texas and Arizona were playing, which means it was March 20th (thank you, Google).

Am I seeing ghosts or what?

Posted by LT at April 1, 2011 05:07 PM

LT, I think you're just seeing ghosts, but there was that one time, driving on I-55 at County Line Road heading into the city, I saw a mirage. It was incredibly vivid - like an El Greco painting.

So, you never know!

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 1, 2011 05:16 PM

Late to the conversation over here. As I'm sure you all realize, Cesium 137 is the much bigger long term problem--metabolized like potassium, easily binds to soil, gets into dairy, fruits and vegetables. Strontium even worse, but haven't seen any reporting on that coming from F*k*shima.

This site

http://enenews.com/

has been useful, as well as Tyler Durden's Zero Hedge.

Truly a nightmare.

Posted by Oarwell at April 1, 2011 07:08 PM

Wait, what? Aaron, your argument is hella fallacious. You said:

If the I-131 released by the Fukushima disaster were distributed uniformly over just the Northern hemisphere of the earth at a concentration of 0.02 pCi/m^3, that would amount to 5000 Curies of activity per km of atmosphere in height. The jet stream is around 10km in altitude, so let’s call it 50,000Ci – the amount of radioactivity in 50kg (110 pounds) of Radium-226.

But we know that's not true. In fact, Southern Illinois, given the way the prevailing winds blow, is way more likely to receive radiation from Japan - it's practically at the same latitude - than, say, China. In fact, someone with a knowledge of statistical mechanics (not me) could probably figure out roughly how long it would take for iodine spewing from Fukushima Daiichi to distribute uniformly due to atmospheric turbulent mixing. I would bet that you would find that by the time it became anything close to uniform, you would find that the radioactivity had decayed to close to nothing.

My point is: most of that radiation dose probably didn't go that far. Most of it is in Japan, and the little of it that made it out to Southern Illinois (e.g.) is probably the most the rest of the world is going to see of it. There seems to be an unnecessary desire at work to expand the scope of this disaster to embrace the whole world - as if the catastrophe for tens of millions of Japanese is not enough. I'd like us to avoid those kinds of mistakes if possible.

Posted by saurabh at April 1, 2011 09:33 PM

Saurabh - that's my point exactly. If there were 2.5 million Curies released, where are they? They're in Japan.

Today and tomorrow I'll post data showing that TMI caused a lot of deaths due to thyroid cancer. You'll see how it relates.

I agree the post wasn't very good. I was sleepy.... Sorry.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 2, 2011 07:20 AM

Anyone who argues that there is no health risk in the US (and the entire Northern Hemisphere) is either deluded or a paid shill.

Experts like Harvey Wasserman agree. On March 27, he headlined, " 'Safe' Radiation is a Lethal TMI Lie," saying:

No amount of radiation is safe; they're harmful, cumulative, permanent and unforgiving;

It's why pregnant women aren't x-rayed;

"Any detectable fallout can kill;"

Fukushima's "serious danger" requires everyone to "prepare for the worst;"

"Fukushima is deadly to Americans;"

Minimally, "it threatens countless embryos and fetuses in utero, the infants, the elderly, the unborn who will come to future mothers now being exposed;"

There's "no defense against even the tiniest radioactive assault;"

"Science has never found such a 'safe' threshold, and never will;"

"All doses, 'insignificant' or otherwise, can harm the human organism;"

Three Mile Island (TMI) victims experienced "cancer, leukemia, birth defects, stillbirths, sterility, malformations, open lesions, hair loss, a metallic taste and much more....;"

Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture also documented the farm and wild animal death and mutation rate;

TMI was minor compared to Fukushima; its radiation is "pouring into the air and water;" operators reported levels "a million times normal, then retracted the estimate to a 'mere' 100,000;"

Most frightening is what's unrevealed; coverup after TMI and Chernobyl was scandalous;

All North America and Europe are affected, especially by rain, increasing soil and water contamination;

"Fukushima's worst may be yet to come," by far the worst ever environmental and human disaster;

"The response of the Obama Administration has been beyond derelict," claiming Americans face no threat; he lied and now remains silent;

" 'Impossible' accidents continue to happen, one after the other, each of them successively worse."

The EPA monitors are strangely silent, yet massively increased amounts of I131 are being reported everywhere from the rooftops at Berkely to rainwater in PA. It's already showing up in US milk. How safe is that Cali spinach you're munching? Got a geiger counter? Anyone checking produce?

Posted by Oarwell at April 2, 2011 09:22 AM

This informed and reasonable analysis was referenced at The Oil Drum:

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/chris-martenson-exclusive-new-photos-fukushima-reactors

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at April 2, 2011 10:12 AM

thanks mistah charley--that's very interesting. I didn't realize those smart fellas over at zero hedge did nuclear reactors too.

Posted by N E at April 2, 2011 10:29 AM

NE, check out Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth: before she did economics her doctorate work was in nuclear reactor risk assessment.

Posted by Oarwell at April 2, 2011 11:48 AM

KARMA- fresh&hot from the oven, which sez LOVE&THANX for doing business with the good folks at GE.

Its the CORRUPTION that's eating US alive, folks, not the radiation.

Posted by Mike Meyer at April 2, 2011 04:19 PM

"Then the next week I said [to Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano], ‘You were wrong, weren’t you? Radioactive material has been found in the area outside the 30km line, and even though you said radioactive material would never reach Tokyo, it has, hasn’t it? The government is responsible for the consequences of what it says so you should make a proper apology. Correct your mistakes.’ He replied, ‘That is not the case.’ When I said that, far from being within the 30km radius, radioactive material was found 40km away, and that he should correct the mistake, he told me to ‘Submit that properly in writing.’ I asked a question in the middle of a press conference, and he actually told me to put it on paper. [Laughs] At that point I just couldn’t believe it any more. It’s the first time that has ever happened to me – to be asked to submit a question in writing in the middle of actually asking it. Basically, it’s hopeless, isn’t it? Something in the minds of the government has burst."

http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/2776/Takashi-Uesugi-The-Interview


Posted by Oarwell at April 2, 2011 05:49 PM

Always good to see minimizing by technocratic argument.

Well done ATR. The Elite Colleges and Universities of The American Reich thank you.

Nice to see that N E is still plugging along as the naive dupe who begs enlightenment when the Q is potentially toxic to Average (non-Elite-Uni) readers.

Posted by Karl at April 3, 2011 11:07 AM

Aaron-

Sorry for the delayed answer, that's why I don't comment often, not much time for it. Anyway, I think the estimate you quote is specifically for I-131, and all the literature I've seen pertaining to the nuclear accident references this isotope. The only long-lived radioactive isotope of iodine is I-129 with a half-life of around 16 million years, so that one I'd worry about if it were being released in quantity. I haven't seen anything about whether it is or not. But these scary numbers specifically about I-131 just aren't very scary as far as I'm concerned, unless you're near the reactor getting a large enough dose to harm you before it decays.

Posted by Don SinFalta at April 3, 2011 01:49 PM
The only long-lived radioactive isotope of iodine is I-129 with a half-life of around 16 million years, so that one I'd worry about if it were being released in quantity.

This also means that it's not very radioactive; something with a half-life of 8 days means for a given sample size, half of the atoms of it are going to release radioactive particles within a span of 8 days. For something with a halflife of 16 million years, only 0.0127% of it is going to release radioactive particles. That is about 4000 times less radioactivity. Also, though I'm not sure about this, it seems like the fission process produces more I-131 than I-129.

No amount of radiation is safe; they're harmful, cumulative, permanent and unforgiving;

I feel like this gets misused a lot - because there's no threshold dosage at work here, the dose-response curve is a straight line. That means you will get an effect at any dosage (any amount of radiation can do DNA damage), but it also means that a minuscule dosage will produce a minuscule effect, which people who quote that usually neglect to mention. And there is surely a level of radiation dosage which is well below the noise floor of daily life, where we are being bombarded by all kinds of random radiation, from the bricks in our walls, cosmic rays, glow-in-the-dark watch dials, smoke detectors and god knows what else. So, yes, a little more radioactivity will, statistically, be more dangerous than none at all, but one should be reasonable about what the level of risk and amount of damage is.

Especially, and I repeat this once again for you cowardly Americans, since most of the radiation is in Japan, and the real danger is for the Japanese.

Posted by saurabh at April 3, 2011 06:59 PM

Karl: I love getting called a naive dupe--that's a refreshing change of pace, and and I'm proud to beg for enlightenment. I might even get a 'will beg for enlightenment' bumper sticker (if it were just a tad funnier, I guess, now that I read that). I saw an "I compost in my car" bumper sticker the other day and momentary forgot to remain gloomy!

Nice to see Oarwell's name again too, and thanks for the link Oarwell.

Posted by N E at April 3, 2011 07:10 PM

@ Don SinFalta,

Hey, no need to apologize; I definitely appreciate intelligent comments. I'm not sure I consider 0.02 pCi/m^3 of I-131 to be no concern, but that's complex and I need to weigh it out. I may write about it in the context of monitoring DOE did for atmospheric A-bomb tests. There's some REALLY DISTURBING information out there.

This wasn't a very good post - I think I merely wanted to get a number out there to go with media reports that there was contamination detected in New England and elsewhere. But to the extent I meant anything by it, I was still trying to make the principal point I've been after for many posts now:

This stuff just doesn't disperse very rapidly. It isn't magically diluted into the atmosphere as soon as it's emitted, although that's generally what we're asked to believe.

So I thought it was informative to do a little calculation which shows that most of the activity probably hasn't spread very far. It certainly isn't isotropically distributed.

You're definitely right that I-131 doesn't bioaccumulate over long time frames because of its short half life. Radiostrontium and other isotopes are more dangerous (in some respects) for this reason. But I-131 definitely concentrates quickly enough to be a concern. There was iodine contamination in milk in Oregon due to Chernobyl, for instance.

Best, AD

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 3, 2011 08:27 PM
This also means that it's not very radioactive; something with a half-life of 8 days means for a given sample size, half of the atoms of it are going to release radioactive particles within a span of 8 days. For something with a halflife of 16 million years, only 0.0127% of it is going to release radioactive particles. That is about 4000 times less radioactivity. Also, though I'm not sure about this, it seems like the fission process produces more I-131 than I-129.

Yes, the same number of atoms of I-129 will be far less radioactive than I-131. I should have said that I'd be concerned about releases in quantity as measured in curies, not moles.

This stuff just doesn't disperse very rapidly. It isn't magically diluted into the atmosphere as soon as it's emitted, although that's generally what we're asked to believe.

I agree with you that the dangers of many biohazards are often unjustly minimized. I just think it's clearer with biohazards whose toxicity doesn't decrease rapidly with time.

Posted by Don SinFalta at April 4, 2011 04:40 PM

"and here the question can be raised whether mankind benefits from knowing the secrets of Nature, whether it is ready to profit from it, or whether this knowledge will not be harmful for it. [...] I am one of those who believe with [Alfred B. ]Nobel that mankind will derive more good than harm from the new discoveries." ...OMG, Pierre, forrealsies?. This is why, in addition to knowing a bunch about science, understanding the cyclical nature of history/humanity is so important.

Posted by Amandasaurus at April 5, 2011 12:40 AM