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346 responses to “Fukushima radioactive fallout approaching Chernobyl levels?”

  1. sg

    I wonder if this means that the most heavily polluted areas will not be those closest to the plant? That makes for interesting disaster planning…

  2. Fine

    Gee, and all this time we’ve had people telling us we had nothing to worry about and this would never reach Chernobyl like levels. One thing I know for sure – Australia will never have nuclear power after this.

  3. David Irving (no relation)

    Indeed, Fine. Even if you could make out a case for it on technical grounds (and I suspect you could), it will be politically impossible for the forseeable future.

  4. Chumpai

    Really interesting post. I agree its the caesium-137 and iodine-131 we need to be worried about. Its difficult to tell how concerned to be, if it all falls in the one spot thats sucky and pretty bad health wise, but if its dispersed then not much to be worried about. The iodine-131 should be gone in a month though it will dangerous short term. The caesium-137 has a half life of 30 years so it will be around for a fair while longer though not as acutely dangerous.

    Disaster aside the epidemiological studies will be interesting from a scientific point of view.

    One point to make is that the Soviets covered Chernobyl up for four days so people ate contaminated food. The one good thing about all the panic is that shouldn’t happen here and I’m guessing the Japanese were eating lots of iodine rich foods prior to the disaster.

  5. derrida derider

    I agree that this accident has politically killed nuclear power in developed countries for some time (not that it was actually in buoyant health there anyway) – though whether it should is another question. But I reckon Fukushima has a long, long way to go before it could get near Chernobyl scale public health problems, let alone Bhopal or even Bikini Island scale ones.

    For example, I want a cite for that “1760 tonnes at Fukushima versus 180 tonnes at Chernobyl” bit. I know the 180 tonnes was about the amount of high-level material (ie fresh fuel) that was released at Chernobyl. As Chernobyl was the biggest plant ever built, and as the Soviets had the same casual habit of storing used fuel next to the reactors while it cooled down, I reckon that the total amount of fuel stored at Chernobyl must have been many, many multiples of 180 tonnes. You’re not comparing apples with apples here.

  6. moz

    I particularly like the stream from The Register, each one explaining why there’s no risk and the leaks are minor and there’s no need to be alarmed and stop exaggerating the risks and this is a triumph of regulation and engineering and there will be no more leaks and stop running away while I’m talking to you. http://search.theregister.co.uk/?q=Fukushima&site=&psite=0 especially http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/22/fukushima_tuesday_2/page2.html “the only possible public danger is that from the radioactive isotope iodine-131”.

    I do hope this causes a serious pause in calls from the pro-fission crowd to increase the amount of high level radioactive waste we generate, but it’s not looking good right now.

  7. akn

    The nuclear industry is trapped in a hell of its own making. Dead in the water, deader than Ophelia, but unaware of its own state, it is good now only as material for macabre satire. No-one, not Kafka nor Flann O’Brien nor Beckett himseld could have imagined the sheer perversity of this situation. I could throw Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen, Valadimir and Estragon, poor Joseph K and Moe, Larry and Curly on stage simultaneously and still not even approach the deranged state achieved by science in the service of this industry.

  8. derrida derider

    PS: I said in an earlier post that a serious reactor accident requires a combination of extremely bad luck and extremely bad management to happen (while adding that, nature and humans being what they are, both will happen occasionally).

    I’ll happily concede that both the running of this facility and the incompetent handling of the tsunami’s aftermath show that the bad management was present in great quantities at Fukushima.

  9. Nick

    derrida derider @ 5: “I reckon that the total amount of fuel stored at Chernobyl must have been many, many multiples of 180 tonnes. You’re not comparing apples with apples here.”

    The 4 Chernobyl reactors had a total of 25 production years (reactor #4 completed in 83, just 3 years before the accident)

    The 6 Fukushima reactors had a total of 208 production years (reactor #6 completed in 79, some 32 years ago).

    Why does it surprise you that there’s roughly 10 times more fuel on-site at Fukushima?

  10. DeeDee53

    Here’s a fascinating description of the Chernobyl dead zone as it is today. This young lady from Kiev rides her motorbike through the area.

    Usually, on this leg of the journey, a beeping geiger counter inspires to shift into high gear and streak through the area with great haste. The patch of trees in front of me is called red – or ‘magic” wood. In 1986, this wood glowed red with radiation. They cut them down and buried them under 1 meter of earth.


  11. Chumpai

    Regarding the spent fuel rods, there is likely to be no iodine-131 released from that location given the 8-day half life that isotope.

    So any iodine-131 fallout presumably came from the reactor core – logically either one of two options: 1) fallout due to containment breach (unlikely due to high pressure levels) or 2) the intentional steam releases. If its #2 then surely one would think an improvement on design would be some way of sequestering at least some of this steam into an underground tank or something.

  12. SCPritch

    Not saying it isn’t totally irradiated, but maybe the lady riding her motorbike near Chernobyl was talking figuratively when she said that the Red Forest “glowed red” with radiation, unless by radiation she meant the sun shining on the dead trees.

    The wiki page linked above alleges some interesting info about plant mutations in the Red Forest, and also that the area seems to have become something of a wildlife refuge.

  13. Chris

    he wiki page linked above alleges some interesting info about plant mutations in the Red Forest, and also that the area seems to have become something of a wildlife refuge.

    The radiation keeps the humans away 🙂 Humans are more dangerous to the environment than the effects of the radiation.

  14. SCPritch

    The radiation keeps the humans away 🙂 Humans are more dangerous to the environment than the effects of the radiation.

    Heh, yeah, was thinking the same thing. Its kind of sad really isn’t it?

  15. su

    The conclusions about some new eden around Chernobyl were based on scant evidence and zero population surveys, when such surveys were begun by AP Moller et al they found ecological dead zones with zero invertebrates and therefore zero vertebrate species, overall reduction in abundance of invertebrate, bird and mammal species, fitness loss and germline mutations in bird and other species, reduction of brain size amongst bird species, the list goes on. Wikipedia is not a good source, there are quite a number of very recent published papers accessible through google scholar on the ecology of Chernobyl.

  16. Helen

    I did some blogging on the woman on the motorcycle a while back and it’s a wonderful story, but to my memory she is a fictional construct written by people taking tours through the dead zone. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate any of “her” observations, though, it’s just a bit less romantic.

  17. SCPritch

    Wikipedia is not a good source

    Thanks for the better info. 🙂

  18. su

    Oh look, I can’t tell whether that smiley is satirical or not, but in case it is and in my defence, there are very good reasons to be fastidious about information, because misinformation, intentional or otherwise, is not benign. The one about the environs of Chernobyl is a particularly pernicious and completely misleading meme.

  19. Ootz

    Difficult to establish how much spent fuel is stored in the Fukushima facility. Best I could find was over at the Daily Kos.

    While I was digging around re spent fuel, chernobyl and fukushima, there is some mentioning that reactor 3 was on a diet of mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (MOX) fuel, and an accident involving a storage pool with spent fuel of that kind — as well as a melting reactor core loaded with such fuel — threatens contamination with plutonium-239..

    What else is there that we don’t know?

  20. akn

    Knew about the MOx. Eeek.

  21. sg

    Helen, I think she has a blog up now somewhere else complaining about being accused of being a fake. I’m not sure about the details though. Her blog is very interesting though.

    Ootz, the Mox is no secret.

  22. F6

    From the blog of wind energy advocate and author Paul Gipe:

    “I reported in Wind Energy comes of Age a mortality rate of 0.27 deaths per TWh. However, the mortality rate was higher than I reported then. I had missed several accidents that I learned of later.

    In the mid-1990s the mortally rate was actually 0.4 per TWh. The worldwide mortality rate dropped more than half to 0.15 deaths per TWh by the end of 2000.

    One half of the deaths have occurred on or around turbines of the size typically installed during the great California wind boom of the mid-1980s. Still, 7 have been killed working with larger turbines.

    Tragically, at least 3 people have been killed working with small turbines. These deaths dramatically skew the mortality rate because small turbines account for a minuscule amount of worldwide wind generation.”


    By comparison the IAEA puts the rate of death from nuke at 1.2 per TWh.

    It is difficult to find figures for solar but the US Bureau of Labor rates “roofers” as the sixth most dangerous occupation in the US. Presumably some of these deaths are related to the installation and maintenance of rooftop solar units.

  23. Thomas Paine

    ‘and as the Soviets had the same casual habit of storing used fuel next to the reactors while it cooled down, I reckon that the total amount of fuel stored at Chernobyl must have been many, many multiples of 180 tonnes. You’re not comparing apples with apples here.’

    Just create your own facts why don’t you. Invents a couple of facts then uses that as a basis of dispelling any comparisons. One can only surmise it is for the purpose of down playing Fukushima’s seriousness.


    ‘PS: I said in an earlier post that a serious reactor accident requires a combination of extremely bad luck and extremely bad management to happen (while adding that, nature and humans being what they are, both will happen occasionally).’

    No. Not bad luck in the least. All that is required is for a nuclear facility to be designed, built and managed by humans. That is enough to create any variety of scenarios for a major situation to occur. How much human history do we need to review to establish this fact.

    I guess it is easy for those sitting outside of Japan to down play this, enjoy the ego trip of acting cool thousands of miles away and infer this is all just a nothing burger lah…why is everybody panicking. They might have a bit of a different take on it however if Fukushima was 240km from Sydney.

    Firstly it should be obvious historically and from recent performance that the Japanese government and the operators of Fukushima have been dishonest from the start and are not a trustworthy. Secondly Tokyo is quite close to Fukushima and all it requires in addition to the present situation is a decent fire with smoke to head to Tokyo to create a major calamity. Thirdly it is most obvious that nobody is in control of the situation at Fukushima and their salt water cooling has served to coat everything with a salt crust thus making it even hard to cool.

    Not surprising they have with the greatest of reluctance upgraded this to level 6 with a bullet.

    Normalcy bias can be seen in effect just about everywhere. We are well trained it seems.

  24. su

    Ootz, and to make matters more serious, reactor 3 appears to be the most damaged, with officials now admitting the reactor vessel may be breached. The workers who suffered radiation burns yesterday were working at Unit 3.

  25. sg

    the account I read of the workers with the radiation exposure was very weird, as if they had stepped in water barefoot.

    I think reactor 3 is the one that is currently throwing off smoke occasionally, but TEPCO are saying this is from the fuel pool, not the reactor itself.

  26. Ootz

    Su, actually they were contractors, not even employees of TEPCO, which thought their measuring equipment were faulty when it started to sound an alarm.

    re mox, yes it is no secret, however why are there no plutonium measurement recordings provided, since there is wide spread report of fuel exposure on reactor 3?

  27. su

    Sg, I am only repeating what is in the news – either the reactor vessel itself or pipes/valves from the vessel appear to be breached according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency over there. eg:here

  28. su

    Gah, borked the tags again but there are multiple news agencies all reporting the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency saying that the vessel or valves/pipes from the vessel appear to be breached.

  29. sg

    ootz, as far as I can tell the Japanese press, the power plant and the government are not reporting on plutonium at all. I don’t know why.

  30. sg

    su, this morning yahoo japan was reporting that it could be either the vessel or the pool.

    Yahoo Japan is also reporting that the three workers stood in a pool of water while doing “urgent work” and received a dose near the limit (173-180 mSv), so were removed and sent to a special facility when their dosimeter sounded the alarm. They thought the dosimeters were faulty when they hit 20mSv (when they also sound an alarm), because yesterday the radiation levels had been dropping. Also TEPCO regulations require checking radiation levels of the work area before and after work, but on this occasion they only checked afterwards.

    Yahoo Japan is also saying they were “sha-in” (regular workers,??) from a collaborating company, not freeters or day-labourers. Though maybe they would elide that point anyway… But being from a collaborating company, maybe they don’t know the proper procedures (strange definition of “collaboration” but there you go).

    All work was stopped but then resumed everywhere else except where the pool was (it is on a sub-level below the turbine, sounds very Aliens to me).

  31. SCPritch

    apologies su, it was more of a sheepish smile.

  32. su

    No worries, SCPritch.

    I believe the press conference happened later, Sg.
    From the New York Times:

    The development, described at a news conference by Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, raises the possibility that radiation from the mox fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be released.

    One sign that a breach may have occurred in the reactor vessel, Mr. Nishiyama said, took place on Thursday when three workers who were trying to connect an electrical cable to a pump in a turbine building next to the reactor were injured when they stepped into water that was found to be significantly more radioactive than normal in a reactor.

  33. joe

    Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. Hope the Japanese know what they’re doing in Fukushima.

  34. sg

    It’s funny though isn’t it, su, because whether it was the reactor or the spent fuel pool, from reactor 3 one would think the water would have to contain some plutonium. But no one anywhere is mentioning it. I wonder if they think saying the “P” word will lead to the other “p” word (Panic) or if there is some aspect of the meltdown process that stops plutonium coming out at this stage?

  35. Incurious and Unread

    Also, the Fukushima plant has around 1760 tonnes of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site, and an unknown amount has been damaged. The Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tonnes.

    What a lazy piece of reporting. Firstly, does fresh fuel contain iodine and caesium radio-isotopes? I would very much doubt it. Secondly, most of the spent fuel at Fukushima was stored at the central pond and it has never been suggested that facility was damaged. Thirdly, AIUI, spent fuel more than a few weeks out of the reactor would not have any radioactive iodine anyway.

    Why not just compare the amount of concrete in the two facilities? That would be about as relevant.

    Not really up to the usual standard of NewScientist.

  36. F6

    It is perhaps worth pointing out that residents of HBRA’s such as Ramsar in Iran, parts of Kerala in India, Yangjiang in China and many other places do not exhibit abnormal cancer rates according to extant studies. Residents of such areas may annually receive one hundred or more times the radiation exposure of nuclear industry workers and several thousand times greater exposure than those panicky Americans who are buying iodine tablets.

    The fascination with nuclear disasters and the marginalisation of the much greater risks to human health posed by activities we all partake in each day is an interesting aspect of human psychology that deserves much greater study.

  37. JM

    Chumpai @11

    Both of your arguments here are totally fallacious.

    Iodine is part of the decay chain (where uranium breaks down through a sequence of other elements and eventually turns into lead), which means that it is being produced as part of the cooling process. It’s not like you can take a fuel rod out of the reactor core and 8 days later there’s only half the iodine there. It’s being produced by the decay – aka “cooling” – process. The reason why it’s being detected in the surrounding countryside (along with cesium) is that the cooling ponds caught fire and it escaped to the atmosphere as smoke.

    Second, you can’t sequester the steam in these reactors because they operate at about 150x atmospheric pressure. In other words, where the hell are you going to store the stuff if not in a pressure vessel like the reactor core?

    And that sequestration vessel would have to have many times the capacity of the primary core.

    No, what happens in normal operation is that the steam is released and filtered through water which rapidly absorbs the Iodine and only then expelled to the atmosphere. No doubt you’ve seen the large cooling towers in other reactor designs? That’s one of the things they’re doing.

    And in anycase this is not a normal situation, significant parts of these reactors are damaged, not just through earthquake but also through the subsequent explosions. Calling for “better” systems in this situation is futile as those systems cannot be predicted to survive.

  38. dk.au

    dd @ 5 – the quote was from the New Scientist article linked above the blockquote.

    sorry – wrote this post quite quickly today whilst under multiple deadlines. Will post updates on the weekend dealing with other comments…

  39. Terangeree

    From the Asahi Shimbun.

  40. sg

    On the topic of comparing industrial disasters, I found this in the Guardian today.

  41. akn


    All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it’s like being ambushed by a grotesque.

  42. Eric Sykes

    “In another development, two Japanese tourists who arrived in China on a flight from Tokyo are being treated in hospital for high radiation levels.

    It remains unclear how the two may have become contaminated as neither traveller is reported to have been within 240km of the Fukushima plant, says our correspondent.

    Meanwhile, Chinese news agency, Xinhua, has reported that abnormal radiation levels have been detected on a ship arriving from Japan to Xiamen port in Fujian province.”


  43. Robert Merkel

    Interesting, dk.

    The big difference is that with Chernobyl a large fraction of the fuel itself exploded and distributed itself over a large area. Once that happens, you have no control over the release of iodine and cesium.

    One potential source for the iodine and cesium is when the spent fuel pools didn’t have enough water in them. If that’s the case, putting water back in the pools should stop the emissions.

    Eric, that report is concerning but I’d want a hell of a lot more detail before getting too excited. The only people who’ve gotten a big enough radiation dose to put themselves in hospital in the short term are workers in the plant itself. None of the monitoring stations has suggested anything that might result in such doses (and, you’ll recall, Chernobyl itself did not result in such doses).

    Incidentally, the last two worker exposures (and they may be in real trouble if they got a big enough dose to get radiation burns) occurred when they were splashing through water that was a lot more radioactive than they assumed, without appropriate protective clothing. Why anybody would choose to believe their dosimeter is not working, in an environment where there is every chance of high and changing levels of radiation, is “puzzling”.

    But then again, there have been “puzzling incidents” in the Japanese nuclear industry in the past. Their last serious accident (in that it resulted in the deaths of two workers), occurred
    at the Tokiamura reprocessing plant in 1999.

    FWIW, I still think George Monbiot was right on the money in his recent column.

  44. Huggybunny

    AT 100C steam can be condensed to water at atmospheric pressure with a volume reduction of 1603:1 so that takes care of the “sequestration” issue.
    The real problem for Fukushima is the Pu in the MOX. No amount of statistical fudging will will make Pu an acceptable toxin. This is of course a problem for the little green Gen IV reactors that will use MOX. I read Monbiots insane rave, brave little boy he is.
    I am now waiting breathlessly for the radiation danger deniers to explain about the safety of Pu.
    Perhaps we could have a thread titled: “The thousand year rule of the the Plutonium God”.


  45. Eric Sykes

    “Environmental watchdog Greenpeace started its own monitoring near the plant, charging that “authorities have consistently appeared to underestimate both the risks and extent of radioactive contamination”.

    “We have come to Fukushima to bear witness to the impacts of this crisis and to provide some independent insight into the resulting radioactive contamination,” said the group’s radioactivity safety advisor Jan van de Putte.

    The campaign group said it would provide “an alternative to the often contradictory information released by nuclear regulators”.”


  46. Ootz

    Leggett’s response to Monbiot in the Guardian, it sumarises:
    “And then there are the safety, health and indeed human psychology issues. “The impact on people [of the current disaster] has been small,” Monbiot asserts. My, how I would love him to have to face a roomful of Fukushima citizens with that argument. Or put on a suit and pick up a hosepipe at the plant itself.”

    To me though, the real disgrace and total irresponsibility is the foggy information dished out by the relevant authorities in view of the extremely serious situation with reactor 3, from it’s first explosion onwards. Read the latest Daily Kos A MOX On All Your Houses: On Blowing Smoke, A Breach and Admission Creep at Fukushima’s Reactor #3.

    Considering that we banned DDT, WTF is MOX doing on a major tectonic fault line and in the hand of such irresponsible people. Monbiot can take this particular ‘Energy Side Effect’ and shove it you know where!

  47. JM

    Robert: a large fraction of the fuel itself exploded and distributed itself over a large area. Once that happens, you have no control over the release of iodine and cesium.

    I don’t understand what you mean by this. There was no fission explosion at Chernobyl, and there hasn’t been at Fukushima either.

    Do you mean fire? Because that has also happened at Fukushima, which has also spread material in the form of fuel dust over a wide area.

    The differences between Chernobyl and Fukushima boil down to:

    * 1 reactor at Chernobyl, 4 (or 6 depending on how you count) at Fukushima
    * uncontrolled fire at Chernobyl, relatively quickly extinguished fire at Fukushima
    * 3 hydrogen explosions at Fukushima, 1 explosion at Chernobyl

    For the time being Fukushima is not as bad as Chernobyl, and hopefully won’t get that bad. But in the meantime there is potential for it to be much worse.

  48. JM

    Ootz: how I would love him to have to face a roomful of Fukushima citizens with that argument.

    You bet. The sister of my new spouse lived in Iwaki about 30 km as-the-crow-flies (40km on the road) from the plant. She and her family have been evacuated and she sure would have a lot to say on the topic (communications with her are a bit hard at the moment).

  49. Robert Merkel

    Whether the explosion at Chernobyl was directly caused by fission or not, it occurred right in the middle of the reactor. The explosions at Fukushima were outside the cores.

    JM – could you point me to a report on wide distribution of fuel dust? Iodine-131 and cesium-137 in the environment don’t demonstrate that on their own, they’re water-soluble.

  50. Ootz

    JM and Robert M, your discussion relates directly to my point on the less than ordinary communication skills of the (ir)responsible authorities in this whole shamozzle.

    Nowhere on any relevant directly responsible organisations official organ you will find relevant and credible information, presented in a frank and intelligent format for the average punter to form a reasonable and plausible assessment of risks!

    The Austrians told us about the plume, the Nuke test sniffers told us about what is exactly in the air around the globe, the IAEA and Greenpeace want to send in their own radiation monitoring team on the ground, and then contractors, with highly radioactive water up their ankles, are not trusting their radioactive alarm equipment. Initial evacuation zone 20km now expandet to 30km, the US has it on 80km. The local Headman sums it all up.
    “We are trying to prevent a deterioration of the situation and we are still not in a position where we can be optimistic,”
    Please, somebody give me confidence.

    Confidence for the people affected by Fukushime and all those coming people in future, who have to face the legacy of our infantile inability to use and produce energy in a long-term sustainable fashion, justified by short term grandification or what ever angst.

  51. JM

    Robert: could you point me to a report on wide distribution of fuel dust?

    Any number of reports have referred to “smoke” from the reactors and the pools. And those reports have also referred to fire in the cooling ponds. Some of this is steam and some of it is real smoke which will contain radioactive particles. For a very low key report on this refer to the IAEA here

    Additionally the Japanese government has acknowledged that certain foods – including things like spinach – from the Fukushima region should not be eaten. They have also issued a warning to Tokyo residents that infants under 5 should not drink tap water (or be fed formula mixed with tap water) due to the risk of Iodine ingestion.

    Given that the Japanese nuclear industry (and government) are famously unforthcoming about this sort of stuff, I think we should take them at their word.

  52. JM

    Oh I think I should also add that there is a plume of radioactive dust spreading across the Pacific at the moment. The Californians are getting their knickers in a twist over this, but I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that it exists.

    If “across the Pacific” isn’t “widespread” I don’t know what is.

  53. JM

    And another thing. The Japanese are taking this very seriously.

    The Emperor made an unscheduled appearance on TV about this crisis and this was the first time he had spoken directly to the nation via TV (he makes pre-recorded statements on state occasions). I happened to see this broadcast by accident as I was watching Japanese TV on the web at the time, and I was a little bit stunned by it.

    For elderly Japanese at least, the sudden message from the emperor doubtless called to mind the August 15, 1945, radio broadcast by his father, Emperor Hirohito, announcing the country’s surrender in World War Two.

    The Japanese are treating this with all the seriousness it deserves and regard it as very serious. Don’t diminish it or underplay it.

  54. quokka

    JM #51 As far as I am aware, the warning about Tokyo tap water for young children has been cancelled.


  55. Nick

    Sorry dd @ 5. I didn’t read you correctly, was all over the place!

    The 180 tonnes in Chernobyl reactor #4 did include about 30 tonnes of spent fuel,, but that’s not that important to what you were saying.

  56. joe

    Radioaktivität am AKW Fukushima zehnmillionenfach erhöht [Radiation at Nuclear Power Station Fukushima by factor of 10Million increase]

    Warning: This is not an increase relative to the recent increase, but relative to “normal” levels.

    Anyway, can’t check this on the Guardian or nytimes, but if this is true apparently things are coming a bit unstuck at Fukushima.

    Is anyone working on a plan to deal with this? Sitting around hoping that the cooling is going to work could turn out to really suck. Is there a back up plan? Is there any preparation being done, so that if it has to be encased, that can be done quickly?

  57. Thomas Paine

    “Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the fact that this ten million times normal figure now being reported (1000 mSv) was the result of a “pegged out” detector.

    Upon discovering the high level of radiation the worker simply evacuated rather than adjust the sensitivity of the detector and take another reading.

    The 1000 mSv reading is probably not accurate. How much higher the actual reading really is is unknown.

    Also, the detection of Iodine 134 seems to pretty conclusively indicate that nuclear fission is actively taking place. The half-life of Iodine 134 is about 54 minutes I believe, so detection of significant amounts of it means it’s been created quite recently.”

  58. sg

    Ootz, there’s a lot of information about what’s going on at this powerplant, but not everyone feels the need to translate it into English to calm the fears of someone in Australia. There seem to be an awful lot of people here willing to assume that the powerplant operators are doing nothing, or screwing it all up, without much consideration for whether or not the information you’re getting is complete.

    Witness e.g. JM making hay while the sun shines out of a one day tap water warning; the language of “the government has acknowledged” meant to imply that the govt was caught out, when they were the ones who did the testing and stopped the exports; the guardian saying Edano san “denied” the situation was deteriorating (as if he were being challenged on his report; what he actually said was “the situation is very serious”); or claims that “the sea” is radioactive when TEPCO has actually announced that seawater sampled around the coolant outlet pipe was radioactive.

    Two of the reactors have now been successfully shutdown. This is not a sign that things aren’t being managed well.

    People here noticed straight away that all the foreigners in Japan have done a runner. The Abercrombie and Fitch store in Ginza is closed because all the staff panicked and fled. Meanwhile all around the Japanese are going calmly about their business. Rather than interpreting what’s happening here as the government being unforthcoming or trying to hide things, they see it as the foreign press exaggerating and panicking.

  59. joe

    The extreme measurement taken earlier was a mistake, apparently.

    I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope everything works out.

  60. sg

    joe, i saw Edano san upbraiding the media a few days ago for misreporting a reading. It seems the problem is going around a little…

  61. Nigel Ratchett-Spinks


    Apparently the reading is a mere 100,000 times the normal level for reactor coolant – instead of 10 million times.

    Phew, that’s a relief then….

  62. akn

    I can’t believe the panic going on about a little teeth whitener in the air from that reactor. The world is full of ingrates. That radioctivity goddamn cures cancer, it has side effects like airborn Viagra and Fukushima itself has led to a resurgence in Shintoism among the workforce. Nothing bad at all here.

  63. akn

    sg above:

    Two of the reactors have now been successfully shutdown. This is not a sign that things aren’t being managed well.

    Errr. Right.

  64. sg

    are you at the stage of refusing to believe any news that doesn’t fit your catastrophe story, akn?

  65. Eric Sykes

    Fukushima, March 27, 2011: Greenpeace radiation experts have confirmed radiation levels of up to ten micro Sieverts per hour (1) in Iitate village, 40km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear plant, and 20km (2) beyond the official evacuation zone. These levels are high enough to require evacuation.

    “The Japanese authorities are fully aware (3) that high levels of radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have spread far beyond the official evacuation zone to places like Iitate, yet are still not taking action to properly protect people or keep them informed them about the risks to their health”, said Greenpeace radiation safety expert Jan van de Putte.


  66. Hal9000

    sg, the history of this event has been one of dissembling by the operator and government, accompanied by comments from nuclear boosters such as yourself ridiculing fears as unfounded and impossible, only to have those same fears confirmed as reality. It’s typical of the hubris of the nuclear industry that you’re still passing snide comments rather than bunkered down and staying out of sight at this point.

    The sign that things aren’t being managed well is the fact that there is an ongoing uncontrolled release of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, oceans and water table. They don’t know how or when this situation will stop. It could get worse, and on past performance I’d have no confidence that any frank admissions would be made in a timely manner.

    The fears of environmentalists about just this situation causing just this problem were airily dismissed by the people responsible for designing and running the plant. So it turns out that the anti-nuke crowd knew more about nuclear safety in the real world than the nuclear engineers and their shills. They didn’t plan for the eventuality, and have no redundant systems to bring into play. All of these events and decisions were taken by a bad management, and what we see unfolding before us is ongoing bad management. If management had been good, this would not be happening.

    It’s another question whether engineers and managers are ever going to be up to the task, but at Fukishima the fingerprints of incompetence are everywhere.

  67. Nick

    sg @ 58: “Rather than interpreting what’s happening here as the government being unforthcoming or trying to hide things, they see it as the foreign press exaggerating and panicking.”

    Japan cabinet rating up, low marks for nuclear crisis: poll

    More than 58 percent disapproved of how the government was dealing with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, a survey by Kyodo news agency showed on Sunday.

    I’ve lost count of how many tv interviews I’ve watched of Japanese citizens, Fukushima evacuees, relief workers and medical professionals complaining that their government is not being forthcoming and appears to be trying to hide things…perhaps these things don’t make the domestic network news in Japan.

    sg @ 60: “joe, i saw Edano san upbraiding the media a few days ago for misreporting a reading. It seems the problem is going around a little…”

    They were TEPCO’s readings the media were reporting, and it was TEPCO who later retracted those figures, not the media who misreported them.

  68. akn

    No sg, I’m open to scientific evidence presented byscientists with a track record of integirty and honesty. I’m entirely sceptical of press releases from the vicinity of Bolgia 10 which is reserved for:

    Falsifiers, those who attempted to alter things through lies or alchemy, or those who tried to pass off false things as real things, such as counterfeiters of coins … This bolgia has four subdivisions where specific classes of falsifiers (alchemists, impostors, counterfeiters, and liars) endure different degrees of punishment based on horrible, consumptive diseases such as rashes, dropsy, leprosy and consumption.

  69. quokka

    Eric Sykes #65

    Sounds like grandstanding from Greenpeace. In the best of all worlds it might be better to evacuate that area and then again it might not be. But Japan is in a state that is far from the best of all worlds with hundreds of thousands already homeless from the tsunami and adding to that number without very good reason would not necessarily lessen overall harm. It may very well increase it.

    Just waving around a figure of 10 uSv per hour is not the whole story. It does not mean that residents will necessarily receive such a dose if they stay indoors and follow the recommended procedures. We don’t know what the trend in radiation readings is and we don’t know what radio isotopes are present. A few weeks exposure at these levels is not likely to do much harm.

    If Greenpeace haven’t got anything else to add, they should just butt out.

  70. paul of albury

    So no argument on the facts, quokka, just on the helpfulness of contradicting the official “Don’t you worry about that” line. When the homeless crisis is over will the propaganda used to avoid panic persist as accepted truth, allowing the same events to happen again?

  71. akn

    sg keeps asserting that biased and irrational western news agencies are distorting the reality of calm orderly Japaense citizens going about their business. There is however a longstanding Japanese anti-nuke movement, which held a protest yesterday, part of ongoing monthly anti-nuke protests by this group, attracting a crowd of a thousand. Admittedly not a large demonstration but evidence of seriously misleading information from sg.

    Or aren’t you spending enought time outdoors to know what is goin’ on, sg?

  72. Helen

    AKN, you might like this podcast


    Japanese Opposition MP, Taro Kono, has long argued against Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, and he says Japan must move to an energy strategy that includes renewables and natural gas. Taro Kono is also on the Liberal Democratic Party’s counter-relief committee. The group is examining better ways of responding and preparing for such disasters as this month’s earthquake and tsunami.

  73. Nick

    quokka @ 69: “We don’t know what the trend in radiation readings is and we don’t know what radio isotopes are present.”

    We do know the trends.  Iitate has been hovering at ~9.0 ?Gy/h for 2 to 3 days now.

    And, correct me if I’m wrong, but all of these readings are taken in grays.  I’m led to believe translating one gray per hour to one sievert per hour is the most conservative assessment of received dosage.  Depending on what radioactive isotopes are present, actual received dosage can be up to 15 to 20 times higher…I’d appreciate a bit of clarification on that from somebody more familiar with the radiation units?

  74. quokka

    So no argument on the facts, quokka, just on the helpfulness of contradicting the official “Don’t you worry about that” line. When the homeless crisis is over will the propaganda used to avoid panic persist as accepted truth, allowing the same events to happen again?

    Oh please. We have one factiod and I quote “up to ten micro Sieverts per hour”. What exactly does that mean? Have Greenpeace taken multiple measurements at different sites and if so are they published anywhere? Is 10 uSv/hr the highest measurement they made. Who knows?

    Here’s a quote from the US Health Physics Society:

    “Radiogenic health effects (primarily cancer) have been demonstrated in humans through epidemiological studies only at doses exceeding 5–10 rem [50-100 mSv] delivered at high dose rates. Below this dose, estimation of adverse health effect remains speculative.”


    From the wording of the Greenpeace statement 10 uSv/hr would seem to be the upper bound for exposure at the sites they have visited. That would equate to an upper bound on exposure for 90 days of 21.6 mSv. Not ideal, but consider in the context of the above statement. The harm due to such a dose is speculative and furthermore that exposure is an upper bound. In practice, I would expect that those who have not voluntarily evacuated are taking the recommended precautions and their exposure would be considerably less. Over 90 days, perhaps no more than the average natural background radiation exposure for one year living in Cornwall in the UK.

    Assuming that there are not major further releases from the NPPs into the atmosphere, the current readings will decline due to decay of short lived isotopes.

    Of course exposure levels could be higher than reported by Greenpeace, but we can only go on the very limited facts they report.

    Now just what “propaganda” are you referring to?

  75. Eric Sykes

    [email protected]…..

    “Have Greenpeace taken multiple measurements at different sites and if so are they published anywhere?”

    suggest you try:


  76. su

    Sg: Reactors 5 and 6 were not ” successfully shut down”, they were already offline as of August 2010 and January 2011.

  77. Eric Sykes

    “Bucking the global standard, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has two distinct and often competing roles: regulating the nuclear power industry, and promoting Japanese nuclear technology at home and abroad.

    The setup recalls U.S. regulation of offshore drilling before last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, in which the same agency regulated the industry and promoted offshore oil-and- gas development. One of the Obama administration’s first post-spill actions was to break up the agency.”


  78. akn

    Stranger and stranger. Now quokka appears to have followed Alice down the rabbit hole otherwise why cite that well known factoid about background radiation inCornwall. FFS. As it turns out radon levels in Cornwall are so high that (wiki-p):

    Some of these areas, including Cornwall and Aberdeenshire in the United Kingdom have high enough natural radiation levels that nuclear licensed sites cannot be built there — the sites would already exceed legal radiation limits before they opened, and the natural topsoil and rock would all have to be disposed of as low-level nuclear waste

  79. quokka


    Stranger and stranger. Now quokka appears to have followed Alice down the rabbit hole otherwise why cite that well known factoid about background radiation inCornwall. FFS. As it turns out radon levels in Cornwall are so high that (wiki-p)

    For the very good reason that epidemiological studies have not shown adverse public health effects in regions which high natural radiation levels. Which implies that if such adverse effects do exist, then they are likely quite small or possibly non-existent. This provides a conceptual reference point and can ally fears that are completely out of proportion to risk there may or may not be.

    Regulatory limits on radiation exposure for the general public are in fact very conservative and while this may or may not be good policy, it does not mean that if they are exceeded by modest amounts that any discernible harm will necessarily follow.

  80. akn

    Well actually quokka I did know that, as I said the other day, after some 35 years of engagement with the nuke industry. However, lovely factoids about background radiation from things like radon shed no light on uncontrolled contamination from Fukushima especially with MoX providing potential for real nasties to get loose. The line of argument about background radiation is so worn out and so discredited that it is only a matter of amusement for me as to why you would choose to cite background radiation levels in as obscure a location as Cornwall. As it turns out the natural background of radiation is so high as to preclude nuke facility construction there which is presumably why you cite it. See, it doesn’t hurt, it actually whitens the teeth! The established level of acceptable background radioactivity doesn’t reflect the concerns of a scaredy cat public; it reflects scientific confusion, uncertainty and politicisation.

    PS: thanks for the link Helen. Signs of rationality at last.

  81. The Feral Abacus

    For the very good reason that epidemiological studies have not shown adverse public health effects in regions which high natural radiation levels.

    quokka @ 79 from wikipedia

    Epidemiological evidence shows a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and incidence of lung cancer. Thus, radon is considered a significant contaminant that affects indoor air quality worldwide. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States

  82. Katz

    It is becoming more and more clear that the Tepco and Japanese Noise Machines are blowing so much chaff that no outsider has much idea about the facts on the ground.

    This amounts to a very sophisticated program of disinformation whose existence is more than merited by the huge stakes at risk.

  83. paul of albury

    Quokka the propaganda I’m seeing is 1. there’s no radiation leaks and 2. when it turns out there are they might not be harmful and now 3. if you lived in Cornwall you’d suffer 1/4 of this level all year round. We’ve been seeing this pattern of exculpation for weeks – ‘Don’t worry, everything is (almost) under control’
    The second paragraph of @69 reads like the mitigating factors on an MS security bulletin – listing all the combinations of circumstances which *might* mean nothing bad happens. From your wording ‘does not mean … necessarily’, ‘not likely to do much harm’. Do these sound like weasel words?
    And because Greenpeace measures don’t fit the official message they can ‘butt out’?

  84. quokka

    ABC has a sensible radio interview with Dr Robert Gale, professor of haematology at Imperial College London, who has just visited the exclusion zone at Fukushima:


    Especially listen to his parting comments about concern for his personal safety during the visit.

  85. paul of albury

    Quokka I think there are cases for withholding information to avoid ‘dreadful confusion’ or panic. But I think today’s misinformation is unlikely to be corrected – there’d be too much outrage (and liability). It would be swept under the carpet instead, leading to poorer future decisions and possibly more harm. It’s a dilemma.

    But anyway I’m sure you’re not advocating misinformation. As far as I can see this thread is about trying to understand what is actually happening, not what’s convenient to know 😉

  86. quokka

    @paul of albury #85,

    I find it difficult to believe than anybody (incl Greenpeace) is fiddling with radiation measurements. There must be any number of radiation counters all over Japan in universities, hospitals, industry etc etc. Radiation is just too easy to measure to run any sort of scam like that.

    As to the situation at the NPP, there must be considerable uncertainty and the only prudent course must surely be to only make public statements that have a reasonably high probability of being true.

    Having said that, it does seem that the Japanese government has been tardy in getting information out especially in the first few days, but it has improved somewhat.

    I really don’t think anybody has denied radiation leaks. From the first release of steam to relieve reactor pressure, it’s been pretty obvious that there was some release. I also doubt that anybody is denying that the situation remains serious at the NPP.

  87. paul of albury

    Quokka the deliberate withholding of information for harm minimisation was I thought hypothetical although I think it is a real dilemma. I thought you were raising it in your @69 2nd para and again @84 with your cite of Gale’s last para.

    But there seems to be a pattern of understatement followed by a discovery that it’s worse than previously thought. A lot of the more worrying information has come from sources not directly tied to the reactors – US alerts, the Austrians, now Greenpeace. Perhaps it’s just that they don’t have the same pressing issues as the Japanese trying to cope with the crisis.

    Has there been any more information about the two people China supposedly treated for exposure to radiation?

  88. sg

    The Japanese government has not been withholding information; quite the contrary, Edano san is receiving high praise in the press here. TEPCO bosses have come in for a bit of a drubbing, but they are not often responsible for informing the public directly; that’s Edano san’s job. If you watch a press conference with these people consecutively, you can see who is across their brief.

    The govt has been clear about information from the start, but due to the difficulties of the situation (which people here consistently refuse to recognize) they have not known about all the facts at each stage. For example, the latest (likely) crack in the containment vessel is probably the result of an earlier hydrogen explosion, i.e. it wasn’t there from the start of the problem, so funnily enough the government only announced it when they found it. They announced the increased possibility of containment vessel damage early on (sometime last week) and moved to investigate, but again, the situation they’re working in is a little more complex than a “mere” meltdown.

    I also really wish that people would stop talking about “nuclear boosters” and “misinformation” and continue talking as if the well established fact that radiation at the levels we’re seeing is not harmful were a lie. It’s not a lie. It’s been proven repeatedly in many studies. If you can’t talk about radiation in the context of what is actually known about the health hazards it actually causes, well we might as well just switch to talking about fairies and magic.

  89. Nick

    (via nirs.org)


    The gray is a unit of absorbed dose (previously this was called the rad). This relates to the amount of energy actually deposited in some material, and is used for any type of radiation and any material. The sievert is used to express effective dose, a measure of the potential for biological damage from some amount of radiation (previously this was called the rem). For gamma radiation the absorbed dose is the same as the effective dose. Alpha particles have a greater biological effect because they deposit energy more densely (i.e., an alpha particle is more likely to cause complex DNA damage that is difficult to repair). Thus, for alpha particles the biologically effective dose can be 5-20 times higher than the absorbed dose.

  90. Brett

    Alpha particles have a greater biological effect because they deposit energy more densely (i.e., an alpha particle is more likely to cause complex DNA damage that is difficult to repair). Thus, for alpha particles the biologically effective dose can be 5-20 times higher than the absorbed dose.

    True, but it’s important to remember that the source of the alpha particles usually has to be ingested to be dangerous: they can be blocked by something as thin as a piece of paper (unlike beta and gamma radiation, which are much more penetrating).

  91. Nick

    Cheers for that, Brett.

    Just found what I was looking for in Wiki – wasn’t sure why they left out beta radiation, but it has the same relative bioligical effectiveness as gamma.

  92. Eric Sykes

    “Mr Edano also urged evacuees from the 20-kilometre exclusion area around the plant not to temporarily return home to collect household belongings, citing ”great risks of radiation contamination” in the zone.”


  93. Katz

    Alpha particles are for pussies:

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. found plutonium in soil samples taken near the stricken Fukushima Dai- Ichi nuclear plant a week ago, the company said.

    The presence of plutonium outside the plant means there’s been degradation of the fuel in at least one of the six reactors, Denis Flory, deputy director general of safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said yesterday at a press briefing in Vienna. Tokyo Electric can’t determine which reactor emitted plutonium, Vice President Sakae Muto said in a briefing shown on a webcast.

    What is the half-life of forever?

  94. Incurious and Unread


    You obviously didn’t properly read the article that Eric linked to:

    Plutonium has also been detected in soil at five locations near the crippled plant, but TEPCO says the radioactive metal is not harmful to humans.

    That’s a relief!

  95. Ootz

    Sg, thanks for your reply @58, stay save.

    Four threads on theoildrum
    – Toxic Pools Threaten to Spill into Ocean
    – Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels
    – Plutonium found in Fukushima plant soil
    – TEPCO shares halted/Japanes stocks fall

    Interesting times. Here is the dilemma, it appears that reactor pressure vessels #1, #2, #3 are compromised and leaking. Increased local contamination makes it harder to inspect and consolidate the leaks. These leaks also produce more highly radioactive contamination which either needs to be removed or will get flushed into the sea. Most importantly though it will make it harder to keep the temporary emergency cooling up without very serious risks to the operators on the ground. If cooling cannot be kept up, eg evacuation of emergency staff, then we are facing very likelymeltdowns.

  96. akn

    I was very happy to see this morning’s footage on the ABC 24 channel about the brave cows, dogs and elderly citizens who have stayed on within the exclusion zone to prove that there is nothing, repeat, nothing at all to worry about from any sort of radioactive contamination. The citizens of Japan, stoic to a man, have behaved honourably while their honourable corporate and parliamentary leaders have been the very models of exquisite, traditional Japanese courtly conduct.

    The rest of the world needs to follow the Japanese lead here.

    Even if, heaven forbid, those elderly people, stray dogs and farm animals turn out to have been abandoned subsequent to a quiet mass panic driven need to get the eff away from the radioactive zone, this is merely down to an irrational Japanese hyper-sensitivity about radiation.

    I’m utterly convinced that Australia’s future power needs can be safely met by nukes. In fact, I’m now advocating for one to be sited on either North or South Head of Sydney Harbour as a testament to popular faith in Australian corporate governance, parliamentary probity and technical and engineering competence. For mine the thing ought to be run by a consortium drawn from the board of James Hardie Products, Sussex St ALP Head Office (preferably Eric Roozendal as he seems to know something about electricity) and the engineers who oversaw the construction of the Westgate Bridge.

    Associated public health issues can be managed by actuaries and epidemiologists who know something about risk and managed health care.

  97. Eric Sykes

    @94 try http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/plutoniu.htm

    Saying plutonium is not harmful to humans is rather like saying Elton John is the worlds greatest pianist.

  98. Ootz

    Slightly off topic, though warrants mentioning somewhere, the other historic State Election over the weekend. It appears that
    the Greens got elected amid ‘nuclear fears’.

    AKN, Der Spiegel reports in an article called ‘Just How Reliable Are the Radiation Measurements?’
    “According to the results of a disturbing simulation just released by the Japanese nuclear safety commission, young children outside the 30-kilometer radius surrounding the damaged nuclear power plant may have already absorbed a dose of 100 millisievert in their thyroid glands, as a result of the radioactive iodine leaked from the plant. In two-year-olds, this increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer by the age of 15 by a factor of five.”

  99. StKlida

    I’d suspect the risk of developing thyroid cancer by the age of 15 was actually pretty low!
    To absord those amounts of iodine, you’d have to eat contaminated milk or vegetables from the area. Japan isn’t the USSR, so they wont be doing that.

  100. akn

    Thanks ootz that’s a good link.

  101. Eric Sykes

    @ 99 sarcasm alter – As long as they know which carton of milk and which vegetables to avoid everything will be fine and dandy eh? As long as things don’t, you know, go a bit wrong, or, like, get mixed up and that?…..cause let’s face it, so far in the getting things sorted stakes this is all going really really well…eh?

  102. Eric Sykes

    that’s “alert” 😉

  103. Robert Merkel

    From that Der Spiegel article:

    The Japanese will have to live with this uncertainty from now on, because our knowledge of the health effects of radioactive radiation is so appallingly slim.

    Jeebus, the uncertainty on the effects of “radioactive radiation” is whether low doses have a miniscule effect on the risks of cancer, or zero effect.

  104. sg

    ootz, I mentioned that greens victory here earlier, but I found the reporting really weird. The article seems to be saying that the CDU lost to the greens because locals resented the decision to close the powerplant. It even quotes someone saying Merkel’s an idiot for panicking. This doesn’t make any sense, if the closure decision was resented why did everyone vote for a party that’s more anti-nuclear than Merkel?

  105. JM

    sg: JM making hay while the sun shines out of a one day tap water warning

    BS. I don’t know why they withdrew the warning but I suspect it may have had something to do with the panic buying that denuded shelves of bottled water. As someone pointed out it’s pretty hard to say to a population “you can drink the water but your kids can’t”

    I note two things

    1. There was a further increase of I-131 in Tokyo tap water the day after the warning was withdrawn

    2. The government continues to distribute free bottled water to families with infants despite “withdrawing” the warning

  106. JM

    I&U (and also Erik via a link)

    Plutonium has also been detected in soil at five locations near the crippled plant, but TEPCO says the radioactive metal is not harmful to humans

    Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known.

    I’m somewhat stunned that people like sg can barefaced state that TEPCO and the Government are being open and transparent in the face of outright lies like this one.

  107. Robert Merkel

    JM, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – quantities matter. So do locations.

    I hereby volunteer to swallow ONE BILLION ATOMS of plutonium.

  108. sg

    For those of you who are interested, time series graphs of radiation levels for all prefectures and Tokyo, from MEXT, broadcast through Yahoo News.

    Is this a sign of a lack of transparency?

  109. JM

    SG – those graphs only go back to 16 March and Fukushima include only 2 stations within the 30km exclusion zone, where measured levels at those two sites are actually pretty high compared to those further away.

    Further, my comments about lack of transparency related to the first few days where none of this data was available (and is still not)

    Yet further, there has been a statement today from the government urging (or perhaps prohibiting, I’m not sure which) people not to return inside the exclusion zone because of the danger.

    Got that? The government is treating this seriously. But no, no, no – SG, Robert Merkel and Barry Brooke say they’re just panic merchants and “there’s nothing to see here, move along, move along”

    Forgive me if I choose not to take you seriously.

  110. sg

    Furthermore, this visualization (Japanese) might be calming for some of the panic merchants in the audience. It has 12 little pictures in 3 lines of 4. The top 4 show (left to right) the world average hourly exposure; the upper limit for a worker who deals with radiation; the amount required for a 0.5% increase in cancer risk; and the amount at which you should run for the hills.

    The next 8 boxes (left to right, top to bottom) are places in Japan. The first (left-most of the middle row) is the Western edge of the Fukushima exclusion zone. To its right are three towns heavily affected by the Tsunami.

    On the bottom left is my colleague, Ms. Middle-of-the-River’s hometown of Saitama. Next is my friend Miss Wisteria Village’s workplace of Chiba; then is an area near me; and lastly is a town near Yokohama to the Southwest of Tokyo.

    We aren’t exactly in panic stations yet, are we?

  111. Eric Sykes

    “Where we differ with the Japanese government is on the action needed to protect people from the Fukushima crisis. Contamination levels in Iitate are high enough to require evacuation from the area, especially children and pregnant women. Remaining in Iitate for just a few days could mean receiving the maximum permissible annual dose of radiation”.

    “Claims by the government that the Fukushima crisis had prompted most people to voluntarily leave Iitate are also false – a small proportion of people did leave, but the rest remain, living their daily lives”.

    “The Japanese authorities must stop playing politics with people’s health, they must determine evacuation zones around the Fukushima nuclear plant that reflect the radiation levels being found in the environment.”


    oh and..JM…remember that on these threads about Fukushima sg is the only person qualified to comment on anything to do with Japan, the Japanese (and what they really think), the Japanese government, TEPCO and the Japanese nuclear industry generally because…he lives in…..er….Japan and he is a..er…statistician.

  112. sg

    JM, the data was available on the first two days but not in a regular and organized way like this, possibly because the entire area had been wiped out by a huge fucking wave and everyone was busy clearing roads and getting their senses in order. In any case it’s largely irrelevant because the crisis took several days to worsen – radiation readings really started increasing after the heavy rains of about 4 days later.

    If the government is being so non-transparent, why are they treating it seriously? Can’t have it both ways.

  113. Hal9000

    Robert, sounds yummy. Perhaps you could use a plutonium sauce at your next dinner party and wow the guests by turning the lights out. Imagine the delight on guests’ faces as they are illuminated by the food before them.

  114. JM

    Robert, I agree that quantities do matter.

    However, so does an awareness of what they mean. Atoms are pretty small so 10^9 atoms of plutonium is a very, very small amount.

    Tell you what. How about you inhale – ie. ingest – 1/1000th of a mole of plutonium dust (which is of the order of a couple of hundred micro-grams and about 10^19 atoms)

    Come back and talk to me when you get out of hospital (if you survive that is).

  115. JM

    SG: If the government is being so non-transparent, why are they treating it seriously? Can’t have it both ways

    If you live in Japan (and I used to) you would know that the government there is remarkably non-transparent, and actually corrupt in many ways.

    What I’m doing when I refer to their attitude is to contrast it with yours – you say there’s nothing to worry about, but they do. I’ll trust them.

    But only a little. Because I’m not saying that they are being particularly candid, only far, far more realistic than you.

  116. sg

    Eric, don’t be so churlish. I haven’t used any claims to authority here, I’ve purely argued on the basis of the science. I’ve provided plenty of links and attempted to add some information I think isn’t available in the press. I don’t think you should mistake upbraiding people for silly stereotypes like

    The citizens of Japan, stoic to a man, have behaved honourably while their honourable corporate and parliamentary leaders have been the very models of exquisite, traditional Japanese courtly conduct

    as a claim to being the only authority on Japan. But I think it’s reasonable for me to point out that if you aren’t here and aren’t paying attention to the Japanese press, you aren’t getting a complete picture.

    e.g. the Japan Times today reports that the Kan government’s approval rating has soared by 8 percentage points over its handling of the tsunami crisis, even though the public’s approval of Kan himself has dropped. This is almost certainly due to Edano san’s stoic work and his openness about the troubles at the plant.

    That’s a 25% increase on a previously very bad approval rating, btw – Tony Abbott should wish for the same change!

  117. JM

    SG: On the bottom left is my colleague, Ms. Middle-of-the-River’s hometown of Saitama. Next is my friend Miss Wisteria Village’s workplace of Chiba; then is an area near me; and lastly is a town near Yokohama to the Southwest of Tokyo.

    This statement is outright deception. All these places are in Greater Tokyo on the Kanto Plain – Saitama is to the northwest, Chiba is half-way to the airport and Yokohama is to the south.

    All are within 50km of Tokyo Central and well over 150km from Fukushima. None of them are close-by. Readings in these areas hardly matter.

    What matters is that Fukushima is a farming and fishing district and food distribution looks like it might be restricted for quite some time.

    Additionally the Japanese government has evacuated everyone within 20km of the plant and within the last few days has said they will also evacuate anyone who wants to leave within the 20-30km ring.

    One of my sister-in-laws is now living with friends on the west coast, another left (and her husband is going to follow) about 3 days after the earthquake and the third (who lives in Yokohama) is probably staying put.

  118. Hal9000

    sg The Japanese Government told the world that there was nothing to worry about when they knew that there were only a couple of hours of battery backup life left in the cooling system. Then nothing until an announcement from TEPCO that they were releasing some steam a day later, and then the first explosion a few hours after that. Every subsequent announcement and release of information is tainted by that initial misleading information (the unkind might say lie), surely? Perhaps there were public order reasons for the economy with the truth, but there has been no frankness about that either.

    You say you object to being labelled a nuclear booster, but your own record here has been to pooh-pooh and downplay concerns, and then when the news gets worse, and worse, to downplay possibility of adverse outcomes. This is a methodology familiar to students of climate change denial.

  119. Eric Sykes

    “I’ve purely argued on the basis of the science”…LOL.

  120. sg

    What’s deceptive about that, JM? I haven’t said they’re near the plant – that’s the three towns in the middle of the series of boxes (in Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures respectively).

    Hal9000, I haven’t “pooh-poohed” concerns, I’ve pointed out that the levels of exposure outside the exclusion zone are not yet dangerous. And yes, I’ve argued this on the basis of the science (actually, I should say the epidemiology) which is well-established. The remainder is a difference in opinion about interpretation of the government’s motives based on the order of events. I don’t know what sort of panicky stuff you have been reading in Australia, but the news services here have been pretty clear about the probable causes of these events. e.g. when the smoke was emerging from reactor 3 (on Saturday, I think) the news broadcasts on the trains were all saying that there was a strong probability that the containment vessel was broken, based on reports from Edano san. This was before a worker stepped in water from the containment vessel (so it may have been Friday, I’m not sure).

    It’s not unusual in a situation like this for the reports from the government to be trailing events, but I think the government has been realistic about what might happen next at every step in the process. JM is right when he says that the government is generally considered to be uninformative and deceptive; but this is a different administration to the one that abetted in previous cover ups and Edano san is clearly a different kind of representative.

  121. Hal9000

    Actually, Eric, the trouble is that the science is largely unknown. The effects of the salty seawater on the exotic metals of reactors and ‘spent’ fuel are largely unknown. We’re in the middle of a serious experiment here.

  122. Huggybunny

    [email protected] 107,
    How about you swallow 1 microgram of Plutonium? Or perhaps put some into a suppository ?
    No? You are a great wuss then.
    You know that the maximum “safe” level of Pu in the human body is 1.7 * 10^15 atoms or 0.66 micrograms.
    So why the smart-arse comment ? You know that one billion atoms is “safe” so why the grandstanding?
    This is typical of the nuclear tout tactics, down play and make absurd the effects of radiation and make Pu (Pu!!!) seem safe and non toxic. I could suggest a place (Hanford) in the US where you might like to spend a few weeks.

    It’s not a matter for jokes Robert.


  123. akn

    We can leave sg while sniffs the blossoms and explores more fully the subtleties of honorifics in the Japanese language. The Wall Street Journal (Asia)appears to be more in touch with political reality in Japan:

    The head of the NRC, Gregory Jaczko, on Wednesday said the radiation risks from the badly damaged Tokyo Electric Power Co. complex called for evacuating U.S. citizens living within 50 miles of the facility—a recommendation that jolted Japanese officials who had said that only people living within 12 miles of the plant should leave.


    Then, quite amusingly, there’s this account from the MSN titled Bungling,cover ups define Japanese nuclear industry and contains the following:

    Behind Japan’s escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.

    Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalog of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.

    In one case, workers hand-mixed uranium in stainless steel buckets, instead of processing by machine, so the fuel could be reused, exposing hundreds of workers to radiation. Two later died.

    “Everything is a secret,” said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California. “There’s not enough transparency in the industry.”

    For anyone looking for immediate, current and speculative consideration of the impact of this total disaster you couldn’t go past a very recent paper by the Nautilus Institute at the Japanese Policy Research Institute of the Uni San Fran pacific Rim Centre. It reviews the Asian strategic implications (China, nukes in S. Korea) as well as providing best/worst case analysis of the nuke meltdown outcome. It includes this gem:

    Australia has a particular relationship to the Fukushima crisis: not only is Japan a major market for Australian uranium exports, but Tokyo Electric Power also has a strong relationship with the Australian uranium industry, including until recently a major share in the Honeymoon uranium mine.

    How’s them flowers, sg?

  124. Hal9000

    Ok, sg. I’ll accept that information supplied to the public has been accurate as far as we know. It has also, however, been clear that they didn’t, and don’t, have much clue what is going on. A deluge of reassuring information from locations distant from the self-immolating plant doesn’t disguise chaos on location. It seems likely to me, but no doubt not to you, that there will end up being a Chernobyl-style exclusion zone around the plant, which will be at the least devastating for Japanese food production. An outcome I’d reckon will have significant impact on the Japanese psyche.

  125. Ootz

    I do not disagree with this Japanese Politician:
    “I believe mankind is incapable of controlling nature’s fury. This is a tenet that most Japanese would accept, given that this country has experienced so many earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and tsunami.

    The Japanese government and electric power companies have been promoting nuclear power as a clean energy source that doesn’t emit carbon dioxides. Now that the trust in the safety of nuclear power plants has been shaken, the government must fundamentally reconsider its energy policy and start taking steps to wean Japan from its dependence on nuclear power.”
    Kawakatsu san, Governor of Shizuoka.

    Further, I agree with Hal, we are in the middle of a serious experiment. Maybe we need another tooth fairy to put the nuke industry and its thousand of tonnes of ‘spent fuel’ to a save bed.

  126. Robert Merkel

    JM, as others have illustrated, my point is that “one billion atoms” of plutonium is such a tiny quantity that it’s insufficient to light up anything bigger than a bacterium.

    Huggy, plutonium is nasty stuff, and I’d prefer it contained. But, through human error and malevolence, we now have the experience of having small quantities plutonium-laced dust being dumped over quite a lot of people.

    And the conclusions are fairly clear. Yes, it’s nasty stuff. But it doesn’t represent the primary threat from nuclear accidents; cesium and iodine are the real worries.

  127. Nick

    Lack of transparency isn’t limited to how the government has behaved during the disaster.


    In short, they signed off at some stage on a risk analysis for the plant which discounted every natural disaster before 1896 from its modelling.

    From the vox pops I’ve seen, that’s the kind of thing which has bred distrust and suspicion. People believe they have been lied to about how safe their reactors are supposed to be.

  128. sg

    akn, I think you can cut out the flower references. It’s nearly hanami season here, but the usual festivals are being cancelled and the whole thing is tinged with sadness. It may have escaped your notice in your frenzy to prove that nuclear is worse than satan, but 27000 people are dead and the flower viewing thus has special significance.

    Your quote from MSN starts well with this:

    Behind Japan’s escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.

    but it goes completely wrong in the next paragraph:

    Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalog of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.

    because, see, as I have mentioned before, what’s happening now was actually caused by a massive fucking wave and has nothing to do with “a disturbing catalog of incidents.” The best-run nuclear plants in the world would struggle to deal with waves that can dump fishing boats on top of high schools. Even the smallest analytical capacity on the part of that journalist (impossible to hope, I know) would be sufficient for him/her to notice that actually this is not related to previous behaviour.

    Hal9000, I don’t think it’s being reported in the foreign press, but one of the reactor control rooms only got its lights turned on today. Those staff have now spent 10 days (?) labouring in the dark, in near-zero temperatures, for the first couple of days pretty much cut off from the outside, unaware of the fate of their own loved ones, prioritizing power to the pumps and backup generators over the light in the rooms where they were working. Is it any wonder that things aren’t running in quite the ordered fashion you would have expected?

    I have said previously that one of my objections to nuclear power is the protected nature of the industry, and the way that encourages lies and cover ups; I think there are other reasons (e.g. water) why it isn’t appropriate for Australia. But Japan has no resources of its own, and is responsible for making large amounts of the stuff that most people use. If nuclear power is 30% of japan’s power supply, then I assume that means 30% of the stuff you buy from Japan is also made with nuclear power. That includes all the high-speed trains being introduced in the UK; a large portion (40%?) of the world’s cars; a large number of its ships; most of its turbines and other heavy industrial capacity; huge amounts of shaped and specialist steel; lots of the medical instruments (low and high tech) used in most of the world; and any number of other high tech shit to boot. So if Japan doesn’t do this with nuclear, someone else has to do it with a CO2-producing base power load. And that is also going to push up the cost of that stuff. I don’t know what the alternatives are, but prioritizing a health emergency that has killed 0 people over a health emergency that has killed 27000 doesn’t seem to be the right response to a power source that is integral to the functioning of the world economy.

    As an example, I know a guy who used to be an engineer at a Nippon Steel plant in Tottori, which most of you guys have never heard of I’m sure. His steel plant ran 24/7, 365 days a year producing steel to order. His plant used 30% of all the power generated in Tottori Prefecture. It had been put in Tottori for this reason. That area (the sanin coast) has at least one nuclear plant and a population of about 3-500,000, I’d guess. It’s probably not viable to replace that kind of generating capacity with renewables, at least in the short term; and replacing it with coal or gas will hugely increase the price of the steel to the people (often overseas) who buy it, since Japan would have to import a huge amount of oil and/or gas to power it.

    So really, what are the alternatives?

  129. Nick
  130. sg

    I’m not sure that report is relevant, Nick. The plant was built in 1967, but that report talks about risk calculations made 2 or 3 years ago.It’s well established, I thought, that when this plant was built Japan was going through a relatively stable period, so people underestimated the geological risks.

  131. JM

    SG: so people underestimated the geological risks.

    Like major earthquakes you mean? Oh yeah, right. I guess this “underestimation” would be the reason why everyone in Tokyo lives in residual fear of “the big one” – which is somewhat overdue – and major businesses, like banks, have no disaster recovery plans in the event of it.

    Their plans are simply to write off their Japanese business, ship the risk and balance sheet off-shore, trade out of it and give up.

    They have no expectation that Japan would recover quickly from the loss of Tokyo.

    Pull the other one SG.

  132. sg

    JM, are you serious? Are you trying to claim that major businesses in Tokyo have a) no plan to recover from a significant disaster, b) a plan to ship their business offshore when almost all their staff don’t speak English and their entire business history is written in a language no-one else understands, c) no interest in helping in the recovery of Tokyo and d) no desire to remain in Japan?

    If so, you’re crazy. Look at the response from corporations in Japan to this disaster, and ask yourself what you’re smoking.

  133. sg

    Not to mention that a quarter of Japan’s population lives in the greater Tokyo area, and “the loss of Tokyo” would be a major human catstrophe such as the world has probably never seen. No plan any country can come up with can handle the destruction of a city of 30 million people, the world’s largest conurbation.

  134. Nick

    Of course it’s relevant, sg. The government was signing off that the plant would continue to operate safely and withstand foreseeable disasters. It doesn’t matter when it was built.

    By TEPCO deliberately eliminating every previous major earthquake and tsunami from their model, the resulting risk was ‘one fatality in a million years’. Who’d have thunk it.

  135. sg

    There hasn’t been a fatality due to the tsunami yet, Nick, though if the link akn posted is to be believed there have been two due to bad workplace safety practices before the quake. Which makes me think that whatever design vision was going on in the 1960s was far better than the latest management are capable of. On which topic, the Guardian has an interesting article with some interesting tidbits about the latest CEO of TEPCO, and this fine quote:

    The government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, denied newspaper reports that nationalisation was among the options under consideration.

    “It is my understanding that the government is not considering it,” he said. “The government will be directing Tepco to do everything possible to resolve the situation and help the people who are affected.”

    But the national strategy minister, Koichiro Gemba, said it could not be ruled out. “There will naturally be various debates about Tokyo Electric’s future,” Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

    Apparently it’s the largest energy company in Asia…

  136. JM

    SG, yes I’m serious. I have first hand experience of it as this sort of planning sometimes forms part of my job. And I’m referring to business’s that conduct their business in English.

    Further, there are no banks in Australia that I’m aware of (except maybe one) that have their secondary data centers in different cities. “City loss” as it is called is regarded as pretty unlikely in Australia.

    But it is very likely to occur at some time in Tokyo.

  137. JM

    SG: No plan any country can come up with can handle the destruction of a city of 30 million people, the world’s largest conurbation.

    Oh I agree. And in fact I think that was actually my point.

    The tsunami was an entirely predicable contingency – else why would they build the seawalls?

  138. JM

    SG: There hasn’t been a fatality due to the tsunami yet

    What are you smoking???? I think we’re up to around 11,000 confirmed dead and a further 17,000 missing.

    Now some of them will have been killed by the earthquake but not all them. You’ll remember that the Asian tsunami from a few years ago killed around 250,000.

  139. sg

    So you mean foreign businesses?

    I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, JM.

  140. JM

    There will naturally be various debates about Tokyo Electric’s future

    Particularly because it closed limit down for the second day running today, and it’s price is now back to 1964 levels.

    Dead. I would think.

  141. sg

    yeah JM, sorry, that was mean to say “there hasn’t been a fatality due to the nuclear problem yet.” I’d have hoped that was clear from the context…

  142. JM

    SG: I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, JM.

    I absolutely assure you I do.

  143. sg

    Yeah, so what are these businesses that conduct their business in English, that don’t have a dissater plan for “city loss” (a term that doesn’t exist in any Australian disaster plan). Do please tell me more.

  144. Nick

    “There hasn’t been a fatality due to the tsunami yet, Nick”

    That misses the point. TEPCO’s model failed to predict a partial meltdown as a result of a tsunami. Hence there were no fatalities (< 1 in 1 million years) in their results.

  145. sg

    Well they’ll be right if there are no fatalities, won’t they?

  146. JM

    SG: so what are these businesses that conduct their business in English,

    I can’t tell you because it would violate the agreements I signed with them.

    that don’t have a dissater plan for “city loss” (a term that doesn’t exist in any Australian disaster plan)

    I can assure you that the term does exist. I wrote a small assessment recently that used it and I obtained it from the client.

    As for those that don’t have plans for city loss – the 4 major Australian banks. All four of them have their secondary data centers in the same city as their primary centers.

    This arrangement BTW is not unusual and the risk is ignored because the operational and staffing advantages outweigh it.

  147. sg

    I see JM. So others here are accusing me of speaking from authority, but here you are telling me that major Japanese businesses plan to ship offshore if Tokyo gets destroyed by an earthquake, but I just have to take this information on trust because you just can’t tell me.

    And this is relevant to TEPCO (who clearly designed their plant with a significant disaster in mind, and who had a disaster plan in place and didn’t ship offshore – as you can tell from the large numbers of people working without rest in freezing temperature without light for 13 days) how, exactly?

    Or is it just a chance for you to spout conspiracy theories and bile about Japanese companies, whose response to this disaster has been very positive? (Or hadn’t you noticed…?)

  148. Nick

    “Well they’ll be right if there are no fatalities, won’t they”

    By accident, not design. Never mind the “protected nature of the industry, and the way that encourages lies and cover ups” when selectively it can do no wrong.

  149. sg

    well no, if they make a prediction based on probability and it comes true, you can’t easily say it was “by accident, not design.” THey can’T design away tsunami, can they? But they can predict the probability of failure (“accidents”, i.e. “by accident” events) …

  150. JM

    SG, this is not the loss of Tokyo. And I’d question if they had much in the way of a disaster plan given that they’ve been so heavily criticized for an apparently uncoordinated and incoherent response.

    Secondly when I am talking about Tokyo, I’m talking about something I know about. But I guess if you’re a statistician you wouldn’t have any background in that sort of planning.

    Thirdly, TEPCO is dead. Their share price closed limit down again today and is now back at levels not seen since 1964. There are even rumors of nationalization to keep the lights on.

    Lastly, you’ll notice I was talking about a certain class of business’s – foreign companies – that do not rely on huge retail bases with fixed infrastructure who have to remain in Japan if they are to operate at all. Although my comments regarding banks also apply to one of the major Japanese retail banks who I worked for a number of years ago – both of their data centers are located on the Kanto Plain, and also a large European bank I worked for before that whose data centers are also located in the one city (and quite close to each other actually).

  151. sg

    See you didn’t make it clear that it was foreign businesses. TEPCO is not a foreign business. So you don’t know what you’re talking about, when it comes to the actual situation at issue here (Japanese businesses’ attitude towards Japan), which is what you were implying above, when you responded to my comment about TEPCO’s disaster planning in the 1960s.

    You were actually just using your (sadly secretive) experience of foreign companies in Japan to grandstand about TEPCO’s disaster planning. Why should you assume that there is any relationship between the two?

  152. JM

    Because I also mentioned a domestic company in Japan, based in Tokyo but nationwide, who cannot survive the destruction of Tokyo.

    And also a number of other companies who cannot survive the destruction of their home cities. This is a common situation.

    The reason why it is tolerated is usually that the risk is so low and the impact so catastrophic that they would have bigger things to worry about, like TEPCO do now. They are not going to survive.

    However, the Tokyo earthquake is a lot like nuclear disaster – entirely predictable (ie. with a high probability of occurrence) and effects so nasty that companies just don’t bother to mitigate against it. If it happens they’ll be flat out trying to salvage the wreckage so why bother spending huge amounts of your profits for years trying to guard against it?

  153. JM

    SG: sadly secretive

    And if you knew anything at all about the nature of contracts you’d know that there are clauses that are “perpetual” ie. they survive the term of the contract and bind you forever.

    That’s the reason why I don’t identify either myself or the companies I’m talking about. I’m simply not allowed to.

  154. sg

    JM, how many domestic companies do you think there are, “based in Tokyo but not nationwide” who “cannot survive the destruction of Tokyo.”

    It’s almost the definition of “based in Tokyo but not nationwide,” isn’t it? You are talking shit.

  155. Nick

    “well no, if they make a prediction based on probability and it comes true”

    TEPCO’s prediction based on probability was false. There was a partial meltdown caused by a tsunami. Unless you wish to argue partial meltdowns are now considered 100% risk free occurrences, since it was never calculated for, it is pure accident that nobody has been killed. They can claim no credit for it, and I find it odd that you wish to give them credit for it.

  156. JM

    SG, don’t misquote me:

    “based in Tokyo but not nationwide

    I actually said

    “based in Tokyo but nationwide

    You’ve interpolated the word ‘not’ to completely invert the meaning.

  157. Ootz

    This Japanese Politician has done his risk analysis.

    I believe mankind is incapable of controlling nature’s fury. This is a tenet that most Japanese would accept, given that this country has experienced so many earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and tsunami.

    The Japanese government and electric power companies have been promoting nuclear power as a clean energy source that doesn’t emit carbon dioxides. Now that the trust in the safety of nuclear power plants has been shaken, the government must fundamentally reconsider its energy policy and start taking steps to wean Japan from its dependence on nuclear power.

    Kawakatsu san, Governor of Shizuoka.

    From a link I posted in the previous thread, Shizuoka is at risk to the “big one” that seismologists are waiting for. It is also host to Hamaoka, a nuclear plant 100 miles southwest of Tokyo where scientists say there is an 87 per cent chance of a magnitude 8 quake in the next 30 years.

    The report goes on

    Japan’s power giant is denying any responsibility for the current crisis at its Fukushima Dai-Chi plant and is set for a legal scrap over liabilities which could have a profound influence on the future of nuclear power worldwide.

    TEPCO insists that the magnitude 9 earthquake on 11 March was outside the range of anything previously predicted. But testimony from those involved in the design and regulation of the plant, as well as leaked documents, portray a company that cut costs and ignored warnings in the build-up to the disaster.

    Mitsuhiko Tanaka worked on the design of one of the four damaged reactors where teams are battling to prevent a catastrophic meltdown. Now retired, he says that TEPCO were told from the start that the primary containment vessels, based on 50-year-old US technology, were too small. “I was deeply involved 40 years ago and it was clear then that there were basic design problems with the containment vessel. They were too small by volume.”

    That report goes on with a litany of systemic failures by TEPCO and cover ups that would have to include Government. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was an accident just waiting to happen, as it would appear that theoretically nuclear energy could be save but for lack of human responsibility.

    So I agree with Hal, we are in the middle of a serious experiment. In global terms, an unprecedented experiment on a massive scale, just like the above-ground nuclear weapons testing in days gone by. Maybe we need another tooth fairy to put the criminally irresponsible nuke industry and its thousands of tonnes of obnoxious ‘spent fuel’ to a permanent save bed.

  158. Robert Merkel

    As far as the plutonium discussion goes, here’s the the IAEA on the levels and nature of the plutonium detected.

    Essentially, the amount of plutonium detected in the soil (on the grounds of the reactor itself, around 500 metres away) was similar than the amounts of plutonium found in soil in other parts of Japan (from eg Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and atmospheric nuclear testing by Russia and the US). The only way to tell that it’s from the reactors was from the ratios of the various plutonium isotopes.

  159. Katz

    The bombs and tests stopped decades ago.

    Fukushima’s plutonium contamination is ongoing.

    Any guesses about what the levels of plutonium contamination will be when this disaster stops getting any worse?

    Fat Man contained 6.2 kg of plutonium.

    How much plutonium is on site at Fukushima?

  160. sg

    Katz, people still live in Nagasaki despite that 6.2 kg of plutonium, and only the people there at the time have any raised risk of cancer (and it is mostly quite low). Robert is right to observe that the amount distributed and how it is distributed is important even for products as dangerous as plutonium.

    That said, they’re now reporting a possible containment breach by the core (in the English-language press), so it could still happen…

  161. Robert Merkel

    Katz: according to Wikipedia, roughly 1% of the spent fuel is plutonium. So there is lots of it onsite. Unless, however, it explodes, most of it will not go anywhere.

    Whatever the level of plutonium contamination, the issue won’t be the plutonium.

    It’ll be the iodine (in the short term) then the cesium, strontium, and the other fission products with half-lives measured in years or decades.

  162. Terangeree

    From today’s Guardian.

  163. Eric Sykes

    “Japan today admitted its nuclear safeguards were insufficient, as radioactive iodine in the sea off the disaster-hit Fukushima plant was reportedly measured at 3355 times above the legal limit.”


  164. Trevor


    “according to Wikipedia, roughly 1% of the spent fuel is plutonium”

    I understand that an operating reactor has approximately 100 tons of fuel. So we are talking tons of plutonium at the site not kilograms.

    I continue to be staggered by the numbers and the magnitude of this disaster.

  165. Robert Merkel

    Trevor, try working out the number of lethal doses of alcohol in the local bottle shop.

  166. Katz

    Generally, one dies of alcohol poisoning when one deliberately tips the contents of many bottles down one’s own throat.

    Does one also need to ingest plutonium deliberately for it to do one harm?

  167. Robert Merkel

    Katz, the point I was rather facetiously trying to make is that to actually kill anyone, the plutonium, cesium, and other radioactive isotopes have to move themselves, in sufficient quantities, from where they presently are to some poor sod’s insides.

    Thus far, the overwhelming majority of the radioactivity that’s gotten into the environment from Fukushima is radioactive iodine, followed up by radioactive cesium. Radioactive iodine is nasty because a) it’s water soluble, and b) if swallowed, your thyroid sucks it up. The good news is that its half life is only eight days, so it doesn’t persist as a problem.

    Cesium is also water soluble, and it persists in the environment for a lot longer. However, there’s been a lot less of it released, so far.

    Plutonium is not water-soluble. As such, it tends to stay where it is unless some mechanism turns it into dust.

  168. JM

    Robert: it tends to stay where it is unless some mechanism turns it into dust.

    Like a fire say? Where the dust emerges as smoke, settles on the surrounding countryside including things like green leaf vegetables and might get eaten? I think there might be problem if that happened

    Which it appears it has.

    Robert, when you’re being more sanguine than those famously “alarmist” entities otherwise known as the Japanese government and TEPCO ….

    … I think you need to rethink your position a bit.

  169. akn

    Then there is the minor matter of the wider effects of radioactivity on the ecology. This recent (2009) report on the ecology of Chernobyl might give cause for concern if you’ve a critical attitude and find ongoing corporate propaganda from the nuke industry and its armies of tame scientists simply not credible.

  170. Eric Sykes

    “As dangerously high levels of radiation spread beyond the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan, there are fears the race to contain the nuclear crisis has been lost and meltdown has already taken place.”


  171. Eric Sykes

    “The UN’s nuclear watchdog (International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA) found safe radiation limits had been exceeded at the village of Iitate, 40km north-west of the nuclear plant.’


    Greenpeace grandstand?

  172. Katz

    Question for the boffins:

    Early doors we were told that these reactors would cool down double-quick-time.

    But that doesn’t appear to be happening.

    Is this a surprise?

  173. sg

    Katz, I don’t know anything about nuclear engineering, but I remember reading a prediction of 10 days from initial shutdown. But I think that assumed continuous, effective cooling. But then, the spent fuel pools need continual water supply, it seems, so maybe that phrase “cool down” only applies for special definitions of the words “cool” and “down.”

    Eric, that BBC article is a good example of the alarmism in the media. While the headline describes it as “pressure to widen the evacuation area” the IAEA spokesperson says that “one of the criteria for evactuation” has been met, and Edano san states that the government has been advised to “carefully assess the situation.”

    It’s also implicit in the BBC report that the criterion for the widening of the evacuation zone has been exceeded in only one place. But you wouldn’t get that impression from the headline.

  174. paul of albury

    It’s hard to know who to admire more, the people who apply lawyerly precision to official (PR) statements to reduce their meaning to the absolute minimum or the spokespeople who insert the equivocations for the apologists to find. I hope you’re right SG, but those predictions 10 days ago sure weren’t. I can’t help thinking all the favourable predictions required assumptions that everything would go right. Optimism bias perhaps?

  175. joe

    We’re starting to get some consensus in the media here in Germany as to what the situation in Fukushima is.

    Everyone’s fairly sure that uncontrolled nuclear fission is occurring, has been since the last 10 days or so (since the fuel rods were most likely initially damaged by the tsunami), and there’s no way to stop it.

    This situation is going to continue until the reaction finishes – a number of weeks at least and the result is going to be patches of land around the reactor (at varying distances) being uninhabitable/ unproductive for a decade or more.

  176. akn

    paul of albury above: I couldn’t have put it better than that.

  177. akn

    A nice summary article from FOE (Australia): a href=”http://indymedia.org.au/node/2910″>Spinning Fukushima.

  178. akn
  179. Robert Merkel

    JM, yes there was some kind of fire, and it has resulted in tiny amounts of plutonium being deposited in the reactor’s local environs, but that has not been continuing, or we would know about it by now.

    In any case, if there’s dangerous quantities of plutonium being deposited, there will be far higher levels of cesium. Worry about the cesium, not the plutonium.

    Katz, I’ve been busy, but the decay heat in the reactors is now a tiny fraction of what it was when the reactors were shut down, but still quite substantial. See this graph. Doing some rough calculations myself, the current heat production in Unit 1 would be somewhere around 2 megawatts. As a comparison, if you run your car engine at full throttle, it produces around 0.4 megawatts of waste heat. So there’s still the equivalent of 5 car engines going full blast in the cores.

    Units 2 and 3 are bigger – maybe 7 or 8 car engines going full blast.

    But that’s maybe 1/1000th of the amount of heat that needs to be removed while the plants are in full operation.

    The task of keeping the reactors cool has gotten a lot simpler – the sheer amounts of water required have gotten a lot lower, and they’re now using electrically-powered pumps rather than fire pumps to get the water in.

    But they will need to continue to pump some water into the cores for some time to come – indeed, that’s why they need to continue to add water to spent fuel pools, because they’re still producing some heat.

    The only thing that could possibly change this is if the reactor somehow went critical again, which is what joe is saying the German media are claiming. This claim has not been reported in the English-language media, and, frankly, it’s unlikely.

    joe, would you provide a citation for your claim that the reactors have gone critical again?

  180. akn

    Dr. Alexey Yablokov, co-author of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences says “When you hear ‘no immediate danger’ then you should run away as far and as fast as you can”.

    Just tiny, tiny, little fairy like pieces of plutonium are no cause to worry? Really tiny little pieces? Coz the real danger comes when great big chunks fall out of the sky?

  181. Eric Sykes

    sg @ 173, yes indeed, best to play it down eh? better described as merely a workplace health and safety problem perhaps?

  182. Nick

    “Doing some rough calculations myself, the current heat production in Unit 1 would be somewhere around 2 megawatts”

    Robert, can you show your calculations?  2MW seems too low.

  183. Nick

    …ok, so I’m guessing perhaps you didn’t calculate the thermal watt output of the fuel rods – otherwise 2MW would be .13% of heat production before shutdown, which seems much too low for only a month later. If you used .4% (which looks about right, as shown by your graph and others) of the electrical watt output then you get close to 2MW.

    If we apply that .4% to thermal watts, we get:

    Reactor 1: 1.5 GW x .4% = 6 MW

    Reactors 2 & 3: 2.4 GW x .4% = 9.6 MW x 2 = 19.2 MW

    Reactors 1, 2 & 3 = 25.2 MW

    = 63 car engines at full throttle

    Or, very much more relevantly…

    = 10,000 kettles, capable of boiling 25 tonnes of water every 2-3 minutes.

    After 6 months, we’ll be down to 5000 kettles.

    “But they will need to continue to pump some water into the cores for some time to come – indeed, that’s why they need to continue to add water to spent fuel pools, because they’re still producing some heat.”

    They need to continue to add water because:

    a) the pumps aren’t circulating

    b) the reactors are leaking

    Regarding the pumps that are working, it seems TEPCO don’t know which they should be running and when. Seawater radiation too high?! Turn off the one that goes to the sea! Oh crap, now we’re sending 10,000 times the statutory limit of iodine straight into ground water…

    Iodine-131 found in ground water

    When is the realistic time that workers will be able to safely repair those leaks?

    If they can’t, how is anything going to change? In five or six months time, will we still be seeing half the amounts of caesium we’re seeing leaking from the plant every day that we’re seeing now?

  184. Huggybunny

    Robert @ 179
    2 MW will evaporate the amount of water contained in 1.5 (NSW average) swimming pools every single day. Please no more of your totally irrelevant blather about car engines, tell it like it is; you have a responsibility here, rather than attempting to obscure the reality.

  185. akn

    A gloomy end: there are apparently about 1000 radioactive corpses rotting within the Fukushima exclusion zone. There are problems retrieving them and disposing of them. Cremation apparently threatens the release of radioactive material into the air and burial does the same with groundwater. Depending, of course, on the material involved and its half life. While the technicalities of disposing of radioactive corpses are fascinating the report that drew my eye was someone who said that the crows are feeding off the eyes of thousands of drowned people who have washed up on a shoreline apparently also within the exclusion zone.

    There is no economic/ecological cost benefit analysis capable of accounting for the human tragedy here. No technocratic managerialist babble can revive this industry after this and those who continue to try are betraying the foundational humanism that is central to the history of modern science.

    Technocrat managers

  186. paul of albury

    akn, that’s literally horrible, but it’s a compelling demonstration of how helpless we really are in this situation

  187. Huggybunny

    AkN @185
    The events at Fukushima have exposed the global nuclear industry as corrupt venal and duplicitous.
    The US nuclear industry (for one) has now been exposed as being totally unprepared for either seismic or more deliberate damage. Regulators are scrambling to cover their lazy fat arses.
    We now have the spectacle of unpaid touts all over the world rushing to defend the indefensible.
    The what I call the Ann Coulter school of “radiation is good for you” is in full cry across the globe. It has even infected this august blog. We even have absurd arguments as to how much Plutonium is bad for you.

  188. Nick

    Japan’s efforts to soak up contaminated water still unsuccessful

    The polymer and the “60 kilograms of sawdust and three bags of shredded newspaper” didn’t work either…

    I don’t envy them. Has anyone here ever tried to seal a crack in a pipe when for some reason you can’t turn off the water first…in my experience, it’s impossible.

  189. sg

    akn I’ not sure where you read that report, but as far as i can tell from reading this report, the police heard reports of bodies within the exclusion zone (at okuma machi, which is 5-6 km from the plant) and sent a riot squad in protective gear inside to investigate. They found high levels of radiation (that aren’t stated in the report), bagged the bodies and left with them. The police are now reconsidering the NISA’s advice to stay out, and are looking at entering for necessary activity.

    This report states that a forensics expert and some riot police went to Minami souma machi and took readings on the corpses there, and, finding that htey didn’t quite meet the levels required for decontamination, took them to the standard disposal spot. The radiation levels soon declined and so they’re thinking of safe ways to return the remains to the relatives.

    Perhaps the crows in this story are not the ones at the beaches in Japan?

  190. Nick

    What a shitty thing to say. sg, the article you linked to was from a week ago.

    Kyodo News: Up to 1,000 bodies left untouched near troubled nuke plant

    Who’s feels like crowing after reading that. It’s a nightmare scenario.

  191. BilB

    In case this has not been linked here is a body of inforamtion


  192. Katz

    This Article from the Sunday Age alleges a UN determination to ignore “thousands” of Eastern European studies into the dire effects of radiation contamination on populations.

    Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on April 26, 1986.

    It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; foetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick.

    Is it true that the UN has deliberately ignored these Eastern European studies?

    If so why did the UN ignore them?

    Perhaps those folks who one day expect to resume their lives inside the Fukushima exclusion zone might like to know something about the experiences of their counterparts in Eastern Europe.

  193. Huggybunny

    Oh no Katz radiation is good for you,
    Ask sg, Fran, Robert and Ann Coulter.
    Those stories of mutated babies are just greeenie fantasies did you not know that?
    A little closer to home…
    But who cares? They are not white university graduates.
    Except of course these same WUG’s want to put their nuclear waste into Aboriginal lands.

  194. Incurious and Unread

    Nick @183

    Reactors 1, 2 & 3 = 25.2 MW

    = 63 car engines at full throttle

    Or, very much more relevantly…

    = 10,000 kettles, capable of boiling 25 tonnes of water every 2-3 minutes.

    I think what you mean is “capable of bringing to the boil”.

    The heat of vaporisation for water at boiling point is around 2 kilojoules/gram. So 25MW would boil (ie turn into steam) just 12kg of water per second, or around 45 tonnes per hour.

    The IAEA website is reporting that cooling water is being injected into the 3 units at only around 25 tonnes per hour, in aggregate, currently. So, either the reactors are getting very hot, or the 25MW number is somewhat high. That amount of cooling water would – through boiling – cool reactive power of around 14MW across the 3 reactors.

  195. sg

    No Nick, it’s not shitty. akn’s comment was nasty, and the salacious tone with which this situation is being commented on is in poor taste.

    huggybunny, no one here is saying radiation is good for you, but it’s of a piece with the rest of the hyperbole being thrown about here that you would make that accusation. And what does the race of Aboriginal victims at Maralinga have to do with Fukushima? Are you trying to suggest that people like me also think nuclear weapons are harmless? Do you think maybe colonial practices in Australia in the 50s have some bearing on the modern Japanese power industry? Oh, I know, you want to imply that peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy are equally destructive, don’t you?

    A little perspective would be both sensible and polite. I doubt it’s going to happen here though.

    Katz, that article you posted doesn’t give a single piece of evidence, it reports a tour of a hospital ward. The same tactic could be used in regards to cars, coal power, etc. It certainly doesn’t reference any alternative reviews of the “thousands” of Eastern European studies. You should also be careful about exactly what information the (unnamed) author is using. He or she suggests that the work of the Ukrainian Centre for Radiation Science wasn’t included in the UN report because it wasn’t published in a leading journal. Oh, what conspiracies! Here is an abstract from one of their articles:

    AB Out of 106 firemen who had been engaged in extinguishing fire at Chernobyl NPP in October 11-12, 1991, 39 were examined immediately on the spot and 67–in out-patient department of the Ukrainian Scientific Research Centre of Radiation Medicine. Examination included anamnestic inquest, peripheral blood study and determination of incorporated irradiation. Besides this, about 50 measurements of exposure dose were carried out in the town of Chernobyl, in the NPP territory and in immediate proximity to the site of the accident. Analysis of the data showed that there were no signs of primary reaction of acute atomic disease in all subjects. Measurement of exposure and incorporated doses proved their insignificance with respect to those examined. Complaints and health disorders in firemen are likely to be related to somatic diseases and prolonged emotional exertion during combating fire.

    Or you could try this conclusion from a paper published by the “Research Centre for Radiation Medicine of AMS of the Ukraine” in the journal Radiation and Environmental Biophysics:

    Here, data on more than 60,000 Ukrainian workers who participated in recovery operation works in Chernobyl in 1986-1987, more than 50,000 evacuees from the city of Prypyat and the 30 km zone, and about 360,000 residents of most contaminated territories are presented, which cover a period of observation from 1980 to 2004…For all cancers combined, statistically significant higher incidence rates than the national rates were found only for the recovery workers (standardized incidence ratio (SIR) 117.2%, 95% confidence interval: 114.1-120.3), while those for the other investigated groups were lower.

    It’s hard to say if these are publications by the same groups because neither of them appear to have an English website. But I don’t think your linked article is being entirely accurate in its depiction of the facts.

  196. Nick

    Indeed I did, I & U.  I was referring to the function of a household kettle – namely to bring a quantity of water to the boil.  In contrast to a car engine, which is, well, not so good at that to say the least.   The 25 tonnes of water was based on my own kettle x 10,000.

  197. akn

    Well sg my view is that my comments were neither salacious nor nasty; they were an appropriately cool reaction to another morbid outcome for a morbid industry. If it was my comment about urgers betraying the fundamental humanism of science that offends you then you’ll have to look to your own conscience.

  198. sg

    yeah akn because there’s nothing salacious about your comment about crows feeding on the eyes of the dead.

  199. akn

    No, indeed not. It is a deep tragedy, amongst other travails, that the living cannot apparently bury their dead and that the dead have become fodder for carrion birds; the responsibility for this macabre scene lies with the nuke industry that created it. Those who comment on it are not guilty of any offence.

  200. Katz

    I don’t know the status of the “thousands” or reports either SG. I was just interested in the comment.

    As for the observations of the author, they are merely observational and anecdotal and clearly not scientific in any way.

    One observation can be made, however. The studies to which you refer relate to adults, whereas the observations of the author relate to children, or at least to the as yet unborn when the Chernobyl disaster occurred and/or relate to problems of a non-cancerous nature, for example gross physical deformities.

  201. akn

    I highly recommend this interview with Dr. Alexey Yablokov who is a key Russian environmentalist, was the environmental adviser to Yeltsin and Gorbachev, has authored 400 scientific papaers and some 22 books, is a Councillor of the Russian Academy of Science and as well has a track record of outing the USSR on faked whaling figures. He claims in this interview that the rate of morbidity and mortality from Chernobyl is off the scale; he claims that the main ecological problem for Russia is radiocative pollution.

  202. sg

    akn, I saw a presentation by someone from the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in about 2005, about their various research projects in Radioactive Russia. They were working on one from Chernobyl and two (?) from other places in Russia. One of these was a study of employees and their families from a “closed city” somewhere far to the East, that used to be a nuclear weapons research base. The only people allowed to work there were registered and monitored, and as a consequence they formed a very good group for a cohort study. The plant had been set up in the 50s and gone through various levels of safety regime, from none at all (in the 60s) to (relatively) good in the 80ss. It had also been dumping radioactive waste untreated straight into the river for about 20 years, and a huge area of forest (I think maybe 50 kms long and 30 wide) had been set as off limits downstream from the plant. The workers and their families had very bad health outcomes, especially in the earlier years – the cohorts formed a kind of natural measure of radiation exposure, with the more recent employees and their families having much lower exposure. Apparently in the 60s they had uncontrolled gas releases inside the plant and no one wore dosimeters. The conclusion of the study was that this area was much, much worse off than Chernobyl, and presented a significant remediation problem.

    Radioactive pollution is a significant problem in Russia, but at the time, in a closed society, nobody was doing anything about it. I don’t know if it is the worst problem facing their society though; the damage around CHernobyl is contained, while air pollution in some of their cities may be quite out of control.

  203. joe

    Thanks for the great link, akn.

  204. su

    Yes, thanks AKN, that is extraordinary, I’m only part way through but he says the WHO made an agreement with the IAEA in the 1950s not to publish information that is detrimental to the nuclear industry without prior consultation. Perhaps this is why the cancer registries of countries like France and the Czech Republic tell a completely different story to the WHO report.

  205. sg

    except they don’t.

  206. su

    The studies to which you refer relate to adults, whereas the observations of the author relate to children, or at least to the as yet unborn when the Chernobyl disaster occurred and/or relate to problems of a non-cancerous nature, for example gross physical deformities

    Well that is interesting because in a prior thread,when I linked to an article about the Czech cancer registry recording a 5% annual increase in TC rates, sg replied by addressing still births. It’s an obfuscatory tactic.

  207. su

    That should be incidence rather than rates.

  208. Huggybunny

    Perhaps the nuke lovers would care to comment on this document:
    I found some of the references very interesting:
    When the radiation lovers have finished reading it maybe they could explain how France is held up as the paragon of nuclear safety.

  209. akn

    sg (above) – well the claim about radioactive pollution belongs to the Russian scientists, not me. However, it doesn’t surprise me, given the nature of Soviet society, that heedless disregard for people and ecology was rampant. It does appear, though, that Yablokov is honed in on radioactive issues for sound reasons in the light of his research and knowledge of the USSR.

  210. sg

    su in the previous thread my comments on stillbirths were addressed to Katz, not to you. I believe I addressed the Czech cancer registry issue too. I’ve never denied increased incidence of thyroid cancer in children, it was me who hunted out the evidence that thyroid cancer in children who survived chernobyl is faster-developing than in other children.

    I like this trick of waiting a week or two and then repeating discredited ideas. Interesting.

  211. sg

    akn, couldn’t you say the same thing about Beddington in the UK, who just a few comments higher up you were pooh-poohing? Surely he knows more about the safety of the British nuclear industry than a Russian scientist commenting on Russia’s (comparatively extremely dodgy) programs? Or is it that you only argue from authority when the authority agrees with you?

  212. akn

    sg: authority and I are rarely in agreement with each other so it is an almost unique moment for me that anyone suggests that I argue ‘from authority’.

    My perspective on this issue has been informed by more than the science. Of equal importance to the science are management structures and cultures which involve things like the transition of key personnel backwards and forwards between industry positions, regulatory bodies and academic positions associated with the promotion of nukes.

    See the film The Corporation for further argument from historical and philisophical authority.

  213. Katz

    There has been much discussion of the spread of radioactive iodine isotopes. With relief, authorities note that these iodine isotopes have a short half-life.

    Very little mention so far of the spread of radioactive contamination with extended half lives. From al Jazeera:

    … levels of cesium-137 in the village of Iitate, for example, have been measured at more than twice the levels that prompted the Soviet Union to evacuate people near Chernobyl. Iitate is 40 kilometres northwest of Fukushima.

    Cesium-137, I am informed, has a half life of 30 years.

    40 km is outside the advisory exclusion zone set by Japanese authorities.

    Al Jazeera notes:

    The neighbourhoods near the plant will remain empty “for the long term”, Yukio Edano, the country’s chief cabinet secretary, said on April 1.

    Though he did not set a timetable, he said residents would not be able to return permanently “in a matter of days or weeks. It will be longer than that”.

    The residents of the exclusion zone may well be asking, “How long?”

  214. su

    I like this trick of waiting a week or two and then repeating discredited ideas. Interesting.

    And I find your “trick” of outright lying reprehensible: ” No effects outside the exclusion zone”, “radiation not all that harmful”, “this isn’t an accident”. The only thing discredited is your veracity. There is nothing whatsoever discredited about the registries showing greater increases than admitted by WHO and Yablokov’s book has more information on this. WHO selected 300 english language publications, Yablukov did a metanalysis of a few thousand articles. Please delight me by “proving” that the genuine epidemiologists, as opposed to statisticians, and the scientists in those few thousand publications were all wrong. Here is your comment: http://larvatusprodeo.net/2011/03/17/fukushima-update-ii/#comment-269408. Not addressed to Katz and not addressing the topic of cancer. Wrong, yet again.

  215. sg

    su, why don’t you go and read your comment (number 90) in which you post up a link to a paper that starts “Epidemiology of stillbirths…” before you accuse me of trying to change the topic. Yes, I see that that comment was in response to you and not about Thyroid cancer because you raised the issue of stillbirths. Katz also raised the issue in that thread.

    I think it’s pretty rich to be accusing me of lying and obfuscatory tactics after that, don’t you?

    Dial down the outrage and insults. And while you’re at it, why don’t you dig up that meta-analysis by Yablukov?

  216. Trevor

    Without wanting to derail current thread. Has anyone else noticed that Ziggy Switkowski seems to have taken a low profile recently? When this story first broke I could not turn on my radio without hearing someone interviewing the Zigmeister. Is this an indication the industry has changed strategy on it’s PR? I suppose there are only so many times you can issue reassuring statements only for things to then get worse before people stop listening to you.

  217. sg

    Trevor, it probably just indicates the media are losing interest. No further spectacular events are going to happen that make good film, and it’s going to turn into a long slow plugging-the-leaks exercise that most journos don’t have the attention span for. So they probably just aren’t bothering to ask Switkowski for an opinion…

  218. Robert Merkel

    Katz, yeah, seen that. They’ve done more monitoring, and it seems that readings are back below levels for which evacuation was recommended.

    It seems that the actual over-limit reading was for iodine-131 (with an 8-day half-life), not cesium.

    An important question is where that iodine and cesium was from. My guess/understanding is that it was from the spent fuel pools when they were exposed, and dumped in that location because it got caught in clouds and happened to rain over Iitate.

    Fingers crossed, if the spent fuel pools are kept full it shouldn’t happen again.

    But, frankly, that report bothered me far more than anything else so far, including the radioactive water leaking into the ocean.

  219. su

    because you raised the issue of stillbirths

    Still not being truthful, as anyone who read the thread can see, I never mentioned stillbirths, I quoted the Cancer registry statistics, in response to your assertion that these just cannot show any Chernobyl effect and linked to the source, you ignored the quote and the source except to nitpick one of the references on stillbirths. Yablokov’s book is on Google books, go chase it up yourself.

    In France the risk increased by a factor of 5.2 for men and 2.7 for women, some of which is attributable to an overall increase in the rate of TC, but that increase in background has almost certainly been overestimated as it relies on comparisons against the dose response curve and the French government agencies, notoriously, underestimated the doses by a very large amount (and these are highly localized and variable anyway, one of Yablokov’s points and the reason why many studies in Belorus took measurements of local contamination rather than using official estimates of dose in order to measure the effects of Chernobyl).

    The official who was responsible for releasing the figures for radiation in France, Pierre Pellerin, is currently on trial for deliberate misinformation. Note the only contested part of the charge is the deliberateness, the French gov have long since admitted they underestmated the dose, a fact that only came to light when a French judge, Bertella-Geffroy, conducted an investigation. In an exquisite piece of timing, the French Prosecutors are currently attempting to throw the case out in what looks to be a case of interference from on high.

  220. sg

    You quoted cancer registry statistics from a presentation about stillbirths. In my response I pointed out that the stillbirth analysis was dodgy, and finished up with a quote from that paper admitting their cancer conclusions didn’t match the established epidemiology on cancer.

    You posted a paper on stillbirths. Complaining that my response was an attempt to evade the facts is pretty crap.

    If you want to claim that you have information that contradicts the standard science, you really ought to post a link.

  221. su

    Still not being truthful, the title of the paper: “Epidemiology of birth defects, perinatal mortality and thyroid cancer before and after the Chernobyl catastrophe”, so a paper about the health effects including TC and birth anomalies, not a “presentation about stillbirths”, your criticism was of one of the referenced papers not of the author’s study and you say nothing about how or whether that changes their conclusions. The quote you posted did NOT refer to cancer conclusions (which were afterall just a transcript of statistics gathered from the registry), you lifted it from the same reference paper on stillbirths: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/5/932.full.pdf+html and pretended it referred to the TC numbers.

    I should be amazed that you seek to repair the situation by piling mendacity upon mendacity, but it seems you are shameless.

    For anyone who is genuinely interested: French Thyroid study – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12938722
    Yablokov’s book – http://books.google.com.au/books?id=g34tNlYOB3AC&pg=PA192&dq=yablokov&hl=en&ei=W6OaTezCC43evQPlk8TZBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
    The bit about the methodology of using dose-response rather than direct measures is in AKN’s link.

    And if you want to chase up the stuff about Pellerin and Bertella-Geffroy, it is all googleable but you will have to read a lot of French.

  222. su

    Mods I have a comment in moderation – I think (hope)it may have triggered automod because it contains links, if it could be fished out I would be grateful.

  223. The Feral Abacus

    Katz, Robert Merkel: yes, caesium is of particular concern. In addition to the longer half-life, it bioaccumulates in fish & fungi, amongst other things. So the dilutive effect of seawater may not provide the protection that one might otherwise expect.

  224. Nick

    “It seems that the actual over-limit reading was for iodine-131 (with an 8-day half-life), not cesium.”

    Robert, according to New Scientist, cesium readings in Iitate were more than double the IAEA’s criteria for evacuation.

  225. Katz

    From Nick’s link:

    Even the averages are worrying, however. In Iitate, the IAEA says the average level of caesium-137 is double its “operational criteria for evacuation” – 1 MBq/m2 of caesium-137. After the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the level of caesium contamination at which evacuation was mandatory was 1.48 MBq/m2. The IAEA advised Japanese authorities “to carefully assess the situation”.

    In reply, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told reporters that the situation did not “immediately require such action”, although the levels of radiation might pose a risk “over the long term”.


    1. How big will the long-term exclusion zone be?

    2. How long will it be enforced?

    3. Will these measures be appropriate to the threat?

  226. Robert Merkel

    Nick, that was my initial understanding too, but is not what’s being reported in the media with the withdrawal of the advice.

    I’m trying to find more information on this, and why the IAEA no longer believes (at least in public) that this is a major concern.

    My guess (and it’s no more than a guess, the reporting is frusratingly vague sometimes) is that the high cesium reading was based on sampling dust. Perhaps there was one anomalously high cesium reading, but follow-up readings have been within limits.

  227. Robert Merkel

    Katz, the IAEA’s status update from March 31 states the following:

    Based on measurements of I-131 and Cs-137 in soil, sampled from 18 to 26 March in 9 municipalities at distances of 25 to 58 km from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, the total deposition of iodine-131 and cesium-137 has been calculated. The results indicate a pronounced spatial variability of the total deposition of iodine-131 and cesium-137. The average total deposition determined at these locations for iodine-131 range from 0.2 to 25 Megabecquerel per square metre and for cesium-137 from 0.02-3.7 Megabecquerel per square metre. The highest values were found in a relatively small area in the Northwest from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. First assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village. We advised the counterpart to carefully assess the situation. They indicated that they are already assessing.

    They don’t mention precisely what that operational criterion is. However, their emergency response document which lists criteria for various actions lists criteria for evacuation. As far as I can tell, the criteria don’t mention specific isotopes at all:

    Gamma 1000 microsievert Sv/h at 1 m from surface or a source.
    2000 counts/s direct beta surface contamination measuremente
    50 counts/s direct alpha surface contamination measurementf

    It may be that they have another document elsewhere that provides more detailed, isotope-specific guidelines, but that’s not what they’re linking to.

    Yes, I wish I could just email the IAEA and get clarification on this.

  228. sg

    Yes, it’s at the point where remediation or reclamation becomes necessary, rather than merely waiting a few weeks, that the situation goes from a serious accident to an environmental problem. It seems like the cesium is mainly being diluted over a very large area, though – as far as America and Russia – so probably isn’t in large enough amounts in any one place to bioaccumulate to a dangerous level.

    There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that cesium caused big problems in Russia outside of the containment zone, and I suspect the same will occur here.

    Although, Robert, this post is now more than a week old and the Japanese government has done a lot of testing and hasn’t found much cesium widespread in the area, so I wonder how correct that new scientist paper was?

  229. akn

    sg: I’ve linked to the following site mainly for the maps of radioactive spread from Chernobyl in order to highlight the patent absurdity of your expression the containment zone in relation to spread of contaminants from Chernobyl.

    As if that fire was ever in any way under such human control that the spread of radioactive material was contained.

  230. sg

    yeah sorry akn, should have written “exclusion zone.”

  231. Nick

    Something I’ve been wanting to clear up:

    The Guardian: Fear of nuclear power is out of all proportion to the actual risks

    Radiation leaks are undoubtedly serious. But it is worth remembering that we are subjected to background radiation every day as a result of natural processes – some people more than others. Those living in UK areas with a lot of granite rocks, such as Cornwall, will have higher exposure than those who live somewhere like the Thames Valley. People who take flights expose themselves to radiation from cosmic rays, and airline pilots flying high-altitude routes can receive doses that put them in the top 5% of all workers in terms of radiation exposure.

    We covered radon in an earlier thread. It causes thousands of deaths from lung cancer every year in the UK, and tens of thousands of deaths from lung cancer every year in the US.

    But what about the apparent danger (or lack of) from cosmic rays to those who fly in aeroplanes?


    Given the composition of cosmic rays (primary, and secondary further down the page), which exactly are the carcinogenic isotopes, and in what quantities are they found? Or, is that largely irrelevant, and biological danger from ionising radiation is just the simple matter of comparing joules of energy per kilo (grays/sieverts)?

    In other words, can cosmic rays genuinely be regarded to be as “undoubtedly serious” a health hazard as the emissions from a uranium-fuelled reactor undergoing partial meltdown, as the rhetoric above implies?

  232. Hal9000

    I can’t really attempt to answer your question about the effects of cosmic rays, Nick, but I do recall meeting a young physicist at Adelaide Uni some years ago who was researching cosmic rays by exposing photographic media down the bottom of mineshafts and underneath Antarctic glaciers. I take it this indicates they travel through substantial material barriers without stopping, since the point of the experiments was to filter out all extraneous radiation sources. But I must say it was a while ago and I could be wrong.

    Caesium-137 is apparently an isotope that owes its existence to human atomic energy activities. As such, it’s not something any life form is adapted to deal with. Wikipedia helpfully offers the following..

    Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 3800 ?Ci/kg (approx. 44 ?g/kg of cesium-137) is lethal within three weeks.

    I suppose the danger is dependent on the size of the particles that enter the body more than any other factor. It’s not clear from information released thus far whether there is much understanding about particle size. The wide variation in readings suggests prima facie that there are varying sizes, with some large enough to be significant health worries. So I suppose the health advice should be something like ‘it is probably nothing to worry about, but on the other hand you could die a horrible lingering death from it.’

  233. Chocolate Jesus

    Robert M:

    ” I wish I could just email the IAEA and get clarification on this.”

    You can- here is the IAEA email address for Fukushima issues : [email protected]

    I found the address here http://www.iaea.org/About/contact.html

  234. Robert Merkel

    Nick, one issue is that some radioisotopes concentrate in particular parts of the body and therefore do a lot more damage than they might otherwise. Radioactive iodine is the best-known example because it concentrates in the thyroid.

  235. Nick

    Japan’s ocean radiation hits 7.5 million times legal limit

    The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish.

    The reading of iodine-131 was recorded Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Another sample taken Monday found the level to be 5 million times the legal limit. The Monday samples also were found to contain radioactive cesium at 1.1 million times the legal limit.

    The exact source of the radiation was not immediately clear, though Tepco has said that highly contaminated water has been leaking from a pit near the No. 2 reactor. The utility initially believed that the leak was coming from a crack, but several attempts to seal the crack failed.

    On Tuesday the company said the leak instead might be coming from a faulty joint where the pit meets a duct, allowing radioactive water to seep into a layer of gravel underneath. The utility said it would inject “liquid glass” into gravel in an effort to stop further leakage.

    Meanwhile, Tepco continued releasing what it described as water contaminated with low levels of radiation into the sea to make room in on-site storage tanks for more highly contaminated water. In all, the company said it planned to release 11,500 tons of the water, but by Tuesday morning it had released less than 25% of that amount.

    Although the government authorized the release of the 11,500 tons and has said that any radiation would be quickly diluted and dispersed in the ocean, fish with high readings of iodine are being found.

    On Monday, officials detected more than 4,000 bequerels of iodine-131 per kilogram in a type of fish called a sand lance caught less than three miles offshore of the town of Kita-Ibaraki. The young fish also contained 447 bequerels of cesium-137, which is considered more problematic than iodine-131 because it has a much longer half-life.</

  236. silkworm

    akn has been directing us to the work of Alexey Yablokov… according to the book Chernobyl, 20 Years After, by Chris Busby and Alexey Yablokov, “more than a million people have died between 1986 and 2004 as a direct result of Chernobyl.” And, according to Busby, “we can already calculate that the contamination (at Fukushima) is actually worse than Chernobyl.”

  237. Nick

    Thanks, Hal9000. Interesting stuff.

    “I suppose the danger is dependent on the size of the particles that enter the body more than any other factor.”

    That’s pretty much what I’ve been thinking along the lines of – and noting along the way that the isotopes in uranium-fuelled radiation considered dangerous are all above 50 on the atomic scale, whereas the isotopes in cosmic rays are all below 50.

    And thanks, Robert. I read about that earlier – the body can’t tell the difference between radioactive iodine and everyday trace iodine and tries to make the same use of it. It’s also the heaviest element (atomic number 53) that the body can actually make any biological use of.

    One thing I’m keen to find out at this point is whether the extremely high-energy hydrogen and helium nuclei, which make up 99% of cosmic rays, count at all toward the grays and sieverts readings? ie. are they absorbed by the human body or its equivalent mass *at all*?

  238. joe

    Kill the oceans not the humans! Same ol, same ol…

  239. joe

    Moon over Marin.

    I squash dead fish between my toes
    Try not to step on any bones
    I turn around and I go home

    I slip back through my basement door
    Switch off all that I own below
    Dive in my scalding wooden tub

    My own beach at night
    Electric Moonlight

    There will always be a moon
    Over Marin

  240. wbb

    On Monday, officials detected more than 4,000 bequerels of iodine-131 per kilogram in a type of fish called a sand lance caught less than three miles offshore of the town of Kita-Ibaraki. The young fish also contained 447 bequerels of cesium-137, which is considered more problematic than iodine-131 because it has a much longer half-life.

    So are we meant to be afraid now? I mean who eats Sand Lance? Typical mainstream western media BS.

    The plants are under control. Take a look at any Livestream in Tokyo right now – and you won’t see a single soul running for the hills. QED.

  241. Nick

    “So are we meant to be afraid now? I mean who eats Sand Lance?”

    Salmon. Which also happen to travel back into fresh water to reproduce.

  242. joe

    This catastrophe — like the Gulf of Mexico Oil Platform catastrophe is man-made and was completely avoidable.

    It is no longer justifiable in today’s world to offload the cost of man-made catastrophes onto the natural environment. Dumping the radioactive water into the ocean is not the only solution to this problem. 11.5Tonnes of “low-radioactive” water is approximately 11.5 cubic meters of water, even in heavily populated Japan, enough space can be found to store this water on land.

    We need a change of consciousness — humans need to be more realistic about their own limitations and take more responsibility for their actions. Human lives were put in danger when the nuclear plan was built, now a disaster has occurred and dealing with the disaster means not only minimising the cost to human life dealing with it but even more importantly minimising the environmental effects and hence the effect of the radiation poisoning.

    This gung-ho attitude which seems to come to the fore in moments like this is no longer acceptable. In 25 years we’ve now had two nuclear meltdowns, the technology is not safe and needs to be banned.

    Like the sensibility that approves of the use of nuclear weapons, even as a deterrent, nuclear fission is unacceptable.

    There are other sources of energy that are more humane and they even require work and investment to make them viable.

  243. Katz

    Salmon. Which also happen to travel back into fresh water to reproduce.

    Cesium-137 doesn’t contaminate fish. Fish contaminate fish!

  244. su

    One of the epidemiologists mentioned by Yablokov is Rosalie Bertell, a Canadian Public Health expert who has written quite a bit about the development of the ICRP, the establishment of regulations setting safety limits for radiation exposure and the relationship with WHO. She states that the whole field of radiation health was coopted by radiation physicists and radiologists while epidemiologists, toxicologists and other medical specialties and the WHO were deliberately excluded.

    UNSCEAR has continued to be the measurement agency, which verifies that all planned releases of ionizing radiation to the environment, and all exposures of workers, are “acceptable”. It fell to the IAEA to “establish or adopt, in collaboration with other competent international bodies, standards of safety for the protection of health and to provide for the application of these standards”.

    Neither the IAEA nor UNSCEAR turned to the WHO to develop such protective health standards. Instead they both turned to a self-appointed non-governmental organization formed by the physicists of the Manhattan project together with the Medical Radiologists, who had organized themselves in 1928 to protect themselves and their colleagues from the severe consequences of exposure to medical X-ray.. This new organization, called the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection), has a Main Committee of 13 persons who make all decisions. Members of this Main Committee were originally self appointed, and have been perpetuated by being proposed by current members and accepted by the current executive committee. No outside agency can place a member on the ICRP, not even the WHO.

    In an attempt to address the health affects of Chernobyl WHO organized a conference in 1996 – publication of proceedings were blocked by the IAEA.

    At the conference Yablokov described how officials from the State Committee of Statistics were arrested for falsifying data regarding Chernobyl but UNSCEAR continues to use this data. One of the physicians working in Belarus, Prof Bandazhevsky, Director of the Medical Institute in Gomel, having written numerous reports detailing the injuries and illnesses he was seeing and criticising the official response to Chernobyl was arrested, initially for terrorism and then charged and jailed for 8 years for taking bribes. His findings were presented by a colleague as he was under house arrest. He now works with Criirad in France, Criirad were also involved with uncovering the French government’s underestimation of radiation measures in France after Chernobyl.

    When people say that the Nuclear lobby has too much power, they are not kidding. I heard a new term last night “wargaming the science”, this is how mobile phone lobby groups responded to scientific findings regarding mobile phone use and neoplasms, it seems that “wargaming” follows much the same path as that taken by the cigarette lobby, ID’ers and Climate skeptics. I think the science regarding the health effects following Chernobyl has been thoroughly wargamed.

  245. su

    gah – tags. Last three paras should not be in blockquotes.

    [Fixed ~tt]

  246. Danny

    Yay, they’ve plugged the crack… using 1560 gallons of BarsLeaks(sic, = sodium silicate), like the stuff they use in the US clunker cull, where they pour a coupla quarts in instead of oil and run it @2000rpm “until it stops” !!

  247. sg

    Sand lance is called ikanago in Japanese, and is a specialty of the area, I think. It is used in a similar way to jakko, which is excellent in a salad with plum and perilla sauce. Here are some recipes. Indeed, who eats sand lance?

    akn, my interpretation of Yablokov’s book is that he said “millions have suffered or are suffering,” not “died.” He lists the “suffering people” in the first pages of his contribution to the book, and it’s clear he’s casting a wide net.

    su, Yablokov’s work is not a metaanalysis as you claim in comment 214, but is in fact a review of positive results – a very different thing. It doesn’t include any information on negative results, doesn’t use effect sizes or account for the quality and size of any of the cited studies, so it doesn’t use the basic methods required for a metaanalysis (or for any useful overview of the issue). Several points abou this review:

    – It has problematic time periods: many of the studies he cites compare 1984 data to 1994/6 data, which is bad practice because it doesn’t adjust for secular trends, and particularly bad practice in the former Soviet Union, where mortality rates increased rapidly after 1989. This is also important for rare cancers where rates vary a lot from year to year.

    – Many studies are affected by reporting rates: for some of the conditions mentioned (e.g. prostate cancer) death rates increased in many places since 1986, primarily due to improved reporting and diagnostic methods. This is an especially big problem for rare cancers, which are more likely to be misdiagnosed. This type of problem is easily remedied by looking at death rates for these conditions across many areas, not just comparing affected areas to one convenient control group.

    – it has different baselines: some studies compare rates in the affected areas with “the rest of Ukraine,” “the average in the Soviet Union,” “unaffected areas,” etc. These don’t enable us to get any insight into whether the rates in the affected area are high, or just high relative to a low comparator.

    – it doesn’t use effect sizes: so we can’t compare between studies or calculate an overall weighted effect of Chernobyl (meaningless anyway without negative results in the survey). It also doesn’t present confidence intervals, which are very useful in this sort of work. So we don’t know really how precise any of these estimates were, only whether they were significant.

    You also say he has reviewed thousands of Russian and Eastern European papers, but the results he presents do not come from 1000s of papers – his bibliography is not that long – and are mainly from English-language papers in English-language journals. I think this is because those “thousands” of Russia/Eastern European papers contain huge amounts of null results, which weren’t included by design. What would happen if they were included in a proper metaanalysis?

    Finally, in regards to “wargaming the science,” this book was published by the New York Annals of Science even though it went against their guidelines, in the interest of public debate. i.e. they published something they don’t agree with and don’t think meets their normal standards in order to ensure dissenting views were represented in the debate. Is this what you consider to be “wargaming the science”?

  248. su

    “The list of the literature incorporated into this present volume includes about 1000 titles and reflects more than 5000 printed and internet publications” page xi. The reason these are not all listed separately is because some of the reference papers were themselves reviews of papers, hence his phraseology (from the interview in akn’s link” “a meta-review, a review of the reviews”, this covers your other objections as well, as he is reviewing the results of many papers in which things such as effect sizes were considered.

    Unless you explain to me why you chose to lie about the paper in the comments above or offer some other explanation for claiming that a quote from one paper was in another and referred to cancer results, I don’t wish to engage with you further. Given the seriousness of the topic this behaviour is utterly reprehensible.

  249. sg

    su, by “effect size” I mean a specific concept used in meta-analysis, which is not presented in his book – you can see that by looking at his tables. You can’t compare studies until you incorporate effect sizes, it’s a fundamental part of meta-analysis. Whether he gets the effect sizes from reviews or the original papers is largely irrelevant.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “lie.” Do you mean about the Yablokov book? Where is my lie? There are not thousands of results presented in the tables in his paper, and they are largely from English-language articles in the English-language press, and I offered a supposition for why this is (the omitted papers produce negative results). I didn’t anywhere say Yablokov didn’t review them. Where is the lie?

    I’m also not sure what you mean by “some other explanation for claiming that a quote from one paper was in another.”

    I think you’re misreading me and attributing motives that don’t exist. I’d like to hope this is not deliberate, but your outraged tone is not encouraging.

  250. su

    Oh give it a rest, you took a quote from a paper on stillbirths and said it referred to thyoid cancer. Enough.

  251. akn

    Yes, ok, I understand that it is the old problem for positivism which is that the forest cannot be apprehended because of the presence of so many damn trees.

    If someone dies from a broken heart after lsoing his/her family/farm/animals/dog/lifetime’s labour after being excluded from residing in a radiated area then this is not attributable to cesium or idodine pollution. Of course not. On the other hand if no-one can show a positive relationship between cancers twenty years after exposure then again the radioactive particles are not held accountable. Nor are the executives whose mismanagement let them loose.

    And so on.

  252. sg

    that would be the comment that I start clearly by stating I’m talking about stillbirths, in response to a paper you linked to that starts its titled with The epidemiology of stillbirths….

    I don’t think you’re interested in discussing the actual epideimological and medical issues here, su. You’re looking for gotchas and personal attacks. So really, feel free to bow out.

  253. Nick

    Joe Giambrone:  The UN Would Never Lie to George Monbiot

    That Alexey Yablokov compendium is starting to pop up a lot…

  254. su

    WTF? Why do you persist in lying, the article I linked at comment 90 on Fukushima Update II was entitled Epidemiology of birth defects, perinatal mortality and thyroid cancer before and after the Chernobyl catastrophe. You are the most determined and inveterate liar I have ever had the misfortune to encounter on this blog, you described that quote, lifted directly from the abstract of another paper entitled “European Stillbirth proportions Before and After Chernobyl”, thusly

    I pointed out that the stillbirth analysis was dodgy, and finished up with a quote from that paper admitting their cancer conclusions didn’t match the established epidemiology on cancer.

    This is untrue and you should admit it, the quote was from a paper on stillbirths only, it did not refer to cancer at all. Not to admit this is shameful. I am sorry, Mods, for contributing to this tedious derail but I am genuinely appalled and I don’t believe such an open falsehood should go uncorrected.

  255. sg

    su I think I understand your confusion now. I think you’ve misunderstood that last comment thread, and my attmepts to explain it here.

    In the original comment I critiqued in one paragraph the paper that was the source for one of their claims (about stillbirths). In the next paragraph I observed that their poor interpretation of statistics might explain why they had come up with cancer statistics that disagreed with the standard epidemiological evidence. In that instance I was referring to the cancer statistics in the paper you linked to; in the first paragraph i was referring to the paper that the paper you linked to referred to.

    Perhaps I should have made that clearer. But perhaps a little less strident yelling of “Liar” and “tame scientist” and a little more good faith would go a long way, in such instances.

    In the meantime, you’ve distracted yourself nicely from my comments about Yablokov. I presume you still think I’m too much of a liar to address them, but one lives in hope…

  256. su

    That is utter bullshit, there was never any “quote from that paper admitting their cancer conclusions didn’t match the established epidemiology”, for the simple reason that they were reporting statistics from the cancer registry, which just are, they do not agree or disagree with anything, the only interpretative feature would have been determining which portion of the increase was due to a rise in background cases and which was due to Chernobyl. Yablokov does report on this and from memory the studies he looked at referred to a 2% pa increase in incidence prior to 1986 cf the up to 5% pa increase in incidence found afterwards.

    If you want to be taken seriously you will have to do more than generalized bullshit bullet points that don’t refer to any particular references or portion of Yablokov’s book.

  257. akn

    Thanks for the link Nick. That about sums it up.

  258. Nick

    For anyone interested, here’s a PDF version of the book available for download:

    Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment

    sg, since they’re of interest to you, maybe you should start with Chapter 2. Chernobyl’s Public Health Consequences: Some Methodological Problems

  259. Nick

    Thanks for that interview, akn! Super informative, and cleared up a bunch of things I hadn’t been able to make proper sense of yet.

  260. sg

    su, I’m getting confused. At comment 215 I stated

    Yes, I see that that comment was in response to you and not about Thyroid cancer because you raised the issue of stillbirths.

    In trying to understand your subsequent accusations I somehow got confused and yes, the quote from the conclusion that I gave a week ago was from the paper about stillbirths, as was the previous comment.

    So my comment at 255 (here) where I say

    In the next paragraph I observed that their poor interpretation of statistics might explain why they had come up with cancer statistics that disagreed with the standard epidemiological evidence.

    was wrong because I couldn’t clearly remember exactly what paper I was looking at when I wrote that comment a week ago.

    You posted a paper a week ago that was about stillbirths. I replied to it by pointing out the problem in the statistics, and discussing a related paper that finds similar things. You now accuse me of trying to lie and obfuscate.

    I still don’t understand what the obfuscation was. Is replying to a link about stillbirth stats with a discussion of stillbirth stats obfuscatory?

    And is this a “generalized bullshit bullet point”:

    It has problematic time periods: many of the studies he cites compare 1984 data to 1994/6 data, which is bad practice because it doesn’t adjust for secular trends, and particularly bad practice in the former Soviet Union, where mortality rates increased rapidly after 1989. This is also important for rare cancers where rates vary a lot from year to year.


    I’m really not sure that’s a fair assessment of my critique. Why don’t you try addressing what I actually said about the flaws in Yablokov’s review?

    Nick, I downloaded the book and I’ve already discussed chapter 1 briefly (this is the point that su says is “generalized bullshit bullet points”). I’ll look at 2 when I get the time, which almost certainly won’t be tonight.

  261. su

    It is obfuscatory to continually refer to a paper as “about stillbirths” when it is about health outcomes including cancer, birth defects and perinatal mortality, to ignore the argument for which it was posted and then to attempt to smear the authors as getting such a basic calculation as incidence wrong because you think there are methodological limitations to one of their references – the only paper that is actually “about stillbirths”, to say that I referred and linked to that reference paper when I didn’t, to maintain these fictions when you had at least 4 opportunities to correct this after I pointed it out at 221 and then to say that I am just confused.

    In order to respond to your particular points, you should either link to the papers you are criticising, state the name of the paper or at the very least give the page number in the book where they are discussed.

  262. su

    BTW Chapter 1 is about the extent and distribution of radioactive contaminants and none of the papers there seem to fit any of your objections.

  263. wbb

    Cesium schmesium. You want to see an impressive half-life?

    Check out a thread featuring sg. It never dies.

  264. sg

    hey mods, there was weirdness going on in the comment box last night so I tried retyping a comment I thought I’d lost. Obviously feel free to delete the second one, that is currently in moderation.

  265. akn

    The caption on the linked photoreads:

    Apology … Tsunehisa Katsumata, second right, the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, bows to Ikuhiro Hattori, right, the chief of Japan Fisheries Co-operatives.

    The expression on Ikuhiro Hattori’s face, however, suggests that he has something more vigorous in mind for Tsunehisa Katsumata by way of apology. Like that the CEO of TEPCO ought to throw himself off the top of the nearest tall building.

  266. su

    No response, I will assume that, in addition to not having read chapter 1 which did not mention disease rates, sg cannot cite which studies or which portion of the book those objections concern. Perhaps they were someone else’s objections and he did a bit of cut and paste, perhaps he is suddenly coy, or perhaps bullshit was an accurate assessment.

  267. Fine

    Very useful article here. Especially for those spinning that radiation is harmless.


  268. Katz

    Joseph Stiglitz gets it right about nuclear power.

    The nuclear industry’s very existence is dependent on hidden public subsidies – costs borne by society in the event of nuclear disaster, as well as the costs of the still-unmanaged disposal of nuclear waste. So much for unfettered capitalism.

    Profits go to the shareholders, while the costs are borne by the entire planet.

    And to forestall any attempt to draw an equivalence with coal, let me say that I agree. The problem is that coal technology was mature and in wide use before the problems were recognised. It is, and will be, much more difficult to undo a mistake than to avoid it in the first place. This is why the world should not make the mistake of allowing nuclear power to proliferate any further.

  269. sg

    su I wrote two attempts at a response, but the site ate them, and if you look carefully you’ll see a post from me above asking the mods to delete the second one – it appears they’re both gone.

    Regarding the book, I didn’t see your link way up above (which, btw, doesn’t work) so did my own search for Yablokov’s “meta analysis,” which led me to a 2006 publication Chernobyl – 20 years after. Chapter 1 contains the meta analysis I was referring to. Similar problems exist in, for example, chapter 7 of the book you’re referring to (which I can now read thanks to Nick’s link). i.e. it’s a review of positive results.

    If you want people to address your points, you should take your own advice and link to the papers you are criticising rather than just saying “google it yourself.”

    And while you’re at it, tone down the vicious rhetoric. Accusing me of cutting and pasting other people’s points is pretty cheap – especially since you can check yourself. Assuming my non-response is an admission of defeat is pretty teenage behaviour too. Get over yourself and try to debate like an adult – if you care about this topic at all.

  270. su

    Hilarious, after insulting everyone who doesn’t agree with you, accusing them of being “crows”, conspiracy theorists and reviving discredited information, you suddenly decide I must tone it down. When someone says “Nick, I’ve downloaded the book and I’ve already discussed chaper 1”, I, rather foolishly it turns out, take them at their word. You’ve already claimed to be an epidemiologist then changed your mind and said you are a statistician, you have peppered your comments with numerous inaccuracies and outright falsehoods, so I treat absolutely everything you say with extreme suspicion. The link to the book at 221 works for me and I assume, other people.

    I heard Yablokov’s term “meta-review” in the interview and assumed there was a meta-analysis involved – my bad.

    I’ll get back to you when I’ve read Chapter 7.

  271. akn

    Katz nails it:

    The problem is that coal technology was mature and in wide use before the problems were recognised. It is, and will be, much more difficult to undo a mistake than to avoid it in the first place. This is why the world should not make the mistake of allowing nuclear power to proliferate any further.

  272. su

    Taking your point that “lots” of studies compare 1984 data with 1996 data, on a quick reading of Chapter 7 I am seeing a lot of trend analyses covering periods of 10 or more years but so far, none that compare one single year with another, in fact as far as I can see the only comparison of 1984 and 1996 in the entire document occurs on page 238, in a highlighted text box (ie. not in a table or graph) in what is called the “Conclusion to Chapter II”. Stylistically, putting material in highlighted text boxes is a means of separating illustrative material, such as anecdotes, descriptions and raw data from the results of scientific studies like those presented in tabular and graphic form in Chapter 7, this style difference is used for example, in text books.

    If there are other instances of comparisons between two single years, I would be grateful if you would provide a page number.

  273. sg

    su, I’m not the one using the aggressive personal insults here. I didn’t for example call you a conspiracy theorist when you talked about “wargaming the statistics.” Why do you think that is?

    Your link doesn’t work for chapter 1 and 2. Nick’s does.

    You’re right about the existence of time series in the Yablokov book you linked to (shall we call it “Yablokov 1”?) I don’t have it with me but I recall that chapter 7 had a better set of time series. As I recall they aren’t analysed as such, but they’re mostly presented as illustrative charts, which is fine. Another chapter has a striking breast cancer series that goes up very suddenly at about 1991; I think this is indicative of the introduction of a screening program (I think it was in Gomel?) and those data need to be interpreted carefully.

    The problem with the former Soviet Union (as I noted above) is that there should be a secular trend in most of these charts starting just a few years after Chernobyl, because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This makes analysis of time series a tricky business.

    Note that in a previous thread you presented strong claims that we won’t see cancer rates increase until 20 years after the event, which means that increases in these time series are not consistent with Chernobyl (under your theory, which I disagreed with). I think you should be able to see them but (as I pointed out above) it’s hard to identify the cause because diagnosis of rare cancers began to take off in the 90s. Separating these phenomena is extremely difficult, especially in an environment like post-Chernobyl, where one would expect the implementation of screening systems for the rare cancers, thus leading to a sudden increase in the numbers detected.

    For example, breast cancer incidence has increased every year in Australia since 1984, and the rate is now about 50% higher than 1984. It leapt by about 30% in one year (1992). This is without any Chernobyl. So it’s important to take these figures with a grain of salt, and I don’t think for this reason that the trends in Yablokov 1 are particularly instructive without consideration of these issues.

    I’m busy this week though and haven’t had a chance to read that book beyond a brief skim. I hope that doesn’t get me called a liar…

  274. FDB

    I don’t wanna knock Yablokov, but this is getting a tad tedious.

  275. su

    Feel free to tune out then FDB, or knock something else off. I’m trying to determine whether sg is a complete fantasist or whether one of these claims will stand up. So far sg is doing a very fair impression of Walter Mitty, there simply are not “many studies” that compare 1984 with 1996, instead there is one anecodotal narrative, clearly demarcated from the other information presented. You may think this is just regular boring old stoushing, but to me it is far, far worse and sg doesn’t stop, he just keeps piling the bullshit higher and higher. What’s the bet there aren’t “many studies” with poor practices regarding time analysis in Yablokov’s first book either, this book was essentially an incomplete version of the 2009 volume.

    I didn’t for example call you a conspiracy theorist when you talked about “wargaming the statistics.” Why do you think that is?

    I think, in fact, I know, “wargaming the science” was a direct quote from the Public Health expert on Lateline who had the proof that this phrase was used by lobby groups.

    As to secular trends, no doubt this is why many of those studies that ploted time series took particular care to use comparison groups in nearby geographical regions where there was less contamination and other regions with no contamination. BTW Chapter 7 does not deal with cancer but with general mortality.

    Note that in a previous thread you presented strong claims that we won’t see cancer rates increase until 20 years.

    No, I said that the ERR for Thyroid cancer peaked 15-20 years after exposure, this is not a theory, not is it mine, it is an established fact as you would know if you had bothered to do anything other than the cursory reading required to mount a series of specious arguments.

    Do you have anything at all to say about claiming there were many studies that simply compared one single year with another or are you just going to brazen it out yet again?

  276. The Feral Abacus

    FDB, from what I know of the field I’d say su is justified in pursuing her line of enquiry.

  277. FDB

    I was merely taking a cheap opening for some glib wordplay.

    I’d have hoped that by now my record speaks for itself on that score.

  278. The Feral Abacus

    /whooshing noise

  279. Keithy


  280. Huggybunny

    Hey Fran,
    Read this:
    Hey sg;
    Breast cancer incidence would have nothing to do with nuclear testing ? Esp in the Pacific?

  281. akn

    In breach of normal etiquette I’m going to comment on the stoush between su and sg. If sg had anyone in his/her corner they’d have thrown in the towel by now. su has all rounds on KO so far but sg keeps staggering to his/her feet for another undignified battering.

    On a broader front it has been my experience that within the anti-nuke/peace movement there are scientists who take on the propagandists for the industry and such people are worth their weight in gold to humanity.

    Cheers su.

  282. GregM

    akn says:
    April 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    In breach of normal etiquette I’m going to comment on the stoush between su and sg. If sg had anyone in his/her corner they’d have thrown in the towel by now. su has all rounds on KO so far but sg keeps staggering to his/her feet for another undignified battering.

    Throughout this discussion sg has been civil and dispassionate. His views may be wrong or, being founded in the technical points of his specialty, even being right they may miss the bigger picture of public concern about nuclear power and the threats from it, but they are presented in a sincere way by somebody who cares about his vocation as an epidimiologist.

    Su’s comments have been strident, ignorant, abusive and disrespectful of a decent contributor.

    Your comment is a disgrace.

  283. akn

    Oh really GregM. I differ. Please feel free to attempt aerial fornication with yourself.

  284. su

    He isn’t an epidemiologist Greg M, epidemiologists have a background in either medicine or psychology, he is a statistician as he himself admitted, and I’m sorry but characterisation of his comments to me and others as “civil” is just incredibly one-eyed, they could only be seen as civil by someone who also felt we needed to be slapped down. Yeah I’ve become increasingly strident but I can only assume you haven’t been following any of the links, because he has quite simply, been trading in easily detected falsehoods, and that makes me furious. I am sorry this has descended to the level of personalities because the facts should speak for themselves.

  285. su

    Oh what the hell, in for a penny in for a pound, and I’m not doing this to win friends, having discovered how loosely sg interprets the truth, I went back and checked that paper he keeps going on and on about regarding stillbirths only to find what seems to me to be yet another absolute furphy. The results for both Belarus and Ukraine were excluded from the synopses because of formal issues, this meant that the most contaminated regions were excluded from the regional synopses of stillbirths and the authors clearly state that there was very wide overdispersion in the results from the Ukraine in particular- each yearly incidence varied widely and hence the only statistically significant result after adjusting for overdispersion was the 1986 result. Try as I might, and with GregM’s rebuke ringing in my ears, I cannot see how this is in any way consistent with sg’s comment that “This is how they managed to a) find a statistically significant increase in stillbirths in Ukraine, even though the actual rate of stillbirths declined rapidly after 1986”.

    Similarly, I found that the authors say

    By way of contrast, in Western Europe there are discontinuities in 1987 and 1988 as well. A continuously reduced progress from approximately 6% to 3% per year in 1980 to 1986 is followed by an abrupt improvement of the stillbirth proportion of about 7% in 1987

    In other words, stillbirths proportion had been decreasing but the yearly percentage improvement dropped in the 6 years to 1986 then suddenly rose in 1987.

    This is the diametric opposite to sg’s statement that the authors
    “b) find a statistically significant increase in the rate of stillbirths in Western Europe in just one year (1987), even though it probably is a random fluctuation. ”

    I might talk a good (or bad) game gregM, but all this long while I have been waiting for the axe to fall and for some third party to point out to me that I am indeed ignorant as you say, but I am now certain that you have been snowed by a plausible but reprehensible character.

  286. Nick

    Briefly, this NASA report is probably the most informative I’ve found on the subject of cosmic rays:
    “Cosmic rays produce a number of radionuclides of which the four most important are given in Table 8. The most significant exposures are from Carbon-14. The assessment of the exposures was made by UNSCEAR (1997) from the known specific activity of Carbon-14 of 230 Bq per kg of carbon leading to an annual effective dose of 12 µSv. The next most abundant of the radionuclides of Hydrogen-3, Berylium-7, and Sodium-22 in Table 8 are totally negligible (UNSCEAR 1997).”
    “[…] one can assume that about 60 percent of the dose equivalent is from neutrons in commercial airline operations.”
    “Very little biological data exist on such radiation interactions (Baarli 1993, Wilson et al. 1990, 1995) and the important cancer risk coefficients are very uncertain (Wilson 2000, Cucinotta et al. 2001).”
    In another report, NASA estimated it will be another 10 years at least before they have any conclusive evidence on the biological effects of cosmic rays.
    Monbiot and other apologists from the Guardian and elsewhere who use this pr copybook trope are talking out of their hats.  Sievert per sievert, they are just not the same thing.  It’s deceptive and misleading (and wrong) to claim “but pilots and aircrews receive these same doses all the time, and they’re just fine!”.

  287. su

    Katz, the harrowing video Controversies Nucléaires features Hiroshi Nakajima answering the question about the IAEA at 5.10.

  288. Katz

    As you can see for yourself SG, Hiroshi Nakajima interprets the actions of the IAEA as a veto. The report of the 1996 Geneva Conference disappeared down the memory tubes.

    Let us review. As the peak world health body, the WHO is prevented by IAEA from presenting findings on a matter of public health.

  289. sg

    su, I don’t know what paper you’re going on about here, so you should provide a link. Your advice, remember?

    You might like to update your definition of epidemiologist too, because there are no formal definitions of what an epidemiologist is. Certainly many have a medical degree and do postgraduate training in epidemiology. Others are statisticians. For example, Norman Breslow (who wrote “Statistical Methods in Cancer Research” and invented the Breslow-Day test has an arts degree. I don’t think you could claim he’s not an epidemiologist. I think Geoffrey Berry (“Statistical Methods in Medical Research”) was a crop scientist in his first degree.

    Epidemiologists come from many fields, including but not limited to psychology, medicine, arts, biological sciences, agricultural science (e.g. William Cochran), veterinary science or the physical sciences. It’s a postgraduate qualification, and there is no single defining standard for who is or is not an epidemiologist.

    But I haven’t argued here from authority, so the definition of whether I am or am not an epidemiologist is moot. It’s not as if you’d suddenly stop being extremely rude to me if you found out I had taught and published in the field, is it?

  290. sg

    Also perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves of the effects of some of the alternatives to nuclear power, and to compare the health and environmental risks.

  291. akn

    To which, sg, I counter that the issue is not the efficiency of the technology but inadequate or corrupt corporate governance as is argued in this article BP spill an argument against nuclear power

  292. su

    So you are confirming that you are an epidemiologist? So far you have been an epidemiologist, then a statistician with some experience analysing health related statistics and now an epidemiologist again. The paper has been linked three times by me, twice on this thread but here it is again: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/5/932.full.pdf+html You conclusions about it were misleading in the first instance and undeniably false in the second.

    You should also correct your statement about there being many studies that compare 1984 with 1996 or one single year with another as this is not true for either the 2006 or 2009 publications by Yablokov.

  293. su

    So you are confirming that you are an epidemiologist? So far you have been an epidemiologist, then a statistician with some experience analysing health related statistics and now an epidemiologist again. The paper has been linked three times by me, twice on this thread but here it is again: h ttp://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/5/932.full.pdf+html You conclusions about it were misleading in the first instance and undeniably false in the second.

    I suggest you correct your statement about there being many studies that compare 1984 with 1996 or one single year with another as this is not true for either the 2006 or 2009 publications by Yablokov.

  294. akn

    Moreover, if BP’s management of the Gulf disaster/oil spill concerned you then BP’s plans to build a reactor in Florida really oughta scare ya’.

  295. myriad74

    From Salon

  296. sg

    su, I don’t think you’re interpreting that paper correctly. Look at Table 2, which shows the stillbirth rates referred to in the paragraph you quote. The stillbirth rate in Western Europe declines continuously over the period, dropping from 0.00831 to 0.00604 in 1987. The “7% imrpovement in stillbirth rate” you refer to in Western Europe is a drop in rates. This is statistically significant. So do you think Chernobyl was protective against stillbirth in Western Europe?

    There are huge problems with the model in this paper, though, which make it very difficult to interpret the effects. Particularly, they don’t appear to have adjusted for the serial dependence of the time series. Were they to do so, it’s likely that the result for 1987 in Western Europe and at least 1986 and 1988-92 in Eastern Europe would no longer be significant.

    This sort of model really needs to be handled with a random effects or generalized least squares approach, not the basic logistic regression they applied here. They’ve also used a lot of variables – 5 variables, one of which has 3 levels, in a model with interaction effects and only 36 data points.

    Still, in 1999 I’m not sure that GLS models for binary data were being used commonly, and I think the software for random effects logistic models hadn’t been developed, so they probably had no choice.

    But that would explain why they concluded about stillbirths in Bavaria that their findings contradict “generally accepted radiological theory” (in the conclusion).

    From memory, when I referred to this paper I pointed out the drop in stillbirth rate in Ukraine and Belarus, I didn’t talk about Eastern Europe or Western Europe. But I’m not interested in he-said she-saids; address what I said above, politely, rather than what you think I said three weeks ago.

  297. myriad74

    And for those wondering about the item I linked to on the now closed thread which Sg claims is a lie (or I am lying), which lays out the deaths at Fukushima, may I point out that the source was that bastion of anti-nuclear propaganda, the World Nuclear News, who are the media arm of the World Nuclear Association – links here and here

    (but apparently it doesn’t count as deaths from a nuclear accident if you don’t die from radiation, but rather die trying to stop a reactor from going kablooie)

  298. sg

    akn, I agree with you completely and one reason I am uncomfortable with nuclear power is the dodginess of the industry. I think a lot of reform is needed before I would accept it as a solution to global warming. But at the moment it’s all we have (as I said in a previous thread) and we should assess the risks in terms of the epidemiology, not fantasies of nuclear apocalpyse.

  299. sg

    myriad74 they weren’t trying to stop the reactor going kablooie. They were working in the reactor when the tsunami killed them. So no, it’s not a nuclear accident, it’s an industrial accident. Their deaths are not due to the nuclear incident. I think the website you linked to had this confused because of Kan san’s comment about the work they were doing. In fact, they were killed before the work he referred to was needed.

    So, are you going to maintain the claims that I’m lying and mendacious and blah and blah? I won’t go so far as to expect an apology, but a somewhat leveller head would be nice.

  300. myriad74

    “Kazuhito Kokubo and Yoshiki Terashima, aged 24 and 21 respectively, were found in the ‘-1’ level of unit 4’s turbine hall. The chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said they had been “working to protect the safety of the Fukushima power station after the earthquake and tsunami.”

    But please, keep parsing their deaths. Absolutely maintain that you have one most wilfully mendacious attitude of people I’ve ever discoursed with on the net.

  301. Eric Sykes

    what myriad74 @ 298 says.

  302. sg

    myriad74, I linked to a Japanese news article that clearly states they died of multiple external injuries during the tsunami. I said above, I think that the website you linked to has misunderstood Katsumata san’s statement, because they had not been tasked with any such job – they were reported missing so early that at 8am on the 12th March the Japanese newspapers were reporting them missing. Do you think they would have been missing for 3 weeks if they had been sent to “protect the safety” of the station?

    The website you linked to doesn’t give their cause of death. Mine does. They died of multiple external injuries within hours of the quake and tsunami, and were missing for three weeks (they were found on 31st March). It’s likely that the room they were in was flooded and couldn’t even be entered for several days or weeks after the tsunami. Do you understand this?

  303. su

    Hilarious, sg , allow me to correct your memory, these are your exact words regarding this paper from Fukushima Update II comment 95, which I linked in 214 upthread so people can very easily check that I am not misquoting you in 285: “b) find a statistically significant increase in the rate of stillbirths in Western Europe in just one year (1987), even though it probably is a random fluctuation.

    So, no I’m not misinterpreting, I am pointing out that you have claimed an increase in still births when the study found the complete opposite. Why should anyone treat you with anything other than complete suspicion given that you continue to say what is not true even in the face of overwhelming, incontrovertible proof.

    Please retract your hallucinatory statement about many studies comparing one year to another as this is untrue.

    Please provide a reference for your claim about the screening programme for breast cancer in Gomel, it does not occur in either book as far as I can see and Scherb et al contains negative results and is referenced by Yablokov so that immediately lends the lie to the idea that only positive results were reported.

  304. sg

    su, I told you I’m not interested in games of he-said she-said two weeks after the fact. I have given you my interpretation of this study a few comments up in this thread; feel free to address it. I’m really flattered that you think it worth your while to hunt down errors from two weeks ago and use them as evidence of my duplicity, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

    Do you believe that the 1987 decrease in western Europe (that I apparently mistyped as an increase while making a point about statistical significance two weeks ago) is supportive of your claims about the effects of Chernobyl in Europe? Do you accept that the data show a decrease in stillbirths in Ukraine and Belarus, and that a significant increase can only be obtained by merging them with Eastern Europe?

    Further, do you believe that a model which doesn’t adjust for serial dependence is a valid way to approach a time series?

    In addition to that, I now note that the Scherb paper doesn’t include any main effects for d86, d87 and d88-92 (Table 4). This is extremely bad form, and means we can’t make any judgments about the statistical significance of the remaining terms, or the validity of the model-building they describe in Table 5. Do you consider this to be acceptable statistical practice?

    And why do you claim that Scherb present a negative result, when they find an increase in stillbirths in Eastern Europe, discuss it extensively in the conclusion of their paper, and admit that their findings contradict “generally accepted radiological theory”? I don’t have Yablokov’s stuff with me now and I’m busy [which will no doubt lead to more mistakes in my comments] but I suspect that the result he included in his book was the positive one for Eastern Europe. Is this true?

    I didn’t make “a claim” about breast screening in Gomel. I said that the series looked like it might be influenced by a screening process. I pointed out that Australian rates of breast cancer have increased over the last 20 years (by about 20%, I think) due to screening, and it’s insufficient to present time series without considering these issues. The fact that Yablokov doesn’t mention it in his book is telling.

    Do you think that after Chernobyl, nothing was done to increase surveillance of cancer in the region? It seems unlikely. But this means that all the time series data in Yablokov’s book is contaminated by this phenomenon… and yet he doesn’t mention it?

  305. myriad74

    Sg, from –


    TEPCO had been investigating two employees who had been missing since the earthquake of 11th March. On 2nd April NISA reported that on the afternoon of 30th March the two employees were found dead in the -1 Level of the Turbine Building of Unit 4.

    It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami,” Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

    The two workers, aged 21 and 24, sustained multiple external injuries and were believed to have died from blood loss, TEPCO said.

    I really don’t think it can get much clearer given that’s two statements from TEP honchos clearly linking their death to trying to work on the reactor during the natural disaster. You seem to think the fact they didn’t die from radiation exposure somehow makes their deaths ‘not count’. Presumably by this logic people who die in coal mining accidents but not from inhaling shitloads of coal dust don’t count for that industry either.

    Your last link regarding this incident was in Japanese with no ‘english’ version button that I could find. Stunts like that lead to people like me thinking your attitude is mendacious. Not to mention how you dismissed my first link to this story from WNN presumably because of its domain name and were too sloppy to check the origin.

  306. sg

    “stunts like that.” Yeah, presenting news reports from the country where the event happened, rather than filtered through multiple other sites.

    Your revised link makes it clearer how easily misinterpreted that statement is: they were working to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

    It’s not a question of whether the deaths “count” or not; it’s a question of whether they’Re a consequence of the nuclear accident or the tsunami. You clearly presented their deaths as a consequence of the nuclear accident, and they’re not. Yet my pointing out to you that there was a problem with the translation is a “stunt”? That’s frankly ridiculous.

  307. Katz

    I’m with SG on this one M74.

    Those poor devils would equally have died while operating a bike repair shop on that site on that day.

    Their deaths had nothing to do with the fact that they happened to be working in a nuclear power station. Indeed, the augmented measure of anti-tsunami protection probably saved many workers on that day.

  308. su

    Just so you can’t ignore it again, was the statement about many papers comparing two single years another of these many “mistypings” to which you are sadly prone?

  309. sg

    su I can’t answer that here, as I don’t have a copy of the book with me. If you can restrain yourself from personal attacks for a few hours, maybe I’ll oblige you with a more detailed opinion of Yablokov’s work.

    In the meantime, why don’t you address the screening issue? Or any of the other multiple questions I’ve asked you, instead of wasting our time by insulting me or questioning credentials that aren’t even relevant.

  310. joe

    r2p dictates that agents may be on their way to intervene sg and su.

    sg, I think the reason for su being so ticked off is because of the arrogant way you replied to her original comments. Well, I guess that might be excused by the fact that you are pro-nuclear and living just down the road from a nuclear reactor, which is in full melt-down.

    Far be it from me to say anything about anti-blogging, but in this case you guys could probably find common ground by admitting that we have no real idea about what the effects of Fukushima are going to be, but due to the potential risks we should be very concerned. Prediction is not humanity’s strong point. (Up until recently, prevention and preparation were.)

  311. sg

    joe, I’m not pro-nuclear, and the nuclear reactor is not in full meltdown, and I’m not living just down the road from it – I’m 3.5 hours by bus.

    Classifying me as “pro-nuclear” because I disagree about the magnitude of the risk is exactly an example of the sort of language I’ve been trying to avoid. I would even go so far as to suggest it’s quite arrogant to assume what I think based on my assessment of the risks of radiation.

  312. akn

    sg @296: I disagree with your statement that nukes are “all we have” because what you leave out of the statement is its all we have … if we want to maintain the status quo”. I don’t. The Japanese and most other industrialised societies have been living beyond their ecological means at the expense of others. There has been a massive and sustained ecological cost externalisation. No more. Nukes are out and the special target, barely on the horizon so far, is nuke powered bulk shipping.

  313. joe

    akn said:

    The Japanese and most other industrialised societies have been living beyond their ecological means at the expense of others. There has been a massive and sustained ecological cost externalisation. No more.


  314. sg

    akn, I don’t think most people agree with you about that plan, and I think it’s better to confront that ideal directly, rather than exaggerating the health effects of the industry.

    I’m about to go and find a book in a Tokyo University library, and I’ve discovered it’s closed due to earthquake damage:


    This is 3.5 hours by bus from the power plant, and about 300 kms from teh epicentre of the earthquake. The tremors at the powerplant in the last week have been worse than those that caused this damage. It’s worth bearing in mind just how severe the disruption at the plant was!

  315. akn

    OK then sg. Happy hunting in the library.

    However, my opposition to nukes is based on the inherent dangers of the technology at every stage of the power production cycle (not least disposal), a long history within the industry of coverups etc, poor governance and then, last but not least, simple error by frail humanity. I’m not exaggerating the dangers of the industry. It is built on both a critical political attitude and a capacity to read the science even where (say, stats for example) I am well out of my depth. Moreover, last time I saw a survey on Australian attitudes to nukes, there was overwhelming opposition. So, I see my opposition as principled.

  316. su

    One thing at a time. You’ve already obliged us with your assessment of the book, you were particularly proud of the claim about all of those poorly designed studies comparing single years, you repeated it twice, directed us to Chaper 1, then Chapter 1 in 2006, then Chapter 7. They don’t exist.

    Your methodology is to make a statement that you can’t defend, because you’ve pulled it from the ether, stall a bit, then come up with something entirely new, and now that basic fact checking is uncovering your complete mendacity, you are building more elaborate explanations, which I nonetheless expect will prove to be more BS.

    You did in fact make a claim about screening: “I think this is indicative of the introduction of a screening program (I think it was in Gomel?)”. There are no breast screening programmes in Belarus: h ttp://news.belta.by/en/news/society?id=585284.

  317. sg

    well su, I think you’re missing a small but important fact: a Chernobyl cancer registry was established in 1987 and is reported on by the Radiation Protection Commission in Minsk, Belarus. All those judged to be victims of the Chernobyl incident are legally required to be registered, and are expected to undergo regular examinations, mainly annual.

    Do you think that might, possibly, lead to detection of more cancers after 1987 than before? Do you think a sudden intense effort to screen for cancers needs to be considered in assessing whether or not the change in cancer incidence is related to the incident?

    Are you seriously accusing me of providing you with a criticism of non-existent books? That’s a bit of a silly claim, isn’t it?

  318. su

    Oi sorry, I didn’t see you’d been around stuffing daisies into the barrells Joe. You are right in one way, and being told to pipe down is irritating, but mostly now it is just anger that flat out false information is being published on a public forum, it is disrespectful to survivors, disrespectful to genuine researchers who work with those populations and intentionally or not contributes to the nuclear lobby’s burying of concerns that should be uncovered and addressed through serious, properly funded research.

  319. su

    Doesn’t account for differing rates between people living in areas of different levels of contamination, which I think was one of Yablokov’s points about the poor methodology employed by the IAEA. But I will heed Joe’s suggestion and let you say whatever you like unobstructed now.

  320. sg

    It is a huge problem if the people most likely to be in the Chernobyl registry come from the areas of highest concentration of radioactivity. This is pretty likely, given that the liquidators were recruited in the regions where they lived.

    What this means is that you’re comparing a group who are subject to active, and in fact quite strenuous, screening with a group subject to passive case-finding. This is a really, really bad idea if you want to draw meaningful conclusions. It’s especially bad for analysis of slow-growing solid tumours, because it will immediately uncover asymptomatic tumours amongst the screened population that will go undiscovered for 3, 5 or 10 years amongst the unscreened.

    This will, particularly, front-load the detection of solid tumours into the first 3 to 5 years of the registry, that is 1987-1992, and will detect a whole bunch of cancers from before the incident that are still asymptomatic.

    Furthermore, these cancers will then be registered in the passive case-finding registry that most countries keep, which will artificially inflate the rates in those countries relative to others. But countries outside the areas where the liquidators worked can’t introduce a similar bias into their registries, because they don’t have a clear definition of a group “at risk” and they can’t afford an active screening registry of the whole population.

    But Yablokov didn’t mention this?

  321. Hakea

    Right, so the tally so far for energy industry deaths associated with the earthquake and tsunami is :

    Hydroelectric dam failure in Fukushima prefecture, resulting in at least several hundred of deaths

    Fire at Chiba oil refinery- 12 workers dead

    Fukushima nuclear power plant- 2 workers dead

    Can anyone provide me with an explanation for the total lack of interest in these other deaths that doesn’t involve tinfoil hats or disaster pron?

  322. Andrew E

    Firstly, it’s possible to live more many years in great pain after nuclear exposure. Simply focusing on death misses that point.

    Kenzaburo Oe has a wonderful article in the New Yorker on this. It’s one thing for a previous generation to attack the Americans and bring on nuclear attack, but to bring on a nuclear disaster of their own making is for modern Japanese to dishonour their forebears.

  323. Hakea

    From Brave New Climate:

    “An example of omission is the absence of follow-up on the oil refinery fire at Chiba, about 20-30 miles east of Tokyo and over 100 miles south of Fukushima. In fact, it killed 12 workers and required 10 days to put out the fire, which spewed toxic smoke and chemicals far and wide, as well as CO2 into the atmosphere that adds to global warming, and resulted in unknown numbers of latent cancers, heart attacks, asthma, and deaths. Yet once TV images of the flames, falsely linked through association with the nuclear reactors, lost their usefulness, they disappeared from sight.”

    I suspect any latent cancers resulting from Chiba will be no less painful than those that result from Fukushima.

    I also can’t help but note the generalised indifference to the deaths and environmental damage caused by the solar and wind power industries. Even renewables spruiker Paul Gipes has acknowledged the appalling death toll attributable to the wind power industry.

  324. sg

    that’s bullshit, andrew.

  325. sg

    okay su, Chernobyl 20 Years After, Chapter 1. Table 3. Can you confirm that the studies reported there all account for hte secular trend? It doesn’t appear so, they appear to be before/after studies to me.

  326. sg

    … and the references for chapter 1 are largely not peer-reviewed. I’m up to “D” and under a very very charitable interpretation of “peer reviewed” 17 out of 28 were peer reviewed.

    I think that’s a problem.

  327. Nick

    Hakea @ 321: “Hydroelectric dam failure in Fukushima prefecture, resulting in at least several hundred of deaths”

    Fukushima has no hydroelectricity. Hakea is referring to the Fujinuma Dam failure.

    Fujinuma Dam was for irrigation, not hydro as the SMH grossly misreported in their article Don’t fall victim to nuclear phobia.

    5 homes washed away, 8 people missing, 4 of the missing found dead.

  328. sg

    So agriculture has killed more people as a result of this earthquake and tsunami than the nuclear power plant has…?

  329. Nick

    sg, how many Japanese citizens, including clean-up workers at the plant, do you estimate will develop cancers and other debilitating and potentially fatal medical conditions as a result of the meltdown at Fukushima?

    Have you had a chance to read Chapter 2. Chernobyl’s Public Health Consequences: Some Methodological Problems? Any comments?

  330. sg

    Nick, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of that threads and threads ago, but the figure depends on the number exposed, and because of evacuations we don’t know how many, if any, will be exposed. But since studies of the liquidators in chernobyl suggested about an excess of 50 cancers per 100,000 (I think, from memory) and there are at most a couple of hundred people working at Fukushima plant now, you can probably join the dots to calculate the minimum number – if you assume that they are being treated the same way as the liquidators at Chernobyl.

    And no, I haven’t read the methodological flaws chapter yet. But given the number of non peer-reviewed articles in Yablokov’s own review, I suspect his own review is quite full of strong methodological flaws as well. A few of which I have pointed out here.

  331. Helen

    Everyone knows about Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, now, Fukushima. But what about Semipalatinsk, Palomares and Kyshtym? The world is full of nuclear disaster zones — showing just how dangerous the technology really is.

    In a world with a population and food growing crisis, where urbanisation is steadily building over food growing areas, we’re busy poisoning the remaining areas.

  332. sg

    Helen, I don’t think Three Mile Island counts as a “nuclear desert,” and neither will Fukushima. In fact on the train this morning I saw a report that the government is considering allowing people back into the exclusion zone for short periods to collect belongings, which suggests it’s not exactly the worst place on earth.

    I mentioned Kyshtym on a previous thread (or up above on this one?) It and the related radiation trouble around that town is to do with nuclear weapons development rather than nuclear power, and the worst of it was done back in a time when most industry (even in the West) was fast and loose with pollution standards. Nuclear industries need to be considered in the light of the general safety standards of the era- e.g. Chernobyl happened at a time when companies like Union Carbide could get away with mass murder in India, and were actively campaigning against acid rain legislation in Europe and the US.

    It’s worth remembering that industrial safety was pretty bad in the 80s, regardless of the industry.

  333. akn

    Dear sg, about thirty years ago the anti-nuke movement took the position that the issues were i) danger from radioactive accidents (proved at least so far as thyroid cancer is concerned); ii) danger from weapons proliferation (proved – India’s weapons were in part derived from a Canadian designed power plant and also proved in so far as each nuke plant represents a potentially dirty bomb that only needs conventional weapons to set it off); iii) vast problems associated with safe storage of waste.

    We’ve been proven correct on all fronts. Over the years more and more we’ve emphasised the governance/corporate corruption nexus as a focus of greatest concern.

    So, this interview with a TEPCO employeeinterview with a TEPCO employee ought to at least give you cause for concern. It would be a relief to see you address these sorts of distinctly political issues instead or resrticting your argument to unprovable theses about low level risks from radioactive pollution.

    The teaser to the article states:

    A Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO) worker has spoken out over the firm’s power plant control failures and culture of silence. This text is based on a phone interview conducted in Japanese. Because he distrusts the Japanese media, the TEPCO employee had spoken to a blogger, who then passed the story on to SPIEGEL. The magazine knows which department the employee works in and has verified his identity.

  334. sg

    Akn, if it’s your opinion that the debate on health boils down to

    unprovable theses about low level risks from radioactive pollution

    how can you then claim that the anti-nuke movement was right to have identified the twin problems of i) danger from radioactive accidents and ii) storage of waste?

    Surely you need to prove the former before you can make any claims about how problematic the latter are?

  335. Eric Sykes

    Nice side step again sg…gee you are good at them…Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly have got nothing on you.

  336. akn

    No, I say that the proof of risks from the Cesium, Strontium and Plutonium are well known. Otherwise, it is you who argues the absence of evidence on grounds that are untestable by any scientific method and therefore not proved to your satisfaction.

    How about addressing my question?

  337. sg

    sidestep, Eric? Suggesting facts are required before claiming you were right is a side-step now, is it?

    akn I don’t see any question marks in your comment, but I have repeatedly stated that I think the nuclear industry is dodgy. Nothing I say makes any difference though, does it, because I don’t think low level radiation si dangerous so I must be the very agent of satan himself.

    It’s not me arguing the absence of evidence. I’ve repeatedly observed the heightened risk of cancer in various populations (children, liquidators, hiroshima survivors). What I’m arguing is for a genuine, realistic assessment of this risk rather than the kind of hyperbole being seen here. E.g. that spiegel article Helen links to that claims “countless” deaths have been attributed to the Hiroshima bombing. Really, countless? In a city of a million people, countless seems like a bit of hyperbole, don’t you think?

    It’s not as if you aren’t quick to grab the evidence where it does exist. So all this talk of “absence of evidence” is just an excuse, as far as I can see.

  338. akn

    sg, I wrote that “it would be a relief to see you address these sorts of distinctly political issues”, ie, around the ‘nuclear club’, by which I mean the endless recycling of personnel between corporate and research positions, within the context of proven corporate corruption and inadequate governance. You haven’t and arguing that “the nuclear industry is dodgy” doesn’t suggest a real understanding of the scale and depth of the problem.

    Regarding scientific evidence: you have, it appears to me, resolutely argued that there is little to no evidence of the negative health effects of low level radiation over time. I’ll point out, however, that accepted standards in occupational health and safety around radiation exposure within medicine call for:

    ALARP, (which is) an acronym for an important principle in exposure to radiation and other occupational health risks and stands for As Low As Reasonably Practicable. The aim is to minimize the risk of radioactive exposure or other hazard while keeping in mind that some exposure may be acceptable in order to further the task at hand. The equivalent term ALARA, As Low As Reasonably Achievable, is more commonly used in the United States and Canada.

    I’d say that your general position is of the same order in so far as you seem to think that levels of exposure are acceptable on a basis of ‘as low as possible’ or ‘as low as practicable’ except that the risk is born by entire populations; you deem it reasonable on the basis of maintaining energy production status quo.

    In support of this position you’ve claimed that the risks from nuclear radiation are less to populations and workers than other forms of energy production. Katz made the deadly point on the other thread that global warming was an unforseen consequence of coal and oil use and that we’d be mad to not take into account the risks of nukes before we discover that the risk is real and global.

    I’ve been waiting for you to claim that melanoma deaths are evidence of the risks of solar power. I’ll probably regret bringing this to your attention.

    I’ve worked extensively in medical settings and noted the alacrity with which radiologists pull on lead aprons to protect their goolies. I cannot grasp quite why the prospect of being radiated seems to give you a hard on but it is abundantly clear by now that you love the smell of a radioactive plume in the morning because…well, it must represent some sort of victory to you but God only knows what it is.

    You weary me.

  339. Hakea

    George Monbiot neatly skewers Helen Caldicott’s lies and distortions.

    AKN, your “nuclear club” conspiracy theory is precisely the same as the “global warming club” conspiracy theory promulgated by right wing shock-jocks, the only thing that differs is the actors, with the latter conspiracy involving the UN, a self-selected IPCC, grant-hungry scientists and the left-wing chattering classes.

    I submit that both conspiracy theories have equal merit, namely not much at all.

  340. sg

    akn, I’ve more than once explained my opinion of the nuclear industry in a little more detail than “it’s dodgy,” but you and others consistently ignore anything I say that doesn’t fit your stereotype, e.g. that I “love the smell of a radioactive plume in the morning.” I don’t, and I’m happy with the idea of protective measures against radiation.

    You’re once again belligerently misrepresenting me. It’s important to understand what the minimal public health response to radiation leaks like Fukushima should be if one is to assess the nuclear industry properly. It used to be that the industry was on its way out, but due to the shenanigans of the far right – using tactics which, as hakea points out, are very similar to what’s being recycled by the anti-nuclear kids on this thread – we have dithered over climate change for 20 years and now we have to make harder choices. It would be good if those choices were based in fact rather than fiction.

    The reality is that even a catstrophic chernobyl style meltdown isn’t going to be particularly bad for the health of people in Tokyo. That’s an important consideration. As Monbiot observed, a catastrophic event that killed 20,000 people and necessitated the evacuation of 300,000 more has failed to cause a meltdown in a 40 year old reactor, led to the evacuation of 20,000 and temporary suspension of some food production – in an area whose citizens aren’t able to work at the moment anyway – and has killed noone. There are worse things that can happen than this nuclear meltdown and it only happened because of a catastrophic event that wasn’t predicted at the time the plant was built – a time we know had much laxer safety rules than now (remember this was the time when aerial spraying of DDT was considered good!)

    This means that in a well-managed industry radiation is not the health risk you make it out to be. Given that solar power is not going to take up the load, we need alternatives. 30 more years of nuclear could be what we’re looking for.

    You want everyone to cut down on their consumption, which is admirable, but using dodgy health stats to achieve that goal is pretty shitty. As is using a catastrophe of staggering proportions – in su’s case with a fair amount of gloating and rudeness to boot, and in yours with the odd nasty little aside about Japanese customs, which you invariably get wrong – to push that point. Especially since the computer you wrote your last post on, the server that hosted the quote you took, the train you took to work, and the car you drive were likely built at least partially with nuclear power. There’s a certain irony in your pushing for reduced consumption in those circumstances.

  341. Katz
  342. akn

    Thanks for that Katz. Of course, that the amount of strontium released is small needs to be carefully fact checked over time. Moreover, that it was only a small amount (maybe) is a matter of pure chance iven that the plant was burning MOX and had who knows what stored in the tanks over the reactors.

  343. akn

    sg: you’re not too bad yourself with the unpleasant asides. For your information my own experience of Japanese culture is informed by a meagre but nevertheless rigorous three month winter retreat at a Kytoto Zen monastery and knowledge that was subsequently informed by that experience. Unusual, perhaps, but not entirely uninformed. I’d happily discuss some of the distinctive peculiarities of Japanese culture further because I think that they are relevant to this nuke situation. Open to you if you want that.

    As to the idea that I am beholden in some way to nuke energy because nuke power produced may have been or more likely was used to produce technology that I use – well, really, I think that the Mayans and the Aztec priests took a similar attitude to human sacrifice and sun worship. What do you want, my beating heart as token of gratitude?

  344. terangeree
  345. Nick

    Nuclear dilemma: Adequate insurance too expensive

    Governments that use nuclear energy are torn between the benefit of low-cost electricity and the risk of a nuclear catastrophe, which could total trillions of dollars and even bankrupt a country.

    The bottom line is that it’s a gamble: Governments are hoping to dodge a one-time disaster while they accumulate small gains over the long-term. Yet in financial terms, nuclear incidents can be so devastating that the cost of full insurance would be so high as to make nuclear energy more expensive than fossil fuels.

    The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a German plant, for example, has been estimated to total as much as euro7.6 trillion ($11 trillion), while the mandatory reactor insurance is only euro2.5 billion ($3.65 billion).

    “The euro2.5 billion will be just enough to buy the stamps for the letters of condolence,” said Olav Hohmeyer, an economist at the University of Flensburg who is also a member of the German government’s environmental advisory body.

  346. su

    A 30-year-old emergency worker from a subcontractor said he had been told by an official of a primary contractor shortly before joining in restoration work at the troubled nuclear power plant in late March that, “The dose of radiation you are going to be exposed to this time will not be on your radiation exposure registration record. So, don’t worry.”


    This is how it goes – use group dosimetry rather than individual dosimetry, fail to record doses accurately, then down the track, say that the doses received are insufficient to account for any rise in disease rates (using the dose-response curves) therefore they can be set down to early detection and a rise in the overall incidence of that disease.