Core containment structures may have held, but Update: The battle to prevent a meltdown appears to have been lost, according to Former GE boiling-water safety chief Richard Lahey.
The damage to fuel storage facilities at Fukushima appear to have caused significant fallout. As I pointed out a week ago at New Matilda, there are at least three quite separate bodies of knowledge that need to be called upon to deal with the Fukushima incident: the first and second are nuclear physics and engineering, whose epistemological bases are built on a variety of grand state-sponsored science projects and the third on radiation science. As I put it then:
It’s worth noting here that once highly radioactive cesium and iodine elements are released into the environment, entirely separate bodies of knowledge are needed to deal with their movement. Because such releases are relatively rare, knowledge about the movement of radiation through the atmosphere, soils, plants and animals is basically a form of bricolage. Field testing radiation leakage models would hardly pass any Ethics Committee, so risk management of public health radiation is based on extrapolations and models that deserve public scrutiny. We’re in the terrain of what Bruno Latour calls “matters of concern”, rather than “matters of fact” here… This isn’t to say science should be suppressed or excluded — it’s indispensable to eventually addressing those matters of concern
The first of these scientific reports were based on existing radiation monitoring equipment near the gate of Fukushima. Many nuclear advocates have used this data to condemn others as being irrational or hysterical about the impacts (most notably George Monbiot). However it’s increasingly clear that making such judgments on this set of ad hoc measurements may have been premature. New Scientist is reporting a secondary set of readings based on systems to monitor clandestine nuclear weapons testing
Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released
The authors of the study are confident in the veracity of the data because, amongst other reasons, “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.” The Japanese have sophisticated public health policies associated with radiation and appear to be taking conservative measures to prevent any ill health effects.
Elsewhere: US Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci asks If We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know?