One of the little things that I’m noticing in the dozen Fukushima-related tabs I refresh regularly is that shitty news comes in two turds, and the second one smells the worst. So, yesterday’s report that workers received under 200 millisieverts of radiation, and burns on their feet, when water topped their boots is now revised to say this:
Tests revealed that while the two received 170 to 180 millisieverts of radiation, within the maximum allowable dose of 250 millisieverts for a nuclear plant worker, their feet were exposed to between 2 and 6 sieverts. One sievert is equivalent to 1,000 millisieverts. But their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening and will be treated the same way as regular burns, the institute said, adding that the workers are able to walk unassisted.
The “holy shit” part of the story is the 2-6 sieverts of dosage on the feet. Other reports say that the workers were in the water for 2-3 hours, so the water in that part of the plant is extremely radioactive (emitting a dose of a couple of sieverts per hour). A full body dose of 6 sieverts is severe to deadly. (This chart is helpful.) This means that we’re getting to the point where parts of the plant cannot be entered by human beings who want to survive to their next birthday.
In other news, there’s an awful lot of radioactive iodine, and by “awful lot” I mean 1250 times the allowed standard, being discharged into the sea by the plants.
Just a quick point about full body dose Vs. partial body dose, Although the dosages to their feet are very serious, and might require skin grafts (more than 2 Sievert (Sv) causes peeling of the skin) the feet are one of the better (relatively) places to get such a severe dose. 2-6 Sv is fatal if the whole body receives that dose, but people have survived much higher doses when the area of the dose is limited, and there is an entire academic field, dosimetery, that tries to answer these questions. As far as the largest dose that any one individual survived, Anatoli Bugorski got a 2000 Sv dose through the head when the particle accelerator he was working on got turned on (1000 Grays of protons = 2000 Sv).
What happens when you stick your head in a particle accelerator
I heard the seawater story a few minutes ago on National Patriotic Radio, and my immediate reaction to hearing that dumping vast amounts of seawater onto the plants had probably meant radioactive water was draining into the sea was hoocoodanode.
Pretty much the reaction I’ll have when the bland assurance that we’re all safe because there is a fishing exclusions zone turns out to be just a tad optimistic (damn fish, they swam away!).
Fuck me. I think on balance nuclear beats coal, but it helps to have competence and honesty on board, which is the serious problem with the nuke industry. Thank god that shit was never given to the private sector in my country.
BBC had an interesting story about the Greens/SocDems in Germany poised to end Merkel’s ruling coalition in Baden Wuerttemberg. The reporter mic’d a solitary demonstrator pounding a drum while chanting over and over and over “Fukushima”. It was very Bergmanesque, effective and chilling.
Yes, it’s not quite so bad, in a relative sense, as it may sound. They only got such a high local dose because their lower legs were literally soaked in the radioactive material (water). And the rest of their body wasn’t harmed. Presumably other people can enter using better protective gear. It’s the difference between being near a flame, and having one’s feet in the fire.
Well, my understanding is that there is an awful lot of seawater available, so theoretically discharges will get diluted. Haven’t the Russians dumped a bunch of there ex-Naval reactors in the sea up in the Arctic circle?
OTOH, I still haven’t been able to form a clear picture of the scale of contamination, nor the mechanism by which it is being dispersed, and I am furthermore unclear as to what the implications are for the state of the cores and/or fuel ponds.
That maximum allowable does of 250mSv is per year, and only after the shit has hit the fan. The usual maximum dose when working in a perfectly safe, nothing could go wrong nuclear power plant 50 mSv pa. When it stops being being perfectly safe and reliable, magically it becomes safe for workers to take five times as much radiation. It costs a lot to build those plants, workers are cheap.
I had been reading it was 100 mSv, but the linked page says 5 rem, which is 50 mSv according to Wolfram
hartAlpha. they point out that 50mSv is 17 times a normal radiation does that you get from just being on earth.
The iodine, happily, decays quite quickly, with a half life of about 8 days, so in a couple months it should be just about gone. It’s the cesium and other elements you have to watch out for.
What some people are thinking is that heavier radioactive elements will precipitate out more quickly and sink to the sea floor around Japan.
Except for the amounts ingested by fish, of course. There’s always that pesky exception.
I’d especially stay away from flounder. Just saying.
Well, one does have to balance the risks and make trade-offs. How much more of an increase in cancer is their for the increased exposure vs the implication of a larger release of radiation or a release of radioactive materials, &c. It’s fucked up in some ways, but in others it’s just what we do every day.
@AhabTRuler: There’s absolutely no denying the workers are screwed, but I’m not sure what the alternative is? Nobody goes in the plant and we just let nature take its course?
Of course, I’d prefer if the higher ups got in on the radiation as well…
@Julia Grey: cesium 137 has a half life of 30 years, and generally the use 10 decays as the threshold for safe.
Of course people that believe the earth is only 5,000 years old probably don’t believe radioactive decay can be timed. (c14 dating is a tool of the devil after all.)
Don’t you feel great about that republican majority in the House?
@Seebach: On a philosophical level, I think that by the time you get to a situation like that, the time for asking the question “how did I, or we, get here?” has long since passed. We send a great many people into deadly situations for lousy pay, but this situation is less morally clear than firefighters, cops, or soldiers.
It also doesn’t help that it is both not visible and a deliberate process.
Also, too: I would also like to see Mr. Weepy-San out at the plant lugging a hose or wrenching on a pump, but one gets the idea that he would be spectacularly useless in that regard, and would probably only get in the way.
Davis X. Machina
Or turtles. Provided of course the turtles stay away from you.
@AhabTRuler: I just can’t figure out what the appropriate punishment is. “300-year long oops,” doesn’t really cut it? Asset forfeiture and selling the children of the management into slavery? Cryogenic freezing until we can figure out what to do with the culprits? Firing them out of a cannon into the sun?
@Davis X. Machina: I’m more of a Jetto Jagā man, really.
But remember… coal is the real menace!
@Joe Beese:Coal has its problems as well. You know that, but, of course, simplistic sloganeering is your stock in trade. Have at it.
I am so glad Bush isn’t around to say nukular.
When a nuke plant dumps waste into the atmosphere, it’s considered disastrous.
When a coal plant dumps waste into the atmosphere, it’s considered routine.
I’d feel better about this if…
a. I think the Japanese equivalent of the head of the NRC wasn’t saying the same thing about a month ago,
and b. If I thought Mr. Jaczko had said at his job interview to head the NRC that Nuclear plants need billions of dollars of upgrading and at least a few of the older ones or those build on faults should be shut down … that he would have any chance at all of getting the job.
It is not that he is dishonest, but anyone who really feels there is much change needed from the status quo will never be put in his position.
When a coal mine wipes out three counties by dumping a toxic sludge pond it’s “Oh well, we don’t have to worry about that happening again because the rest of the sludge pond dams are safe.”
When a hydroelectric dam fails and wipes out an entire village in Wyoming it’s “Oh well, we don’t have to worry about that happening again because it was just a fluke.”
Disasters are, by definition, things that happen to other people.
Davis X. Machina
@lol:Here in Maine, downwind from the whole country, I don’t mind the few extra seconds it takes to grasp my fish by the tail and swing it a few times to work the mercury down to the other end. After all it worked a treat for thermometers all those years.
@Omnes Omnibus: I understand what you are saying, but I think in this case there is some small justice in what Mr. Beese says. Their has been a somewhat aggressive emphasis on the relative health and safety merits of coal vs nukular (h/t Maude)of late.
@Davis X. Machina: Thanks for the laugh! My first since March 11, so i thought it worth reporting.
One report I heard about these workers with the radiation burns on their feet said that they were injured by beta radiation. But that was the only report of this episode that mentioned beta.
I guess beta would explain the superficiality of the injuries, the ability to receive a dose that would kill if delivered by more energetic or penetrative particles, and only have localized burns where the contaminated water got inside their boots.
But what gives out beta so fiercely, but not also more penetrative forms of radiation?
If those quotes are from the workers themselves, they may not have been told the full extent of their exposure.
Is that too cynical?
Cesium and iodine levels are continuing to rise. That means fuel in use or the spent fuel is continuing to overheat and burn.
Axtual radiation released isn’t the biggest concern. The radionuclides (radioactive particles) are far more dangerous as they continue to do damage once inhaled or ingested. I hope they used some sort of chelating agent on those workers to bind and remove any radioactive metals that might have stuck to their skin.
Gamma radiation commonly occurs along with beta radiation. The workers likely got a dose of both.
Most fission products encountered in a situation like this are beta emitters — iodine-131 is one example where 90% of its decay is via emission of a beta particle. I-131 with a half-life of 8 days dies away fast and so is rarely found in spent fuel that’s been stored for any length of time, like the fuel rods in the storage pools which have been there for months to years. That means almost all the I-131 being detected anywhere away from the reactor site came from the rods currently in the cores. The real worry is that both the containments and the reactor vessels have failed and there is a direct route between the fuel pellets in damaged fuel rods and the outside world. Alternatively the dispersed I-131 may have come from the steam/hydrogen venting done early on plus overflow from the water pumped into the vessels afterwards in which case no more will get out and the levels should decay noticeably within a few weeks.
Right now the operators don’t know exactly what condition the core, the fuel rods, the vessels and the containment structures are in. They can’t really do anything about them right now anyway, their first aim is to get the four reactors into cold shutdown (when the water in the vessel doesn’t boil into steam) with working cooling loops and to restore closed-loop cooling water flow to the fuel storage ponds in the reactor buildings.
It’s a serious problem throughout the energy industry (and probably every other industry as well), it’s just that the consequences of incompetent dishonesty in the coal industry are not so dire. (Although you probably can’t prove that by the people in East Tennessee whose homes were inundated by 1.1 billion gallons of toxic, heavy-metal-contaminated coal slurry.)
Where in the hell did this information come from? I’m to believe that workers received 4 – 6 Sv (4 Sv from the chart says survival is possible with massive treatment) and no one is saying this!? I am struggling to believe that any company would allow such massive doses for workers – where in the fuck were the radiation detectors (active) for these men to check the water before walking into it!? This is beyond insane – it can’t be correct. Remember, the chart you posted says 9 Sv is fatal (100% death no matter what is done.) How is this possible in a first world country … help us here.
By the way, a Siervert is absorbed dose, so the effects are equally as bad no matter the type of radiation
From what I’ve heard the workers ignored the dosimeter alarms and continued to lay electrical cables in the turbine halls which are partially flooded. The management can yell at folks to follow the safety rules but sometimes they don’t listen for whatever reason.
> Remember, the chart you posted says 9 Sv is
> fatal (100% death no matter what is done.)
Some parts of the body can handle greater doses than others. A “certainly fatal” dose to the /whole body/ is not the same as the same equivalent dose to a finger or foot (consider how long your hands can stand being immersed in icewater vs. your entire body immersed in icewater, for a useful-but-greatly-simplified analogy). In certain operations it is not unheard of for the technician to have separate dosimeters on one or more fingers and on the wrist (say), as well as a whole-body device.
@Cermet: The chart is generalized and more or less assumes full-body exposure, whereas this dose was only to the feet. Also, if you a) have good reason to think you’re a dead man walking anyway, and b) believe that what you’re doing will save thousands if not millions of lives, you have more incentive to ignore the dosimeter alarms.
Some people will do the necessary thing even when it means serious injury or possible death. I imagine these folks know the dangers of what they are doing. They most likely also know the dangers of not doing anything. Probably better than most of the rest of us. It sounds like it needs to be done by someone and all of the choices are bad.
I’d say that these are exactly the kind of people we call heroes.
…aaaaaaaand the subject draws a Google ad for Reishi (a kind of mushroom, sez Wikipedia) as a preventative for radiation poisoning. Great.
The Iodine-131 release isn’t nearly as significant as the Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 because I-131 has a half-life of 8 days. Within less than 3 months essentially all the I-131 will be gone.
Obviously that doesn’t mean we can ignore it, and clearly people should take KI supplements, but the real issue with Cesium and Strontium is that they’re bone-seekers and stay radioactive for many decades. Once you’ve got radiocesium or radiostrontium in your bones, you’re in trouble. And this stuff is going to just stay in the environment. The I-131 will decay fairly fast.
@mclaren: Iodine-131 is a major fraction of the isotopes produced by fission; I’ve seen numbers that say it makes up around 3% of all the daughter isotopes. That’s why it’s the most commonly detected isotope after nuclear weapons tests, even underground ones since it’s a gas at standard temperature and pressure (STP) so it leaks up through the rock and soil to reach the surface. Its bioconcentration in the thyroid gland is why it is proactively dealt with when major exposures occur, like in Fukushima and Tchernobyl.
The cesium-137 and strontium-90 releases are much less in quantity than the flagship iodine-131 numbers because there is a lot less of them to start with. The bad news is that the exposed fuel rods in the cooling ponds do contain significant amounts of cesium-137 and strontium-90 (and to a lesser extent technetium) but not as much iodine-131 since they’ve been in store for months or years and most of their iodine-131 has decayed to non-radioactive xenon-86 which is benign.
I’ve not seen any alerts about the amounts of radioactive cesium and strontium detected from the Fukushima plants; I do know that in the case of Tchernobyl the plume of material that reached the UK carried enough cesium-137 that it caused worry about the contamination levels in meat production, specifically sheep farming on uplands pastures which was and still is restricted in some areas. On the other hand Tchernobyl released bulk quantities of particulates high into the atmosphere resulting in a wide dispersion of large parts of its slagged-down core. Both Cs-137 and Sr-90 are solids (as oxides mostly) at STP so the only way they can be widely spread is as particulates or combustion products and there’s no evidence yet that any large-scale widespread release of particulates from either the reactor vessels or the cooling ponds has actually happened. I do expect that there’s a certain amount of such material lying around near the reactor buildings due to the hydrogen gas explosions but wider dispersal usually requires something like an atmospheric weapons detonation or the total destruction of a fuel core with no containment at all as at Tchernobyl and this is nothing like the situation at Fukushima.
It might be that there has been a major release of longer-lived radioactive particulates from the Fukushima plants and the Japanese and IAEA authorities are not making the information public for various reasons but it’s not something that can be kept secret for any length of time.