I've been very irritated to read the irresponsible guff put out by most US news media about the nuclear reactor problems in Japan (about which I wrote a couple of days ago). They continue to make mountains out of molehills, and consult 'experts' who are, in all too many cases, anti-nuclear campaigners, out to score points for their side of the nuclear power debate. It's nothing more or less than a deliberate deception being foisted on the American public.
Dr. Jerry Pournelle, who has scientific credentials out the wazoo (and who was blogging before blogs were invented), has an excellent summary of the situation.
The important lesson from Japan is that we took obsolete reactors with old designs and safety features, and subjected them to a 9.0 quake and a very large tsunami, and the damage to the planet is an unfortunate but hardly decisive event. It is now time to stop worrying about this mess until things settle and we can see precisely what we have learned, and factor that into the next generation designs. Note that almost everywhere in the world we are building reactors with much better design and far better safety features than those being destroyed now. Concentration on how awful is the nuclear mess takes our attention off the economic and human disasters from the earthquake and tsunami.
. . .
As I go to bed, most of the plant workers have exceeded their annual badge limits and are being sent home. There will be a circulation of atomjacks over the next few weeks as these heroes continue to make sure that the amount of radiation emitted is minimized. It is clear from the numbers which I finally got that what is being emitted is fission products, not actinide oxides. The inventory is not going up the flu[e]. The scenario for that to happen requires that the reactors be intact, and temperatures of live steam in the order of 500 C; that will dissolve a lot of stuff, and as water dissociates you get a pretty corrosive situation. The solution to this is to keep pumping in water. Boric acid is also pumped in to further damp out reactions. The reactors are well below critical reaction rate but there can be some interaction, so absorbing neutrons helps the cooling process. Cooling out will take time, and should be monitored, but it doesn't take the large crew of normal operations to do that, so of course as many workers as possible are being sent home. The main injuries, now that the quake and tsunami are over, will be exceeding dosage limits. The remedy is to be sent home. That is happening but of course since they will need workers over time they send home all that aren't immediately needed.
I am getting weary of the breathless panic in the media including Fox News. For some it's ignorance. For others it's simply trying to keep the story going. But the truth here is that the situation is not good because it is not going away fast, and given the tsunami devastation around the power plant -- including the houses of a number of the plant workers, I would wager -- evacuation is difficult. Plant periphery emissions have been high at peak but haven't been sustained. They will probably spike again. There may be some exposure of people off site, but so far to the best I can get from the numbers, no one off site has received any dosage that would have caused them to be sent home if they worked in the plants.
That ain't good, but it isn't being run over by a freight train, and since most of those people live in a devastated flood plain they have a lot more to worry about than radiation exposure. The situation isn't good, and there will be some more setbacks simply because it is so hard to get into there now, but neither the world nor the Japanese people are in any great danger. Godzilla isn't going to rise up out of the Godzilla Springs resort...
There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading.
Ann Coulter points out, tongue in cheek, that there may even be an unexpected good side to the release of radiation.
With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan, the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer.
This only seems counterintuitive because of media hysteria for the past 20 years trying to convince Americans that radiation at any dose is bad. There is, however, burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.
As The New York Times science section reported in 2001, an increasing number of scientists believe that at some level -- much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government -- radiation is good for you. "They theorize," the Times said, that "these doses protect against cancer by activating cells' natural defense mechanisms."
Again, more at the link.
Finally, the Mistress of Snark puts the news media in their place with her usual masterful (or should that be mistressful?) style. Go read.