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  • Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 15th, 2011

    Hi Blog.  I have to admit being thoroughly confused about what’s going on at Fukushima’s nuclear power plant.  Are we in danger of a nuclear meltdown or aren’t we?

    I’m hearing from NHK and the connected authorities that there is no cause for concern and everything is under control (as roofs get blown off plant buildings).

    I’m also hearing from overseas sources that there is little cause for alarm.  For example, here.

    Yet I’m hearing from sources on the ground without an interest in the nuclear power industry making statements like these:

    (Source is anonymized, but is a trustworthy on about matters dealing with U.S. military:)

    ========================

    March 14, 2011:  You are absolutely right to have zero trust in Government of Japan (GOJ) or Japanese-controlled press on this.  The Japanese authorities simply won’t confirm the meltdown that is occurring.  Here are some of the facts from the western press:

    1.  The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.
    2.  17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.  All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.
    3.  The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.
    4.  The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods.  This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors.  After that, they are out of options.
    5.  Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air.  The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.
    6.  The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

    Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers.  They are reporting 1600 casualties right now.  That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”.  That is the way the GOJ operates.   They are simply not forthcoming with information.  The US Govt. was extremely frustrated at this way of operating during the Kobe earthquake.  The US Government could not get adequate situational awareness because the GOJ was simply not forthcoming.  This is no different.

    Right now, the GOJ “officials have yet to confirm a meltdown because IT IS TOO HOT INSIDE THE TO CHECK.” (cnn.com) So, do they expect the reactor to cool down so they can check and confirm that the rods are actually melting?  Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japan’s prime minister, said Sunday the situation was “under control.” (cnn.com).   Under control? You can’t confirm if the rods are melting because it’s too hot to check, but everything is under control?

    Stephanie Cooke, editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly for the atomic-energy community, said best summarized the GOJ on this issue by saying “The more they say they’re in control, the more I sense things may be out of control. (cnn.com)”

    ========================

    So which is it?  Again, Debito.org is disinclined to trust official sources given their record regarding safety and forthcomingness (witness 1999′s nuclear accident at Tokai-mura and the consequent media debacle).  But I wish I knew what to believe.  Suggestions and links from Debito.org Readers welcome.  Arudou Debito

    UPDATE MARCH 16: The thing that I don’t get about recent developments is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues.  Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy?  “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

    70 Responses to “Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?”

    1. Steve Says:

      I think you will find that the Onagawa nuclear facility is to the north of the Fukushima plants and further from Tokyo. There were earlier reports of high radiation levels at the Tokai plant which is, in fact, closer to Tokyo. Later reports suggest that those readings may have been lifted by leakages from the Fukushima Daiichi event.

      Someone should have double checked their facts. It tends to diminish the credibility of the real threats when false threats are posted.

    2. AT Says:

      OMG, that’s scary!!!!1
      Do you have any reliable information about:
      1. Can we expect a Chernobyl type explosion?
      2. How much radiation constitutes a serious health risk? Like, equivalent to X numbers of x-ray exams?
      3. How much radiation could actually be released into the air by a meltdown at these reactors?
      4. How much radiation would be dispersed by the wind before it reaches Tokyo?
      4. How much radiation would be sustained by an unprotetwd person in Tokyo if the wind blows in that direction?

    3. Edmund in Tokyo Says:

      I’m not seeing anything in the “facts from the Western press” that contradicts the official story, which is that they leaked radiation, and the wind carried it out to sea.

      More than covering things up, I’d be worried about them screwing things up. The guys working on this must be sleep-deprived and under horrendous stress.

    4. sendaiben Says:

      My take on this? When the Prime Minister personally takes charge of a crisis at 2am in the midst of a wider national emergency, it is not ‘under control’.

      I took my family to Kanazawa (western Japan) early on Sunday morning, driving across from Sendai for 16 hours. I had to drag my in-laws as they believed the government line that nothing was wrong. It’s probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.

    5. JYL Ogura Says:

      “The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.”

      Onagawa is NOT closer to Tokyo. That is ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. It’s close to Sendai. It might be a simple error and does not equal to the gravity of the situation. However, people should check their geography first before making simple mistakes like that.

    6. Yamato Says:

      The GOJ has been lying to us this whole time about the location of a nuclear power plant – Onogawa is actually closer to Tokyo!!

      Glad that’s been cleared up.

      Tends to dampen down the trustworthiness of a source if they can’t read a map wouldn’t you think?

    7. InJM Says:

      I did hear the Navy helicopters test positve for contamination but I also heard the level of contamination was nothing to be worried about from the Navy commander holding a press conference.

    8. Chris B Says:

      I seriously hope the GoJ/Nuclear Company is/are not holding back the truth on this, but I have to admit the circumstantial evidence, as you pointed out is really not good.

      I just heard on NHK that there are flames coming from one of the reactors, that doesn’t sound good at all, it was when the reactor at Chenobyl actually caught fire that the damage was done – much mroe serious that the hydrogen explosions we have seen before.

      It’s really unforgivable that there were no adequate back ups to the power plants, especially after all the previous scandals.

      Japan almost certainly needs nuclear energy, no chances should have been taken with safety and no misinformation should be put out now as it will undermine any shred of public confidence that might have been remaining.

      Given that this earthquake might be the 5th biggest on record anywhere ever, a bitg of a wobble with one or two plants might be forgivable, but a melt down that releases significant radiation is just not excusable.

    9. Curzon Says:

      Your “trustworthy source” is a tool.

      “17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.”

      Actually, every human being on the planet tests positive for radioactivity. How many micro sieverts? That’s the same response to all the other comments about “abnormally high radiation” and “radioactive plume” — basically your source sounds like he knows nothing about the science involved. I hope he never has to fly on an airplane or get an MRI.

      “The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods. This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors. After that, they are out of options.”

      Oh my God! When they run out of oceanwater — we’re finished!

    10. john k Says:

      Major Major Kudos to Ryan Macdonald.

      He was just interviewed on the BBC, via skype. He is an American teaching English who live(d) near Fukushima Nuke Plant. He very clearly said he does not trust the NHK nor the Power Plant reps and their ‘explanations’ because of the Japanese culture of trying to keep up the appearance of “things being ok”. Not lying (well we do know this occurs) but not telling the whole truth and not directly.

      He said he watches BBC and CNN to get clear concise direct information. Which is clearly said he does not get in Japan. He had a major global audiance to deliver his message; the one we NJs live with daily.

      I suspect that these reporters from the BBC and CNN will take their own Geiger counters for proper independent tests to confirm/deny what is being said; which no western person believes (and now some Japanese being interviewed on BBC are speaking publicy about their lack of trust in their Govt/system too).

      Tokyo Eletric have covered up so many accidents and deaths that it is a joke. No other nuclear powered country would tolerate such a breach of HES issues. But of course that requires independent agencies and with the mandate to shut down failing plants. Again, not in harmony with the Japanese culture/business.

      This episode of how the Japanese deal with the nuclear plants and how they report this, could be the catalyst that is required for transparancy in business/companies/employment/laws….but i wont hold my breath

    11. Rob Says:

      http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/

      I found this to be a very useful explanation of what’s happening in the nuclear plants.

    12. jjobseeker Says:

      “Question everything, trust nothing” is the motto I go buy. Don’t accept “facts” on face value. Do your own research & investigation and confirm what you read or hear. If you can’t or are too lazy to, then the least you can do is to keep it to yourself and not spread misinformation around.

    13. cstaylor Says:

      The NYTimes and Washington Post are good sources of information. Initial reports are that all workers have left the area, and a fire has started at reactor 4.

      I think the Japanese government itself is getting the run around from TEPCO.

    14. James N Says:

      Where is the best place to run when there is no train service and no gasoline? I live in Fukushima City.

    15. Chuckie Says:

      “Someone should have double checked their facts. It tends to diminish the credibility of the real threats when false threats are posted.” Good call, Steve.

      Here’s another:

      “They are reporting 1600 casualties right now. That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”. That is the way the GOJ operates. ”

      That’s the way every govt. operates, I should think. Confirm dead and give increasingly accurate estimates on the missing and unidentified bodies. On the other hand, how much do you wish these guys were asking questions of Tepco, the GoJ and the power plant owners, rather than the kisha club lackeys?
      http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/14/exp.arena.japan.nuclear.tepco.cnn?hpt=C2

    16. jjobseeker Says:

      Here’s something I will throw out there. As much as I tend to not trust the government (of any country), we have to remember that we are not in the LDP era. This is the DPJ era. If PM Kan and his administration handle this properly, there will be nothing–I repeat nothing–the LDP will be able to do to knock the DPJ and PM Kan out of Nagatacho. That alone is incredible incentive for them to get this right. As Cstaylor mentions, I think the real culprit here is TEPCO. For now, I will give PM Kan the benefit of the doubt and see how things are handled.

    17. tkyosam Says:

      You all need to chill.

      Yo dude, my uncle, mom and everybody is being like “sh*ts gonna explode! run n****! ruuuuuuuuun!!!”

      I’ve been doing tons of research online about all this shit -.-

      Check out this vid, tons of lecture from the University of California Berkeley there:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BHdsjo-NR4

      Also this blog really calmed me down:
      http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

      http://satwcomic.com/don-t-panic

      Instead of freaking out, please educate yourselves about this as much as possible. shizzle

      Sam (i live in tokyo)

    18. Steve Says:

      Rob, I went through the posts at your recommended site. Looking at all the information with a couple of days of hindsight, it is obvious that every assertion that things weren’t that bad and couldn’t get any worse, have been totally belied by subsequent posts. Almost everything that the author said couldn’t possibly happen, has happened, and rather quickly. His optimism has been proved to have been totally misguided.

    19. Shombo Says:

      >Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers. They are reporting 1600 casualties right now. That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”. That is the way the GOJ operates.

      Err… That’s how **every** government operates. They don’t announce official death totals unless individuals have been confirmed.

    20. Doug Says:

      I believe the events of today (Tuesday) answer Debito-san’s question. I also have good reason to believe that the process of rod melt started late Friday night or very early Sat morning. If you are in Kanto please watch prevailing winds. We now have radiation leaking from containment in unit 2 and a fire in a spent fuel pond. This is a tragedy

    21. Ken44 Says:

      @13
      —–I think the Japanese government itself is getting the run around from TEPCO—-

      The news anchors at CNN are furious at the way TEPCO has given up-dates. It’s only because the US has aircraft monitoring radiation levels that we have an accurate picture.

      I’m in the US right now and according to news reports the situation is getting steadly worse. Unless the U.S. can provide some much needed help I think we can expect a complete meltdown of one or more of the reactors.

    22. James Annan Says:

      After reading the headline, I’m relieved to see such sanity in many of the comments. Thank you for restoring my faith in human nature somewhat. Seriously, Debito, this is some pretty irresponsible scaremongering you are promoting here. Yeah, “free speech” and all that. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. And yes, I agree that the Japanese Govt is not necessarily to be trusted (though perhaps TEPCO is the main culprit here). But that doesn’t mean the end of the world is nigh.

      Perhaps it’s the result of too many people with nothing more to do that sit and watch the hype on the news…

      – Did you read the headline? Nobody insinuated “the end of the world is nigh”.

    23. Chris B Says:

      BBC are now reporting that radiation levels around the plant have reached dangerous levels and radiation increases have started to be detected in Tokyo.

    24. E.P. Lowe Says:

      Have to agree with Curzon@9, your source is clueless about radiation.

      In addition to Rob’s link @11 this post on the Bad Astronomy Blog is useful: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/03/14/the-japanese-nuclear-reactor-overreaction/

    25. Roy Berman Says:

      Pretty much all the mainstream media, even when accurate, is a few hours to one day behind in their reporting on this.

      I have a post that explains today’s measurements and current situation pretty well:

      http://www.mutantfrog.com/2011/03/15/radiation-safety-update/

      The short answer is that there is at present no danger of radiation except very close to the Fukushima Plant #1 (Daiichi) and that the situation seems to be moving towards stability. However, not all reactors are yet fully stable and there is still a realistic, if remote, chance of the situation becoming more serious.

    26. AT Says:

      Here is a report from a briefing held at 17.00 this evening by the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor.

      BCCJ Members Update on Japan’s Nuclear Power station situation

      At 5pm Tokyo time (Tuesday 15th March 2011) a telephone briefing was given by Sir John Beddington the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser and Hilary Walker Deputy Director Emergency Preparedness …at the Department of Health. “Unequivocally, Tokyo will not be affected by the radiation fallout of explosions that have or may occur at the Fukushima nuclear power stations.” The danger area is within the 30 kilometer evacuation zone and no one is recommended or will be allowed to enter this area other than those people directly involved with the emergency procedures currently being undertaken at both Fukushima 1 & 2. Sir John went on to answer a series of questions including a comparison between Chernobyl and Japan. He said “they are entirely different, Chernobyl exploded and there was a subsequent fire with radioactive materials being launched 30,000 ft into the air.” The maximum height of any Fukushima explosions would be no more than 500 metres. “The radiation that has been released is miniscule and would have to be orders of 1,000 or more for it to be a threat to humans” This was confirmed by Hilary Walker. He went on to say that the Japanese authorities are doing their best to keep the reactors cooled and that this is a continuing operation. All workers on site dealing with the emergency are being fully decontaminated at the end of each shift. When asked on how reliable was the information coming from the Japanese authorities as to radiation levels he said “this cannot be fabricated and the Japanese authorities are positing all the readings on the recognized international inforamton sites which they are obliged to do. Independent verification shows that the data provided is accurate”. In answer to a specific question from the Head of the British School in Tokyo, Sir John Beddington and Hilary Walker said that there was no reason at all for the school to be closed unless there were other issues such as power outages and transport problems. David Fitton, First Minister at the British Embassy in Tokyo moderated the teleconference and confirmed that a transcript of the briefing will be available on the Embassy website later today. BCCJ members are encouraged to regularly check the Embassy website as well as the Chamber website and Facebook sites for the latest information.

      For more information that I found useful in understanding the facts, here is a good link.
      “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (AltJapan)
      http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/03/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go.html

    27. Alan Says:

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      This really strikes to the core of what I think the nuclear engineering community (I’ll admit involvement here) needs to be focusing on. We all pretty much downright agree that there are credibility problems not only with TEPCO but the Japanese government as well.

      I’m interested in this questions: What can the experts do to help the average Japanese person?

      To begin with, the experts ARE working and doing everything they can and should to stabilize the reactors. One of the amazing things about this accident is actually that there was not negligence to speak of. The critical negligence was in the setting of the design limits of the plant, and we have every reason to believe it would have withstood that level of quake, this was just bigger.

      On one hand, I find the evacuation measures they’ve taken to do the job. Yes, the fallout makes it further, but it’s much more dispersed by that point. On the other hand, people even in Tokyo are seriously worried that radiation is worsening around them. It’s a difficult egg to crack, but there are certainly more important things than radiation we would like the people to be able to focus on.

      I like to push publicly available radiation monitoring systems. It just seems to me like the engineers have missed the most important points for the public. The public needs to know that they have a system that tells them right away when they’re in danger and needs to feel empowered with knowledge of how to behave in that case. I think that this discussion is very appropriate in the current circumstance. I want to see a shift from fear-mongering about radiation to giving the public piece of mind that even if they are in danger, there is a plan for that.

    28. Tony D Says:

      Be careful believing claims of radioactivity. Even bananas are radioactive. No, really.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

      The press saying things like “radiation xx times more than normal” are fluff, you get a healthy dose of cosmic radiation every time you fly in a plane, that’s xx times the amount of normal. It’s marketing hype by people who want to sell newspapers.

      Personally I suggest reading The Register, it’s written by people who write about science every day so don’t fall for the “THE SKY IS FALLING ON OUR HEADS” fearmongering other news outlets are pumping out.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/15/fukushima_update_tuesday/

    29. Doug Says:

      It is nice to finally see the Japanese government being honest. All is not OK and they do not know what the outcome will be. It was nice to hear the government spokesman finally say that.

      It does not mean that Tokyo is going to be irradiated and a mass exodus of Tokyo is necessary, however I have worked in this industry and what you have is a “perfect storm” and in the industry is a catastrophic event.

      You have loss of coolant accidents (LOCA) in 3 reactors (units 1 through 3) and had burning fuel rods in unit 4 (which was off line). The unit 2 explosion was eventful because the pressure in containment (which is normally at positive pressure) went to 1 atmosphere (or the normal outside air pressure). This indicate containment of this unit is compromised. The fact that hydrogen was present when the units were vented indicates the cladding material around the rods had started to melt. I still believe this started Friday night.

      There is a pump in each unit, called a HPCI (high pressure coolant injection pump). Due to the extremely unusual situation they are in (loss of station service power, loss of local generation, and loss of diesel backup generators) means it is very likely they cannot run this pump (which dumps a tremendous amount of water into the core but requires a tremendous amount of power). It is also likely other aspects of the cooling system are compromised.

      This event is still ongoing and the outcome is uncertain. The winds yesterday were very concerning but fortunately the normal off short pattern has continued. There is other information that I have which I may share after we see what the outcome is.

      For all the posters there saying this is “Hype” I would recomment you still pay attention to what is going on!!! As I said before an evacuation of Tokyo immediately is likely not necessary but if you have a total meltdown and breach of the pressurized reactor vessel (PRV) then all bets are off. Just hope the wind is blowing offshore still. The radiation levels you see now will be nothing if this occurs and this is still a very real possibility.

      My prayers are with the workers in the plant. There are 50 left on site according to TEPCO and these people are knowingly sacrificing themselves (most likely there life) for their communities and families.

      This is not a situation that requires hysteria or evacuation of the country and yes I commend people for being calm and thinking rationally, but on the other hand becoming too complacent is foolhardy at this time.

      In the mean time read about the G.E. engineers who resigned over this type of reactor design (these guys are totally for nuclear power by the way)

      http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287

      – The thing that I don’t get is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues. Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy? “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

    30. Tony D Says:

      “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.”

      But it will pretty much do the job, though. The radioactive iodine that may be released will be carried by the wind, and is only harmful if ingested. So staying inside and eating/drinking supplies for the few days until the radiation has decayed will prevent contamination.

      (The potassium iodide being distributed will essentially block the body from absorbing any of the iodine for a 24 hour period, but obviously it’s better to be safe than sorry)

      There is definitely serious radiation outside the plant, but it lives for only seconds, which is why the exclusion zone was created. The fact they evacuated people right from the word go, before there was any real signs of danger, was a very smart ‘overcompensation’, I think.

      – I think you mean radioactive cesium.

    31. Ken44 Says:

      Here’s a nice link to a non-stop measurement of radiation levels in Tokyo:
      http://www.ustream.tv/channel/geiger-counter-tokyo

      Supposedly anything under 20-25 cpm is fine.

      – It’s off the air right now.

    32. cstaylor Says:

      The assumption that the seawall would protect them from a tsunami was their biggest failure, and I believe TEPCO did not build the seawall. Decades of collusion between the Jiminto and sub-standard domestic contractors is a big factor.

    33. E.P. Lowe Says:

      “The thing that I don’t get is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues. Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy? “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.”

      I guess you have to balance the risks of staying and evacuating. Stay, and if something sudden and unexpected happens, you could be seriously irradiated. Evacuate too quickly, and you start a panic – and who know how many casualties would be caused by that. Obviously at the policy level that has been taken on board.

    34. Hoofin Says:

      It is a society where they get upset about leaving a box on a form blank; or disregarding a change to a contract because you modify right over an old copy, rather than type a new sheet.

      You are so right, Debito, even if the one plant really is farther away from Tokyo than the source said.

      The local press around Pennsylvania is reporting that Three Mile Island reactor #1 is considered the safest in the world. Why? Because of the near-disaster with Unit #2.

      You would think that Japan would have been focusing on reactor safety beyond what design consultants considered to be an adequate disaster-level scenario.

      I agree that TEPCO is probably holding information back from Kan, and it’s not the kind of society that likes to say “I don’t know” (which one is?)

    35. john k Says:

      Just heard on BBC news that the GoJ has invited some experts from the US to help/advise on the Nuclear problem. This is interetsing on 2 counts really.

      1) Asking for outside help…this is the first step. So this must be applauded.

      2) Not sure why ask the US? The UK, France and Germany currently use nuke power far more than the US and have far more experince. I suspect there is some link “business link” from the past…who knows?

      Debito
      “just stay indoors…”
      I think this is because they do not know what else to do or say (who would). Staying inside is also akin to hiding under the table or standing in a door way during a quake. It gives the palpable feel of reassurance. Other than that…not sure.

      Since the only alternative is to evacuate everyone. But that would create a panic. Since the obvious question is why evacuate, implies danger. In times like these caution, measured sensible precautions are often seen as “danger”.

      Tus the only way to the GoJ can offer proper advice, is to be 100% open and honest, real hard core honesty. Something the Tokyo power Co is not being. Get poeple on the ground with calibrated Geiger counters, provide hour by hour updates. Educate people with what the readings are and what they mean for health. Get health experts from Oncology depts to provide advice on national TV.

      What is most bizarre about all this, is the elephant in the room. Cancer. Japan being the only country in the world that has experinced an A-bomb and its effects, ie cancer, yet Japan has a very low level of cancer health care and education. Compared to otehr developed countries the oncology care in Japan is very poor and under developed. (I know this because my wife is a specialised nurse in oncology. She had to go to the UK to get more training).

    36. Ken44 Says:

      News reports here in the States are saying because of high radiation levels those that were working on the reactors have left. So the question then is who is taking their place and apparently no one.

      The plants will be left unmanned.

      Unbelievable!

    37. Steve King Says:

      Debito,

      Listen to, or read, and then give adequate space to the briefings that have been put out by the UK, Australian and US Embassies. Your article here is irresponsible because it puts emphasis on only one perspective, and from an anonymous source. The Embassy Briefings on the other hand state unequivocally that i) Tokyo is in no danger, ii) comparisons with Chernobyl are ridiculous and iii) radiation levels are being monitored internationally and it simply isn’t possible for TEPCO or the Japanese government to falsify them.

      Name your source in the US military. I hardly think an anonymous source stacks up credibility-wise against the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, John Haddington.

      – I don’t think anybody has been given adequate information to make an informed decision about what’s going on, and that includes the overseas nuclear experts. Please continue to post your links to informed sources, of course — I am not denying them “adequate space” here. I only hope they have enough information to go on.

    38. DR Says:

      Apparently this is live on NHK online. Alternative link here:
      http://dailybail.com/home/watch-live-geiger-counter-from-tokyo-live-stream-nhk-tv-from.html

      Glad to hear that you & yours are OK. I’ve tracked down all my friends/family too. My advice: distance, at least temporarily, until things atabilize. I just don’t trust TEPCO, Genden or anybody in Nagata-cho. Gambatte!

    39. Jim Says:

      Where is the seawater being discharged at? I assume the closed loop heat exchanger has long been breached, thus pumping in the seawater. So we pump it in, and right back to the sea? Interesting. Are we getting the contamination from the sea and from the air? I dont think anybody here is fearmongering. Its time for some transparency.

    40. Ben Says:

      “Just stay indoors for the duration” may in fact be adequate safety advice. I’ve worked with radiation before (not nuclear power, but in biomedical research), and though not at all an expert with the design and use of these specific reactors, one of the principles of radioactivity is that energy is inversely proportional to half-life. That means that the shortest lived particles pack the biggest punch. Thus, if there is worry about high doses from short-lived isotopes, staying indoors may prevent particles being inhaled, ingested, etc. to a large extent. Obviously, I don’t know the readings on the ground there, as well as all of what is being released, so, won’t know until after the fact if the measures are sufficient.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that an evacuation, especially after an earthquake and tsunami, with bad infrastructure, and many injured, also has a chance of causing illness, injury and/or death. This is something that must also be considered when deciding what steps to take; an over-exuberant evacuation might hurt more people than allowing them to stay in areas with slight increases in radiation levels.

      Obviously, I don’t know if the government is making the correct decision, and no one will know until after the fact. But what Japan needs now is rational decision making, neither fear-mongering on one end, or minimizing on the other.

      – Given what I know about the stability, insulation, and air-tightness of Japanese homes (especially outside of Hokkaido, where they’re even more shoddily insulated), I remain unconfident.

      I agree with you about the fearmongering. This post is not trying to do that. It’s calling for more accurate information, about which I have strong doubts, given TEPCO’s history and performance thus far, that the public is getting.

    41. Steve King Says:

      Transcript of the UK Embassy Briefing:

      http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182

      This tells an altogether different story than the anonymous US military source, who apparently has no specialist knowledge of nuclear affairs at all.

      Debito, I think you should retract this blog post and replace it with something far more balanced and measured. Your position in the NJ/Naturalized Japanese community carries with it certain responsibilities which I think would lend themselves well to setting the record straight.

      – I wanted people to present evidence and counter-evidence. We have that going on here. Thanks for it.

    42. Steve in Tokyo Says:

      There is no doubt that this is a massive disaster, but to all my fellow long-term, non-ethnic Japanese residents I would say a few words.

      1. Man up. Sure it`s not pleasant but if you love this country then jumping on a 747 is not the best way to show it. Thousands of people have died, half a million are in shelters. Don`t run away – its disrespectful to those that have died and those who are still suffering real hardship.

      2. Get some balance in your perspective. Watching CNN for 5 minutes will convince anybody that we are going through some form of Armageddon. It isn`t necessarily so. And if (by some chance or sad cobmination of events) it is, then refer to 1 above

      I have absolute confidence in the Japanese nation to surmount this disaster and bounce back. They could use some support from their newer citizens. Do NOT let them down.

    43. debito Says:

      Here is a link to GOJ reports on radiation levels:

      http://asiajin.com/blog/2011/03/17/japan-ministry-of-education-now-reports-radiation-level-across-japan/

    44. Ken44 Says:

      This reading is from a house in Ota-ku (downtown) Tokyo
      http://www.ustream.tv/channel/%E3%82%AC%E3%82%A4%E3%82%AC%E3%83%BC%E3%82%AB%E3%82%A6%E3%83%B3%E3%82%BF

    45. debito Says:

      World Health Organization on the issue:

      http://www.who.int/hac/crises/jpn/faqs/en/index.html

    46. giantpanda Says:

      @Steve, some governments (those that have not already told their nationals to evacuate) are “softly” encouraging foreign nationals to leave, because it will help to ease the strain on resources. One less person using electricity and drinking water means that there is more for the Japanese, most of whom cannot leave. Leaving does not mean that you don’t love Japan.

    47. Doug Says:

      Debito

      Good call on posting the WHO article. I think the key point is whether or not they can prevent a total meltdown of 1 of the 3 reactors that have experienced loss of cooling. The problem is that the chance of a total meltdown increases exponentially with each reactor that is troubled. The fact that the U.S. and Japan are debating whether water in the spent fuel rod pools in 3 and 4 may be depleted is very troubling news.

      The good news is that TEPCO says they are getting close to getting a source of power to the plants, however lacking technical details I think the actual interconnection and commissioning of this connection will be a challenge. The absolutely need the high pressure injection pumps now.

      I would recommend that people pay attention to bullet point 2 of the WHO article. If there is a meltdown of one of the reactors it is all about the wind and rain. The level of radiation that would be released in a breach of the Reactor Pressure Vessel would dwarf what is happening now.

      Jim, regarding the seawater. It is very possible this water is in fact being circulated through Reactor Core Isolation Cooling pump. This is a steam driven pump and this is a closed loop system. The most likely scenario in this case is that the sea water is not being returned to the ocean, but instead is being either recirculated or vaporized/evaporated and exiting the plant as steam. However, not having more information one can only speculate.

      1. This is now a race against time. Can they get adequate cooling into the system before meltdown, and

      2. I honestly believe that most of the panic is not being caused by the media, but rather the lack of information that TEPCO and the Japanese Government are releasing, which is requiring people to speculate without adequate information. Even the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) is stating that they are having trouble getting adequate information.

      Debito-san – regarding the safety culture in Japan, this is a very long and complex subject and it involves both technical aspects and human factors aspects (such as the reliance on administrative controls and the old “sempai/kohai training system (for lack of a better term)” rather than engineering controls) – I would be happy to provide more information if you wish.

      I reiterate my prayers for those brave people that are still at Fukushima

    48. HO Says:

      There are a lot of Geiger Counter sites arround Japan.
      Onagawa, Miyagi
      http://www.tohoku-epco.co.jp/electr/genshi/onagawa/mp.html

      Ibaraki Pref.
      http://www.pref.ibaraki.jp/important/20110311eq/index.html

      Saitama Pref.
      http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/page/housyasenryou.html

      Hino, Tokyo
      http://park18.wakwak.com/~weather/geiger_index.html

      You can buy your Geiger Counter here. (In English)
      http://www.blackcatsystems.com/GM/GeigerCounters.html

    49. jonholmes Says:

      @Steve in Japan “man up” you say.

      this makes me extremely angry, because to me and other non Japanese Confucians this just shows how much you ve become suckered into the whole giri to the company above all system, and for what? For far less rights than a Japanese.

      I am not a permanent resident, I am not married to a Japanese, I have no stake in the system, I am a gaijin, a foreigner, and a “visitor” and I have no local vote and no benefits. Thus, I did what visitors can do, which is I left immediately.

      Now before you try to say something like “we can stay and help”, the reality is that you cannot do much to help.But perhaps you can stay and die to show group solidarity with your Japanese employers (What my soon to be ex boss said). No thanks, bye.

      I have no particular loyalty to the Japanese Empire, maybe if they had given us a local vote we foreign residents would feel more “loyal”.

      In the movie “The Constant Gardener” the main character says “No, we cannot help all of them, but I m saying we can help ONE person, this child, NOW”.

      And thats what I did, I used my credit card to pay for the airfare of one other person out of here.

      so Steve, if you are a gaijin I say “MAN UP” and pay to take several local people out of harm’s way. You can always get another job and pay off the debt later. Are you “man enough” to immediately leave your little J comfort zone and all your possessions and do that?

      Dont try to justify inertia or being in denial of the seriousness of the situation as being particularly “otoko rashi” or what other warped neo confucianist loyalty to the company you ve bought into.

    50. jjobseeker Says:

      Interesting Editorial in today’s Asahi Shimbun English website:

      http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103160136.html

      I agree with many points, especially the matter of TEPCO’s non-existent crisis management. To just now think about bringing in generators for the offline pumps today is a clear sign that people there had no idea of how to problem solve in this “worst case scenario.”

      ============================

      POINT OF VIEW/ Kenji Sumita: Responses from TEPCO, NISA came too late
      SPECIAL TO THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
      2011/03/17
      Kenji Sumita (The Asahi Shimbun)

      As a scientist long involved in research and development of nuclear energy, I feel deep regrets for the trouble given to the public by accidents at reactors at the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

      The three towering principles for a nuclear power plant operator to deal with a powerful earthquake are “stop, cool and contain.”

      The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., managed to halt a nuclear reaction by inserting control rods at the initial stage.

      But I wonder if the control rods were firmly inserted.

      Even if an instrumental device shows that they are, the control rods’ proper insertion should be verified with other means. But there has been no information available about them.

      I find it troubling that no official announcement has been made so far about the position of the control rods although it is crucial in completely controlling a nuclear reaction.

      To cool the nuclear reactor cores, TEPCO made the right decision to resort to the unprecedented method of pumping in seawater, although that step will force it to decommission those reactors.

      But the decision came too late.

      Every step TEPCO has taken is a day late and a dollar short. The release of information from TEPCO is even further behind.

      The exposure of fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor for as long as several hours after the nuclear reaction had stopped should never have happened, even if it came two days after the stoppage.

      The incident revealed TEPCO’s lack of crisis-management ability.

      TEPCO had no choice but to open valves to discharge vapor containing radioactive materials to prevent a wholesale rupture of the containment vessels of the nuclear reactors. The inevitable question now concerns the state of the pressure vessels and containment vessels.

      We cannot make an accurate assessment of their state with the level of radioactivity in the surrounding area alone.

      The vessels’ ability to contain the radiation is apparently endangered, even if temporarily.

      There were reports that a suppression pool at the No. 2 reactor was likely damaged, and radioactive substances may have leaked out from there.

      Right now, the core’s pressure vessel does not appear ruptured and thus the release of an enormous amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere can be averted.

      Nevertheless, we face a very grave situation.

      As vice chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, an independent body, I took part in an operation to tackle a nuclear-criticality accident at JCO Co.’s uranium-processing plant in Tokai village in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1999. I was at the site.

      The current government’s approach is better than the one by its predecessor back then.

      Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano are showing strong leadership in addressing the nuclear disaster.

      In contrast, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), a regulator that oversees the nuclear power industry, does not seem to be fully functioning.

      I have long questioned the wisdom of putting NISA under the oversight of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear power generation.

      It seems that the negative effect of having NISA under the ministry has been unveiled in the unfolding event.

      When the JCO accident occurred, many research institutes worked together with us in gathering various data.

      All electric power companies cooperated by dispatching vehicles to monitor radiation levels.

      We were able to ride out the crisis thanks to the full support, including advice and assistance, from people in the nuclear industry and other related sectors.

      But in the current disaster, TEPCO and NISA seem to have taken on all the challenges by themselves, barely utilizing resources at other bodies.

      They should have tackled the ongoing crisis while seeking help from the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan and other bodies, but they have tried to cope with it alone.

      And questions remain over the appropriateness of the steps they have taken.

      The unfolding nuclear disaster has unveiled weaknesses in TEPCO’s crisis-management system and a structural flaw in Japan’s administrative policy to ensure the safety of nuclear power.

      (This article was compiled from an interview by Satoshi Ozawa.)

      * * *

      Kenji Sumita is professor emeritus at Osaka University. He specializes in nuclear engineering and radiation measurements. He served as vice chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

    51. debito Says:

      Similar Mainichi editorial:

      Gov’t must provide accurate information on nuclear disaster risks
      http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/news/20110317p2a00m0na004000c.html

      Japan’s nuclear power plant disaster is widening. The water level in a pool for spent nuclear fuel at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 plant has dropped, creating the possibility of a meltdown.

      The container of the No. 3 reactor at the plant has possibly been damaged and the fuel in the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors is no longer fully covered with cooling water. If no countermeasures are adopted the fuel will melt, which could result in a large radiation leak. Workers handling the disaster must unite their efforts to secure a water supply as quickly as possible and cool the fuel.

      Equally important as bringing the nuclear power disaster under control is a proper response to the threat of radiation.

      It goes without saying that people’s health must be protected. At the same time we must ensure the well-being of people put at risk and ease people’s anxiety.

      It is only natural that people living within a 20 kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant have been evacuated. People living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant have been ordered to stay indoors, but is this an appropriate response? Even though the risk may be low in this area at present, the government should consider ordering evacuations in the outer ring as well to ease people’s anxiety and ensure that they can get back to life as normal. We also call on local government bodies around the nation to consider accepting people from these areas.

      Even in areas located far away from the plant, people have started evacuating. With only limited information available, it is only natural that they feel uneasy. But if people in areas that face an extremely low risk start evacuating, confusion will arise, and this could hinder efforts to aid the people who really need help. What is important is for people to have a “healthy” measure of fear.

      At the Fukushima nuclear power plant, fission reactions were brought to a halt immediately after the earthquake struck, so the situation is fundamentally different from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. But could the situation worsen to a level on par with Chernobyl, and if so what kind of risk would people across Japan face? Many people want answers.

      When calling for a calm response, authorities must assess not only the current risk, but also the risks in a worst-case scenario, and provide people with accurate information, including the probability of such a scenario.

      The government is unequivocally responsible for establishing guidelines. We want the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission and other related bodies to actively carry out their responsibilities. At the same time it is also probably necessary for academic committees and other expert organizations to analyze the risks, support the government and provide information to residents.

      We have pointed out in the past that establishing a reliable and consistent source of information is an important part of crisis management. But the government must not go too far in controlling information. To cover the mouths of people in specialist fields will only harm the nation’s interests. We call for combined wisdom that will enable Japan to overcome this crisis.

      (Mainichi Japan) March 17, 2011
      ==========================

      Original Japanese story

      社説:東日本大震災 的確なリスク情報を
      http://mainichi.jp/select/opinion/editorial/news/20110317k0000m070154000c.html

       原発災害が拡大している。東京電力福島第1原発では、使用済み核燃料の貯蔵用プールの水が減り、燃料の溶融が起きかねない状況が生じている。

       3号機の原子炉格納容器が損傷した可能性もある。1~3号機で原子炉内の核燃料の露出も続いている。

       このままだと1~4号機で核燃料が溶け、大量の放射線が外部に漏れる恐れがある。すべての関係者が力をあわせ、一刻も早く水を供給し、冷却につなげたい。

       原発そのものの制御と並んで欠かせないのは、住民の放射線影響への的確な対処だ。

       健康被害を防ぐのはもちろん、リスクにさらされている人たちの生活を支え、不安を除く必要がある。

       原発から20キロ圏内の避難は当然だが、20~30キロの屋内退避を続けるのか。この地域でのリスクが今は低くても、日常生活の維持や不安解消などを考えると、国の指示による避難も検討してはどうか。全国の自治体は受け入れも考えてほしい。

       福島から遠く離れた場所でも、避難する人たちがでてきている。情報が限られる中で、不安に思うのは当然だろう。

       だが、リスクが非常に低い地域の人たちまで避難しようとすれば、混乱が起き、実際に支援が必要な人たちの妨げになりかねない。

       大事なのは、「正当に怖がる」ことだ。

       そもそも、福島原発では核分裂反応自体は地震直後に停止している。86年に旧ソ連で起きたチェルノブイリ原発事故とは根本的に異なる。

       しかし、事態の悪化によってチェルノブイリに迫る可能性がどれほどあるのか。その場合に、日本各地でのリスクはどれほどか。気にかける人は多い。

       冷静な対応を促すには、現在のリスクはもちろん、最悪の事態に陥った場合のリスク評価を、その確率とともに的確に示すことが必要だ。

       そうした指針を示すのは一義的には政府の任務である。内閣府の原子力安全委員会などに積極的に責務を果たしてもらいたい。

       一方で、学会など専門家集団がリスク分析をし、政府の支援をしたり、市民に説明したりすることも必要ではないか。

       ばらつきのない信頼性のある情報発信が、危機管理に重要であることは指摘してきたとおりだ。しかし、政府は行きすぎた情報統制をしてはならない。それぞれの専門分野の人々の口を封じることがあっては、国の損失だ。

       危機を乗り切るために、できる限りの英知を結集したい。

      毎日新聞 2011年3月17日 2時31分
      ENDS

    52. Tom R. Says:

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42124500/ns/world_news-asiapacific/?GT1=43001

      Japan’s increasingly frantic efforts at nuke plant…

      ‘Like suicide fighters in a war’…

      do you think it only gets worse from here? not just for the whole disaster in Japan but the future of the economy..state of the nation.?

    53. john k Says:

      I laughed when i heard that TEPCO were raising the radiation safety level to twice the currently accepted level; so that their workers could work longer hours.

      What a farce and a complete joke….

      – Need a source.

    54. Tom R. Says:

      One last link I think worth sharing. This article asks why isn’t Japan using robots to do the dangerous task of cooling the reactor? They showcase robots for everything else…

      http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2011/03/17/japan_fukushima_nuclear_robots/

    55. Steve King Says:

      I can’t believe you have left this unsubstantiated, anonymously-sourced paranoid nonsense on your blog for days now, Debito:

      1. The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.

      ‘Radioctive Plume Cloud’? This is unsubstantiated anywhere else.

      2. 17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity. All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.

      The level of radioactivity tested is not stated and is therefore meaningless. There’s radioactivity practically everywhere, at some level. Does your source state that the level tested for is dangerous to the human health?

      3. The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.

      Again, without the actual measurements, this is meaningless

      4. The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods. This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors. After that, they are out of options.

      What experience does your source have of the procedures necessary to cool a nuclear reactor?

      5. Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air. The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.

      Again, this is unsubstantiated. Any actual measurements to go on, with a credible source attached to their significance?

      6. The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels. This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

      Utterly absurd, as has already been pointed out. A simple look at a map comprehensively discredits this assertion

      Debito, I’m frankly shocked that you’ve let this stay on your blog. It’s an error of judgement on your part and it saddens me. The longer you leave this nonsense up for worried and and concerned people to see, the more your credibility becomes damaged.

      You are an individual who in my opinion has a great deal of credibility and gravitas amongst the wider community of non-Japanese and naturalized Japanese in this country. Please do this credibility and gravitas good service by removing these unsubstantiated and irresponsible rumours from your blog and replacing them with the kind of balanced analysis you are more renowned for.

    56. Steve King Says:

      One last thing, from the University of California Santa Barbara; a comprehensive explanation of the Fukushima issue in powerpoint form:

      http://online.itp.ucsb.edu/online/plecture/bmonreal11/pdf/BMonreal11_PublicLecture_KITP.pdf

      It concludes:

      i) comparisons with Chernobyl are ridiculous

      ii) radiation threat is controllable and confined to the immediate vicinity in Fukushima

      iii) there is zero global threat, including Tokyo

    57. Ben Says:

      Here what I find credible (can’t say trust, trust is a state of mind).
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_nuclear_accidents
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Fukushima_nuclear_accidents

      The wiki articles are constantly being updated by pro and anti nuclear advocates waring it out rendering the articles generally neutral and unbias.

      And then of course there is news straight from the horses mouth:
      http://www.tepco.co.jp/cc/press/

    58. James Annan Says:

      I’d like to echo Steve in #55 above. Really, this is nothing more than the sort of irresponsible scaremongering that Debito would be ranting about if it was some abuse of crime statistics targetting the NJ community, for example. It’s a time for a bit of rational thought not hype and rumour-mongering. Like the UK Govt’s Chief Scientific Advisor insisting there was absolutely no risk to Tokyo, for example.

      http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2011/03/comments-from-sir-john-beddington-and.html

    59. E.P. Lowe Says:

      I have to agree largely with what Steve King has said Debito – though I think the article should be left up with Steve’s piece-by-piece demolition of it interleaved with the text – in bold.

    60. OsakaGurl Says:

      WOW, Are you guys seriously blaming Debito for asking which news source to trust?
      I understand that everyone is on edge, this a serious situation. Most of us have loved ones who we are worried about, or have lives in Japan. While you sit and worry, and have time on your hands to respond to this blog consider this:

      The blaming has got to stop!!! Its Debito’s blog, he presents us with an issue – He did not create the issues, he merely encourages us to debate them, give each other ideas and often WE yes WE come up with solutions to the problems. QUIT blaming him for simply bring the debate to light.

      I certainly hope that everyone is safe and well. Good luck to you whether you beleive the news from JP or elsewhere. I hope they are all wrong!
      BUT please stop the blaming those who wish to question the system!!!

    61. Jim Says:

      agreed. If you want to find the straight scoop, come here. If you want drama and nonsense, go to tepido. The drone flyover pictures show a disaster, youd have to be insane to deny that causes concern.

    62. Mark Hunter Says:

      Osaka gurl……..right on.

    63. Tom R. Says:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367684/Nuclear-plant-chief-weeps-Japanese-finally-admit-radiation-leak-kill-people.html

      Japanese TEPCO finally admits radiation now enough to kill. Here comes the bowing and the apologizing. Why does Japan have to be subjected to this every time? There shouldn’t be bowing or apologizing it should NEVER happen!

      Finally to prove Debito correct. Japan blocks out radiation readings closest to the plant.

      http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2011-03-17-japanradiate17_ST_N.htm

      – Thanks but remember, the goal here is not to “prove Debito correct”. I don’t want to be correct in this situation — I’m hoping I’m wrong, actually. But I do want more information from reliable sources to get out for people to make informed decisions about where they want to weather this crisis out.

    64. Norik Says:

      Some interesting info here:
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fukushima-core&page=2
      http://www.latimes.com/news/la-fgw-japan-quake-chernobyl-20110315,0,4031120.story?track=rss
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110317/ap_on_sc/as_japan_earthquake_radiation_risk_2
      http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/17/us-japan-quake-russia-nuclear-idUSTRE72G6HD20110317

      I’ve been reading both foreign and Japanese news so far.

    65. john k Says:

      Ref my post # 53, source:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12779510

      “..On Wednesday the government raised the legal limit of radiation they could be exposed to from 100 to 250 millisieverts…”

      So, again, lets make a picture of ‘all ok’..by raising the safety limit, ergo they are safe!!!

      “…That is more than 12 times the legal dose for workers dealing with radiation under British law.”

    66. James Annan Says:

      Debito isn’t quoting any news source, just some anonymous idiot on the internet, of which there are an infinite number.

      If you want a credible source, try the UK Chief Scientific Advisor, for one. I don’t see that he has any particular reason to downplay things and he’s certainly put his, and by extension the UK Govt’s, credibility firmly on the line with very clear statements. Dozens of independent scientists around the world have come up with the same sort of assessment. The worst plausible case is some serious contamination of the local area, which of course is a serious outcome, but hardly a health hazard to anyone further away.

      Don’t forget in all this, we have an ongoing calamity with hundreds of thousands displaced and tens of thousands dead. All this wailing about our supposed victimhood, either further afield in Japan or even more ludicrously around the rest of the world, is pretty poor taste.

    67. The Anonymous Contributor to this Blog Entry Says:

      Most of the reports on your original anonymous posting were widely available from CNN on the day you posted it. Don’t tell me the readers on here actually watch and believe the Japanese Government propaganda of NHK over CNN.

    68. cstaylor Says:

      The danger to the Tokyo Metropolitan area and the rest of Japan is the long-term effects of the event. All of the talk about radiation from the press is about immediate exposure, but the real problem is if the contamination enters the water supply. A large majority of the health issues at Chernobyl were from contaminated milk and other food sources.

    69. jjobseeker Says:

      Another interesting read Debito:
      http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/news/20110318p2a00m0na007000c.html
      The fact of the matter is, nuclear radiology is not part of our schooling other than on a theoretical or compulsory level. We’re never really taught what amounts of exposure are safe and unsafe. I never heard of a microsievert until a week ago–odd considering I grew up in the Cold War. So I agree with this editorial that on top of, or perhaps instead of, purely scientifically accurate information, what we really need is proper information that is more easily perceived by the general public.

      =====================

      Perspectives
      Public urged to avoid unnecessary panic amid nuke plant crisis
      (Mainichi Japan) March 18, 2011

      This Thursday, March 17, 2011 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe)
      Having served in the past as head of the Mainichi Shimbun’s Fukushima Bureau as well as the managing editor of the Science & Environment News Department at our paper’s Tokyo headquarters, I was asked to participate in a telephone interview with Radio Fukushima on March 16.

      On the radio, I declared that the radiation levels to which residents in Fukushima were exposed had no effect on their health whatsoever. “Please feel at ease,” I reassured them. We received e-mails and faxes saying that listeners felt reassured by the interview, the recording of which Radio Fukushima subsequently aired over and over again.

      The experience once again drove home how fearful people are about the effects of radiation. I’ve even heard of people leaving Tokyo for “safer” locations. While it goes without saying that we are confronting a grave situation unprecedented in the history of the development of nuclear energy, what we need more than anything is to follow the developments with level-headedness.

      Public fears began to mount the morning of March 15, when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced that radiation levels of 400 millisieverts per hour had been detected in what is believed to be the vicinity of the No. 3 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power station and added, “This level of radiation can possibly have an effect on people’s health.”

      Indeed, if someone were to be exposed to this level of radiation continuously for an hour, there is a possibility that they will develop symptoms such as a temporary drop in white blood cells.

      The figure — 400 millisieverts — however, is believed to have been a particular measurement taken close to the rubble of the damaged No. 3 reactor. We later learned that radiation levels differed even in the same power plant grounds, with levels by the No. 1 power station’s main entrance reaching just 10 millisieverts. Yet, footage of Edano announcing the former figure and saying that such levels could be damaging to people’s health were repeatedly played on television.

      Panic rose even further that evening when it emerged that radioactive material originating in the Fukushima plant had been detected in Tokyo.

      So does the current situation actually have any bearing on our health?

      Exposure to radiation can be divided into two kinds: external and internal. External entails the direct contact of radioactive rays with parts of one’s body that are exposed. Internal refers to radiation exposure that occurs when air or food tainted with radioactive material enters the body. For the time being, external exposure is of most relevance to us.

      There are two possible ways that people can be exposed to radioactive material externally. The first is through direct exposure to radioactive rays from the nuclear power plant. The second possibility is radioactive materials spreading close and far away from the power station while it continues to emit radioactive rays.

      The rule is that radiation doses are inversely proportional to the distance from the source squared. Therefore, outside a 20-km radius from the plant — from which residents have been evacuated — any direct external exposure from the power station is negligible.

      That leaves us with flying radioactive material as the source of virtually all of the radiation being detected elsewhere. The highest radiation level that had been detected in Fukushima Prefecture by the evening of March 17 was 30 microsieverts (a microsievert is one-one thousandth of a millisievert) or lower, with most measurements at around 2 to 5 microsieverts. Compare that to a CT chest scan, a single one of which will expose the recipient to approximately 6,900 microsieverts. Even if a level of 30 microsieverts were to be maintained, one would have to stand outside for 230 continuous hours to be exposed to the same amount of radiation as a CT scan.

      Time and time again, the media has used the phrase, “Current radiation levels do not pose an immediate health risk.” While the expression is accurate from a scientific point of view, it seems to instill fear in some members of the public. One acquaintance of mine asked: “If they’re saying that there’s no immediate health risk, doesn’t that imply that we might experience effects in the future?” In reality, however, exposure to radiation of 100 millisieverts or less is said not to raise the risk of developing cancer later in life.

      What we need now, more than scientifically accurate information, is sound, on-target information. To that, we can definitively say that current radiation levels are not going to have an adverse effect on our health.

      If the situation were to deteriorate, because of fuel rods being exposed above water or some other reason, thereby raising the amount of radioactive material being emitted, we would be exposed to higher levels of radiation. It will not be too late, however, to decide at that point whether or not to evacuate.

      Another common concern is that the current nuclear crisis will end up being a repeat of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The accident at Chernobyl took place when control over atomic fission in a running reactor was lost, triggering a surge in power output that caused huge explosions and fires, releasing massive amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Fallout from the accident was found around the world.

      On the other hand, the No. 1-3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant automatically stopped running immediately following the earthquake on March 11, and control rods were inserted in place. At the time, the No. 4 reactor was in the midst of an inspection, and no nuclear fission reaction is currently taking place in any of the reactors. The generally held view among experts is that the circumstances of the nuclear power station crisis in Fukushima are completely different from those at Chernobyl.

      The worst-case scenario would be if the pressure in a reactor’s pressure vessel and container vessel were to rise and damage the vessels, allowing radioactive materials to leak. Even in this case, however, there would be no large explosions, and the radioactive materials would remain in the immediate vicinity of the power station. Meanwhile, radiation levels will rise considerably, but according to the law that radiation doses are inversely proportional to the distance from the source squared, residents at least 20 kilometers away from the plant will not be exposed to lethal amounts of radiation. Moreover, the chances that the entire Tokyo metropolitan area will be destroyed from such a turn of events — which seems to be the belief held by some members of the public — is nil.

      After I explained these things in my interview with Radio Fukushima, a local man commented on Twitter: “I felt reassured and was able to have a nice meal. It was the first time in a while that food tasted good to me.” His tweet made me painfully aware of the importance of accurate, appropriate information.

      Employees of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and cooperating companies, Self-Defense Force troops, and police are on site right now, trying to bring the situation under control. Let us follow what’s going on with a cool head on our shoulders. My hope is that the efforts being made on the ground will lead to a breakthrough in the crisis. (By Hidetoshi Togasawa, Editorial Division)

      The original Japanese story
      記者の目:福島第1原発の放射性物質漏出=斗ヶ沢秀俊(東京編集局)
      毎日新聞 2011年3月18日 東京朝刊
      http://mainichi.jp/select/opinion/eye/archive/news/20110318ddm004070122000c.html

       ◇冷静に事態を見守ろう
       16日、ラジオ福島の電話インタビューに応じた。福島支局長と東京本社科学環境部長を務めた縁で依頼された。私は「皆さんが今受けている放射線量は健康に全く影響しません。安心してください」と断言した。「安心しました」というメールやファクスがたくさん寄せられ、ラジオ福島は何回も再放送したという。人々が放射線の影響をどれほど心配しているのか、改めて痛感した。原子力開発史上前例のない重大な事態であることは言うまでもないが、東京を「脱出」する人もいると聞くにつけ、私たちに必要なことは事態を冷静に見守ることだと思う。

       ◇特殊な数値で不安高まる
       不安が高まったのは15日午前、枝野幸男官房長官が「東京電力福島第1原発3号機周辺で、1時間当たり400ミリシーベルトの放射線量が測定された。これは健康に影響を及ぼす可能性がある数値」と発表した時からだ。この放射線量だと、1時間そこにいた場合、白血球の一時的減少などの症状が出る可能性がある。

       これは3号機の損傷箇所のがれき付近で測定されたとみられる特殊な数値で、同じ敷地内でも第1原発正門の放射線量は同10ミリシーベルト程度だったことが後に分かったが、「400ミリシーベルト」の数値と、健康への影響に言及した枝野長官の姿が繰り返し放映された。

       さらに同日夕、東京都内で原発から飛来した放射性物質が検出されたことが明らかになり、人々の不安は募った。

       実際に、健康影響はあるのか。放射線を人体が受ける「被ばく」には、外部被ばくと内部被ばくがある。外部被ばくは放射線を直接受けることであり、内部被ばくは放射性物質を含む空気を吸い込んだり食品を摂取することによって生じる。当面、問題となるのは、身体が直接受ける外部被ばくだ。

       外部被ばくは2通り考えられる。(1)直接、原発から放出される放射線による被ばく(2)原発から放出された放射性物質が各地に降り、これが放射線を出しているために起こる被ばく--の二つだ。放射線量は「距離の2乗に反比例する」という法則があり、避難範囲である周囲20キロの外側では、(1)の原発からの放射線は無視できる線量になる。

       ◇現時点では健康に影響ない
       各地で測定されている放射線量のほとんどは、(2)の飛来した放射性物質に由来している。福島県のモニタリングで測定された17日夕までの最高線量は最大でも30マイクロシーベルト(マイクロはミリの1000分の1の単位)以下で、多くは2~5マイクロシーベルト。胸部エックス線CTを1回受ける被ばく量が約6900マイクロシーベルト。仮に30マイクロシーベルトが続いたとしても、230時間にわたって外にいてCT1回と同程度という計算になる。

       新聞やテレビの報道で、必ず出てくる言葉がある。「ただちに健康に影響するレベルではない」。この表現は科学的には正しい。私は知人に問われた。「ただちに影響しないということは、後で影響するかもしれないということでしょう」。実際には、合計の被ばく量が100ミリシーベルト以下では、将来がんになる確率が高まることはないとされる。

       いま必要なのは「科学的に正確な情報」よりも「的確な情報」であり、現在の放射線量であれば、「健康に影響がない」と言い切ってよい。

       燃料棒の水面上への露出などにより、放出される放射性物質がもっと増えるなど、事態が深刻化した場合は被ばく量が増える。そうなったら、その時点で避難すべきかどうかを判断しても間に合う。

       もう一つの不安は「チェルノブイリ原発事故のようになるのか」ということだ。チェルノブイリ事故では、運転中に核分裂が制御できなくなり、出力が急上昇して、大爆発、大火災が発生した。膨大な量の放射性物質が上空に達し、世界全体に降り注いだ。

       福島第1原発は1~3号機は地震直後に自動停止して、制御棒が挿入された。4号機は定期点検中だった。いずれも、今は核分裂反応が起こっていない。「チェルノブイリとは全く状況が異なる」というのは、多くの専門家の共通認識だ。

       考えられる最悪の事態は、圧力容器、格納容器内の圧力が高まって損傷し、内部の放射性物質が外部に出ることだが、その場合でも大爆発には至らず、放射性物質の大半は敷地周辺にとどまるだろう。放射線量はかなり高くなるが、それでも「距離の2乗に反比例」するから、20キロ以上離れた地域の住民が致死量に達する放射線を受けることは考えられない。まして、一部の人々が言う「首都圏壊滅」はありえない。

       ラジオ福島でこうした話をした後、福島市の男性がツイッターで「ほんと安心してゆっくりご飯を食べました。久しぶりに味のするご飯でした」と書いていた。被災者にとって的確な情報がいかに必要かを物語っている。

       現場では東電や協力会社の社員、自衛隊、警察関係者らが懸命に放水作業などをしている。冷静に事態を見守ろう。私は現場の努力が実を結び、事態が打開されることを切に願っている。

      ==============

       ご意見をお寄せください。〒100-8051毎日新聞「記者の目」係/kishanome@mainichi.co.jp

      ENDS

    70. Becky Says:

      Any update forthcoming on this post? I’d certainly be very interested to read one.

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