Radiation Danger, Seriously! (Updated 4/2/12)

There have been several explosions in several nuclear reactors in Japan. There may be more. There may a meltdown or two. I don’t know. I am not even sure I understand what a meltdown is. I am definitely not seeing the world through rose-colored lenses. I am not saying there will not be meltdowns. I am ready to consider the worst-case scenario in this respect.

In the meantime, a real nuclear disaster has already happened. The beginning of a slow rehabilitation of nuclear power in Americans’ minds that was taking shape, even with some positive words from Pres. Obama, will grind to a halt. Perhaps, it has already ground to a halt. People like me who favor nuclear power will never again be able to say: “The Japanese have been producing nuclear energy in vast quantities for fifty years with not a single incident.” I fear that, because of phantom fears, we will continue to burn coal that is demonstrably noxious to human health. We, as a nation, will also continue to show an unhealthy interest in bad neighborhoods of the world that produce both fossil fuels and tyranny. We will continue to do this because we are afraid of what may hardly exist.

I am convinced the opposition to nuclear energy production is deeply rooted in exaggerated information and in downright false information. (How often have you heard me or seen me use the words: “I am convinced”?) In particular, many people believe that radiation from nuclear plants has already killed thousands, or even millions of people. The belief is so widespread that I hear public figures who are in favor of nuclear power refer mechanically to such deaths. So, I am doing my bit here because facts matter.

First a vigorous disclaimer: I am not a nuclear expert. In fact, I am pretty sure I flunked high-school physics (not bragging, confessing). Over the years, however, I have become a kind of expert about the dogs that did not bark, about things that you would expect to find if certain views were correct and that just aren’t there, or not with the requisite force. Radiation illness from minor exposure is one of those things. I am also a pretty qualified epidemiologist. That may sound strange but the statistical techniques of those who study disease in the large numbers are the same I used when I was a social scientist. So, I put this modest expertise to work with my natural skepticism to assess the dangers presented to us, here in America, by a possible Japanese meltdown, or two, or three. Note again that I am not saying there won’t be meltdowns. I just don’t know, so I am evoking below the worst-case scenario.

First, I do the obvious, the obvious that media commentators don’t seem to have done: I go to Google, including Wikipedia. It’s not much but it’s enormously better than doing nothing or worse, nothing, plus intuition, plus anecdotes, plus half-remembered rumors. I go to the most severe nuclear accident in my life (so far). I look for concrete, numerical statements about radiation illnesses (plural). It’s the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine, of course. Below is what Wikipedia has to say.

Technical notes: I don’t ordinarily swear by Wikipedia but you can be completely sure that Wikipedia on radiation sickness is being updated feverishly right now. I lift directly from the sources named. I don’t alter anything unless duly noted in bold.

The issue of long-term effects of the Chernobyl disaster on civilians is very controversial. The number of people whose lives were affected by the disaster is enormous. Over 300,000 people were resettled because of the disaster; millions lived and continue to live in the contaminated area. On the other hand, most of those affected received relatively low doses of radiation; there is little evidence of increased mortality, cancers or birth defects among them; and when such evidence is present, existence of a causal link to radioactive contamination is uncertain.

There is no doubt that workers who capped the defective plant at Chernobyl all, or almost all, died. The above statement concerns populations in the immediate area who were exposed to accidental radiation leaks before they were evacuated and to those who remained.

Then, I move to the single nuclear plant accident in the US, an accident that did more to stop nuclear development in this country than anything else, I think. I refer to the 1978 Three Mile Island event, of course. Here is the statement from Wikipedia on the health effects of that accident:

Based on these low emission figures, early scientific publications on the health effects of the fallout estimated one or two additional cancer deaths in the 10 mi (16 km) area around TMI.[38][unreliable source?] Disease rates in areas further than 10 miles from the plant were never examined.[38] Local activism in the 1980s, based on anecdotal reports of negative health effects, led to scientific studies being commissioned. A variety of studies have been unable to conclude that the accident had substantial health effects.

The Radiation and Public Health Project cited calculations by Joseph Mangano, who has authored 19 medical journal articles and a book on Low Level Radiation and Immune Disease, that reported a spike in infant mortality in the downwind communities two years after the accident.

The only evidence of ill-effects to neighbors of the plant by someone who was not obviously and crudely prejudiced came from Joseph Mangano. I looked at the report of reference. It presents some disturbing evidence especially regarding an increase in thyroid cancer in four counties close to the plan in a period of several years following the accident. (The report is available on-line. Follow the Wikipedia reference.) Mangano is obviously an anti-nuclear activist. This does not condemn his report, in my book. He appears as the sole author. That’s not bad but it’s unusual. Research scholars like to have back-up. He does not have the normal doctorate that provides obvious qualification as a researcher. This fact does not make his report erroneous either. It’s just unusual. Nevertheless, the Mangano study seems well-designed.

I read it as I would read any scholarly article in which I was interested and I did not find any flaws in it. However the study I saw on-line does not seem to have ever been published in a scholarly journal. That’s a problem because it means that this piece of research was not subjected to normal scientific scrutiny. That’s more important than performing the research itself as far as credibility is concerned. I wonder why it was not published. I am sure there is no conspiracy involved here. If there were one, it would favor publication because academics are wusses and mostly liberals. It’s inconceivable that the piece was submitted to several journals and rejected by all because of pro-nuclear bias. I suspect Mangano never submitted it for publication, If he had, and his study had been rejected for the wrong reasons he would have got a lot of mileage just telling the story of this suppression. It would have given him and his cause huge publicity.

Other sources proposed by Google have this one thing in common: No one seems to be eager to offer quantitative estimates of sickness cause by radiation to people casually exposed. Obviously, I do not claim to have made an exhaustive search. I will present here any serious sources that does this.  The serious sources have to include numbers or they must lead directly to numbers. Statements such as “Many more cases…” are useless. On a personal level, I am ready to turn on a dime on the issue of the health hazards of casual radiation exposure.

Conscientious about probing further the inconclusiveness of the material I have found on the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accidents, I turn to the most massive exposure to nuclear radiation that the world has ever seen, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That exposure was not accidental. It was deliberate, of course, calculated to inflict as many casualties as possible. I reason that the Japanese health authorities had a vital interest in following through and monitoring residents of the two towns who had no died of the blast or shortly after the blast. If there were widespread ill-effects of radiation to survivors for years after exposure, as most people seem to believe, such ill-effects would be obvious in Japan.

First, I turn to a statement by the World Nuclear Association. This may seem like a strange choice of a source. The association obviously has a dog in this fight. It represents organizations and professions who have a vested interest in showing nuclear-anything as safe. Yet and at the same time, the association possesses to the highest degree possible the expertise to form an informed viewpoint. And the self-same reasons that make it desirous of putting a good face on the nuclear industry should make it reluctant to lie and risk getting caught (forever, I think). Its positions are especially vulnerable to disastrous contradictions when they are couched in numbers that may be verified anytime. Here is the WNA’ startling statement:

In Hiroshima, of a resident civilian population of 250 000 it was estimated that 45 000 died on the first day and a further 19 000 during the subsequent four months. In Nagasaki, out of a population of 174 000, 22 000 died on the first day and another 17 000 within four months. Unrecorded deaths of military personnel and foreign workers may have added considerably to these figures.  About 15 square kilometres (over 50%) of the two cities was destroyed.

It is impossible to estimate the proportion of these 103 000 deaths, or of the further deaths in military personnel, which were due to radiation exposure rather than to the very high temperatures and blast pressures caused by the explosions – 15 kilotons at Hiroshima and 25 kilotons at Nagasaki. From the estimated radiation levels, however, it is apparent that radiation alone would not have been enough cause death in most of those exposed beyond a kilometre of the ground zero below the bombs. Most deaths appear to have been from the explosion rather than the radiation. Beyond 1.5 km the risk would have been much reduced (and 24 Australian prisoners of war about 1.5 km from the Nagasaki ground zero survived and many lived to a healthy old age).

To the 103 000 deaths from the blast or acute radiation exposure at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have since been added those due to radiation induced cancers and leukaemia, which amounted to some 400 within 30 years, and which may ultimately reach about 550. (Some 93 000 exposed survivors are still being monitored.) Bolding mine, not in original report.

I looked on the web for contradictions of the latter figure of 400 additional deaths within thirty years. I found none. I does not mean they don’t exist. I keep an open mind here also.

Finally, and in the absence of concrete figure supporting the idea of harmful health effect due to casual exposure to radiation, I reproduce below a story from Atomic Archive.com. I don’t know what group or organization maintains this site. It’s housed at the University of Chicago. It may well be a federal government site. I don’t know and I will spread any credible information about it as soon as I receive it.

The second approach to this question was to determine if any persons not in the city at the time of the explosion, but coming in immediately afterwards exhibited any symptoms or findings which might have been due to persistence induced radioactivity. By the time of the arrival of the Manhattan Engineer District group, several Japanese studies had been done on such persons. None of the persons examined in any of these studies showed any symptoms which could be attributed to radiation, and their actual blood cell counts were consistently within the normal range. Throughout the period of the Manhattan Engineer District investigation, Japanese doctors and patients were repeatedly requested to bring to them any patients who they thought might be examples of persons harmed from persistent radioactivity. No such subjects were found.

It was concluded therefore as a result of these findings and lack of findings, that although a measurable quantity of induced radioactivity was found, it had not been sufficient to cause any harm to persons living in the two cities after the bombings.”

I believe that these startling assertions, so much in contradiction to received wisdom, have not themselves been contradicted in any clear or forceful manner.

In conclusion: It seems that almost everyone fears nuclear radiation. It’s clear much of the opposition to nuclear energy is a function of such a fear. Yet, I found it impossible to locate the kind of good evidence on the subject that rational people would expect to substantiate their fear. If harmful effects from casual and light exposure were so well established, the evidence would show up easily on Google, I think. Opponents of nuclear energy have been adamant for years. If they were rational people and comfortable with facts, they would make it their business to supply data to help people like me make up their minds, or to change their minds. Instead, I found another dog that did not bark. If you have something on the topic that escaped my attention, please send it to me. Again, don’t bother if you have no figures to display.

In spite of all, I will be very much in favor of solar and wind energy (and tidal energy too) as soon as they are available without artificial support. The fact is that they are not and they are not even in sight. There is a solar panel on the roof of my house. It’s supposed to boost my hot-water heater. When its pump went down last year, the technician I called to replace it told me it did not make economic sense to do it. All the same, my libertarian heart still hopes I will get to go off the grid before I check out.

Update 11/13/11: Still no figures from anyone about death or sickness caused by radiation beyond those attributed to clean-up workers right on the site of the accident. If you know otherwise, please let me know. I will check the source and post right away.

Update 4/2/12. There was a “meltdown,” I hear. Still not a single (1) radiation casualty reported! How long should I reasonably wait for  anti-nuclear organizations and for their hysterical media followers to say, “Sorry,” or even simply, “Ooops!”  ??? How long?

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About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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53 Responses to Radiation Danger, Seriously! (Updated 4/2/12)

  1. Martin Rees’ maxim, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence“.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      I agree, Larry and I never argued otherwise. Check again.
      Absence of evidence in something so widely discussed and so likely to induce panic is very troubling. I think. What do you think?
      What would explain this absence of evidence?
      Note that someone may provide evidence soon. At this point I have established that evidence – if any- is not easy to find, that it’s not where common sense would tell you it should be.
      I have done a lot more already than the main TV channels put together.

  2. I’ll try to conjecture as to why there is an absence of evidence, but first I’ll discuss the significant unknowns for the significant factors regarding what is about to happen when the meltdown(s) come home to roost.

    The problem with the public ignorance of what is going on and going to happen with respect to those 6 Japanese reactors/spent rods is that no QUANTITATIVE data is being released. I don’t mean the quantity of sicknesses; I mean the quantities of radioactive materials involved, historically or presently. From the sounds of your blog’s investigation of Chernobyl and Hiroshima/Nagasaki there’s no readily available numerical data really. I want to compare apples with apples rather than hear a cursory verbal comparison of apples with giraffes. Specifically, HOW MUCH radioactive material is in the combined 6 reactors/spent rods VERSUS how much radioactive material was involved at Chernobyl, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki?

    Secondly, what TYPES of radioactive materials are present in the combined 6 reactors/spent rods VERSUS how much radioactive material was involved at Chernobyl, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki; and what are the characteristics of the toxicity and longevity of these qualitative differences?

    I can’t help but believe that a nuclear reactor that provides electrical energy to, I don’t know, thousands or millions of homes for perhaps months at a time, must have quantitatively much more nuclear material than a small atomic (as opposed to thermo-nuclear) bomb, whose explosion took seconds, used in 1945 to scare the willys out of the Japanese military. I also cannot help but believe that these six Japanese reactors don’t have much more nuclear material than that old antiquated Chernobyl plant in Russia.

    Thus should there be 1-6 meltdowns, which as of today, March 16, 2011, the government of Japan declared they were abandoning any hope/efforts to prevent, I’d bet my two cents that those will infuse both the atmosphere and jet stream with much more toxicity than the Chernobyl, Hiroshima, and or Nagasaki giraffes did. Even, Jacques, if you still feel there won’t be any meltdowns, I’d like to know the experts’ opinions on what that might mean not only for Japan, but also for those of us on the receiving end to that Easterly jet stream coming from Asia to California and much of the US. It’s not only about us shielding our bodies and lungs from the incoming radiation, but it’d lace all of our water (rivers, lakes, and reservoirs) and our crops and our cropping-eating animals with radiation for, I don’t know, perhaps thousands of years.

    Back to your original question:

    The motivation for this particular absence of evidence might be that the relevant players don’t want to reveal the necessary information. Why would that be? Well, the initial likely suspects would be the governments who don’t want to panic their populations. But even more likely would be that the corporate custodians don’t want to get sued for maybe trillions of dollars (assuming US dollars their relative value among the other currencies). Law suits are poisoning the responsibility reflex of business. I just heard on the radio today that some state government is trying to sue the mortgage banks for the shortfall of local property taxes by those folks who defaulted on their loans, lost their homes, and therefore aren’t paying any more property taxes. CYA is the modus business response lately.

    This motive for assuring the absence of evidence would apply to the US military in 1945, the Russian government during Chernobyl, as well as any corporations involved in financing, building, and operating all these facilities.

    These are possible explanations for why your research didn’t reveal much specificity. Another reason may be that google searches are not thorough, because not all information has been put online in the first place . . . especially data from the Hiroshima and/or Chernobyl eras. Real research must go much deeper than google searches. But there usually isn’t very much research devoted to blog postings. I don’t know how you proceeded with your “scholarly” google searches, but if you didn’t know there is a scholar-specific google function: http://scholar.google.com/schhp?hl=en&tab=ws, although much of it’s content is probably not so dated as the ancient nuclear incidents you mention (the giraffes).

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Larry: I am specifically not trying to infer specific amounts of illness from specific amounts of radioactivity. I know for sure that I would not know how to do it.

      Instead, I take the three nuclear events that are, I guess, on many worried Americans’ minds. Two events are accidents, like the the incidents in Japan. One is a bigger accident than anyone is affirming anything in Japan to be, as I write. The third event is the biggest amount of radiation ever released and it’s no accident. I look for evidence of after- the- fact noxious radiation effects. The ill effects I am looking for have to be big enough to be detected by specialists, or by militants activist. I look for evidence in the most obvious places. I don’t find much that would confirm ill effects on health from casual exposure to small amounts of radiation. I report what I have done with my ordinary skills,

      That’s it. I don’t do anything else but report that I did not hear the dog bark. Maybe the dog did bark and I missed it. The content of this blog may change tomorrow. I will report it. In the meantime, I suspect that some of the panic-mongers big and small are stubborn and/or supertistious and others lying outright.

  3. Since the outcome of the current event is not yet written, aren’t you curious what the worst-case scenario might be? Don’t you suppose that during the design/construction of those Japanese plants they based their best guestimate on a worst-case scenario? Of course, no one could build a safe reactor to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and its accompanying tsunami.

  4. David says:

    It is interesting to see how this is going to play out. Personally, I doubt there is enough radioactive material in those reactors to pass across the pacific AND be seriously dangerous to people here. Uranium is extremely efficient at creating energy, so it’s not likely that were dealing with hundreds/thousands of tons of fuel here. Though I have to say, I’m tired of hearing people decrying nuclear energy because it’s just too dangerous! This is the worst event in about 30 odd years. It wasn’t due to human error either. This Earthquake was roughly 1400 times stronger than the ’89 quake. We can only keep our structures safe against the capacities of nature to a certain point. A 9.0 earthquake cannot be defended against with our current technology, unless it isn’t touching the ground. Personally I don’t think we can defend against a 9.0 earthquake so long as a structure is connected to the ground. It’s just too powerful. (The idea of a floating city IS quite tempting though.) (As an additional side note, the answer for the perfect electric car is one powered by a miniature nuclear reactor; it would only need a gram or two of fuel to power the car until the frame falls apart.) There is an additional problem with this situation that I think cannot be fixed: the 24-hour news cycle. It keeps us up to date on news (read: disasters/tragedies) so much so that it will provoke the weak-minded/ignorant to panic. (Which I think roughly 70% of the population at large falls into, possibly more. Mind you that that percentage is based entirely on my own interactions with people.) Though I am saddened that included most of the population of Watsonville. Not surprising, but it does sadden me. Further proof that those who limit themselves to one language don’t do themselves any favors. Back to the 24-hour news cycle, whenever a large event like this takes over the airwaves, most of the initial coverage is sketchy at best. Inaccurate or false at worst. It gets repeated throughout the whole news cycle, by the time a fuller comprehension of the situation has been grasped, most of the populace has tuned out, along with most of the media. (Whatever happened to one Moammar al-Qaddafi? Egypt? Darfur? Lindsay Lohan?) This leaves most of the population with an incomplete and jumbled picture that they understand as “truth.” Then something else “big” happens and life moves on and people never follow up on these events to double check them. Especially on major events. (Who killed Natalie Halloway?) The short end is that instant communication has been a great blessing and a most terrible curse to humanity. In spite of the problems that the 24-hour news cycle present, the masses being asses, floating cities, nuclear cars, the technical challenges of surviving a 9.0 earthquake INTACT, and the energetic capacities of uranium, I think we in the US will be unharmed. (With the possible exception of those Americans near the reactor.) I think that Japan will suffer casualties from this, but compared to the direct deaths caused by the Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, I don’t think it will be that bad. Think about it, people get up in arms about the number of soldiers who died in Iraq, but more soldiers died on D-Day, than in the whole 8 years of the Iraq war. The fact that they died was bad, but when put into perspective, it’s not all that bad.

    • Have you considered the quantitative difference between the amount of radioactive material (plutonium, cesium, iodine) in the six nuclear reactors now in jeopardy compared to the 855 grams (uranium) used in the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

  5. Ken says:

    The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be compared to the release of radiation from the nuclear reactors. The bombs were not detonated at ground level but about 600 metres above the cities. The extreme heat from the atomic explosions created a strong up-draft which carried most of the radioactive waste high into the atmosphere away from the ground. The nuclear reactors do not have this strong updraft to clear the radioactive material away from the ground.

  6. David says:

    I have considered it, however, I have yet to find/hear any specific figures regarding the amount of radioactive fuel. In any case, the radioactive material used in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was designed to spread out over a large area and annihilate it, spreading the radioactive by-product over a large area, increasing the chances of someone being infected. Seeing how this reactor material wasn’t intended for that type of application, I have doubts that it would have an effective range greater than the bombs, unless the mass of radioactive material (in the Japanese reactors) is much, much larger. The radioactive material is heavier than air, so it won’t be able to stay airborne for very long, if it even vaporizes. Therefore I doubt it will reach the US by air. (Unless some amazing kind of storm system comes out to keep the material airborne long enough to reach our shores. Possible, but doubtful.) Any radioactive material deposited on land in Japan isn’t going to reach US shores for several million years (unless Mt. Fuji erupts quite spectacularly or someone brings it here, both of which I have doubts of for the next several hundred years, once again, possible, but unlikely.) Which leaves water as the primary mode of transportation for contaminated materials. All radioactive material is heavier than water, so it will sink to the bottom of the ocean floor, unless carried by some very efficient and powerful current, once again possible, but unlikely. Keep in mind the whole of the radioactive material will not be transmitted through any one of these mediums. So, given the distance the material would have to travel, the relative differences in density, the unpredictable nature of atmospheric and oceanic currents, and the rate of dispersion of contaminated material over the distance between the Japanese power plants and the US mainland, I feel safe in saying that it is unlikely that any significant radioactive particles will reach the California coastline. I would caution that this analysis is just a mental exercise based on my existing knowledge of physics, chemistry, math and nuclear power plants in general. With the lack of available information (such as the actual mass and types of radioactive fuel present in those facilities that are at risk) it’s the best simulation that I can run. The worst problems I can see affecting the US would be consuming a contaminated animal/fish/bird, though I suspect the animal/fish/bird would be dead long before it hit the US coast.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Larry, Ken: David speaks for me except much better.

      Thank you for uncovering my tacit assumption: I think that nothing that will happen in Japan will release more radiation than Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together.

      In the meantime about 35,000 people die in car accidents in this country each year. Half of these deaths are completely avoidable: Just make the first drunk driving offense carry a five-year sentence and the second, permanent irrrevocable driving prohibition. None of the people who are now lamenting unknown radiation danger have ever proposed to take serious measures about the 15,000 avoidable and known US road deaths each year. The disproportion in reactions t those real avoidable deaths and imaginary, possible health hazards from radiation tells me everything I need to know about rationality.

      • I couldn’t find a “Ken” in this discussion, but there must be one hiding somehow.

        Do either of you actually know what a meltdown is and how it’d behave?

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        Larry:Ken may be a Japanese friend of mine I cc ed in a message to you. I have not heard from him and I am moderately worried.
        What “expert’? How do you know? The media have a long history of calling anyone they wish an expert to mask their incompetence.
        And even if he is an expert and even if he is right, so? I am worried about crap particles from China though. Thanks for the heads-up!

  7. I saw an expert on TV last night say that the (heavy) radioactive particles, once set aloft from the explosion, would attach themself to dust particals and fly along with the winds. I also read a few years ago (in Scientific American, I believe) that somewhere around 200-300 million (or billion) metric tons of viruses, dust, fungi, bacteria, and toxins travel along with the Westerly wind currents from China to the United States.

  8. David says:

    Larry,

    The basic assumption is that there WILL be an explosion. That is uncertain in and of itself. Also, I didn’t deny that some radioactive material would become airborne, I just have doubts that significant amounts of radioactive material would arrive in the US by this method. To further my earlier point, any radioactive material attaching itself to dust would increase the density of said particulate matter and make it more difficult (NOT impossible) for it to travel the same distance over the EASTERLY wind currents from China to the US. In addition, can you find that article again? I’d love to know if it said “million” or “billion,” because that is a very large quantitative difference, and would affect the percentages of radioactive material that may make it to the US. Though I do notice that you mention viruses, fungi, bacteria, dust and toxins (what kind of toxins?); most of those are extremely light (read: less dense than air) in their airborne forms, save perhaps the toxins, but since toxins come in various forms (CO2 is a toxin too, supposedly, and China pumps out ALOT of it from their coal fired power plants) it’s impossible to know which they’re referring to just by your statement. Also, did they give a breakdown of how much each category was as a percentage of the total? Information that would help me better understand the practical implications of what you’re saying. What you’re saying would be very different if CO2 was included in the “toxins” portion, and if toxins was 20%, it would be equally different than if the bulk of that mass was heavy (read: more dense than air) particulate matter. To be honest, I’m trying to find some good reason to take extreme measures to protect my family, but I’m lacking in finding sufficient reason for the “imminent danger” to me in California from a possible meltdown in Japan.

    Larry, it seems to me that you know more about nuclear meltdowns and how they work than me, would you care to enlighten me on how it works? I would love hear a technical explanation from someone more learned than myself about this. A two minute segment on any news channel from an expert is insufficient for this. In fact, the fact that reporters have only been ordered to stay fifty miles away from the reactor is quite telling. If the danger is as significant as some are pontificating, then Japan should be evacuated immediately, Hawaii ought to be evacuated and West Coast cities and towns ought to be evacuated now, because there won’t be enough time to save everyone once those reactors meltdown, IF this is likely to be the disaster that many fear it to be. To sum up all of my posts in a simple sentance: it just doesn’t add up.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      David. I admire your patience. I hope some of my blog readers are reading you Thanks for them.
      Larry has promised to give me his car after he vaporizes. It’s OK if the car glows a little in the dark. It improves road safety.
      Larry: I got my hands on some iodine pills. They are out of package though. I hope you don’t mind. They are only $200 a pill.

      • David says:

        I have an almost three year old at home with me all day. Patience is a requisite since I desire my offspring to reach maturity alive and intact.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        David: If you don’t mind, tell me where you live and what you do for a living. Here is my email: jdelacroixliberty@gmail,com

  9. Peter Miller says:

    Peter is an American sociologist who has lived in Japan with his Japanese wife for about thirty years. (JD)

    Yes, Facts Matter, but Hunches Matter More. Here’s why: There are very few situations where we have enough information to act with certainty. We are forced to act on the basis of suppositions, guesses, prejudices, hunches, experience (whether relevant or not), fears, hopes, wishes, biased advice, expectations, and all manner of uncertainty. You are in the business of adding fact-based evidence to the mix, which is good. In principle, facts deserve to be weighted more in our calculus of action than wishful thinking or blind fear.

    Facts do not, however (IMHO), equate to official statistics. A simple example: A few years ago, someone added up all nations’ official reports of their balance of trade, and found that the planet had a net negative trade balance of hundreds of billions of dollars. No doubt that figure would be more now. Is Earth already trading with those extra-terrestrial worlds the astronomers have discovered? Or are national governments or those who supply data to them cooking the books, concealing income? My hunch is the latter, so some degree of skepticism about national economic reports is warranted. (There are inter-national variations on this, with OECD countries probably more accurate than, say, Nigeria or China.)

    With public health data, too, one has to look at who is reporting the alleged facts and why. For many years, public health authorities suppressed the fact that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and death. Ditto for black lung disease, toxic waste, Minamata disease, and a host of others where government officials were either complicit or were afraid to be seen as complicit, or both. Here’s an interesting fact: This suppression of evidence leaped over barriers of ideology and national culture, occurring in countries as diverse as the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, and China.

    I don’t have at hand the research done by Japanese atomic-bomb survivor groups on radiation disease. It probably uses different methodologies and definitions than those who compiled the official statistics. Not surprisingly, the two versions of the facts are different, and not only because compensation claims are at stake. To put the facts on radiation dispersion in relation to radiation disease in focus, one would have to plot separate isomorphs of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, plus different radioactive elements, against epidemiological data; and then, informed by clinical evidence, make some reasonable inferences about causality. Life is too short for me to undertake a research project of this scope.

    So I have to act on hunches. I’ve never done anything to offend the FSB, and I don’t want to end up like Alexander Litvinenko:
    http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article2029289.ece

    At the same time, I agree the Western media are exaggerating the dangers of the radiation from Fukushima. Anxiety about the nuclear situation seems to increase with distance from Japan, with exposure to Western media, inversely with length of residence in Japan, and with inability to assess information from various sources about the radiation danger. More about this, and about the rest of the story concerning the nuclear fuel cycle, here:

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=1785043099409

    It is a story of one mishap after another, a tragedy of errors, and billions of dollars wasted, lives risked, and now in Fukushima a man-made disaster on top of a natural one.

    Could anything be worse? Well, yes — turning the only other large-scale energy source — oil — ever to Wahabi, Shia, and secular lunatics. The energy-consuming nations are going to have to move out of this trap pretty darn soon.

    • David says:

      Peter,

      So…what is it the point you are trying to get across? I think this post was made in response to some of the concerns of radioactive particulate matter reaching the US and causing significant casualties. I think we all know that we can never know all the facts before acting, so that seems to be a moot point. Governments/agencies not reporting all the facts/data isn’t exactly news either; however, those governments/agencies are our primary resource for data regarding radiation sickness, especially since we cannot, ETHICALLY, perform those kinds of experiments in a clinical setting. So, if you’re saying that we cannot use that data because it is corrupted, then nothing can be said regarding…anything really. Which seems to be off topic at best. If you’re trying to say that people (in the US) will/may end up like Mr. Litvinenko; then I’d have to say you’re off base, if only because of the rarity of the event. (Which is what makes it an excellent news story, btw) If you’re just trying to say that you agree that Western Media, the US Media in particular, isn’t helping matters, you could’ve just said that and not typed everything else. Or were you just trying to say that this is a terrible tragedy, and the only worse thing than this tragedy is the fact that a bunch of crazy folks control most of the world’s energy supply? That is a tragedy, but not relevant to the topic at hand.

      To sum up, I didn’t quite follow what your main point was in regards to this topic. You made several good points, but it read a little disjointed to me. Would you be willing to clarify for me?

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        David: I may have insisted that Peter post this as a comment when it was a response maybe to an email I had sent him. Blame the captain of this ship for every iceberg not avoided!

  10. jacquesdelacroix says:

    My reply to Peter:

    My posting is entirely that of one who does not understand radiation or anything related.

    Of course, I don’t know how many post- explosion victims there really were in Hiroshima. I am struck by two things however:

    1 The convergence of non-information in connection with events that should produce information galore. As we speak, at the height of the panic crisis, the amount of info about the health aftermath of past nuclear alerts is dramatically not increasing.

    2 It’s difficult to hide large numbers of victims in a normal society. I mean “democratic,” used loosely, with a press and so forth. Even in totalitarian societies, they can’t really hide large numbers.

    The best evidence for radiation illness affecting those not directly involved is the Mangano report I discuss in the posting. It’s slim. More than a hundred people have accessed the posting by now. Not one has offered evidence conforming with the rather undemanding standards I set. Another dog that did not bark!

    If I lived near the affected area I might leave because I would be concerned about millions taking de-contamination showers in their bathrooms at the same time.

    Here is the evolution of the figures reported regarding boats lost in Santa Cruz harbor in last Friday’s mini-tsunami:

    20; 17; 18; 12.

  11. Peter Miller says:

    David, it seems that my post has caused you multiple confusion, which I regret. The main point is that we all have to act on inadequate information, and if that is a moot point, so be it. I start with what everyone agrees on, and move toward less obvious considerations. That fact that official data are inadequate or sometimes misleading doesn’t mean you can’t use such data at all. It merely means that it’s advisable to calibrate such data in relation to the bias of its sources. The news media too have their biases, in this instance as in many others to exaggerate risk and sensationalize danger. Scaring people sells newspapers and page-views. Alexander Litvinenko as you may know died a most horrible death from plutonium poisoning probably administered by someone who now has legislative immunity (to prosecution, not to radiation) as a member of the Duma. To be crystal-clear: This case is NOT, repeat, NOT meant to suggest a similar fate awaits Americans concerned about radiation drifting over from Fukushima. Rather it is a reductio ad absurdum, an evocation of the hysterical froth the news media are working themselves — and unfortunately their readers — into over this. It is what uninformed or misinformed people might imagine happening to themselves.

    The fundamental error of all the media hype is not a factual error, but failure to understand what the facts mean, inability to interpret them due to simple ignorance. We now have exquisitely sensitive instruments capable of detecting the slightest insignificant smidgen of radiation. The media report these readings and whip up hysteria, because they and their readers assume that ANY radiation at all, even the slightest smidgen, is harmful. There is simply no evidence of that whatsoever. Like any other toxin, it’s all about the dosage. A little water is nice to drink, a lot will drown you. (I hope I will not be taken to task for an off-topic aside. The water example is known as an *analogy*, used to clarify the the key point that health effects depend on dosage.)

    Finally, the loss of those six reactors at Fukushima removes 10,000 megawatts from our electrical generating capacity here in Japan. Just this morning we had a scheduled electricity outage for three hours here in Kamakura. Where is Japan going to get enough energy to run its factories, trains, etc., and heat its homes? To me, the relevance of oil, and the demented leaders in charge of it, is obvious. And this goes back to public understanding of risk, and of the impossibility of avoiding risk entirely. Given the risks that come with *all* energy sources, the public is learning by experience that it must deal with the consequences. At this moment, there happens to be a coincidence of consequences involving the two largest energy sources, nuclear and oil. That’s the relevance. I hope this is all clear now.

    Jacques, you’re not to blame for any confusion resulting from my previous post. If a reader says he was confused, he was confused, and it’s my fault for not writing clearly enough. As you will see from the above, your arguments have had some influence on me, which I am happy to acknowledge.

    • I, too have been a follower of “dosage is everything,” but in the case of radiation, arsenic, lead, and a whole shitload of other substances, their toxicity is cumulative. Discounting a single meal of northern Japanes milk/spinach, all the airborne/seawater-borne radiation that reaches this country will continuously/progressively poison us. The last I heard was that the miniscule amount of radiation that has reached California so far (still premature to discuss a meltdown explosion) is equivalent to a CT-scan. A single CT-scan is an equivalent exposure to radiation as would be 400 chest x-rays. When I asked my internist about that, he agreed with that ratio, but parenthetically remarked that it would take perhaps 20-years to develop into cancer, and that I would probably not be alive by then anyhow.

      • David says:

        Keep in mind we get hit with far more radiation from the sun in a given day than that. If such small/infrequent amounts of radiation do in fact cause cancer (I have my own personal doubts on that), then how would we be able to determine causation over a 20 year period? Yes can we do double-blind statistical studies, but there won’t be a large enough sample size to be able to reliably determine causation. We can infer relation, but that is a far cry from causation. Also, given the length of time that these studies need to mature, we’re a long time away from having repeatable data points. There are so many more direct ways of getting cancer, that any data based on any research we do is questionable at best. Basically, worrying about stray radiation killing you, in my opinion, is like waiting for the second coming of Jesus. Or the 12th Imam. Or Buddha. Or Alexander the Great. Take your pick. It might happen, but one ought not spend their days losing sleep over the matter.

  12. David says:

    Peter,

    Thank you for clarifying. That was the direction I thought you were going with your original post (by about a 52-48 margin mind you, but I prefer a margin as close to 100-0 as possible.), but I had no desire to put words in your mouth and I wanted to be sure I understood you properly.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Peter: Thanks for the clarification.
      Everybody: I am protecting my heath by refraining from consuming any spinach and any milk from anywhere in Japan at all! We, on the central coast of California already knew spinach was dangerous anyway. A couple of years ago a man died here from eating unclean spinach and, I am sure, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As for cow’s milk, there must be something wrong with it too. If there were not, how to explain all the people at my coffees shop who put soy milk in their coffee? And many who make such a well-thought out choice have big, stolid northern European features that are not normally associated with lactose intolerance. They are just cautious, that’s all.

      • We all remember the salmonella, or was it E-coli, that was contaminating several spinach farms in the US a couple years ago. I know that this radiation blog topic has more speculation than Carter had little liver pills, but what makes you claim that the poison spinach event was “for sure the tip of the iceberg?” Such conspiratorial pronouncements typically come from the leftist fanatics of Santa Cruz . . . not from the likes of a Jacques Delacroix. As for locals preferring soy milk to cows’ milk being used in their coffee, I use soymilk in my cereal because it tastes so much richer. Also, there’s nothing wrong wilth milk unless one has cholesterol issues, like myself, and needs to avoid “saturated” fats which are supposedly what triggers normal livers to generate LDL cholesterol. And, I suppose that some avoid dairy because they are lactose intolerant. I don’t really believe that many avoid milk because they fear toxic contamination.

      • David says:

        Larry,

        Do try to read what JD while imagining his tongue-in-cheek. Then I think you’ll understand.

  13. David:
    Well I don’t understand why tongue-in-cheekiness would have suddenly been conversationally appropo at the insertion point of the above comment from Jacques, but if you surmise so, I cannot be sure you are incorrect.

    I am not exactly “worried” about the Japanese reactor situation, but I am alert. I didn’t try to buy & consume potassium iodide tablets, nor have I gone out and bought 10-gallons of drinking water, even though I know that within 10-minutes of breaking news of an explosive meltdown the grocery shelves will be void of any. I should stock-up, but I’m not worried enough to do so. But within 10-minutes of said announcement I will be in my automobile and heading directly towards Texas, taking with me only my heart pills, pot, and camera. Probably not so smart to go into Texas with marijuana. Even less smart to stay here with ample bottled water.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Larry: I am all stocked up for a big earthquake because: 1 It’s a real possibility where we live; 2 The 89 moderate earthquake showed how quickly supplies become scarce in our island area; 3 It’s easy and cheap to stock up. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, I have made no provision even for the most devastating tornado. Get the point? By the way, don’t get any big idea about my earthquake supplies. I also keep a shotgun and I don’t hunt or shoot at the range.

      You live in a small town that was once the murder capital of the world (for real) and you think about radiation from Japan. You deliberately expose your enviable physique to the rays of the sun in early afternoon and you think about radiation from Japan. And yes, your tap water almost certainly contains arsenic. I am almost sure you use it for cooking nevertheless. As for your bottled water, unless it’s certified spring water from a company with a good reputation, there is no guarantee it’s not recycled, purified sewer water. In most states, there is no law against it.

      When you make a run for Texas, can I have your stash?

      • You’re right. I should buy the water tomorrow, and always maintain a fairly full tank of gasoline. Meet me in Albuquerque, and I’ll trade you smoke for aqua. Bring several lighters and pipe cleaners. For my best stuff, bring a couple teenage girls.
        PS: I already cook with bottled spring water, but I go to coffee shops to savor the arsenic. It’s a quick and gentle death . . . affecting the mind first.
        Hmmm, somehow Jacques you’ve diverted me to be tongue-in-cheekie.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        You don’t want to be caught in Arizona with a stash of dope. With your year around suntan, you look vaguely foreign. The cops there might throw you in the tanks with a dozen illegal aliens who will think you are the cutest thing they have seen. Don’t take a chance, entrust the stash to me.

  14. Peter Miller says:

    Re Larry’s comment:
    ‘I, too have been a follower of “dosage is everything,” but in the case of radiation, arsenic, lead, and a whole shitload of other substances, their toxicity is cumulative. Discounting a single meal of northern Japanes milk/spinach, all the airborne/seawater-borne radiation that reaches this country will continuously/progressively poison us.’

    With regard to radiation, Cells exposed to radiation repair themselves, and This self-repair works except when overwhelmed by very high dosage in a very brief span of time. This is why low exposures that are spread out over time do not impair health. The general public thinks any radiation exposure is bad, and that the damage is cumulative. Both of these beliefs are false.

    • Peter:

      Now that both David and I have knocked ourselves out of respectability (see entries below), your reputation can still be salvaged if you provide some reliable (and valid) citations.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        Larry: Same violation of the rules. You affirmed cumulativeness, not a small thing. quite central to the issue of why one should panic.

        Everyone: Fortunately, the criteria of intellectual respectability are quite low on this blog.

  15. Peter:
    Please provide citations supporting your claims that radiation poisoning is not cumulative.

    • David says:

      Larry,

      Can you provide support for your claims that radiation poisoning IS cumulative? The burden of proof lies on whoever brings a subject to the discussion, or at least that’s what I learned in speech and debate. You brought the subject of cumulative radiation poisoning; the topic was regarding whether or not harmful amounts of radiation would reach the US.

      • I anticipated your response. Apparently neither of us has any real knowledge on the subject, but we’re both happy believing whatever the crap we believe. You realize, of course, that our last two entries have exposed us so that neither of us has any credibility on this blog. I can live with that . . . I hope you can too.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        I am sorry, Larry, I agree with one of the comments: You affirmed the cumulativeness of radiation damage so, it’s up to you to explain why you believe it. The alternative is to say, “I don’t know why I believe this.” Your confessing this does not in any way imply anything about the other guy as your previous comment seems to imply. If I don’t know what I am talking about it does not mean that the guy who is arguing against my position does not know anything either.

        I couldn’t activate the NY TIMes link you provided earlier.

  16. This week begins with the following Monday morning news from the New York Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/world/asia/28japan.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

    • I admit that I don’t definitively know that reradiation toxicity is cumulative. An article in Wikipedia claims, and cites, that “reradiation is problematic”, whatever that may mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_therapy.

      Nor do I really know that either arsenic or mercury re-exposure is cumulative. I’ve either read (in a newspaper or some magazine like Scientific American) these claims or heard them on television.

      But I did declare in this blog that radiation was cumulative in the human body. And Peter did claim that despite that common assumption, it was incorrect. If David wasn’t biased on this issue, he would have challenged me, like he did, AND have challenged Peter’s assertion also. This silliness that any proof provided in this blog should be limited to some rules of oral debate is silly, and an obfuscation to boot. We’re all in the same boat on this: insisting that the other side is responsible for mre fact-finding.

      Generally, when it comes to life vs. death, I’d rather be assured that something is not deadly rather than that it is.

      • David says:

        Larry,

        The reason I called you out on it and not Peter, was because you affirmed that cumulative radiation poisoning was correct BEFORE Peter stated otherwise, in response to you, not to say that I’m not biased, but that’s why I didn’t call him out.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        “Problematic” means it’s a problem because I don’t know. If one knew, one would assert it. I would n’t go to Wikepedia for a hot topic like this, by the way.

  17. I know not to put my eggs in the Wikipedia basket. But I’m lazy, plus I feel uncertain that scientists have been able to sufficiently test human guinea pigs with chronic Alpha, or Beta, or Gamma exposures at various discreet concentrations.

  18. David:

    I didn’t know how to put a reply directly under your last posting, but this is in response to your March 29, 2011 at 3:58 am entry:

    It’s sad that none of us knows whether or not chronic radiation exposure is cumulative. Obviously you nor I do. Peter would have posted some citation(s) if he had it(them). At least Jacques tried. What’s sad is not that we four know not whereof, and yet we discuss it. What’s sad is that none of the media has located an experted eccentric bio-radiation scientist brave enough to feed the public some basic facts.

    This morning New York Times posted an article by David Jolly, Hiroko Tabuchi, and Keith Bradsher about the latest on the Japanese Nuclear crisis. Reporting was contributed by Ayasa Aizawa, Ken Ijichi and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo, and William J. Broad from New York.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/world/asia/28japan.html
    (if this doesn’t work for you it may be because I have an online subscription).

    They said, and I quote:
    “There was also deep concern early Sunday about initial readings of radioactive iodine 134, which has a half-life of only 53 minutes and would not be present in large quantities unless fission had restarted. That would present the alarming possibility of an out-of-control reactor.”

    FISSION? Did I read what I fear I might have? A friend of mine said he researched how much nuclear fuel was currently residing in those particular reactors: a little more than 1,000 lbs. (Hiroshima was ~2 lbs.). I assume that doesn’t include the spent fuel rods. Is this what a “meltdown” means? that the temperature reaches a threshold which initiates a 1,000 lb. nuclear chain reaction? Is this why no government nor media is giving us the obvious information more folks than the four of us are wanting to know? Tell me what you KNOW, David.

  19. David says:

    Larry,

    I’ll have to delve back into my old physics textbook to refresh my memory on this. Give me a few days, I have to find it first. From my memory, the fission reaction for power plants is much more gradual than the fission reaction generated by an atomic weapon. The fission in power plants is radiation heating water to generate electricity, whereas the fission in an atomic bomb is created by splitting an atom. The difference in the method of creating the energy generation is in the time in which the energy is released. So a meltdown would be similar in effect to a car running without any coolant(if it could keep running until it melted the engine at any rate.) The fuel rods would literally melt down from the heat they’re radiating and, since they’re out of “coolant,” release bursts of radiation until the radioactive material has been “spent,” as opposed to releasing all of the energy at once in a massive fission reaction created by splitting the atoms, which is different than the radioactive material degrading, therefore will not result in a mushroom cloud. That’s what I think I know at least, but I’ll need to double check my physics textbooks and do a bit of research. Hopefully I won’t get tagged by the government while I research it.

    • I sent my concerns to a friend via email, not by blog. He responded as follows:
      The wording of the NYT article is a bit misleading. U235 undergoes fission continually with a half life of 713,000,000 years. No one can stop that under any circumstances. If it is sufficiently concentrated it will undergo a chain reaction where one fissioning atom will cause one or more other atoms to fission. If the number is exactly one, then one can derive energy from it sustainably. If the number is more than one, the reactor will get hotter and hotter until something quenches the reaction. The heat generated in the absence of a chain reaction is probably not measurable, but the heat from a chair reaction is what boils the steam to make the generators go. If the equipment isn’t working properly (as is certainly the case at the Japanese reactors) and the fuel rods are not moved far enough apart to quench the reactions then chain reaction fission will continue. If there is cooling water in sufficient quantity, then the situation is semi-stable as long as the chain reaction does not increase as noted above. If the cooling fails, then the rods will almost certainly get hot enough that they melt – ie a meltdown. If the containment systems don’t fail, then it will make an expensive mess, but won’t be a significant danger to the outside world. If there is a meltdown and the containment fails, then there will be a release of radiation. What would be bad at that time, would be to have a non-nuclear explosion. There is no chance of a significant nuclear explosion.

      It seems that we have had a continuing chain reaction and a containment failure, but not an explosion sending lots of nuclear material around. Once again, we are not likely to have anything worse than the above ground nuclear testing of the 20th century and certainly not as bad as Chernobyl.
      I did not challenge him on his sources. I presume these are his opinions based on whatever he has read whenever.

      • jacquesdelacroix says:

        Larry: Back to radiation danger to human health. Your previous comment seems to imply that we cannot know anything without actual experiments. This idea is simply false. If it were not, we would never know anything about the effects on health of anything that is almost certainly dangerous to life. The field that deals with this is epidemiology. It relies on sophisticated but common and well-understood. statistical methods.

  20. OK. Please share with me a medically acknowledged 3-D graph that maps multi-flavors of mortality with respect to time and with respect to dosage. I don’t care if it is calculated by epidemischmology. We all should have a spectrum of when the values are safe, and when they are not, plus a sense of the risk(s) in between.

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