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Fukushima: which is worse for you, radiation or paranoia?

[ by Charles Cameron — frankly, I’m more concerned about the spiritually and socially corrosive impact of fear, myself ]


I know, technically radiation and paranoia are incommensurables. But still…

Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer posted today at Nuclear Diner, pointing out the fallacies in some recent reports about Fukushima, spreading like wildfire on the web:

I particularly like the “Fukushima melt-through point” in one of the illustrations in that apparently original source, reproduced here. That’s referring to the China Syndrome, in which the melted reactor core melts down through the earth. But once it gets to the center, does it keep climbing, against gravity, to that “melt-through point”?

How much outrageous or stupid stuff does it take to discredit a source? For me, the misuse of the tsunami map and the belief that a core could melt clear through the earth, against gravity, are quite enough.


I recommend Chery’s whole piece, both to read and to circulate. And she includes a number of other more specific sources worth takeing a look at, including:

  • Radiation Basics
  • True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster
  • Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.
  • Three Reasons Why Fukushima Radiation Has Nothing to Do with Starfish Wasting Syndrome
  • **

    So: which does more harm to us in the long run, radiation — or paranoia?

    18 Responses to “Fukushima: which is worse for you, radiation or paranoia?”

    1. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      Well, Charles, I’ll vote for paranoia as the more harmful. And the fear that accompanies it.
      But the scariest thing I found in research for that post was that Google is broken. It returned gobs of the nonsense and not much real reporting, even on Google News. I think there are a couple of problems: 1) Google is aggregating a lot of sources that aren’t really news, and 2) There is so much garbage on the internet on Fukushima that Google’s algorithms are overwhelmed. 

    2. larrydunbar Says:

      “But once it gets to the center, does it keep climbing, against gravity, to that “melt-through point”?”

      Gravity must give the torch its initial acceleration, but mass moves from where it is to where it is able. So my guess it never reaches the “middle”, but moves where is able. and that doesn’t mean necessarily “down”. 

    3. Ghost of Christmas Future Says:

      Infowars.com is sending reporters up the Pacific coast from SF to SEA with geiger counters later this week, followed by el jefe himself:
      Of course as even Brother Jones admits, the geiger counter cannot tell you the TYPE of radiation it’s picking up, or whether a 200-500% increase from background is inherently dangerous or harmless. That all depends on the type of particle. But [please delete previous comment, as I’m not posting here to be disagreeable] despite the best efforts of some, the coincidences and geiger counter YouTube videos will continue to mount.

    4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      Larry –

      You are correct. The corium moves to where it can. Even in the case of Chernobyl, that wasn’t very far. It’s completely contained at Fukushima – if it weren’t, more radioisotopes would be detected. The whole China Syndrome idea is nonsense.


    5. larrydunbar Says:

      Hi Cheryl,


      “Notice that the blob is rounded in the way candy dripping onto a marble slab is rounded. That means that the concrete is sufficient to cool the melted blob of reactor interior, sometimes called “corium.”” 

      That wasn’t very far, but as a millwright at a aluminum smelter I have seen similar masses before in the basement under the pots. It looks to me like much of the cooling that created the “blob” came from either air or perhaps water. But of course maybe it was the concrete that put out the fire that was below the cooling mass that formed the blob.

      I guess what people are really asking is the “fire” out? It doesn’t seem so, or they still wouldn’t need all that sea water to keep things cool. So the China Syndrome may be, as you say, nonsense, what also doesn’t make sense is that the radiation is still leaking into the Ocean.

      So how come the concrete hasn’t put out the fire in Japan, considering there are no more radioisotopes being detected? The acceleration of gravity is being controlled by the cooling of the mass by the sea water?

    6. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      You talk about “fire” both in quotes and outside quotes. I think you intend it metaphorically, to represent the heat in the now-melted cores at Fukushima and Chernobyl.
      For the Chernobyl “elephant’s foot”, cooling by air would be much less than by the concrete, because of the relative heat capacities of the two, just as a marble slab provides for candymaking. Water cooling, unless it was from below, would have given a more irregular shape, depending on where the water was.

      I think your question about whether the “fire” is out is a good one, although it brings up what you mean by “fire.” One possible meaning is the fission reaction that produces the heat that produces steam that produces electricity. That ended when the favorable arrangement of fuel and moderator broke up, back in March 2011. There have been alarms about “recriticality”, but if this has happened, it has been in small and not dangerous amounts. Reactors are designed so that criticality is just maintained during operation and not otherwise. Chernobyl was an exception to that, but similar reactors are now being redesigned. 
      “Fire” as heat is different. Because of the radioisotopes produced by fission (fission products), the fuel elements continue to be hot, even without criticality (decay heat). This is what caused the fuel to melt. But most of those heat-producing fission products have short half-lives, so they and their heat are rapidly disappearing. Cooling the melted mass inside the containment is the purpose of the seawater. Nobody knows the exact state inside the concrete containment vessels, so continued cooling is prudent. As that water contacts the melted fuel elements, it dissolves cesium, the most soluble of the fission products, and that goes into the sea.  

    7. Charles Cameron Says:

      I just want to add a word of thanks, Cheryl, for you continuing help in the comments section. It is warmly appreciated.

    8. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      I’m glad for the discussion, Charles. It gives me some insight into others’ thinking. I wouldn’t have easily made the comparison to fire, but I suspect that many others besides Larry do.

    9. larrydunbar Says:

      Not made the comparison to fire? Your a real caveman aren’t you 🙂

      So are we talking .8 M watts of power after one year, and the problem is that seawater is as good as the cooling gets? Otherwise the Zirconium rods start burning away?

      I remember my brother-in-law used to have his zirconium chips catch fire every so often. He used to make rod-caps for fuel rods. I always thought it was pretty cool stuff. 

      Maybe you should tell everyone the China Syndrome is real, only going by boat, and that it is going to take a very long time getting there. 

    10. Cheryl Rofer Says:

      There are a couple of videos showing blowtorching zirconium tubes on the Web without their catching fire. Here’s one. Pyrophoric metals are more likely to burn in chip form. Zirconium isn’t the most pyrophoric of metals, but chips will burn from time to time.

    11. larrydunbar Says:

      Well,  it’s a good thing there are no chips down there. On the other hand, normal structural steel won’t ignite under a blowtorch either, but if you hit it with an oxidizing agent such as pure oxygen it “burns” quite nicely thankyou.

      Are there any oxidizing agents around. I know chlorine works good to ignite iron rust. Any iron mixed in with the corium that might ignite with all that sodium chloride they are shoving down there? Just in the off chance that there is some kind of chemical reaction going on, such as the aluminum smelting “pots” used to go through? If I remember correctly oxygen was a by-product in the smelting of aluminum.

    12. larrydunbar Says:

      So, I imagine that most of the American nuclear industry’s faithful, such as Cheryl Rofer, must understand by now that American nuclear reactors don’t belong in Iran. Iran is too far away from the ocean. If there is another level 10 earthquake, there would be no place for the cooling water to go.

      On the other hand, what’s another reactor’s failure, based on American technology, in the Pacific? The worst that could happen is that there would be two places dumping radioactive waste into the Ocean. Probably, on the scale of things, not that big of deal now that there is one reactor dumping radioactive waste into the Pacific.

      Where do you see sells for American nuclear reactors going, except perhaps along the Mississippi River or some other access point to our Red States? In other words, who is the nuclear industry, based on American technology, aligned with politically? Are they aligned north and south (Red State/Blue State), east and west (Asia/Europe), or a combination of the two?

    13. Grurray Says:

      Nuclear power held up quite well during the recent cold spell:

      We usually get around 50% of our power from nuclear.
      In fact, our state produces more nuclear power than any other in the union, and we’re one of the bluest.
      The most recent plant was built in 1987 and it’s cooling reservoir doubles as a recreation area enjoyed safely by families for decades now. 
      There’s a lot of buzz recently about thorium molten salt reactors, mostly how China is advancing the technology
      Cheryl, any opinion on thorium? 

    14. Grurray Says:

      Maybe it’s all hype, but the most promising aspect of the molten salt reactor design seems to be the safety.
      Supposedly, if all the workers were to suddenly disappear, the plant would be able to shut down itself.

    15. Grurray Says:

      this previous post didn’t make it through:
      Nuclear power held up quite well during the recent cold spell:http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/01/12/polar-vortex-nuclear-saves-the-day/
      We usually get around 50% of our power from nuclear.In fact, our state produces more nuclear power than any other in the union, and we’re one of the bluest.The most recent plant was built in 1987 and it’s cooling reservoir doubles as a recreation area enjoyed safely by families for decades now. .There’s a lot of buzz recently about thorium molten salt reactors, mostly how China is advancing the technologyhttp://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/20/us-breakout-thorium-special-report-idINBRE9BJ0RH20131220.
      Cheryl, any opinion on thorium?  

    16. larrydunbar Says:

      ” and we’re one of the bluest.”

      Red State was just a metaphor. The point here is water, agreed?

      Considering who the editor is, I am sure we lost Cheryl at “faithful”. 🙂 

    17. Gurray Says:

      Iran’s plant is on the Persian Gulf
      “on September 23 of 2013, operational control was transferred”
      Is that part of the motivation for a treaty with Iran?
      A latter day version of ‘Atoms For Peace’ with GE taking the lead.

    18. larrydunbar Says:

      “A latter day version of ‘Atoms For Peace’ with GE taking the lead.”

      Perhaps if Mitt had been elected. 🙂

      The problem with Iran sighting a nuclear reactor with access to the Persian Gulf is that it also means a possible access by any blue-water nation. If that blue-water nation is China, with access to oil in the Persian Gulf, that may be a problem for them.

      In that case, Russia may represent a different strategy, i.e. a industry that doesn’t rely on an Ocean of potential, nor a Western religion. 

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