[LINK] Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Sat Mar 26 15:49:07 AEDT 2011

Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate
Dead horse long ago flogged down to a mere red stain
By Lewis Page
Posted in Physics, 25th March 2011 16:22 GMT
The Register

[see the story for links]

The situation at the quake- and tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi 
nuclear powerplant in Japan was brought under control days ago. It 
remains the case as this is written that there have been no measurable 
radiological health consequences among workers at the plant or anybody 
else, and all indications are that this will remain the case. And yet 
media outlets around the world continue with desperate, increasingly 
hysterical and unscrupulous attempts to frame the situation as a crisis.

Here's a roundup of the latest facts, accompanied by highlights of the 
most egregious misreporting.

First up, three technicians working to restore electrical power in the 
plant's No 3 reactor building stood in some water while doing so. Their 
personal dosimetry equipment later showed that they had sustained 
radiation doses up to 170 millisievert. Under normal rules when dealing 
with nuclear powerplant incidents, workers at the site are permitted to 
sustain up to 250 millisievert before being withdrawn. If necessary, 
this can be extended to 500 millisievert according to World Health 
Organisation guidance.

None of this involves significant health hazards: actual radiation 
sickness is not normally seen until a dose of 1,000 millisievert and is 
not common until 2,000. Additional cancer risk is tiny: huge numbers of 
people must be subjected to such doses in order to see any measurable 
health consequences. In decades to come, future investigators will 
almost certainly be unable to attribute any cases of cancer to service 
at Fukushima.

Nonetheless, in the hyper-cautious nuclear industry, any dose over 100 
millisievert is likely to cause bosses to pull people out at least 
temporarily. Furthermore, the three workers had sustained slight burns 
to their legs as a result of standing in the radioactive water - much as 
one will burn one's skin by exposing it to the rays of the sun (a 
tremendously powerful nuclear furnace). They didn't even notice these 
burns until after completing their work. Just to be sure, however, the 
three were sent for medical checks.

So - basically nothing happened. Three people sustained injuries 
equivalent to a mild case of sunburn. But this was reported around the 
globe as front-page news under headlines such as "Japanese Workers 
Hospitalized for Excessive Radiation Exposure". Just to reiterate: it 
was not excessive.

Reporters clamoured to know more - in particular how could the water in 
the basement of the reactor building have become so radioactive - no 
less than "10,000 times normal". One might note that in general 
radiation levels 10,000 times normal mean that you could achieve a tiny 
fraction of an extra percentage point of cancer risk by being exposed 
for a fortnight or so.

Japanese government spokesmen briefing the press obligingly gave a list 
of possibilities. Among these was the possibility that the suppression 
chamber at No 3 may be leaking water or steam due to damage (as well as 
doing so due to planned venting operations which are being carried out 
on purpose).

The suppression chamber is technically part of the core's primary 
containment, though in fact the core itself lives in its own central 
cocoon at the middle of the doughnut-shaped, water-filled suppression 
chamber. The plant owner, TEPCO, in conjunction with Japanese government 
officials, stated that the No 3 suppression chamber might have suffered 
damage well over a week ago: this possibility was well known. We here at 
the Reg reported it back then, and not being goldfish we still remember 
doing so.

And yet we hear "Japan fears nuclear site reactor damage", "Dangerous 
breach feared at Japanese Nuke Plant" - as if this was some grave new 
piece of news today.

Then there's the matter of the tapwater in Tokyo. Two days ago, levels 
of radioactive iodine-131 were found in the city's water which were 
above the safety limit for baby milk calculated on the basis of a year's 
consumption: in other words, if babies drank such water for a year 
constantly they would have a tiny, minuscule extra risk of thyroid cancer.

One should note that iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days: it disappears 
almost completely within a matter of weeks. The Fukushima reactors have 
not been generating any more of it since they scrammed nearly a 
fortnight ago, and the residual core heating which is causing it to be 
emitted has plunged to tiny proportions of that seen in the days after 
the quake.

There was never any chance whatsoever that levels of iodine-131 in the 
tapwater would remain noticeable for a year, which is what would be 
necessary for any effects at all on the city's babies. It was really 
quite irresponsible of the authorities to recommend that infants 
shouldn't drink it. (One can't help noticing that the first such 
recommendation reportedly came from the city authorities, belatedly 
followed by the national government. The Tokyo city governor is from the 
national opposition party and is facing a tough re-election battle. He 
had previously sought to use the Fukushima situation to cast his 
political rivals in a bad light over the deployment of Tokyo's elite 
Hyper Rescue firefighters.)

The spurious water announcement, of course, caused pretty much everybody 
to stop drinking from Tokyo taps and there was a run on bottled water. 
This was reported globally under such headlines as "Tokyo Water Works is 
new ground zero" (since retracted, but the Google cache will show you 
the guilty organisation for a while) even as the announcement came that, 
of course, the harmless minuscule iodine-131 spike had passed.

There is no sign of the madness abating: reporters are now in a 
desperate battle to breathe life into the Fukushima non-story, and are 
resorting to increasingly outrageous methods. Consider the latest work 
of veteran New Scientist scaremonger Deborah MacKenzie (selected 
previous headlines: "Pea sized bomb could clear a city" [no it 
couldn't], "BSE: it's not over yet" [yes it was], "Iran showing fastest 
scientific growth of any country" [utter bilge]).

MacKenzie tells us that "Fukushima fallout nears Chernobyl levels". 
Normally that wouldn't matter: unfortunately this article is now all 
over the internet.

The facts are that minuscule quantities of airborne radio-iodine and 
radio-caesium from Fukushima are now being detected by instruments all 
round the world - as you would expect, because radioactivity can be 
detected in incredibly tiny amounts. If you wanted to, you could examine 
weather records since the quake hit, concoct a simulation of how iodine 
and caesium might travel around the planet to be deposited at far-flung 
instruments thousands of miles away, and then plug in those final 
readings in order to extrapolate back to generate a figure for possible 
emissions from Fukushima. That figure would be highly uncertain, to put 
it mildly, but you could do it.

There wouldn't be a lot of point in doing so in the case of 
radio-caesium, as nobody has ever been able to show that this isotope 
has any health consequences at all: huge amounts were emitted from 
Chernobyl, but no discernible illnesses have resulted.

Radio-iodine, though, did have measurable (though very small) health 
effects after Chernobyl: if children and young people drank milk 
containing large amounts of it - thousands of times the levels seen in 
Japan to this point - their chances of getting cancer increased by 
approximately 0.02 per cent.

Anyway, one meteorologist has decided to try and work back from the 
worldwide readings to calculate possible emissions figures from 
Fukushima. It is these figures that New Scientist tell us are "nearing 
Chernobyl levels".

Fortunately we can go straight to the source here, and find that in the 
judgement of Gerhard Wotawa of the Austrian met office (and of the 
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation) emissions of iodine-131 from 
Fukushima could be approximately 20 per cent of those from Chernobyl.

It should be needless to say there is not a hint of a suggestion that 
anybody will be giving milk with significant levels of iodine-131 in it 
to children, as happened to about 18 million youngsters after Chernobyl, 
causing them a tiny increased chance of later developing thyroid cancer 
(which, unusually for cancer, is easily cured - though you need supplies 
of radio-iodine from nuclear reactors to do so).

Sadly it does appear to be necessary to say that.

The "fallout" which is "nearing Chernobyl levels" is presumably the 
still more harmless radio-caesium, which Wotawa theorises may have been 
emitted from Fukushima in amounts "20-60" per cent of those seen at 

One should also add that in Wotawa's judgement all these substantial 
emissions of iodine and caesium have fallen into the sea: there is 
basically zero chance of verifying that they actually happened. Health 
consequences - of course - should be zero.

This is beyond ignorance now.



Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
email:	brd at iimetro.com.au
website:	www.drbrd.com

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