Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fukushima three months later: the sorcerer's apprentice

Three months after the nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima, how far is Japan along the plan to recovery?

At the plant, the situation is "stable" in the sense that there is no more risk of sudden degradation than there was a month ago. The workers may be becoming worn out, the rain season and associated risk of typhoon are worrisome, the work is hampered by the accumulation of radiation in every object on site, but there is some progress. For example, containers for radioactive water are being brought in; measurement instruments have been set up, humans and robots have entered the buildings a couple of times for a few minutes. Information is little by little coming out to reveal that the catastrophic events three months ago were much worse than first assessed, so the present looks better in comparison. There is no clear plan forward, so in a way this is like a "new frontier" for science.

In the region, the situation is slowly degrading as radioactivity is spreading in air, water, soil, and food, in a spotty, haphazard manner. However the long term effects of non-acute radioactivity are not well known. There are almost no casualties at present, and everyone is in the dark regarding the potential casualties in 20 or 30 years (the number of deaths attributable to Chernobyl varies from 64 to 985000, depending on what you read). The media are split between systematic under-reporting of the seriousness of the situation, systematic fear-mongering, and plain and simple silence as they have moved on to other topics.

Wondering about nuclear power, I am irresistibly reminded of the scene in Fantasia where Mickey Mouse, apprentice magician, uses magic brooms to do his chores for him, as an illustration of the dangers of power over wisdom.

Raw data:
News aggregator:
Japanese blog:

UPDATE: Italians have voted against developing nuclear power again in Italy. Their vote, by referendum, was quasi-unanimous: 94.05% of the votes!

1 comment:

  1. some great updates are available at:

    Actually a good example of a scientist making his knowledge/observations understandable to the general public but not comprising on the scientific content. (Can we follow this example in (T)CS?)

    Seems a couple things that have not been widely discussed: the second explosion at Fukushima was a nuclear explosion. The evidence points to the likely possibility that in Reactor 3 (the one with the MOX fuel), the spent fuel pool exploded (or detonated) causing that explosion to look much different (e.g. mushroom cloud) than the explosion in Reactor 1. One should note that this event alone (detonation of a spent fuel pool) is a comparable event to Chernobyl, although it seems that the explosion did not go as high into the atmosphere, and the higher the explosion goes, the farther the radiation can travel in a concentrated cloud.

    We should also realize that Chernobyl basically stopped its large scale release of radioactivity into the atmosphere after about two weeks. Fukushima is still leaking into the air and into the ocean and this is after three months. This disaster is also in a much more densely populated area than Chernobyl and near (approx 150 miles of) a metro area of 30 million people, which has never happened before.

    This is truly a terrible disaster (much worse than Chernobyl--an 8 at least) and it is shocking how little coverage it has been receiving.


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