Tuesday, March 15, 2011

American Nuclear Society Backgrounder on Japan

With the anti-Nuke contingent1 already using the situation in Japan as a political card in the fight against more nuclear power plants in the US, this American Nuclear Society Backgrounder on Japan is a useful contribution to the public debate.
To begin, a sense of perspective is needed… Right now, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami is clearly a catastrophe; the situation at impacted nuclear reactors is, in the words of IAEA, an "Accident with Local Consequences."

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami are natural catastrophes of historic proportions. The death toll is likely to be in the thousands. While the information is still not complete at this time, the tragic loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami will likely dwarf the damage caused by the problems associated with the impacted Japanese nuclear plants.
You can count me as someone who thinks that the United States needs much more nuclear power, not less. And this once-in-a-millennium event in Japan changes my position not a whit...

Oh, and here's a little more perspective.
The comparison to Chernobyl remains popular, but is also good way to identify if someone talking about Fukushima knows what they hell they are talking about. If someone suggests any comparison between the two based on the current data, they are an idiot - not an expert.

Here is how to put Fukushima in the context of Chernobyl. The radiation levels at Chernobyl were of the order of 30,000 roentgens per hour near the plant.

30,000 roentgens is 3,579 sieverts. One million micro sieverts to one sievert. Doing a little quick math, if we are comparing the magnitude of radiation levels coming from 'meltdown' at the Fukushima power plant to the 'meltdown' at Chernobyl we get 1 / 3,579,000

Again, doing the math, a relative comparison suggests Fukushima is 0.00002% of the Chernobyl levels of radiation. These 'meltdowns' have nothing in common, unless you believe .000002% - below the mSv of a CT scan - is a public health threat.
It's obviously far from an ideal situation. It's conceivable that it can get worse. That said, it's pretty likely that, as scary as the words "nuclear plant meltdown" are, as paranoid as people tend to be about nuclear power, this is not an event that is going to cause much (any?) harm to many (any?) people.

1 - For some reason, there's a large overlap between that group and those who are opposed to coal and oil energy, too, because of the "carbon footprint." I suspect that they'd all poo-poo accusations that they want people living in the dark ages, without electricity and transportation, but that seems to be the inevitable logic of their position.

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