Radiation safety update

Click here for the latest updates to this post.

There is an awful lot of panic and speculation regarding the situation at the Fukushima #1 (Daiichi) Nuclear Power Plant and in particular its possible effects on the Tokyo Metro area. What is really going on?

Short answer – things seem to be pretty safe for now, but there is still a possibility of danger if things don’t go well.

Since I am continually updating this post (first published on March 15 at 6:40PM) I have reassigned the date to bring it back to the top, but edited the formatting slightly to keep its length from blocking out the other recent posts.

I have also been very active on twitter the last week and will continue to post there more often than here, but probably less often than I have been since I have a lot of other stuff to take care of. You can follow me there @mutantfroginc.

To read from the beginning just click below (if on the main page) or scroll down, and to jump to the latest posts click on the link at the top.

For the initial postdetails, I have copied the text that Matt Alt has already posted on his blog and then adding some minor corrections and additional information.

[Start of information collated by Matt Alt]

The bottom line is, the Tokyo metro area seems to be safe for now and there is no need to panic or evacuate. I base this on the following data points. They are collected from information announced in government press conferences and from other sources cited below.Point 1: A seivert (whether milli- or micro-) is a dose. The units are expressed per hour. The effect is cumulative, not instant. This means that at a 2 millisievert level, you would need to be exposed to the source for 100 hours to be irradiated to the point that is considered clinical radiation poisoning (200 millisieverts, according to this chart translated by @gakurunaman). But the current background radiation in Tokyo is somewhere around 0.3 microsieverts. That’s something like three ten thousandths of a millisievert.

Point 2: As reported by NHK and corroborated by datafeed from the Hino monitoring station, metropolitan Tokyo radiation levels rose from a normal reading of around 20-30 CPM (0.2 – 0.3 microseiverts per hour) up to to 89 CPM (0.89 microseiverts per hour) for an hour, then dropped to close to normal background levels again. They remain normal as of this writing.

Point 3: Tepco released a graph showing a spike of 12,000 microseiverts (12 millisieverts per hour) at front gate of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It has since dropped to below 2,000 microsieverts (2 millisieverts per hour) This seems to correspond to the fire at reactor #4, which has since been extinguished.

Even still, again note @gakurunaman’s chart showing comparative radiation levels. Even one hour at 12 milliseiverts (the max reading taken at the gate of the plant) is equivalent to less than 2 CT Scans. These readings were taken at the front gate of the nuclear plant in Fukushima. They decline rapidly with distance from the reactors. Again, metro Tokyo readings remain normal.

Point 4: The situation at the #1 and #3 reactors is under control, with seawater being pumped in now to keep the cores cool. There was no core breach. The situation at #2 is that water is being pumped in but the level is not rising. This needs to be watched closely. The fire in Reactor #4 was extinguished earlier today. A measure of radiation and some radioactive isotopes may have been released in this fire, but the release of radiation and material seems to have stopped with the extinguishing of the fire. As stated above, radiation levels are corroborated by the Hino geiger counter datafeed.

Again, PLEASE comment if you have info that contradicts any of the above.

This is a fluid situation, and an environmental disaster around the reactor site, but Tokyo residents and those outside of the evacuation zone do not seem to be in immediate danger as of this writing. The people in the most danger are the workers inside the plant. By exposing themselves to higher than normal radiation levels, they are sacrificing their health to keep the rest of us safe, and are the unsung heroes of this potential crisis.

[Following is my additional explanation]

As I said, the above is basically accurate.

Below is a graph someone made of the radiation level measurements released by Tokyo Power Company earlier today. The information is derived from a chart in a PDF file, which also includes wind direction and other data, until 1:30 pm.

As you can see, the spike occurred at around 9am, but by 1:30pm the radiation levels had dropped precipitously. There was apparently a fire at the #4 reactor at around 9:30am, so they would appear to be related events although I am not sure of the details.

At a press conference starting at 4:25PM, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano announced that by 3PM the levels had dropped by 50% from what they were at 1:30, the last data released directly to the public by Tokyo Power. (See video of the press conference here.)

Below we have a graph of readings made by a geiger counter somewhere in Hino, which is a city in the western part of Tokyo Prefecture, covering the time period between 1am and 4pm on March 15. The geiger counter’s recent readings are online, but I don’t see a way to scroll back and see past readings. Luckily I saved the earlier readings to upload here.

There are a few important things that we can learn from these graphs.

First, that an elevated radiation level was measured in Hino, but that the levels were still extremely low, and not remotely dangerous.

Second, that the relative radiation measurements in Hino matched the relative levels measured at the Fukushima plant. What I mean is that even though the levels measured in Hino remained extremely low, the similar graph shape shows that they rose in an amount proportional to the rise at Fukushima. This is strong evidence that the Hino geiger counter was in fact measuring radiation from Fukushima.

Third, by looking at the time stamps we can see that it took around 3.5 hours for the radiation to reach Hino from Fukushima. As the Tokyo Power PDF includes wind direction measurements, we can see that during the time period between the initial spike in Fukushima at 9am and the spike in Hino at 1:30pm the wind was mainly headed in a southerly direction, meaning that it was traveling directly from Fukushima towards Tokyo. This suggests strongly that even in a worst-case scenario there would several hours of warning between the time of a radiation release in Fukushima and its arrival in Tokyo, but that since the wind is usually blowing in a different direction, the odds are good that there would in fact be several more hours.

As mentioned above in the entry I copied from Matt Alt, there appear to have been no dangerous levels of radiation except in the immediate vicinity of the power plant, from which all but core staff have been evacuated.

Basically, it appears that the situation is gradually moving towards stability and that residents outside of the evacuation zone should be safe.

I also want to add that there has been a completely fake map showing nuclear fallout from Fukushima arriving in North America. I will not embed it here because just seeing it might cause some people to panic before they read the text.

Finally, in the unlikely event that there is a serious amount of radiation released, here are safety tips I heard on Japanese TV this afternoon:

Remain indoors if at all possible. Keep windows and doors closed, keep any air vents closed, keep air conditioners and other air circulating devices off. Do NOT bring inside anything from the outside, such as laundry being hung to dry, shoes left outside the door, etc. Do NOT eat any food that had been outdoors during radiation.

If you go outside, cover up as completely as possible, including hoods and masks and gloves. When you return inside, strip off any clothing that has been exposed to radioactive air and immediately seal it in a plastic bag.

AGAIN, there is currently no reason to think that such precautions will be necessary, but it is still important to know them just in case.

I will continue to follow current events on my twitter feed, and please let me know if there are any errors in or extra information that should be added to this post.

[Update: 7:10PM]

Tokyo Power has issued an updated measurement chart through 4:30PM verifying the numbers given by Edano at his afternoon press conference. It also shows that radiation measurements at the plant have continued to decline since the 3PM value he cited.

[Update 9:30PM]

Tokyo Power (TEPCO) just had another big press conference, and their spokesmen were a lot less mumbly and awkward, the press was also a lot less patient and a lot more aggressive in asking questions. As usual, Michael has done a good job live-tweeting it, and then summarizing on his blog, which I will excerpt below.

Latest on reactor 4. Apparently two large 8m holes have been made in the outer wall housing the building of the reactor. An explosion was heard around 6.00 this morning and a fire recorded as having broken out at 9.00. It went out by itself by 11.00. TEPCO now think that the large increase in radiation noted today (400mSv) was from this explosion at reactor 4. Also, there is the possibility that the nuclear fuel rods are exposed to the outside. Unlike reactors 1-3, reactors 4-6 were in a state of rest and the nuclear fuel roads being stored in the spent fuel pool. With the explosion and two large holes now in the building of unit 4, it is possible that radiation is leaking out. TEPCO also gave some figures for the current temperatures in reactors 4-6. Reactors 5 and 6 are around 60 degrees, while reactor 4 is at 84. The usual temperature is 40 degrees. (via TBS, NHK)

[Update March 16, 1:40am]

I don’t have anything to add regarding the unfolding situation at Fukushima Plant #1 (Daiichi) at this time, but a new chart just released by TEPCO of measurements being taken at Plant #2 (Daini) shows EXTREMELY low levels of radiation there – only around 10mSv at 6pm yesterday, when the chart ends. This compares with a level of about 400mSv 400μSvat the same time at Plant #1. This appears to confirm that Plant #2 was successfully deactivated safely and without particular incident, and suggests that it is intact enough to reactivate after an appropriate period of repairs and safety upgrades.

[Update March 16, 3:45am]

Plenty of people have been wondering why helicopters haven’t been used to dump water into the dangerously hot fuel storage pool at reactor 4. Well, NHK just reported why. Basically, the fuel is being kept in a big pool of water to keep the radiation from getting into the air, but the cooling system on reactor 4 is failing and it is hot enough so the water in the pool may be boiling off. (see yesterday’s 9:30pm update above) If that happens, the fuel may be exposed to air, and emit dangerous levels of radiation. The pool is normally covered with a roof which would serve to help trap the radiation inside, but an explosion in the vicinity of unit 4 has knocked two holes in the roof. TEPCO was hoping they would be able to use the water carrying helicopters used for fighting forest fires and such, but in a nasty twist the holes in the roof  are large enough to allow radiation leakage, but also too far from the pool, and too small, to make them an efficient means of water delivery. This is exacerbated by the fact that helicopters just carry a not so large load of water at one time, and cannot provide a constant stream. They are now studying whether it might be possible to use land-based fire fighting equipment, presumably by aiming hoses onto the roof and flooding the pool area that way (just my guess as far as that last half-sentence goes).

[Minor update] I missed an important fact from the NHK article in my previous update: the temperature sensor in the pool failed after the 84C reading above, which means they do not have current temperature readings for the pool in Reactor #4.

[Update: March 16, 5am] I need to sleep but wanted to do one more quick update.

TEPCO has released another batch of sensor readings, and they started spiking again heavily at 11pm last night (the 15th). After seeing values of only 400μSv/hour at 6pm, the previous last released measurement. Here are the values from just before the spike began until the end of the chart.
Time (pm) μSv/hour Wind direction
10:00 313.2 SE
10:30 431.8 SE
11:00 4548 W
11:10 6960 N
11:15 2761 S
11:20 3648 E
11:25 4976 NW
11:30 8080 NW
11:35 6308 E

Above is the graph from the Hino Geiger counter as of writing time, 5:50am. As you can see the most recent reading was made at 5:43am, and the measurements are trending upwards again. The key at the bottom of the page tells us that the CPM units reported on this graph are roughly 100CPM =1  microsievert/hr. The highest value being measured so far is therefore still very low, or around 0.5 microsievert/hr. During the previous spike, when the radiation measured at the Fukushima plant was 12,000 microsievert/hr, the radiation measured at the Hino Geiger counter went only about as high as 0.8 or 0.9 microsievert/hr, and even then only for what looks like a few seconds or a couple of minutes at most (i.e. one data point.)

There are also two more updates on NHK. I will give rough translations of both of them below.

Infusion of cooling water is not proceeding, and we have learned damage to two of the three reactors at Fukushima #1 Nuclear Power Plant where fuel rods have been exposed may be proceeding rapidly.

At a conference held by the prefecture’s disaster response office on the 15th, the results of an estimate by TEPCO of on how much of the total fuel rods small holes are opening, and the volume of radioactive material leaking into the cooling water at 2 of the reactors. According to that, in the case of fuel rods that are feared to be damaged, Unit #1 was estimated at 43% at 1pm on the 15th but at 3:25pm had risen to 70%. Unit 2 also jumped rapidly from 14% to 33%. In these two units the water level of cooling water within the reactor had lowered, exposing the fuel rods, and seawater is being pumped inside, but the water level is not recovering properly and the fuel rods are reaching a high temperature and there is a risk that they could melt, it was pointed out. If damage to the fuel rods proceeds, then radioactive material will leak to the outside. In light of the tendency for pressure to drop within both reactors, TEPCO will severely observe movement in this data while proceeding with seawater infusion.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) at a pre-dawn press conference, announced that the water level inside the reactor, which has fuel rods inside, is fairly low, in unit #5 of Fukushima Plant #1. However, NISA said that there is an undamaged electrical generator in the neighboring Unit #6, which has not been damaged by the tsunami, and “it will be possible to adjust the water volume.”

According to NISA, at the time of the earthquake and tsunami on the 11th of this month, the reactor of Unit #5 was stopped safely for period maintenance. However, the fuel was already inside the reactor in preparation for normal operation, and it was necessary to circulate water to keep the fuel cool. But the diesel generator was smashed by the tsunami, it was not possible to circulate sufficient water, and pressure increased within the reactor. When, due to this, they attempted to open a valve to release pressure, steam escaped and at present, 9pm of the 15th [note: yes, it is confusing that they say this at a pre-dawn press conference on the 16th but call 9pm on the 15th “present”] the water level has declined to only 2 meters and 2 centimeters above the fuel. Compared to 5 hours earlier, at 4pm on the 15th, this is a decline of 40cm. However, there is an undamaged generator in the neighboring Unit #6 and that is being used to supply water to reactors in both units #5 and #6, and NISA says that “as there is a healthy generator, we will be able to adjust the water volume.”

[Update: March 16, 6:15am]

Tobias Harris is currently attending an MIT press conference and live-tweeting it, I will relay below, completely unedited.

I’m sitting in the last row of a packed house. Richard Lester, department chair, opens with condolences for Japan.

One of the panelists, Mujid Kazimi, is the “TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Engineering.”

“Taking in lots of information, much of it I’m afraid not very good” – Lester

“Unit 1 at #Fukushima Dai-ichi was scheduled to be shut down on 26 March 2011.” – Kazimi

Ian Hutchinson speaking next, providing timeline of events.

In third explosion, at reactor 2, pressure suppression system was damaged. Hadn’t realized that.

That was what led to the big increase in the escape of radioactive material.

Michael Golay up next.

Golay: Tsunami flooded switch gear system, which made it difficult to recover electric power. Not enough to just bring in generators.

Now Q & A.

Graduate student just asked three rather big questions chosen from a notepad full of them.

Question as to where the salt water is being injected. Answer: in the vessel, as well as in containment, as best we know.

Q. Japanese student asks about the worst-case scenarios.
A. Fuel alrdy dmgd. If water lost, could lead to melting, molten fuel goes down, steam released up. Chern.-like explo. unlikely.
Possibility of releases that are “sizable,” of iodine and cesium.
Next question is about health effects, putting it in relative terms.
A. Doses about 20x background in Tokyo, fell quickly. 30x-40x elsewhere. Doses have to be experienced a few days to be like chest x-ray.
“No evidence of any health impact of those dose rates.”
One worker received 10rems, twice annual occupational limit in Japan. Increases chance of cancer for someone like him from 25% to 25.3%.
Q: Why were plants build right by the ocean? Why not higher elevation?
A. Reasonable question, will be examined. <laughter> Can’t answer why not elevated. Could have elevated backup power. Can’t tell why.
Plants did what they had to do — shutdown — but it was the tsunami that complicated matters.
The main concern is that spent fuel is not in the containment chambers. If melts, potential for volatiles to escape is much greater.
Q. TEPCO and authorities criticized for not providing information. What is your opinion about flow of information?
A. Difficult for non-Japanese speakers to assess. Written materials in Eng. prov. by TEPCO are “limited.” Also sporadic.
But need certain humility when expecting Japanese company to provide lots of info. in English. BUT even in Jap. info. “parsimonious.”
May not just be unwilling: could be people in control rooms having trouble figuring out what’s going wrong; Tok. might not be getting info.
Kazimi: compared with earlier incidents TEPCO trying to be upfront with info., updates. Have to wait until end to assess. Tryng not to alrm.
Golay: A bit of perspective. Not getting media frenzy as with TMI and Chern. Question of degree. Not as much misinfo.
Golay: Parsimony to avoid inciting fears. May ultimately have to evacuate more, but will be easier if people aren’t already panicked.
Q. What happens over the longer term managing the spent fuel? What happens going forward? What options?
A. Once again compare to TMI. Takes effort not to expose workers, poss. to clean up.
Follow-up Q. What about impact of the infrastructure around plant due to quake and tsunami?
A. Key thing is getting electric power back. Could get power there from the sea…Shouldn’t take more than a week or two.
Q. Advances in decayed heat tech.?
A. If you get air circulation to remove heat, that would be a good design goal. Need continuous path for heat to flow.
Looks like last Q. Prospects for long-term contamination surrounding plant?
A. Very little released and dispersed beyond containment. If larger release, people in area facing perm. or long-term relocation.
Or living with high cesium levels, which has long half life. Will depend on Japanese regs. for permitting return.
WIll depend on what’s ultimately released. Cesium-137, gets in ground, water table, food — that’s the big problem, for ag., livestock, etc.
Almost no data when it comes to what we can live with when it comes to elev. background levels. Data avail is total dose deliv. in < 1 min.
Don’t really know how much is too much to live with.
And that’s it. Tobias is headed to another panel on social consequences but it’s now 6:30am here in Kyoto and I need to go to bed for a few hours.
[Update @March 16, 4pm] Around 10am there was more smoke coming out of the plant, which corresponded with another radiation spike. This is one of several spikes that has happened, but I believe none has been worse than the large one listed above. And most importantly, there are still no readings of dangerous radiation outside of the evacuation zone.
The Geiger counter in Hino, Tokyo showed a brief rise, as I mentioned above, but it declined quickly and at the time of writing has declined to barely above ordinary background levels.
TEPCO also released more readings, this time going up to 10:10pm today. Radiation measurements at the plant’s main gate did rise around the time of the smoke at 10am this morning, for some reason peaked around noon at 10,850 μSv/hour but declined rapidly and by the end of this chart, 1:10pm, was already down to 2,538μSv/hour.
There have also been a number of reports that the 50 workers still at the plant were evacuated. Those are false. The workers briefly took shelter while radiation was spiking until the problem was identified, but from what I hear they are currently hard at work.
While I was asleep Gakuranman translated the key information in another NHK dispatch, which I will post below.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has reported that radiation was emitted from what is thought to be unit 2 at Fukushima nuclear plant 1. The Suppression Pool (pressure control room) was damaged in a third explosion recently and it is thought that the increase in radiation was due to that. At 10.40, NISA recorded 10mSv/hour at the entrance of the plant, but 30 minutes later this value had fallen to 2.7mSv/h. The workers on site had retreated at the time of the large radiation release, but went back in after it fell again. It was suggested that the radiation increase was due to the white smoke coming out of unit 3 earlier this morning, but TEPCO said it was likely due to unit 2.

Other updates from NHK:
Cooling has failed in the fuel storage pool of Unit #3, so there is a danger that the water will boil off and the fuel will be exposed. The SDF has received a request from the government’s crisis center, and has begun preparations for injecting water from the air by helicopter.
At a meeting with Matsumoto Ryu, Disaster Management and Environment Minister, and core members of the ruling DPJ party, Hosno Goshi Prime Ministerial Aide explained the current state of the Fukushima #1 Nuclear Power Plant, saying “There is a risk, but we must examine having the SDF deliver water via helicopter.”  In response, there was a comment from the opposition party to the effect of “there is an order to evacuate a radius of 20km from the plant and [the government] must guarantee means for people living within a 30km radius, starting with the young or elderly and infirm.” Regarding aid to the disaster area to the north, “gasoline, food, medical supplies, etc. are lacking and the Tohoku automobile roads must be made usable for the delivery of material.” The opposition party also issued a request to install a minister for responding to the earthquake damage, which the government will take into consideration and address at a followup meeting on the 18th.
At an afternoon press conference by Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, it was revealed that they expect to have the US military aid use fire trucks to aid in delivering water to Units #3 and #4 in order to cool them off.
After meeting with Prime Minister Kan just after noon, Kitazawa met with the press. Regarding units #3 and #4, from which smoke had been rising after it became impossible to properly cool them, he said “there are American military fire trucks on the scene. TEPCO personnel were taught this morning at the Yokota American military base about American operation form, and I think they are now headed towards the scene,” and expressed an estimate that water injection from ground level using American military fire trucks would soon commence. He continued “we will observe the results of the ground level water delivery, and if stronger water delivery is needed then we will switch to delivery by helicopter.” Regarding whether or not air delivery was actually likely to occur, he said “the weather on the scene is snowy and rough, so it will be a little more time before a decision can be made on launching helicopters.”
[7pm update] Very brief update before I go out. There are now reports that the aerial water drop was being planned, then canceled when the JSDF helicopter pilots measured potentially dangerous levels of radiation (as high as 50 millisievert) in the cabin. They will proceed with the ground level water injections and try to drop large amounts of water from a greater height, although I imagine that will make aiming pretty difficult.
[Update at 4:30pm, March 17] Since my  last update nearly 24 hours ago, the big news is that this morning at around 10am JSDF helicopters did pass back and forth over reactor #3, dropping water several times as they passed over the facility. This has been in combination with spraying in water at extremely high pressure using chained-together fire trucks (this is the same technique used to put out fires in skyscrapers and such, as chaining multiple fire trucks in serial allows for the pressure to accumulate).
As the water level in the pool of unit #4 is said to have recovered while the water level in unit #3 has declined, efforts are now being focused more on #3. NHK on TV right saying that the feed from the trucks will resume in a moment. I suppose it had been paused while the choppers went over, and perhaps for some other sort of operations.
Other big news is the release of new radiation readings from the Fukushima Daiichi (#1) plant where all the chaos is happening, from midnight through 11:30am today. (A reminder that Daini (#2) plant is safely offline and there is basically nothing to worry about there.) After nearly 24 hours of no new readings released to the public, people were starting to get nervous.
Oddly, the format of the report has changed from previous ones. While each previous file was cumulative, including all the previous readings from the start of the crisis as well as new data, this one shows only new information. Strangely, it also starts several hours after the end of the last file, for the first time giving us a gap in the date. Luckily, radiation measurements in Tokyo during that time did not seem to show any rise in levels, so presumably they have not left out any particularly significant data.
As for what it actually says – the news is good. The level measured at the west gate at 12:30am was 351.4 μSv/hour, and at 11.30am was actually lower – at 312.3 μSv/h. In the middle, at around the same time that water was being dumped on reactor #3, we see measurements as high as 3750 μSv/h, which is still FAR lower than the spikes of 10,850 and 12,000 being measured in previous days. ALSO, one important thing here is that the higher numbers are also being measured at the north administration building- a sensor location we have not seen referenced before – rather than the west gate or main gate, where the other measurements before. We do not have comparative readings from different sensors within the plant at the same time, so there is no way to know if there was in fact a spike in radiation levels due to radioactive steam boiling off when the water was dumped, or if we are merely seeing a slice of date from a consistently radioactive position closer to the reactors.
As of 4:20pm, readings in west Tokyo show absolutely no rise in radiation.
Incidentally, an astrophysicist friend mentioned to me that he checked NASA readings of solar activity and cosmic radiation just to see if there was any chance that they could account for some increase in terrestrial background readings and said he found nothing.
I also wanted to just add (mainly for the benefit of my family and friends that keep asking about me) a link to this post by my friend Wesley showing how we are basically safe even if things get ridiculously catastrophic elsewhere. Not that there is any reason to think that things WILL get worse, but I must admit that it is still reassuring to be surrounded by mountains, deep inland, and hundreds of kilometers away from the action. Obviously the ancient feng shui Onmyoji masters that chose this location knew what they were doing.
[Update: March 18, 2AM]
Here you can see a video taken of the state of Fukushima #1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant on March 16, 4pm by a TEPCO employee riding in a JSDF helicopter.
<iframe title=”YouTube video player” width=”500″ height=”311″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/lBXqiw6EJUk?hd=1″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
First you see Reactor #3, with a collapsed barrier around it and a caved in roof. We then see some smoke coming out, and then Reactor #4, which appears more intact than #3.
You can’t quite see it in the video, but according to the (anonymous) employee who shot the video, there “appeared to be something resembling water remaining in the fuel storage pool.”
This confirms the earlier suspicious that Unit #3 is currently the main priority, as we see white smoke – or more likely, steam – rising in several places, which means that the coolant water is probably evaporating more quickly, and since more of the building is collapsed, there is less shielding to trap the radiation inside. This is why today’s water injection activities were mainly directed at Reactor #3. In addition to being the reactor in the most immediate danger, #3 is also the only one loaded with MOX – a fuel that contains some plutonium – as opposed to the more common and less dangerous uranium fuel in the other five reactors.
However, although they did manage to get some water into reactor #3 today and presumably keep the fuel rods covered, they continue to have trouble doing so, as the radiation is just not considered safe for workers to stay in the area long.
I’m sure many people have been wondering why robot-crazy Japan doesn’t have any fire-fighting robots to, say, carry a hose into the plant and aim it right into the pool. Well, I’m sure someone will get started on designing that pretty soon, but right now the closest thing is this robot, which is an experimental mobile sensor robot for use in such disaster scenarios, which has been developed by the Nuclear Technology Safety Center (NUSTEC), and which the Asahi just announced is going to be lent to Tepco, via the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The robot is still a prototype, and has never been deployed out of a controlled test before. [Super minor update:] It was just pointed out to me, which I should have noticed as awesome, that the robot – 150cm tall and long, 80xm wide, 600kg in weight, and shaped like a small tank with a top speed of 40 meters per minute and operate at a wireless range of 1.1km, is equipped with what is described phonetically in Japanese as a “magic hand” (マジックハン). I think we can all rest easier knowing that a tank-shaped robot with a magic hand is on the job.
In addition to this robot, which NUSTEC refers to only as a “monitoring robot”, will be delivered from its development site in Aomori along with a monitoring car, airborne monitoring materials, a route survey vehicle, and 6 radiation monitoring technicians and 4 technicians with experience in airborne monitoring from the HQ in Hakusan, Tokyo, who will be stationed in Fukushima, safely off-site. Presumably all of this new monitoring equipment, particularly the robot, will allow the fire-fighting and repair teams to plan their deployments while minimizing radiation exposure in order to maximize their effective work time.
With helicopters, fire trucks, water cannons, and now even robots being deployed, I am somewhat curious about the lack of fire boats. Japan’s Coast Guard as 50 of these, of which 19 are high powered and would presumably be effective in getting water into the reactors, due to the reactors’ position right by the water. I have to assume that they have the same problem as trucks or helicopters; getting close enough to be effective is considered unsafe for the crew, or perhaps their effective range is just too short. Either way, I still find it rather bizarre that a Google News search produces literally not even one hit for fire boats (消防艇  : shouboutei) being used at Fukushima, even to explain why they could not be used. The only results, and there were very few, were for fire boats being dispatched from Tokyo to fight the oil refinery fires in Chiba. The photo above is of a Tokyo fire boat, and the photo to the right is firefighters at the Chiba fire.
As far as the immediate safety situation, new radiation measurements were released by Tepco at 11pm on the 17th, which actually appear to be up to date at the time, including the previous chart through to 11pm. This is the first time Tepco has not released data that was hours delayed. The numbers look pretty similar to the previous chart, with readings around 300 μSv/h at the west gate, around 600 μSv/h at the main gate, and around 3600 μSv/h at the north administration building. This is actually pretty interesting, because I think it confirms my earlier suspicion that the much higher measurements by the north admin building on the earlier graph might just mean it is closer to the radiation source rather than an indication of a spike. The consistency of all readings from these three different sensor location over roughly 24 hours indicates that there had been no further radiation spikes during that time, and readings in Tokyo confirm that levels have remained steady. (Both the previously cited Geiger counter in Hino, and this other one in Shinjuku.)
[March 18th 5AM quick update] Before crashing just wanted to add that there was recently confirmation that the storage pools in reactors #5 and #6 were both confirmed to have water in them. Remember that  they were already offline for maintenance during the quake and tsunami with their fuel being stored in the pool. The pool at #5 has 946 fuel rods and #6 was has 876 fuel rods. At 5PM on the 17th both measured about 64°C, which was an increase of about 9°C from two days earlier. However, it sounds like everything there is less damaged than at #3 and #4 and the emergency measured being employed at those two reactors will not be needed, as Tepco officials say they are still able to intermittently deliver additional water to the pools at #5 and #6 from their emergency tanks.
There was also a report that they are attempting to connect an external power source to replace the damaged backup power systems that were running the cooling machinery. Units #1, #2, and #3 all need external power restored, but a line was attached to unit #2 on the 17th, the least damaged of the three, and they should be able to connect it soon.

[Update March 22, 3:30am]

Apologies for the lack of updates, but since my last one the situation at Fukushima has became far more stable and most of the earlier urgency has drained away. The quality of news available in English has also improved significantly since the early days, with the government adding English simultaneous translation to press conferences, posting far more, and more timely, information in English, having press conferences aimed at foreign press, and so on, which has significantly reduced the need for persons such as myself to continue this thread.

Furthermore, as I am moving at the end of the month I have to pack my things, clean my house, etc. all of which takes quite a bit of time-time that I had been spending on following the disaster news.

So, in short, I will continue to blog on various aspects of the disaster and recovery efforts, but will be updating this particular post less often unless the situation takes a dramatic turn for the worse.

But first, the important thing is that the situation at all six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi seems to be more or less under control. Radiation levels at the plant have decreased significantly, despite the presence of visible smoke at reactors #2 and #3. External power has been restored to much of the facility, which will allow for reactivation of the cooling system.

The New York Times now has a good page devoted just to tracking the condition of these six reactors, which is the easiest place to get all that information at once in English. It may still be a little bit behind the Japanese news, but is much more current than a few days ago.

Here is a good timeline of the entire reactor crisis so far.

The government is also now releasing FAR more information, including radiation measurements for both drinking water and air for all prefectures – and even in English! As you can see, the levels were undetectable for most prefectures, but were much higher in areas closer to Fukushima. I must admit that I do not really understand these units, but the important thing – as you can see most dramatically on the excellent graphs made by Phillip at fleep.com,

The negative side of the story is the news that some amount of radiation was detected in nearby agricultural products such as spinach and milk, which is of course a concern – especially when you recall that milk was one of the main vectors for transmitting radiation to civilians after the Chernobyl disaster. This is because small amounts of radiation contaminating grass is eaten by grazing cows and concentrated into a much higher dose, similar to how large fish such as tuna contain uncomfortable high levels of mercury collected from the small fish that make up their diet. But precisely because this is such a well known part of the Chernobyl story, the reaction to the news is very careful, and shipment of agricultural products from affected areas has been banned, and Tepco will compensate farmers whose produce must be destroyed.

The World Health Organization has put together a good FAQ on radiation health risks in Japan, and the page on food safety reads in part:

Food contaminated with radioactive material will not appear spoiled, but consuming such food will increase the amount of radioactivity a person is exposed to and could increase the health risks associated with exposure. For example, it could increase prevalence of certain cancers in the future. The exact effects on specific organs will depend on which radionuclides have been ingested and the amount being ingested.

Certain foods in several prefectures have been blocked from the market due to positive radiation tests, but even if you live fairly close to Fukushima, food that makes it to your local store should be safe, and again – don’t foolishly start downing anti-radiation pills or hoarding salt unless medical personnel advice it. People in the 30km radius are being given meds, but I’m pretty sure that if you are reading this then you are a lot further away from the plant than 30km.

The Asahi also just posted a FAQ about the food contamination, and some of the key points are as follows:
  • Dangerous amounts of radiation under these regulations are based on dosage over an entire year, so having a little bit of food or water over the line is probably still safe.
  • If radiation higher than the legal limit is detected on vegetables than shipment of all vegetables of the same type from the same region is banned.
  • If tiny amounts below the limit still bother you than peeling the outer layer and extra rinsing should eliminate it.
  • All of the affected veggies so far are leafy vegetables like spinach, kakina (another green leafy veggie),  and shungiku (edible chrysanthemum) so radioactive particles can stick to them more easily. It is very unlikely that root vegetables could be contaminated in this situation.
  • Milk at 5 towns in Fukushima exceeded the legal limit, and milk all throughout the surrounding area was tested but found safe.
  • Even these “unsafe” amounts are still pretty small, and if you have accidentally had just one or two servings of radioactive milk or leaves it shouldn’t be enough to harm you.
  • At present, all prefectures in Japan are testing drinking water daily (as I linked to above), but even water unsafe for drinking will likely still be within safe levels for washing clothes or even bathing.
  • Note that the safe limit for an infant (or pregnant woman, I assume-but it doesn’t say) is much lower than for adults. Limit for an adult is 300 Becquerels per kilogram of body weight, but for infants under one year is only 100.
  • Testing is being carried out daily, and if you live in or near the irradiated zones then be sure to check the latest news every day until the whole crisis seems to be past.

And to finish off for now, see this spectacular radiation dose chart by the creator of the brillian webcomic xkcd, who is a master of visualizing information. Of all the many radiation dose tables I have seen in the past week, this puts things into the best perspective. (Click on it to get a legible size.)

62 thoughts on “Radiation safety update”

  1. Nice work! Let’s hope things don’t get any worse. I would hate to have to use this newfound knowledge of sieverts to explain something bad.

  2. The Japan bloggers and tweeters have done an incredible job of offering level-headed and truthful information. Unfortunately, a lot of the big media outlets abroad are publishing alarmist headlines and misinformation. Some of them are screaming that we all need to get out NOW. I wish that the bigger news sources would behave more responsibly, or at the very least that the more rational voices were just as loud.

    Thanks for this, to both you and Matt Alt (whose blog I’d read before, but I also appreciate your reiterating and clarifying).

  3. Great post. Glad to see another good link to use in the struggle against sensational fearmongering.

    What should we make of the reports about there being holes in #4?


  4. I’ve also seen reports of two holes in reactor #4 due to falling debris, but at present I don’t really know what that means in terms of safety. If I found anything out I’ll post it.

  5. Thanks so much for this useful post – I’m sure it will help a lot of people to have sensible, balanced information like this, rather than hysterical media reports (which are going on in force outside of Japan).

  6. Hi,

    I am a scientist with some background in nuclear chemistry (but I am not a nuclear physicist). Presently, the radiation level in Tokyo is safe and most likely will remain so. The fact is – what has been pointed out – that radiation levels even hundreds of times beyond what is ‘normal’ background have no measurable impact on human health. Of course the situation at the plant, where radiation is 3.5 m million times above the normal limit is quite different.

    I would like to add that as a child I experienced the Chernobyl catastrophe (that took place in Ukraine – then Soviet Union somewhere in spring 1986) in the neighboring Poland. I remember that very soon after authorities in Poland found out the increased radiation levels, they immediately ordered all kids throughout the country to drink diluted Lugol’s iodine. In Japanese that would be .ルゴール液.
    The point is that such a dose of normal isotope of iodine blocks body, especially thyroid from absorbing the radioactive 131 I, which is the major radioactive pollutant in such disasters.
    At the present – 25 years later – the occurrence of thyroid cancers in Poland is significantly lower than in similarly affected areas of Ukraine and Bielorus, where no similar precautions were taken at that time.

    You should take it as soon as possible even before the exposure to 131I. Certainly, if potassium iodide tablets are accessible to you – you should take them instead of the Lugol’s liquid. BTW, this (Lugol’s iodine) is itself a poison if taken orally in larger doses – so be careful – just 3-4 droplets per a glass of water (some lemon juice will decrease undesirable effects and improve taste) and your thyroid is somehow protected for a few days.

    Take care,

    Wojciech Dzwolak

  7. Great comment Wojciech,

    Regarding iodine, I have also heard that kelp (known as kombu in Japanese) contains a significant enough amount of iodine that large amounts can cause thyroid problems and moderate amounts can protect against radiation as an iodine pill.

    For exact numbers, see the abstract of this research paper:

    The effect of ingesting seaweed “Kombu” (Laminaria japonica) on thyroid function was studied in normal Japanese adults. Ingesting 15 and 30 g of Kombu (iodine contents: 35 and 70 mg) daily for a short term (7-10 days) significantly increased serum thyrotropin (TSH) concentrations, exceeding the normal limits in some subjects. The serum free thyroxine (FT(4)) and/or free 3,5,3′-triiodothyronine (FT(3)) concentrations were slightly decreased within the normal limits. During long term daily ingestion of 15 g of Kombu (55-87 days), the TSH levels were elevated and sustained while the FT(4) and FT(3) levels were almost unchanged. Urinary excretion of iodine significantly increased during ingestion of Kombu. These abnormal values returned to the initial levels 7 to 40 days after discontinuing the ingestion of Kombu. Based on these findings that thyroid function was suppressed during ingestion of Kombu, though the effect was reversible, we recommend Japanese people avoid ingesting excessive amounts of seaweed.

    What do you think?

  8. Roy,

    I am not an expert on pharmacokinetics of iodine intake by thyroid, but the switch-off effect caused by larger doses of iodine appears to be reversible (see the abstract), whereas cancerogenesis (caused by 131I) is not.


  9. The following was posted by Paulk Atkinson on Facebook:

    I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:

    * In case of a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples’ health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.

    * The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.

    * The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children – for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).

    * The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.

    * If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors’ cores cool down.

    * Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.

    * This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.

    * The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons – structural damage or possible new quakes – but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.

    * Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.

    The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.

    Let’s hope the experts are right!

  10. Sorry, the formatting in that post above is a bit of a mess. Everything except the first line was written by Paul Atkinson.

  11. Probably worth linking this here as well: WHO guide on potassium iodide.

    Basically, KI treatment is recommended for children and teens, less recommended for adults over 20, and not recommended at all for those over 40 unless the dosage of radioactive iodine is high enough to interfere with normal thyroid activity. The cancer risk decreases with age, while the risk of side effects increases with age.

  12. How about the spent fuel rods in reactors 4, 5 and 6? They are increasing in heat and the water they are in is evaporating. If all of the water evaporates they can combust and will spread a large amount of radiation. The pool of reactor 4 is exposed.

  13. This has been of great help. We were really worried basically because of the language barriers we face Japan. Thanks a lot Roy and others too… i have a 10 months old son and i was mostly worried for him and was thinking of flying back to India. But now i feel good about the situation. Hope it improves. I really appriciate the japanese people and their sensibilities.

  14. I am not so sure…do you have any info about withdrawal of workers at the plant? does that mean that they have stopped the efforts? Most of my friends are going back. I am worried for my son….dont know what to do…

  15. I believe that reports of workers being withdrawn were false. Will post some updates fairly soon.

  16. For what it’s worth CNN initially reported that the workers were withdrawn — they’ve since been running tickers on the bottom that say the workers returned once radiation levels lowered.
    I can’t say how accurate that is, but it’s better than nothing?

  17. I believe in all good news…so thanks guys… i believe that the workers have returned to the site… i salute to their courage and perservance…. they are fighting for us… so lets keep our fingers crossed.

  18. Thanks for the compilation of info, is a great job, can you tell us later on if there is a particular warning for the residents in Shanghai as the people are very nervous and the info is not available to them due to the language barrier and of course the flow of info from the media. hope everything will get back in control. cheer and keep safe.

  19. I referenced you.

    Sorry, I’m new to this so I wasn’t sure the proper procedure in order to retweetback.

    I expect to be seeing a lot more information and data about radiation readings in Japan. I appreciate your post and how you’re looking for information and not being alarmist.

  20. Thank You for posting accurate information. The U.S. news media outlets have completely mis-informed many, many people. I will keep reading your site daily and checking often, as well as passing to others. ThankYou again! Strong Work!

  21. Great work guys! I live in Tokyo but returned home to Christchurch, NZ after the quake here, so I’m worried about the situation back home. Many of my friends have fled Japan, due mainly to media hype and spurious info.

    You guys’s work is a godsend!

  22. US Officials now coming out and saying that Japanese government and everything we’ve heard so far are basically lies… or at least that’s essentially how CNN has presented it.
    The US Official believes there is no water at all in the spent fuel rods storage in #4.
    Unfortunately they only played a brief part of his testimony before Congress, so it’s hard to say what information he has.

  23. I’ve been trying to ignore all the hooplah that tends to be reported in the mainstream press and have found a good source to look to.


    This is the website of the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. I think this is a credible source which leaves all editorial commentary out and just explains the facts from an engineering perspective.

    Apologies if this has been previously posted.

  24. I thought i was going to see some updates from your side there at japan today morning 3/17, as the info is spreading fast and in most cases a little manipulated, so for the researchers who are looking for info, please try to document the origine of such as the bloggers do (to comments)
    I think the usa info are a little more nervous now that they think some radioactivity will maybe touch the west coast reflecting it on some kind of effect in the people looking for supplies etc, firts it was a map showing shdowed areas in alaska and california, hours later it was called it was a hoax, then today i see in nytimes a similar map with the wind direction but the funny thing is that there are no actual units, its incredible how are these people thinking to publish something without any kind of units but showing of course a speculative amount of radiation, incredible and unprophessional.
    Most AMerican Info by experience living there, the media is very alarmist and in most cases they dont explain well a given situation. people will or are right now buying pills, supplies etc, without knowing for what, that will detour the attention to what really is going on in Japan, CNN may have people all around but sadly they are not objective to the situation but to the market they represent, therefore we may not believe the actual notes or info but the intention of the news they present.

    The reverse effect happens here where i live, in China and it looks to me that soon people will get nervous (more) and since there is no clear info from the authorities and the censuring of info is more and more used, i trust if there is a trustful note lets explain the why and the origin of the note whether is positive or negative so we can just act and not react.
    For now I still think that the problem has no immediate solution but is less likely to impact as the mass media thinks.
    Its a pitty that wikkileaks is not available now that we need it more than ever.
    good luck to everyone and thanks to all who participate on real info at Japan. God bless you guys.

  25. Thanks John. I’ll do another update this afternoon some time, at least a brief one.

  26. Happy to see another post about the radiation topics. I made another post about this, and I commented on your last post too.


    This has been picked up by other blogs and some of the info can be found on Wikipedia now.


    I’m kind of confused why System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) isn’t getting more attention.

  27. Thanks for the info. However, I must say that it is confusing to pick through the order of events because so many of your time citations lack dates.

    It would be a service to your readers if you would:

    A) put the full date next to every time citation at the start of a new section
    B) list the time as UTC (universal coordinated time) so that people in different time zones can calculate their local time from that consistently & easily.

    Thank you.

  28. Most importance thing is to know what is radiation impact for healt and what of preventing action should be care/taken.
    But i found no simply explanation, much of them just informing incomplete which just made panics across asia.
    So i took it from @guardian
    Radiation exposure: a quick guide to what each level means http://gu.com/p/2nmkq/tf

  29. The foreign press and some online personalities are going to have a lot to answer for after all of this.

    So far there have been two major “scoops” by the foreign press – that all TEPCO employees had been evacuated (mistranslation, NYT) and that spent fuel pool four had gone dry (apparently the statement to Congress was never backed up by evidence). A minor one might be the IAEA’s calling for more information, followed, however, by a very optimistic take on the situation. There is also the matter of the oft repeated US “evacuation” of Tokyo. Much of this is simply disgraceful.

  30. To be contrasted, of course, with how amazing the tweets and blogging have been at bringing together good information without the hyperbole.

  31. “There is also the matter of the oft repeated US “evacuation” of Tokyo.”

    I wouldn’t underestimate that trend either, however. An exodus of sorts has definitely taken place. Certainly, you can argue the toss about what advice the US embassy – along with others – has actually been giving, and how much these departures have been prompted by media coverage but the number of foreigners in Tokyo has surely dropped sharply.

  32. Someone needs to check their math.

    The Fukushima workers are having to be wary of radiation spiking, a sudden rise in radiation.[9] This threat forced to evacuate the workers for a short period of time on the morning of Tuesday 15 March 2011 when radiation detected at Fukushima was believed to be approximately 1000 millisieverts (or 1 sievert),[10] the highest level of radiation detected at any point of time during the accident at the plant.

    In context, immediate symptoms become apparent if exposed to above 250 millisieverts, or 0.25 sieverts within one day. Symptoms include nausea and loss of appetite as well as damaged to bone marrow, lymph nodes and spleen damaged. Generally, these symptoms become more severe and noticeable in the 1 to 3 sievert bracket with recovery probable, but not assured. New and more serious symptoms appear above 3 sieverts such as peeling of the skin, hemorrhaging and sterility with death if left untreated.

    From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki?search=Fukushima+50

    I don’t think they were taking cover from 2 CT scans.

  33. It never got to 1000 millisieverts, Todd. The highest level so far has been 400 millisieverts. Edano once announced 1000 millisieverts, but had to come back and say later that he made a mistake and meant to say microsieverts.
    If it gets higher than 400 and stays that way I don’t think anybody will be doing anything there.

  34. one CT scan is 5-10 milisieverts. Many of the workers on the plant have already received over 100 milisieverts, the level from which elevated cancer risk begins to be noticeable.

  35. “I wouldn’t underestimate that trend either, however.”

    You are absolutely correct. Many foreigners (and lots of Japanese) have left Tokyo by every report.

    What are we to say, however, when CNN anchors explicitly state that “The White House has ordered the evacuation of American citizens from Tokyo”? There are many, many sensible, educated people overseas who think that Tokyo is like the fall of Saigon right now. This isn’t just an argument about the semantics of US announcements, this is about those reasoned and indeed quite reasonable announcements being exploited for sensationalist headlines. I keep getting calls from people who think that Tokyo is lost and that it is only the Japanese who are in the dark.

  36. Just coming back to a hotel in Shibuya from an art exhibiton.Seemingly,Shibuya is usual as always except all the foreign brands(Lous Vuitton,H&M,Hermes) shops are closed.

  37. They’ve restored power to the 5th and 6th reactors, restarting the pump and backup generators to keep the rods cool. It was reported that 60% of the spent rods at the facility are located here, so that is a good first step.

    They have also visually confirmed that there is water in the cooling tank in the 4th reactor.

    Right now I think they are still trying to get power to the 2nd reactor, and they are using unmanned high-power fire trucks (from a 20m ? crane) to pump water into the tank in the 3rd reactor. This was going to commence for 7 hours. Edano has stated that the situation seems stable at the moment, and they are going to continue with regular spraying of the tank in reactor 3 – probably until they can get the cooling pumps up and running in reactors 1 and 2.

    The unfortunate news from today was that they detected radiation in slightly elevated amounts in milk and spinach around the plant. A doctor interviewed on NHK said that he doesn’t recommend eating it, but washing the spinach will reduce radiation to a certain extent to make it better for consumption. If I understood it right, the levels in the food were determined to be 1 CT scan worth of radiation after a year of consumption. That would make it about 6.9 millisieverts of radiation according to gakuranman’s chart.

    Please feel free to change, correct, or update this information. I’ve been trying to follow everything going on today, but I only catch it in spurts here and there so as to avoid stress.

  38. So what do you guys think was more tasteless – Adelstein’s radiation scare or his fawny self-promoting Yakuza love-fest on Daily Beast?

    The regular people who opened their homes to quake survivors aren’t going to be getting the Iwate inaka girls who drift to Tokyo in the coming weeks hooked on smack and pimp them out like Adelstein’s pals will.

  39. Not that surprising really, since it’s a chance to stick it to the left-wing anti-nuclear brigade. The trouble with Ann is that she has enough history of fiddling the figures to make me automatically distrust anything she says.

  40. Somewhat surprisingly, The Mail on Sunday has a decent report on the mood in Tokyo. It contrasts strongly with some of the early coverage from their sister paper, the Daily Mail:


    I won’t criticize anyone who decided to leave the country or move west, especially those with young families. However, I wonder how they will decide whether to return or not. I don’t know how bad Fukushima could get but the uncertainty could last for weeks. I spoke with one lawyer last night who suggested that some firms will be looking long and hard at the employment contracts of those who have bugged out unilaterally.

  41. “has a decent report”

    That is pretty much what I expected.

    I’m overseas so I can never really be part of this conversation (forgive a bit of joking in hard times – “did you stay or did you go” is going to be a gaijin cred thing for decades to come) but I do know this: I would have sent my wife and son back to her inaka. Monday at the latest.

    “bugged out unilaterally”

    Staying certainly speaks to ties and commitments.

    Concerning the French: the academic scuttlebutt is getting interesting. Lots of speculation, especially given domestic announcements of the relative safety of French nuclear power (contrast with the German response) that France made a strategic decision to overreact without evidence simply because this is great PR. Japan was developing as one of France’s biggest competitors for reactor exports.

  42. What it took to get the foreign press to pull back on the radiation hysteria – shit get blowed up elsewhere.

  43. “Lots of speculation, especially given domestic announcements of the relative safety of French nuclear power (contrast with the German response) that France made a strategic decision to overreact without evidence simply because this is great PR. ”

    The nuclear hysteria in France is fuelled not by politicians (except of course greenies) or pundits but by the ignorant and unethical media, like in any other Western countries. The media want fear and blood to sell their bs and they can quote any “expert” they want to fit the scenario of their doom porns.

    The irony is to see the French nuclear lobby being now scuttled by the same media with which it has been complicit for years in peddling catastrophism through the global warming scare (more than 80% of the dozen of IPCC’s French authors are employees of the national Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique). Serves it right !

  44. @M-Bone
    I vote for Adelstein’s radiation scare and his failure to apologize or clarify his reliable source that said radiation had hit Tokyo.

  45. “The nuclear hysteria in France is fueled”

    Thanks for the tip.

    “failure to apologize or clarify”

    This is the problem with the radiation scare side – if it gets worse, they say “told ya so”. If it turns out to be nothing, they say “we were the cautious and critical ones”. It is win, win. On the flip side, it took far more guts for people like Roy and Matt Alt to try to appeal to facts as they saw them to provide a counterpoint because they had something to lose.

  46. Cosmin here, interpreter based in Tokyo. The guy I was interpreting for bailed out two days after the quake, and many more friends and acquaintances followed suit since.

    Don’t think people can be blamed for leaving (I’ve heard there is a new name for gaijin leaving Japan in a hurry: fly-jin), but neither can one argue that this was an informed decision.

    Be that as it may, I believe that for most people who DID leave, there is a nasty psychological mechanism at work: once they’re safe in their respective home countries, these people will (unconsciously) wish that things DO get worse here to justify their own decision ex post facto. I doubt it is psychologically healthy to subconsciously wish that thousands of people (some of them personal acquaintances) get seriously harmed (by aftershocks, radiation or whatever) just to render one’s own conduct reasonable in retrospect.
    Let’s hope that healing will begin soon and do whatever we can to speed it up.

    PS: I am not related to the website posted in this link, but I think you will find some of the comments by experts in related fields useful.

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