This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 15, 2011 12:50 AM. The previous post in this blog was State of Oregon: Everything's fine, don't take iodine. The next post in this blog is The Big One in Oregon will be worse. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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The local "experts" on the nuclear disaster in Japan and its potential health effects on Oregonians had quite a day yesterday. The ones whom the local mainstream media bothered to call told us, to a one, that there was, and is, absolutely nothing to be concerned about. Go on about your business!

Is that right? We're sure that there are other experts who would beg to differ. None were interviewed or quoted by the Portland media, however. Maybe it was the long distance charges that prevented their being consulted.

Most surprising were the local "experts" who declared that even the worst-case scenario in Japan would not have health effects on people in Oregon. That's a pretty outlandish assertion, in that no one knows exactly what is eventually going to happen over there:

The fear is that a full meltdown will occur. The rods melt to a point where they breach both containment structures and escape into the environment, contaminating the soil and releasing radioactive particles into the air.

"The worst case scenario is ... the fuel rods fuse together, the temperatures get so hot that they melt together in a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechanisms," nuclear expert Joe Cirincione of the anti-nuclear group Ploughshares Fund told Agence France-Presse.

These radioactive particles are then picked up by winds, and depending on where they are blowing at any given time, a nuclear cloud could move across the Pacific to the west coast of the United States, causing possible health problems and contaminating food stocks.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, any exposure to ionizing radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer. And given the levels of radiation that are already being dispersed into the winds blowing our way, it's dishonest to say none of it will arrive in Oregon. Of course some of it will, and perhaps lots of it.

Anyway, a short time from now, if Oregonians are being told not to serve dairy products to their kids and to limit time outdoors, one wouldn't be surprised if yesterday's brimming-with-confidence comments will be quietly withdrawn. It's easily done. Try to find Vera Katz's gushing testimonial to Neil Goldschmidt from a half hour after he resigned from his role as Political Boss -- before we found out what that was really about. You won't find it easily. Ted Kulongoski's admiring statement from the same hour is also missing. So mark the following down now, while you have a chance. We'll start with the one we cited last evening, and then pick up some others:

"Even if there were to be a significant release from Japan, and that’s not expected to happen, we do not expect any health risk," said Gail Shibley with Oregon Environmental Public Health. "This is based on the specific type of reactors, the shutdown status of those plants and ongoing containment efforts."


Portland has its own nuclear reactor at Reed College and the director of the program there told KGW Monday that the chances of a massive escape of radiation from a meltdown of nuclear reactors in Japan were slim to none.

Stephen Frantz said that all signs lead to a meltdown of some level at the reactors in Japan. He predicted that the probable effect on health should that happen will be "zero."

That applies to both people in Japan, and Oregon.


Q: What if emergency crews are unable to prevent a catastrophic meltdown at the reactor?

A: Even then, it's questionable whether dangerous levels of radiation would reach the West Coast because of the long distance and dilution that takes place in the atmosphere, said Kathryn Higley, a professor and head of the department of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics at Oregon State University. After the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster in 1986, RadNet stations in Oregon and Washington recorded an uptick in radioactive iodine-131 carried from Ukraine by high-altitude winds but not enough to pose a health risk, Leon said.


"Readings do not show any increase in radiation, and no increases are expected," said Oregon Public Health Division spokesperson Christine Stone following a Sunday morning conference call with health officials in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and parts of western Canada.

According to Stone, the officials said radiation monitoring equipment in all the states and Canada showed normal levels on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Increases are not anticipated, Stone said, although Japan is still struggling to prevent meltdowns in a number of nuclear reactors damaged by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.


In a news release, state Public Health Director Mel Kohn says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the all-clear.

"Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity," the news release says. "There have been no elevated radiation readings detected in Oregon and air samples remain normal. Given the current size of the release and the distance from Oregon, we do not expect that to change and there is no public health risk to the state."

If they said "Things are o.k. for now, but could change," you might buy it. But read those quotes. This is how people in authority act when nuclear power is involved. They lie.

Comments (27)

I thought Gail's comment about the radio active stuff "falling harmlessly into the ocean" was pretty dumb. The ocean has currents that move around the earth...and and animals and plants that we all eat live there too.

People not in power can be more honest, if they choose. One of the smartest guys I've ever known, head of the advanced physics group at Hanford for some years, writes:


I still need to pinch myself to remember that this is not a made-up story.  Did you spend any navy-time in Japan?  

Hard to dream up a worse overall scenario - clusters of nuclear plants operating, max possible subduction zone slip over at least 100 miles length, a few miles offshore from the reactors and with only one hour interval before the tsunami hits.  The combination assured power outage as well as guaranteed shutdown of ECCS power an hour after SCRAM, with no off-site power probably for weeks.  Now the reactor operators know their 3 cores are melting, with no idea how fast or how much seawater they've been able to flood with (because of pressure buildup inside primary containment), no secondary containment on at least the 2 reactors with a 3rd hydrogen explosion probable, probably with operation rooms in a high-level radiation zone by now.  I can't imagine a scarier predicament, unless it was Russians on top of Chernobyl shoveling debris back into the building.  TMI really got off lucky by comparison - videos of those two containment building explosions were fucking scary.  At least they won't have hydrogen gas pressure buildup any more.  They'll be venting radioactive gases probably for months, with iodine, cesium, etc.

Watching all those videos brought up another thought that finally really hit me:  the true meaning of overshoot and carrying capacity.  We gradually build up all this infrastructure and population in a way that makes it seem natural - until it is really gone in a day and you still have most of the population without anything, surrounded my hundreds of miles of total devastation and totally reliant on help arriving from somewhere, sometime, at some level - all unknown.  Several in our little local community TI recently attended an emergency preparedness class.  We demurred, with some inoffensive excuse, but thinking purely logically that one cannot prepare for the unknown - then we see these photos and videos and realize how true that can be.  When/if we ever get our own subduction zone event of mag. 9-10, we actually have very little clue about how bad things will be, other than all power out, all bridges gone, towns on the pacific coast gone.  How will it be in Puget Sound?  Nobody knows.  You would only get a false sense of preparedness by attending this class, after seeing what I've seen on this computer screen the past couple of days.

By the time I'd gotten past the initial shock of watching the nuclear developments,  I remembered who built 2 of the 3 melting reactors (GE).  We had some of that in Laura's portfolio, along with Panasonic, and sold them asap this morning.  Looks like a few other folks have figured that out also, as GE stock has slipped more than the Dow, and Japan's stock market is in a nose-dive.  When talking with our financial rep/advisor, I reminded her this could be a catalytic tipping point for our next recession.  I doubt the world can stand the double-whammy of spiking oil prices AND however many trillion dollars the Japanese problem turns out to be.  I fully expect to be selling the rest of the stuff in her portfolio within the next month.


Why do public officials behave this way around the world? What sort of posture (leaving to one side the apparently unattainable standard of honesty and candor) would be more appropriate?

But what about these nuclear plants' current emissions of carbon dioxide? You know this most catastrophic poison. Given the uncontrolled state of the fuel burn, I bet there are some CO 2 emissions.

Stock up on kelp and tuna fish, as they are both high in radioactive absorbing iodine. Other than this, just think of life as a giant experiment and in the end we all die eventually regardless of outcome (exceptin if the fountain of youth is discovered, and even then, malthusian principles would probably get us.)

I'm not intimately familiar with the design of these reactors, but based on what I understand, I'd like to know why these didn't go into an automatic SCRAM shutdown condition as soon as systems control and power was lost? I thought they were supposed to do that as long as the physical reactor vessel was still intact, which I imagine they probably were, initially.

My only fear in this whole thing is that there will be a Renaissance of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt concerts.

Grumpy, they did scram, but immediately after scram reactors produce about seven percent of their thermal output just from the heat given off by fission product decays, and the heat production decays away very slowly over weeks. These were HUGE reactors ... 5000 MW electric output means about 15000 MW thermal power (Rankine cycle power plants are very inefficient, typically only one-third or so). That is a LOT of heat and is more than enough to melt zircaloy and steel.

Mr. G.: They did SCRAM. But there are isotopes that decay for several days after shutdown. As they decay the are still producing heat. They need to continue cooling to prevent; first the cladding around the fuel rods, then the fuel itself melting.

Right now there shouldn't be any sustained chain reaction going on, as the fuel is surrounded by the control rods.

The REAL problem is if the rods melt and then they drop back into the remaining water at the bottom of the reactor vessel. Then you'll get a new chain reaction starting as you need the water to act as a neutron moderator. It slows them down so they can hit the uranium atoms.

But I'm not a physicist. I just play one on blogs...

Wait...The spent fuel is stored three stories off the ground, next to the reactor? So have the 'splosions exposed the spent fuel?

The Legacy Health System (Good Sam, Emanuel, Meridian, etc.) have been getting numerous calls about potassium iodine. Apparently they are answering that availability is low plus one needs a doctor's prescription. Sam will probably soon form a committee to consider the matter to form another Action Committee to form an Implementation Committee with Randy supplying the boats.

Did the US gov'ment tell us that the radiation from all the crap we blew up in Iraq with "depleted" uranium passed over the US?

Hell no! It took the Europeans to report that radiation detection AFTER it passed over the US (having traveled all the way across Asia and the Pacific ocean).

Do you think any official will give us the truth? These idiots are more scared of the fallout from their corporate paymasters, then the fallout from radioactive particles.

Please don't start with the depleted uranium in our shells being radioactive. One of our leading intellectuals here in Oregon named Jim Karlock insists there is no radioactive material in a depleted uranium shell. Apparently, he missed what was going on in the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq.
These last few days Jim has been advocating for the relative safety of nuclear power because of the newer safer models with containment vessels. I'm just worried that any discussion about the true nature of depleted uranium could make him come out of his delusional trance. Thank you.

Hate to be a nitpicker, but Vera's "gushing testimonial" to Neil came after he was exposed as a child rapist. And Kulongoski's interviews with Willamette Week just last January are full of admiring statements about Neil.

WWeek: Was the Goldschmidt scandal part of why you were ambivalent about whether to run for re-election in 2006?

Kulongoski: Yes. People like Neil don’t come along very often.

Discussions don't stop trances.
Concussions do.

They apparently did scram, Mr. Grumpy. Read the link George provided.

I asked the question on another site earlier in this event and no one had a definitive answer. This one seems to. Certainly, if the real damage to the cooling water control is a result of the tsunami, then there was ample time to scram all the reactors in Japan if necessary. But that's not enough.

From what I have read, no one involved in the design, manufacture and deployment of reactors ever considered multiple catastrophes at once, bringing the default tolerance to zero. That is unacceptable, imo. That it finally happened, to at least 5 reactors, in varying quantities and scenarios, but all resulting in serious possibility of meltdowns, is complete evidence for the falsification of such a position ignoring the ultimate condition of default is everything turned off.

As to the plethora of experts running around giving out advice and information, on one side the official positions, as noted here being untrustworthy. OTOH, at Firedoglake, we have several columnists giving out information and advice none of which have any expertise in the field. They are good at gathering information and to some extent, evidence. But evidence is not the same as proof.

My first job upon graduating technical school was at Argonne National Labs in the Chicago area. I worked in Reactor Engineering, doing instrumentation for neutron studies. I worked behind a 5' (at least!) thick concrete encasement of a Van De Graff accelerator. In another set of buildings were two Experimental Boiling Water Reactors, and another research reactor called Chicago Pile#5, (the first being the experiment at Stagg field at the University of Chicago) I am well aware of the safety issues around such equipment.

I suspect that the BWR's in Japan were based on studies carried out at Argonne. I can't be sure, but it is very likely. As I recall the chatter about the design and operations (we could not talk freely, even among those with clearances to do so. We even had an insider's joke for which the punch line actually gave out a basic piece of information. The teller was roundly rebuked for telling it.) the overall drift I got was that the EBWRs work fine, but have to be constantly monitored, and have much system redundancy.

So we have a standoff between those who have expertise in the technology giving out information and advice and those who have expertise in other fields like law and medicine doing the same, and not trusting the other side. Great, huh?

There are facts available, and I don't see any gathering of these facts in some sort of compendium from which we can draw conclusions satisfactory for the present and with sufficient information to allow extrapolations as to the future, preparing the best response with sufficient lead time to be effective. Nukes in the form of bombs and generators have been around long enough for more than just a glimmer, and a Hail Mary as the response. We need this with candor and honesty.

IMHO, anyway.

I've heard there is nothing likely that will propel the radiation into the atmosphere and jet stream.

So how does it get here?

Wind, Ben, the wind!

One of our leading intellectuals here in Oregon named Jim Karlock insists there is no radioactive material in a depleted uranium shell.

If he says this, he is wrong. Uranium, in all it's forms, is radioactive. It's a question of how fast it decays, which is a direct measurement of radioactivity. With a half life of 4.468 billion years, it is less radioactive than Potassium-40 which has a half life of 1.248 billion years.

U-238 is not fissionable outside of it's natural spontaneous decay rate. Only in a purified-above-natural form of U235 is it fissionable and acceptable for use in most reactors (the notable exception being a CANDU design that uses deuterium as a moderator).


Getting back to the topic of officials masking the true nature of what's going on, the one thing that we haven't seen in any news reports: actual measurements of radioactivity. We just have relativistic statements like "50 times the natural radiation level" which doesn't mean anything - different rock substrates will have different background counts.

I want to see some hard numbers. Are we talking about 5 µSv/hour? Several TBq worth? The obfuscation of this data lends itself to the kind of derision that we're seeing here.

(FYI, smoking a pack and a half a day will give you a radioactive exposure of 13mSv/year)

Wind, Ben, the wind!

I know that's the idea.

But there's local wind and then there's the jet stream. What I heard was there is no anticipated means, like an A bomb explosion to carry it into any elevation where it could be carried.

That a meldown is not that kind of an explosion.

So what is the explanation or scenario where we get fallout from their melt down?

The numbers are there, but not in most summaries. I've seen them. The problem I have with them lies in the evolution of the numbering and their nomenclature. When I was at Argonne, we measured in a term called roentgens, termed rems. This has evolved over the years. Until the present events, I have never heard of Sievert.

So far as the becquerel, it's simply an inverse of the usual measurement in seconds or s^-1. Like the relation between conductance and resistance. Conductance is the reciprocal of resistance, useful in some calculations. The becquerel is used because it is directly proportional to the danger level.

Here's the section where Mr. Karlock asserts that depleted uranium isn't radioactive. I took out his use of bold fonts:

Bill McDonald: For example, the tons of depleted uranium we dropped on Iraq have a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
JK: Of course it does. Common water probably has a half life of hundreds of billions of years. You should learn some basic science: Radiation is the result of atoms’ self destruction. The faster that happens the more radioactive it is and the SHORTER half life it has. Things that are not very radioactive have long half lives. If you read beyond the green propaganda, you would know that the “depleted” in depleted uranium means it is depleted of radioactivity - most of the radioactive stuff has been removed. (according to wikipedia it is used as radiation shielding! And aircraft counterweights - 800lb or more is some 747s)

Bill McDonald: Once this stuff is out there it goes on killing so to compare it with the smoke from coal is a little bit of a stretch.
JK: Tell us how uranium with the radioactivity removed kills. (Other than has a poisonous heavy metal)

He's partially right, Bill, about 2/3 right in that is the amount of fissionable material (U238 and such) removed during the enrichment process. The AIEA claims depleted Uranium is a chemical health hazard, not radiological.

That being said, there is this in an article from Wikipedia (which has a challenge. See the article):

"External exposure to radiation from pure depleted uranium is less of a concern because the alpha particle emitted by its isotopes travel only a few centimeters in air or can be stopped by a sheet of paper. Also, the low concentration of uranium-235 that remains in depleted uranium emits only a small amount of low-energy gamma radiation.

However, internal alpha radiation exposure from a particle lodged in tissues is a more serious matter, since the adjacent tissues will be repeatedly irradiated.

According to the World Health Organization, a radiation dose from it would be about 60% of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass. Approximately 90 micrograms of natural uranium, on average, exist in the human body as a result of normal intake of water, food and air. The majority of this is found in the skeleton, with the rest in various organs and tissues.

However, in a matter of a month or so, depleted uranium generates amounts of thorium-234 and protactinium-234 which emit beta particles at almost the same rate as that of the alpha particles from the uranium-238. Two beta particles are emitted for each alpha particle. (See Radium series.)

The radiological dangers of pure depleted uranium are lower (60%) than those of naturally-occurring uranium due to the removal of the more radioactive isotopes, as well as due to its long half-life (4.46 billion years). Depleted uranium differs from natural uranium in its isotopic composition, but its biochemistry is, for all practical purposes, the same. For further details see actinides in the environment."


There is a neutrality challenge posted there.

"When I was at Argonne, we measured in a term called roentgens, termed rems. This has evolved over the years. Until the present events, I have never heard of Sievert."

Yeah, it's the SI unit - the metrification of all units of measurements.

For future reference:
1 Sv = 100 rem
10 mSv = 1 rem

Other useful relevant measurements:

1 chest CT scan = 6-18 mSv
cosmic radiation dose for a New York to Tokyo flight crew: 9 mSv/year
average environmental exposure to someone living in North America: ~6 mSv/year

Thanks, Fred. Besides the appearance of the SI unit, with which I heartily agree, there is also the substitution of Proper names for traditional names derived from that which is being measured, like 1 cps=1Hz; cycles per second is now simply Hertz. Logical if you are standardizing units. But in the case of frequency, you now have to learn what Hertz means, whereas cps is self explanatory.

I also learned in dosages in Rem so looked up a Sievert. Found an interesting chart from in Wiki so you can can see what the average person gets:

Living near a nuclear power station = less than 0.01 mSv/year[1]
Chest x-ray = 0.04 mSv[1]
Cosmic radiation (from sky) at sea level = 0.24 mSv/year[1]
Terrestrial radiation (from ground) = 0.28 mSv/year[1]
Mammogram = 0.30 mSv[1]
Natural radiation in the human body = 0.40 mSv/year[1]
Brain CT scan = 0.8–5 mSv[2]
Typical individual's natural background radiation: 2 mSv/year; 1.5 mSv/year for Australians, 3 mSv/year for Americans[3]
Radon in the average US home = 2 mSv/year[1]
Chest CT scan = 6–18 mSv[2]
Average American's total radiation exposure: 6.2 mSv/year[4]
New York-Tokyo flights for airline crew: 9mSv/year [3]
Smoking 1.5 packs/day = 13 mSv/year[5]
Gastrointestinal series X-ray investigation = 14 mSv[1]
Current average limit for nuclear workers: 20 mSv/year[3]
Background radiation in parts of Iran, India and Europe: 50 mSv/year[3]
Lowest clearly carcinogenic level: 100 mSv/year[3]
Criterion for relocation after Chernobyl disaster: 350 mSv/lifetime[3]
Highest recorded radiation outside Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant: 400 mSv per hour.[citation needed

For those of you that are not scientists and prefer to just take a simple extra precaution, you can get some potassium iodide:


Hate to be a nitpicker, but Vera's "gushing testimonial" to Neil came after he was exposed as a child rapist.

No, Fred, she also made a statement immediately after the initial b.s. announcement that he was retiring due to a heart condition. She repeated that lie and expressed deep, deep sympathy for her puppetmaster.

As I say, it's hard to find. Vera has friends who scrubbed it for her pretty nicely.

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