I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that the situation in Japan is a terrible disaster. In fact, everyone with preparedness leaning should be looking at this and learning. Just like we should have from Haiti, and Argentina.
But I wanted to write today about something that is really bothering me. And that’s the rampant fear-mongering going on in the Prepping/Survival community around the reactor incidents.
People tend to hear the words ‘nuclear’ and ‘meltdown’ and freak out. And it’s not really something you want to be close to when it happens. But unless you’re in Japan, you don’t need to worry about radiation poisoning, etc from this event.
Let’s talk about why…
Nuclear Meltdown? Not Even Close…
First, the reactors themselves are largely intact. These reactors are boiling water reactors, which are designed with three layers of containment. Think about three pressure cookers nested together, except the walls are 18 inches of steel instead of thin aluminum. The whole kit and kaboodle lives in a building ‘shell’ that provides environmental support, etc.
The amazing explosions we’ve seen on TV? Those were pockets of hydrogen that had built up inside the buildings and had nothing at ALL to do with the reactor itself. There is some question about whether the outer most containment vessel taking some damage, but if they did, it isn’t anything harsh.
The hydrogen was a byproduct of venting steam out of the reactor core to keep pressure down inside the pressure cooker. Think about the rocker on a pressure canner and you get the idea.
Within seconds of the earthquake hitting, the reactors automatically shut down. Control rods were inserted into the core and the chain reaction stopped.
Some radiation was absolutely released as a part of the steam venting. But the isotopes in question have long since decayed. Half life is an important thing, and the half life of most of the stuff in the steam is measured in seconds.
All the nasty stuff, like Uranium Oxide, is still stuck inside the containment vessels, and is not in danger of being released. They’ve found some trace elements of Cesium and Iodine, but nothing that is particularly concerning.
Simply put, the whole “meltdown” thing … isn’t. The fun part is that there really isn’t a definition for what a meltdown is … but it sounds pretty scary. What it basically refers to is the nuclear fuel melting due to inadequate cooling. This isn’t, and hasn’t been, an issue in Japan because they had multiple ‘defense in depth’ mechanisms in place to deal with it.
So don’t pay any attention to the fear-mongering about a meltdown and imminent radioactive fallout.
But we don’t deal in fear here, we deal with reality. And reality is that Fukushima is NOT and CAN NOT be another Chernobyl. Chernobyl happened with a live reactor that was in full swing, and the containment vessel exploding due to a poor reactor design.
But What If Fukushima DID Have a Chernobyl Type Event?
As a thought experiment, let’s say Chernobyl happened at Fukushima. It’d be a bad day for Japan. No question.
But how about the West Coast? (and remember, I live in Western Washington, so this matters to me…)
The dangerous radiation from Chernobyl traveled about 600 miles away from the event. Beyond that, there wasn’t any serious radiation.
Coincidentally, I was actually IN Europe when Chernobyl blew. It was annoying. We had to drink this processed milk junk for a while until some of the radioactivity worked its way through the grass/dairy systems. But that’s about it. The area I lived in was one of the yellow areas on this map.
So the bad stuff hit within 600 miles. How far are we from Japan?
Somewhere around 4,400 miles.
Any radioactive particles would have diffused into the atmosphere or dropped into the ocean at random LONG before they got to the west coast.
But The News Said We’re All Gonna Die From Thyroid Cancer!
But let’s pretend again. This time, let’s say it COULD get all the way here without diffusing. The isotope most people worry about is Iodine-131. This is what taking Potassium Iodide/Iodate helps with.
The National Weather Service gives us some projections on how long it would take to get to the West Coast, and how it would get here. Here’s a picture of one of the recent projections.
Note that only the weather originating at 9,000 meters even gets out to us. And it takes nine days for it to get here.
The half-life of I-131 is … 8 days. By the time it gets to the West Coast, it isn’t particularly radioactive anymore. Remember, the reactors aren’t generating new isotopes anymore because they’re shut down. So that half-life clock is already ticking.
Rudy’s Note: Half-life is pretty simple. It is the measure of radioactive decay. Each half-life period reduces the amount of radioactive atoms by half. So if your half-life is measured in one hour, after the first hour you have 50% left, the second hour is 25%, the third is 12.5%, and so on.
Half-life starts the minute the radioactive atom is produced. In terms of a reactor, at any given time you’ll have particles of all sorts of different ages. So in case of a disastrous meltdown, for example, not all of the particles will have a full life cycle ahead of them. So the effective rate of decay in a fallout cloud is significantly faster than the pure half-life of the isotopes in question.
Physicists among you will quibble with the details, and I agree, this is a very layman-oriented explanation. Intentionally so. I don’t want to go into probability measures, stochastic predictions, etc. Please don’t nitpick!
Any vision the media and fear mongers have been pushing of a radioactive fallout cloud is just fantasy.
Please don’t panic.
Don’t listen to the fear-mongers.
Unless you live in Japan, you will NOT be affected by anything that could happen. And realistically, nothing else can happen in a catastrophic way, as far as these reactors are concerned.