Monthly Archives: March, 2011

Bury It Deep

So, we’re about three hours away from April’s Fools Day, EST, and maybe I’m getting punked, but I got this from two sources..

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Authorities say the world’s largest concrete pump will be flown from Atlanta to Japan on the world’s largest cargo plane as part of a series of emergency steps to help stabilize damaged nuclear reactors.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that the 190,000-pound pump features a 70-meter boom which can be remotely controlled. Officials say that makes it suitable for use in the highly radioactive environment surrounding the nuclear plants.

The pump was manufactured by Germany-based Putzmeister, whose equipment was used at Chernobyl in the 1980s to entomb the melted core of the reactor in concrete.

‘Putzmeister’? I’m a proud English-only speaker who has no German at all, but this sounds funny. Of course, most German sounds funny so that’s neither here nor there.

If the corporate board of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is accepting foreign aid and this will bring the crisis under control, then I hope it’s for real.

I hope that the courageous and dedicated workers at Fukushima who are bailing water to try to avert a nationwide crisis will see the cavalry come over the hill, and will see their sacrifice vindicated.

The challenge today is to prevent more disasters. Keeping this poison entombed for 50,000 years is the challenge for future generations.

UPDATE: The Atlanta Business Journal says the pump is one of only three in the world, it will be taken on a Russian transport plane, and it will not be returned to the US because radioactive contamination will make it too ‘hot’ to use.

Radioactive Marker

This article in today’s New York Times is not panic-inducing, but neither is it reassuring…

Tests of milk samples taken last week in Spokane, Wash., indicate the presence of radioactive iodine from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, but at levels far below those at which action would have to be taken, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday.

The problem arises when materials that emit beta particles are ingested or inhaled. Iodine 131 is chemically identical to normal, nonradioactive iodine and thus is absorbed into the body just as normal iodine is, mainly in the thyroid gland, where it delivers a concentrated dose to that small organ and can cause cancer.

In the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986, the biggest health effect was cases of thyroid cancer, especially in children living near the nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Go to NYT for more on the short half-life of Iodine 131.

Radioactive Iodine 131 is used in medicine to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer. When a person has cancer, radiation therapy is lifesaving and a good risk, but note that there are precautions against exposing the general public…

Radioactive iodine can also be taken up by cells lining the stomach. Some patients may experience nausea, stomach upset and rarely vomiting, for which relief in the form of medications such as Gravol can be provided…

Female patients of reproductive age should have a pregnancy test done at the time of admission to make sure they are not pregnant. Patients may not have visitors during the initial period of their hospitalization. Close body contact, or hugging/kissing, or having subsequent visitors eat or drink in the room is strongly discouraged. The radiation levels will be checked to ensure your levels are sufficiently low prior to discharge.

Should we be worried about the milk in Spokane? If I were pregnant or the mother of a small child I would err on the side of caution. For this specific instance, I tend to believe that the risk to older adults is very low. I see it more as a diagnostic test of our planet.

Each incident of radiation from Fukushima appearing elsewhere in the world is a marker for the swiftness, ease and persistence of radioactive contamination far from the site of a nuclear disaster.

We have put a radioactive marker into the circulation of the air and water of our planet. Nuclear enthusiasts continue to claim ‘no immediate risk’ but the deeper message is clear. Nuclear pollution circles the globe, affecting people far from the benefits and far from the decision to build bombs and power plants. The benefit does not justify the risks.

SPREADING CONTAMINATION: This last October there were reports of hospitals and clinics administering radioactive iodine and sending the patients out to motel rooms and homes without proper screening and instruction. A man on a bus set off radiation alarms on the highway, motel maids and guests had measurable contamination just from being in the same rooms. Link to the story here.

The Warrior in All of Us

Oh, the warriors within us!  Longfellow said it eloquently:  “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s  suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Indeed.  And yet, we do find many things to argue about.  Usually it’s not so much about the subject as it is about someone being on your turf.

As parents we spend a certain amount of energy interacting with our warrior children — hopefully this is only a small part of your relationship, but sometimes it can go on for too long, and it might be worth further exploring your internal warrior — the part of you that engages quickly in conflict, the part that escalates even as you know it isn’t good, not right or healthy or even sane.

Same holds true for marriages.  Hopefully you are not spending the majority of your time interacting with your partner’s warrior, but we’ve all been there, and when it gets really ugly, it’s no fun.  John Gottman talks about the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse and one of them is “contempt.”  When the conflict gets to the point that you genuinely begin to feel contempt for your partner, it’s time to get help.

I enjoy helping clients explore the parts of them that get in the way of harmonious relationships, the parts that bring more conflict into their lives than they need or want. Sometimes what lies beneath the fightin’ mad part of us is a very interesting part — a creator or a fool or an innocent — who wants to enjoy life or work at something more important.  But with the warrior always being in conflict, these other archetypes don’t get the time and attention that they deserve.

(cross-posted from my private practice site.)


Workers on the Front Lines in Fukushima

The most chilling scenes in the movie, ‘Silkwood’ show nuclear plant workers being hustled off by faceless guards in hazard suits as alarms blare, then brutally hosed down to try to wash away the contamination.

This time it’s not a movie.

The Japan Times reports on the workers in the disabled nuclear plants, struggling without adequate food, sleep or protective equipment…

[Banri] Kaieda, deputy head of the nuclear disaster task force set up by the government and Tepco, [Tokyo Electric Power Company] said around 500 to 600 people were at one point lodging in a building on the plant’s premises and that was “not a situation in which minimum sleep and food could be ensured.”

His remarks came after an official in the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that workers were only eating two meals a day, such as crackers and dried rice, and sleeping in conference rooms and hallways in the building.

The official stayed at the nuclear plant for five days through Saturday to check on progress in the ongoing operations.

Kaieda said he was also told that not all workers had been equipped with lead sheeting to shield them from possible radiation contamination on the floors while sleeping.

Reuters Press is more graphic…

(Reuters) – Biscuits and vegetable juice for breakfast, no lunch, and a packet of rice with canned fish or meat for supper. No showers, no beds and virtually never a change of clothes.

That’s the grim lot of hundreds of workers toiling in perilous conditions to avert a catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Japan’s earthquake-wrecked Fukushima power plant.

“This is similar to a war zone and things need to be addressed, including providing proper back-up for the workers who are under immense stress,” said Hirotada Hirose, professor of disaster psychology at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

“If this continues, productivity and morale will fall and workers will become likely to make mistakes. We cannot afford that,” Hirose told Reuters.

And this, from The Guardian, is like bad science fiction…

Japanese authorities are considering plans to collect and freeze cells from engineers and water cannon operators at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in case they are exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

The proposal has been drawn up as a precautionary measure that could potentially save the lives of workers if they receive high doses of radiation while battling to bring the damaged nuclear reactors under control.

High levels of radiation can cause serious illness and death from bone marrow failure, but the condition can be treated if patients are seen quickly enough and given transplants of blood stem cells collected before they are exposed.

The procedure requires workers to take a drug for several days that causes their bone marrow to release stem cells into the blood. They are then hooked up to a machine through which their blood is passed and filtered to extract the stem cells.

The procedure is already used to treat cancer patients whose bone marrow is destroyed by chemo- or radiotherapy.

On the low-tech side, high boots might have saved three workers from radiation burns–from AFP

OSAKA — Japan ordered the operator of a stricken nuclear plant to step up safety Friday after three workers in ill-fitting shoes suffered burns when they sloshed through highly radioactive water.

The trio, aged in their 20s and 30s, were placing electric cables in a basement as part of efforts to rebuild cooling systems at the quake and tsunami damaged reactor three to prevent high-level radiation from spewing out.

Two of the men, who were employed by a subcontractor, were hospitalised after suffering radiation burns from beta rays, which are powerful enough to transform a person’s DNA makeup and cause potential cancer and death.

The word, ‘subcontractor’ is interesting. Who are these workers, and who is responsible for their safety? Here’s from The Irish Times…

Subcontractors to several companies connected to the plant have reportedly been offering 80,000- 100,000 yen a day (€690-€862) to join the operation, according to one former plant worker.

“They know it’s dangerous so they have to pay up to 20 times what they usually do,” said Shingo Kanno, a seasonal farmer and construction worker who was offered work at the complex by a subcontractor but refused. “My wife and family are against it because it’s so dangerous,” he said.

The men inside the complex have been dubbed “samurai” and “suicide” squads in the popular press. They have been joined by self-defence force troops and an elite team of fire and emergency service workers, who have used hoses, water canon and helicopters in a bid to cool the reactors.

With all the tech-talk, and assurances of ‘no harm to the public’, workers are living in a bunker, without enough to eat to keep up their strength for their days of hard physical labor and extreme stress. Sleeping on mats without pillows. Getting injured for lack of a pair of boots.

There’s a truth about human nature here. We’re smart but not as smart as we think.

I hope the courage of these workers will be rewarded by success in getting the crisis under control. When that happens, I hope that their sacrifice will not be brushed off with pious sentiment, and that the uncontrolled news leak will continue to breach containment.

UPDATE: Another power plant employee was hospitalized today from AP, via highplainsdem at Democratic Underground…

TOKYO — The president of the beleaguered Tokyo utility company that owns the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant leaking radiation in the northeast has been hospitalized with high blood pressure, the company said Wednesday.

Masataka Shimizu, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., had not been seen for nearly two weeks after appearing at the news conference two days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hobbled the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

A Life Well-Lived– Joe Bageant

Today’s Daily Kos has a celebration of the life and work of Joe Bageant a self-described redneck and unashamed progressive. A man who worked hard and wrote funny and illuminating commentaries on the war on terror, and those who were expected to actually fight it and pay for it too. He also wrote, ‘Deer Hunting With Jesus’, which was on my list of books to buy and now will be my next purchase.

Darn, he was only 64. It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

For a celebration of his life from a friend– ‘Joe Bageant– We Don’t Last and There’s No Warranty’

From Hippocrates– Ars Longa Vita Brevis. Joe made the most of it.

Bills Come Due

One of the disadvantages of nuclear power is the problem of waste disposal, and the enormous costs both of building a plant, and safely dismantling it about thirty years later. From Reuters News Service…

IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Director General Yukiya Amano this week said international safety standards needed to be strengthened but the agency was not a “nuclear safety watchdog,” stressing safety was the responsibility of individual countries.

But a senior former IAEA official, Olli Heinonen, said in a blog comment that Fukushima “should be a wake-up call to re-evaluate and strengthen the role of the IAEA” in boosting nuclear safety.

Amano’s safety report for last year noted that of the 441 reactors now in operation around the world, many were built in the 1970s and 1980s, with an average lifespan of about 35 years. The Fukushima plant also dates back to the 1970s.

“Their decommissioning peak will occur from 2020 to 2030 which will present a major managerial, technological, safety and environmental challenge to those states engaged in nuclear decommissioning,” it said.

“The need for national and international mechanisms for early planning, adequate funding and long-term strategies applies not only to decommissioning, but also to radioactive waste management and spent fuel management.”

Giving no details about which reactors faced closure, it also said some countries had started to consider extending operations of their nuclear plants beyond the planned timeframe.

The United States has most operating nuclear reactors in the world with 104 units, followed by France with 58 and Japan with 54, according to the IAEA’s website.

In this economy, in this political climate, who is going to sell the notion of paying dearly to ensure that a used up nuclear plant will not be a permanent hazard?

Prevailing Winds

A reminder from the Boston Herald that spaceship Earth is a closed system and what goes around comes around…

This just in to the City Desk … the state Department of Public Health announced today they have detected low levels of radiation in Massachusetts rainwater, likely from the nuclear fallout from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

As you can read below, there’s no public health threat, but it does illustrate the severity of the nuclear crisis in Japan. Here’s the release …
The stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. (AP)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced that very low concentrations of radioiodine-131 (I-131), likely associated with the Japan nuclear power plant event, have been detected in a precipitation (i.e. rainwater) sample. The sample location is one of more than 100 locations around the country that are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Radiation Network (RadNet) monitoring system that routinely monitors for radioactivity in environmental media. Air samples at the same location have shown no detectable radiation. There is no health impact to state drinking water supplies as a result of these findings, and state and federal health officials emphasized that there are no anticipated public health concerns.

I’m not personally worried here and now, but this is a warning that what goes into the atmosphere travels on the wind and borders are no obstacle.

Japan– Uncontrolled News Leak

Thanks to Dem from CT on Daily Kos for this fine post about crowdsourcing vital news.

The idea that governments or companies or anyone gets to control information is sooo 20th century. Sure, plenty of things are secret (but ask the Wikileaks folks for how long) while/but plenty of things are out there for anyone enterprising enough to put the data together.

Does this replace health and disaster reporters and journalists? Not at all. It’s data for them to vet, just like it’s data for us to vet. Sometimes, it’ll be vetted by non-journalists with expertise in a particular area (and some of them, like Nate Silver and Glenn Greenwald, will move from blogger to pundit over time.)

Now, is the data on the internet always going to be right? No, but it will get corroborated and corrected. If it raises the right questions, it’s done its job. In fact, traditional journalism also makes errors (and sometimes sources are flat-out wrong), so the correction process is always a dynamic one.

Dem from CT linked to this site– Pachtube real time crowdsourced radiation maps.

Thank you to all the cranky people who have insisted for years that ‘experts’ should, as an ethical requirement, reveal who is paying them. That helps us put in perspective a reassuring analysis of the risks of nuclear power by a consultant to the nuclear industry.

Before the net, that was the only information we’d be able to get, other than the warnings of those folks waving signs outside the gates. I know, because we were hearing the exact same arguments thirty years ago, from experts paid by the nuclear industry.

Here in the US the Environmental Protection Agency says that 20 of 124 radiation monitors nationwide are out of service.

A Geiger Counter is not terribly expensive or hard to obtain, so maybe we’ll do some crowdsourcing here.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal reports danger, confusion, and some hope in the struggle to contain the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex…

The water problems of the past four days underscore the complexities and uncertainties that continue to surround the repair effort, as workers, engineers and regulators are forced to confront new problems just as they seem to have solved old ones. Perhaps more unnerving than the specifics of the radioactive water is that it shows how unpredictable the repairs have become, and thus how hard it is for anybody to say with certainty how quickly or easily they can be completed.

Experts say the Japanese are moving in a prudent manner given the enormity of the task. As long as workers are able to keep the cores cool, the experts say, the nuclear material will continue to produce less heat naturally.

“Time is their friend,” said Alexander Sich, an associate professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “The longer they wait, the cooler the cores get, the less stress on the system.”

The picture changes hour by hour. I hope they will soon have success in bringing the radiation under control. After that is a daunting clean-up job.

One leak I want to see continue is news from every source. Even as workers put themselves in harms way and people in Japan struggle to make sense of conflicting warnings, the industry is already minimizing the crisis and dismissing public concern as ignorance.

The big money, now as thirty years ago, is with the nuclear industry and its favored politicians. Unlike thirty years ago, we can do more than wave signs. Freedom of the press, they say, belongs to him who owns the press. For now, that freedom is enjoyed by countless small publishers, in Fukushima, in California, in Russia and Norway and Pennsylvania.

Radiation from Japan’s nuclear disaster has circled the globe several times, as has the news. Truth will win.

Situation Worsens in Japan

It’s a bad sign that it’s taking so long for Japan to get its nuclear reactors under control. From Reuters today…

(Reuters) – Highly radioactive water has been found at a second reactor at a crippled nuclear power station in Japan, the plant’s operator said, as fears of contamination escalated two weeks after a huge earthquake and tsunami battered the complex.

Underscoring growing international concern about nuclear power raised by the accident in northeast Japan, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement it was time to reassess the international nuclear safety regime.

Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, making his first public statement on the crisis in a week, said the situation at the Fukushima nuclear complex, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, was “nowhere near” being resolved.

Two workers are in a hospital with radiation burns, seventeen exposed. The best hope is that the immediate crisis is resolved soon. Assessing the damage will take time. Nuclear optimists insist there is no real danger from radiation, but the world is watching, and nuclear power will be a hard sell in the future.

No Immediate Risk

Gotta run, just time to post this link to an article about the long-term problems in a town in Sweden that was in the path of the radiation plume from Chernobyl. A heavy rain washed dust from the plume to the ground and this stuff doesn’t go away.


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