"Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors."


Hope it will not be misinterpreted that I’m posting this here, I’m actually reading it, and it’s a good read

This post is by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston.

He is a PhD Scientist, whose father has extensive experience in Germany’s nuclear industry. I asked him to write this information to my family in Australia, who were being made sick with worry by the media reports coming from Japan.


Good article, thanks for posting. Most of the hysteria comes from the perceived danger of nuclear power, but most people don’t realize that this perceived danger is taken into account when these plants are designed. The amount of thought that goes into making these plants as safe as possible is impressive. Now the food shortages and rescue efforts are what we should be focusing on.

Was discussing this a bit on another board - I think the big concern is that it’s already out of date from when it was written.

The part that concerns me is “a research scientist from MIT who’s dad was a nuclear engineer”. I could write articles based on “my cousin the US Naval Nuclear Engineer” but that doesn’t mean I’m right :wink:

I’ve heard the INES rating has been upgraded to a 5 - which puts the impact at the same level as Three Mile Island - and it seems things still aren’t completely under control.

I agree that the media may be creating un-needed hysteria, but until things are actually completely controlled I think it’s going to be a rightfully panicked situation.

For me it looks like the japanese government used the local media (TV) successfully to control
and calm the situation, preventing a mass panic in a densely populated area, which in itself would
be potentialy more lethal than the nuclear radiation.
Despite that I’d be out of here asap, if the Frankfurt power plant had a “potential partial meltdown”.
I am astonished by the civilised and calm way japanese people handle the situation.


Without being local I’m not sure how the actual population is feeling. If the rest of the world is this panicked I’m sure they aren’t feeling so great about it.

Frankly I think the infrastructure is so destroyed they don’t have a choice. I’m sure people who live near the reactors are getting as far away as they can given how damaged the roads are.

Sounds like we’ll really know how this all pans out by the end of the week.

Why worry? The worse case scenario is that we get cancer and die. That was going to happen anyways.

The worse case scenario is that we get cancer and die.

Some of you know that I work refueling outages at Diablo Cany0n Nuclear Power Plant in California and am a “qualified radiation worker” ; far from expert, I am trained how to work safely in a nuclear power plant environment.

As a result of acute exposure (elevated radiation, over a short period of time) you may become nauseous, vomit, and suffer diarrhea. You will look okay and seem healthy. But following this period, possibly twenty-four hours or more, your appetite will go away, you will develop a fever, fatigue quickly, and begin to experience the effects of dehydration. At extreme doses you may suffer seizures and fall into a coma. The worst case scenario is that this condition may last hours, or months … or you may succumb to it.

The thyroid gland (at the base of the throat) controls how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls how sensitive the body should be to other hormones which regulate body metabolism. It is highly susceptible to radiation exposure.

It can be protected from radiation absorption by stable potassium iodide, a salt that protects the body from radiation by blocking the intake of radioactive material in the thyroid. Taken orally as a tablet, it can provide protection for up to 24 hours afterward. It is most effective when it is distributed before exposure.

Japan has already distributed 230,000 doses of potassium iodide to evacuation centers housing people from the areas around the damaged nuclear reactors.

World supplies of potassium iodide have sold out in the past twenty-four hours. Most probably to paranoid people in the United States and others far from Japan … people who will never need it.

I heard people in British Columbia were buying it up.

Chernobyl & Scandinavia were different. The Ukraine isn’t that far from these places. Plus, most of the stuff that is blow out to sea will settle there long before getting to NA.

Interesting information Lew. I guess I thought it was more burns that you got, and the radiation “cooked” you.

I never knew there was a magic pill you could take, I thought you were supposed to “duck and cover”

Alot of things seem to have gone wrong which that artical has glossed over although the danger is subsiding. There are numerous odd reports going around and much information that could be wrong

There are numerous things that article maybe happening. Most of the radiation has been released from a SNAFU. The 30Ft of water cooling spent rods boiled off and/or set on fire. This mens spent fuel rods were exposed burning in open air! Stuff inside the reactor is as per that paper and looking safe but the spent rods are the real danger now.

Radiation levels around the reactors were quite nasty for a while becuase of this.

Saying all of this the danger compared to the devistation in the rest of the country is not dispoportionate. A hydroelectric dam bust and may have killed 1800 people for example. A oil refinary is still burning, which in itself will release some radiation.

I guess I thought it was more burns that you got, and the radiation “cooked” you.

I never knew there was a magic pill you could take,

The “magic pill” will only protect your thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine; it saturates the gland with non-radioactive iodine, reducing how much dangerous radioactive iodine it can absorb. But it has it’s own set of negative effects on the body; iodine is poisonous. The rest of the body remains at risk from exposure and/or contamination.

Let there be no question, you will be “cooked” if you are too near a source of radiation whether it is a microwave oven, a conventional oven, or a nuclear reactor; energy is energy… it’s just a matter on concentration/time/distance. Lay out in the sun too long and you’ll get burnt. The sun’s 293,000,000 miles away so you can lay out for what, 30 minutes? concentration/time/distance

As an example: There is an operation performed at the bottom on a reactor vessel while it has been drained for refueling; it involves setting temporary “dams” into the 32" diameter cooling water pipes. The dams are made in three pieces and take about five minutes to install. There are four inlets per reactor. The guys that do the installation work in teams of six, with supporting personnel located a safe distance away. Each member of the team has 50 SECONDS to perform his portion of the task … in that 50 seconds he absorbs a year’s worth of allotted “dose” about 2,000 millirem (2Rem). Then they’re prohibited from working within in the radiologically controlled area of the plant for another year.

The guys are volunteers from the administrative staff and train all year for this event in a simulator. 4 inlets = 4 teams x 6 = 24 guys.

Why worry? The worse case scenario is that we get cancer and die. That was going to happen anyways.

Or perhaps it can cure cancer? Radiation therapy > is > used in cancer treatment. (Of course in targeted and specificied doses. I’m not making light of the situation, just wanted to point out the delicate balance of biology and physics).

Radiation can kills cells. Both healty and cancerous. In radiation therapy it is highly targeted but you still get problems. Radiating a whole body is likely to do a whole lot of bad. A general radiation does is unlikely to kill a cancer the odds are billions to 1. Like using a clusterbomb to get a bad guy in the crowd rather than a sniper rifle.

This as a worst case of what can happen was looked at by the regulators and it is considered bad - french and USA authorities may move this up to a Chernobyl class 7 event which means you some will die of radiation poisioning. You are looking at 1000 quick deaths and over 100,000 in the future nbased on increase rates of cancer. this is for one reactor there are 6 at that site in japan. The radiation contaminated zone depends on wind but effected area could be in this region

The surgeon general of California is advising people to pick up iodine tablets just in case, which limit radiation damage. The Thyroid gland in your body takes up iodine and is the most sensitive area to radiation as radioactive iodine is released in a nuclear event then gets taken there. This is espcially important when you are younger as more damage can be done to your genes.

You may try looking at that thread, all though the earlier stuff is quite old now

Edit This is a realy worst case scienero and even this sort of event is not as bad as dust going everywhere. Plus this i just an internet forum i am only moderately informed and there is lots of condradictory information going around. Right now the dosage near the reactor is in Milliserviets which means its hazardous to health and not good for you but far from massive gier counter territiory. This is why they have the exclusion zone.

I have ungone radiation therapy personally. . I do understand the context. Of Course I didn’t mean to be flippant to the source issue by any means. More a non sequitur of sorts.

Completly understand but thought it was worth a long post on the subject as there is lots information flying around at the moment and your never know who might say what. Which is why i thought i would add to the end of my post and got parinoid over it. I have side jokes on it in other forums myself. When things get this bad lots of black humor comes in a little!

Back to the original post:

"Oehmen’s research focuses on “risk management” with an eye to helping companies “take entrepreneurial risks.” He writes papers on things like “Human Resource Management in China.”

Apparently despite being the smartest man the blogger knew, the good Dr. is actually a business major.

The guy was speaking sense. The reactor part is as he described, the primary containment has failed and there has been a partial meltdown in the core but radio active release to wider enviroment is pretty minimal. being in business doesn’t mean you get a labotomy! Can say that about any proffession.

The issue is the way spent low activity nuclear material is stored, which is by the reactor. especially with 4 which has more material in it. Spent fuel needs a coolign water flow. The tank can last 4 days (which it has) before enough water boils off. The tank is about 40ft x 40ft x 40ft of water ! However the material in there is releasing abotu 2MW of heat. Reactor 4 beign decommisioned is more than this. At full loads those reactors are 800MW each so this is a comparitively little amount of radiation / power.

the situation is a dangerous spiral now where so much water is gone that its hard to pore more in due to radiation it needs 50 tons of water an hour as far as i understand. this will lead to the material melting and merging together releasing a lot fo local radiation. the damage to the wider enivorment is way less than chernobyl as there are less radioactive particales.

latest photes show the top where the pools have been is almost completely gone, also far more explosion damage has occured since monday.

Even with all of this the radiation is localised. The reactors will need to entombed but other than that around the site should be perfectly safe. They will probably run tours in the future. The situation is dangerous locally the site will recieve massive amounts of radiation but there is no mechanism for taking that radiation somewhere elese at the moment so its pretty limited as a disaster.

(im not a nuke engineer either so as always pinch of salt).