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Japan Power Stats Hardware

The Panic Over Fukushima 536

Posted by Soulskill
from the people-enjoy-being-scared-more-than-they-enjoy-math dept.
An anonymous reader points out an article in the Wall Street Journal about how irrational fear of nuclear reactors made people worry much more about last year's incident at Fukushima than they should have. Quoting: "Denver has particularly high natural radioactivity. It comes primarily from radioactive radon gas, emitted from tiny concentrations of uranium found in local granite. If you live there, you get, on average, an extra dose of .3 rem of radiation per year (on top of the .62 rem that the average American absorbs annually from various sources). A rem is the unit of measure used to gauge radiation damage to human tissue. ... Now consider the most famous victim of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Two workers at the reactor were killed by the tsunami, which is believed to have been 50 feet high at the site. But over the following weeks and months, the fear grew that the ultimate victims of this damaged nuke would number in the thousands or tens of thousands. The 'hot spots' in Japan that frightened many people showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number quite small compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver. What explains the disparity? Why this enormous difference in what is considered an acceptable level of exposure to radiation?"
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The Panic Over Fukushima

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  • by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:06PM (#41039803) Journal
    Radiation in Denver is unavoidable. Radiation in Fukushima was manmade, and the inadequate safety features and inept management seem to be common problems with nuclear (and other) power plants. The furor is because the Fukushima radiation release could have been avoided, but wasn't.
  • by bmo (77928) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:12PM (#41039861)

    But over the following weeks and months, the fear grew that the ultimate victims of this damaged nuke would number in the thousands or tens of thousands. The 'hot spots' in Japan that frightened many people showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number quite small compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver. What explains the disparity? Why this enormous difference in what is considered an acceptable level of exposure to radiation?"

    Because the government and the electrical utility had been completely opaque and not forthcoming with any useful information and preferred to treat the public like children and tell them to go pound sand at public meetings. The government's handling of this from the beginning was a textbook example of how to *not* handle something like this.

    So what do people do when they can't get any valid information from their own government? Assume the government is covering it up and assume the worst. And there are plenty of people out there willing to fill the information void with the most outlandish "facts" going.

    That's why.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:Why? This: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ATMAvatar (648864) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:14PM (#41039875) Journal
    That map would be useful if there were any units or legend presented to demonstrate what kinda scale the heatmap is attempting to display. Without knowing this, the map is good for nothing more than to scare people.
  • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:16PM (#41039905) Journal
    That serves as a good thing to keep in mind moving forward, but the article is about the (now unavoidable) radiation level in the area. The "hot spots" are 1/3 the radiation level that your average Denver resident experiences. The point is that people should stop going into hysterics about the radiation, not that they should ignore the lessons learned by the reactor failure.
  • Radon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drwho (4190) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:16PM (#41039907) Homepage Journal

    Radon, from unventilated places, is the leading cause of radiation induced death. Not nuclear power, nuclear weapons, or nuclear medicine. People need to wise the fuck up, and look at the actual facts and see what is going on. Not only is nuclear power safe, but efforts are underway to make it safer still. Modern nuclear reactor designs using liquid fuels instead of solid are the way to go. But all this anti-nuclear sentiment from alarmists (some of whom are funded by the petroleum industry) make utilities wary of funding the replacement of aging plants.

  • by JosephTX (2521572) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:18PM (#41039923)

    I guarantee you that "journalists" were being paid to sensationalize the issue. And people are STILL comparing the fukushima plant to some 1970s Soviet power plant? Incidents like Chernobyl happened due to cheap building and cheaper maintenance; the Fukushima "incident" happened due to a giant tsunami and record seismic activity.

    But just look at what's going on now. Japan's shutting down ALL their nuclear power plants so they can import oil from foreign companies, and several European politicians have been pushing for the same thing; meanwhile in the US, this sensationalism has just been cannon fodder for the mindless ranting made by people who own $100 in Exxon/Shell/etc stock.

    And these people wouldn't be able to get away with it if it wasn't for the idiots who eat all this up. If you're one of those people who bought into the scare tactics, you share just as much blame as the companies behind it.

  • Propaganda (Score:4, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:20PM (#41039953)
    The author: —Dr. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines." Oh, he doesn't even mention that we have to find a way to keep the nuclear waste safe for 150.000 years. We are destroying the world with this. Sure, those reactors can be quite safe, but anyone know of a human-made building that is 150.000 years old and still intact? Didn't think so. Even mountains go and come over that period of time.
  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:22PM (#41039983)

    Radiation in Fukushima was manmade, and the inadequate safety features and inept management seem to be common problems with nuclear (and other) power plants.

    Yeah, for definitions of "common" of perhaps one in a thousand.

    Of course, coal plants kill people when working as intended, but it doesn't look scary on CNN, so nobody cares.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:23PM (#41039991)

    Radiation in Denver is unavoidable. Radiation in Fukushima was manmade.

    And everybody knows that natural radiation is good for you, while manmade radiation is bad... wait what?

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:26PM (#41040027)

    Nonsense. The news channels could easily explain it in thirty seconds. Something like:

    "Radioactive exposure is measured in rems. The average American is exposed to 0.6 rems a year. People around Fukushima will be exposed to an extra 0.1 rems, which won't hurt them at all. Now, back to our coverage of the entire villages that were swept away by the actual disaster."

    They choose to sensationalize and fan the fires of ignorance because it makes for more exciting news, which gets them better ratings, which gets them more money. Simple as that.

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:28PM (#41040045) Homepage

    Mostly when they discovered to their embarrassment that the nearly arbitrary number they picked was less than the natural background and so wasn't attainable.

  • Re:Wrong scare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:32PM (#41040095)

    I think the GP's point is that the Fukushima plants were exposed to far worse conditions than the Chernobyl plant, and yet emerged much better, thus proving the efficacy of the safety devices and procedures in place.

    For the requisite car analogy: Fukushima is a modern sedan in a head-on collision, from which the driver walks away. Chernobyl is a Pinto getting into a fender bender and exploding.

  • Re:Wrong scare (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:33PM (#41040101) Homepage

    Maybe we're not talking about the same Fukashima but I distinctly recall pretty much total confusion and paralysis by the Japanese government and TEPCO. It was clear they did not have a good handle on the situation. They clearly lied, obfuscated and just refused to talk at times.

    THAT is what was so scary. Nobody believed what the government was saying. It was extraordinarily hard to figure out exactly what was going on. Waving Geiger counters around isn't the best way to determine health risks but that is exactly what the general public was forced to do given the poor official response. This went on for months. So, I'm supposed to believe them now?

    Note the similarities between Chernoble and Fukashima. Both governments caught unawares. Both governments go into minimize mode. The real situation turns out to be, in fact, pretty bad. People distrust official statements, get upset, get hyperbolic, perhaps panic.

    SNAFU....

  • Re:Why? This: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:38PM (#41040153) Homepage

    Which is exactly why it was created without a scale.

  • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @05:58PM (#41040349) Homepage Journal

    I am not an expert, but I think you can not compare radiation that easily. It really depends on how you come into contact with the radiation, and where it is stored. For example, eating fish from effected may be more serious than just breathing air -- with the same measured radiation content. I think people at least on Slashdot where well-aware of how to compare Sieverts (or rem) from https://xkcd.com/radiation/ [xkcd.com]

    We know Fukushima expelled a third of the radiation of Chernobyl, we know how widespread the mutations are there (people still can't live there), we know Japan is not exactly underpopulated and predominantly fish-eating. That can be a serious concern, especially if you at some point lived in the parts of Europe where radiation from Chernobyl rained down and still today you can't eat mushrooms for example, because they are too poisonous (>1000km away, 25 years later).

  • by garyebickford (222422) <`gar37bic' `at' `gmail.com'> on Saturday August 18, 2012 @06:09PM (#41040455)

    They choose to sensationalize and fan the fires of ignorance because it makes for more exciting news, which gets them better ratings, which gets them more money.

    I think our attraction to disaster is biological - I'm not sure _why_, but we all tend to slow down at accident scenes, just for one example. How much of our interest in Fukushima is just the fatalistic viewing of the tide coming in and washing people away? IIRC there is evidence that other primates do this as well.

    I suppose destruction derbies and horror movies are successful for similar reasons. Then there's the infamous Roman spectacles.

    I used to live in Pittsburgh(early 1990s). One of the local stations was not getting very good ratings for their 11:00 PM news, and decided to chase ambulances. They began showing video footage of every car crash they could get to. Soon they had among the highest ratings in the area.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @06:13PM (#41040495)

    Radiation in Denver is unavoidable.

    Yes, and yet hundreds of thousands of people live in Denver, by choice. Many people in Colorado have lived here their whole lives. And yet they are not a city of cancer-ridden tentacled freaks.

    So what does it mean when people like you get freaked out by even lower levels of radiation that obviously harm just about no-one living in Denver their whole lives?

    It means your luddite fear of anything nuclear is utterly stupid, irrational, and you are causing way more harm than good by being freaked out about the tiny levels of radiation present in the area and trying to freakout others too.

  • explanation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @06:20PM (#41040559)
    People worry because they fear the authorities might lie to them (or be mistaken) about the levels of radiation.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @06:32PM (#41040647) Journal

    Radiation in Denver is unavoidable. Radiation in Fukushima was manmade, and the inadequate safety features and inept management seem to be common problems with nuclear (and other) power plants. The furor is because the Fukushima radiation release could have been avoided, but wasn't.

    But remember: Responsible, Serious, Journalists have dismissed any displeasure you might feel about having health risks you don't understand imposed on you become somebody higher up the food chain doesn't give a fuck as 'hysteria', so go about your business...

    Honestly, that's what really annoys me about the tone of this article... Do I have the slightest belief that Fukushima residents(or, for that matter, just about anybody else who isn't an epidemiologist or involved in some aspect of medical physics) has an accurate understanding of the risks it poses to them? Hardly. Does this mean that it is 'hysteria' to be worried when your local operators have been exhibiting negligence and incompetence indistinguishable from malice while issuing bland statements about how you have nothing to worry about? Also hardly.

    Really, a lot of anxiety about 'nuclear' this and 'GMO' that is pretty tepidly supported; but stems from the (overwhelmingly more robust) sense that the people deploying the technology being fretted about don't actually much care whether it is safe or not, cannot be relied upon to do what is necessary to ensure that it is safe, and are more than happy to lie about it for as long as they can get away with it. It would be nice if the anxiety were a bit more carefully focused; but there is a quite legitimate locus for it...

  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @06:35PM (#41040677)

    Nobody cares about total radiation emitted. Nothing matters except where the radiation ultimately ends up.

  • by repapetilto (1219852) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @07:33PM (#41041155)

    How many showed irregularities before?

  • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @08:16PM (#41041491)

    No. I have seen no evidence that the one-time release of a small amount of radioactivity into the ocean five thousand miles away could possibly be a significant threat to my health.

    If I were worried about "orders of magnitude difference," I would be much more concerned the long-term effects of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific than I would be about Fukushima.

  • by jamstar7 (694492) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @08:54PM (#41041799)
    That's less than 10% chance to get lung cancer by smoking. People get lung cancer all the time, from things like asbestos, air polution, whatnot. But develop lung cancer without smoking, and people will automatically assume it's from the second hand smoke you picked up when you walked past a room somebody had a cigarette in 20 years ago. It just ain't so. Primary cigarette smoke is a contributing factor to lung cancer, but nothing like the hype they'd have you believe, like, light up just one cigarette and you'll die of cancer. It's hype.

    A couple people in my family died of lung cancer. My whole family is Mormon, they never smoked. They didn't hang around smokers other than me. I've been a heavy smoker since 1969, when I started. I smoke more than 2 packs a day, full flavors, none of that 'ultralight' shit, those just have no taste. Almost 45 years now, no lung cancer yet. My old man had emphysema, from being a professional welder for over 30 years. Never smoked a cigarette in his life. He just did an awful lot of welding in very enclosed spaces without a resperator, like, inside a 10,000 gallon tank (he did a LOT of those). . He was also half blind, because he'd strike his arc with the hood up so he could see what he was doing, then nod his head to bring it down. The light did cause retinal burns, and he ended up with something on the order of 20/200 vision. And people wondered why his driving made me nervous...
  • Re:Contradictions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @08:59PM (#41041833)

    I always find it funny that the generations of people who grew up living in absolute terror of all things nuclear are the same generations that believed hiding under a piece of furniture would protect them from all things nuclear.

    No, what's funny is people pretending - even though they know better - that cover-seeking drills aimed at mitigating injuries from marginal damage like shockwave roof collapses from shockwaves were really people thinking that it would save them from "all things nuclear." Please just stop with that idiotic meme.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Saturday August 18, 2012 @10:45PM (#41042571)

    Far more generally, people fear sudden or unusual events far more than they fear regular smaller events, even if those regular smaller events add up to far more damage over time. The panic over such low levels of Fukushima radiation compared to Denver radiation may be an example of this. Another example is the panic in Dallas over the West Nile virus. The virus has killed 13-15 or so people this year, mostly the old and infirm. Guess what also kills the old in infirm? The regular flu. How many have been killed in Texas this year? No one knows, because the government doesn't bother to collect that information. The most recent information indicates some dozen children died of the flu in the 2010-2011 flu season in Texas. Numbers of adults and seniors aren't tracked and aren't available, but the CDC estimates somewhere between like 4000 and 30000 flu deaths a year, depending on the severity of that year's outbreak.

    So, a dozen+ people die from something slightly unusual. Odds are pretty good that they all would have died from the flu in a few months anyway. But now the citizens and the government all in a panic to "do something" so they start aerial spraying of pesticides. How do you opt out of aerial spraying of pesticides where you live?

    Car crashes, the flu, heart disease, cancer from Denver's background radiation - no one really cares. But risk or kill a small fraction of that number of people - but do it all at once and in some novel way - and people will react with exponentially higher fervor.

    I think I saw someone on Slashdot once explain this as human instinct. Things that are unusual are more likely to get cave-man-proto-humans killed, so humans developed or evolved enhanced reactions to them. All I know is that we as a species are smart enough to overcome our instincts and react appropriately to situations, so we should do it in these types of situations, too.

  • by CptNerd (455084) <adiseker@lexonia.net> on Saturday August 18, 2012 @11:19PM (#41042733) Homepage
    Speaking as someone who was born and spent the first 5 or so years of my life when everyone was setting off megaton atomic warheads ABOVE GROUND and living with more fallout than you can shake a geiger tube at, all I can say to both sides is: SHUT UP. Your worst experiences are nowhere near the reality that used to be, and isn't liable to be again. Shove the nukeFUD, shove the "your pollution is worse than my pollution", shove the "GMO are going to kill us all", drag all the fear of science and technology back into your little dark holes and hide out while the rest of us get on with the future. Not directed specifically at any poster, just in general.
  • by stooo (2202012) on Sunday August 19, 2012 @02:22AM (#41043519)

    >> They had systems in place for a loss of power event. The problem was they didn't anticipate the length of time the loss of power event would continue

    They didn't want to anticipate long power losses, so they pick the cheap option. Anyway, there is evidence that the reactors were badly damaged before the power loss
    They didn't want to anticipate faults directly under the complex (and there can be unknown faults everywhere !) so they just took the most economic option of ignoring strong earthquakes
    They didn't want to anticipate tsunamis, so they just build a ridiculous but cheap protecting wall.

    and the list goes on.

    Take risks, be "cheap" when possible, but give a false illusion o security. It's just the way the whole industry works

  • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday August 19, 2012 @02:32AM (#41043555)
    I've been saying since March of last year, it really looks like a case of probability analysis failure, like happened with the O-rings in the shuttle's boosters. In the boosters, they noticed sometimes the propellant could burn through two O-rings. So they added a third O-ring, on the theory that if there's a 1 in 100 chance of burning through two O-rings, then each O-ring has a 1 in 10 chance of burning through, and there's a 1 in 1000 chance of burning through three O-rings.

    That ain't how it works. For the probabilities to multiply like that and provide redundancy, the vulnerabilities have to be independent events. Burning through O-rings isn't an independent event. A condition which causes one O-ring to leak and burn through (cold weather) is highly likely to affect subsequent O-rings. So you aren't really making things safer by adding an extra O-ring.

    At Fukushima, it looks like they had a dozen or so backup generators on the theory that if one has a (say) 1 in 10 chance of failing, then the chance of all of them failing is 1 in 10^12. But nearly all of them were located in the same place, so a single event (a tsunami) which took out one generator took out all of them. Having multiple generators situated this way did not provide redundancy because they weren't vulnerable to independent events. They were vulnerable to the same event.

    What they needed to do was put the generators in different locations, with different fuel sources, probably even different manufacturers and fuel types. That way an event which affected one would not affect the others, making their vulnerabilities independent events. The generators at reactors 5-6 were located further uphill, and thus survived the tsunami intact and were able to keep the fuel storage tanks there cooled.

    This confirms (for me, at least) Amory Lovins' assertion that the US will never build another nuclear plant because there's no way it will ever be cost effective, even when most of the liability risk is assumed by the government. This WSJ article is snake oil being sold by some would-be investors (or sellers of investments).

    Actually the WSJ article is by a professor of physics at UC Berkeley. And he is spot on about the huge mischaracterization of the risk assigned to nuclear power (including by insurance adjusters). People in general suck at rationally analyzing extremely rare events with huge consequences. For nuclear power, fear of another Chernobyl overwhelms the rational fact that historically it's the safest power source man has ever invented. For lotteries, the desire to hit the jackpot overwhelms the rational fact that nearly everyone who plays loses money, and even on average you lose money.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) <[ten.3dlrow] [ta] [ojom]> on Sunday August 19, 2012 @05:41AM (#41044263) Homepage

    You are not comparing like with like. At Fukushima the radioactive material is of a type that can get inside the body, which is where it is dangerous and leads to health risks. Merely comparing levels is pointless, you have to look at the nature of the radioactive material.

  • by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Sunday August 19, 2012 @06:59AM (#41044563) Journal
    I don't fear nuclear. I support replacing old nuclear plants with newer, safer designs. I think building more nuclear plants is an overall good idea.

    The question is not "can we avoid all radiation?" it's "can we avoid large scale accidental releases of radioactive materials?" The mismanagement of the Fukushima disaster may not occur at other plants, but my experience with bureaucracies indicates that similar mishandling is probable. That's not a reason not to have nuclear energy, that's a reason to have nuclear energy that humans can't screw up.

    Denver's radiation levels are higher than Fukushima's, but Fukushima's levels are now higher than they were before. Even if they're still harmless over most of the area it's still a large spill of an industrial pollutant. Just because it led to harmless radiation levels this time doesn't mean disasters will always lead to harmless radiation levels, especially with old reactor designs dominating.
  • by sgbett (739519) <slashdot@remailer.org> on Sunday August 19, 2012 @08:33AM (#41045051) Homepage

    I'm into reef (as in coral) stuff. This sounds exactly like what you see with the tolerance of these animals to environmental change (temperature, ph, alkalinity etc)

    Take a specimen from a stable environment and subject it to sudden changes and it will suffer - perhaps die. However some species seem to be able to build tolerance to environmental change - this can be seen by taking a 'frag' (like a cutting in plants) from a coral, then exposing it to small changes and gradually increasing them until you reach a point where your now 'tolerant' coral can live and grow happily through sudden environmental changes that would kill (bleach) identical specimens that have not been acclimated in this fashion.

    There is a lot of research going on into bleaching events at the moment and why some corals are fine and others don't survive. Some research suggests that certain corals/regions that have experienced prior bleaching events are faring much better than other regions that until now were very stable.

    It sounds to me like a similar 'acclimatisation' process is at work here with radiation.

    What doesn't kill you makes you stronger indeed!

  • Evacuating large groups of people for months at a time, and killing and burying their livestock "WAY deep" constitutes a magnitude of liability no private company is prepared to take on. Your comment suggests you are in favor of large, coercive groups of quasi-governmental officials with the power to evacuate or temporarily relocate populations, organized and financed by the government, and all for the sake of continued profits for the power companies. Seriously.

    What happened at Fukushima was a very rare event that had national consequences. The moving of people and killing livestock would also be a government function in any situation, including similar situations where something like an oil refinery blows up or some other similar significant industrial accident.

    Just look at what BP had to do with their oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Even that involved government actions to deal with the general public.

    This isn't just for the sake of profits of power companies, but a vital national resource where power from an energy plant is necessary for economic vitality. Without power being produced in some form, a country like Japan simply couldn't survive as a nation and millions would die due to starvation, disease, and simply being without shelter of any kind. In this regard, I dare say that nuclear power plants actually save lives and most definitely improve the standard of living for not just the shareholders of the power plant but for everybody that uses the power from those plants.

    In fact it could be argued that a better gauge of poverty is to calculate how much energy is at the disposal of the person being measured instead of calculating monetary wealth. Certainly people in developing nations (or frankly "undeveloped nations") don't have access to nearly the same amounts of energy that people in developed countries have.

    I have seen massive evacuations for wildfires (sometimes started by people and not natural), tornadoes, hurricanes, and many other kinds of disasters. A problem with a nuclear power plant is unfortunate and experience should try to improve the situation because it is a man-made device, but that doesn't mean you need to have a knee jerk reaction against the idea due to irrational fear of the technology like some sort of Luddite.

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