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Fukushima Actually "Much Worse" Than So Far Disclosed, Say Experts 274

Posted by timothy
from the don't-drink-the-water-and-don't-breathe-the-air dept.
PuceBaboon writes "The BBC is reporting that experts are casting doubt on the veracity of statements from both the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government regarding the seriousness of the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Not only are the constant leaks releasing radioactivity into the ocean (and thus into the food chain), but now there are also worries that the spent fuel rod storage pools may be even more unstable than first thought. An external consultant warns, 'The Japanese have a problem asking for help. It is a big mistake; they badly need it.'"
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Fukushima Actually "Much Worse" Than So Far Disclosed, Say Experts

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  • Be optimistic about it. if it gets any worse, we'll be able to use sushi instead of toothpaste.
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:18PM (#44643973)
    • Rule of thumb (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:25PM (#44644053)

      Any "bad" news from government should be assumed to be much worse, and any "good" news from government should be assumed to be not nearly as good. That's just common sense when dealing with an organization that takes money from you by force, promising to spend it on things which benefit you, and then turns around and spends billions each year on self-promotion.

      • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:34PM (#44644205)

        s/government/big corporation.

        • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:5, Insightful)

          by akirapill (1137883) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:45PM (#44644345)

          s/government/big corporation.

          Mod AC up. If anything, this incident shows that corporations are _at least_ as bad as the state when it comes to managing nuclear power. Nuclear may be scientifically safe and sound, but the lumbering bureaucracy (public or private) required to actually build and operate a plant guarantee that this type of disaster will keep happening for as long as this technology is in use.

          • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:5, Insightful)

            by runeghost (2509522) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:54PM (#44644457)
            Sadly, I'm coming to around to agreeing with your point of view. On paper, nuclear should be the solution to the world's power needs. In practice, we as a species don't seem to be able to create and sustain the requisite human and material support structures for truly safe nuclear power.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              You say on paper... But on which paper is the solution to the problem of nuclear waste material? Or the problem of finite raw materials? On paper, Sir, it's renewable energies.

              • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Basically, "on paper" means nothing. Oh, nuclear energy is great, except when we actually do it, there are always problems - the lil'' externalities, like mechanical limits, human error, the "free market", human failings, etc. etc. etc. Other stuff that is great "on paper" - hyperloop, libertariansim, religion, one device for everything...

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by lgw (121541)

                But on which paper is the solution to the problem of nuclear waste material? Or the problem of finite raw materials? On paper, Sir, it's renewable energies.

                We won't run out of uranium on any timescale that matters. Like the Sun, out uranium is material leftover from a supernova long ago. Both will run out eventually, neither on a timescale that matters to humanity.

                We only keep spent nuclear fuel because it's valuable. As nasty industrial waste goes, there's so little of it that it shouldn't matter ... on paper. We do insanely stupid things, just crazily handle this stuff in a way that makes it more dangerous by far than it needed to be. Leave spent fuel i

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by shiftless (410350)

              In practice, we as a species don't seem to be able to create and sustain the requisite human and material support structures for truly safe nuclear power.

              It has nothing to do with the species. I am perfectly capable of creating and sustaining a safe nuclear power station. There are others out there like me. We can (and will) get together and form our own nation which does this effectively and safely. Others will go extinct. When fire was invented, I guarantee only 20-30% of hominins back then had what it took (mentally, genetically) to safely use fire. I bet after the first few tribes burned themselves and their whole forest to the ground there were people l

              • When fire was invented, I guarantee only 20-30% of hominins back then had what it took (mentally, genetically) to safely use fire. [emphasis added]

                If you think you can make such guarantees, then you're the last person I'd want designing a nuclear plant.

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            And what if it does? What is the alternative? Coal? That kills thousands of people every year.

          • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:5, Insightful)

            by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday August 22, 2013 @02:05PM (#44645379) Homepage Journal

            Nuclear may be scientifically safe and sound, but the lumbering bureaucracy (public or private) required to actually build and operate a plant guarantee that this type of disaster will keep happening for as long as this technology is in use.

            Yeah, this technology should have been completely replaced by now. We have two political problems here: first they won't permit the replacement technology to be used commercially, and second, they declared a State monopoly on the nuclear insurance market, ensuring the corporate owners would never have to worry about liability.

            If the insurance were underwritten according to risk and the safer technology allowed, the last of the light water reactors would be coming down in the coming decade. Instead we're stuck with, essentially, 1950's technology and concomitant risks.

      • by BergZ (1680594)
        That's weird. On climate change topics I'm always being told that you can assume governments exaggerate bad news.
        How can it be that governments, simultaneously, exaggerate and understate bad news?
        • by JWW (79176)

          The better rule of thumb would be that governments exaggerate news such that the exaggeration leads to an increase in their power.

        • by mikael (484)

          They exaggerate bad new when taxes need to be raised, or corporate donors need government contracts, they understate bad news when compensation claims are likely (military experiments, privatized companies mess up bad).

        • Re:Rule of thumb (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rwise2112 (648849) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:25PM (#44644865)
          It's called spin. Apply spin to either under- or over-estimate to make the government/corp to look better.
      • by tibit (1762298)

        This is Japanese government, not just any government. They are culturally averse to asking for help. Almost any other government in their place would be screaming for aid left right and center.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@world3. n e t> on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:45PM (#44644343) Homepage

      18 children already have thyroid cancer, 25 more waiting to be confirmed. [nhk.or.jp] For reference the usual incidence rate is one is a few hundred thousand, and these children are from a group of about 300,000 being monitored so the normal rate would be about 2-3 a year.

      It's pretty bad.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664)

        And what would the rate be if we examined all kids that thoroughly?

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@world3. n e t> on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:46PM (#44645109) Homepage

          The same. Thyroid cancer has some hard to ignore symptoms and eventually spreads and kills you if untreated. I suppose if there were zero more detections for the next couple of decades we could write it off to early detection, but somehow I doubt that is very likely.

          • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @02:45PM (#44645909)

            Early stages are very easy to miss.
            I know, I am basically waiting for it due to other thyroid problems.

            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              Sure, but it doesn't matter. The numbers are too high to be accounted for simply by early detection.

          • by khallow (566160)

            Thyroid cancer has some hard to ignore symptoms and eventually spreads and kills you if untreated.

            No, advanced cases of it do. Small growths on your thyroid do not.

            I suppose if there were zero more detections for the next couple of decades we could write it off to early detection

            No, because they're going to be early detecting for probably the entire lives of these children.

            People don't get how observation bias works. If one took a control population and examined that group just as aggressively, one would see more cases of thyroid cancer as well.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LordLimecat (1103839)

        I dont believe cancer generally develops that fast, and would highly suspect an agenda from any organization that tries to claim it does-- particularly when the estimates for radiation exposure even for the 3 workers most seriously exposed are just on the fringe of "elevated risk of cancer".

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          It happens fairly quickly in children. Besides, what other explanation is there? Are you saying that doctors are lying about this and will perform surgery and chemotherapy followed by lifelong medication because...?

          Chernobyl is estimated to have caused at least 6000 extra cases of thyroid cancer, beyond the normal background level. I don't see how any can seriously deny the probable link any more.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        the normal rate would be one child with thyroid cancer in 300,000. not 2-3 as you say. it says "The incidence rate of thyroid cancer in children is said to be one in hundreds of thousands".

        the thyroid cancer rate is therefore 43x normal. given that they underestimate and underdetect, the cautious factor is 100x not 10x.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        How many children would die if there was no power?

        How many children would have died from coal burning related illnesses?

        How many children would not have been born because their parents died due to either of the above?

        • by rasmusbr (2186518)

          How many children would die if there was no power?

          How many children would have died from coal burning related illnesses?

          How many children would not have been born because their parents died due to either of the above?

          About 10% of all children die before the age of five in societies with little or no power compared to about 0.5% in countries with power, so that's about 2000 additional deaths per year per 100,000 children under five.

      • by leathered (780018)

        It's pretty bad.

        If I had a choice of what cancer I would have it would be thyroid. It's one of the most treatable cancers with an over 90% survival rate, the 10% fatalities usually affecting those who have sought treatment far too late.

  • Pride Always Sucks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:21PM (#44644011)

    Yet nobody cares about your pride except you

    • by tatman (1076111)
      Despite the anon coward post, there is a bit of truth to this. Rather than making it sound bad as pride, there is a cultural thing to consider. The Japanese are great and noble people.
      • by epyT-R (613989) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:03PM (#44644585)

        Just like the soviets were after chernobyl..From the locals at the plant doing the 'safety' test, to just after the initial accident, to the delays in evacuations, to the kremlin's international response..

        Pride is ok, but it's gotta be rational.. There's no reason to feel prideful when you fuck up. Now, I could see the argument for 'honor' (It's our mess, we should be the ones to clean it up), but for something like this, if you need help, you should ask. Governments with strong ideological bias often have trouble accepting that the laws of physics don't care about political borders.

  • I don't really understand what the levels mean, anyone want to enlighten me with a simple explanation?
  • When a corporation/government has no independent oversight and an interest in minimising the severity of a disaster the public should have no expectation of receiving accurate information.
    • by brian0918 (638904)
      Why does the corporation have no incentive to minimize pollution? Because the open waterways have been deemed "public" property by the government. Whereas if you dumped your waste on your neighbor's property, he could sue you for contamination, with public property - such as rivers, lakes, even oceans - there is the potential for corruption and political pull to override all legal deterrents.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        If you are BP you can dump your waste on your neighbors property all you like. You can keep him tied up in court forever.

        Polluting public property should be a criminal act not a civil issue. With public property the government could also sue.

    • yeah, this is quite a bit more like Leviathan and Tri-Oceanic Corp.
  • It's like this (Score:5, Informative)

    by djupedal (584558) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:30PM (#44644127)
    Anyone that has lived and worked in Japan with the local engineers and agencies knows it's not a good idea to take safety statements and claims at face value. Trusting the boys with nuclear reactors is asking for incidents like Fukushima to be downplayed.

    Example - the locals in our apartment building told us if there was a fire to order a pizza before calling the fire dept. and tell the fd to follow the pizza delivery guy - they now the neighborhoods much better than the authorities.

    Other example - our R & D center had a super-efficient furnace that was supposed to burn trash at 900. The furnace operators decided on their own to run at lower temps so the equipment would 'last longer'...that coked up the 2nd combustion chamber. One day someone tossed a 5 gal. container of cutting oil into the trash, and when they tried to burn it, the whole thing exploded, sending thousands of confidential documents out across the neighborhood. Everyone had to run out and pick them up. The community gave our company an award for being so good at the cleanup. No mention of the explosion.

    Yet another example - to be counted as a highway fatality in Japan, you have to die in the first 12 hours. This isn't how other countries tally such stats, leaving Japan to appear to be much safer.

    Final example - fire drills in the company were typically over-organized. We were instructed to gather at a pre-detemined location with our assigned fire monitor, and then leave the building in order. We told them that in our country, we simply get the hell out...
  • I, for one, can't wait for my new superpowers!
  • Fear Mongering (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    See the articles (latest link included) by El Reg's Lewis Page :

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/21/omg_new_crisis_disaster_at_fukushima_oh_wait_its_nothing_again/

    • Re:Fear Mongering (Score:5, Informative)

      by Maow (620678) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @05:05PM (#44647517) Journal

      See the articles (latest link included) by El Reg's Lewis Page :

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/21/omg_new_crisis_disaster_at_fukushima_oh_wait_its_nothing_again/

      Great - he's the same twunt that claimed that no radiation could possibly survive past the fence enclosing Fukushima - at about the same time the first explosion happened.

      His reaction was to say, "Oops, seems a bit worse than I thought", right? No, of course not. Even though there's corium blown a mile and a half from the reactors. Even though there were multiple melt-downs. Even though on-site experts with experience in nuke plants claim they don't know exactly what's going on (unlike omniscient Lewis fucking Page). Even though arguably the most dangerous steps still lie ahead - removal of spent fuel from its pool in the now-reinforced reactor 4 building.

      So no, he's a blight on El Reg and I, for one, shall not be reading what his bullshit apologist rantings have to say; I'll remain here in reality and hope for the best with the spent fuel and radioactive water storage.

      And let's not forget that reactor 4, where the spent fuel pool boiled / leaked dry, was not in operation at the time of the 'quake / tsunami.

      News from reality [reuters.com], instead of from Page's ridiculous pro-nuclear, nothing-can-possibly-go-wrong, ignore-those-explosions ranting:

      INADVERTENT CRITICALITY

      "There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other," Gundersen said.

      He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn't designed to absorb.

      "The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can't stop it. There are no control rods to control it," Gundersen said. "The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction."

      ...

      Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.

      "Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don't have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods," Kimura said.

  • too bad actually (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:33PM (#44644181) Journal
    A lot of these isotopes are being shunted aside and stored (from which they are leaking), are useful ones. In particular, st-90 is a beta- and can be used to create long-lived batteries (20-50 years) without worrying about mechanical issues. These are ideal for putting on rovers on the moon/mars. Basically, a company should be filtering that water quickly and getting all of those isotopes out for use.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Strontium-90 is also notorious for behaving a lot like calcium in the human body and other biological systems. While a useful industrial material, because it is bioaccumulative [wikipedia.org] it is also more dangerous than its status as a mere beta emitter implies.

    • How do you filter a water soluble?

      If you can do that you've solved the fresh water problem, world wide.

  • Wat (Score:4, Informative)

    by Antipater (2053064) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:43PM (#44644327)

    I'm not disputing that the situation is serious, given that even TEPCO agreed to up the incident level.

    But this entire article reads like a piece of tabloid trash:

    "It's really bad!" says a famous anti-nuclear activist (aka an "independent consultant").
    "It's even worse!" says the same activist/consultant.
    "It could be bad; we don't know. We should be prepared, though," says a former regulatory official.
    "Holy crap, if that first guy's assumptions are right, then we're in deep shit!" says an oceanographer.
    "I didn't even tell you the worst part!" continues the first guy. "This completely unrelated thing might possibly be happening and then we're dooooooomed!!"

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      He seems [wikipedia.org] fairly serious and level headed, like he actually understands the issues and came to an informed decision that we are probably better off moving away from nuclear power. Clearly many governments trust him, including the very pro-nuclear French.

      Of course ad hominem attacks are easy and since everyone has an opinion, especially people who are experts on a particular subject, you can brand them an "anti-whatever activist". Has he ever protested? He wrote some books with very boring titles that don't a

  • "expert" is a kook (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 22, 2013 @12:49PM (#44644401)

    Mycle Schneider only has honorary, not the actual education, and has been a WISE(an anti-nuclear group) activist in France for 30+ years. He is the person who gets consult jobs from the government when they want to appear as showing both sides.

    Two versions of his Wikipedia page:
    http://i.imgur.com/y2dxdFo.png
    http://i.imgur.com/XUS0duU.png

  • We showed you how to fix this with Thorium in the early 1970s.

    • Yes, it would have. Still can stop FUTURE issues. The question is, will we? Or will be stupid and scared.
    • by imikem (767509)

      Oh for mod points right now. And a great big "Fuck you very much," to the Nixon administration for derailing the thorium reactor program just to enrich a crony in California. And massively screwing up health care in this country with a sweetheart deal for Kaiser (more cronyism for CA). And the escalation of the "war on drugs." I used to think Nixon maybe wasn't so bad. I have learned.

  • ...it should be keeping corporations from pulling stunts like this. It's not like you and I have the means to confront TEPCO over this.
  • Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
  • those guys are woefully uninformed liars who have proven over and over they just don't get it. it's really time to cut the Japanese authorities out of it, except for writing checks, and bring in the RANET team of the IAEA to overhaul the whole containment/cleanup effort. it's really two years too late.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:07PM (#44644649) Homepage

    It's been years since the event, and Fukushima still doesn't have a radioactive water processing plant. [wmsym.org] The US has dealt with this problem before, both at 3 Mile Island and some Superfund sites. Water itself doesn't become radioactive (except for tritium, which has a 12 year half life); as with fallout, the radioactives are mostly solids in the water, and can be removed and converted to smaller amounts of solid waste.

    With a processing plant, they could reuse the cooling water, instead of building more and more storage tanks.

  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @01:15PM (#44644759)

    The only reason there are so many water tanks to begin with is the perfunctionary insistence that "no radiation must be released into nature". The problem is: It's too late. Any of the releases that are reported as if it were a disaster completely pale in comparison to what happened in the days after March 11th 2011.

    The water from the reactor is being filtered and cleaned of Caesium and Strontium. The process is good, but not perfect. But since absolute perfection is being demanded, none of the water is allowed to be released into the environment. Hence it must be stored in thousands of tanks, safely, which is as impossible a task as the ludicrous targets for radioactivity in the water.

    Those tanks are necessarily makeshift in nature. The tanks cannot be individually monitored 24/7 by a limited number of people on the ground whose time in the contaminated area around the nuclear power plant is further limited by the maximum radiation dose of 20mSv per year. Yet, the government, the media and of course the usual activist groups demand the impossible. Each for their own petty reasons.

    How about asking people in Fukushima Daiichi to do the possible instead of the impossible? Clean up the water as much as possible and release it into the sea. Yes, there will be some Tritium and trace amount of residual Cs and Sr - it will be a very small fraction to what was released into the sea in 2011. This would allow the people there to concentrate on actually making sure that the core equipment is running and the site as a whole is making progress to being in a better more workable state - instead of setting up new water tanks every day and worrying about leaks.

    It is a marvel all of its own that workers there were at all able to keep up with setting up all those water tanks. But you should keep in mind that this isn't actually what they should be doing. They should have concentrated to bringing the plant back into a stable stead state. This will include allowing for some minor emissions of radioactive water. Provided that this is done in a controlled and closely monitored manner, this does not pose any problem that even approaches the scale of rainwater washing Caesium from the countryside into the sea (thus being part of natural decontamination processes). It will be diluted to levels that will not be harmful to the population.

    Dilution is a temporary solution to pollution. And I'm not saying this should be anything more than a temporary emergency measure. I'm very surely not advocating this to be a general way to dispose of radioactive waste. But given the circumstances, it is the most reasonable solution. You should remember that the old way of diluting pollutants was not in itself false. It was just the case that it done by everyone in ever increasing scale, to the point where dilution was perfectly meaningless. But as a temporary, local, emergency measure - instead of a permanent, global and general way of doing things - it is perfectly viable.

    Nobody demanded that no oil must leak from the Cosmo Oil Refinery [youtube.com] either and for some reason nobody demands that water below that refinery conforms to drinking water standards either, nobody asks wether any of the oil that contaminated the ground there will seep into the sea (it did and it will continue to do so) - while they do demand that the water below Fukushima Daiichi must not exceed limits for driniking water safety.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Well, if you put it that way, we don't want to demand perfection in defiance of reality. But let's start by figuring out what "reality" is.

      Remember, we're talking about a situation that TEPCO claims doesn't exist -- leaking of contaminated waters. But one of the constant features of this story has been unpleasant surprises. That's bound to happen in most disasters, after all a disaster pretty much by definition is a situation you hadn't planned adequately for. But the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe stands

    • by lennier (44736)

      They should have concentrated to bringing the plant back into a stable stead state.

      That's actually what they're trying to do. The problem is that there is no stable steady state for a melted core. Keeping it below 100 degrees C requires constant active cooling with lots of water. Above 100 degrees and things get a lot worse - smoke and fire. But it's not like it's "shut down" right now. It's just sleeping.

      Nuclear fission has no real "off" button. Fuel rods are like slow-burning candles that you can burn fast or let smoulder, but you can't extinguish completely. Once you've lit one up, it

  • by bravecanadian (638315) on Thursday August 22, 2013 @04:24PM (#44647043)

    I always chuckle when the technology crowd here at slashdot and the people leaning right on the political spectrum always seem to pump up nuclear power as the solution to our energy needs.

    Sure, in theory with the proper safeguards it could be ok.. but as Yogi Berra said:

    "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is.."

    And the cost for mistakes is so high and long lasting.

Of course you can't flap your arms and fly to the moon. After a while you'd run out of air to push against.

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