Where the Uranium Is

With all the news about “radiation exposure” in the USA from the Japanese nuclear plant, I thought it might be worth having a thread that points out just how much natural radiation exposure there is in the USA already.

For the events in Japan to matter in the USA, it has a “high hurdle” to get over. For example, this map is the distribution of Uranium in soils in the USA. If you are in a dry place, like where most of it is located, well, Uranium will be “blowing in the wind”. No, not a lot. Then again, the radioactives reaching the USA from Japan are at the lower bound of measurable as well…

USGS Uranium Concentration Map

USGS Uranium Concentration Map

From: http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/other/uranium/more.html

(Note: I’ve temporarily swapped the image from http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/images/other/uranium/uranium_concentrations.gif to the very similar map from http://www.radonattahoe.com/images/usa-uranium-map.gif as the USGS site is being grumpy)

This map is a general radioactivity map. It was made by flying over the country and measuring the radiation at the aircraft. As breakdown of the U eventually leads to Radon, it’s a rough guide to the total Radon risk of an area. Over 20,000 deaths / year are attributed to Radon in the USA.

USGS Radon risk based on measured radiation for the USA

USGS Radon risk based on measured radiation for the USA

From: http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/radon/georadon/4.html

(Note: I’ve replaced the image from http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/radon/georadon/page18.gif to the same map from the WaybackMachine as the USGS site is being grumpy. This is a high res image, so you can click on it to get the description of the rock types in each area. FWIW, I note that the “beige” empty blocks seem to be right over “interesting places”… “how to use ‘negative space’ to see where secrets are hidden, a primer.” ;-) )

There are, of course, other souces of radiation exposure in the environment. From cosmic rays to sunshine to X-rays from the old color TV, we are bathed in the stuff all day long. So unless you put a number on it, to say “there has been a radiation leak” or “we have measured radiation in California” is rather like saying “carbon dioxide detected in the air”. It’s always there, all that changes is how much. And it must rise spectacularly before it is really a health issue.

Take, for example, Thorium:

Thorium Map of the USA

Thorium Map of the USA

From: http://www.radonattahoe.com/problem.htm

which also has some nice maps of Nevada and California showing a load of risk of exposure…

And, of course, it’s nice to know your gama ray exposure too (same source):

Gama Ray map of USA

Gama Ray map of USA

They also have a map of potassium locations. (Yes, it matters, as potassium has a significant level of a radioactive isotope. Potassium-40.) but putting it here would be a bit of overkill… you can click the link if you want to see it…

From: http://www.answers.com/topic/potassium-40

McGraw-Hill Science & Technology Dictionary:
(nuclear physics) A radioactive isotope of potassium having a mass number of 40, a half-life of approximately 1.31 × 109 years, and an atomic abundance of 0.000122 gram per gram of potassium.

and from:


Potassium (K) has 24 known isotopes. Three isotopes occur naturally: 39K (93.3%), 40K (0.012%) and 41K (6.7%). The standard atomic mass is 39.0983(1) u. Naturally occurring 40K decays to stable 40Ar (11.2% of decays) by electron capture or positron emission (giving it the longest known positron-emitter nuclide half-life). Alternately and most of the time (88.8%) it decays to stable 40Ca by beta decay; 40K has a half-life of 1.250×109 years.
40K occurs in natural potassium (and thus in some commercial salt substitutes) in sufficient quantity that large bags of those substitutes can be used as a radioactive source for classroom demonstrations. In healthy animals and people, 40K represents the largest source of radioactivity, greater even than 14C. In a human body of 70 kg mass, about 4,400 nuclei of 40K decay per second.

So since YOU are radioactive due to your potassium content, it seemed a bit overkill to put in a potassium soil map… then again, if you are on a ‘low sodium’ diet and eating “no salt” that is Potassium Chloride, well, you might just upset that classroom demonstration… ;-)

If you are going to complain that I didn’t put a size on that potassium risk and it really is small… well, that’s sort of the whole point I’m making. Without a number on it, “Radiation detected in USA” is roughly equivalent to “living beings detected in USA”…

Subscribe to feed


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Political Current Events, Science Bits and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to Where the Uranium Is

  1. Level_Head says:

    Every person exposed to radiation dies.

    So far, at least.

    But perhaps it is necessary and vital to life. Certainly the mutation rate aspect suggests this, though there are other sources of mutations (including spontaneous ones).

    The simple projections of harm based on smooth slopes are demonstrably silly — just as they are with other ubiquitous aspects of our environment. Oxygen is toxic (it killed off most Earth life at one point) and water can be deadly.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    I wonder if this picks up all the testing and dumping that has gone on in the past :P

  3. Hal says:

    In my freshman engineering processes lab class at UCLA (1964), we had to process Uranium ore.
    We mined it ourselves, I drove out to Ridgecrest in My Triumph TR4, ground up in various sizes of rock crushers.
    (My partner and I were the last ones, because we signed up late. The last grinder had a whole pile of dust underneath, from all the other guys grinding, it was very fine. We scooped it up and got our 10 cc.)
    After chemically treating it, we measured the radioactivity of our sample. Ours was the highest in the class.
    We did all this, without masks, suits, gloves. The Geiger counters we had really crackled.
    I attribute not yet having gotten cancer (I’m 66) to this early inoculation. LOL.

    We also had a small (1 KW) nuclear reactor next to the Engineering coffee lounge. Ahhh, the good old days, without undue fear.

    PS My TR4 had no seatbelts or roll bar.

  4. The real BIG, BIG, source of radiation is that round and shining thing up there in the sky: THE SUN.
    We humans can not withstand more sun´s radiation than as long as a Gleissberg cycle……so “pack your sh**s folks…….”

  5. Big source of Uranium: Natural Phosphates.

  6. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Coal contains enough radioactive materials to cause many times the radiation hazard of any fission reactor and the ash with its’ uranium etc. gets scattered all over the countryside. pg

  7. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    A lot of volcanoes also release a lot of radioactive substances…

    I wonder like Pinatubo, how it compared to the Japan crisis.

  8. George says:

    If a nuclear plant emitted the radiation of a coal power plant, it would be shut down. Ash from coal power plants is a legitimate source of uranium and, I believe, is used as such in India.

  9. pyromancer76 says:

    This post and the comments are hilarious. I will simply roll over and love me some uranium as ubiquitous as it appears. I love the soil and the Sun (altho a NWE-type — blue eyes, blond at birth — has to be very careful). Maybe all this radiation keeps my family and me freer of the scourge of “cancer”.

  10. R. de Haan says:

    It would be nice to have similar maps for Europe, especially Germany.

    I will see what I can find.

  11. Pascvaks says:

    They do look like impact craters don’t they? Wonder if Planet Earth and the Solar System were actually part of that “Galexy far, far away” when Hans Solo and Princess Lia were blitzing it out with the Evil Empire “long, long ago”? It’s a real shame that human memory is nearly worthless. There’s so much we just don’t know about how things work and what happened in the neighborhood the day before yesterday and beyond. We must be the fallen angels. Our punishment is no memory of the past. This, the Universe, is hell. We are doomed to wander through time for eternity; constantly relearning everything –like that movie “Groundhog Day”. ;-)

  12. Francisco says:

    This addresses some aspects of this post, as well as recent comments on the Japan Nukes Page 2 post that is sinking fast into the past.

    When I said my views had been “trashed” I didn’t mean to to suggest vituperated by others, I meant I was forced to discard them by my own digging into the matter; that they underwent an unusually swift change. I suppose it wasn’t the most clear way of saying that.

    Regarding the improvements in technology/safety, I still think that any significant increase in the number of plants will increase the chances of accidents, because the human element is not going to change much, and it is the most important factor. I am not talking only about occasional ineptness, but also about the conflict between safety needs and economic needs, which is permanent, always affecting decisions, and the stupidity of those decisions becomes apparent only in retrospect. According to Gundersen in one of his video presentations, the worst-case scenario contemplated by the industry prior to Fukushima was a very small fraction of what has already happened. Two reasons for this: the event itself sheds light on the previously hidden stupidity, but also it is likely that a realisti “worse case scenario,” even if previously understood, could not be included in official assessments, because it would be scandalous.

    @ EM Smith
    I’ll address the premises of this post further down. The second of your “two minds” mode that you mention in the other thread (“why do these jerks keep doing stupid things”?) is the one we should focus on. It is related to our nature, which technology won’t change quickly enough. I imagine a world where nuclear plants proliferate merrilly, and these kinds of messes become more and more accepted as what “comes with the territory”, to say nothing about the piling up of “spent” but still very lively fuels all over the place. The picture gets particularly worrisome if you assume that social instabilities and government corruption/icompetence are likely going to get worse, not better. Nuclear plants are not exactly monuments of simplicity; all those systems of pools and pipes look precarious to the task of keeping the baby calm; they require extremely careful and constant babysitting, which will grow laxer in times of strife. And the babysitting needs to go on far beyond the immediate needs of the reactor, it extends forever into the spent fuel, which will keep accumulating indefinitely… not a pretty picture (even without accidents) if you extend it into the future long enough, and certainly not a nice present from the present to the future.

    There was a NYT article on March 19 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/weekinreview/20chernobyl.html?_r=1 which prompted a blogger to make some brief comments that resonate easily with my own thoughts. I copy those comments below:

    http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/elephants-foot.html –>
    The article is at once a sobering introduction to the inhuman spans of time across which matter remains radioactive—the author quips, for instance, that “The death of a nuclear reactor has a beginning… But it doesn’t have an end,” and that “one had to look at [Chernobyl] to understand the sheer tedium and exhaustion of dealing with the aftermath of a meltdown. It is a problem that does not exist on a human time frame.” But, at the same time, it seems to suggest the framework for an expressionist short film: a Sam Beckett-like encounter with something perpetually out of reach, terrifyingly out of synch with those who wait for it and buried in pharaonic concrete.
    Krasikov, a keeper of the sarcophagus, visits this site twelve times a month:

    Among his tasks is to pump out radioactive liquid that has collected inside the burned-out reactor. This happens whenever it rains. The sarcophagus was built 25 years ago in a panic, as radiation streamed into populated areas after an explosion at the reactor, and now it is riddled with cracks.

    Water cannot be allowed to touch the thing that is deep inside the reactor: about 200 tons of melted nuclear fuel and debris, which burned through the floor and hardened, in one spot. This mass remains so highly radioactive that scientists cannot approach it.
    This abstract “thing that is deep inside the reactor” is thus held outside of human contact, separated from experience by a provisional monument: the sarcophagus shell. Sheltered there, precisely because of its temporal excess, in a state of near-immortality—capable of interacting mutationally with living matter for up to a million years—the “thing” enters into a timeframe more appropriate for mythology.

    Indeed, semiotician Thomas Sebeok once proposed the creation of an “atomic priesthood” whose responsibility, for thousands of years to come, would be to pass on information about sites of nuclear waste storage and contamination using a combination of myths, folklore, and annual rituals.
    ***end of quote**

    Now to this post. In all those normal radiation examples you give, you are simply comparing the *global* effect of these accidents with the *local* effects of the relative abundance of some element or other in certain regions. The comparison is clearly spurious. You need to compare local effect to local effect, or global to global. If you do that, the comparison does not hold. Let’s stick to local, in the Ukraine and neigboring countries, some 350,000 people were evacuated and permanently displaced. Significant contamination reached more than a dozen nearby countries, and it was particularly bad in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Unknown numbers of people were very adversely affected by radiation exposure or ingestion. Some 2 million acres of agricultural land (if I remember correctly) had to be taken off the food growing business for a long time, and the so called “Zone of Alienation” or exclusion zone, remains alienated except as a controlled tourist attraction starting this year, and of course the Thing in the sarcophagous is still brutally alive and the tomb will need to be built and rebuilt over and over for generations.

    So, back to the US, it’s all well to say that Utah and Arizona and California are abundant in this or that source of radiation, but it is easy to point out that authorities in those states have never been forced to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and close off vast areas to agriculture, and spend endless efforts trying to decontaminate places and babysit sarcophaguses. No matter how you look at it, these accidents are major sorry dirty messes and you must desist from trying to trivialize them with those kinds of comparisons between the global and the local.

    This famous Japanese-American physicist, Kaku, who came several times on television, spoke of a “Faustian deal” that Japan had metaphorically clinched with the Shady One in exchange for energy, and cautioned it may not be a very good deal in the long run. I agree. Sometimes fission is presented as merely a stop-gap temporary measure, rather ugly in many of its aspects, but necessary until we get to the next stage of easy and abundant energy through unstoppable technical progress. I can’t evaluate how far that “next stage” is, or even if it’s only a figment of our imagination. But I do think that once you embark on the “Faustian deal” you become very dependent on it and won’t give it up easily. You say you would like to see the old design plants decomissioned. But will they? Nuclear plants are very expensive projects, and extremely safe nuclear plants are extremely expensive. Electricity supply is already tight in most places — and so is money. Who is going to force those necessary decomissions and put up the money for their very expensive replacement?

    Clean, safe, and cheap are adjectives one often sees associated with nuclear power by its advocates. But the more you look into it, the more it becomes dirty, unsafe and expensive.

    Still, I agree we need to keep getting energy from somewhere. I used to believe that coal was the dirtiest possible source. I still think it may be IF you do nothing to trap most of the nasty stuff that comes out of its combustion before it gets into the air (not the CO2 of course). I understand the technology exists and is already being used in many places to filter out those poisons very effectively. If that’s the case, efforts should concentrate in promoting and enforcing the use of those methods. I also understand that estimates of natural gas reserves in the form of shale have recently increased spectacularly. If so, I think between coal and gas we may well manage to bridge the gap into that hopeful “future stage” where our wits will allow us to get energy from abundant, easy and harmless sources.

    Back to the nukes and their risk, it’s worth noting that insurance companies make a living assessing risk and putting a price on it to take it on. So they know something about it. There is a reason they refuse to undertake the risks of a nuclear plant, which is why the public has to be forced to undertake it: if a mess ocurrs, the taxpayers will pick up the bill. Period. Risk assessment involves evaluating both the probability of an event AND the gravity of its consecuences. If the latter are deemed to be astronomically high, insurance evaluators will demand that the probability be commesurately (i.e microscopically) low. They obviously have concluded it is nowhere near low enough yet. Or else the insurance rates they’ve calculated to undertake this risk are well out of reach even for the nuclear industry. Either way, the much-advertised safety evaporates under this light as well.

  13. pyromancer76 says:

    I agree and have pretty much agreed with Francisco about nuclear energy at this point in our technological development. However, in some way all energy development is “dirty, unsafe and expensive”; it is about how extreme the problems are or can become that ought to be the issue. At the same time, I think there should be some some nuclear plants built on a very slow time plan. We must have the experience and experienced scientists, technicians, and owner-managers for the future. We shouldn’t leave an important ally (very) to depend mainly on nuclear; we have plenty of natural resources to provide the Japanese with fossil fuel energy.

    I think we need to develop all fossil fuels in the U.S. post haste, but watch who owns those corporations. My guess is that many of those elites/ crony-corporate types who were/are planning to make a bundle (without the need to “compete”) from taxes/fees/higher-prices are using their ill gotten gains to buy up fossil fuel companies. Then they own the world. This is one of my big worries — those who love totalitarian control gaining ground as we fight to take our government back.

    Re fossil fuels. It seems we need more CO2 in the atmosphere for the biosphere. Humans are doing ourselves and other life forms a favor. Big problem: keeping very close tabs on the real pollution that comes from development, finding ways to contain, control, and use it. My memory suggests that E.M. has made a number of suggestions along this line. Real pollution and wilderness/open spaces/ agricultural land disappearing were my major concerns as a member of many environmental organizations. Once I realized that their boards had been taken over by those I recognized as fascists (AGWers especially — definitions here), I quit most of them. (I am also glad that I retired from an institution of higher education that had become more and more marxist; it was no longer a pleasure to teach. I respect my other profession.) I once was a member of the Eastern Sierra Land Trust; now I listen more to the local “Cattlemen’s Association”. Real people who love the land and who know that the land must support human life.

    Representative democracy permits community discussion about future uses of resources, not just the market place — as long as “the rich” or “the elites” (moneyed powers — “oil industry”, George Soros-types, the corporate-academic-political elites) don’t believe they have “proven” that they should be the determiners. Libertarians tend to cross this line too frequently, IMHO. For the reasons above, I am a liberal, not a conservative or libertarian, although I might agree with many positions of the latter two. Again, IMHO, there are no liberals left in the Democratic Party. The results in Wisconsin and the slow, slow turn-around of the ship of state with the budget “battle” are important beginnings. I hope “we” can stay the course. We’ve managed barely a drop in the bucket, just a possible change in direction.

    Nuclear remains important, but we must become much smarter about ourselve. As Francisco says: “the human element is not going to change much”.

  14. David says:

    Fernando, now I understand your “trashed” comment.

    Concerning safety you argue with a strawman, as no one here is asserting that human nature, economic motive and expediancy principles go away in any human endevour. However in your intial comment you stated that accidents in the nuclear industry would increase in a linear relationship with the number of plants. You have modified that to “I still think that any significant increase in the number of plants will increase the chances of accidents, because the human element is not going to change much, and it is the most important factor observed.”

    Better, but I still disagree. Suppose the next 400 plants took precautions that would have prevented every nuclear accident which has thus occured, and the orginal plants likewise took new procedures. I would expect a dramatic decrease in accidents. Also you are, IMV, underestimating the technology design improvements of third and fourth generation nuclear power.

    I made numerous points in my comments and you only responded to one. I will leave it to E.M. to respond, or not, to your comments to him as he wishes. I suspect others will point out that nuclear “waste” is really a tremendous resource that should never be burried; Thorium waste has a 1/2 life far shorter then conventional “waste”, well manageble on human scales, etc. But these, like numerous assertions I made, were posted already, and you never responded to them.

  15. Francisco says:

    The author of this article, François Diaz Maurin, is a former engineer of the French and US nuclear industries who has worked on the development of new nuclear power plant designs. He is now doing a doctorate on energy and society at ICTA, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain.

    Fukushima: Consequences of Systemic Problems
    in Nuclear Plant Design

    Click to access 15865.pdf

    And this youtube video is a 20-minute presentation he gave at the University of Barcelona, in English with Spanish subtitles.

    “Learnings from an ongoing nuclear disaster & conclusions about the viability of nuclear energy”

  16. P.G. Sharrow says:

    An Italian inventor is building a 1 megawatt water boiler that may be the start of the new age. A low temperature fusion reactor that produces no radioactive waste. This looks promising to me. Although at this time it is crude and the science not well understood, it does work. pg

  17. R. de Haan says:

    “They do look like impact craters don’t they? Wonder if Planet Earth and the Solar System were actually part of that “Galexy far, far away” when Hans Solo and Princess Lia were blitzing it out with the Evil Empire “long, long ago”? It’s a real shame that human memory is nearly worthless. There’s so much we just don’t know about how things work and what happened in the neighborhood the day before yesterday and beyond. We must be the fallen angels. Our punishment is no memory of the past. This, the Universe, is hell. We are doomed to wander through time for eternity; constantly relearning everything –like that movie “Groundhog Day”. ;-)”

    And last week you told me you’re an optimist!(LOL)

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    There is ample evidence that low levels of radiation exposure stimulate the ‘dna repair’ and other immune responses and folks have a LOWER cancer rate.

    But it is “lab work inconsistent with dogma” so is ignored…


    As everyone is radioactive to some degree, and no one is immortal, then, yes, you are correct that everyone exposed to radiation dies… some day… but still…


    Some of us are only good for about 20 minutes of “the big round radiator” at high noon in the summer, then we are burned a bright red…. Do that more than a few dozen times in a lifetime and we sprout skin cancers all over… (My redhead Brother In Law has had one removed from the top of his ear. Seems it stuck out from under his fishing hat, and he liked fishing a lot… he was about 40 ish when it was removed).

    So yes, THE largest radiation risk to most of the population is “The Big Round Radiator”…

    @Scarlete Pumpernickel:

    The “fly over survey” will. Though there are many kinds of radiation, so you get different results based on what you measure. You would need to dig into the details to know how good it was at spotting any given type of spill or dump.

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    I believe it ought to be MANDATORY to completely scrub all flue stacks of coal burning plants of ALL DUST, every last particle.

    Why? Because, as George pointed out, there is more energy in the uranium they are dumping up their stacks than in the carbon in the coal! We ought to be processing the uranium out of it. Then dump the rest… “Waste not want not”…


    I had a “ceramic over stainless steel” tooth cap (my dentist described it as SS, though it was actually another similar alloy) from about age 18 to about 50. (Yeah, it lasted about double the projected lifetime of a cap). As my teeth tend to a bit of ‘tea stain’ color (i.e. yellowed some) it was collored the same.

    I asked the dentist about how it was made. He, knowing I’m a smart kid, gives me the rundown. Included was “and it is slighly radioactive as it has Uranium in the ceramic. But don’t worry, it isn’t much.” Always liked that dentist… he was a Seventh Day Adventist who mowed his own lawn – the office was a very small building on a 1/4 acre lot, so it was almost 1/4 acre he was mowing… The office was right across the street from my home and ‘we would talk’ some times… (I’d make it about 20 x 30 feet for the office)

    At any rate, I have had a “radioactive lump of uranium” in my mouth most of my life…. then it was replaced a few years ago. Not because it had failed, but because the gums were no longer over the base of it by a tiny bit… “my bad”…

    @R. de Haan, Pascvaks:

    Mostly it has to do with “where the granite is”. Notice that high radioactive zone is running up the rockies in the place where trees don’t grow so well? (less ground cover).

    There’s a lot of U in granite. As a ‘first approximation’ you can just look for where the young granite is located….


    Per the MW Teapot – linky linky?

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    At one time I was “bought into” the notion of nuclear as “crazy talk” due to the “insane lifetime” of the “spent fuel” that needed to be guarded for 25,000 years….

    Then I “did some digging”….

    Seems that length of time is for it to “return to background”.

    But that fuel NEVER EVER was at background. It was in a Uranium deposit.

    If you make the standard “return to the radioactivity level of the original ore”, the “time to guard” drops to about 250 years.

    Yes, a very long time. But only 1/4 of The Roman Empire lifetime. About as long as the USA has been around. Vastly shorter than the pyramids at Giza.

    At THAT point, it’s actually not that hard to “squester” the crap back to the state it was in when nature handed it to us.

    Per all the “spent” fuel piling up. It isn’t really spent. Only a small part of the fuel has actually been consumed. It is “economically spent” in that you can’t get rated power out of the reactor with it. The smart thing to do with it is to reprocess it into new fuel (even burning many of the ‘contaminant actinides’ et.al. as fuel in some reactor types).

    But that job is a lot easier if the fuel ‘cools’ for a decade or two. So I don’t see that “spent fuel” as piles of perpetual nuclear “waste” so much as “resource awaiting processing”.

    Once you put those two insights together, the whole “panic problem” collapses into a “annoyance problem”. One that is fairly easy to deal with, technically. You don’t need a “Yucca Mountain” to entomb against 25,000 years of geology. Only 250 years, and it ought to allow access for extraction and recycle… Rather like the salt mines under the midwest used to store documents.

    So we are left with the “stupid human tricks” problem.

    For that one, I have no anwer.

    The newest “passive safe” designs look like they have addressed my major complaints about the old ones. But that just means they will have a new failure mode. It will be 50 years before we find out what THAT is… and if we are lucky, it will be 100 years…

    Furthermore, it is not “spurious” to compare the global effects of the accidents to the global normal exposure.

    Why? Because that is what effects ME and all those in the USA right now. All those folks hunting for iodine pills and hiding in their basement are INCREASING their risks, not decreasing them. That matters.

    By definition, “all local effects are local”.

    Important, yes, but only locally.

    And that is also part of why Chernobyl is a lousy case to generalize. IT was truely horrific on a local scale. Largely due to the giant lump of carbon burning and the lack of a containment. As we “don’t do that anymore”, that simply is not relevant to any reactors not of that kind (i.e. everything outside the old Soviet Sphere).

    So you can’t paint a picuture of the slow accumulation of thousands of Chernobyls over the next 10,000 years. It just isn’t going to happen.

    Further, after a modest period of time, the “crap” in the burried fuel lump will have largely dropped in radioactivity. The “really hot stuff” burns up quickly. What will be left is “not so hot” stuff. It is an essential quality of radioactive materials.

    So long before “millenia” have passed, it will be cool enough to mine the site for all those tons of fuel.

    The folks pushing the idea that sites like this are going to be around for tens of thousands of years are simply hyping things. It’s a good story, but not real.

    (I suppose there is a hypothetical ‘edge case’ where GLOBAL society collapses into ruins in a new dark age and nobody goes to mine the ore body that is now Chernobyl. But even then, we’re talking maybe 500 years to being “same as ore” and even that is based on the assumption that the fuel was not near ‘burn up’ at the time of the accident… Even with a 2 x inflator, it’s 1000 years. Not 10,000.)

    BTW, I’m NOT “trying to trivialize” the accidents. I’m making the very valid point that: The accident may be a big deal locally, but it IS tivial in the impact outside the local area. Until you put numbers on it, you are indulging in fantasy scare stories.

    We DO have people driving around trying to buy iodine pills in a panic. Putting themselves and their kids at high risk of traffic accidents and iodine poisoning. We DO have people staying inside ‘to be safe’ and increasing their Radon exposure. It is valid to tell them: Open the damn window, ventilate the radon, and don’t go driving around increasing your risk as the risk from Japan is zero in comparison.

    That is just stating the reality of things.

    Frankly, you are the one mixing “local and global” in that I deliberately left the “local” in the “Japan reactor page 2” thread and only put the “global” here. PRECISELY so that this was about “risks in the USA to folk in the USA” and not about “what is happening at the reactor zone”. Now you want to accuse ME of using that as a ploy? Simply: No.

    Per the old plants and decommission:

    The costs are not nearly so dire as you paint them. Those plants are, by definition, nearing “end of life”. To accellerate the pace a bit is not a major change of life cycle costing. It’s nearly trivial cost to unload the fuel bundles and move them to a safer spent fuel pool location. (Yes, still measured in millions, but mostly because of loons who fight any attempt to build anything with the world “nuclear” in it; so would rather the spent fuel pools be left scattered all over the country instead of in a nice safe underground mine somewhere…)

    Once the fuel is out, I don’t really care how long the thing sits before you start replacement on the reactor building.

    Per putting up money for replacements: that’s not a problem at all. We have dozens of folks wanting to put up the money; all prevented by ‘red tape’ and ‘approvals’ that never come.

    You are making up straw man arguments ( or soaking them up uncritically from others).

    Yes, nuclear plants have risks. Yes, they have costs. Yes, a nuclear accident is a messy thing. But coal plants and windmills have risks, and costs, and accidents. Look up the toxicity of Cadmium Sulfide and the other stuff used to make a lot of solar cells… I’d take a nuclear spill over a cadmium spill any day. Take a look at the EU rules on the use of Cadmium in industry. Nearly zero tollerance. (It substitutes in the zinc chemistry in the body with horrific results …) Yet there is an exemption for Ni-Cd batteries… as that would be inconvenient…

    So how many solar facilities will be built and how many solar powered gizmoes with Ni-Cd batters or Cd containing semiconductors? And unlike radiation “Cadmium is forever”.

    So “do the math” and that “faustian bargain” is not a very bad one at all. ESPECIALLY when compared to the toxics from the alternatives. And even more so when compared based on the lifetime of the toxics which is infinite for elemental poisons…

    (See, I can make “scare stories” too… why “stories” are a bad tool for decision making…)

    BTW, the “insurance company” argument fails on the point that the potential liability is not based on real damages, but on the immaginary damages our courts award. So folks can get a $Million for “emotional distress”. The “damages” are all in their fantasies, but you still get to pay up. Don’t think so? Look at the Erin Brokovitch deal and chromium… Still havn’t found all that damage that was supposed to be happening, but the payout was huge…

    So you have an industry with a “scary scary story” written all over it and you KNOW the jury awards will be based on that story… Same reason you can get insurance on a home with serpentine rocks decorating the whole yard, but can’t if it has “asbestos” stuck in plastic in the floor tiles or in cement in the flue. Same stuff, different story…

    OK, you have an agenda. Got that. Now can you take the time to look up the time to decay to “same as ore”; and the time to look up why that “high radiation now” means “gone fast” while “lasts a long time” means “not much happens”? Those two are essential to understanding.

    “Highly radioactive for thousands of years” is an empty set.

  20. David says:

    Here is a video of a man driving through Fukushima and displaying radiation levels as he gets to within a mile of the nuclear power plant. I am not familiar with radiation levels so if anyone cares to tell me what these levels shown on the video mean I would appreciate it. (most of the readings take place near the end of the video)

  21. GregO says:

    As far as risk analysis and human ignorance/incompetence:


    The most people killed and injured from nuclear exposure were at Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the US nuclear attack. This can’t be counted as ignorance or incompetence. Horrible and savage – even arguably a war-crime but intentional.

    By reviewing the attached link, you can see that a lot of people are killed and injured as a result of various military nuclear pursuits (nuke tests/refueling submarines/etc).

    I would like to point out the category of “Lost Sources”. Years ago, I worked around industrial X-Ray inspection and was attended training on the horrors of lost X-Ray sources. Please read a few of the background stories from the attached link. They are gut-wrenching accounts. Just about all these types of accidents are caused by human ignorance/incompetence.

    So. There is an argument that nuclear power should not be pursued because humans are ignorant/incompetent and organizations are corrupt and becoming ever more so.

    Do we ban medical and industrial X-Ray machines because human beings are incurable ignorant and incompetent; additionally humans are organizationally corrupt and likely to become more so in the future? (Citation of ever-increasing corruption needed here…sounds like an unfounded assertion to me but objective measured evidence would change my mind; it wouldn’t surprise me).

    As a careful review of the attached link, or even superficial research will show, injury and death from exposure to excessive radiation levels from specific point sources; either accidental, intentional (warfare, I don’t even want to think about the fashionable practice of drinking radium water in the ’20s or the woman who tried to induce and abortion on herself using an X-Ray machine) happens from a wide range of radiological sources with nuclear power plants being one possible source.

    But even though nuclear power plants are but one source of nuclear hazard, and a careful statistical analysis would most likely reveal that you as a private citizen are more likely to be injured or killed by an X-ray machine, hazards from nuclear power plants capture the imagination like no other. Why isn’t there a hue and cry over other radiological hazards?

    And then there are non-point source radiation hazards like those posed for example by numerous natural sources (bananas, radon, uranium dust, et al) and man-made sources such as those from coal fired power plant ash.

    Finally, assessing risk is not the same as trivializing it.

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    One of the “horrific things” that I remember from decades back was a decommissioned x-ray machine of some kind. Had a load of a highly active material in it. Cobalt?

    At any rate, someone stole the thing to sell it for the metal value. That metal left the scrap yard for the smelter, where it was used to ‘flavor’ a batch of steel…

    This was all figured out when someone in one of the buildings made from the steel had a radiation meter go ‘way high’… and found it was the steel… that led to the steel mill … to the scrap yard… to the “lost” medical equipment…

    To the extent I’m concerned about “nuclear exposure” it is from just that kind of “stupid human trick” and all the sources NOT at power reactors (where things are tighly controlled). The fact that they use the “medium radioactivity” isotopes that have the longest lethal lifetimes are also not helpful…

    Frankly, I’d be much more worried about all the food irradiators than the nuclear power plants. (Mostly from the issue of the sources of radiation used in them and how those sources will be handled in the future… gama ray sources with a long steady life are not your friend… and when under the control of “joe sixpack” at the potato farm, even less so…)


    One of the problems with a ‘go slow’ on nuclear power is that leads to “lifetime extension” on the older plants. They get relicensed for longer than plan use as you can’t get the new one built to replace it… Sad, but true, that a ‘go slow’ is why we have a load of GE Mark I plants still in use and not a new reactor in sight to replace them. What we need is a “go fast in a pluse” to build new very efficient and much safer plants to replace the first and second generation plants over about a 20 year time period. Then a ‘go slow’ as needed.

    It really is about finding the minimal risk path through time; but nobody ever wants to look at something that involves calculus and derivatives… except a few engineers. Politicians never want to talk to an engineer (management only talks to them when they have to, as near as I can tell, and then want to get it over as fast as possible). So all the “solutions” we get are based on “feel good” and “sound bite” and “headline” and “political agenda” and not one of them on sound physics principles…

    I spent a fair amount of time learning and practicing “linear programming” that was developed precisely to solve this kind of problem. “What is the optimum point for {foo}” where the Foo is anything from product mix to decommisioning time to risk minimizing strategy to… Yet as a society we substantially never use the ideal tool for answering those questions.

    “Why? Don’t ask why. Down that path lies insanity and ruin. -E.M.Smith”

    At any rate: Yes, I’ve suggested that with a little brighter approach to things we could easily set aside 1/2 the planet for “nature” and not have it disrupt our lives much at all.

    AND I think it would be a good thing to do.

    Yes, it would involve some compromise to the power of “ownership” for the folks asked to move off that land (if any) and it would involve finding a way to prevent governments from claiming ownership and selling those bits for funding their agenda. But in the long run we, and the world, would be better off for having set aside some wild places for all the other inhabitants of the world.

    No, I don’t for a moment think it will ever happen.

    So, for example, we could easily make nuclear power driven desalinizing plants and use that power and water to run greenhouse food production. At that point, the entire desert ‘wasteland’ of the world becomes usable for modern life and cities. Think that is a “pipe dream”? Saudi Arabia already has such desalinizers and greenhouses…

    But no, we would rather clear cut 2000 year old redwood forests to make fences and patio decks that will be gone in 20 years… and plough under the last shreds of perennial grasses of The Great Plains so those soils, too, can join the winds each year. To plant more corn to burn for fuel that we could have gotten from a hole in the ground instead.

    Of all the risks to the planet “stupid human tricks” is the largest and worst; and it is not confined to nuclear…

    We regularly make very bad decisions as we base them on what we want and not what is and certainly not on what could be. Then when someone does make a change based on what could be, we’ve made it so hard to do that only the most aggressive and self centered folks are willing to “push” enough to make it happen. Thus we get the most greedy and power hungry being the only agents of change left.

    Part of the beauty of a free market with minimal regulation is that the hurdles to try new things are much lower and a broader set of personality types get to join in the collective decision making that is the market. That damps the ability of the most abusive to “corner the market”. It’s much easier to corner a market when the government limits the indulgences to a few big and powerful…

    At any rate, that’s starting to stray into my environmental / political beliefs and away from the issue of “how risky is the Japan event to the USA?”. But I’ll just leave it with this: Were it up to me, I’d be building newest generation nukes at the best possible rate (not ’emergency rate’ but best and sustainable). They would initially be used to eliminate energy shortages, then start driving down energy costs fairly ruthlessly. In short order, that would drive out of economic viability things like old coal plants and then the older nukes would have a hard time competing. (Smaller size, more maintance costs as older, etc.) The crappiest power sources would be decommssioned with no regulatory body forcing it. Just the market. At the same time, I’d start builiding “Coal to liquids” plants (preferably with HTGCR process heat for minimal costs) and driving motor fuel costs down to about $2 / gallon (or less). That, by its very nature, would solve the foreign oil problem… And if you don’t like “coal”, just put “trash” in there instead. It works too…)

    That very cheap electricity then enables cheaper desalinizing and greenhouses along with providing the power to a slow natural pace of adoption of electric vehicles based on the low “fuel” costs.

    Not because I’m some anti-environment pro-big-business zealot. Precisely the opposite. Because it would most clean up the place the fastest and make the most rapid growth of clean cities and get people out of the ‘destroy the land’ business as fast as possible.

    That our present “leaders” are trying to do this backwards and exactly wrong is just a travesty. Fighting economic forces the whole way is destined to end in tragedy.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    Why, I don’t know, but the USGS maps have ‘gone offline’… I’d suggest it was the “budget problem” but they had reached a ‘temporary funding’ solution and the USGS quake maps are up.

    Odd how that seems to happen quite often right after an article points to something “politically incrorrect”.. and I’d not saved a copy of each.

    I’m slowly getting into the habit of saving a copy of ANY image or page referenced, especially if a wiki or government page, but had not thought to do it with the USGS as they’ve generally been “trustworthy”…. I can only hope it’s the “once a year maintenance window” on the weekend …. At any rate, I found suitable replacements (that I have saved) and if the originals are back in the next few days, I’ll swap back (and save a copy…)

  24. Pascvaks says:

    Ref – R. de Haan at 4:36 pm
    “And last week you told me you’re an optimist!(LOL)”

    (Slap, Slap)

    Thanks! I needed that! The older I get the more I seem to be slipping up on everything. The glass IS half full. No bout a’doubt it;-)

    Ref – E.M.Smith at 5:13 pm
    “”Mostly it has to do with “where the granite is”…””

    Right! Igneous – a : relating to, resulting from, or suggestive of the intrusion or extrusion of
    magma or volcanic activity b : formed by solidification of magma. (aka – it’s everywhere, thanks;-)

  25. GregO says:


    The incident with the x-ray source ending up in scrap metal occurred in Brazil and is described here:


    Radioactive materials ending up in scrap metal is a known problem. And again, who knew? In the popular imagination and even popular awareness, radiation danger comes from:

    Nuclear warfare
    Nuclear testing
    Nuclear power

    The first two fears are well-founded IMO based on common sense and data. The same common-sense and data do not support our irrational fear of the nuclear power industry.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    Per the wiki:

    1 Gy = 1 Sv = 1 J / kg

    So both a Gray and a Sievert are really variations on a Joule / kg.
    A Joule is one Watt-Second. So a FULL Sv is one Watt-Second of ionizing radiation.

    ALL of this would be much easier with a “natural system of units” that used the actual physical relationships instead of the SI crap tendency to name things for dead folks and hide what is going on.

    At any rate, a Gray is turned into a Sievert by weighting the actual physical W-Seconds by a ‘how well does a body absorb it’ factor. Basically, you are not a lead block, so some goes on through…

    The weighting table is here:


    The numbers in the video are presented in MICRO-Sv, so are even smaller. 1 MICRO-Sv is 0.1 REM and a Sv is 100 REM. (The Roentgen Equivalent Man, which is basically the same tissue absorbtion rated physics, but has the politically incorrect word “man” in it, so is evil and must be replaced with something more confusing… )


    OK, in REM:

    less than 50: Nothing much
    50-200: sick for a bit, then not much
    200-1000: seriously sick, some folks die
    Over 1000: Most folks die.

    REM is a very nice scale as measure can be done in REM and you just watch for 10 as “start paying attention”, 100 as “Oh Oh” and 1000 as “I’m toast”.

    But we’ve got MICRO-Sv. Which is a 1/10 of a REM. So all our numbers need to be multiplied by 10. (They had to do something to make it different from a REM… so making it smaller, thus the measured numbers bigger and scarier, is the way to go…)

    Less than 500: Nothing much
    500-2000: Sick for a bit, then not much
    2000-10,000: Seriously sick, some folks die
    Over 10,000: Most folks die.

    OK, our “benchmarks” are now: over 100, pay attention. Over 1000, Oh Oh, and over 10,000 “I’m toast”.

    Back to the video. At 17 km it is measuring 2.5 MICRO-Sv per HOUR. 100/2.5 = 40 hours. If you hang out there for 40 hours, you ought to think about it. 2000/2.5= 800 hours or 33.33 days. If you stay there for a month and the radiation level did not drop, you would be a bit sick. At 4000 hours, or about 5.5 months, you would be at risk of dying if the radiation level did not change as you are leaving the “seriously sick” band and headed into the “most folks start dying here” band. Personally, I’d leave when I first started feeling sick… probably at about month 2.

    OK, as they get closer, things ramp up.

    At 8.5 km they are up to 5 MICRO-Sv / hour. So about double the dose, or about 1/2 the times above. I’d now leave the area by at least the first month…

    After that, it starts dropping again as they enter the Tsunami washed away area, back to a bit above 1 MICRO-Sv/hr. So that would be OK to be in for “a few” months.

    So it looks to me like a ‘plume’ went up, then rain washed it out mostly just a few km from the plant. This pattern is also seen in radio propagation for “sky bounce” at SW and long wave. MAX signal strength is a ways from the antenna, then inverse square takes a bite and it drops off…

    At 1.8 km it goes up to 11 MICRO-Sv/ hr

    Call it “one week” to feeling somewhat ill and leaving the area. (About 50 hours, or 2 days, to first folks feeling a tiny bit sick) At 200 hours, folks are sick. So about 2 weeks plus. About 909 hours, or 37 days and you are looking at entering the ‘dying zone’.

    Then, at an unspecified distance, they got to 94 MICRO-Sv/hr. rising to 112 as they stopped at 1.5 km from the plant.

    About 10x more, so at this point, almost sitting on the nuclear release, you have 4.8 hours before you start to feel sick at all, then in 1.4 days you are very sick; and in 3.7 days are at risk of dying (and will be fairly sick).

    NOTE: All of this ignores things like bioconcentration if you were eating local oysters and iodine concentrators. On the flip side, it also ignores that radiation goes away over time. It is not clear at all if the active species they are measuring would even be around in a month…

    So, my take on it:

    The evacuation zone is very conservative.

    I’d not worry up to about 10 km from the plant.

    There is no way at all this thing is a hazard to folks outside the evacuation area. It just isn’t spitting much “stuff”.

    In a few months, I’d expect the “exclusion zone” to be down to 10 km (but that ought to be calculated by someone more familiar with the actual species of interest) and most likely anything inside 2 km ought to be “off limits” for a few years. The plant itself is most likely on a ‘decades plan’ unless you have a bunny suit.

    Also note that if you were 1.5 km from the plant and started to WALK OUT, slowly, you would not be sick at all as you would be leaving each area before spending enough time to gather the dose needed to be made ill. Even if, after walking 5 km (your first hour or two) even if you spent a few DAYS at that point resting.

    Does that give you some perspective on it?

  27. E.M.Smith says:


    That one is very interesting, but I think the one I was remembering is this one from Mexico:

    December 6, 1983 – Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, A local resident salvaged materials from a discarded radiation therapy machine carrying 6,000 pellets of 60Co. The dismantling and transport of the material led to severe contamination of his truck; when the truck was scrapped, it in turn contaminated another 5,000 metric tonnes of steel with an estimated 300 Ci (11 TBq) of activity. This material was sold for kitchen or restaurant table legs and building materials, some of which was sent to the U.S. and Canada; the incident was discovered when a truck delivering contaminated building materials months later to the Los Alamos National Laboratory accidentally drove through a radiation monitoring station. Contamination was later measured on the roads that were used to transport the original damaged radiation source. In some cases pellets were actually found embedded in the roadway. In the state of Sinaloa, 109 houses were condemned due to contaminated building material. This incident prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Customs Service to install radiation detection equipment at all major border crossings.

    So ask me again if I’m worried about a barely measurable level of stuff on the wind from Japan when things like that are going on?

    BTW, that is from this interesting link:


    that includes this interesting story:

    1982 – Radioactive steel scavenged from a nuclear reactor was melted into rebar and used in the construction of apartment buildings in northern Taiwan, mostly in Taipei, from 1982 through 1984. Over 2,000 apartment units and shops were suspected as having been built with the materials. At least 10,000 people are known to have been exposed to long-term low-level irradiation as a result, with at least 40 deaths due to cancer. In 1985, the Taiwanese Atomic Energy Commission covered up the discovery of high levels of radiation in an apartment building by blaming a dentist operating an imaging machine. However, in the summer of 1992, a utility worker for the Taiwanese state-run electric utility Taipower brought a Geiger counter to his apartment to learn more about the device, and discovered that his apartment was contaminated. Despite awareness of the problem, owners of some of the buildings known to be contaminated have continued to rent apartments out to tenants (in part because selling the units is illegal), and as of at least 2003 and likely to the present, no coordinated effort has been made to track down the remaining affected structures. The Taiwan AEC has harassed medical researchers looking into the consequences. Some researchers from Taiwan claimed that the gamma rays from the cobalt-60 had a beneficial effect upon the health of the tenants.

    Why it’s a good idea to own your own radiation meter and play with it from time to time…

    So no, I’m not at all worried about the wind from Japan.

    I am very worried about steel production…

  28. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Interesting right after the war, people loved nuclear energy, wanted to use it for everything

  29. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @ all; this is the link to the Rossi / Foccili reactor.
    Sorry E.M. I thought I sent you a heads up email a week or so ago.


    The device is invented and produced by Mr Rossi, It is a 20kw heater that is ganged 50, to produce 1megawatt of heat. pg

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    Oh… yeah… email… I suppose I ought to check it again. Even though I just checked it… about Thanksgiving, IIRC ….

    (no no smiley… I’m very slothful about email… that in reality I think it was closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving… It’s just that given the hassle of SPAM and the volume of “stuff” that folks think it’s critical that I deal with Right Now if I did everything my email demands I’d need about 400 hours in the day… so I tend to just avert my eyes for a few weeks when I need a break from it… )

    OK, looks like about 3/4 of an hour to watch all the videos and maybe 1/4 hour to figure out what the heck they said.

    Don’t suppose you have a “5 second summary” like “Duterium sold fusion in Paladium at 100 C” or something?…

    UPDATE: Never Mind, found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rossi_Reactor

    and a BING! of ” Rossi Focardi reactor” turns up even more… after my tea steeps I’ll watch the videos…

    “Short form” is “Warm fusion using hydrogen and nickel yielding copper – electric heated ‘ignition'”.

  31. George says:

    At least 10,000 people are known to have been exposed to long-term low-level irradiation as a result, with at least 40 deaths due to cancer.

    That is extremely misleading language. On its face you would assume they mean that 40 people died of cancer as a result of radiation. That is not the case. It means there were 40 deaths from cancer of the 10,000 people who lived there which is a significantly LOW number. Statistically there should have been over 700 deaths from cancer.

    They still don’t know exactly why the cancer deaths from the residents of those buildings is so low but it appears that the radiation somehow triggered something in their bodies that helps to fight cancer.

  32. P.G. Sharrow says:


    Hydrogen fusion with nickel to create copper. Low Energy Nuclear Reaction or cold fusion.

    Think a De Forest electron valve.
    A heater set that is pressurized with hydrogen surrounded with nickel and other metal powders as a ceramic tube, surrounded by 1/2″ Boron and then 1/2 ‘ lead inside of a steel jacket container. This is inside of a heat exchanger. The reaction is started and controlled with the heaters after the device is pressurized with H2 hydrogen. The heaters can be shut off and the hydrogen pressure increased to maintain the reaction but control is difficult. So for now they use the heaters to control the reaction at a low rate for safety.
    The reaction causes creation of x-ray and slow speed neutrons that are captured by the reaction metals, boron and lead to create heat and copper. When the device is shut down and cold it can be opened and there is NO detectable internal radiation.
    This device is called a power ampifier as the heaters are always on at some level with a K=8 gain. The device has been operated at up to K=400 gain but is unstable.
    A single 20Kw device is about 38″ long, 5 gallons in volume and weighs about 40 pounds.
    Units operate at full rate for 6 months and then are shut down for refueling. About 30% of the fuel elements have become copper.
    Much more information if you want.
    Rossi has funded the whole thing out of his own pocket and is trying to get patents on the device and the fuel element mix. He claims that he will make it all public by the end of this year. pg

  33. George says:

    And to further clarify, out of any 10,000 people living in average housing over that period of time, over 700 of them would die from cancer. Over a similar period, only 40 died from cancer in those buildings so something acted to protect them from getting cancer. They still don’t know what that is yet.

  34. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I have been watching LENR since the Fleischmann / Pons anouncement. While this thing is very crude it appears to work for real “on demand”. While this guy has been working on this for 20 years, this configuration has been working for a little over 2 years. There has been enough information spread around that most of the details are available to replicate a working model. pg

  35. George says:

    The gist of the SL-1 incident can be obtained from the preliminary report, BTW:

    Click to access IDO-19300a.pdf

    The accident itself starts on page 93 and the stuff before that more setting the stage.

    It is now thought that the incident was a murder-suicide where the crew member that pulled the rod out, did so on purposes as one of the other crew members was messing around with his wife.

    From the time that guy pulled that rod out to the time it exploded was milliseconds.

  36. Francisco says:

    @ EM Smith

    We all use and abuse the word “agenda” in this sense, as an easy shortcut in dismissing the views of someone we disagree with. My only agenda is to convey and defend my views clearly, as I belong to no political or social organization of any kind, and have no stake whatsoever on the fate of the nuclear industry.
    I am pretty certain you also don’t have any other agenda than to express and defend your views clearly. I think that because I check your blog pretty regularly. If I didn’t think that, I might be easily led to suppose from reading your posts on this matter that you have some very important stake in defending the nuclear industry at all costs, because all your posts on the matter have the very transparent intention of downplaying the significance of this affair from all possible angles. Of course you probably don’t see it as “downplaying” but merely as “putting it into perspective.” Fair enough. But please understand that that happens to be also my sole intention, so let’s leave words like agenda for occasions where they may be clearly justified.

    You say you lef discussion of the local effects to the Japan Nuke Page 2 post, but in reading that post I found exactly the same transparent desire to downplay those effects, including your referring to radioactive water as “radioactive water.”

    Now you post a map of uranium deposits in US soils, or surface soils, you focus on the areas of highest concentration, and you say that “for the events in Japan to matter, it has a ‘high hurdle’ to get over”. Let me try to understand this. Are you saying that unless the events in Japan managed to create a situation where soil radiation worldwide (or US-wide) became higher than in the highest (red) regions shown on your map, where you say uranium is “blowing in the wind”, it would not matter??? Is that what you are suggesting? If not, what are you saying? I imagine the kind of event necessary to cause such worldwide blanketing would have to be utterly cataclismic, and that *before* the radioactive dust settled down on the soil to produce those measurements worldwide, it would have bathed the world population in monstruous amounts of radiation for quite a long time. The old dystopian novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, would seem like a walk in the park by comparison. But I may be wrong.

    I have no quick means of ascertaining whether 250 years is enough time to bring the radiation in the spent fuel down to the level of the ore it came from. Assuming (very skeptically) that this is so, it is still a long time.

    I hope we can at least agree that trying to ensure (really, really hard and honestly) that these things don’t keep on keeping on, should be the only positive outcome of this sorry mess. To that effect, your compulsive drive to keep dismissing it as an irrelevant blip in any kind of bigger picture is lamentable. In the bigger picture, or in the “grand scheme of things” everything is irrelevant, and one can dismiss any disaster on the grounds that it wasn’t global — not a very convincing argument.

    @ David
    Regarding nuclear reactor safety and its evolution with new designs, I recommend you read the Diaz Maurin article I posted early, as it addresses this point very much along the general lines I would have thought of addressing it, except that he knows the numberes being used, while I don’t.

    Click to access 15865.pdf

    Nuclear energy is all about controlling an energy source with a very high density. As part of that control, many components are in place in order to always maintain such control and to avoid potential accidents. Those components are designed so that if one fails to work properly, another takes the relay. Redundancy and spatial separation are therefore used as a basis for plant design to always make sure that the functions are maintained. Some functions are more important for the overall safety of the plant than others, so their design is prioritised over others. For instance, the core cooling system is one of the most critical functions of a nuclear reactor and hence it must be maintained at all cost. As there is no “zero risk” with every design, all functions in a plant are based on “probabilistic risk assessment” (PRA). The PRA methods depend on three variables: (1) the magnitude (severity) of a possible adverse event; (2) the likelihood (probability) of its occurrence; and (3) its possible consequence(s). The overall safety of a nuclear power plant is therefore a trade-off between certain assumptions about the severity and the likelihood of different adverse events. By definition, component failures are thus part of the design choices (giving priority to certain functions), but they can be kept to a minimum within the component-level probabilistic risk assessment.

    Interdependent Events Natural events are also taken into account – to some extent – in the plant’s design as part of the PRA. In the case of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster, two natural events happened: an earthquake and a tsunami. However, saying that the nuclear disaster is due to the accumulation of both an earthquake and a tsunami entails confusion as it leads to think that both natural events were not related. […] In addition, the PRA methods used for taking into account some natural events can be criticised. Indeed, in the particular case of earthquakes for instance, there is a high uncertainty when performing the seismic hazardous analysis (e g, the maximal seismic magnitude which can occur in a certain zone of seismic acti-vity) since it depends on earth science practices. This uncertainty can become so high for the very large earthquakes at very low probabilities that it has an impact on the overall probabilistic risk assessment of the plant’s design.[2] Worse, as the hazard estimate and structure ruggedness play an equal part in protection against seismic risk and in assessment of safety in case of a seismic event, the probabilistic risk assessment of nuclear power plants is based on uncertainty. It can be thus considered useless to try to improve the structure ruggedness or the component-level safety if the hazard estimate remains affected by such high uncertainty. In fact, there is a systemic problem with nuclear power plant’s design as, given this uncertainty, it is impossible to use probabilities (neither frequencies nor conventional ones, nor Bayesian), even if we want to assume that we can define an extreme natural event (which is impossible).

    As a result, there is always a risk that an unpredictable event that exceeds the design assumptions will occur – which has been the case with the 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake. This possibility of exceeding assumptions has been unfortunately verified during the current nuclear crisis in Japan as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) experts acknowledge that “nuclear power plants are designed for earthquakes and hurricanes, and in some places tsunamis. But these were unbelievably large”.[3] This demonstrates that the assumptions taken into account in the design of the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors were not conservative enough to protect them against such a natural event. More generally, there is no reason to say that assumptions will never be exceeded again or that another similar combination of natural events will never happen again, even with a very low probability of occurrence on paper. This demonstrates the existing systemic uncertainty that cannot be avoided with nuclear design.

    Argument #2:
    “New reactor designs would stand such natural events”.
    The introduction of the above discussed probabilistic approach to risk assessment to the nuclear industry is due to Norman C Rasmussen, a former professor of nuclear engineering at the MIT in the US. In 1975, he headed the publication of a report for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (often called the “Rasmussen Report”).[4] This report received worldwide attention as it established the formal discipline of PRA, whose methods are now used routinely in nuclear power plant safety assessment. According to the Rasmussen report, the risk of a nuclear power plant failure was low, with a core damage accident occurring only once in every 20,000 years of operation in the US – one reactor running for one year counting as a year of operating experience.[5] But in 1979 – only four years after the Rasmussen report was published – a partial meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island 2 reactor in Pennsylvania, when the nuclear industry in that country had fewer than 500 years of operating experience. A new study ordered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reassessed the risk and estimated it at one meltdown per 1,000 years of reactor operation, 20 times more frequent than assumed in the Rasmussen report. This was the first “lesson learned”, facilitating an improvement of the PRA-based design of nuclear power plants.

    Core Damage Frequency
    Nowadays, the current core damage frequency (CDF) of the current generation II reactors is said to be between about 5×10-5 per reactor-years or one core damage for every 20,000 reactor years (as expected by Rasmussen in 1975 for the US) in Europe [6] and one for every 50,000 reactor years (or 2×10-5) in the US.[7] With about 440 nuclear reactors currently operating worldwide, this corresponds to one core damage every 45 to 100 years and more. However, with three new core damage accidents at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactors 1, 2 and 3 (with Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986), we have had five core damage accidents in less than 40 years. In fact, a core damage has happened every eight years on the average in the world since 1970, corresponding to the beginning of the operation of generation II reactors (very few generation I reactors remain today). This shows a large discrepancy between the safety announced by the nuclear industry and the safety actually measured.

    The same day that the three core damages at Fukushima-Daiichi were confirmed,[8] experts at the MIT published an article saying that “new nuclear power plants may not have failed in Japan” (Bullis 2011 in note 2 above). But we obviously cannot know whether or not another reactor would have sustained the same natural events unless a complicated simulation is performed (which also requires us to know exactly the sequence of events that happened at Fukushima). Therefore, comparing one feature to another between different designs is a simplistic approach that does not capture the dynamic sequence of events, which is the one that matters in such nuclear accidents.

    In the case of new plants, as shown above, although new safety features are taken into account in the design (i e, reducing the core damage frequency), there will always be a significant uncertainty about whether some assumptions on natural events or component failures will be violated. Statistically, the designed core damage frequency of future generation III + reactors is of the order of magnitude of 5×10-7 per reactor-year, depending on the designs.[9] This means that the theoretical nuclear safety would be increased by a factor of 100 with new designs compared to current operating reactors, despite the fact that the generation II core damage frequencies have not even been met for the current reactors. Worse, there is no reason to say that the very low frequency of core damage accidents announced for the generation III+ reactors would actually be met, given the systemic uncertainty affecting core damage frequency estimates as explained before. This actually represents a major limitation on the viability of a large-scale expansion of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source.

    Complacency Therefore, the argument of better safety with new design seems to reflect complacency more than objectivity. Indeed, a good illustration of this complacency towards nuclear energy comes from a recent declaration of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy talking about the design of the new AREVA EPR reactor during the Fukushima nuclear crisis: “The idea of the double wall structure is that if a Boeing 747 crashes on the plant, the reactor is not damaged”.[10] That is true. The double wall structure of the EPR reactor building would withstand such an event and it is part of the new safety features of the future nuclear EPR reactor. But we cannot predict all other threats or mistakes, not just from the outside but also internal to the plant operation. In any case, there is no EPR reactor currently operating in the world. Only five are under construction while there are about 440 plants operating worldwide. In that case, this argument is not relevant at the time of the nuclear energy crisis in Japan. […]
    ***end of quote***

    Click to access 15865.pdf

  37. TGSG says:

    Pascvaks “The glass IS half full. No bout a’doubt it;-)”

    when asked, I respond with “the glass is FULL, half with water and half with air” ;-)
    on the other hand…

    methinks some people are missing the point of this post on purpose. scare tactics abound and EM has been puttting some of the arguements into perspective very well. I too was “anti-nuke” until I learned a few things. You just have to get past your own fears and be logical (as opposed to emotional) in your thinking.

  38. E.M.Smith says:


    OK, you don’t like the word “agenda”. Would you like it better if I said “OK, you are coming at it wth a ‘nukes are evil preconception'” or “Ok, you are coming at it with an angle”?

    The point is pretty darned clear that you have either decided nukes are evil and are looking for self confirmation or have bought into the media stories that are, frankly, crap stories. Yet are not interested in hearing the other point of view (or if heard, not interesting in thinking about it very hard.)

    Part of my “enthusiasm” against that point of view comes simply from the fact that for about a decade I was a stong and vehement anti-nuke and espoused some of the same arguments. Then discovered they were flat out wrong. I had accepted them at face value from the “everyone knows” source… That started me “digging”.

    The first one to fall was the nuclear waste issue.

    There are two simple and easy “solutions”.

    1) The high level waste isn’t waste. There are reactor designs (several types) for which it is fuel.

    2) The definition game has been played on you in that “waste” is called “safe” after it reaches background. That is a false standard. Uranium ORE sequestered as well as natural ORE is sequestered is the GEOLOGIC standard. High level waste hits that point in about 250 years. (It is an “about” as it depends on the kind of packing of the stuff that you do.)

    That #2 comes DIRECTLY from unescapable physics.

    Things that are “highly radioactive” simply do not last long. There is simply not enough matter to stay that radioactive that long. The only way something can stay radioactive for a very long time is if isn’t all that radioactive to begin with. It all comes down to half life.

    Highly radioactive species have very short half lives. That means they “go away” startlinglly fast. Period. Full stop.

    I-131 half life 8 days


    Iodine-131 (131I), also called radioiodine (though many other radioactive isotopes of this element are known), is an important radioisotope of iodine. It has a radioactive decay half life of about eight days. Its uses are mostly medical and pharmaceutical. It also plays a role as a major radioactive hazard present in nuclear fission products, and was a significant contributor to the health effects from open-air atomic bomb testing in the 1950s, and from the Chernobyl disaster, as well as being a threatening presence today in the Japanese nuclear crisis. This is because I-131 is a major uranium, plutonium and indirectly thorium fission product, comprising nearly 3% of the total products of fission (by weight).

    So, do the math.

    365/8 ~= 45
    1/2^45 = 2.8 10^-14

    Care to figure out what 0.000000000000028

    means in size of dose? It means “essentially none”.

    Now figure out what it will be after 250 of those 10^14 periods have passed…


    The uranium nucleus binds between 141 and 146 neutrons, establishing six isotopes, the most common of which are uranium-238 (146 neutrons) and uranium-235 (143 neutrons). All isotopes are unstable and uranium is weakly radioactive. Uranium has the second highest atomic weight of the naturally occurring elements, lighter only than plutonium-244. Its density is about 70% higher than that of lead, but not as dense as gold or tungsten. It occurs naturally in low concentrations of a few parts per million in soil, rock and water, and is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals such as uraninite.
    In nature, uranium is found as uranium-238 (99.2742%), uranium-235 (0.7204%), and a very small amount of uranium-234 (0.0054%). Uranium decays slowly by emitting an alpha particle. The half-life of uranium-238 is about 4.47 billion years and that of uranium-235 is 704 million years, making them useful in dating the age of the Earth.

    Now we’ve got two common isotopes. U238 with 4.47 billion year half life and U-235 with 704 million year half life. The stuff is “safe enough” that we have made dinner plates out of it and I had the enamel on a tooth cap made of it. And the reason is that half life. It just doesn’t decay very often.

    But even there, the DIFFERENCE between those two, the “fast one” measured in millions of years, has resulted in most of it being gone. It is now in a fractional percent range. And that U-234? Care to make a guess what half life it has? Look at the percentage that survives. Way down near nothing.


    Uranium-234 is an isotope of uranium. In natural uranium and in uranium ore, U-234 occurs as an indirect decay product of uranium-238, but it makes up only 0.0055% (55 parts per million) of the raw uranium because its half-life of just 245,500 years is only about 1/18,000 as long as that of U-238.

    It really is “all about the half life”. Things with a short half life are very active and a health risk. They also go away very fast. Things that last a long time have a long half life (by definition); but they also don’t emit much (or they would be turning into something else and going away, thus not having a long half life).

    “Long lived highly radioactive” is the empty set. It just is.

    So once I see someone buying into the story that this stuff will be highly radioactive for 25,000 years it’s pretty clear that there are a limited number of possible cases.

    1) They are stupid.
    2) They are naive.
    3) They have an agenda.
    4) They have accepted, uncritically, propaganda.
    5) They have trusted sources that are 1,2, or 3.

    I have not been able to come up with much beyond that. In fact, I could make a case that 4 and 5 are subsets of 1 and 2. So please forgive me for assuming you were not in 1 and 2…

    When I held that point of view I was fairly young and trusted the “news flow” about TMI. I bought into the whole story. I was in #2 (subset 4 and 5 and even let the hollywood movie about TMI get to me). So realize that I don’t see it as a reflection on native ability to be in #2, as “I was there once”.

    And if the word “agenda” bothers you, feel free to substitute “strongly held point of view that drives their actions and opinions”.

    BTW, you can do the above U / I example with any and all of the products of nuclear reactors. Every single time you will find the same result. If it is highly radioactive, it leaves fast. If it is low radioactive, it lasts a long time, but also isn’t a health risk.


    3% of the mass consists of fission products of 235U and 239Pu (also indirect products in the decay chain); these are considered radioactive waste or may be separated further for various industrial and medical uses.

    So your first thing to notice here is that only 3% of the waste stream, and that a part which can be separated out, is the fission product. Even there, a lot of it has uses.

    About 1% of the mass is 239Pu and 240Pu resulting from conversion of 238U, which may be considered either as a useful byproduct, or as dangerous and inconvenient waste

    This is best extracted and used as fuel, rather than stuck in a hole in the ground.

    96% of the mass is the remaining uranium: most of the original 238U and a little 235U. Usually 235U would be less than 0.83% of the mass along with 0.4% 236U.

    And fully 96% of the “spent fuel” is Uranium that is useful as fuel. As we’ve already seen, the highly radioactive forms of U will decay away fairly quickly and you are in short order back at something rather like the original U in the ground.

    For natural uranium fuel: Fissile component starts at 0.71% 235U concentration in natural uranium. At discharge, total fissile component is still 0.50% (0.23% 235U, 0.27% fissile 239Pu, 241Pu) Fuel is discharged not because fissile material is fully used-up, but because the neutron-absorbing fission products have built up and the fuel becomes significantly less able to sustain a nuclear reaction.

    The the very first giant clue here is that “spent” fuel isn’t spent at all. Suck out the U and reuse it.

    How about the Plutonium?

    Pu-239 half life 24,100 years. The stuff just isn’t very radioactive and at the end of a 24,000 year ‘waste’ storage you will have about 1/2 of the original still there.

    Pu-240 half life 6,563 years. So at 12,000 years you have 1/4 of it left and at 24,000 years about 1/16. It is more radioactive than Pu-239, but also goes away faster.

    IMHO the hardest one to deal with, BTW, so ought not to be put in ‘waste dumps’ but used as reactor fuel.

    With that said, say you decided to dump it anyway. How hazardous is this stuff?

    Well, “not much” and “very” at the same time. You can hold pounds of it in a gloved hand. The radiation doesn’t penetrate your skin. Pretty wimpy, actually.

    HOWEVER, if you manage to get it inside you, it’s not good and can cause cancer after enough years. It’s not like ‘instant death’ though, as painted in the movies. It’s also not the kind of thing that gets inside you easily unless you live down wind of a smelter.


    Members of the public living or working near nuclear weapons production plants can be exposed when equipment fails, accidents happen or mistakes are made, causing releases that move off the plant site through the air or in water. Plutonium particles in the air can deposit on the soil, where adults or children may work or play, or on water, which may be a source for drinking, irrigation of crops or recreation. Particles can also deposit on vegetables or on grass eaten by cows that may later provide milk and meat for human consumption.
    Plutonium emits alpha radiation and low-energy x-rays, which are easily absorbed by tissue. The alpha radiation travels only about a quarter of an inch in air and cannot penetrate the skin. Therefore, if plutonium remains outside the body, it is generally not harmful. Plutonium is very toxic if it enters into the body because the alpha radiation can damage living tissue. The larger the “dose” in the body, the greater the toxicity.
    Plutonium particles may be released to the air where people may inhale them, or the particles may deposit on soil, plants and water. The plutonium particles landing on soil either attach to clays or stay near the soil surface where winds can pick them up and redistribute them. Plutonium particles can deposit on plants, but are not readily absorbed by the roots into the plants. Plutonium is usually insoluble in water, so plutonium particles that land on lakes and streams usually settle to the bottom in the sediment.
    Common forms of plutonium do not dissolve significantly in water or body fluids, so little ingested material is actually absorbed into the blood from the gastrointestinal tract.
    A great deal of research has been performed on the effects of radiation exposures at higher concentrations. However, little information is available for low doses of plutonium. Relatively few such exposures have been documented, with little solid evidence of effects

    So IF the stuff is blowing around in the air as very very tiny particles you might be able to get some inside your lungs, but mostly it just ends up in the bottom goo of sediments.

    It’s been darned hard to find any actual effects from low level exposure.

    BTW, there are “natural nuclear reactors” that have made plutonium, so the stuff is found in nature, just rarely.


    One of THE WORST contaminants is Caesium-137


    The radioactive isotope caesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years and is used in medical applications, industrial gauges, and hydrology. Although the element is only mildly toxic, it is a hazardous material as a metal and its radioisotopes present a high health risk in case of radiation leaks.

    It is a 30 year half life, so in that zone of “medium long” that is the most problematic and presents a high health risk.

    How long does it take to get 99% of it ‘gone’?

    2^7 is 128. So in 7 half lives you will have 1/128 of it left. That’s 210 years.

    What happens in another 90 years? Three more half lives? 1/1024 or you are down to 99.9% of it gone. That’s at the 300 year point if it were in isolation. But it isn’t in isolation, it is packed with some much faster decaying products that will promote a faster start to this ‘burn up’…

    (In concentrated wastes that have had the U and Pu removed it ought to go even faster. These numbers are ‘in isolation’ but in a batch of mixed waste, the faster decaying stuff sends energetic particles around that help break down the longer lived stuff faster too)

    Strontium-90 has a half life of 28.8 years so follows a similar path.

    So you see, all the “very bad stuff” goes away very very fast. Only the stable isotopes (that will almost entirely be U and some Pu) are left around in significant amounts after a few hundred years.

    That’s the part on ‘waste storage’ (and an abreviated one at that. “waste” really is valuable fuel and needs to be treated as such.)

    When you look into each of the “scary scary” stories from the “anti-nuke” side, you find a similar chain of things. They lead away from “nukes are evil” and toward “nukes are safer than coal and a lot of other things we use every day”.

    Also, you have again tried to assert something that is not true about what I have said.

    I have not said the diaster in Japan isn’t a disaster.

    I have not said the world must be contaminated with higher than the USA “worst” for events in Japan to matter at all.

    You are the person confusing LOCAL with GLOBAL issues. Not me.

    On a local level, the events in Japan ARE a disaster. Especially inside about 10 km.

    In the USA, we have some folks in a panic as there is “nuclear radiation from Japan on the wind”. (Yes, I’ve had to explain to some of my neighbors that is isn’t enough to matter. Potassium Iodide pills are sold out too.)

    To point out to folks that there is much more uranium, radon, and other radioactives already here NATURALLY, and NOT as a “contaminant” so they ought to chill a bit and lose the panic is a very good thing and it gives folks perspective.

    So yes, the radiation from Japan would need to rise above the natural level already all around me before I’d give a damn. That is a sane response.

    Please note that that statement is about the USA. It does not, in any way, say that folks in the 50 km evacuation radius of the reactor have no problem. It only and exactly says that folks in the USA have no problem.

    Why you want to keep mixing the status IN JAPAN into a posting about the status IN THE USA eludes me.

    But, to be painfully clear:

    Your posted interpretations of what I have said are wrong.

    For some reason, many people don’t “get it” with numbers. I accept that. For them I try to find simple ways to conveigh a numeric truth. THEY are the folks all worried about “Radiation from Japan in the USA”. Those folks need to understand that it is orders of magnetude lower than the radiation already all around them and that locking their kids in the basement for a month means more exposure to radiation from RADON not less. THAT is the purpose of the posting. In short, it has nothing to do with risks in, near, or around Japan.

    (Yet you felt like accusing me of mixing local and global risks…)

    Per “downplaying it”. It’s only “downplaying” in the context of the incredible hype in the mainstream media. Those folks (and the “green advocacy groups”) are playing this UP as the new Chernobyl. It’s not anywhere near it. Orders of magnetude away from it.

    That the TV crew could drive to inside 1.5 km and not suffer illness from it is pretty direct evidence.

    So by their radiation counter, I would put this as a ‘catastrophe’ inside about 10 km. Outside 50 km, it’s not much. Avoid foods from the 50 km zone, otherwise it’s pretty much ‘life as usual’. Unless, of course, one chooses to panic over it for no good reason…

    That then leads back to the “time” issue. Depending on what radioactives are causing that 10 km radius to be “hot” they could all be gone back to background inside a year. Maybe less. IF it were a cadmium contamination, that would be a forever problem…


    Following is a remarkable chapter from Henry Schroeder’s book about toxic metals. We have seen that cadmium is a principal toxic metal which disturbs zinc, copper, and other metals and probably is a major contributor to thyroid disease. Avoiding cadmium is essential to preserve zinc and copper and normal thyroid function.

    All of the tables mentioned are not in yet, but the one that is shows that cadmium can come from many sources that we are exposed to: tobacco smoke, burning oil, automobile tire dust, cadmium batteries, canned foods, dried foods, cola drinks, processed coffee, decaffeinated coffee, milk (from galvanized dairy cans, butter, olive oil, lipstick, silver polish residue on eating utensils, metal ice trays, processed meats, pottery, plastic wrappings, wheat gluten, the electric elements that are put directly into containers to heat water for soups, teas, and coffees, and many other sources. Many of these foods have come under scrutiny and perhaps the reason that they bother people is the cadmium content.


    Itai-itai disease (イタイイタイ病 itai-itai byō?, lit. “ouch ouch sickness”), was the documented case of mass cadmium poisoning in Toyama Prefecture, Japan, starting around 1912. The cadmium poisoning caused softening of the bones and kidney failure. The disease is named for the severe pains (Japanese: 痛い itai) caused in the joints and spine. The term itai-itai disease was coined by locals. The cadmium was released into rivers by mining companies in the mountains. The mining companies were successfully sued for the damage. Itai-itai disease is known as one of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan.
    Due to the cadmium poisoning, the fish in the river started to die, and the rice irrigated with river water did not grow well. The cadmium and other heavy metals accumulated at the bottom of the river and in the water of the river. This water was then used to irrigate the rice fields. The rice absorbed heavy metals, especially the cadmium. The cadmium accumulated in the people eating contaminated rice.
    The reduction of the levels of cadmium in the water supply reduced the number of new disease victims; no new victim has been recorded since 1946. While the victims with the worst symptoms came from Toyama prefecture, the government found victims in five other prefectures.

    The mines are still in operation and cadmium pollution levels remain high, although improved nutrition and medical care has reduced the occurrence of Itai-itai disease.
    A person is considered to have itai-itai disease if he or she lived in the contaminated areas, has kidney dysfunctions, softening of the bones, but no related heart problems. One hundred eighty-four victims have been legally recognized since 1967, of whom 54 were recognized in the period from 1980 to 2000. An additional 388 people have been identified as potential victims, those that had not been officially examined yet. Fifteen victims were still alive as of 1993.
    The cadmium pollution had contaminated many agricultural areas. Heavy metal pollution affected many areas in Japan, and as a result the Prevention of Soil Contamination in Agricultural Land Law of 1970 was enacted. It ordered planting to be stopped so that restoration of the soil could be enacted to areas with 1ppm of cadmium or more contamination in the soil. Surveying in Toyama Prefecture began in 1971, and by 1977 1500 hectacres along the Jinzū river were designated for soil restoration. These farmers were compensated for lost crops as well as for lost production in past years by the Mitsui Mining and Smelting, Toyama Prefecture, and the national government. As of 1992, only 400 hectares remained contaminated.

    In 1992, the average annual health expense compensation was 743 million yen. Agricultural damage was compensated with 1.75 billion yen per year, or a total of annually 2.518 billion yen. Another 620 million yen were invested annually to reduce further pollution of the rive

    So they have had to go out and remove the cadmium from the soils and after 40 years of working at it, “only” have 4/15 left to do… 1500 hectares is a fairly large area…

    Yes, I would rather move to inside 10 km of that nuclear reactor in 40 years than move to where the cadmium contamination still exists.

    My point (Just to be sure you know what it is):

    Risks need a number on them to know where is worse and by how much. Yes, the reactor problem is a “disaster” in Japan. (It is nothing in the USA). Yet here we have Cd that is a horrific toxin and we put hundreds of thousands of tons of it into the land, sea and air every year. It is so horrific a toxin that the EU effectively bans the use of it in anything. Yet even they make an exception for NiCd batteries as that would be inconvenient.

    As long as we’re are so accepting of Cd (and other heavy metal poisions) it is highly paranoid to hold nuclear power plants to a standard of several orders of magnitude more stringency. NOT because I want nuclear power to be lax, but because the others ought to be tightened. NOT because nuclear has no risks, but because we ought to be spending our money cleaning up the worst risks first.

    To point out that hypocracy is the best thing that can be done to improve conditions overall for the most people.

    So, in summary, getting in a panic over the Japan reactor accident is NOT a good thing as it is way out of proportion to how we react to other problems that are worse. It needs some perspective. BOTH in the USA where any Japan risks are effectively non-existent (expecially when compared to our RADON and U levels) and in Japan, where toxic heavy metals have already done more damage and are STILL not cleaned up.

    We won’t talk about the looming disaster in China where they have taken the same “no rules and if I don’t see it the contamination didn’t happen” approach as other countries did in prior centuries…

    In short:

    All things in perspective.

    And for nuclear, it’s just not anywhere near as bad as the hype paints it and far better than a lot of stuff we don’t even think about… like Cadmium.


    First Solar wins reprive in EU toxic substance ban

    * Solar panels exempt from EU’s toxic substance ban

    * First Solar uses toxic cadmium in panels

    * Ban would have hit First Solar’s key EU sales

    By Ilona Wissenbach

    BRUSSELS, Nov 24 (Reuters) – EU lawmakers voted on Wednesday to exempt solar panels from a ban on toxic substances in electrical goods, enabling leading maker First Solar (FSLR.O) to keep selling its products in the industry’s biggest market.

    The revised European Union law bans the use of six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, including cadmium, which is used by U.S.-based First Solar — the world’s No. 1 solar company by market share — in its panels.

    But that’s solar, so it’s OK if it spreads a horrible toxin all over the planet. One with no half life…

    And that’s the problem when you see the world through agenda driven glasses, even if it’s not your personal agenda, just one absorbed by proxy from someone else or from the media…

    FWIW, somewhere in my garage, sits a package of a half dozen washers of about 1 inch diameter. They are cadmium plated. I bought them at the local hardware store about 20 years ago (before I ‘had clue’ about Cadmium) as I liked the pretty blueish color and wondered about this cadmium stuff… put them in the ‘supplies’ cabinet and THEN started learning about Cd… Still don’t know what I’m going to do with them. But this is a toxin that is truely horrid. The more we look, the more we find both short and long term damage that it does. Yet we put it in childrens toys as batteries… that sometimes corrode and leak… as they play in a radon filled basement…

    Then worry about an almost immeasurable level of I-131 on the wind from Japan…

    Just silly…

  39. Francisco says:

    [comment about Japanese Nuclear Industry moved to the Japan Reactor thread as it is about Japan, not the USA. -mod]


  40. E.M.Smith says:


    Thanks, I needed that…

    “No osfiser, I’ve not beenen drrinkling, my whishky bottle ish still FULL!”

  41. E.M.Smith says:

    Despite the description saying:

    “Some maps of natural exposure to radiation in the USA”

    and despite the posting being filled to the top with maps of the USA…

    some folks seem to be taking this posting to mean “In Japan”.

    So, just to make it painfully clear, I’ve added two bolded bits to the top of the posting. They both say “in the USA”.

    With all the news about “radiation exposure” in the USA from the Japanese nuclear plant, I thought it might be worth having a thread that points out just how much natural radiation exposure there is in the USA already.

    For the events in Japan to matter in the USA, it has a “high hurdle” to get over.

    If you want to talk generically about all nuclear reactor risks or specifically about the nuclear disaster in Japan, please do it on the Japan reactor threads. If it is something specific to the risks posed to the USA by the Japanese radiation releases, this would be an appropriate thread.

    Comments on comparative levels of risk posed by other sources, such as a comparision of a toxic metal background to the Uranium background, would also be appropriate here (as they have little to do with the Japanese nuclear industry per se and do speak to the general case of ‘how risky is background stuff’ in comparison to the present nuclear releases.)

    Basically, this is a “comparative risks” and USA oriented thread, not a “nuclear reactors in Japan” thread.


    I’ve moved our discussion of some reactor specifics to my private archive as it is more like an email thread and, frankly, if I’m right, it provides a few too many clues to how to make “boom stuff” without needing hard technologies like heavy water, up-front reprocessing, enrichment, zirconium, etc. and I’d rather not leave those clues laying about…

  42. George says:

    It is too hard to put it in the proper context for people who have bought into the hype and mis-information that have been put out over the years.

    People were leaving Tokyo, for example to escape such a low dose of radiation that their flight out of the country resulted in receiving a greater dose than if they had stayed.

    These levels are above the “standards” but the standards for nuclear plants are at such low levels that it is practically ridiculous. Living down wind of a coal power plant exposes you to orders of magnitude more radiation than living right next to a nuclear power plant but radiation from coal is not regulated.

    The problem is that our measuring instruments are too sensitive. We shouldn’t even be telling people about radiation levels this low as it simply frightens them for no reason.

    Any idea how many people have been killed in non-nuclear industrial accidents since March 11? Probably a couple hundred. There has been nobody killed, nobody injured, and nobody sickened as a result of Fukushima. Heck, a woman was killed at a recycling plant in Washington the other day when a pile of plastic collapsed on her. Do we now need to shut down recycling plants?

  43. George says:

    What if there was a web site that showed daily the amount of arsenic in your town’s drinking water? People would be obsessing over it and worrying every time it went up a little bit even though it might be a million times below what is dangerous.

  44. E.M.Smith says:

    @Scarlet Pumpernickel:

    IMHO it’s a major power line going down. At about 20 seconds you get the flashes (that look just like other transpformers I’ve seen blow up – except this one does not have the “copper green” in it so I’d figure it has aluminum main power lines – i.e. big one…) and over the next 8 seconds you see the power failure propagate in as the buildings go dark.

    Color temp looks like the aluminum with steel core major cross country lines. The area that goes dark argues for a ‘big one’ as well. Little neighborhood lines are usually copper, for them you get a greenish “flash” toward the start or end. (I’ve seen a few).

  45. E.M.Smith says:


    My wife wanted to buy bottled water. I showed her the annual chemical analysis report that shows our town water is just great. She saw the word “arsenic” and wanted to buy bottled water…

    I’ve since shown her the data on ‘estrogen analogs’ from plastics used in making bottled water…

    We now have a home water filtration device to filter the tap water.

    It is made of plastic…

    I drink tap water.



  46. George says:

    It is simply impossible that there is any critical reaction taking place in those reactors. The evidence is pretty simple: temperature. A critical reaction would release a lot of heat, there simply isn’t enough heat to show a reaction and the temperatures show a level of heat that is perfectly consistent with normal decay heat:

    Unit 1:

    Feedwater nozzle temperature: 260.7C
    Reactor bottom head temperature: 118.6C

    Unit 2

    Feedwater nozzle temperature: 143.0C
    Reactor bottom head temperature: (indicator failure)

    Unit 3

    Feedwater nozzle temperature: 88.2C (possible malfunction of sensor)
    Reactor bottom head temperature: 110.8C

    Those temperatures are consistent with normal decay heat. Also, isotope analysis of vent gasses show only normal fission products expected. No products consistent with ongoing critical reaction have been noted.

    The state of the situation is basically this:

    The reactors shut down normally during the quake. The cooling systems shut down after the quake when the tsunami hit. There are challenges in getting the heat dissipated. There is apparently a leak of cooling water probably having to do with Unit 2 that has not yet been determined.

    With every passing day the heat generated by decay reduces as more material decays. The primary challenge at this point is cleaning up contaminated debris that scattered over the site as a result of the hydrogen explosions. As they get a grip on that contamination and get the contaminated water pumped and contained, they will be able to make better progress in restoring a sustainable heat dissipation regimen.

    You sound like you *want* this to be a criticality event or believe it is one but there is simply no evidence that it is. At the current time this is simply a temperature management and contamination cleanup event.

    This is an industrial accident that has basically harmed nobody so far and isn’t likely to harm anyone.

  47. George says:

    Note: the above isn’t to say that this isn’t going to be without its ongoing challenges. These reactors are “top loaded”. They are not going to be able to unload the fuel from those reactors until they get that debris currently in the refueling floor cleaned up. THAT is going probably take a year or more per unit. They will need to cut away all that steel, then rebuild a new shelter over that area in order to work. In other words, they are going to need to rebuild that top floor over the reactor containment and repair the walls in order to work in there.

  48. H.R. says:

    Well, well, well!

    The first picture, showing where the uranium is, shows up now and I’m smack dab in the middle of a hot spot. Does that mean my 87-year-old mother will only live to 106 instead of 116?

    If I live that long I’ll keep ya’ll posted ;o)

    @ George
    on 11 April 2011 at 4:58 am re: arsenic monitoing

    It’s not the arsenic that’s so worrying so much as the elevated dihydrogen monoxide levels. I’d have to check, but I think almost every town’s water supply has dihydrogen monoxide levels above the OSHA maximum PEL.

    Here’s the MSDS for it.

  49. BDAABAT says:

    FYI: The quote of “Over 20,000 deaths / year are attributed to Radon in the USA.” is one of those completely false numbers. Who exactly is attributing those cancer deaths to radon? MMMmmm? Where did those numbers come from? Do they have any basis in reality?

    Radon doesn’t seem to cause an increased cancer risk unless you happen to be a uranium miner, especially if you also happen to smoke cigarettes. :)

    Take a look at maps of where naturally occurring radon is found. Then take a look at cancer rates in those areas of the country. If radon was a significant factor in the development of cancers, one would expect to see a pattern of cancer cases that matched radon exposures. Its not there.

    And, it’s not like this issue hasn’t been studied… it has. Yet, the extrapolation from high dose radon exposures seen in old school uranium miners/mines is the basis for all of those estimates of radon induced cancer. And, it’s also the reason you now need a radon test when buying or selling a home. It’s another eco scam.


  50. PhilJourdan says:

    Makes sense that the highest concentrations are in the dry and rocky areas – wind erosion (it does not blow it out to sea – a river will carry it out to sea).

  51. tckev says:

    You may find this map of Japan and the nuclear radiation levels (reliability and accuracy is unknown) interesting (or not). Basically the radiation levels are mostly about normal background count.


    It’s updated every 10 minute.

  52. E.M.Smith says:


    Just quoting the government:


    Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked. On January 13, 2005, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the U.S. Surgeon General, issued a national health advisory on radon.

    I have no basis to dispute them. I’ve you’ve got a ‘counter link’ or other source, bring it. I’d love to know all those folks selling ‘ventilate your basement kits’ were bogus.


    Also where the rock is granite. Lots of U in granite… so dry wind and ice eroded granite. Think “Colorado” where all the greens go to bask in the high alpine high UV sun… and Las Vegas where they go to play…

    God I think God has a sense of humor some times ;-)


    Neat Site! I clicked on one of the stations, then clicked on the “over time” and picked a month… got a HUGE SPIKE about the time the reactor had issues, then noticed the scale was “nano Grays”…

    So 1000 nGy/h over a couple of hours is… not much.


    Call it 1000 mSv to be ill and assuming a Gy is about the same as Sv (modulo tissue non-response to some things) we’ve got about 1000 mGy to be an issue. And we’ve got 1 / hr. For about a day. 24 of them suckers. OK. Call me after it happens 20 more times and “we’ll talk” …

  53. BDAABAT says:

    Chief: Yep, that’s what EPA says. Unfortunately, it’s not really the whole story.

    The data they used for development of the risk assessment model was from uranium miners exposed to REALLY high doses of radon occupationally. These studies were done in the 1970s and 80s and looked at folks that had exposures that were pretty high… and not just exposures to radon… these were workers that had been exposed to all sorts of other nasties as part of the job and these guys worked in an era before regulations were stringently enforced. In addition, a lot of the guys working in the mines were smokers… and we know that radon + cigarettes is worse than radon alone. There actually is good science to demonstrate an increased risk from radon plus cigarettes and good science that shows WHY there would be an increased risk.

    But, those studies in uranium miners were the data that was available at the time, so the risk assessment process used that data. Oh, and they did some funky grouping of the populations that was procedurally suspect. :D

    In addition, they also decided a priori that the model they would use to assess risk from radon was a linear-no-threshold model.

    The LNT model assumes there isn’t a “safe” dose of the substance or dose at which there is no noticeable effect. What does this mean practically?

    Imagine that someone drinks a liter of whiskey at one time… just downs the whole bottle, and dies as a result. The LNT theory means that if that same dose of whiskey (1 L) is divided among 1,000 people (1/1,000 L or 1 ml), that some of those people exposed to the whiskey are going to be harmed from the exposure. The model used determines that there is no safe dose. It’s silly, but that’s the model that’s used.

    Umkay, so now what? The National Academy of Sciences report used this model and applied it to radon estimates from the US and came up with estimates for total number of folks that they expect will die each year from radon exposure.
    Here’s the link to the press release from the NAS report that has the estimates for deaths from radon:

    NOTE: These estimates are NOT based on scientific assessments of folks with usual household radon exposures, which would be a much more reasonable way of looking at the real risk of radon exposure. In fact, the NAS studiously ignored that data.

    And, there’s data that shows that the LNT theory doesn’t match the actual lung cancer incidence. LNT theory drammatically overestimates the incidence. Bernard Cohen has written a great deal on this (Cohen, Technology 2000; 7:657-672).

    In short, radon is another eco scam.


  54. Pingback: Dinosaurs, Liquid Stone, and Radioactivity | Musings from the Chiefio

Comments are closed.