Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Letters from Tokyo (Vol. 1)

Ever see that Clint Eastwood directed movie, "Letters from Iwo Jima"? It's a great movie. Today I'd like to send you "Letters from Tokyo" concerning the current situation.

Apologies to the folks who sent these mails. I've gotten a thousand emails in the last two days or so and have lost track of who sent these to me. Forgive me if I do not credit you.

These are all mails from people who have kept their wits about them. I will refrain from reprinting the scare mongering nonsense from CEO's in Tokyo (what does, say, a CEO of a burger stand know about nuclear energy know?): 

Letter #1 (from Tim):  

Everyone has to make up their own minds about what is best for themselves and their families. However, it is important top understand that the "high" levels of radiation being talked about are actually very low.

For example, if you leave Japan and fly to New York you'll expose yourself to about 64 microSv on the one-way flight. A level much, much higher than you will be exposed to by staying in Tokyo.

I don't want to belittle the seriousness of this accident, but even those who are living near the evacuation zone are in greater danger from temperature exposure and lack of clean water and medicine than they are from radiation.

Tim adds: They (radiation levels) seem to have spiked yesterday at 0.8 microSv/hour, but has dropped a lot since then. Even if that peak level was maintained, you would need more than three days of continuous exposure to equal the levels of the flight.

Scene from Letters from Iwo Jima

Letter #2 (from Jon):  

My father was in the industry in the seventies and sent this mail below to my brother, who was worried about me staying in Tokyo. It seemed a clear summary to me. Hope no more big quakes come anyway...


I've been following the nuclear reactor problems closely since the tsunami hit. 1: the cooling of the cores should be complete over the next few days (the 'explosions' were meant to be controlled de-pressurising of the steam heat-exchanges but they left it far too late in all three reactors) 2: the core reactor chambers are still pretty well intact 3: the steam issuing from the reactors has mainly contained low-level and shortlived caesium and iodine isotopes which have a half-life measured in days to years. Iodine tablets can block off nearly all the radioactive iodine preventing it from invading the thyroid 4: the winds for the next week will blow out mostly over the ocean - none will head towards Tokyo.

I believe the dangers have been exaggerated - all the reactors closed down their nuclear fission automatically when the earthquake happened- it's just the remaining heat from isotopes already created (and which break down quickly to stable elements while creating heat with gamma radiation - bad for the workers in the plant) which has to be dissipated over the next few days, hence the seawater cooling of exposed rods). It's still a monster cock-up that they could leave all the electric power generators and electronic control equipment exposed to tsunami flooding, so that all cooling and safety control valves became inoperative. But that will come out in the investigations.

So like Jon, I'm fairly cheerful about the nuclear reactor scene. The greatest risk is more aftershocks happening right under Tokyo - this risk should diminish over the next week or two. Most of my info is coming from the Japanese NHK World channel in English which I get on FreeSat, plus my usual weather sources.

Letter #3:

Early this morning, the US Embassy distributed this message from Ambassador Roos. If you have any questions, we recommend visiting the Embassy website at . The ACCJ will continue to provide updates posted on and in addition to emailing our members.

ACCJ Communications


March 15, 2011 02:30

Today our hearts remain with our Japanese friends who, after suffering this devastating tragedy just four days ago, have to undertake recovery and reconstruction and address the ongoing nuclear emergency.

We understand that many of you are anxious and have questions in the shadow of the Fukushima emergency, since we are in the midst of a complex, constantly changing, and unpredictable situation. In this fluid situation, our commitment to our citizens is to accumulate accurate information and assess it sufficiently in order to make important judgments.

Since the first reports of trouble with the reactors, American nuclear experts have worked around the clock to analyze data, monitor developments, and provide clear assessments on the potential dangers. While at times we have had only limited access to information, I am personally committed to assuring that our experts have as much access and information as possible, and the necessary resources to understand the situation. I have personally been deeply engaged in these efforts.

After a careful analysis of data, radiation levels, and damage assessments of all units at Fukushima, our experts are in agreement with the response and measures taken by Japanese technicians, including their recommended 20kms radius for evacuation and additional shelter-in-place recommendations out to 30kms.

Let me also address reports of very low levels of radiation outside the evacuation area detected by U.S. and Japanese sensitive instrumentation. This bears very careful monitoring, which we are doing. If we assess that the radiation poses a threat to public health, we will share that information and provide relevant guidance immediately.

The United States will continue to work around the clock to provide precise and up-to-date information supported by expert analysis to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and to help Japan in its time of great need. 

Letter #4:

I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:

* In case of a 'reasonable worst case scenario' (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples' health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.

* The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.

* The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children - for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).

* The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.

* If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors' cores cool down.

* Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.

* This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.

* The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons - structural damage or possible new quakes - but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.

* Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.

The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.

Let's hope the experts are right!

Letter #5:

Just FYI, CNN fellow (Sanjay Gupta) relocated up to Akita, around 250km north of Fukushima, and put on a personal radiation monitor … which said nothing unusual over the past 48 hours, and nothing meaningfully above normal background radiation levels.  He and the other guy on the ground, Anderson Cooper, have been pretty good in their coverage on the ground in the Tohoku disaster area.  

Some of the other announcers on CNN are being a bit sensational, obviously trying to drum up and maintain attention on their channel.  Eliot Spitzer, who is a visiting announcer or something now, even contradicted himself saying the Nikkei was down this morning, then realized that it was in fact up.

A lot of people still very nervous though: the Fukushima situation does not seem to be under control yet, and the typical mumbling by Tepco and government officials is does not inspire confidence. 

Anyway, stay safe over there Mike. Will let you know if anything interesting pops up in the foreign media. 

Lastly someone else, a foreigner living in Japan who can speak, read & write Japanese quite well summed up the difference between the western media and the Japanese media. He wrote something like, "The Japanese language media have done a pretty good job of reporting on the facts on the ground. The foreign media are definitely involved in sensationalist reporting. In Tokyo, businesses and schools are all open. The trains are running. Stores are still short on supplies but things are getting back to normal. If you watch the Japanese language news, you'd know this.... If you watched the English language news, you too, Mike, would probably run for the hills."



Andy "In Japan" said...

Gasoline supplies are better in Akita today than they were yesterday. Still, not great, but better.

Sadly, the dopes who run the power company can't manage to explain to people what is going on. Naturally, rumor mongering and scare stories fill the vacuum.

What is clear is that nuclear power would never exit without government subsidy. No insurance is available on the private market and we are seeing that the entire process is too dangerous.

Don't believe me? I have a car for sale you might want to drive. You can shut it off right away in an emergency, but after the engine goes off, it accelerates to 200 mph for the following 10 days. It'll explode if you don't release poison gas, and causes a hydrogen gas explosion when you do release the poison. Just like a nuclear reactor.

JT said...

"The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward..." -Letter #4

That is what is going to happen with Japan, right? If the bad situation occurs. Japan has something like 130 million people and is about the size of California. Things could get really bad when you consider the current shortages. Benevolence is a must.

I wanted to go to Nihonmatsu this year...

JT said...

Fukushima No. 1 plant

— Reactor No. 1 - Cooling failure, partial melting of core, vapor vented, building damaged Saturday by hydrogen explosion, seawater being pumped in.

— Reactor No. 2 - Cooling failure, seawater being pumped in, fuel rods fully exposed temporarily, vapor vented, building damaged Monday by blast at Reactor No. 3, damage to containment vessel on Tuesday, potential meltdown feared.

— Reactor No. 3 - Cooling failure, partial melting of core feared, vapor vented, seawater being pumped in, building damaged Monday by hydrogen explosion, high-level radiation measured nearby on Tuesday, plume of smoke observed Wednesday, damage to containment vessel likely.

— Reactor No. 4 - Under maintenance when quake struck, fire Tuesday possibly caused by hydrogen explosion at pool holding spent fuel rods, pool water level not observed, fire observed Wednesday at building housing reactor, no water poured in to cool pool.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Yes, These things are happening. But what does it mean? Here's your answers. Nuclear Crisis Data and Facts Versus Unfounded Rumors. You Decide! Easy Explanation:

DeMatty (USA) said...

Mike, thank you for posting this information. It gives much needed perspective.

Despite our complete reliance on modern scientific knowledge and its application most people are ignorant of even basic science. Many probably believe that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. And are unaware that they get a dose every time they have an x-ray or go outside.

Keep the updates coming. You are providing a great service.

You seem to be very well prepared and informed. Not sure how I can help (I am in the US) but, if you need anything post it on the blog and I'll try help.

RYO said...

Anderson cooper is now in Japan ! kind of exciting, but as you point out American media AC included is down for sensationalism bit to much. If this is US, the guys working in power plant now is treated as hero and Hollywood movies made around of it for sure..

I just can not help myself of recalling the line of Dirty Harry since you put up picture of him.

In situation like this he should say
〝I know what you're thinking. "Did it explode six or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a nuclear the most powerful thing in the world, and would blow japan clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

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