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skfinkel's avatar

Do you think that when the California radiation detectors begin working again, the radiation levels will be much higher?

Asked by skfinkel (13526points) March 26th, 2011

And if so, will they tell us? And isn’t this an odd time to have so many radiation detectors not working? Seriously!

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28 Answers

12Oaks's avatar

Not a tic.

chyna's avatar

I think that is quite the “coincidence” that so many detectors are not working at one time. No one has mentioned just buying new ones? Hmmm…

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Not be too harsh but California, IMHO, is “outa business”, there are money shortages through out the the infrastructure there.

Yes, someone should buy new detectors.

skfinkel's avatar

Perhaps it is just an out of money and people issue—but what timing!

funkdaddy's avatar

From a quick read, 4 of 11 automated detection stations were down and were replaced with portable units for the time being. So ⅔ have been working, the detection system isn’t “down”.

It’s like the automated weather stations your local news uses. They use a network of several stations so you can see differences but there’s not usually a huge difference from one to the next.

While radiation detection equipment isn’t as common as a thermometer or barometer, it’s not that rare either. Most universities and a lot of research labs have the equipment that’s needed. It sounds like the stations are generally surveyed and maintained by volunteers probably from those same organizations, so you have fellow citizens watching out for you.

What would be the advantage of misleading people if there was genuine danger?

Qingu's avatar

No, and what’s more, I think it’s irresponsible and dangerous to suggest that there will be higher radiation levels.

That is not how radioactivity works. Radioactivity is a well-understood scientific phenomenon. The radioactivity coming from Japan, even if gets a lot worse over there, will almost completely dissipate over the Pacific. What’s left will be about as harmful as what you get from sunlight.

And it’s irresponsible to suggest otherwise because idiots in California might start buying iodine pills when people in Japan actually need that medicine. There’s a limited supply, and causing a panic over an ignorant understanding of science diverts resources from where they’re needed.

If you’re like to get a sense of what counts as “dangerous” when it comes to radioactivity, look at this chart from xkcd.

jerv's avatar

@Qingu Actually, I don’t think you can get iodine pills here in Seattle any more; there was a run on them a couple of weeks ago.

But tell me, when have facts (especially scientific ones) affected the opinions of the majority of the US population?

Qingu's avatar

Never much really, but that doesn’t absolve individuals of the moral responsibility to keep a cool head in the midst of hysteria.

skfinkel's avatar

@funkdaddy @Qingu: I think we all are saddened for the Japanese, and hope like anything that the radiation is dissipating over the ocean and all the bad radioactive wastes that we hear might be leaking out of the reactor aren’t really leaking, and if they do, somehow can be contained and won’t be allowed to get back into the ocean where the fish and other animals live. And, that the workers who are so courageously trying to fix this thing will not be exposed to so much radiation that they die.

Much of my concern comes from a rupture of trust of “authorities.” I have come to suspect that they might be more interested in not having people panic than in the actual care of the people. Since radiation can’t be seen or felt, we have to rely on what we are told about what might harm us (or our children). And the harm from whatever radiation the population will get will be hard to interpret: some more cancers for some people in ten, fifteen, thirty years. Easy to put people’s minds at ease, since that is what we all want, anyway—to hear that everything is all right. We are told the radiation coming our way is “much less than would hurt you,” which would be nice, but rings a bit hollow when we learn that those reports are based on data from March 18th. Much has happened since, and I am surprised that there are no readings from the whole of last week in CA.

The “authorities” all over don’t have a sterling record about making sure the majority of people are all right. For example, in Japan, do you really think that it makes sense to tell people just to stay inside their houses with their windows closed rather than leave? It reduces the panic factor. Days later, in a quiet way, they are now told to leave. And those people were also told that they would be safe near a nuclear reactor….this accident was never supposed to happen. Of course, people living near nukes world wide are told the same thing, and all will be subject to the same calamitous result in the case of an accident, a natural disaster or whatever, but we are assuaged by the promises that it is all just fine, and we shouldn’t worry, shouldn’t panic, it can’t happen here.

On the potassium iodide pills, which were bought up immediately in the entire USA, perhaps that is a sign that the population doesn’t completely trust that the government will make sure to take care of them in an emergency. Why is there is not an over-supply of these pills in Japan, just for this kind of disaster? I would hope that our government is keeping a stockpile in all the neighborhoods near our nuclear reactors, just in case.

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel “Of course, people living near nukes world wide are told the same thing, and all will be subject to the same calamitous result in the case of an accident, a natural disaster or whatever, but we are assuaged by the promises that it is all just fine, and we shouldn’t worry, shouldn’t panic, it can’t happen here.”
Not really. I grew up about ten miles from a nuclear plant and their attitude was more along the lines of, “We probably won’t have any problems, but if we do then here is what you need to do…”. In other words, they did acknowledge that something could happen and had plans just in case, and part of that plan was letting everyone know how far away they should drive if the shit hit the fan.

skfinkel's avatar

@jerv : I am glad to hear you had that plan. How far did they tell you to drive? I know people who live close to nukes who don’t have a clue exactly where they are, or how far they are really from them, and there is certainly no plan about what to do if anything untoward did happen.

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel It’s been a while since I lived there, but I believe it was 25 miles (40km). The postcard they sent out every year had a map with colored circles showing you how far and which way to go. For us, it was almost due North.

Qingu's avatar

@skfinkel, I find your blanket distrust of the “authorities” to be childish.

It’s fine to be skeptical, but you need to have some basis to be skeptical. You don’t appear to know much of anything about the science behind radioactivity. For example, you seem to doubt that staying indoors during release of radioactive plumes will make you safe. It will. Radioactivity is spread by tiny particulates in the air. If they don’t get on your body—which is the danger when it comes to iodine, cesium, and other materials that your body readily absorbs—they don’t hurt you.

Now clearly, governments (particularly the Soviets during Chernobyl) have lied in the past when it comes to nuclear disasters. But we know they were lying because of scientific facts. You cannot base your worldview simply on paranoia and simply believe the opposite of whatever the authorities say. You need to base your worldview on scientific facts… and if the authorities say something that appears to contradict those, then you should be skeptical.

Qingu's avatar

And I’m sorry if that comes off as harsh but like I said, this is a case where panicking, overreacting, and being hysterical without any respect for scientific facts can actually cause harm.

mattbrowne's avatar

Much higher only for imported sushi made from fish roaming the ocean near Fukushima.

Our instruments can pick up a very very very very tiny increase. These instruments would have gone berserk in the US during the time of nuclear weapons testing decades ago

So please, keep things in perspective.

skfinkel's avatar

@Qingu @mattbrowne
The fact that I am still in CA means that I am not over-reacting. They now say there is some radioactivity in milk. If I had an infant, I would not let her drink that milk— even though, we are hearing this presents “no problem.” Maybe it does present no problem. Perhaps it is an excess of caution. Sadly, I don’t completely trust the authorities about this. What we often hear a year or two after the fact that things were worse than we knew at the time.

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel There is radioactivity everywhere. The air, the soil, everything you eat, drink, or breathe, etcetera. Why do you think we learned how to measure it and how much it takes to harm a person. A few micro-Sieverts won’t hurt.
Have you ever had an X-ray? Been in a building made of stone or brick? If you are scared of the radioactivity found so far in CA then you should be more worried that you have already ben irradiated just by living on Earth.
There is cause for concern, but nothing to be truly worried about.

skfinkel's avatar

@jerv: I am not scared or worried about myself—I am too old to have issues about something that may cause problems in 30 years. I am concerned about my children and grandchildren, however. Of course, I have had many x-rays, CT scan, live in the world, fly all over all the time. I presume that all of this does accumulate in some way—each one not being a problem by itself, but over time, who knows. I, like many other baby boomers, also grew up while they were having above-air bomb tests, and I suspect this will be affecting us in various ways over the next ten years. I already lost my husband to cancer—and we don’t know why he got it, but the world is a toxic place. My concern, and frankly it does feel quite like spitting in the wind, is to protect young children if possible.

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel I understand and agree with that. All I am saying is that you should look at the numbers. It’s not about whether there is radioactivity, but rather how much there is compared to what the safe limit is. We have radioactive cows here in WA but the radiation levels are barely elevated and not enough to harm even an infant.

skfinkel's avatar

@jerv And I understand what you are saying, and I agree with you about looking at the numbers. (It would be easier if they were made available—all we get here (in CA) are assurances that everything is okay.) All right, I am going with that. I guess my real issue is that there is some disagreement on what the “safe” limits are—it always seems like a moving target, constantly being revised, always a bit worse than they thought.

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel I guess having gone to a school that specifically dealt with nuclear reactors gives me a slight advantage. Knowledge is power while uncertainty leads to either fear and/or blind trust. The big reason that they generally don’t publish the numbers is that few people know what they mean; Sieverts, rads, roentgen… all Greek to most people. I agree that it would be nice if they put those numbers out so that people might bother to learn what they mean, but c’est la vie.

skfinkel's avatar

@jerv Yes, you are ahead of the game if you went to school and learned about nuclear reactors. And yes, uncertainty does not feel good, ever. Have you heard of another kind of nuclear power which does not involved plutonium, that they never developed because they wanted to fuel bombs (early on, anyway)? My son has mentioned these to me, and perhaps you know of them?

jerv's avatar

@skfinkel There are a few different kinds, and more are in the theory or prototypes stage. Additionally, some use Plutonium as fuel. More accurately, they use Uranium to make energy, some of it turns to Plutonium which then undergoes fission and thus creates more energy while destroying the Plutonium. In fact, much of the energy from many reactors comes from Plutonium-239.
There was a type of reactor (IFR, or Integral Fast Reactor) that used spent fuel from other reactors to fuel itself but Congress slashed it’s funding in 1994. That is sad since it was considered the best Gen IV reactor design out of a field of 19 candidates. The closely related SFR (Sodium-cooled Fast Reactor) is on the drawing board, but I doubt that they will come around any time soon. Why spend money on newer, better, cleaner reactors when you can just use the old ones, jack up energy costs, and pocket the profits?

skfinkel's avatar

I like the rosetta stone label on one of those pages. That’s what we will need, if these things have to be protected for a million years.

Who are you? I see from Washington——are you connected with Hanford?

mattbrowne's avatar

@skfinkel – Evolution has made sure that living beings have learned to deal with the tiny levels of natural radioactivity. There’s a repair mechanism in place. Our immune systems deal with it. But they can’t deal with our eating Japanese fish full of iodine-131.

mattbrowne's avatar

@jerv – Human hubris can become a problem. Remember what the engineers of the Titanic told everyone before its maiden journey. There might be an 8-inch crack in the unit #2 containment. It’s risky technology especially when built near the Pacific Rim of Fire. Tepco is one of the most reckless companies on our planet. We need a debate about their behavior.

In 2005 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEO) issued a warning asking engineers to “re-examine the potential dangers to nuclear power plants in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that struck the Indian Ocean in December 2004, triggering a massive tsunami.”

“India’s Kalpakkam nuclear power plant withstood the giant waves, which engulfed its small township, home to India´s center for atomic research. Battered but safe, the plant shut down automatically after detectors tripped it as the water level rose. There was no release of radioactivity. The reactor was restarted 1 January 2005, six days after the catastrophic waves struck India´s east coast.

“There are scores of nuclear power plants operating in coastal areas and some of these may need to take a renewed look at this external hazard,” IAEA Director of Nuclear Power, Mr. Akira Omoto said. “It is also true for plants presently under construction.” It is common for nuclear power plants to be built in coastal areas, drawing the seawater to cool the reactor.

Specialists from around the world will scrutinize the potential impact of natural disasters on nuclear reactors, at the IAEA organized International Workshop on External Flooding Hazards at Nuclear Power Plant Sites.”

And what happened in Fukushima, Japan?

Answer: Nothing.

Tepco even tried to cover up existing problems leading to a huge scandal in Japan.

Given the Japanese history and the 2004 tsunami experience, I think Tepco’s behavior (and that of the Japanese government) was reckless to say the least. That’s gross negligence.

Please @jerv, don’t defend reckless behavior. If you wish to promote nuclear power be also critical when safety concerns are being ignored.

jerv's avatar

@mattbrowne If they were/are reckless then they are giving nuclear power a, undeservedly bad rep. That said, I think that right now isn’t the time to go after them, at least not too hard; the more money they have, the more they can kick in towards damage control and cleanup. Hopefully this will lead to regulatory changes made so that reactors must be built to a certain standard higher than the Fukushima reactors, and I would welcome them.

Nuclear power is risky, and it’s definitely not a place for cost-cutting, corner-cutting, laziness, or incompetence. I don’t like people who drive with a cellphone glued to their ear, I don’t like automakers compromising the integrity or reliability of their vehicles in order to save a few bucks in production costs, and I don’t like lax regulation of nuclear power. I am a proponent of nuclear power because I know it can be done safely with minimal ecological impact (especially the newer reactor types) but do not mistake that for me liking the way the nuclear power industry operates.

Though you and I have a rather extensive history of opposing views on nuclear power, this is one issue that you and I are in total agreement on.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, @jerv, Tepco is giving nuclear power undeservedly worse reputation. Far worse than necessary. Let’s use airlines as a comparison. Flying is risky, but it’s a risk most people are willing to take (like driving cars which is even riskier). But most worldclass airlines are doing everything to minimize this risk. Pilots get extra training to handle difficult airports for example.

Yet there are black sheep and they are being blacklisted in Europe and North America (which means they can’t use any of our airports). We can’t allow black sheep to transport unsuspecting passengers. We want to protect our people. The Pacific Ring of Fire and nuclear power plants there deserve extra attention.

Tepco is a black sheep. They have cheated and lied over years long before the accident (the Japanese government being far too nice to them). They have ignored IAEO warnings about tsunamis. And the Japanese population has let them. Protests don’t seem to be part of their culture.

‘Dr Masashi Goto criticised his country’s record on nuclear safety: “We have the government commission overseeing nuclear safety standards and in my opinion they are not doing their job,” he told ABC correspondent Eric Campbell. Dr Goto alleges that in Japan’s nuclear industry profits take precedence over safety standards.

“No-one says it officially or openly. When setting standards for future earthquakes, the thought is of money – how much is it going to cost?” he said. “This underlies the government’s decision making. They are thinking the costs could have a bad repercussion on the economy.” ’

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