This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Radiation is a scary thing. The level of faith involved when dealing with it is high. I keep telling people that I would live in this town if provided enough money to do so AND if it was pretty clear that resources would be available. I would find a house high enough in the hills to not be in the line of the next Tsunami, but I wouldn't be overly worried about the direct effects of the radiation. Of course looking at the plume maps, it appears that the place to avoid would be out in the ocean...
You never want to treat radiation casually. Then again, you should never treat any body of water casually either.
As humorous as discussions of plastic tarps and duct tape were in recent years as a means of defense against biologic and radiologic attack, the power of 3mils of plastic should not be laughed at too heavily. 3 mils of plastic can be the difference between freezing to death and relative comfort. One of the greater dangers of these types of events is particulate emissions floating in your direction. While it is always possible that they will sneak past the defenses, any sort of shelter can defend you to a large extent.
Saw this in quotables --
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear."
- Mark Twain
I would not say that summarizes the editorial line of the Mail itself, but rather the personal opinion of the science editor, Michael Hanlon.
I have been disgusted in recent days at the extreme sensationalizing and alarmism of the Mail's coverage of the events at the ********* Daichi power plant.
I have seen other pro-nuclear people trying to use the line that these events are either an endorsement of nuclear power or that they are testament to its safety. I sympathize a little with this view. Almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and yet no one has yet been killed by radiation.
I think instead those seeking to promote nuclear power to the public should just stick to pointing out the distortions and inaccuracies in the press coverage. Because this event has in fact been bad for the image of nuclear power. It is not possible to argue, I do not think, that with several large explosions, destroyed reactor outer buildings and measurable leaks of radiation that things have been kept under control.
On the theme of the sensationalist journalism which tends to accompany the covering of the nuclear accident in Japan, I noticed some Canadian blogger who lives in Japan has tried to do something about it by starting up a 'Wall of Shame' to name and shame bad journalists. This blog post called "Why Bad Journalism Has Driven Me To Desperate Ends" gives details:
When I worked in the UK nuclear industry in the 1980s and 1990s, one thing that slightly surprised me was that the nuclear industry seemed to have no interest in cultivating any friends in the news media. All sorts of rubbish got written in newspapers without any nuclear industry spokesperson turning up to rebut it. They used to have a reasonably good relationship with the press in the 1950s and 1960s, and it wasn't particularly adversely affected by a nuclear accident at Windscale in 1957, but after the Green movement kicked into existence about 1970 the industry began to regard the press as a 'lost cause', likely to be hostile towards them. The nuclear industry's strategy for dealing with the Green movement was just to hope that they would go out of fashion (a bit like the 'Campaign for Real Ale' (CAMRA) pressure group which was really big in the 1970s but then faded into obscurity).
But after watching the coverage of the Japan nuclear accident I think I can see why the nuclear industry more or less ignored the press. It's much simpler for the news media to adopt the Green apocalyptic view of nuclear power as it sells more newspapers and boosts TV ratings than by taking a more moderate 'don't panic' line. I think the nuclear industry was quite right to believe they would be wasting their time in trying to win over the press.
Japan is now at the stage where, barring any further major incidents, the reactors are now under control. Obviously they now face the onerous task of placing the reactors into a safe state and will later have to decommission them.
Despite all of the scaremongering it appears likely that the deaths attributable to the reactor failures will be minimal especially compared to the tsunami deaths. Some other people will have suffered the effects of a heavy dosage of radiation but the majority appear to be unaffected. Crops and water in a defined area will also be affected.
I do not wish to minimise the effects on individuals but, in overall terms, the reactor failures were a non-event with only local consequences. The safety of nuclear power has been proved by this event.
Thanks David for the links given on this topic,(and belated thanks for the link given re the horse electrocution).
I nearly dropped my cork leg when I read George's latest piece on the Grauniad CiF~ "Why *********** made me stop worrying and come to love Nuclear Power."
And a very interesting link to xkcd.com
I don't believe it!
PS> Why all those stars for the name of the Power Station? Anywaysup,you know where I mean!
This is an event of monumental proportions, and clearly expresses the extreme danger of nuclear power. Petroleum tank farms and refineries might be subject to explosion, and have a local effect, but when a nuke power plant goes through a melt-down, the world-wide consequences are large indeed.
Thorium pellet-bed nuke power-plants are the best way to go for producing electricity, but still far more expensive than coal.
But for transportation uses, only petroleum-based fuels work at all well, and coal-fired power plants are by far the least costly for production of electricity.
CO2 is required for the building blocks of green plant life . . . as in the food we eat. More would be better.
You mention the "extreme danger" of nuclear power, and you suggest that the ideal replacement would be coal. Have you any idea the rate at which people are killed in coal mining accidents, and how many have in fact been killed in the past by coal mining? I will give you a hint that the figure dwarfs that of those killed by civilian nuclear power generation, in a manner similar to how a mountain dwarfs a moal hill.
Also, the grave world wide consequences of the ********* accident have only been psychological, and the grave physical effects only local.
Thank you Andrew. I agree with all you have said here.
I would add that the 100 years generally quoted to make the plant safe is approximately equivalent to the period normally quoted for decommissioning of a nuclear power plant. This period allows time for the radioactivity to decay considerably before final dismantling. Therefore there is noting unusual in the time to make the plant fully safe.
In reply to Edward, I must admit to being taken aback by Monbiot declaring himself as a supporter of nuclear power after Fµkµshima. However it wasn't 100% unexpected, I remember back in 2005 or 2006 James Lovelock announced that there were several prominent British environmentalists who secretly supported the idea of using nuclear power to keep CO2 emissions down, but they could not go as far as declaring it in public. Monbiot was rumoured to be one of these secret supporters, and that did made some sort of sense, as Monbiot is one of the few British environmentalists who makes some sort of attempt to study things for himself rather than just parroting the views of others. Then in 2008 Monbiot declared that he was no longer opposed to nuclear power, and favoured it over coal. He now appears to have come completely out of the closet, so to speak. But I'm not sure what this does to Monbiot's career as the Guardian's top environmental journalist, I would have thought his days are numbered as it's almost part of the job description of being an environmental journalist to be anti-nuclear.
This issue of the Greenies being predominantly anti-nuclear reminds me of an issue regarding AGW sceptics that has puzzled me for years. Quite a lot of AGW sceptics are very keen on the terminolgy 'CAGW' where the C stands for catastrophic, it's in quite common use by commenters on AGW sceptic blogs and sometimes AGW sceptic bloggers use the terminology as well. I think I can see the idea behind it, it is probably intended to cover people like Bjorn Lomborg who is obviously not an AGW sceptic but could be more accurately described as a CAGW sceptic as he didn't (until about a year or so ago) want to spend any money on it, preferring to spend the money on other more worthwhile causes. The problem with the terminology is that most Greenies (apart from a few like Monbiot) are also in effect CAGW sceptics, as they clearly regard nuclear power as being a bigger threat to mankind than rising CO2 levels, otherwise they would be agreeable to its use in 'fighting climate change'. In Greenie world the current global fleet of nuclear power plants is a catastrophe in itself, and they think the population of the world is at risk from a 'meltdown' or just about any sort of radioactive release from any of these plants.