Surviving the Rip Tides

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.” – W. C. Fields

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Alva Edison

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” – Albert Einstein

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson

There are so many metaphors that can be used for striving, and surviving in life. The ‘current’ of the ‘river of life’, ‘arms like wings’ riding the currents of wind, etc. All these metaphors are just ways of translating ideas, ideals, and concepts to aid us in this blind journey through life. And it is a blind journey as none of us can see into the future. Oh sure we can plan, and prepare for what we see as the most potential dangers that beset us. But all of life really is an assessment of the dangers of the present. This ‘risk assessment’ is something that we all do, though mostly subconsciously. When you are at an intersection you (hopefully!) look both ways before you pull out. So you see a car coming, immediately you assess; how fast it’s going, and knowing the performance your car you determine the odds of successfully negotiating the action. You may not realize you are doing this, but you are. Here’s another example:

Let’s say you are using a riding lawn mower on a yard that you are not quite familiar with. Going across the yard you encounter a rather steep slope of which you will be crossing perpendicularly. You stop, and assess the slope, and thinking of your mower you make a mental decision whether to go ahead, or to stop and do something different. This is where life’s decisions come to a head. You go forward and one of three things can happen: one is that there is no problem; the second is that you roll over and tumble down the slope, and the third is that the mower tilts up and to ‘that point’ and pauses. At that time, your mind is racing, and you realize you are in terrible danger. So either the mower continues over and you tumble down, or it slowly lowers back to the ground. At this point you have learned a valuable lesson. Well hopefully you have learned a lesson. And this will affect how you make future decisions.

Often we make decisions for the absolutely wrong reasons: In the lawnmower example (which is anecdotal by the way) perhaps it’s laziness, thinking “I just want to get this over and done”, and merely changing your mowing pattern takes too long, so you don’t. When negotiating traffic perhaps it’s that you need to be somewhere and didn’t allow enough time. Whatever, sometimes we don’t always think things through. And often times this is all based on our attitude. The bar fight started because one guy just didn’t “like” another guy. (See Abe’s quote above.) I could continue on with coming up with examples, but really it should be obvious that it is our ‘attitude’ that affects our decision making skills.

Attitude, the psychological term not the geometrical orientation along a plane (as in the attitude of the lawnmower about to tip over in the example above), is what I think affects so much of our decision making processes. Jung defined attitude as the “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”, which fits this hypothesis perfectly. I have always considered the ‘frame of mind’ as the fulcrum of the decision making scale, but Jung’s definition of attitude relates this concept to attitude. There have been many arguments and theories about what affects attitude, and perhaps one’s attitude is based on social, environmental, and genetic influences. I know that I have recognized that my attitude has been influenced by all of these factors. Growing up I had certain factors that were both experience and environment based that affected my attitude; both my decision making ability, and my opinions about the things in my life. In retrospect I can look at how I’ve lived my life and I can clearly see that my decision making paradigm was completely influenced by my attitude at the time. And that is a bit scary, because, though my attitude has changed radically in my lifetime, there are parts of my attitude that I see haven’t changed. I would like to think that I am an erudite person who calmly calculates the risks with everything that comes into and through the purview of my life… but I can assure you that many decisions I make are purely gut decisions. So generally I am nothing more than one big dumb muscle blindly responding to whatever stimuli happens to come within my reach. But… one thing that a big dumb muscle doesn’t have is introspection and awareness, and though I do not claim to be an intellect, I do try to judge myself and be aware. This is the biggest step to monitoring and trying to keep your attitude trimmed. (I’m using ‘trim’ as the spatial term here.) I have heard the phrase “your attitude affects your altitude”, and this is how trimming your attitude comes into play. Keeping one’s attitude positive is how we do this. Now on to this topic…

Maintaining a positive attitude is much easier said than done. I do believe that the attitude is built out of social, environmental and genetic influences. Genetic influence to attitude is something that we cannot modify. Sorry. Social and environmental influences are what we have to work with. Social is the easiest, if you hang around positive people then your attitude (especially when you are with them) will tend to be positive. For me, I tend to shy away from people who live at the ends of the spectrum; tea partiers, and ultra-liberal hate mongers always ‘bring me down’. Sorry Eeyore, but you’re bringing me down man. My mom used to call it “dwelling” as in “don’t dwell on that for too long or you’ll just want to cry.” So let’s not hang around cave ‘dwellers’. This leaves us with environmental influences, which is much harder to define. It is possible to argue that environmental and social are the same, but I feel that social more directly deals with the people you associate with and environmental is more the ‘situations’ you get into. But I do agree that social and environmental are closely related, the environmental situations you get yourself into will often either be driven by the people you hang around, and conversely, the people you hang around will often get you into situations! But I’m using environmental to define specifically one’s; financial situation, living situation, romantic situation, and etc. All of these are generally easy to ferret out. If you are upside in your car or home, your attitude will most definitely be negatively affected. Marry the wrong person… Standby by my friend, by you are going for an attitude ride. I’ll leave you all to fill in all the other examples for yourself.

So, what do we do? How do we proceed? Well, my friend, Tony Robbins I’m not. I can’t tell you what to do or how to do it. But I can say that here is what I’ve come up with: Think about what you are doing, and what you are going to do. Use risk assessment like I described above. Be careful who you associate with, or if you have certain friends or relatives who are ‘negative Neds/Nellies’ don’t subscribe to their attitudes. If you have negative friends or relatives who are argumentative, don’t argue. Be true to yourself, and be honest with yourself. Is it really important to get so worked up over a football game, or which cell phone carrier you use? Seriously, not a single multi-millionaire football player cares about you, and for the love of God not one damn company in the universe actually cares about you, you are nothing more than a tiny blip on a spreadsheet on someone’s computer.

Now this is what drove me to write this article… Do your best to adhere to a Zen mind.  To minimize; wants, desires, and cravings. To completely get into whatever it is you are doing, ‘walk while walking’. When you drive, drive. (Don’t text, daydream, or argue with the wife/husband.) I am new to this Zen idea, but am completely enthralled with the concept. What a way to become an empty vessel, and if you’re ‘empty’ then how can there be turmoil? Feel free to leave (hopefully constructive) comments. But if you think I’m just another idiot with a blog… ummm that will negatively affect my attitude. Sorry.

As you were.

Fukushima Radioactivity Release Estimates Pt. 1

Further information concerning the truth in the Fukushima accident.

You can’t be distracted by the noise of misinformation. – James Daly

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) now says 770,000 terabecquerels escaped into the atmosphere following the 11 March disaster – more than double its earlier estimate of 370,000 terabecquerels.

Although the amount is just 15% of the total released at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 – the world’s worst nuclear disaster – it suggests the contamination of the area around the plant is worse than first thought, says the BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo.

We are now starting to get some better information out of TEPCO and the Japanese government. 770,000 terabecquerels converts to twenty million curies. This is a lot of radioactivity. And the correct term for what is being release is radioactivity, not radiation. The radioactivity releases energy, radiation, as it undergoes radioactive decay. So radiation must have a source, and it’s this source that is ‘leaking’ or being released from where it’s supposed to be contained. Imagine your kitchen after your children made you biscuits from scratch. The flour all over your kitchen is the ‘contamination’ and if it were radioactive, it would be radioactive contamination. Fortunately flour is only a nuisance. Or better yet, if you had a balloon full of cesium 131 powder, there would be radiation emitted from the balloon (well, the cesium in the balloon). But you could put the balloon under a lead blanket and all would be alright. But if you pop the balloon, the cesium powder will fly out all over the place. And it’s all still emitting radiation, but now rather than being contained in a balloon, it’s all over the room, all over you, and unless you held your breath, all IN you! This isn’t good. So kids… take care of your cesium balloons!

But I am still looking for a breakdown of the amounts of each radioactive isotope released, as this is of great importance. Imagine if I told you that someone had spilled twenty gallons of liquid in your kitchen? If it were twenty gallons of water, you’d just be worried about water damage, but what if it were twenty gallons of liquid chlorine, or twenty gallons of hydrochloric acid? So ‘what kind’ of radioactivity released is important. True that any release radioactivity is not good, but some types of radioactivity are worse than others. I’m going to try to put this twenty million curies of radioactivity into some sort of perspective, but first here is something I stumbled on while researching this post. (Please be advised that I have not found any supporting references for this yet, and it’s from an anti-nuclear website.)

In 1945, 550,000 curies of radioactive iodine were released at Hanford, exposing 150 million Americans to more than 4 billion picocuries per capita of this lethal radionuclide, an amount comparable to releases from Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history – which resulted in a 200 fold increase in thyroid cancer in that area.

The above is an interesting find, and I’ll try to see if I can glean any other evidence out of it. But for now, here are some ways to put the radioactivity released into some sort of perspective:

  • A typical home smoke alarm has about 1 microcurie of usually Americium-241. So Fukushima is equivalent to about  twenty billion smoke detectors.
  • Using the ‘banana equivalent dose’ that some organizations do, assuming a typical banana contains 0.5 nanocuries of Potassium-41, and that a banana weighs 150 grams: 6.6 trillion tons of bananas. (Ok, this got so mind boggling my math might be off. But it sure looks impressive.)
  • Here’s a good source of information for comparisons of radioactivity:
  • And here is another excellent resource for some of our Department of Energy’s cache of radioactive sources.

Again, I am waiting for an itemized estimate of the released isotopes before this can be truly categorized.

Let’s all be informed, and don’t just rely on me, ferret all this out for yourself too!

As you were.

BBC News – German nuclear review throws up new problems

Simple mathematics.

P = (N + F + W + S) + I

P = power consumption.
N = nuclear generated power.
F = fossil fuel generated power.
W = wind generated power.
S = solar generated power.
I = “imported” power. And this power’s source is an unknown, but probably cheapest possible.

If P is to remain constant, and nuclear power is to be minimized or reduced to 0 the following is true:

F, W, and S must increase proportionally to maintain P constant.
– AND/OR –
I must increase.

BBC News – German nuclear review throws up new problems.

There’s always a rub. In this day and age when our world’s energy consumption is rising at an alarming rate, and with the NIMBY attitude held by… well held by everyone, where is the solution? What is the end game in this dangerous game of chess with the environment, and the world’s citizens who do not have voices?

Regardless of your political, or idealistic thoughts on nuclear power, it is important to look at all aspects of the energy picture.

Just after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in March, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a review of energy policy and ordered Germany’s oldest reactors to be shut down immediately, and perhaps permanently.

Only a few months earlier, she had decided to keep the reactors running past their original shutdown dates.

But only now comes the hard bit. Power companies have warned of higher prices because of the shutdown; Germany has imported electricity to meet peaks in demand; analysts have warned that coal-fired power stations will be boosted – and nuclear ones in the nearby Czech Republic and France.

And right in the heart of the country, protest groups are raising their voices as they realise that rejigging a country’s energy industry means redirecting the transmission lines through their picturesque backyard.

This is the problem. First a knee-jerk reaction because of the terrible accident at Japan’s Fukushima reactor sites. I think a reaction is important, and required, but to categorically make decision of this magnitude without the proper forethought is rather rash, and will make it difficult to enact intelligent policies for the actual reduction of nuclear power. Let alone the increase of wind power. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about increasing “green” energy (whatever that is).

Secondly, it’s one thing to reduce one’s own generation of nuclear power, but if the consumed power is to stay constant, then you will have to rely on imported power. And interestingly that’s something that you, as a sovereign country, have no control over. If you buy power from the Czech Republic, then you have no say in how that power is generated.

Lastly, we all want a solution, we all want the comfort of the conveniences we have now. But, NIMBY comes back to bite you. (Not In My BackYard) As long as I don’t have the transmission lines running through my yard, as long as I can’t see the frightening cooling towers of the nuclear plant, as long as I can’t see the fossil fuel plants with the convoys of trucks carrying coal daily.

There is only one thing we all can do to help this planet. And that is every single one of us must reduce. Forget this silly “carbon footprint” bullshit. If you want to lose weight, don’t count points… eat less and get more exercise. It’s that simple. We must all reduce our power consumption. It will be inconvenient, but we must do it. And unlike many who criticize others because they aren’t doing “enough”, I just ask everyone to do something. Anything. Please. I will do the same. I’ve already started, I am not using my A/C, and it’s hotter than forty hells, but I’m persevering! I’m also going to string up a clothes line. I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll be honest too.

As you were.

Nuclear Energy Institute – Information on the Japan Earthquake and Reactors in That Region

Hello folks. I have been wondering what the state of the Fukushima reactors is, and since the ADD afflicted American media has completely forgotten that there is even an island State named Japan I thought I’d try to find an update. I have noticed though that the concern for our safety due to release of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima reactors has lapsed a bit since American Idol is/has wound up. I am trying to find a source of information relating to the estimated total amount of contamination released from the reactors, and how that compares to both natural, and commercial radioactive contamination in the environment. I will also try to relate the estimated cancer rates, and death to other poisons and accidents such as cigarette smoking, and car wrecks. I’ll post this as soon as I can find a source.

Having served in the US Navy on a nuclear submarine I do have my opinion of nuclear power, and my opinion is that nuclear power can be operated in a safe manner. (Notice I didn’t say that it is being operated in a safe manner, just that it can be.) And since as a nation we are, and you must admit it, energy gluttons, I don’t see that we have much of a choice! There are only so many ways to generate energy at the level that we want require. NIMBY, and Dis/Mis-information are the greatest enemies of all new energy sources; as evidenced by the fight to put a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts.

Below are two links to, and some choice comments from, two distinct sources; the IAEA, and the Department of Nuclear Energy at UC Berkeley. Enjoy, and make up your own minds.

As you were.

Nuclear Energy Institute – Information on the Japan Earthquake and Reactors in That Region.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said today that fuel damage likely occurred in reactors 2 and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility in the first few days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Both reactors are now reported to be stable and at relatively low temperatures. The extent of the fuel damage is unknown. If the water gauges inside the two reactors are accurate, there was sufficient water in the reactors to prevent damage to all the fuel, the company said.

Most of the fuel damage that occurred in reactor 2 is believed to have taken place within 100 hours of the earthquake. TEPCO believes fuel was damaged in reactor 3 within 60 hours. The company previously confirmed that fuel was damaged in reactor 1.

TEPCO plans to install two heat exchangers today to lower the temperature of the used reactor fuel at reactor 2.

Gamma Dose Rates in 47 Prefectures

Gamma dose rates are measured daily in all 47 prefectures. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan reports values on the basis of data collected from each prefecture. On 18 May the value of gamma dose rate reported for Fukushima prefecture was 1.6 µSv/h. In all other prefectures, reported gamma dose rates were below 0.1 µSv/h, with a general decreasing trend.

Air Concentrations of Radionuclides On-site at Fukushima Daiichi Plant

On-site measurements at the west gate of the Fukushima Daiichi plant indicate the presence of I-131 and Cs-137 in the air in the close vicinity of the plant (within approximately 1 km). The values observed in the previous days show daily fluctuations with an overall decreasing tendency.

Concentrations of Radionuclides in Drinking Water

As of 10 May, the restriction on the consumption of drinking water relating to I-131 – which had been applied since 1 April as a precautionary measure for one remaining location (the village of Iitate in Fukushima prefecture), and only for infants – was lifted.

Data Showing Releases of Radioisotopes into the Environment from Nuclear Reactors in the US

I have been searching for data regarding radioisotopes in the environment prior to Fukushima and have come across very interesting data found on the U.S.NRC. website (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission).

This data shows that there are regular releases of multiple radioisotopes For example: Iodine-131, Cesium-137, Xenon, Strontium 90 etc. into the environment in the US. The documents are really long but you can search for key words such as Iodine and Cesium etc.

Here are the results from 2009 for Diablo Canyon Reactors 1&2

Click to access ML101270126.pdf

Scroll down to page 24 and beyond to see what radioisotopes were being released into the environment and at what amounts.

Here are the results from 2009 for San Onofre Reactors 2&3

Click to access ML101240921.pdf

Here are the results for Oyster Creek Reactor

This reactor had 3 accidental releases on top of the regular releases for 2009.

Here is the website listing all of the nuclear plants in the US. You can look at the annual report for each reactor. Mid-way down the page you can read the Radioactive Effluent Summary Report by Calendar Year: 2008 which gives us a report of all the releases by radioisotopes for all of the reactors in a comparitive graph. The data is for 2008 and they have not released the data for 2009 and 2010 yet but looking at the data for previous years you can tell this is a ongoing thing.

If you do a search of the ADAMS system and type “radioactive” as a search term and then scroll to the end of the documents to get to the most current documents (2009 to present) you will see many effluent release reports for numerous nuclear reactors in the US for 2009.

I can’t believe that they have been releasing all this radiation for years and we haven’t known about it because they haven’t publicly given us the information. Or they have and we just didn’t know where to look for it. Now they are saying that all of the radioisotopes that we are finding lately are solely due to Fukushima releases and have nothing to due with the nuclear reactors in the US, previous nuclear accidents and explosions in the US and releases into the water systems from hospitals and medical facilites. I am not so sure now!

Submariner’s Prayer

In the beginning there was a word; and the word was God.  All else was darkness and void without form. So God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun and the moon and the stars, so that light may pierce the darkness.  The earth, God divided between the land and the sea and these He filled with many assorted creatures.

The dark, salty, slimy creatures that inhabited the seashore He called Royal Marines and He dressed them accordingly.  The flighty creatures of the air He called Airy Fairies and these He clothed in uniforms which were ruffled and foul. These creatures were not over popular, as their droppings fell on the earth below, but God forgave them because as He said, they knoweth not what they do.

The lower creatures of the sea, God called Skimmers, and with a twinkle in His eye, and a sense of humour that only He could have, God gave them big grey targets to go to sea in. He gave them very many splendid uniforms to wear. He gave them wonderful and exotic places to visit.  He gave them pen and paper so that they might write home every weekand He gave them make and mends at sea. He also gave them a laundry that they might keep their splendid uniforms clean. When you are God you tend to get carried away.

On the seventh day as you know God rested and on the eighth day at 0700Z God looked down upon the earth and God was not a Happy God.

So he thought about His labours and with His infinite wisdom, God created a divine creature, and this divine creature he called a Submariner. And these Submariners whom God created in His own image, were to be of the Deep.  He gave a white woolly jumper to keep them warm.  He gave them black steel messengers of death to roam the depths of the seas, waging war against the forces of Satan and evil.  He gave them hotels to welcome them when the grew weary of doing Gods will. He gave them subsistence that they may entertain the ladies on nights ashore and impress the hell out of the creatures called Skimmers.

At the end of the eighth day God looked down upon the earth and saw that all was well.  But still God was not happy, because, in the course of His labours, He had forgotten one thing.  He had not given Himself a Submariners white woolly jumper.  He thought long and hard and finally satisfied his mind . . .

. . . . .  .not just anybody can be a Submariner !!

Nothing I can add to this.

As you were.

May 21, 2011: rapture or party time?

May 21, 2011: rapture or party time? 

I just want to point out some interesting items from this story…

“To answer one popular question: Camping has not sold his Alameda home, nor has he given away his possessions, although media reports suggest a handful of believers have cashed in and pulled up stakes in anticipation of the final day.

Camping says God wants people to live every day humbly and as evenly as the next.”

So, by cracky, let’s hold on to those possessions, you never know when you might need them.

“New Zealanders will be the first to know, Camping said. At 6 p.m. their time – 11 p.m. Friday in the Bay Area – a great earthquake will shake the island asunder, triggering an apocalypse that rolls relentlessly our way.”

At least God respects time zones!

“His follower Evans plans to huddle at home with his wife and children. ‘I know I want to be with them when it happens, God have mercy,’ he said.”

‘Huddling’ at home and ‘God have mercy’? Sounds like fear has been instilled int this true believer… fear of a ‘loving’ God.

Oh my. And though it is not mentioned in this article I read in another that from tomorrow until September, Jesus was going to reign on the earth and torment and torture those left behind. Is this “For God so loved the world” sort of stuff? Just my thoughts.

Gee, I love my children so much I think I’m gonna go home and squeeze their fingers with pliers.

I apologize for my cynicism, but this is just silliness. If there is a God, then Camping and his followers’ actions are most definitely blasphemy of the highest sort.  Where are the mythbusters when you need them!

As you were.

BBC News – Christmas Island shipwreck inquest opens

BBC News – Christmas Island shipwreck inquest opens.

An Australian inquest into the Christmas Island shipwreck has heard how the captain abandoned the boat a day before the tragedy.

The real significance of crime is in its being a breach of faith with the community of mankind.

Anyone who has read Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad will see the similarity in this story. Unfortunately there probably was no significant semblance of valor or integrity violated by a moment of reactionary decision making. Alas there is no real Tuan Jim anymore.

Adios OBL

“It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible. “- Mark Twain

“To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.” – Samuel Butler

“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody. “ – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1945

Sunday, May 1st is a day that will live on in our minds and hearts for quite some time. But even the memory of justice being served, and the world-wide acceptance of the death of one of the greatest mass murderers in our time, will fade as the years go by. Fade to the point of a footnote in history. Please don’t misunderstand me, Osama Bin Laden’s death is a good thing, in my opinion, and the world is a better place now that he is in Davey Jones’ locker; as much for his ability to incite masses of people to violence, as it was for his personal masterminding of the deaths of thousands. That is hard to type, one person being responsible for the death of thousands! Now he’s gone, and we will play the cards dealt for in a new hand.

OBL’s death is a news flash for some, but a poignant and pivotal moment in some people’s lives. OBL was responsible for thousands of deaths, and sadly, probably because of his recruitment many more deaths in the future and this is catastrophic. Death can be good and bad, all in how we rationalize it I suppose. I have served in the military, and I support all of our armed forces men and women without hesitation. Congratulations to the members of SEAL team six who put themselves in harm’s way, and the hundreds, if not thousands, that supported them on this mission, and everything leading up to May 1st.

I wish we as the human race could learn from history, collectively we do not, but I know that we won’t. I think Loki has cursed us to repeat our same failures over and over again. Driving today, I saw five older teenagers walking down the road, they were walking five-abreast, and cars were having to swerve around them. A car ahead of me honked at them, not unreasonable, and these teens flipped out, well flipped off anyway. Meaning they started flipping off the car, and if I could have heard them, I know they weren’t saying nice things. But honestly, if you look at this situation, this is the epitome  of human nature. We all tend to be self-centered, and feel that everything revolves around “us”. This will never change. Yeah, they were teenagers , which means they haven’t picked up their brains from the coat check yet, but still. I am very happy that OBL is no longer among the living, and I do feel that the world is a better place with him gone, but this will indeed pass, and we, all of us, will make the same mistakes again. Probably our great-great-great-grandchildren.

As you were.


BBC News – ‘100 missing’ as DR Congo boat capsizes

BBC News – ‘100 missing’ as DR Congo boat capsizes.

When I was a boy we didn’t wake up with Vietnam and have Cyprus for lunch and the Congo for dinner. – Lyndon B. Johnson

“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.” – Joseph Conrad (The Heart of Darkness)

On this day, that has had so many world shaking events unfold, I feel it is important to take just a second to stop and realize that there are still people throughout the world that are hurting. They are just trying to survive in this hard world, even commuting can be a dangerous event. So while we all live our lives, and cuss at the car that just cut us off, I really think we should be thankful for what we have. Oh, and take a moment in thought for the victims of this simple tragedy.

As you were.

A Real Deal Explanation of the Japanese Nuclear Disaster

The utter devastation that has been visited on Japan is heart-rending. I fear the death toll will do nothing but rise for the next few weeks. My mind boggles at the damage that is slowly being revealed. I am doing the only thing that I know to do, and that is to donate to the Red Cross.

Concerning the buzz around the nuclear plants, here is a comment posted by “Sam W.-3161669” on an article. Generally speaking ALL journalists are totally unqualified to write an article about nuclear power incidents. They being ignorant and fearful, along with an innate desire to sensationalize, tend to amplify the bad news.

What is going on here?

In the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, two nuclear power stations on the east coast of Japan have been experiencing problems. They are the Fukushima Daiichi (“daiichi” means “number one”) and Fukushima Daini (“number two”) sites, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (or TEPCO). Site one has six reactors, and site two has four. The problematic reactors are #1, #2, and #3 at site one, which are the oldest of the ten and were due to be decommissioned this year.

In short, the earthquake combined with the tsunami have impaired the cooling systems at these reactors, which has made it difficult for TEPCO to shut them down completely. Reactor #1 is now considered safe after crew flooded the reactor with sea water. Reactor #3 was starting this process as this was originally written (6:00PM CST/11:00PM GST on March 13th). Site crew began preparing to add sea water to reactor #2 around 7:30AM GMT on March 14th, if a cooling procedure does not work.

The four reactors at site two did not have their systems impaired and have shut down normally.

Can this cause a nuclear explosion?

No. It is physically impossible for a nuclear power station to explode like a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear bombs work by causing a supercritical fission reaction in a very small space in an unbelievably small amount of time. They do this by using precisely-designed explosive charges to combine two subcritical masses of nuclear material so quickly that they bypass the critical stage and go directly to supercritical, and with enough force that the resulting supercritical mass cannot melt or blow itself apart before all of the material is fissioned.

Current nuclear power plants are designed around subcritical masses of radioactive material, which are manipulated into achieving sustained fission through the use of neutron moderators. The heat from this fission is used to convert water to steam, which drives electric generator turbines. (This is a drastic simplification.) They are not capable of achieving supercritical levels; the nuclear fuel would melt before this could occur, and a supercritical reaction is required for an explosion to occur.

Making a nuclear bomb is very difficult, and it is completely impossible for a nuclear reactor to accidentally become a bomb. Secondary systems, like cooling or turbines, can explode due to pressure and stress problems, but these are not nuclear explosions.

Is this a meltdown?

Technically, yes, but not in the way that most people think.

The term “meltdown” is not used within the nuclear industry, because it is insufficiently specific. The popular image of a meltdown is when a nuclear reactor’s fuel core goes out of control and melts its way out of the containment facility. This has not happened and is unlikely to happen.

What has happened in reactor #1 and #3 is a “partial fuel melt”. This means that the fuel core has suffered damage from heat but is still largely intact. No fuel has escaped containment. Core #2 may have experienced heat damage as well, but the details are not known yet. It is confirmed that reactor #2’s containment has not been breached.

How did this happen? Aren’t there safety systems?

When the earthquakes in Japan occurred on March 11th, all ten reactor cores “scrammed”, which means that their control rods were inserted automatically. This shut down the active fission process, and the cores have remained shut down since then.

The problem is that even a scrammed reactor core generates “decay heat”, which requires cooling. When the tsunami arrived shortly after the earthquake, it damaged the external power generators that the sites used to power their cooling systems. This meant that while the cores were shut down, they were still boiling off the water used as coolant.

This caused two further problems. First, the steam caused pressure to build up within the containment vessel. Second, once the water level subsided, parts of the fuel rods were exposed to air, causing the heat to build up more quickly, leading to core damage from the heat.

What are they doing about it?

From the very beginning, TEPCO has had the option to flood the reactor chambers with sea water, which would end the problems immediately. Unfortunately, this also destroys the reactors permanently. Doing so would not only cost TEPCO (and Japanese taxpayers) billions of dollars, but it would make that reactor unavailable for generating electricity during a nationwide disaster. The sea water method is a “last resort” in this sense, but it has always been an option.

To avoid this, TEPCO first took steps to bring the cooling systems back online and to reduce the pressure on the inside of the containment vessel. This involved bringing in external portable generators, repairing damaged systems, and venting steam and gases from inside the containment vessel. These methods worked for reactor #2 at site one, prior to complications; reactors four through six were shut down before for inspection before the earthquake hit.

In the end, TEPCO decided to avoid further risk and flooded reactor #1 with sea water. It is now considered safely under control. Reactor #3 is currently undergoing this process, and reactor #2 may undergo it if a venting procedure fails.

The four reactors at site two did not have their external power damaged by the tsunami, and are therefore operating normally, albeit in a post-scram shutdown state. They have not required any venting, and reactor #3 is already in full cold shutdown.

Is a “China Syndrome” meltdown possible?

No, any fuel melt situation at Fukushima will be limited, because the fuel is physically incapable of having a runaway fission reaction. This is due to their light water reactor design.

In a light water reactor, water is used as both a coolant for the fuel core and as a “neutron moderator”. What a neutron moderator does is very technical (you can watch a lecture which includes this information here), but in short, when the neutron moderator is removed, the fission reaction will stop.

An LWR design limits the damage caused by a meltdown, because if all of the coolant is boiled away, the fission reaction will not keep going, because the coolant is also the moderator. The core will then only generate decay heat, which while dangerous and strong enough to melt the core, is not nearly as dangerous as an active fission reaction.

The containment vessel at Fukushima should be strong enough to resist breaching even during a decay heat meltdown. The amount of energy that could be produced by decay heat is easily calculated, and it is possible to design a container that will resist it. If it is not, and the core melts its way through the bottom of the vessel, it will end up in a large concrete barrier below the reactor. It is nearly impossible that a fuel melt caused by decay heat would penetrate this barrier. A containment vessel failure like this would result in a massive cleanup job but no leakage of nuclear material into the outside environment.

This is all moot, however, as flooding the reactor with sea water will prevent a fuel melt from progressing. TEPCO has already done this to reactor #1, and is in the process of doing it to #3. If any of the other reactors begin misbehaving, the sea water option will be available for those as well.

What was this about an explosion?

One of the byproducts of reactors like the ones at Fukushima is hydrogen. Normally this gas is vented and burned slowly. Due to the nature of the accident, the vented hydrogen gas was not properly burned as it was released. This led to a build up of hydrogen gas inside the reactor #1 building, but outside the containment vessel.

This gas ignited, causing the top of the largely cosmetic external shell to be blown off. This shell was made of sheet metal on a steel frame and did not require a great deal of force to be destroyed. The reactor itself was not damaged in this explosion, and there were only four minor injuries. This was a conventional chemical reaction and not a nuclear explosion.

You see what happened in the photo of the reactor housing. Note that other than losing the sheet metal covering on the top, the reactor building is intact. No containment breach has occurred.

At about 2:30AM GMT on March 14th, a similar explosion occurred at the reactor #3 building. This explosion was not unexpected, as TEPCO had warned that one might occur. The damage is still being assessed but it has been announced that the containment vessel was not breached and that the sea water process is continuing.

Around 7:30AM GMT on March 14th, it was announced that the explosion at reactor #2 has damaged the already limping cooling systems of reactor #2. It may also receive the sea water treatment if they are unable to use a venting procedure to restart the cooling systems.

Is there radiation leakage?

The radiation levels outside the plant are higher than usual due to the release of radioactive steam. These levels will go down and return to their normal levels, as no fuel has escaped containment.

For perspective, note that charts detailing detrimental radiation exposure start at 1 Gy, equivalent to 1 Sv; the radiation outside the problematic Fukushima reactors is being measured in micro-Svs per hour. The highest reported levels outside the Fukushima reactors has been around 1000 to 1500 micro-Svs per hour. This means that one would have to stay in this area for four to six weeks, 24 hours a day, without protection in order to experience the lowest level of radiation poisoning, which while unpleasant is not normally fatal. And this level will not stay where it is.

Also note the chart of normal radiation exposure levels from things like medical x-rays and airline flights.

There have also been very minor releases of radioactive reactor byproducts like iodine and cesium along with the steam. This material is less radioactive than the typical output of coal power plants. It is significant mainly as an indicator of the state of the reactor core.

I read that there’s a plume of radioactive material heading across the Pacific.

In its current state, the steam blowing east from Japan across the pacific is less dangerous than living in Denver for a year. If it makes it across the ocean, it will be almost undetectable by the time it arrives, and completely harmless as the dangerous elements in the steam will have decayed by then.

What’s this about fuel rods being exposed to the air?

When the coolant levels inside the reactor get low enough, the tops of the fuel rods will be exposed to the air inside the containment vessel. They have not been exposed to the external atmosphere and the containment vessels are all intact.

Can this end up like Chernobyl?

No, it cannot. for several reasons.

  • Chernobyl used graphite as a neutron moderator and water as a coolant. For complicated reasons, this meant that as the coolant heated up and converted to steam, the fission reaction intensified, converting even more water to steam, leading to a feedback effect. The Fukushima reactors use water as both the coolant and the neutron moderator, which means that as the water heats up and converts to steam, the reaction slows down instead. (The effect of the conversion of water coolant to steam on the performance of a nuclear reactor is known as the “void coefficient”, and can be either positive or negative.)
  • Chernobyl was designed so that as the nuclear fuel heated up, the fission reaction intensified, heating the core even further, causing another feedback effect. In the Fukushima reactors, the fission reaction slows down as the fuel heats up. (The effect of heating of the nuclear fuel on the performance of a nuclear reactor is known as the “temperature coefficient”, and can also be positive or negative.)
  • Chernobyl’s graphite moderator was flammable, and when the reactor exploded, the radioactive graphite burned and ended up in the atmosphere. The Fukushima reactors use water as a neutron moderator, which is obviously not flammable.

Note that while Chernobyl used light water as a coolant (as distinct from heavy water), it was not a “light water reactor”. The term LWR refers strictly to reactors that use light water for both cooling and neutron moderation.

The news said this was the worst nuclear power accident since Chernobyl, though.

It’s the only nuclear power plant accident of its type since Chernobyl. It’s easy to be the worst in a sample size of one.

Is this like Three Mile Island?

There are similarities. The final effect on the world is likely to be similar: no deaths, minimal external contamination, and a tremendous PR disaster for the nuclear industry due to bad reporting by the media.

How can I keep up with developments?

The western media has been very bad about reporting this event, due to a combination of sensationalist reporting, ignorance, and the use of inexact or unexplained terminology.

One of the safe sources of information is the TEPCO site, which has been posting press releases on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this site is often unresponsive due to the immense traffic it is receiving.

The important thing to remember is that most of the “experts” appearing on the news are engaging in speculation. Very few of them are restricting themselves to what they can be sure about, and those that are have often been misrepresented.


  • Timeline and data sheets for the incident by the Nuclear Energy Institute : (
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is providing regular announcements
  • Wikipedia on light water reactors and nuclear weapon design
  • The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) Systems manual – the Fukushima reactors are BWRs, a subset of LWRs (
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company site with press releases – currently hard to reach due to traffic (


  • “Physics for Future Presidents” lecture ten, on nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors (Youtube search)
  • Footage of the hydrogen explosion at reactor #1