back to article Fukushima's toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear

Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan continue to unfold, with workers there steadily restoring redundancy and containment measures across the site. It remains highly unlikely that the workers themselves will suffer any measurable health consequences from radiation, and – continued media scaremongering …


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  1. humanist

    media frenzy - again

    This story has been yet another blog to sell a product like newspapers and television advertising. Any sane person will overlook the hokum the media pushes forth every day, that is why I don't waste money on newspapers and as far as television news -- I watch all the foreign news available on Freesat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Dead Vulture



      Will people stop dragging the icons into to their comments? I saw some idiot append URLs to *all* his stupid comments on some Lewis Page military kit rant because he presumably thought it put the icon next to the comment.


      Sheesh, people, just click on the icon.

      1. ratfox

        So THAT is why!

        I have been wondering about these URLs for months. I actually thought it was a weird random bug in the web site.

        Thank you for the explanation, good sir. Have a cold one.

      2. Goat Jam
        Thumb Up

        Re: README

        I always wondered what was going on there. I assumed that it was some secret thing that I wasn't privy to, it's nice to know it's just people being dumber than even I am . . .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dunno about media frenzy...

      ... but the El Reg forums frenzy is in full flow again. I think reactions to Lewis's not-a-disaster stories are becoming as predictable as the comment frenzy that used to accompany the Gary McKinnon stories.

    3. Schultz
      Thumb Down

      Media fail versus Lewis Fail

      Unfortunately, this Lewis story fails just as badly as the Media frenzy he loves to hate.

      Quote Lewis:

      "It's now thought that some 18 million youngsters across the region consumed dangerously contaminated milk as a result, containing iodine levels thousands of times higher than those seen now in Japan, and that as a result their chance of getting cancer increased from say 25 per cent (or whatever it would normally have been) to 25.02 per cent."

      Quote scientific study:

      "Thyroid cancer incidence trends in Belarus: examining the impact of Chernobyl", [Int. J. Epidemiol. (2004) 33 (5): 1025-1033, doi: 10.1093/ije/dyh201] (took 5 mins of Googling):

      " Age-adjusted thyroid cancer incidence rates (adjusted to the WHO 2000 world population) have increased between 1970 and 2001 from 0.4 per 100 000 to 3.5 per 100 000 among males (+775%) and from 0.8 per 100 000 to 16.2 per 100 000 among females (+1925%)."

      Now those numbers are per year. So the increased risk for every Belarussian citizen (exposed or not) to get thyroid cancer over the lifespan of, say 50 years, might be estimated to be (3.5-0.4)*50/1e5 = 0.155% (males) or (16.2-0.8)*50/1e5 = 0.81% (females). Compare that with the 0.02 % increase cited by Lewis for the especially affected youngsters.

      Making up numbers is bad science; trash in -> trash out. Please replace the "physics" label with "propaganda" or get your numbers from a more trustworthy dealer.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        > Now those numbers are per year. So the increased risk for every Belarussian citizen (exposed or not)...

        No. It's good to bring numbers in, but you can't assume that the instance across the whole population per year can be multiplied by average life expectancy to get the probability of getting cancer during an average life.

        According to the UN, the annual death rate in Belarus is around 15 per 1000, so your equations would give the average Belarussian a 75% chance of ever dieing.

        1. Noons

          Re: Statistics

          Ok, here's some numbers: nuclear power plant core damage frequency is usually estimated at around 5x10^-5 /year, on one accident every 20,000 years. Some estimates from manufacturers for newer designs are much better than that, getting as low as 3x10^-8 /year. Doesn't sound bad, does it? These are risks, I believe, calculated for equipment failure, not human error.

          Declaration of bias: I'll henceforth use the number given by regulators, rather than that given by manufacturers. I'm not presenting an exact calculation, just a rough estimate based on publicly available numbers.

          So, one accident every 20,000 years. Per plant. There are now worldwide 440 commercial power plants. That's one accident every 40 years. If you include research reactors and nuclear ships and submarines, that roughly doubles the numbers. There's an additional 60 nuclear power plants under construction, 150 planned and 320 under proposal. So in the foreseeable future, we can expect somewhere in the region of 1500 nuclear reactors. One accident every 14 years or so.

          Conclusion: nuclear power plants, individually, are safe. The one in your neighbourhood will typically have an accident every 20,000 years, nothing to worry about unless you have a tendency to be paranoid. Worldwide, you can expect a future with a nuclear accident or two per generation. Acceptable risk? Not for me, thanks.

          I first did this calculation yesterday. Up to then, I was inclined to think of nuclear power as a minor risk, and of the anti-nuclear crowd has mostly people afraid of something they don't understand, and reacting out of that fear. Now, I'm firmly on the anti-nuclear side.

          (Risk is calculated as follows: for a risk of p per plant and n plants, combined risk is not n*p, but rather p*sum(1-p)^i, from i=0..n-1; the calculation is left as an exercise for the reader. The difference is small for n<<1/p, as in this case)

          1. Anonymous Coward


            So... using your figures, there will be a nuclear accident every 14 years... And how many people will die due to that?

            Significantly more people will die having a shit on the toilet. So perhaps we should ban toilets?

            In fact if we blocked the hole that you shit out of then the world would be a much better place because we would not hear you any more.

            1. asdf

              anonymous of course

              You might make a good point but by being such a jackoff and the hole you speak of above you undermine your own argument.

          2. ArmanX

            You forgot somethign in your calculations

            What qualifies as an accident? Obviously, Three Mile Island, Chrenobyl, and the Fukushima plant are accidents. How about other plant accidents - see

            Of those 19 accidents listed, only four have associated deaths; many of them are simply plant shutdowns due to malfunctions - no radiation release, no deaths, etc.

            Now, if an "accident", as used in your calculations, includes accidents with no deaths and/or no radiation released into the atmosphere, and if the number of accidents that do release radiation roughly follow history, then we could expect a rough average of 3 or 4 deaths per accident. If said accidents occur once every 14 years, then there will be less than one death every four years due to nuclear energy accidents.

            Nuclear accidents are just like airplane accidents - one problem gets a huge story, but overall, the effects are far smaller than the competition - driving kills far more people per year than flying, just as coal - and even wind and solar - kill more people per year than nuclear. Your calculations should root you even more firmly on the pro-nuclear side...

            And, for more death-comparing fun, Google for "deaths per terawatt-hour".

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Noons


              You're right, I should have been more explicit in what I meant with the word accident. Since I'd just been looking it up the day before, it was clear to me than when I mentioned core damage frequency, I was talking about serious shit, not just a light bulb failing. So here's what my calculation is about:

              "Core damage frequency (CDF) is a term used in probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) that indicates the likelihood of an accident that would cause damage to a nuclear reactor core. Core damage accidents are considered serious because damage to the core may prevent control of the nuclear reaction, which can lead to a nuclear meltdown."


              And no, core damage accidents are not "just like airplane accidents". In an airplane crash, there's no fallout: the passengers are affected, and maybe a few more people on the ground. It has a comparatively restricted extent. Some fuel may leak onto to the ground near the crash. A core damage can affect hugely larger numbers of people over a much, much larger area than an airplane crash would. It takes many years rather than a few weeks for effects to subside.

              I'll state it clearly: I'm not part of the NIMBY brigade. In fact, I wouldn't oppose a nuclear power plant being built in my backyard out of fear it'll explode. I'd probably be ok living next to one - not planning to move there any time soon, though. It's the accumulated worldwide risk in the foreseeable future that I find unacceptable. In Japan, the prevailing winds westerly winds blow fallout towards the Pacific, and sun-worshipers in California probably won't notice any increase in radiation levels. But a core damage with fall out in, say, India - that is the stuff of nightmares...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "But the accompanying panic has become a story in its own right, threatening to harm millions and shift government policies disastrously."

      Threating to harm millions by government policy... sounds like Global Warming all over again.

  2. John G Imrie

    A Public Appology

    Over the course of the unfolding situation at Fukushima I have criticized Mr Page's stance.

    I would like to take this opportunity to apologize.

    It would appear that Mr Page was correct in his assessment of the situation.


    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Public Appology

      Can people download your "appology" from the App Store?

      1. Urh

        Re: A Public Appology

        The App store? That sounds awfully inconwenient to me...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Which app store

        The Amazon App Store or the Apple Appstore?

    2. TakeTheSkyRoad
      Thumb Up

      For what it's worth you have my respect...

      Though I have mostly been reading since I've not often seen much to add to the hundreds of comments these articles have attracted.

      Much more respect deserved than one of the firsts posts I saw titled "Oh fuck off Lewis" which suggets someone hasn't matured since playground days.

      My stance is that we need nuclear.... coal and oil are too poluting and have associates VAST loss of life both in extraction and associated wars. Wind and tital don't look particually promising. Solar has potential but won't be much use for decades until the tech improves and/or we can put solar farms in space and beam the power down.

    3. mmiied

      re: a public appology

      you are new to the internet arn't you?

  3. Duncan Hothersall

    Oh fuck off Lewis.

    It was not a minor incident. I know it gives you a military hardon to be the guy who puts us morons in our place about the realities of nuclear power, but calling this a minor incident doesn't make you look clever, it makes you look really fucking stupid.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Oh fuck off Duncan.

      In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor incident. It took the media's attention from the real human tragedy and loss of life. Telling Lewis, who has been one of the the few jouro's to actually report the facts on this *minor incident*, to fuck off makes you look like a know-it-all that hasn't read the science and wouldn't undersatnd it if he did, but insists on telling the world and their neighbour their "expert opinion" based on what their mate down the pub had heard on the BBC "news" channel... Wait a minute! Are you really James Delingpole?!

      1. Duncan Hothersall


        Here's the thing. I don't disagree that it took the media's attention away from the real tragedy. I'm perfectly capable of recognising that some of the reporting around this has been alarmist and unhelpful. I haven't made any claims about my expertise, nor based any of my stated view on what anyone told me in the pub. And I'm not James Delingpole.

        None of that takes away from the fact that this was not a minor incident. These 6 reactors were hit by a 9.0 earthquake followed by a major tsunami, and three failover cooling systems failed in succession leading to helicopter drops of seawater, radiation leaks and sizeable explosions.

        It may be an incident with far less significance than some have claimed; it certainly should not have been the biggest story emanating from Japan. But it's not a minor incident and calling it that was an exercise in journalistic willy-waving.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          All the points you make are fair points, but I disagree with the main. There trouble is that there has been an awful lot of misdirection in the press about this incident and they really have blown things out of all sensible proportion. I don't think it was innocent either. What was the BBC's remit again? To entertain and educate; too much of the former and not enough of the latter! Rather than do what Lewis has tried to do on these pages, the media at large has gone down the Fox/Sky news route and sensationalise things Hollywood style. As I said; and the opening is critical; *in the grand scheme of things* Fukushima was a minor incident. It has just had the lions share of the medias attention. I would still rather live near a Nuclear station that a fossil fuel powered one, which isn't really a choice in the UK.

          The point I was trying to make was that there was a lot of caterwauling going from commenters and media alike that haven't really taken the time to understand what was *actually* happening and far to quick to go down the disaster B-movie route. For a start a 9.0Mw earthquake is unprecedented in the nuclear age. That they were doing well before an equally unprecedented tsunami struck is testament to the engineers that designed the plant. The rest was shit luck. Had this occurred without the quake, then I think your view would be more appropriate, as it stands, this is a footnote to the story that is one of the largest quakes in recorded human history.

          So willy waving or not, I can't help but feel that your initial name calling was harsh; hence my response. I'm sure Lewis is a big enough and ugly enough to look after himself, mind.

        2. Ammaross Danan

          @Duncan's second post

          "and three failover cooling systems failed in succession leading to helicopter drops of seawater, radiation leaks and sizeable explosions."

          No, the "three failover" part is completely wrong. There's only 1 "cooling system." The primary power was lost, and the secondary backup power, the generators, were flooded. The THIRD form of power (batteries) worked PERFECTLY. They ran for 8 hours until they ran out of juice. During that time, mobile generators had been brought it, as the fourth source of power, but their "plugs" wouldn't fit.

          As for helicopter drops of seawater, that was for the cooling pools. The actual reactor core had seawater pumped through the normal cooling system. No helicopter drops for that. This seawater coolant, that needed to be vented due to steam buildup, had impurities which increased the likelihood of additional radiation, not to mention the very short-lived radioisotopes that were carried on the steam.

          The explosions were probably the worst of what happened, causing 14 injuries. However, with water super-heating, one tends to get a breakdown of it's molecular components: hydrogen and oxygen. They hydrogen is what exploded.

          It's a shame that these fanatics and "willy-waving" commentards don't even have correct information and simply spout off their sound bytes in a semi-coherent, although highly distorted, form.

          1. Chemist

            " one tends to get a breakdown............ hydrogen and oxygen"

            NO! Not again ! One does not !

            Water reacting with hot zirconium of the fuel rod assemblies to generate hydrogen

            The thermodynamics of water are almost totally in the direction of water unless the temperatures are VERY high.

            Think - what does a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen do when you apply a match

          2. Duncan Hothersall

            @Ammaross Danan

            Thanks for the clarity on the cooling systems; my shorthand wasn't intended to be misleading. And thanks for the further information/speculation on other incidents. I have one question: given your description would you seriously call this a "minor" incident? That is my sole point.

            1. Anonymous Coward

              @Duncan again...

              I suppose the real question is whether or not the media attention that Fukushima garnered was warranted. It was an incident. Wheteher or not it was minor or not is actually relevant and it now seems that you are pissed off that some people disagree with your opinion. Quite a few people, it turns out, knew and understood the science and didn't panic. Theyignored the media and some even tried to explain what we understood but got shouted down but panicked individuals who thought the sky was falling in. Again. Which is exactly what Lewis was doing. Was it a minor incident. Yes! It turned out, as quite a few of us tried to say, that it was.

              1. Duncan Hothersall


                I think it's well established that the extent of the media attention garnered was not warranted. I'm delighted to agree that many people understood the science and ignored the doom-mongers. And of course the assessment of whether anything is major or minor is subjective, so on one level this all just hot air.

                I guess my feeling is this: over 100,000 people were evacuated; emergency action resulted in permanent shutdown of at least three reactors; estimates say it will cost at least $5 billion to recover; and the loss of generating capacity has caused blackouts in one of the most densely populated areas of the country. If that's a minor incident, what in the name of fuck is a major one?

                1. Anonymous Coward

                  "If that's a minor incident, what in the name of fuck is a major one?"

                  You are over dramatising things *exactly* as the mass media did! The answer to your question is simple; a 9.0Mw earthquake and a massive tsunami is a major incident. The fact that nearly 9000 ordinary people, like you and me, lost their lives is a major incident. That half a million people need re-housing is a major incident. Fukushima, as I said earlier is but a footnote.

                  The 6 reactors, as was widley reported, were due to commence decomissioning. The blackouts have as much to do with the fact that there was a fucking *mahoosive* earthquake just about 2 weeks ago and the infrastructure still needs reparing nationwide. The tap water in Tokyo isn't great for littlle kids at the moment and that is almost certainly related to the power station, however, it's still a minor note. I put it too you that you got caught up in the melodrama perpetuated by news agencies and aren't looking at the bigger picture, as demonstrated by your "but it is though" responses. See Paul_Murphy's comment, above.

                  1. Duncan Hothersall


                    You keep missing my point. I'm not making a comparison between this incident and the earthquake and tsunami which caused it. You are, but I am not. My question over the term "minor incident" is not comparative between those two. Okay? So please stop telling me that the earthquake was a major incident and that that therefore somehow proves that the reactor problems were a minor one. It doesn't follow at all.

                    I'm not caught up in any melodrama. I'm saying that when I look at what happened at Fukushima, I don't call it a minor incident. I'm also saying that the reason that description was there is that El Reg got carried away with the narrative it has been pushing on this story since it happened. I'm all for rational, calm and expert views on this. Calling this a minor incident is not rational. It's gone far too far the other way. And I believe it was done for shock value to prove the size of Mr Page's journalistic cojones, because he loves being the Bringer Of Truth and the Slayer of Hysteria.

                    I think he got it wrong. So do a lot of other people. That's not an over-dramatisation, it's just my opinion.

                    1. Anonymous Coward

                      Fair enough...

                      I take your point, but respectfully disagree (I know, it's the internet...). You *cannot* separate the two. Ask your self what the likelihood of the Fukushima station failing *without* the tsunami was? Let's not forget that it survived the 9.0Mw quake relatively intact. The answer is simply "No." One must follow the other. No quake, no tsunami, no Fukushima incident. It would be fair to say that Fukushima was *part* of a major incident, but not on it's own, especially since "disaster" was mitigated. Had the core gone into meltdown, then perhaps you'd have a point. I agree with you in as much that had this happened *without* the quake and tsunami, then we would have had a potential major incident on our hands.Potential? Yes, because at the end of it all, there was no catastrophic failure or meltdown. *Everything* is relative. By all means have a go at Mr Page, but I think he called it right. Besides, given the media hysteria and melodrama surrounding the whole sorry affair, I think we can allow Lewis a little hubris.

        3. Anonymous Coward

          In agreement - ish.

          'None of that takes away from the fact that this was not a minor incident. These 6 reactors were hit by a 9.0 earthquake followed by a major tsunami, and three failover cooling systems failed in succession leading to helicopter drops of seawater, radiation leaks and sizeable explosions'

          All of which led to absolutely not a lot of anything happening, the incredible story here should have been, that 40 year old reactors did not explode and spew mountains of radiation, concrete, death dealing death rays, sharks with lasers all over the world.

          Instead, all the media has focussed on (and to a lesser degree our industrious EU overlords) is the danger, the absolute nightmare, the horrendous death and destruction caused by the nuclear disaster. Wait, what nuclear disaster, there has not been a nuclear disaster, there has though been a massive natural disaster, with 8,000+ dead people and rising. However that does not get much coverage any more. Why? Because of the sharks with lasers and the death dealing.......

          That is what is frustrating.

    2. hplasm

      Your lead hat

      has crushed your brain.

      Proof that you don't need to look on the roads to find an utter anus.

    3. stefan 5

      Your talking rubbish

      Its muppets like YOU downplaying this event that get people killed. learn to shut your mouth about things you have no nothing about. So dissopointed by the reg for letting this CRAP be published on this website. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. PsychicMonkey


        doesn't make you big, nor clever. It does annoy people however.

        Feel free to post like that on the daily mail web site though. You'll fit in.

      2. James Micallef Silver badge

        Grow up, won't you?

        Ah, it's great to hear challenges like those from Duncan and Stefan that rebut Lewis's thesis with strong and well thought-out arguments, rather than spewing vitriol with no real content <\sarcasm>

        1. Duncan Hothersall

          Oh James...

          A backslash in a closing tag? Really? Dear me.

      3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        FoTW checklist:


        Your talking rubbish

        Its muppets like YOU downplaying this event that get people killed. learn to shut your mouth about things you have no nothing about. So dissopointed by the reg for letting this CRAP be published on this website. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


        Dodgy punctuation - Check

        Random capitalisation - Check

        Eccentric grammar - Check

        Bizarre attack on author - Check

        Sense of barely controlled rage, but not enough for a 2nd paragraph - 50%

        CAPS LOCK - Fail

        Good effort there stefan 5, if only you hadn't managed to keep your caps lock key mostly off, and had managed to surf the waves of bile for another couple of paragraphs - you'd have earned your very own FoTW... Better luck next time.

        I'm still struggling to see how Lewis can get anyone killed, just by writing a few articles. I thought that all he did in the Navy was to keep ships pointed in vaguely the right direction, and try to stop things blowing up.

        I hadn't realised he was a News Ninja...

        Flames. Obviously...

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


          Or troll of the week? You decide...

          I'm not entirely sure whether the comment in question was intended as irony, or as an exercise in applying as many clichés and stereotypes in as short a stream of invective as possible.

          I, for one, will never fall for bait like that!!111!!11eleventyone!!

      4. Maty


        We have a clear leader for flame of the week.

        Random caps - check

        Deranged ranting- check

        Fact-free message content - check

        Slightly less coherence would have been good, but a sterling effort overall. Well ranted, that man!

    4. Anonymous Coward


      Increased radiation received by the population more than 20km away from the damaged reactors at Fukujima Daiichi reactor complex was less than that caused by the ingestion of one banana per day! However, the radiation right outside the main gate into the reactor complex at the height of the problems there was 1.530 millisieverts per hour, equivalent to the 20% of the radiation received in one full body CT scan. This means that to exceed one’s annual safe dose under these conditions, one could not spend more than 30 hours standing at the gate under these conditions.

      Next to and within the damaged reactor building, radiation levels reached a maximum of 400 millisieverts per hour, but that decreased to 12 millisieverts per hour in the day following the explosions. Then, an unshielded person could not be able to spend more than 4 hours within the building before leaving, never to return to the building because they would exceed their annual dose limit (50 millisieverts). However, since the water injection commenced, this has dropped to 0.6 millisieverts per hour, meaning that work times for unshielded individuals within the building cannot exceed 80 hours.

      Natural background radiation at sea level is of the order of 2 millisieverts per year, with this doubling for every 300m increase in altitude. People living at a distance greater than 1km from the reactor complex main gate, received no increase in radiation beyond what one would get if they lived on top of a 300m mountain. In places more than 20km distant, for example, Tokyo, however, the banana eaters would have caused a very local increase in radiation background: radiation in Tokyo has stayed at natural background levels.

    5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Really fucking stupid?

      NO U!

    6. Paul_Murphy

      Minor vs Major

      Major incident:

      Deaths: 9,408

      Missing: 14,700

      Homeless: 500,000


      Minor Incident:

      Deaths: 1

      Missing: 2

      Homeless: N/A

      (that we know about anyway)

      No matter what the _potential_ might have been the actual effects of the natural disasters, the earthquake and resulting Tsunami, on the nuclear power plant have been minor - very minor.

      Rant/ troll all you like, but the facts speak for themselves - nuclear power is safe, even in situations that are way beyond what were anticipated when the system was designed, let alone built.

      This is a non-story, the story is that people seem to be expecting things to be worse than they are, even those people that should know better.

      It would be nice if everyone had a good standard of education, realised that newspapers and news organisations are desperate for attention and had a healthy level of skepticism.


      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. W. Keith Wingate

          Spoken like a true Publican, Bullseyed

          If you're referring to one of the two major US Political Parties, founded by Jefferson & Madison, it's called the "Democratic" party.

          Though certainly the Fukoshima disaster is not nearly as tragic as it might have been, the fact remains that nuclear is one of the few contending energy sources we currently use which is inherently dangerous -- on the best of days. Blue sky scenarios for nukes don't address one critical question: what to do with the waste products? Add earthquakes, tsunami, terrorists, human cock-ups, etc. and it seems we have a prescription for a real catastrophe.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Perchance ...

          ... do you mean The Democratic Party? If you can't even get a simple name right ...

          1. unitron

            It's not a matter of not getting it right...

  's getting it wrong on purpose.

            Democrat can be made to sound like an epithet much more easily than Democratic.

            Which is why several years ago the Republicans and right-wingers began to deliberately use a noun where they should be using an adjective.

            Well, that, and because that whole sounding slightly uneducated thing appeals subliminally to their base, kind of like when Republican candidates suddenly start wearing work clothes and driving pickup trucks during their campaigns.

            1. Anonymous Coward


              Has got fuck all to do with this kids. Leave it at the door.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Nuclear reactors are NOT safe!

        > Homeless: N/A

        Paul Murphy, you are guilty of downplaying this calamitous situation.

        You have incorrectly claimed that the nuclear incident at Fukushima has rendered "N/A" people homeless. We actually know that over 100,000 people have been rendered homeless by the explosions and radioactive particle releases at Fukushima.

  4. Will 30
    Paris Hilton

    Let's have a party at Lewis' house this weekend

    Because there's no consequence to being booted out of your house, I've decided that Lewis is moving 20km away from home this afternoon (taking Iodine tablets as he goes). We won't tell him if/when he can come back, and we're going to tip all his milk and spinach away too. But the empty beer cans, used condoms and cigarette ends stamped into the carpet will all be below the levels known to cause problems to human health.

    By the way, I must say Lewis, I did like your description of 100mSv/a as the 'reduced' limit. Does anyone know if leaking reactors emit chutzpah?

    There are probably lots of good arguments to be made for reviewing all sorts of radiological protection limits, it's just that dramatically increasing them while you're in breach of the current ones makes you look a bit desperate...

    (Paris, because she can always move into a hotel when the government evacuate her house)

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: consequences

      People being booted out of their houses and not knowing when they can come back and/or in what state the house will be is a fairly normal condition after this sort of quake+tsunami event. The point is that if the reactor had never been built, the end result for the population would have been pretty much the same.

      That's why the eco-hysteria is bad, because not building nuclear reactors doesn't have any measurable advantage in terms of health or safety - if a megaquake hits, you're screwed *anyway*, because *it's a freakin' megaquake*. You're very likely to have to leave your home anyway, possibly for months. The reactor doesn't make it significantly worse - hell, nothing can, except maybe a chemical factory or storage. The only thing you get by building a coal plant instead is a higher power bill, a whole bunch of deaths-per-year on your conscience (but they're chinese miners, so who cares, right?), and a measurably higher risk of cancer from its regular operation.

      By the way, in other parts of the country, nuclear plants are actually providing shelter to people who *really* lost their homes (as in "they're destroyed", not in "got to stay in a hotel for a few weeks"). There are still significant quakes going on, and the nuclear plants are the safest place to be.

      1. Will 30

        Circular argument in progress...

        You might as well say it was a minor tsunami, because people would still have been moved out of their houses if a major radiological event had happened.

        Lewis says "effects on the public look set to be nil", which is just bollocks - being indefinitely evacuated from your house is not 'nil', even if it doesn't imply you're going to suffer some radiation-caused disease. You could have chosen to build a nice strong house on top of a hill, but you'd have still been moved out by the events at the power-station.

        I'm not anti-nuclear *at all*, and I even rather liked Lewis' writing prior to last week, but I've read every Tepco and IAEA report since the quake (neither party having any interest in exaggerating the problem), and I don't think they align well with Lewis' output.

        The pompous frothing of a Register Hack about journalists exaggerating for effect is also pretty irksome to read. If he really had a serious problem with that, he certainly wouldn't work for El Reg.

        1. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: circular argument

          Er, what? If the natural disaster had not happened, you wouldn't have had the radiological event. There is no scenario in which the nuclear plant makes the situation much worse, because the nuclear accident was caused by the quake, and the quake had people out of their houses or outright homeless anyway. I don't see how that is a circular argument: the chain of cause and effect is crystal clear. If you had to leave your house in Japan in mid-March 2011, the reason was almost certainly the quake or the tsunami, not the radiological event.

          On top of that, the nuclear accident will only keep you out of your house for a few weeks, after which it will be exactly the same as it was before the nuclear accident, while the quake or tsunami can raze it to the ground, or deal massive damage and make it require major work before it is safe again. A rad evacuee is lucky compared to lots of people in northern Japan.

          Yeah, getting evacuated sucks, but my point is that *in the context of a quake+tsunami* the nuclear event is very minor no matter how you cut it. Also, you can't consider it outside of that context, because it shares the same cause - there's no accident without the quake.

    2. Andydaws


      According to the IAEA, just one individual has had more than 100mSV exposure.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Tim Worstal


      Many report that nuclear industry workers do have lower levels of cancer than the general population. Some argue this is hormesis (ie, that low doses are good for you) but I prefer, on the basis of no evidence at all I should add, to assume that it's because they're actually checked more often for cancer. Thus it's treated earlier and so fewer die of it.

      1. Terry Barnes


        That makes no sense - to be treated for cancer, they'd have to have cancer - so how does increased testing reduce the incidence of cancer? Deaths from cancer, maybe you'd have a point, but incidences?

        1. chr0m4t1c

          @Terry Barnes

          >so how does increased testing reduce the incidence of cancer?

          Simple, the testing will also catch pre-cancerous growths and similar, which can be treated/removed before they become cancerous.

          A bit like putting someone with furry arteries on a special diet to de-fur them before they have some form of coronary attack. You can do it randomly (mostly what happens) or you could actually look at everyone's arteries every 6-12 months and just target the people with the symptoms.

          My father and his brother both died of the same form of cancer, as a consequence my cousins, my siblings and myself have all be told what things to look out for and one of my cousins has had a pre-cancerous growth removed already, so this is not as daft or illogical as it actually sounds.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        I wondered what the scientifically acceptable term for homeopathy was.

        1. mmiied

          from what I read

          the sugestion was (and I stress I do not nessarley bleave it I just read it) that a low dose trigers the bodys self repair and whail it is repairing it notices that a few more cells are dead/dieing and fixes them

          or a low dose kills of only the weekest cells and there for they are replaced with healthy cells

          it is a nice theroy but personley I stick to the theroy of healther starting pool, better living (raidation workers see doctors more and there for get better life style advice) and regular checks and thing (if you catch cancer early enought it can be treated better)

          1. kissingthecarpet

            Christ on a bike

            Your spelling is appalling - is it a joke?

      3. Schultz

        fewer nuclear industry workers die of cancer...

        They instead die from the nasty infection they received along with the colonoscopy.

      4. hplasm
        Thumb Up

        Good point, but they Are healthier...

        Nuclear industry workers are indeed checked very carefully,very regularly- every 6-12 months, full workover.

        This is mainly to ensure that any scare stories can be fully refuted- and less people do show up with anything nasty- see commentard below. (qv)

        It is a nice perq for those in the industry; peace of mind as advertised by the 'BUPA' types but for real,and for free.

        In the UK the results are probably freely available- they are good publicity.

        awaiting downthumbs from the 'sky is falling and the bits have isotopes in them' tards.

  6. Anonymous Bosch

    Thanks for the actual data

    So much of the MSM has simply stated 'radiation for in spinach' without any aactial measurements. Thanks Lewis for the data. Perhaps now the debate can be meaningful.

  7. Paul Williams

    Loving the bias...

    That Wind v Nuclear proclaims not one person has died in a nuclear incident, compared to wind turbines...and then in the latter counts deaths of people killed while transporting parts or falling off them. Presumably the death of the worker who fell off a crane in Japan should be chalked up as a death for the nuclear industry then? Or people who've died while constructing power stations? Or deaths in Uranium mines?

    Notice also how the article seamlessly moves from 'fatalities' into 'incidents' after the first item....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Strangely enough

      Sky News hasn't been running an uninterrupted scareathon about the perils of coal following yesterday's tragedy in which 43 miners were killed. Nor has Matt Frei been backed by crappy computer animations of how wood smoke kills more than 1.5 million people every year.

  8. Simon Neill


    Pretty much is the reaction. I'm sick of hearing about how radiation could cover the land. We learned from chernobyll. Heck, we learned BEFORE it happened. As for relative safety....ask the gulf of mexico how they feel about oil.

    Wind and solar energy are useless, I don't want to stop using my PC because the wind stopped and the sun went in.

    Tidal seems like a reliable alternative energy source, not that I would like to maintain any form of equipment under 20 feet of salt water. Don't imagine it would last long.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: OMG! Its NUKULERR!

      "Wind and solar energy are useless, I don't want to stop using my PC because the wind stopped and the sun went in."

      Yeah, that shiny thing in the sky: it's useless! It just sits there and shines without providing direct current to "my PC". It's inconvenient too! That probe NASA sent to Mercury has to wear sun-block because of the damned thing. I bet it does it on purpose!

      If anything there's an underinvestment in solar technologies, especially given the fact that this planet is a live demonstration of the potential on offer in harnessing solar energy, but I suppose it's easier for people to point at the solar cells from their childhood (or their parents' childhood in some cases) and snigger in ignorance of the progress being continuously made in things like materials science which actually lets us attempt to replicate nature's considerable success in the area for the first time in human history.

      1. Alex Walsh

        Is there

        A consumer solar panel available that has an estimated payback time that's actually shorter than the warranty?

      2. Dr Atomic

        You're not wrong, but..

        Solar vs nuclear is not a competition, solar can't compete. Solar cannot be deployed as it exists today and it makes no sense to steal research funds from a viable technology to fund research in an area just because we would love to be able to use it.

        Solar funding SHOULD be in competition with subsidies for corn based ethanol and pointless wars in the middle east. Just think of the research that could have been done with the hundreds of billions spent in Iraq.

        What we have to do is figure out how plants do it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You're not wrong, but..

          "Solar vs nuclear is not a competition, solar can't compete. Solar cannot be deployed as it exists today and it makes no sense to steal research funds from a viable technology to fund research in an area just because we would love to be able to use it."

          Strange, then, that solar is deployed today. However, one can argue that it hasn't had the subsidies that the nuclear fission business has had, nor been able to enjoy economies of scale to the extent that the kit is cheap and particularly efficient. Interestingly, one area that has enjoyed those economies is the semiconductor business, which does overlap quite a bit with the solar business, although it's questionable whether the semiconductor-based technologies in question are the most appropriate for solar power generation.

          "Solar funding SHOULD be in competition with subsidies for corn based ethanol and pointless wars in the middle east. Just think of the research that could have been done with the hundreds of billions spent in Iraq."

          Well, yes, but actually there is no reason why research into solar technologies shouldn't compete with nuclear subsidies or fossil fuel subsidies. Power generation companies won't invest in the long term: as long as the kit is available to generate power as of today, and as long people still need power and can pay for it, they'll happily burn coal, oil and gas, and all that will look "cheap" and "competitive" to superficial economist types who think those commodities are appropriately priced. (We all know that no-one will build a nuclear plant without being handed a big pile of money, regardless of whether a direct subsidy is officially available or not.)

          "What we have to do is figure out how plants do it."

          Which is what people are actively trying to do, amongst other things. That said, there are plenty of people qualified in lots of "hot" research areas who can't find jobs, while funds get handed out to sustain the current state of affairs in many sectors all the time. The prevailing attitude, especially around sustainable power generation, would be like someone a few centuries ago questioning the need to experiment with manned flight because "horses and boats can get you anywhere you need to go" while scoffing at the notion of a person floating in the air with the aid of a "contraption".

          In short, we need to pursue more lines of enquiry and be able to take full advantage of them if they look promising, not sit on the technology we already have and expect someone else to make the breakthrough. One would think that minds in Britain would be focused by the increasing shortfall in power generation, but I imagine the other prevailing attitude is that somehow money will always be there to pay the gas bill, and that it will always be "cheap" (presumably thanks to the kings of shale, if you buy into the reporting of that other pillar of The Register's line-up).

    2. sisk

      Um, wrong.

      You do realize that there are a growing number of people powering their homes with wind and solar power, right? In most cases thier personal wind turbines and solar collectors make more power than they can use. As for the wind stopping and the sun going down, ever hear of batteries? You know, the things you charge during the day and use at night?

      Seriously, the sun is about as reliable as you can get. You KNOW it's going to rise every day. Some days you may get reduced power from it, but you will still get some and the average will stay pretty static from year to year. In some areas the wind is just as reliable (it NEVER stops blowing here.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        @Sisk: Except that no domestic install actually does that.

        According to the people selling them, the typical photovoltaic installation is 2kW, and "capable of providing 40% of the household needs". So even they don't think it'll run your house.

        They go on to say that the payback period of those installations is 8-12 years.

        Furthermore, that payback period is based upon a Government subsidy of 41.3 pence per unit of electricity generated *by the panel*, regardless of whether or not it's being consumed by the owner or sent into the grid, plus 4p/unit for anything you do send into the grid.

        The subsidy for wind is smaller - 34.5p/unit.

        In other words, the payback period is based on getting paid approx. 3 to 4 times the going rate for the electricity.

        That's clear proof that neither technology is anywhere near commercial viability. End of story!, plus various photovoltaic installers.

        1. 42

          What rubbish

          My parents have a 2KW solar system, and have been credited rather than billed for the last 2 quarters. The warranty is 20years so payback will be well before warranty ends.

          Is there no lie Nuclear shills on ELReg which is infected with them will go to deny reality.

          Page has simply misled and misrepresented repeatedly about this incident. He has as much credibility as Mickey Mouse on this issue.

          Luckily our population is too smart to fall for the nuclear industries propaganda

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Yep, on a MASSIVE subsidy of approx. 4 times the consumer rate

            - Regardless of whether the energy generated is leaving the premises or not!

            In other words, everyone's tax is paying for your parents to have that credit.

            Would you be happy to pay more than 41.3 pence per unit of electricity?

            If the answer to that is no, then you should be lobbying against Solar - because that's the price you're currently paying for it. (And it's not even the people using the electricity that are paying for it, which is properly ludicrous.)

            Would you be happy paying over 28 pence per unit? That's the price of Wind.

            You're currently paying somewhere between 10 and 15p per unit. If you'd like that to continue, then nuclear is the only way it's going to happen.

            New-build nuclear generation in the UK will have a zero subsidy - that's something that both Labour and the Conservatives have stated, thus neither will let the other go against it.

            Plus the guys who want to build new plants have agreed to that already.

        2. FredM

          commercial viability?

          Is nuclear power commercially viable ?

          Only (perhaps - but even this is in doubt) if one does not do proper worst-case scenarios, and deliberately lies and distorts the truth, and hides expensive errors, and by these desceptions produces a reactor at 1/5th of the price that a "safe" reactor would cost.

          The above is EXACTLY what is done to make nuclear power "commercially viable".

          If even BASIC safety requirements meeting REASONABLE worst-case scenarios were costed into reactor design and construction, there would be absolutely no commercial viability whatsoever in nuclear power generation..

          If one takes the deferred expense of processing and storage of nuclear waste and adds this into the costings, SOLAR POWER GENERATION IS CHEAPER NOW!

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            @FredM - Got a source for that?

            Like any source whatsoever?

            No - I see that you're just shouting drivel. Go away and live in a cave somewhere - as you appear to want everyone to do that, you may as well get the best cave first.

  9. Ian K

    About that subhead...

    There've been way too many scare stories on what's been happening at Fukushima but to call this a "minor incident"'s to err in the opposite direction, and risk having anything else you say disregarded as part of a whitewash.

    Whatever else it might be, an alert at a nuclear power station that lasts for several weeks, has a 20km evacuation zone set up, needs water dropped from Chinooks to try to keep things cool and may well have damaged 3 reactors beyond the point where they're capable of further use is _not_ minor.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      From a certain point of view...

      Have a gander at this...

      It isn't even up to date but it shows that, if you put it in context, this was minor. More people were killed and more environmental damage was caused by the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico last year than by this plant.

      If your measure is deaths and environmental damage then it is minor, just because it looked dramatic on TV doesn't change the nature of the impact.

      1. Ian K


        @Neil W

        If one decides the sole criterion for rating the Fukushima incident is the number of fatalities, it is minor. Bring in environmental damage and it's most likely not major - quite possibly minor, in fact, although the final verdict isn't in on that one yet.

        Look at impact on the local populace (20km evacuation zone...), financial cost (both capital loss of the reactors, and work needed to perform long term repairs and cleanup) and loss of generating capacity and it's not minor at all.

        By the same token a 40 car pileup on the M25 that stopped all traffic for a day...but didn't actually kill anyone...would be "minor". But, of course, it clearly isn't.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          I think we agree... I didn't say the measure was just deaths.

          Considering the tsunami, I don't think many people were moved out that hadn't already... If that had been a gas power station that blew up or caught fire then I suspect it would have had a similar evacuation zone, so the fact it was a nuke plant didn't change things.

          With regards to clean up, near where I lived as a kid, a chemical plant was knocked down and a housing estate built. The housing estate was only built after they spent over a year digging out and replacing all of the soil and cleaning the ground up, a similar effort would take place whether it was a nuke plant that leaked a bit, a chemical plant or a gas power station.

          Actually, I would call the M25 example minor... I've been stuck on the M25 in situations like that and it didn't really change my life in the long term!

        2. Veldan

          @Ian K

          Then again, if you take the issues you've actually stated we can draw a few conclusions.

          1. The evacuations were a precaution and outside of the 10Km zone unnecessary, within the 10Km it could probably have been half this safely but that is just my speculation. Also speculation is the fact that many of these houses were already evacuated due to, oh i don't know, the tsunami and earthquake?

          2. Financial cost of the reactors (repairs, clean up) can also be pinned as damages from the tsunami/earthquake. I don't know about you but when a major accident occurs (say a train carrying petrol) and as such a follow on accident occurs (petrol ignites burning down houses) i don't put the blame for the burnt houses on their inability to be properly fireproofed or deal with such an unexpected and outlandish event (which a earthquake/tsunami of this magnitude was)

          3. Loss of generating capacity - see above. I doubt nuclear power plants were the only ones shutting down operations due to the earthquakes.

          So the evacuation of several thousand people who were probably homeless due to an ACTUAL major disaster just before. Seems pretty minor to me... Especially minor when you add some perspective and see the *catastrophic* event that preceeded and caused it.

        3. Veldan


          I forgot to mention. No one blames the 40 car pile up for stopping traffic when the highway was ripped from the ground in front of them by an earthquake. They blame the earthquake.

  10. Thomas 4

    Hazardous radiation or no...

    I'll still raise a glass this weekend to the tech guys at the reactor - they've been working like the clappers for these couple of weeks, not to mention being hassled by journos the entire time.

    1. James Hughes 1

      I doubt they have been hassled by too many journos

      I guess most reporters believe their own stories and won't go within 50 miles of the place.

    2. Nightkiller

      As well as

      to the engineers who integrated multiple redundancies to the system in the first place. Whine all you want about doing better. Hindsight is your specialty. They've done their best, and it shows.

      1. byrresheim

        You mean the engineers who

        resigned in protest from GE over the design of this type of reactor?

        Or those who included in their blueprints a neat little arrow: apply sea water via helicopter here?

        Enquiring minds want to know.

  11. Thomas 4

    Oh and on another subject

    Everyone knows wind energy is far more dangerous than nuclear:

    1. Thomas 4


      Clearly 3 people have had a sense of humour bypass or they really have something against stick figures.

  12. There's a bee in my bot net

    Oh well thats all right then...

    "cancer is a very common cause of death, future investigations decades from now will almost certainly not be able to attribute any cases of cancer among the workers to service during the current incident"

    No need to try and establish a link to the lower radiation doses then... move along nothing to see here...

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      links to low doses

      You fail at statistics. The point is that cancer has lots and lots of causes. If anyone gets cancer, you can never find *the* cause. You can only find a range of probable causes - say, 50% congenital, 30% cigarettes, 11% diet, 4% tanning, 4% particulates, 0.9% chemicals in food, 0.1% radiation (disclaimer: these numbers are random).

      Even if a worker at Fukushima has 10x the standard chance of getting cancer from radiation (an implausibly high number), then if he *does* get cancer, the chance that it's due to congenital, cigarettes, diet and so on, is *still* far, far higher than the chance that he got cancer from the 2011 accident.

      In that sense, establishing a link will be impossible, not because someone is getting paid by TEPCO to mess up the research, but because it *is* impossible. At best, making unfairly pessimistic assumptions, you might be able to say that there's a few percentile points of chance that a cancer among Fukushima workers was caused by radiation.

      Of course, this won't stop the econuts from attributing each and every cancer for the next 40 years among people within a 200 km range from Fukushima to the accident...

      1. Anonymous Coward

        public distrust

        I accept fully that the marginal increase in cancer due to the ionising radiation emitted in this accident will be "in the noise" with regard to the other causes.

        The eco-nuts as you describe them are right to be wary of governmental "don't worry" plaudits, we should always be wary of announcements with a definite agenda behind them - there is, or could be, a legitimate conflict of interest in there.

        Certainly with regard to Nucular power, it was totally and utterly a weapons project for many years, Calder Hall was designed to produce Plutonium, the electricity was incidental.

        Against this backdrop, earlier serious breaches, principally of Plutonium and other long-lived radionucleides were brushed off as "minor" leaks of radiation - because these long-lived isotopes are not highly radioactive.

        However, apart from being insanely toxic (Pu), most heavier elements metabolise as calcium, get laid down in bone tissue, and sit there sniping at the blood formation within our marrow - hence the significantly increased risk of leukemia. (highly significant Leukemia clusters within the UK and centered mostly on nuclear facilities are to this day "unexplained")

        So, concerned citizens know not to trust the radiation-alone figures, they know that they do not tell the whole story.

        Lewis's contributions are welcome in this regard, he does explain the short-lived isotopes and their risks well. However, he is not quite so forthcoming on what nasties lie within the spent fuel, or in reactor 3, fuelled by MOX - an interesting mix of U and Pu (see previous posts).

        My point is that particulate contamination by plutonium may register low on a geiger counter, but carries pretty much a death sentence to whoever ingests it.

        If the only risk were to be from extraordinary natural disaster then I for one would accept it, given the facts, the radiation risk and the contamination risk.

        If the (contamination) risks are multiplied enormously by the plutonium reprocessing necessary for atomic weapons, they fall way outside the legitimate risk vs reward argument one can put forward for power generation.

        The public seem to understand this, even if they don't know why.

        1. Robert Sneddon


          Plutonium is not that toxic, compared to arsenic (an incredibly toxic metal pumped out into the surrounding countryside in tonne quantities by coal-fired power stations) or beryllium (cumulative, doesn't chelate, wrecks the immune system, no cure). People known to have being contaminated by plutonium, usually by inhalation of oxide dust particles, in the US nuclear weapons development programme in the 1940s and 1950s were tracked and monitored closely afterwards. I've seen a report that of ten such individuals four or five were still alive fifty years later. Only one of the sample clade had died of the effects of cancer, the rest from assorted diseases common in old age.

          Radiotoxicity for Pu is low to medium, an alpha emitter with half-life of over 10,000 years for the two common isotopes (239 and 240) found in fuel rods. It's definitely not good news in large amounts in tissue but there is a lot worse in the nuclear zoo biologically speaking -- polonium-208, cobalt-60, cesium-137...

          1. Anonymous Coward

            OK, I take it back...

            ... in my SMPT databook in 1980, the toxicity of Plutonium was quoted as 50 picogrammes per kilo LD 50 (lowest dose to kill 50% of the population) in mice over 30 days.

            This figure seems to be at odds with more recent work including the well-researched and referenced article here...


            I stand corrected.

      2. Mike VandeVelde

        low personal risk

        Yes their is low personal risk. And yes attributing the root cause of a particular incedence of cancer directly to exposure from any particular event is not realistic. But even just a 1% rise in cancer rates when spread among several hundred workers basically means that several additional deaths can be expected. Does entering that kind of lottery give anyone even a little more respect for the danger these people are facing?

        1. mmiied


          ". But even just a 1% rise in cancer rates when spread among several hundred workers basically means that several additional deaths can be expected"

          execpt that only 1 person has even recived the 1% increese doseage the rest have recived a dose that can not mesrable increase there chance

      3. kissingthecarpet

        That's not always true

        Some cancers are caused by specific things - e.g. Asbestos & mesothelioma, or AIDS-related herpes & Karposi's sarcoma. Best not bandy statements like "You fail" around eh?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Thanks again LP for trying to cool things down

    LP is the firehose trying to fill the holding pools of Media hype-rods. They want so badly for their worst fears to be realized. Sadly those directed by the propaganda machines of oil soaked nations are drilling holes in the pool so the hysteria can burn out of control.

    Like religious zealots of any stripe, the so-called 'tolerant' begin the personal verbal assaults on Mr. Page, for daring to try to diffuse the fervor of the faithful, the anti-nuclear cult that demands Japan be punished for its affront to Gaia.

    I'd add to Mr. Page's logical conclusions of how truly damaging to the environment and surrounding population any other power source of comparable output and longevity would have been, but those with logic already understand these facts and the Faith of the No Nuke Jihad cannot be broken by truth.

    Posted Anonymous so Fatwah is not declared on me as well. But I suspect Mr. Page will follow true the advice of his past: Keep Calm and Carry On!

  14. FredM

    Safe? Perhaps they could be.. IF..

    The idea that any reactor presently operating is adequately safe, is utter nonsense.. Nuclear power generation is intrinsically unsafe - even if reactors work their entire life without problem, the waste has dangers which extends for thousands of years - far beyond any pridictable or forseeable future - and these toxins can present a problem for future generations.

    One could design and construct a reactor which could be deemed "safe enough for now" IF one looked at REAL worst case scernarios, and built the reactors to EXCEED these scenarios - BUT, the cost of doing this would be AT LEAST 5 times the cost that even the best modern reactor comes in at.. A truly 'safe' reactor would need multiple containment levels in which ALL operations (refuelling, fuel and spent fuel containment, maintanance etc) were performed.. The reactors (or, at least the containment ) would need to incorperate the means to automatically seal / kill the reactor (A large quantity of 'damping' material which could flood the containments and prevent any chance of criticallity, and permanently entomb the reactor) and the containment units would need to be rated to cater for any possible levels of pressure caused by reactions.

    The containment would need to be strong enough to deal with any natural event, and strong enough to contain and instigate an 'entomb' action in the event of strike by aircraft or weapon.

    The economics related to safe nuclear power generation could not make sense (they do not make sense even with our present reactors, which come nowhere near to any sane persons definition of 'safe').

    Unless and until intrinsically safe reactors are built, all unsafe reactors (and by this I mean ALL reactors presently on this planet) should be shut down and cleared away..

    And I have not even discussed the problems of nuclear waste - solving the safety issues on reactors as I described above, is simple and cheap compared to solving the waste problem.

    1. James Hughes 1


      If you are going to shut down all the nuclear reactors because (even given evidence to the contrary) they are 'unsafe' you are going to have to shut down all the coal, gas, wind and solar places too, as they present a similar if not greater risk (esp. coal with all its carcenogenic output). That leaves hydro (and how many people have drowned in those pesky lakes I ask you).

      Hope you enjoy your electricity rationing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        There is none. There is only logic.

      2. FredM

        Rationing is a GOOD IDEA!

        Lets get real -

        There is NO other power generation means which has even a tiny fraction of the risk that nuclear power generation has..

        You talk of the dangers of coal, gas, hydro etc .. It is utterly laughable that you cannot see the difference! Even the worst of these, and the most badly designed / operated of these has NO possibility of poisoning vast areas for thousands of years.

        Agreed, there are toxic and immediately harmful effects of carbon fuel based power generation.. And I CAN see an argument for nuclear power generation - we need to reduce carbon emissions or the consequences could be as disasterous as the potential consequences of nuclear accidents or waste..

        BUT - There is another way! - You say "Hope you enjoy your electricity rationing".

        Well, in fact, there is NO NEED for the vast energy consumption - Most is driven by the insane consumerism and quest for "economic growth" which is unsustainable.. YES! ITS BLOODY UNSUSTAINABLE!! - We live on a planet with limited resources - And we consume these resources as if they have no limit..

        It is not only electricity rationing which is NEEDED, it is time us greedy indulgent arrogant western PARASITES tightened our belts and took LESS from this depleted world - I consume more than an entire African family, some western folks consume more than an entire African village.

        And writing off vast areas of the planet because we pollute it with toxic waste is not going to serve anyones interests.



    2. Bluenose

      Please read this

      This link is to a web site written by nuclear engineers. And whilst I accept that they may have some bias, I would also think they know whatthey are talking about. Which is more than you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Please. I won't read this.

        Ah, the old "read this link because that's where the argument I couldn't be bothered to construct is".

        Here's a hint. Where there are pros there are cons, and vice versa. Anyone who offers one and not the other is a salesman at best.

    3. PsychicMonkey

      don't forget

      to ban all cars as well, people die in them every day, including some children. won't somebody think of the children!!!!!

      I'm not getting my coat, I'm getting yours. You've had enough already.

    4. Tesseract


      So, the containment has to be strong enough to deal with any natural event (as we've just seen, it basically was in a flawed design from 40 years ago), and it must be able to withstand aircraft strike... like the reactor buildings are, indeed, designed to be.

      As for criticality. That's what the automatic SCRAMs at the beginning of this whole debacle were for. The problem was maintaining cooling after power was lost to the cooling pumps - many modern designs utilise convection for cooling, negating this problem.

      As for being rated to cater for any possible levels of pressure - perhaps they should be rated for higher levels. It's a cost/benefit analysis, is it not? Like, say, driving - a dangerous activity, if ever I saw one.

  15. Steve Crook


    1. John G Imrie

      Thanks for that....

      Now could all those people saying we should shut down the Nuclear Power Plants please submit plans to evacuate and demolish Edinburgh first.

      Not for non Scots: Edinburgh is built on, and mostly with, granite.

      1. Steve X


        I think you might mean Aberdeen ("granite city"), but your point is valid nonetheless.

        1. John G Imrie

          Er Yes Sorry


      2. Dagg Silver badge

        Basalt not granite

        Edinburgh is built on basalt also called blue stone

  16. Quxy

    Risk exaggeration

    By and large, what we've witnessed in the media is the same phenomenon we see in any discussion of uncommon risks, most notably post-11/9 terrorism. In _Beyond Fear_, Bruce Schneier makes some points about thinking sensibly about security in an uncertain world that are equally applicable to the Fukushima situation:

    * People exaggerate spectacular but rare risks and downplay common risks.

    * People have trouble estimating risks for anything not exactly like their normal situation.

    * Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.

    * People underestimate risks they willingly take and overestimate risks in situations they can't control.

    * People overestimate risks that are being talked about and remain an object of public scrutiny.

    Unfortunately for everyone, most of the media takes advantage of this skewed perception of risk to grab attention for themselves.

  17. Bill Gates

    They worked!

    1) The plants withstood a 9.0 Earthquake with apparent ease. These are 40 year old reactors, and held up well. Newer reactors like those in the USA, are built on "rollers" to help them withstand even MORE severe of an earthquke as this was.

    2) The reactors were shut-down in an orderly manner and the nuclear reaction was stopped.

    3) A while later the Tsunami occurred, and we see where the major flaw was, having the diesel generators susceptible to the tsunami, not with a flaw in the reactor design.

    4) The storage of the spent fuel pools at the top of the reactor was a big mistake. Although the nuclear hysteria is causing problems with spent fuel storage and probably has some blame.

    5) The officials where slow to react and call in external assets(fire truck pumps) to help, which is probably a cultural thing.

    If they would have put some more thought into the location of their generators and their spent fuel storage units, we would have had a zero incident.

    Most likely we will have a few bannana's worth of radiation, a shit load of media hysteria, and 4 reactors that actually worked very well for being in a 9.0 earthquake and a massive tsunami.

    And people will still be afraid of the cleanest and lowest cost energy source known to man.

    1. Jim Morrow

      it didn't "work"

      for fuck's sake, it didn't work. unless your definition of "work" is "no catastrophic failure that resulted in the mass irradiation of a large number of people and a huge area of land'.

      the reactor design is flawed. it relies on power to keep everything cooled even when the reactor is shut down. that is fucking stupid and dangerous. it's even worse when this applies to the cooling ponds which store the spent fuel. that sort of design is not fail safe.

      bits of the reactor buildings blew up. hydrogen had to be vented from the cooling system. and we had helicopters and fire trucks dumping water to keep things from getting so warm there would have been a serious leakage of radiation from the spent fuel rods or even a meltdown in the reactors. this tends to suggest things did not work. if everything had worked properly, those sorts of last-ditch heroic efforts would not have been needed.

      today, japanese officials are telling people in tokyo that babies can't drink the tapwater because it's too irradiated. food and milk from the area near the reactors is also banned for the same reason. none of this would have been necessary if the system "worked" and had been designed properly.

      we're just lucky the incident hasn't been more serious. just as we were lucky that the windscale fire and three mile island incidents weren't more serious. seems to be a trend here, eh?

    2. Veldan

      Right, but...

      I agree with all but point 5.

      The reason they were slow to react is that a massive tsunami and earthquake had just wiped out massive amounts of infrastructure.

      No matter what MSM likes to claim the tsunami and earthquake are of MUCH great concern and as such the reactor probably took a back seat in the early days. Not a good thing, but totally understandable.

      This is a minor nit pick i know.

  18. Chris Miller

    In other news

    In the French 'Territoire d'Outre-mer' of St-Pierre-et-Miquelon (a couple of flyspecks in the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway) iodide tablets have been issued. Well, if the 'nuage radioactif' reaches across the Pacific + North America to the point where such protective measures become necessary, I guess we can kiss goodbye to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, ...

    Warning: '20 minutes' is roughly equivalent to 'Metro' in the UK, so take this story with a grain of salt (or iodine, if preferred).

  19. Andydaws

    No need to try and establish a link to the lower radiation doses then

    A bit of a challenge, that. It's been tried. Lots of times.

    It's a paper following the most exposed individuals from the Windscale fire of 1956. Unusual in that it didn't need to be worked from epidemiological statistics (hard to do, because of a small contribution compared to natural variations), or where supposed death rates were back calculated from exposure and applying assumptions about low-dose mortality.

    "This paper studies the mortality and cancer morbidity of the 470 male workers involved in tackling the 1957 Sellafield Windscale fire or its subsequent clean-up. Workers were followed up for 50 years to 2007, extending the follow-up of a previously published cohort study on the Windscale fire by 10 years. The size of the study population is small, but the cohort is of interest because of the involvement of the workers in the accident. Significant excesses of deaths from diseases of the circulatory system (standardised mortality ratio (SMR) = 120, 95% CI = 103-138; 194 deaths) driven by ischaemic heart disease (IHD) (SMR = 133, 95% CI = 112-157, 141 deaths) were found when compared with the population of England and Wales but not when compared with the population of Northwest England (SMR = 105, 95% CI = 90-120 and SMR = 115, 95% CI = 97-136 respectively). When compared with those workers in post at the time of the fire but not directly involved in the fire the mortality rate from IHD among those involved in tackling the fire was raised but not statistically significantly (rate ratio (RR) = 1.11, 95% CI = 0.92-1.33). A RR of 1.11 is consistent with an excess relative risk of 0.65 Sv(-1) as reported in an earlier study of non-cancer mortality in the British Nuclear Fuels plc cohort of which these workers are a small but significant part. There was a statistically significant difference in lung cancer mortality (RR = 2.18, 95% CI = 1.05-4.52) rates between workers who had received higher recorded external doses during the fire and those who had received lower external doses. Comparison of the mortality rates of workers directly involved in the accident with workers in post, but not so involved, showed no significant differences overall. On the basis of the use of a propensity score the average effect of involvement in the Windscale fire on all causes of death was - 2.13% (se = 3.64%, p = 0.56) though this difference is not statistically significant. The average effect of involvement in the Windscale fire was - 5.53% (se = 3.81, p = 0.15) for all cancers mortality and 6.60% (se = 4.03%, p = 0.10) for IHD mortality though neither figure was statistically significant. This analysis of the mortality and cancer morbidity experience of those Sellafield workers involved in the 1957 Windscale fire does not reveal any measurable effect of the fire upon their health. Although this study has low statistical power for detecting small adverse effects, due to the relatively small number of workers, it does provide reassurance that no significant health effects are associated with the 1957 Windscale fire even after 50 years of follow-up."

    Note that - at the level of raw statistics cancer mortality was LOWER than that for a similar, unexposed cohort, albeit not at a level that was statistically significant.

    In fact, the evidence for a relationship between cancer rates and low doses is very questionable. The "Linear Low Dose Hypothesis" is only usually justified on the precautionary principle, not because there's good evidence for it.

    1. There's a bee in my bot net

      @Andydaws, An interesting read. Thanks.

      Agreed, the problem of establishing (or disestablishing) a link is the thankfully small numbers exposed to low doses (i.e. > 100 < 250mSv/yr perhaps even < 500mSv/yr depending on your point of view).

      From the abstract this is interesting: "Significant excesses of deaths from diseases of the circulatory system were found when compared with the population of England and Wales but not when compared with the population of Northwest England" I wonder why? Higher background radiation in the NE? More coal mines, flour mills or steel smelting perhaps leading to increased incidents of respiratory disease? Maybe the indigenous population of the North East are just a bit more sickly than the rest of England & Wales.

      Would have been interesting to read the full text...

      >In fact, the evidence for a relationship between cancer rates and low doses is very questionable. The "Linear Low Dose Hypothesis" is only usually justified on the precautionary principle, not because there's good evidence for it.

      Questionable yes, clear cut? No. Until there is good evidence one way or the other, the precautionary principle sounds eminently sensible.

      1. Andydaws

        the full text should be available on-line somewhere.

        "Significant excesses of deaths from diseases of the circulatory system were found when compared with the population of England and Wales but not when compared with the population of Northwest England" I wonder why? Higher background radiation in the NE?

        Well, radiation isn't normally associated with heart disease. And traditionally, high-saturated fat diets and smoking levels have tended to be higher in industrial/former industrial areas like the North West, than with the UK average.

        " Until there is good evidence one way or the other, the precautionary principle sounds eminently sensible"

        It depends what it's used for. In terms of setting exposure limits, perhaps. In terms of evaluating probable mortality rates from an incident like Fukushima, then the case is less good. What's most problematic is when it gets used to reveiw something like Windscale, where using it leaves to claims of up to 200 deaths as a result, but without there being a statistically extractable "signal" to demonstrate increased mortality.

        Part of the problem is, even on the LLDH model, the contribution is small against the general background of cancer deaths - even at highish doses. Even applyiing it to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors doesn't produce a number of deaths that can reasonably be expected to be identifiable in the "normal" death rates - to quote David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge:

        "The perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also somewhat contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives.

        By 1992, over 40,000 had died, but it has been estimated that only 690 of those deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were major."

        Which I make as about a 1.7% contribution to mortality - versus 20-25% of "normal" mortality being down to cancer, without a specific radiation contribution. And to get that, you need to have been exposed to an atom bomb, and the subsequent fall-out.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      Let me see if I can precis this.

      Workers who fought the Windscale fire have a *slightly* increased death rate relative to similar groups in the south of England.


      Northeners are less fit than southerners and tend to die earlier.

      There is no *significant* increase in the death rates between northeners working in Windscale and northeners working in any other bit of the north. In fact their was an apparently slight lowering (but this could just be noise).

      QED Putting out a burning nuclear reactor does *not* shorten average life expectancy in a statistically significant way.

      Living in northern England does.

      1. Andydaws

        Pretty much.

        More importantly, the mortality rate of the Windscale workers is idto all intents and purposes the same as the population from which they're drawn.

  20. Raving

    Ignorance, fear and significant background radiation

    Elevated background levels of .5 - 1. microsieverts per hour persist and are clearly indicated around Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture.

    Care for some Fukushima® sashimi with a side of Chisso-Minamata dipping sauce?

    1. James Hughes 1

      So you don't have to go to Japan

      Move to Cornwall to get the same effect, albeit with a less friendly welcome.

      1. Raving

        Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay James?

        Compare the Japanese passive aggressive display of 'Denial of Responsibility' to the British 'stiff upper lip' smirk at the prospect of being caned.

        Notice that similarity between the two cultures. Interesting.

    2. AndyC

      .5-1.0 microsieverts? Big deal!

      Try getting that reading in Cornwall. You're more likely to get 10 than 1!

      1. Raving

        500-1,000 millisieverts? For a Japanese samurai < y a w n >

        "Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns' he said: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred."

        That's the problem with too little ignorance and too much fear. Not like good ol' days,

    3. Tim Worstal

      The banana equivalent dose

      0.1 microsieverts. Hugely scary number: it's what you get from eating a banana.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not quite sure how this qualifies as a 'minor incident'

    4.7GWe of power generation has been completely trashed and will never restart. Factories and homes are experiencing lengthy blackouts and disruptions to production. Thousands of people are temporarily homeless. Other nuclear plants are going to need repairs and probable safety improvements to ensure backup power cannot be lost ever again.

    1. JimC


      In the context of 18,000 people dead and I imagine hundreds of square miles of populated land trashed I'd say its pretty minor...

      Did Japan have any non nuclear power plants in the affected areas? Are they generating anything?

      I also wonders how many radio active sources from medical or industrial uses are scattered among the debris.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        The wind power industry has been vocal about how their plants stayed online

        Poke "wind power survive japan earthquake" into your favorite search engine

        I'd place my $$ on building-top solar arrays having survived as well, at least where the building did. That's harder to measure since those installations are decentralized.

        On the other hand, Fukushima created a giant urgent problem right when Japan is least able to spare the resources to deal with it. Think of all the people and equipment that are tied up in diffusing that timebomb and mitigating the impacts. Think of the all the international players who got sucked in to monitoring and supporting the staff of one stupid power plant.

    2. Robert Sneddon

      Spike is on the job

      A good article with some real numbers about the power station shutdowns in Japan and an explanation of Japan's two separate national grids which prevents load sharing to any great extent can be found here.

      Another 10,000 old folks could die of heatstroke due to the reduced amount of power available for air conditioning in the big cities during the summer and autumn.

  22. Kurt Guntheroth

    What would a serious nuclear incident look like to Mr Page?

    The nuclear industry itself identifies any loss-of-coolant accident as a serious incident even if no radiation is released. But not Mr Page.

    I expect the many industrial customers unable to ship parts into or obtain parts from Japan's sensitive just-in-time supply chain due to electricity disruption may cite a nuclear disaster to their shareholders. But not Mr Page.

    TEPCO shareholders must already view the multi-billion-dollar total writeoff and cleanup costs for four destroyed reactors as a financial catastrophe. But not Mr Page.

    I rather expect the still-displaced residents of Pripyat and the birth-defect victoms of Kiev view Chernobyl as a pretty frikkin' serious disaster. But not Mr Page.

    So I gotta ask, "Mr Page, what level of civilian death and economic consequence would you describe as representative of a significant nuclear disaster?" What toll separates 'engineering triumph' from gross failure in your own mind? Can a nuclear reactor fail at all?

    1. Abremms

      you know...

      you know there was an big earthquake, right? and a tsunami? Those will have a vastly larger economic impact than 4 reactors being scrapped.

      last estimates I saw put the cleanup above 100billion, 2% of Japan's GNP. 3 Mile Island in USA cost about 1 billion to clean up one reactor, so estimate 5 billion on the high end to clean up the 4 reactors at the Fukushima plant. kinda puts it in perspective. for all the media attention and fear and vitrole thats been directed at this sideshow, it is only going to be about 5% of the total cleanup bill. Thats not even going into the human cost. The Fukushima plant will foot only a tiny tiny percentage of that bill.

    2. PsychicMonkey

      Look at the context.

      This is minor, in the context that nothing significant has or will happen because of the problems at this nuclear plant, thousands of people are dead due to a natural disaster. They way the news is reporting it(and many people here) you'd think that the powerplant caused the earthquake.

      "Mr Page, what level of civilian death and economic consequence would you describe as representative of a significant nuclear disaster?"

      level of civilan death = 0 , economic consequence = harder to calculate, but in terms of the rest of the natural disaster zone, probably very minor.

      so what was your point? or are you like the main media outlets, just diaspointe dthat Lewis was right and you didn't get to see a meltdown?

      Flames, as thats what you clearly wanted to see.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        china syndrome

        Actually, one thing that hasn't been mentioned in all of this is that even if there were a core meltdown did occur in Fukushima daiichi, the reactors were designed with this in mind. To wit: outside the reaction vessel, there is a containment vessel. Should a runaway reaction in the reaction vessel cause the fuel rods to melt, they will melt their way through the bottom of it and pool in the surrounding containment vessel.

        The reason why the nuclear reaction in the reaction vessel was self-sustaining to begin with is mainly a matter of geometry. By having rods in such close proximity to each other, the rate of neutron capture increases to the point where a decaying Uranium atom's decay particles have an increasing chance of being absorbed by atoms in the surrounding rods, to the point where the cascade of absorption and decay events is sufficient to produce a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

        In (one of) the worst case scenario(s) the reaction not only achieves criticality (ie, probability of decay particles causing another decay = 1), but greatly exceeds it, then the core can melt down. But even if the core does melt down through the bottom of the reaction vessel, it will form a puddle at the bottom of the containment vessel. The shape/geometry of this mass of Uranium (+ reaction byproducts + other things that melted into the vessel) is such that now the probability that decay particles will spawn another decay event is much less than what's needed for the reaction to continue to be critical (ie, less than 1).

        So this brings me to the reason why I responded specifically to your post... in this case, there is almost no chance that a full core meltdown would even escape the containment vessel or melt its way down "to the water table", let alone to the centre of the Earth. Because even reaching the water table would actually be very bad, obviously the people who design reactors (even 40 years ago) foresaw the risk and designed their reactors accordingly.

        One last comment in general... thanks Lewis, it's nice to read your anti-hysterical articles. Ever since this crisis came to the fore, it's been writers like yourself (along with a moderate amount of background knowledge I had) that have helped me decide early on that there wasn't really anything to worry about with these particular reactors, despite all the media reports and grumblings to the contrary. Thanks as well for bringing our attention back to the much larger problems caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Thanks & well done.

        1. byrresheim

          China Syndrome

          Thank you for your measured answer. There are two points I would like to bring up in turn:

          a) to my knowledge, the number one plant (as well as N°2?) is not hardened against the (admittedly not very probable case) of a full core meltdown, while the newer ones (N°s 2(?) to six are. Is my understanding correct?

          b) when I mentioned the "China Syndrome" that was in reference to Mr. Page overdoing his antihysterics by a long shot. Please look up his first article where he dissects this colloquialism in all undue seriousness to show that anybody who is concerned by those riscs is technically naive.

          I would like to stress that from late monday onwards it became apparent that the greatest danger lay not in the cores melting down but rather in the storage basins cooking dry and the stored fuel rods catching fire in the process.

          1. Frumious Bandersnatch

            containment vessels & co

            I did a search this morning to see if I could find anything about some of the cores not having a protective containment vessel, but I couldn't find anything to back up that assertion. Maybe you were referring to the state of some of the reactors which were fully shut down and so only had residual heat to dissipate, and so had no risk of meltdown?

            I didn't actually read Lewis's article that mentioned the China Syndrome initially, so my "nobody has mentioned" comment might have been off the mark. The best articles I've read on the events as they unfolded have been written by Dick Ahlstrom in the Irish Times, as he's done a really good job of explaining the actual problems and defusing the hysteria.

            As to the risk of fire in the spent fuel ponds, that certainly is something to be concerned about, but it's an entirely different issue, and thankfully that also seems to be under control now.

            Just one more comment about reports of the Japanese authorities being deceitful or reticent about reporting on the extent of the problem. This isn't something you raised, but has certainly been a line that has been trotted out by many media outlets recently. While there may be some element of this in general due to a general culture of not wanting to admit mistakes or collectively "lose face", I've actually got the opposite impression, and trust that the authorities are mostly open and honest about problems if they recognise that they are actually big problems. Two things make me think this way. Firstly, the last time there was a major nuclear incident in Japan was when workers mixed fuel by hand in buckets rather than using the equipment/tools they should have done, causing several deaths and damage to buildings, etc. I was actually living in Japan at the time, and was following events as they unfolded on TV. The initial reports might have been a bit vague, but within a day or two, there was no doubt about what had actually happened and we were getting updates about the state of the situation, readings on radiation levels, etc.

            With this particular crisis, I'm no longer living in Japan, but we do have NHK broadcasts available to us on freeview satellite. Since the quake hit, the channel has been a pretty good source of information about what's currently happening, both regarding the situation with the power plant and the wider problems with dealing with the aftermath of the quake and tsunami. It mightn't have been the most technically detailed source, of course, but overall they've done a good job of explaining the situation to regular viewers who mightn't even know how a nuclear reactor works. Overall, I'd have to say that this reporting has been pretty good and impartial, which is actually more than I can say about some other major sources.

            One last point about Japan's "dishonesty" in reporting is that actually they're obliged to report all kinds of accidents and events that can pose risk of radiation release or other incident to the IAEA, and nobody, I think, is suggesting that they've failed to report what they should. While the authorities there might be a bit slow in releasing information at first (due to the afforementioned cultural issues, but also not wishing to cause panic) I don't think that there's any doubt but that when they do admit to themselves that there's a real problem, there isn't any question of covering it up, and in general western reports to the contrary are as much, if not more, about sensational stories than they are about reporting the facts.

        2. Andydaws

          I think you've got the wrong end of the stick, slightly....

          Criticality issues are only indirectly related to meltdown potential, Bandersnatch. It's an issue of the rate of heat generation and removal.

          Only a limited proportion of decay events involve a neutron emission - most are alpha or beta decay, which still generates heat, but can't drive a chain reaction. Further, in the description you

          "The shape/geometry of this mass of Uranium (+ reaction byproducts + other things that melted into the vessel) is such that now the probability that decay particles will spawn another decay event is much less than what's needed for the reaction to continue to be critical (ie, less than 1)."

          you miss out the main issue - the lack of moderation. the probability of neutron capture varies with the speed/energy of the neutron. In uranium and plutonium, it's much, much higher at "thermal" speeds (when the speed of the neutron is of the same sort of order as atoms moving under normal thermal excitation). When they're emitted, they're "fast" - moving a couplf of orders of magnitude faster.

          You can get criticality on fast neutrons alone - that's how fast reactors or bombs work. But, you need much higher levels of enrichment to achieve it - 40% or so at absolute minimum.

          At commercial reactor levels of enrichment, (2-3%) you need "moderator" - something the neutrons can bounce around in, shedding energy, and slowing to a point where they can be captured by another uranium nucleus.

          Pretty much by definition, within a bolus of melted fuel, it's hard to have moderation - especially in a water-cooled and moderated reactor!

          So no, the possibility of a meltdown is dependent on the ongoing decay heat, and the heat energy already in the melted fuel at the point of melting. That's part of what makes it a far less likely event that the protagonists of the "China Syndrome" would have you believe.

          1. Frumious Bandersnatch

            wrong end of the stick?

            Hi Andydaws. I had to read your post a couple of times before realising that you're effectively agreeing with what I said. I take it your main quibble is that criticality isn't necessary to cause a reactor meltdown. That's fair enough. I was aware that it's not just neutron recapture that causes the temperature of the core to increase. I did mention (or at least hint) that the decay puts out other decay particles, not just neutrons and as you mentioned, these are the main reason why the core heats up. But I also have to quibble with your explanation, as without fission events there would be no mass->energy conversion and hence no increase in core temperature. So yes, technically criticality isn't needed for the core to be hot or get hotter, the rate of neutron recapture is, I think, quite relevant in understanding thermal runaway since, if I understand it correctly, a linear increase in the rate of neutron recapture results in an exponential increase in heat output. So maybe criticality per se isn't the main issue, but the underlying idea of neutron recapture and the chain reaction definitely is.

            > Pretty much by definition, within a bolus of melted fuel, it's hard to have moderation - especially in a water-cooled and moderated reactor!

            Yes, we're in agreement here. I deliberately glossed over the issue of fast neutrons versus neutrons slowed down by a moderator. But since you mentioned it, I'd just like to point out to other readers, if it's not clear to them, that the right moderator and the right geometry actually serve to increase the rate of neutron recapture and hence push the reaction towards become self-sustaining, or at least generating usable amounts of heat energy. For what we're talking about, namely core meltdown and what happens after, moderation is actually a bad thing because it contributes to thermal runaway. My initial point was that if the fuel rods melt down and there is nothing more than a puddle of fuel with all the moderating material boiled off, then there is nothing to slow down neutrons enough to be recaptured, and the rate of fission greatly decreases. And as you said, the main problem at that stage is just dealing with residual heat. I simplified it by saying that the puddle of fuel simply didn't have the right geometry to sustain a chain reaction (though as you point out, my simplification of saying criticality here was technically wrong), but you can also explain it in terms of the lack of a moderating medium. On the whole, though, saying the geometry isn't right is probably more to the point, so that's why I tried to explain it in those terms.

            1. Andydaws

              Not quite, Bandersnatch...


              I think there's a bit of a point of departure - reading your last, it's about the nature of decay heat production.

              If I'm understanding you, you think it's primarily due to ongoing fission events, triggered by sub-critical absorbtion of neutron emissions. While that can make a small - with the stress on the small - contribution, the majority of decay heat doesn't arise that way.

              It arises from alpha and beta emissions from fission products. The neutron flux in a shut-down reactor is pretty much negligible. What's going on is the various daugher products are following their own decay paths, with those events involving mass-energy conversions. If you think about it, that's why they decay - to move to a lower energy state.

              And they do involve mass-energy conversions. An beta particle spits out of a nucleus with very impressive kinetic energy indeed - mostly, to be absorbed by surrounding material, alphas slightly less so. That comes from a conversion.

              As an example, think about what happens to reprocessed waste. Once the uranium and plutonium - the fisionable elements - are removed, the heat production in the waste is barely affected. The uranium and plutonium can be stored uncooled. The fission product waste most certainly can't. That requires active cooling for some decades post reprocessing. There's next to no fissionable component in that waste, so pretty much by definition, the heat production can't be rising from ongling fission.

              1. Frumious Bandersnatch
                Paris Hilton


                Hi again, Andrew. Thanks for elucidating more of the picture for us. I must admit that I did overlook the fact that a fission event will often create one (or more?) radioactive isotope(s) which will in turn decay, causing more energy output. I think lurking in the background of my mind at the time was the notion that a lot of the daughter atoms are considered waste products in the general sense and reduce the reactor's efficiency. I remember reading that in an explanation of the thorium fuel cycle at, but I guess it applies to any nuclear fuel cycle. I can't remember the exact mechanism for these causing reduced reactor efficiency, but I think I had mentally filed it away as meaning that the daughter atoms were less effective in producing heat, which is the whole point of the reactor in the first place, so I naturally discounted them as the major heat producer in the reactor. Thinking about it now, perhaps efficiency in this case isn't only referring to the ability to convert fuel to heat, but includes an element of how effectively a chain reaction can be sustained or how much total energy can be extracted from a given amount of fuel before the waste products must be separated?

                Your post also begs the question... with the errors and omissions in the way I described the meltdown process corrected, does this mean that my confidence in a meltdown being effectively contained without causing a further disaster is actually misplaced? I'm genuinely curious to know, even if it contradicts what I originally thought. Or do we end up with being able to say that even if the core melts down, so long as we can cool it down in time and continue to actively cool it, that we don't have much to worry about? And what of the initial topic of the China Syndrome? Is the residual heat production capability sufficient, in your view, to melt through the bottom of the containment vessel, or is a conflagration of the melted material a more practical concern? Should I upgrade my assessment from "not much to worry about" to "everybody panic again?"

                1. Andydaws

                  Apologies for the lecture....

                  The daughter products can (in quite a few cases) act as neutron absorbers - Xenon in probably the worst (but is very short lived - it can pose a significant challenge to reactor management when output levels are being adjusted, imposing a limit on how fast power can be ramped-up). That's unrelated to heat production. That cuts down the total amount of neutrons available to maintain the chain reaction (I'll come back to why that matters particularly for the proposed molten salt thorium reactors). So your comments about the chain reaction are spot on.

                  And the heat production is a matter of relative levels. To give an example, reactor 1 at Fukushima Dai-ichi would be producing about 1500MW of heat at full power - of which, about 95 MW would be from daughter product decay, so about 6 1/2 % of the total.

                  As to meltdown risk. No, not really, the confidence is still well placed. TIming is everything. There's a standardised formula for the rate of decay heat production in a light water reaction, and having run it for R1 at Fukushima, the broad picture is 95MW 1 second after shutdown, about 12 MW after an hour, 7 MW after 2 days, and probably now down to about 3-4MW. So, Basically, if you can hold things togeher for the first hour or two, you're into levels where it'd be hard to imagine that the heat generation from melted fuel wouldn't be of an order where it could be lost through the RPV, or to whatever coolant was still coming in.

                  Basically, the "s** or bust" moment would be if criticality was maintained, so that the fuel was hitting the RPV bottom within seconds or minutes of being in full power output. Even then, I doubt it'd penetrate. You'd have to do a full heat balance of the rate of production, plus the relative heat capacities of the fuel and RPV, plus the rate of loss to remaining coolant and through the RPV wall. TMI was probably as close as you're going to get to that (although there was still lots of water in the vessel), and penetration into the RPV floor was minimal.

                  Back to "poisons". The reason they feature so prominently in discussions of LFTR designs isn't heat production per se - it's their impact on breeding ratios. Every neutron lost to a poison is one that's not available for breeding fuel.

                  Before I go any further, I'll declare my hand. I think LFTR desings are well worth exploring. But equally, I think that some of the protagonists either don't understand, or are glossing over some pretty big challenges. I don't see them being "breeders" per se, in the sense of making a surplus of fuel for new reactors to start up, but I think they'll go pretty close to being self-fuelling.

                  To run an LFTR on a "closed cycle" - i.e making as much fuel as it connsumes - depends utterly on good neutron economy. You have to get fission products out of the salt quickly. for some, that's easy. for example, xenon can be got out of solution simply by spraying (!) the fuel at some stage through an inert atmosphere. Other stuff is harder - and would mean that you had a big inventory of stuff like Iodine on site, outside the relative safety of the main circuit. In some ways, the biggest challenge is something that's part of the actual thorium-uranium cycle, i.e. protactinium. When thorium 232 captures a neutron, it becomes protactinium 233, which then decays back to uranium 233, with a half-life of a month or so. Unfortunately, protactinium 233 rather like to absorm neutrons, so that has to be removed (so it can be taken away and allowed to decay to useful uranium), and that involves delights like bubbling the fuel through a column of liquid bismuth. you also have to do things like sparge flourine through the fuel to extract any uranium made.

                  So, although from some aspects they look good, they have one f**k of a big chemical process plant stuck on the side, some of it dealing with rather nasty materials like flourine. I suspect that'll be a bigger safety challenge than the reactor itself!

                  And I'm not entirely convinced about the proposed cooling/safety arrangements. They may not have quite the daughter product burden of conventional reactors, but even if fuel is drained and dumped into cooling tanks, there's still an awful lot of heat to get away - more than the simple air-cooling arrangements talked about would be suitable for.

    4. byrresheim

      Oh yes,a reactor can fail. Albeit neither in theory nor in practice.

      Had you followed Mr. Page closely, you would have understood by now that a reactor that blows up in a nuclear fission explosion is a failed reactor.

      Below that threshold there is no problem, you see.

      The China Syndrome is never going to happen, because a (purely hypothetical) molten core will never reach China as it will be stopped and cooled by the ground water table. Radioctive dust that is ingested is no problem. Chernobyl was never a real problem, so there was no need to do an epidemological follow up of the "liquidators".

      Everything is explained now, we can continue to pray to our cargo dropping overlords.


  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Which is more important? Eat food with a tiny bit of radiation or starve

    1. Bronek Kozicki


      And why do you think anyone would have a problem with radioactive food? We live, sleep, work and eat radioactive all the time, since the beginning of human race.

  24. sisk

    NOT a minor incident

    A level 5 nuclear hazard does not equate a minor incident. This is equivalent to Three Mile Island. The media hysteria is bad, admittedly, but your constant downplaying of the severity of the incident is even worse. The hysteria is prompted by ignorance. You seem to know enough about nuclear power to know better, which makes you either a shill for nuclear power or an ostrich with your head in the sand.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A bent copper


      (The post is required, and must contain letters)

    2. CADmonkey

      Three mile island?

      Three mile island was a media-raped storm in a teacup as well.

  25. mike2R

    Dogs and cats living together

    George Monibot - staff tree hugger at the Guardian - has come out in favour of nuclear power as a result of the Fukushima incident.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Wasn't he...?

      Seriously Pro-Brown? Or was it Israel murdering Palestinian bystanders? I forget. Just that I decided he was an absolute cunt. Maybe I'm thinking of someone else.

      1. mike2R


        I can't remember to be honest. I just know he's been on my list of "don't read or you will start swearing at the monitor" for quite a while.

        Thinking about it, I believe he's one of those economic-growth-is-bad-and-we-need-to-stop-it types.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No, it was

          Aaronovitch. My bad.

    2. Jim Morrow
      Paris Hilton

      George Monbiot

      No cause is truly lost until it is endorsed by George Monbiot.

      Paris icon because she at least knows what she's talking about.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    i think you mean

    'Minor incident'

    Surely you mean 'tis just a flesh wound'?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It's all clear except...

    .. for what is happening to the tons of water sprayed onto those triumph :-) things. Does the water evaporate? Leak in the soil or in the sea? Store somewhere? And what kind of particles does it bring with it?

    BTW for me the fact that the plant was hit by a quake/tsunami combo x times more powerful than the specs itself is a huge failure, in the specification phase of the project. Instead of "stress testing" our plants (whatever that means, come on, are we going to launch a tsunami at one of our facilities to see what happens) we should perhaps start with reviewing the specs we used to design them.

    1. PsychicMonkey

      what with all the steam in the air

      you might have an answer.

      As for the failiure in the specification phase of the project, what should they design it for, the biggest quake we've ever seen, bigger than that?

      This was in the top 6 of quakes ever recorded in our history, the plant survived it. It was then hit by a massive tsunami, the like of which has not been seen many times before, the plant survived that.

      The real issue here is that the back batteries didn't last long enough to continue cooling until the could restore power, considering the state f the surrounding area I think this is forgivable.

      Do you want everything massivly over-engineered? cars crash occasionally so I guess we should make them out of 2 foot thick concrete just in case eh?

      In the 40 years they have been there they have done very well, it took a disaster that no-one could have thought of to disrupt them.

  28. Mystic Megabyte


    Tell us Mr.Page why you cannot insure your house against a nuclear incident.

    Tell us the name of Fukushima's insurance company and the limit of their cover.

    1. JimC

      Why you cannot insure your house

      because insurance companies just love exclusions and its so damn unlikely to happen no one cares?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Reasons for not underwriting <Anything>

      Most insurance companies will exclude from standard underwritting any risk for which there is insuffcient data to work out the probability of the event occuring and the potential size of the loss.

      However if you really want to take out nuclear coverage on your home, I am sure for a large enough premium somebody at Lloyds will underwrite it for you.


      or a good bookie, yes it is a very similar job

    3. Steven Jones

      Insurance & low probability, high-impact events

      I'm sure Lewis knows full well the reason why normal household insurance cover won't cover nuclear accidents. Insurance works by paying for large losses of the few by contributions by the many. Unfortunately a large scale nuclear accident which could lead to unquantifiable and massive payouts is not something the insurance industry will contemplate as they don't know how to work out the odds (and a payout could bankrupt them). For the same reason, nuclear plants can't be insured for third party damage on an unlimited basis. In this case, the state becomes the insurer of last resort (a bit like it was with the banking system). There is a strong case that this is a hidden subsidy (just as it was in the banking system).

      Unfortunately Lewis is so gung-ho in trying to demonstrate that this was a triumph and of minor importance that he loses credibility with rather more measured commentators. What was shown was that in a fairly extreme case (albeit a foreseeable one) that there was a major failure which will have significant financial costs. I'm guessing the bill starts at $10bn but will almost certainly be much more when clean-up, replacing capacity, economic disruption due to generating shortages is taken into account. That's before the increased costs of improved safety/security on new plant is included.

      So Lewis is concentrating on the public health impact (which should be limited) rather than the financial implications (which are rather serious, most obviously for the nuclear industry). And all that because the plant was designed more round one in a hundred type scenarios rather than one in a thousand, or one in ten thousand - arguably more appropriate.

    4. mmiied


      I can not insure my houose against a lot of things teriousum for example

      I know friends who can not inmsure there house against flood

      insurance is an art nuculre physics is s scince

  29. umacf24


    It's not a minor incident when you pour raw seawater into the core of a nuclear reactor at any time at all. As soon as you go outside the operator's manual... it ceases to be a minor incident at that point.

    Nor is it minor to lose two or three GW of capacity.

    I do tend to agree with LP's argument that Fukushima shows how nuclear consequences are quite limited even in the face of grossly unreasonable challenges. But we need "minor" to talk about people dropping spanners down behind the reactor, not when the hydrogen venting fails so badly that the outer roof is blown away...

    The beer? For the teams at Fukushima.

    1. Terry Barnes


      I think that needing to call in a wide assortment of energency service personnel at such a time has cost many lives - if these are the elite of Japan's first responders, their absence is no doubt being sorely felt elsewhere in the country.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Also

        "I think that needing to call in a wide assortment of energency service personnel at such a time has cost many lives - if these are the elite of Japan's first responders, their absence is no doubt being sorely felt elsewhere in the country."

        An excellent point. Amidst the "Stop reading about the nuclear stuff! Did you not know there was a tsunami?!" and "The MSM are hyping us!" wailing, in chorus with Lewis's declaration of triumph, few people have considered either the cost of diverting such personnel to fight reactor fires or the outcome of not diverting them and just letting the reactors get on with it on their own.

        Maybe the emergency services concerned would have been sitting around eating doughnuts and watching television, waiting for the chance to slide down the pole, but I severely doubt it.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    How can you call this a minor incident?

    3 partial core meltdowns, 3 nuclear units are probably total writeoffs for something in the neighborhood of a few billion $, 1 other unit has 100s of millions in damage/decontamination costs, several power plant workers dead, radioactivity at unacceptable levels in numerous widely dispersed water and agricultural samples, 10s or hundreds of thousands evacuated, old radiation limits for plant personnel increase by more than 2X so that they could stay onsite and still be within radiation exposure limits.

    This accident is already far worse than 3 Mile Island, and we still dont know the details of what the damage will be.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Minor incident?

      Well, in case you hadn't noticed, while all the Fukushima fuss was going on, a huge earthquake and tsunami have left 15-20,000 people dead or missing, 300,000+homeless, and a likely 5+ year multibillion cleanup cost. Looking at the overall picture the events at Fukushima were only a minor part.

      1. Terry Barnes


        Surely an incident is minor or major in absolute terms, not relative to any other event? Chernobyl was 'minor' in comparison to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs but I think it stands up quite well in isolation as a serious nuclear incident.

        1. mmiied


          nothing is absouloute it is only relitive to everyting else going on

          1 death is major in a town of 100 pepol

          1 death in minor in a city or 100,000,000

          1 death is a stat in a war between nations

    2. Abremms


      It bothers me when people talk about the financial cost at Fukushima. It's like they don't even realise there was a massive quake and tsunami there.

      I said this elsewhere, but I think its worth repeating. Last estimate I read was that Japan's cleanup would cost over $100billion, about 2% of thier GNP. 3 Mile Island cost the US about 1 billion, so we can guestimate from there that Fukushima, having 4 reactors to be scrapped and various other repairs to make will be between $4 and $5 billion. Sure, its a lot of money, but its less than 5% of the total cleanup bill.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just Lewis

    George Monbiot has just come to a similar conclusion in his Guardian article today

    1. Quxy
      Black Helicopters

      And why not?

      Monbiot is hardly the only "green power" proponent to weigh in in favour of nuclear energy. Methinks the "natural" enemies of modern nuclear power sources are those entities with a vested interest in fossil fuels, not people looking for clean energy.

  32. Leona A

    fail safe

    A system that can NOT fail safe, is a failure. End of.

    The plant needs power to cool its fuel, what happens if there is NO power, BOOM!

    Bad design, go away, design something that 'fails safe' then come back and tell us its a triumph.

    Radiation levels in food and water near the plant of Over Legal Limits, why are Legal Limits set if there is No Danger, would Mr Page like to go over and sample some of the glowing delights? I very much doubt it.

    Stop banging the Nuclear drum, yes we need it, but No it is Far from Safe!

    1. CADmonkey

      Excessive Capitalisation

      Is how Piglet talks in the Winnie-the-Pooh books. It sure sounds cute when he/she does it, but it is not a Clever Thing For Grownups To Do if they want their peers to Think Well Of Their Opinions.

      1. Steve X


        Even so, Piglet would probably have a better interpretation of Fukushima than Eeyore...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      I think you'll find..

      that the radiation levels are definitely far too low to cause anything to visibly glow. That's scaremongering and no mistake.

    3. John Robson Silver badge

      Precautionary limits

      Main reason the limits are set:

      - Precaution.

      There isn't a evidence for any risk at levels significantly higher than the legal limits. But, partly due to wild mistrust of anything with the "N" word, we have these very low limits in place.

      If I recall correctly, when I was at school it was the case that normal tea bags were actually sufficiently radioactive that technically they should have been dealt with as Medium Level Waste. (Note that I can't currently spot anything to back that claim up - not that I've tried very hard)

  33. Ben 50

    To make the point...

    I guess you all realise that South West England experienced a major Tsunami in 1607?

    Not living so far from Hinkley point, and knowing some of the muppets which work there, I have Zero confidence that they're in good shape.

  34. Ben 50
    Big Brother

    This has gone far enough

    How is this not a disaster? A secretive industry used to lying about cutting risk and cutting corners has had reactor buildings blowing up due to an eminently forseable risk being downplayed, some of the longest lived and most toxic materials known to man scattered over 100s of kilometers, and this is a minor incident?

    The entire industry is corrupt and rotten. Par for the course is to downplay and lie like the increasingly revolting Page.

    Watch this about Chernobyl to get some sort of idea how close we have come before, and how lucky we have been this time:

    1. AndyC
      Thumb Down

      You don't know me...

      So how can you say I'm corrupt.

      I say you are a perverted child molester. Does that make it true? Statistically, given the numbers of people who read El Reg, then I could be telling the truth.

      The fact is, I don't know you and you don't know me.

      I work in the "corrupt and rotten" nuclear industry and I am yet to falsify any data or results just because the client won't like it. In fact, when I interview people, I ask them if they have ever had to compromise their integrity, i.e. lie, to get the job done.

      What is the eminently foreseeable risk you are talking about? The M9.0 earthquake, which the station survived, or the tsunami, which was twice the height that had been predicted? Who's fault is that? Not the reactor designers. They can only design to parameters that they have been told. Most of the tsunami defences around Japan were overtopped that day. I don't hear you complaining about that (a fact that directly caused thousands of deaths).

      So Ben, if we don't have nucs, what shall we have? Coal? Gas? Oil? Wind? Solar? Wave? Tidal? Hydro?

      Coal, gas and oil emit Co2, and consume an expensive resource. Wind doesn't always blow, so you need CO2 emitting stations to back it up. Solar, not viable in the UK. Wave and tidal are still in development, and can't match what we need. Hydro can, but how many more dams will we have to build and valleys will we have to flood before we are self sufficient?

      Put bluntly, this was not a disaster. It could have been if the Japanese hadn't got water over the fuel. I deal in radiation shielding and radiological consequences, so I think I know what I'm talking about when I say that the releases, such that they have been, will be dispersed before they enter the food chain and the dose rates that we are seeing on the site (2mSv/hr) is probably scattered radiation from the fuel ponds (scattered from the building structure and the air).

      Oh, and I resent being called a liar by someone who obviously doesn't know what they are talking about. Feel free to comment back. I'm looking forward to a one sided debate.

    2. mmiied


      are yes the "you work/have worked in the industry so you ecpert views are obviousley a coverup" view point

      just a point but most experts have worked in there industry for years that is how they became experts

  35. Witty username

    How unsurprising

    I assumed you'd be posting your uninformed drivel all over this recent even.

    You may be interested to know someone has mentioned the word "eurofighter", so i expect you'll have even more crap to spew about it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Dead Vulture

      Re: How unsurprising

      Eurofighter Typhoons *and* Tornados have been in action this week. Lewis really has some catching up to do!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    We really must do this more often...

    I remember a few years back on a friday you had a comment competition to suggest the best line from Sci Fi. I never imagined that I would regularly see comments that number in the hundreds. Once things have cooled down at the plant I will miss it.

    Can we have a regular feature that covers something that clearly polarises opinion? And a popcorn icon?

    1. Olivier
      Thumb Up

      Popcorn Icon !

      Yeah I really like the popcorn idea. It would be applicable to Apple trademark stories too :)

      1. Ian Stephenson

        "It would be applicable to Apple trademark stories too"

        Don't forget: Microsoft, wind power, climate change, RIAA, 4Chan, Piracy......

  37. TRT Silver badge

    Power loss

    The only failure here was a failure of thinking. According to the pdf on the BWR system that I found linked to on here somewhere, there *IS* a steam driven turbine which requires no electricity to run, but it's purpose is to make up coolant loss in a reactor running at high pressure. No-one thought to back up ALL the plant's pumps with steam-driven turbines. There was quite simply no mechanism for a non-electric recirculation pump, intermediate re-circulation pump or for the pumps supplying seawater to the main heat-exchangers.

    The loss of sea-water intake from, e.g. debris blocking the intakes or a tilt-shift lifting the intakes above sea-level, or the intake tunnels collapsing, is a major, major concern, but decay heat should be able to be radiated to the atmosphere. The failure of the circulation pumps let the heat build up until the coolant system failed, and that shouldn't have happened.

  38. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Remember CERN?

    There were all those scare stories about what could happen when two high power beams of protons crash head on. When CERN first fired up their super conducting super collider, journalists from various institutions where there to build up the excitement - "The world is about to be destroyed!"

    They could have said, "Only one beam will be switched on, at low power, to test the system."

    PS: The sky is falling!

  39. penguin slapper

    A word of caution.

    The situation hasn't ended yet.

  40. proto-robbie

    Right then Lewis...

    What you gloss over in your articles is that this incident should not have happened, even with the magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami.

    I don't know the regulations in Japan, but in this country nuclear installations are supposed to fail to danger once in ten thousand years: this quake and tsunami, although massive, did not, I suspect, constitute a 1 in 10,000 year event.

    The likelihood of different scenarios obviously varies from country to country, but this type of disaster was not unexpected in Japan, and should not have caused this appalling damage.

    These reactors were:

    a) Too close together

    b) Too near the sea, at least vertically

    c) Similarly flawed

    d) Unable to power themselves when the grid failed

    e) Had insufficient, vulnerable backup, after thirty years opportunity to detect or improve it

    f) Had no one willing or able to say it wasn't good enough, nationally or internationally

    This incident is not a shining endorsement of nuclear power, but rightly a bit of a wake-up call.

    What does shine out is the bravery of the workers, who could have had little idea of what they were going up against at first, but performed heroically. Hats off to them.

    1. Dagg Silver badge

      A lot less than 1 in 10,000

      In Japan the 9.0 earthquake on its own is considered as a 1 in 1000 year event. The tsunami on its own is also 1 in 1000. Typically Japan gets events of these types once every 500 - 1000 years.

      With my bad statistics to get both together would be less than 1 in 500. Which means if the plant operates for 50 years the odds become very close to 1 in 10. That is too close for my liking.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Once in ten thousand years?

      Is that based upon a mathematical model? Guesswork? Hoping for the best? I'm not convinced an operational building will have structural integrity to last that length of time, never mind in the care of a species that likes periodic killing sprees (wars).

      1. Steven Jones


        What on earth has whether the building can last 10,000 years got to do with anything? It doesn't matter how long the individual buildings are there as they will, presumably, be replaced by new facilities at regular intervals.

        Even a one in a thousand year event isn't that great a safety margin. There isn't just one place on the Earth which is vulnerable to seismic events - there must be hundreds of such installations. Of course not all the potential seismic events are independent - one tsunami might threaten many installations, so it's not possible to simply multiply the odds. However, it's easy to see how a whole lot of installations all designed to a one-in-a-thousand year event would actually lead to a much higher probability of such an event occurring somewhere. Not too much of an issue if the consequences are limited, but where it can lead to widespread economic or health impacts it has to be taken into account.

        Of course events aren't just seismic ones - operator error, war of terrorism would also apply. That's why I would expect nuclear facilities such as this to be designed to withstand very rare events - by withstand I do not necessarily mean survive in an operable state, but to at least do so without causing large amounts of economic dislocation. That natural disasters might lead to greater losses of life is hardly an argument for not managing the risks where we can.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      and also

      I'd add a few points to the good ones proto-robbie lists here.

      g) had spent fuel storage in the primary building, without it's own containment vessel. The proximity to the failing cores prevented effective and safe management of the situation with the fuel pool during the incident. It seems this is not fashionable in current plant design, with a separate fuel storage facility showing up in designs, at least when I first looked at the Nuke plants here in California during the 1980's.

      h) prone to catastrophic hydrogen explosions blowing the tops of the buildings up. Rubble of which further complicated the emergency response and endangered lives. Even if the plants quake design envelope is exceeded, if it must fail, a plant should be designed to fail non-explosively.

      i) supposed to be shutdown and decommissioned. It was extended by 10 years instead. As a result, only a couple of months after they were supposed to exit service, they experienced multiple partial meltdowns, and a partially contained fuel fire.

      The cores all of the japanese plants scramed successfully, and as designed, after a 9 point earthquake. Their primary containment vessels survived the initial quake. That is great, in a not-in-the-slightest-bit-all sarcastic way.

      However, the older facilities had many design flaws that prevented a normal full shutdown. They id NOT "come through with flying colours in the worst possible situation." In many ways those flaws hindered or prevented attempts to to contain the damage at the site. These flaws made these facilities more likely to fail, and fail more severely, even under far less severe conditions then the quake. There are apparently more than 20 plants based on the same flawed GE containment building design still running in the states. While they may be unlikely to experience a 9 point earthquake, they pose an unacceptable long term risk due to these issues.

      The lesson to take away is that we need to understand the limitations and failures exposed by this incident, both human and mechanical. We need to make changes not only to future designs, but also to decommission flawed older reactor facilities. We also need transparency in an industry that has never tolerated public oversight or visibility. The industry must accept these points as part of the cost of doing business.

      That is why the public's inevitable overreaction is probably doing more good than harm, it will keep pressure for change up. We can help direct that in a productive direction by acknowledging the seriousness of the problem without exaggerating it. We should not, as the author has in his recent articles, gloss over these glaring failures and shortcomings by painting a rosy picture of this incident and the nuke industry that is worthy of a big tobacco spin doctor.

  41. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    On Register environment coverage in general,

    I'm taking the rarely offered opportunity to make a comment, and it is: I don't even read any of your environment/pollution/climate change/electric car coverage any more, when I recognise that that's what the story is, and it's irrelevant to the Reg's evident mission to explain information technology, and you might as well not even bother to write it.

    Although I discover myself amongst (if this is passed) a long catalogue of reader comments, which, if not written by the Reg itself, contradict my hypothesis that most other readers have given up, too. So, if not, I ask: why not? You're allowed.

  42. tom 24

    Yes, the end result was minor...

    But there was risk. To overcompensate by calling it a minor incident with no danger at all is to invite a reaction that negates the point you are selling.

  43. blue1111

    Risk arithmetic in the article is x1000 in error

    I'm sorry, I'm normally quite amenable to a pro-nuclear point of view, but I do believe it getting the facts right, and the risk arithmetic in this article is unfortunately a factor of 1000 too small.

    Through studies of atomic bomb survivors, the excess solid cancer (i.e. not leukemia) frequency is about 1% for every 100mSv of lifetime radiation dose [1]. There is of course a lot of variation depending on gender, type of exposure, age at exposure, etc., but the 1%/100mSv is a good average figure that is not wrong by more than a factor of a few in most cases.

    At a dose rate of 0.16mSv/hr, reported by this article on the border of the 20km exclusion zone, if maintained for one month would give a dose of ~100mSv, or a 1% lifetime risk of excess solid cancer. Half of people who get cancer die *of* it, and the other half die *with* it. The lifetime risk of getting cancer is about 33%, and the risk of dying of it is about 16%. Hence, this person with a 100mSv dose now has a 16.5% chance of getting cancer, which is a significant increase ... for every 200 people on the border of that exclusion zone for a month, 1 person will die of cancer, because of it. This far outweighs the 0.001% excess risk claimed in the article.

    Of course, the point about the short 1/2-life of the causative radionuclides is correct. A good guess for the effective 1/2-life of the remaining radionuclides is the time since the accident began, i.e. about a week [2]. The total dose over the next few weeks from this (decaying radioactivity) is 1-2life*present dose rate, i.e. 0.16*7*24 = 27mSv. This equates to a 0.25% risk of excess lifetime cancer (0.125% risk of death), meaning that of every 400 people who live on that 20km exclusion border, 1 will get cancer; and of every 800, 1 will die of cancer.

    I don't know the population geography there, but if, say, 10,000 people on or near that border, then we have 12 excess deaths from 25 excess cancers. Not trivial numbers, I'm sure you agree.

    In the interests of good journalism, however, it might be wise to publish an amendment, or withdrawal, of this article.


    PS. These statistics assume a linear-no-threshold dose relationship. The availale data on the subject (see [1] again) are not inconsistent with the linear-no-threshold hypothesis, and of all dose-incidence relationships, the linear-low-dose relationship fits the data the best. Unlike what was said earlier in this comments page, this hypothesis isn't simply "erring on the side of caution", but is the best scientific hypothesis that fits the facts. And it's not just the statistics that it fits, either: it concurs with what we understand about the causes of cancer (multiple radiation-induced mutations knocking out tumour-supressor genes, and switching on oncogenes, in the same cell lines), and in low-dose irradiation experiments carried out on plants and animals, the number of mutations is seen to increase linearly with dose, as the model predicts.

    [1] BEIR-VII report,

    [2] The argument goes like this: most of the current radioactivity is due to those remaining radionuclides with the shortest half life (since they are the most radioactive!). Any radionuclides with a much shorter half-life than the time since the accident will have decayed away by now, and those with a much longer half-life are assumed to contribute little to the current radioactivity (though they will dominate the remaining, lesser radioactivity in the future).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Type of radiation !

      "Through studies of atomic bomb survivors"

      This is a well known flawed model when comparing types of radiation, the bomb survivors were subject to hard gamma and high neutron flux which is a lot more damaging.

      Did you know in Australia shark attacks increase when ice cream sales go up ?

      QED lets ban ice cream thus shark attacks will fall. You can prove anything with statistics.

      1. blue1111

        Differing radiation types not a problem

        The differences between the biological effects of differing radiation types are accounted for - it's in the definition of the Sievert (look up biological Q factor in that definition).

        The simple fact is that most atomic bomb survivors were exposed to low levels of gamma radiation, those close enough in to catch a lot of neutrons (which stop in air quicker that gamma rays, because their collision cross-section is so large) probably died of acute radiation syndrome within weeks of the blast.

        The analysis is a good one: it's written by a team of decent epidemiologists and radiologist. Please be sure to read it before doubting its accuracy.

    2. Bronek Kozicki

      nice calculation except that ...

      ... this is exactly what evacuation is meant to shield the population from. Since the calculation applies to evacuated area only, you would have to significantly lower population numbers. I'd suggest to zero.

      It'd be nice though to see this calculation repeated after the exclusion zone is lifted, the population (some of it) has returned, and with the actual figures of both population and radiation levels at the time.

      Meanwhile other news: "According to the Chinese government 2,632 coal miners (seven miners a day) were killed in 2009" (source ) .

      1. blue1111

        Dose rate was measured on the edge of the exclusion zone

        Thanks for your comment. Nonetheless, you're mistaken - the article clearly says that the 0.16mSv/hr reading was taken on the border of the exclusion zone. The area immediately surrounding the border of the exclusion zone is, de facto, not evacuated.

        So there are real people, near to, but not in, the exclusion zone, being exposed to this dose rate.

  44. bamalam
    Thumb Down

    Oh come on Lewis!

    This is a very serious accident. Did you not see the state of the top of reactor no.3?!! It is nowhere near over yet.

    It will take a hell of a lot of money and risk to personnel to clean up. Japan could have a proper geothermal power system for the cost of cleaning this mess up.

    The spent fuel rods are not in any containment and are open to the elements! The risks are immense and it will be difficult for anyone to go near them. The sarcophagus for Chernobyl at least had the head start of starting at ground level and now 25 years later it requires to be replaced. This is a major fail for nuclear power.

    Bravo to the poster who brought up Hinkley Point - British reactors could also facec tsunamis.

    Let's phase out these old reactors.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    Half Right and Half Wrong

    It's not 4 x 50Mgt thermonuclear bombs about to go off or is it a couple of puppies fighting in a bag and as usual the truth lies somewhere in between.

    The most growing concern is not the nuclear reactors themselves but what to do with the waste that is left over and decommissioning of old reactors. These are the long term problems of nuclear power.

    With regards to the damaged Japanese reactors the systems are now going to be subject to salt corrosion and these are old reactors so alloys are going to degrade fast requiring an expedient solution; they just cannot be left as was Three Mile Island.

    I would like to ask the author if he would like to live next door to a fast breeder reactor, I for one would not like to live within 50 miles of one.

    Oh look Gates has been on holiday to Japan.

    1. Caladain
      Gates Horns

      Waste? LOL

      The waste disposal is actually pretty easy, but no one will do it due to potential failure. Load it up in ICBMs and shoot it, literally, into the sun.

      Or, fully deplete it and sell it to the US so we can turn it into DU rounds for our tankbusters.

    2. Terry Barnes


      We need to be sure that whatever clean up operation takes places is viable for thousands of years - and we need to find a reliable way of telling our descendants that this would be a really bad spot in the future for a maternity hospital or swimming pool or spinach farm.

      Remember that society sometimes regresses instead of evolving, knowledge and skill can be lost. People in 500 year's time may have no idea what a geiger counter is or know how to read documents we wrote warning them to stay well away. Hell, we're not even able to get at the operating manuals for computers stored on obsolete floppy disk systems from 30 years ago. How do you ensure knowledge transfer for 1,000 years or more?

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really, a minor incident?

    10,000+ people dead, destroyed cities, melted nukes, radiation exposure to people, food, water, etc. and this is a minor incident?

    1. Bronek Kozicki



  47. Matt Hawkins

    A stiff breeze more dangerous than nuclear waste

    "wind power has already caused scores of deaths in a brief period"

    Not really a fair comparison. Some workers falling to their deaths from the towers is more due to poor safety standards. Those workers would have fallen to their deaths whatever they were building whether it was a wind turbine or a telegraph pole. Some of deaths are due to "transportation" but I can't see how that is any more dangerous than transporting any other building material.

    Claiming wind is more dangerous than nuclear based on these (probably American) stats is silly.

    Also most of those deaths are construction workers. They have the ability to determine their own safety to a large extent. They can choose whether to bother with the safety harness and hard hat. The public living around a nuclear power station do not have that luxury.

    Also the Japanese tsunami and earthquake wasn't that unusual. A once in a hundred year event maybe (they had a big quake in 1923) but nuclear power stations need to be designed to cope because somewhere in the world a power station is going to have to deal with one of those events. Especially given how long they need to exist (based on the industry not having any way of disposing of them). As this event proved. Designing to only withstand an average earthquake and then forgetting about any resulting tsunamis is simply slack design (or probably deliberate to maximise profit).

    Given the billions of pounds of public money that has been shovelled into the pockets of the nuclear industry I would expect them to protect their "backup" systems from the very event that took out the primary systems. Otherwise it is simply like backing up your computer data onto a another hard drive within the same PC to protect it from theft. It doesn't matter how many hard drives you have if they get stolen or destroyed at the same time.

    So if there are any Japanese power plant designers reading, how about you flood proof your backup generators given you live on the Pacific ring of fire and are subject to earth quakes AND tsunamis. Just a thought. And I didn't even needed a billion pounds of government subsidies.

  48. Andydaws

    a couple of points in response....

    Well, I agree that "minor" is overstating matters, but tbh in the context of what's gone on around the plant....and I have pointed out before that the object of the various back-up systems isn't meant to keep the plant running. It's to minimise release. Had an AGR tertiary shutdown system ever had to operate, the reactor wouldn't be starting up again...

    But, the corrosion point is just silly. Once stable, the seawater can be flushed through. You'd probably not want to restart it because of stress corrosion cracking in welds, etc. but thats a high temperature problem. Absent high temperatures and oxygenated water, those vessels ain't corroding through for centuries.

    As to the fast reactor, what's the particular issue with fast? I'm no natural enthusiast for sodium cooled systems - I once spent some of the most tedious months of my life building finite element models to work out thermal stresses in the boiler systems of our never-built CFR - but there are alternatives like Lead - Bismuth. And liquid metal coolant has a big virtue. It's conductive. You can do decay heat removal with no pumping at all. Add to that it's an unpressurised system, and inherent safety is pretty good.

  49. Steve Farr
    Black Helicopters

    Yeah about that Bootnote...

    Re the quake (you remember *the quake* don't you?) somebody explain the ELF that was going on at HAARP back then...

    ...good luck with that.

  50. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    All you have to do

    to unsterstand 'journalism' and anything involving nuclear is to write up the headlines for the following assignment

    "Eastberry is a town of 100 000 people and has a nuclear power station 2 miles west, normal levels of leukaemia are 3 cases in every 100 000.

    In 1994 there were 4 cases, in 1995 there were 2 cases and in 1996 there were 3 cases"

    the correct answer is :

    1994 Shock 33% rise in leukaemia cases near nuclear power station.

    1995 nothing non story

    1996 After recent 33% rise in leukaemia near nuclear power station, rates go up by another 50%

    What is really needed is for your basic journalism 101 courses to include sections on science and statistics, also being able to distingush between 1 milleSv and 1 microSv would help too.

    Finally , always remember that the media is far more interested in selling newspapers/getting viewers than reporting what the truth is, and a nuclear power station possibly going BOOM sells a lot more than the depressing action of recovery teams digging week old corpses out of a pile of wreckage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      1995: Cancer sufferers flee lethal nuclear plant

  51. trarch

    Fission Chips

    I think the reason why some people here, and people in general, think that it is not a 'minor incident' is for the fact that the incident at the power plant immediately proceeded the devastation caused by the earthquake and following tsunami, causing people to associate said devastation with the Fukushima incident.

    Given all the footage of the damage and loss of life, it's easy for people to be a bit hysterical about the Fukushima plant.

    I admit that I, myself, was roped into the media frenzy surrounding it, following it every day, not knowing what to make of the information coming out. I eventually stopped following it because I kept reading seemingly contradictory information - generally along the lines of "radiation levels raised but well below limits for concern to health" and "OH GOOD GOD HEAD FOR THE HILLSSSS".

    If the nuclear incident had happened on its own, I would imagine there would have been less of a panic about it.


    Chernobyl results in 3,600 children getting cancer ?

    >>>"Colossal amounts of iodine-131 were hurled high into the atmosphere when the Chernobyl core melted down, burst open, blew up and then burned while molten and open to the sky for days on end. It's now thought that some 18 million youngsters across the region consumed dangerously contaminated milk as a result, containing iodine levels thousands of times higher than those seen now in Japan, and that as a result their chance of getting cancer increased from say 25 per cent (or whatever it would normally have been) to 25.02 per cent. Death rates didn't rise correspondingly as thyroid cancer can normally be cured."

    By your figures, a 0.02 percent increase to these 18 million youngsters would result in 3,600 of them getting cancer due to Chernobyl.

    >>"This remains the only radiological effect of the Chernobyl disaster on people outside the plant itself, though so many scare stories were and still are circulated about it that one will still be subjected to a barrage of abuse for saying so. It is now an officially acknowledged fact that the great bulk of medical damage to the public after Chernobyl resulted from mass panic and associated psychological stress, not from the accident itself."

    3,600 children getting cancer from the accident itself, seems more significant than just psychological stress.

    I still think this needs putting in some perspective compared to say fatalities from motor accidents. Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year are approximately 21.4 people per year in Ukraine (2007 WHO data). If we simply apply this to the above 18m youngsters, then 3,852 of this group would die in a motor accident in a single year.

  53. BlueCollarCritic
    Thumb Up

    Even Chernobyl Was Nothing Like Chernobyl Was Like

    Sorry Lewis but the standby lines of “Radiation is Good for you” and “Nothing to see here, move along please” just don’t work as well as they use. The problem is the slaves, err I mean serfs are starting to ask questions instead of simply returning to their zombie like state in front of the boob tube.

    It’s not too late (although your very close to that point) to save this spin piece but you have to act fast and get out that digital eraser.

    1) No Chernobyl refs – You don’t have to compare this to Chernobyl to make the spin sound good. Including Chernobyl with comments like “Chernobyl wasn’t even a Chernobyl” not only won’t take with all but the most diehard of government stooges but it just sounds propagandish and I’m talking Orwell’s 1984 propagandish. You know the whole “We’ve never been at war with East Eurasia… We’ve always been at war with East Eurasia “ contradicting line of propaganda just doesn’t work as well these days. Avoid this at all costs.

    2) Subtle Sarcasm – Sarcasm is a great and fun way to poke fun at the slaves but you gotta be subtle about it or you could blow your cover. If you’re not well verse in subtle sarcasm then re-read this comment again and again until you are.

    I’ll send some more tips your way later.

    Take care!


  54. mr mcknuckles

    A few points

    Couple of points.

    Tail end risk - The author is right in that the direct damage to the public from the nuclear plant has been minor so far. And in general the risk from nuclear power appears rather low - it's killed a lot fewer people than oil over the past 50 years, for example. But does that mean it's safer? Maybe, or maybe not. It is possible to construct an extremely unlikely scenario wherein a nuclear accident does hurt a lot of people. Notice I said unlikely. But if one of those occured, the statistics of historic relative risk might suddenly appear much different.

    Facts - Tepco doesn't have a good record of telling the truth, so it may be premature to guess the accident's severity and how the clean up is progressing based on their statements.

    Correlation - while the accident's severity probbaly won't approach that of Chernobyl, there's an interesting problem here. If we do have a really bad outcome at one plant, does that increase the odds of a bad accident at the others? My guess is yes, because 1) crew may have to evacuate from efforts at othe other reactors 2) Tepco's best engineers are thrown at the worst problem and may not pay attention to the other reactors.

    Uncertainty - nuclear engineers are very good at dealing with risk. It's the uncertainty that is the real problem. Hard to predict all the thing that possibly can go wrong at a plant. So you have to a bit of humility when considering what the risk reward ratio is. This reminds me of a story about a guy running security at a casino. He had no problem preventing thieves from stealing chips, it was the contractor trying to dynamite the place that he missed.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    I say Lewy old boy...

    1 - human beings do tend to panic from time-to-time, It is natural when faced with something vaguely threatening. Even a ghostly shadow seen out of the corner of one's eye might be fright inducing.

    2 - panic, sometimes, is a bit infectious no?

    3 - stress test. True. Perhaps no other nation in the world could cope with mega earthquake, mega tsunami, mega impact on emotions, psyche and stress of the population concerned, loss of transport, ... quite as well as the people of Japan? And yet what a remarkable job they are doing.

    4 - black outs in a power station? One without windows.

    5 - no emergency station nearby to 6+ nuclear reactors and possibly 6+ spent fuel rod pools?

    This last one is probably industry/world wide and seems a bit like a supermarket storing combustible waste (e.g. packaging) near to the fire exit in the store's boiler room n'est pas?

    6 - I suppose there has to be a natural gulf of disbelief between ordinary folks and the very technically minded engineers and physicists that are needed to run nuclear power stations. A two-way disbelief in which one extreme does not appreciate the concerns of the other extreme?

  56. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Ah! Now I undestand

    From what I have read here and elsewhere it would seem the mr page is more extreme than any pro-nuclear lobbyist. Indeed, he is more extreme that the most unreasonable anti-nuclear activist I have ever heard.

    How could the be? I asked myself. Then I cast back to some of his previous missives, observing a common trend (although this is certainly the most blatant piece of provocation yet). And there you have it 'agent provocateur'.

    Now it is always possible that mr page is simply a troll, but I think it's more that that. I have the feeling that there is an element of self aggrandisement but also - now hold on to your hats there - possibly he believes that getting lots of comments correlates to popularity. I don't believe there is any such correlation.

    In any case. I've had enough of his posturing and this is absolutely the last comment I will make (aren't you the lucky ones). More than that, I consider it most unlikely I will even look at any more of mr page's output.

    I just hope that El reg can get over this blandisation hump <- hey, good word that, and concentrate of more down to earth topics such as BOFH.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    der management

    Anyone else get the impression over the last week or so that none of the Japanese spokesbods knew the first thing about how a nuclear power plant actually worked ? I guess they follow the modern "management is a portable skill that is the same everywhere" philosophy. Not the best people to be briefing politicians, journalists, or the public, but it was obviously unthinkable for them to involve technical experts (e.g. from other plants) that might know what they were talking about.

    The UN "inspectors" were also interesting; a load of flim flam, no actual on-site inspection, quick turn around - a cynic might suggest their whole intent was to justify their existence & argue for more resources (but that would paint them as just another trough of senior civil servants, surely unfair).

    1. Andydaws

      Ain't that the truth!

      Although, to be fair, I've tended to find the problem far worse with the government spokesmen than the TEPCO. The Government spokesmen obviously don't understand what they're on about - the TEPCO management simply don't know how to handle themselves under the spotlight, especially where there's uncertainty about what's going on.

      Japan's not a culture that tends to promote "professional managers" - I'll give you good odds most of the management team have been plant operations types, at least early in their careers.

  58. Mystic Megabyte


    "because insurance companies just love exclusions and its so damn unlikely to happen no one cares?"

    You are an idiot!

    Since when would an insurance company not take your money to cover you for an event that would never happen.

    They won't insure you because when the unlikely event does happen, the payout would be so vast that they would go bankrupt. We are talking of hundreds of thousands of homeowners, all claiming at once.

    Mr. Page has gone silent on this subject, no doubt awaiting orders from his masters.

    BTW, I am not a wind turbine hugger.

    1. dave 76

      @Mystic Megabyte

      "They won't insure you because when the unlikely event does happen, the payout would be so vast that they would go bankrupt. We are talking of hundreds of thousands of homeowners, all claiming at once."

      Do you live in Japan and know personally that the insurance company will not cover you or are you just spouting a line that you heard somewhere? I suspect the latter.

    2. Bronek Kozicki

      ... but they DO insure you

      ... it's called "life insurance"

      1. Anonymous Coward


        It's called "life assurance"

        insurance: for something that might happen, odds based on risk.

        assurance: for something that will happen (death), odds based on time.

  59. cnapan

    People seem desperate for nuclear to kill: classic belief reinforcement.

    Even now, there are some people in this debate who are saying things like:

    "don't write off (the possibility of mass death from nuclear) just yet"

    ...even though the very worst thing that could happen to a nuclear plant did: Chernobyl, and the impact of the incident across the irradiated areas of Europe is unmeasurable, and even though by *design*, these old Japanese plants stubbornly refuse to disgorge their contents despite the devastation across the region.

    Then we have the people who are just screaming:

    "no no NO! I'm right I'm right I'm right!" (or words to that effect). Not even the slightest attempt to even meet the debate. I doubt very much these people are El Reg readers. Stuff tends either to not work or to never be created in the first place when these people are in charge.

    This is just a glimpse of how things were in the pre-enlightenment world, when claims didn't need to be tested against reality, and when the strength of personality was all that was needed for an idea to gain traction.

    Fukushima is, for many, a test of belief long born during the recent cold war history and its attendant fear of nuclear annihilation. People stuck with these beliefs are no more likely to yield to reason than a god bother is ever going to be able to square the 'all powerful all loving god' with the evidence (of a totally non-intervening, non existent or rather bastardish being).

    Finally, a note to those bickering about whether we should call this accident 'serious'.

    Were it the case that these plants all decided to render themselves at 'end of life' while just doing their job normally, it *would* be serious, because it would suggest that it isn't possible to run nuclear reactors reliably, and would push the cost of their electricity beyond economic sense. It wouldn't be serious because the risk they pose to life, because they don't pose any particular risk to life compared to any other mainstream power technology.

    Context is everything. How absurd it is to demand of these nuclear plants that they carry on undamaged whilst the rest of the region is rocked by one of the biggest earthquakes in written human history or swept away by a wave which has completely erased entire towns and tens of thousands of people.

    In this context, how can one be anything other than amazed that these 40 year old plants stubbornly refused to be a threat to the general public?

    1. Bronek Kozicki
      Thumb Up

      thanks for that


  60. ooster

    this is the 'Hindenburg accident' for nuclear power

    Anyone seen a dirigible or zeppelin flying around lately? (yeah they keep trying to bring em back but alas...)

    Might actually be usefull right now, a remote control water/boron dumping blimp.

    But whatever. As sure as the Hindenburg accident killed the zepp in the eyes of john q public, Fukashima will likely have the same effect on nuclear power in the years to come.

  61. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So both a major incident *and* a minor incident.?

    Minor incident

    *no* actual deaths at this plant (but 1 at a similarly named site up the road)

    *minor* concerns about some food (and water) being *slightly* contaminated by short lived isotopes.

    *brief* periods of high radiation emission.

    Major incident

    Multi *billion* dollar replacement cost due to reactor replacement and *decommissioning* cost.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      "similarly named"

      Dai-ichi means (more or less) "rank 1", while "dai-ni" means "rank 2". "Rank" is probably a bit over-formal a translation. "No. 1" and "No. 2" are perfectly acceptable translations.

  62. cnapan

    Oh look... conflating nuclear with thousands of death *again*!

    "10,000+ people dead, destroyed cities, melted nukes, radiation exposure to people, food, water, etc. and this is a minor incident?"

    This is precisely what the media has been doing.

    You appear to be dumb. Nobody is claiming that the tsunami and earthquake are minor incidents.

    They are saying that in the context of these *really* damaging events, the loss of life due to the consequence of these disasters on a nuclear plant is utterly inconsequential and doesn't merit anything other than a footnote at the bottom of the real story.

    You really, really want nuclear to be a killer, but it just refuses to be. Hold on to your beliefs anyway: Stop eating bananas, never enter a hospital, don't whatever you do get on a plane, travel to anywhere with stone buildings or live on the surface of the planet in full view of those gamma rays, or even worse still, take a hike up a mountain.

    If I lived in the region and had just had my life washed away by a natural disaster, the last thing I'd be wanting is to go hungry because some rabid commentards on the other side of the planet had decided that I wasn't allowed to eat food as it had the same chance of giving me cancer as a banana.

  63. CynicalOptimist

    IT helpdesk

    Have you tried turning it off and on again?

    1. Rattus Rattus

      turning it off and on again

      I believe that is exactly what they are trying to do. It's the turning it off part that's taking the time and effort.

  64. Tom Melly

    Simple lesson to learn

    I have no real comment to make on the seriousness or otherwise of what happened, but it seems there's a fairly simple lesson - make sure that you factor in not having mains power for several days.

    Jesus - don't these people read Jurassic Park or anything?

  65. Volker Hett

    Clean, cheap and safe!

    82,000 Becquerel Cesium, 164 times the limit, on crops.

    Tepco in need of 13,100,000,000 Euro credit payable this month.

    Yes, it's clean and cheap, and safe, too.

  66. Fred Flintstone Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Could I humbly suggest this cartoon?

    It's *so* spot-on.. - enjoy :-)

  67. Anonymous Coward

    Today's Japanese news

    In the meantime, Japanese news say that contamination of water in Tokyo (not simply Fukushima), is twice the legal limit.

    If you believe the official guidelines, it's still safe to drink for the adults, but should be avoided by children.

    I'm one of the many foreigners (and quite a few Japanese, too) that left Tokyo and is now following the events from afar.

    I have no interest in making things worse, especially since my girlfriend has her relatives still living there and we'd all much rather take the positive spin that The Register is putting on all this.. but facts speak differently.

    They may well just be cautionary measures, but I challenge you to live a life of paranoia like that.

    If it's not (yet) bad for your body, it's certainly not good for your mind.

    1. Steve X

      water contamination

      > contamination of water in Tokyo (not simply Fukushima), is twice the legal limit.

      This is something I'm curious about. Most big cities get their water from large reservoirs, from where water is treated, stored, and pumped. A week or so seems like a very short time for contamination in any quantity to have reached the reservoirs, dissolved, made it to the outlets and thence to Tokyo, especially given that the releases were minor and of short-lived elements. I'm not a hydraulic engineer, so I'm open to correction of course.

      Does anyone know what particular contamination has been detected, and whether Tokyo water is regularly tested for radioactive contamination anyway? i.e. could this be from sources other than Fukushima (which would raise other concerns, of course), and could it have been ongoing before the quake?

      1. Steven Jones


        I've no idea if the Tokyo water supply is regularly tested for radiation levels in normal times. However, the contaminant in question if Iodine-131. Fortunately it;s relatively short lived (half life of 8 days), but the Chernobyl experience showed that young children were peculiarly susceptible to the affects with a very large spike in thyroid cancer. Fortunately it can usually be treated successfully.

        Ironically Iodine 131 is used as a treatment for an over-active thyroid in adults.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Murphy's law

    In WW2 the German Panzerkamphwagons( tanks) Mark 4 through mark 7 were far superior than any thing the Americans had in both fire power and Armor yet the Germans lost every tank battle they had with the Americans. The reason; A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. German armies west of the Rhine in the entire 1944 45 period had only 3000 tanks the Americas had 25 thousand Sherman tanks alone and 20 thousand tank destroyers.

    The analogy to the Japanese nuclear disaster is this; The water that flooded the lower levels of the Reactor complexes, combined with the quake motion took out all the pumping equipment , This was like the American tanks which flooded the battlefield and despite the heavy losses because of their vastly superior numbers soon managed to shoot one or more tracks off the Panzers thus immobilizing them for a killing shot by the tank destroyers or a shot In the rear by the otherwise ineffective guns on the Shermans. The war was lost to the Germans because Hitler, confident in German technology, failed to take into account that the great American industrial might, far from any German ability to interfere, would build, train, and then swamp Germany with men and material.

    All the pumps and power thereto in four plants were taken out excluding a few that could be powered by batteries.

    This, just like the Panzers vulnerability to much larger but weaker forces could have been foreseen.. Japan has numerous earthquakes This was hardly a million year event. Having had one just as bad a couple of centuries ago and having had many tidal waves, competent engineering planning should have been able to see the need for self contained waterproof emergency pumping units with large fuel reserves. They did not. This is rather like the accident on Apollo 1 when NASA nerds decided, against Stormy Harrison's, warnings, to test the capsule at an oxygen saturation level that was inevitable would turn any tiny spark into disaster.

    The problem is well known At some level the bureaucratic mind ceases to function, and fails to even consider a question like what happens if all electrical power is lost to the site and all ground floor equipment is damaged by a big Tsunami.??

    And it could have been worse. The epicenter was 150 kilometers away. What would have happened if it was much closer??

    The fear that is engendered in intelligent people is not just about what happened here. It is based on the simple question ; Just what other hazards did these assholes fail to foresee and to provide for??

  69. David Gale


    The pseudo-science masquerading as fact in this article appears to have a focus more on the nuclear industry's balance sheet than any desire for perspective.

  70. 42

    Laugh a minute

    Regular readers know all about ElRegs loose connection with the truth when it comes to the environment.

    Watching the nuclear shills desperately trying to recover the lost gains of public approval over the last 20 years, by trying to minimise this disaster is fun fun fun.

    Luckily the general pulic shows far more wisdom than supposedly intelligent ElReg readers and will take a lot of convincing to allow any more Nuclear reactors to be built.

    Now you can all jump up and down, make up "facts" like Lewis does, but the bulk of people will be put off Nuclear for a long time.

    Regardless of Pge's damage control spin, the nuclear industry is dead is western countries and that is great!

    No Nuke FTW!

    Loving every post from the annoyed Nuclear shills!

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      on the contrary

      I normally don't read The Guardian, but this drew my attention

      It appears some greens are actually capable of reasoning based on facts, so perhaps there is a future for human race.

  71. John Savard

    Now, Three Mile Island

    I would have thought that it's Three Mile Island that rates accolades as the most overrated nuclear accident here. Chernobyl was somewhat serious - some people did receive an unhealthy exposure to radiation. And while Fukushima is much less serious than that, there were at least some noticeable radiation releases from it.

  72. heyrick Silver badge

    The future denied us by fear and ignorance

    When in human history has this not been the case? Scream "it's God's will", scream "witchcraft", scream "radiation". It's all the same.

    You know what you need, Lewis? Footnotes. It is truly refreshing to read somebody saying the danger rate will rise by, like, .001% instead of the "instant death!" bullocks punted by the media, but who is to say you aren't just the opposite end of the response scale? The "whatever, dude" to their self-inflicted panic.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is "Citation needed".

  73. Lars Silver badge


    Earthquakes or tsunamis, 20.000 or 300.000 dead is sort of yesterday.

    Perhaps the reason for this is that it is, apart from "yesterday", also an "act of god".

    A nuclear accident is something different, it is new(s), it is man made.

    There is no way of creating panic, before or after, a possible Earthquake or tsunami.

    With "nuclear" you can create it both before and after a possible problem.

    I suppose man made and new are the important ingredients here.

    Then again far more people die in the traffic, some news, perhaps, no panic, man made but so

    yesterday that it has become an act of god, sort of.

    I like the way Lewis Page has dealt with this, I have liked the number of posts it has created.

    Fukushima did fail, and most of that could have been prevented, but I cannot see Fukushima

    as a nuclear catastrophe , nor as anything you can compare with Chernobyl or anything that

    cannot improve in the future.

    But we will have to live with the new(s).

  74. Andrew Jones 2

    re: Incident?

    So..... am I the only one who happened to see the Tepco conference on Sky News - 2 night's ago shortly before Midnight (UK Time) - where not only did Tepco admit to their failure with regards to safety checks at the nuclear plant - but they also admitted that they had been dealing with a constant radiation leak at the plant for at least 3-4 days before the quake hit??

    Funny that I have yet to see any of the "experts" on the "news" touch that?

    Wonder why that might be? Could it have something to do with - oh I don't know - radiation leakage happening BEFORE the quake hit?

    I suppose they might try and argue negligence and pig headedness are 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 year events too?

    And "experts" and pro-nuclear folk wonder why the rest of us are terrified of nuclear?

    "It's safe"

    "nothing bad can happen"

    "no no there are systems in place to protect against that"

    "oh we never thought of that, but it's fine we will design the new reactors so that cannot happen again".


    "No it's safe now, we changed the design slightly"

    "Trust us it won't happen again"

    "oh.... we never thought about that, but it's fine we will redesign the new reactors so that cannot happen again"

    And from this current incident all we have heard from the experts is that it won't be that bad, it can't get any worse, it won't cause any real damage to the public.

    And for a period of a week - every day it got worse, every day it caused more problems - we are still being told that it will be all fine - despite Sky News scrolling across the screen that Iodine levels in the the water near the plant are now 2x the safe limit for infants.

    Sure the media might not make the situation any better - but then neither do the nuclear experts - the way the "experts" speak nuclear is completely safe and there is no risk to anyone, anywhere, ever. (obviously that is an exaggeration - but I am suggesting that is how you come across)

  75. Anonymous Coward

    Just take a look

    Look up other articles by this author....

  76. Justin Pearson

    Thanks for being a really decent counterweight.

    As title really good to see some constructive counter argument from someone who is at least a reasonably informed person.

    I do think that perhaps you are leaning a little far to the "There is absolutely no risk" category - lets face it we have had only a small handful of incidents like this so I would argue that there is still the Things We Don't Know We Don't Know. Is it possible radioactive particles are being carried through the water overflowing from the pools down into the sea for example.

    What it has been great to be reminded of though is that there is absolutely no risk of massive loss of life from this incident. Japan has a disaster to recover from and loss of power production is going to be a big part of it as has been pointed out by others. The media has a lot to answer for creating the fear that their mis-informed sensationalist reporting has resulted in. Japan needs to be mourning taking stock and then cracking on with getting their country back on it's feet - not being paralyzed by fear and looking over their shoulders for a boogey man that just does not exist.

  77. Geraint Jones

    tl:dr, so - sorry if it's been posted already...

    Already evidence of the effect the media circus is having and will have on the future of nuclear energy...?

  78. swilson

    Seth get's it right as well

    At least some of the well followed bloggers are being rational and sane

  79. Tigra 07
    Thumb Down

    Head over to the Daily Mail and see what i mean...

    The Reg says this is a minor incident and appears very informative and knowledgable.

    Yet the Daily Fail is claiming it's the start of the apocalypse.

    Just how much spin can you put on something like this right before budget day?

  80. Le Dao

    Why don't readers listen?

    Thought this was a clear and logical presentation of the facts, maybe a few embellishments but reality is the real story is when 10,000's of people died from the Tsunami why was the story all about something that was just a risk?

    Its easier to fuel empathy and emotion about something thats happening whether real or not, rather than telling the true lives stores of the devastation that actually happened. Its really hard to make rubble look or sound exciting. The Japanese don't play ball either as they are too dignified and wont show their emotions publicly, so no wailing in the street scenes. I do wonder why we view the news as anything other than entertainment these days. You cannot have a good running story unless its got minute by minute updates, an air of secrecy, and some experts to interview. You cannot let complex politics muddy the story or hard situational facts as both these confuse our broader viewing population so the story runs and runs based upon speculation and moving images. This story died because of north Africa, following the same old formula, will anyone go back and say well the actual situation in the power station was xxxxxxx. and the number of people impacted by radiation was yyyy and the number of people we killed due to hypertension induced by fear was more.

    The scaremongering elicited some phone calls to my home about using umbrellas to keep the plutonium away in the rain - does anyone measure on public health the effects of mass hysteria the news causes due to raised blood pressure? What was even more interesting this was some Chinese friends who were unaware back at home China will shortly have 140 Nuclear Reactors and its own independent Nuclear Industry. These are largely built on the coast, lets hope Japan doesn't suffer a west Coast earthquake that impacts the China Seaboard.

    My view of the helicopters is that was actually a PR stunt to show the world they were doing everything they could, rather than a real attempt to achieve anything useful in cooling the fuel rods. made great television for a few moments. Shame no one was able to put a camera on the front edge of the Tsunami, al la hollywood blockbuster........ no it was all too sudden, real and tragic.

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pipe Dreams

    If only the BBC, Guardian, Times and other websites reporting the news actually dealt in real science!

  82. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed one; distrust

    To ignorance and fear, you could reasonably add distrust, or more accurately, greatly increased distrust. The industry has never had a good record on telling the truth about its dirty little accidents, and the company involved in this particular incident has an especially lamentable record of telling serial porkies that long predates their current problems.

    Perhaps the public does not listen to the science, perhaps the media does overreact and feed the frenzy, but it's hardly a great surprise when there is a constant year on year drip, drip, drip of stories revealing poor (older or not) designs, lax safety regimes, falsified records, leaks that were not reported and a general aura of secrecy that just stinks to the average punter. And all this with materials that are indeed extremely dangerous if improperly handled. Adding business to the mix hardly helps matters, because if there's one thing (in the UK at least) private enterprise is very well known for, it's cutting corners to bolster profits - amply illustrated in recent years with railway safety.

    Last but not least is the basic human gut instinct for danger at the expense of reason, which should never be underestimated. Given all of the above, Joe Public tends to apply a higher standard of paranoia to something of which even a very basic understanding tells you can be lethal. We are not talking uncooked eggs or a dodgy TV dinner if it really does go tits up. The public have no need to personally know the finer details; in most such cases they rely on 'experts' to guide them. But when the experts are serially caught bypassing safety standards and reclassifying "harmful effects" on a whim, they become as devalued as the 'experts' that said the banking system was solid as a rock.

    So wail and gnash your teeth at how stupid and unscientific in outlook the majority of us are about having a nuclear plant as a neighbour, but then ask yourself why, after 50 years, the public image of this industry, its experts and the science is so manifestly distrustful and informed more by gut instinct than rationale.

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would agree completely

    if not for the fact that radiation even around Tokyo is climbing every day that passes:

    Sure, it's low but come on it's not a natural thing to have around you 24/7 and no one really knows the effects of it.

    1. KjetilS

      @I would agree completely

      Radiation IS a natural thing to have around you 24/7. There isn't a single place on earth that is completely free from radiation.

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Actually, radiation around you all the time IS a natural thing.

      You should know that. Don't you know that?

      Yes. There's radioactivity around you right now. Even your body is actually loaded with isotope carbon-14, which gradually radiates. A thousand years from now, they'll be able to tell when you lived by the amount of carbon-14 remaining - or would be, if they knew whether you lived near a big natural source of radioactivity or not. Basically, radiocarbon dating actually doesn't work well on samples originating after 1950, and a bunch of twentieth century open-air nuclear bomb tests. Oh, and if you eat a lot of fish, it's relatively low in carbon-14, because C-14 comes from the sky, life in the sea is segregated from it. This is presented simply, but it's all true.

      Some people like to say "There is no safe level" of radiation, which is probably also true and a pity, because you can't get away from the stuff. How concerned should you be? Well, you should be concerned whether the design of your house, old or new, allows radioactive radon gas and its successors to accumulate in your cellar or underfloor space. You may need to improve ventilation, or use concrete to seal the ground, if you're in a high-radon locale, which is often but not always found on granite, for instance, such as in Aberdeen, Scotland.

      And you should be seriously resistant to anyone proposing to give you a lot more background radiation than your neighbourhood currently has.

      1. Poor Coco

        Safe doses of ionising radiation

        You can consider the effects of ionising radiation on the body in a manner analogous to vibration or physical shock on a structure.

        At very low flux rates (say, under 1 µSv/h) the effects are similar to ordinary vibration and the stresses from regular-strength wind. These create no long-term effects.

        A high flux rate is like a blast of wind or a significant earthquake. The loading on the structure will cause changes: cracking in concrete, structural steel yielding and so on. This will NOT destroy the structure unless the impact is way, way past the design limits; but it will induce permanent changes in the structure and alter its vibrational characteristics a bit.

        Finally, there is an energy level at which, after many large impacts or one huge one, the system fails. This is over 1 Sv, give or take, in the case of radiation dosage.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Help! Attacked by a clique of smarty pants.

      Jeez people, could your actually read before you get on your high horses? Got to love these pocket intellectuals.

      I'll repeat what I said: having radiation levels, 5x and rising the normal background around you all day long 24/7 is not a natural thing to have.

      When researchers have yet to agree if electromagnetic emissions from mobile towers and power lines affects people, I think we can't really say that even low, but increased, levels really ionizing radiaton are completely safe.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


        You know, you may want to start actively looking for the exit out of this universe which might have too much uncertainty for you.

  84. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the meantime

    "Radioactive iodine has been detected in Tokyo tap water in levels above the safe limit for infants."

    But nothing to worry about people, it's all perfectly safe.

    1. Horizon3
      Black Helicopters

      I would be more inclined

      To worry about how the contamination got in the Tokyo water.

      Since the quake and tsunami there have be no southward winds to carry any radiation to Tokyo.

      I don't know about you, but I find that pretty curious.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Oh really? Why has radiation in the air increased generally in Tokyo then?

        I think some of that wind gave you the slip.

        That or it's some El Reg reader bent on proving Lewis wrong.

      2. David Pollard

        @ Horizon3

        It looks as though there were sharp spikes in radiation levels near Tokyo on the 15th and 16th March.

        It would indeed be interesting to know in which direction the wind had been blowing.

  85. Steve X

    It's not all bad news

    Found this in the Belfast Telegraph (at the end of a reasonably sane article on the situation):

    "The earthquake and tsunami that ripped through north-eastern Japan 11 days ago has led to lots of stories of stoicism and pulling together. But not in every case. Police say that the disaster crippled a bank's security mechanisms, and left a safe wide open. That allowed someone to walk off with 40 million yen, about £300,000. The tsunami washed over the Shinkin Bank, and police said that between the wave's power and the ensuing power outages, the vault came open."

    Somebody said "failsafe", or was that "safe FAIL" ?

  86. Volker Hett

    But there's still one question to be answered

    how can we put the negligible cost for cleaning up this minor incident on the taxpayers?

  87. lord_farquaad

    radiation level close to reactor 2

    "It remains highly unlikely that the workers themselves will suffer any measurable health consequences from radiation"

    With levels of 500 millisiverts per hour close to reactor 2 today, they have a little more than 10 minutes to spend there before they should run away.

    That does not give time to do a lot of work.

    If ever this increase and prevent worker from working close to reactors 1 and 3 before being able to reinstate a proper cooling system, this situation might become critical.

    Clearly, a triumph for the nuclear industry ...

  88. Anteaus

    Failure of safety equipment is what mattters

    The fact that there was no great release of radiation is immaterial.

    Suppose you fit a burglar alarm to your house. A thief enters, and the alarm fails to sound. The thief decides there is nothing he wants, and leaves empty-handed. Does that mean the alarm is perfectly OK?

    What matters here is that the safety provisions failed to prevent a critical situation. That critical situation could well have led-to a meltdown, or even a Chernobyl-style explosion. In fact, it very nearly did. The safety features are therefore NOT satisfactory. That is the lesson we need to learn from it.

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe Lewis should get out more?

    At $309 Billion and counting I'd suggest that the Japanese disaster is more than a minor incident.

    1. Steven Jones

      Lewis was addressing only the nuclear issues

      Lewis is referring to the nuclear element of the disaster, not the whole thing. Just how much the nuclear clean-up cost, I don't know. But if we take the costs of cleaning up Three Mile Island (about $1.7bn in today's money), allowing for there being three reactors at least as badly damaged and a fourth where the building is badly damaged and allowing for the fact several of the building were wrecked and this has affected the storage pools (not something that happened at Three Mile Island) then I can imagine the bill approaching $10bn to clean up this mess. To that you can add the costs of replacing the lost generating capacity (or at least the proportion of the life lost - some of these facilities had, or were likely to have, their operating lives extended by another decade) plus the economic impact of supply disruption then we might be looking at maybe $15-$20bn. Not, by any means, in the same league as the whole clear-up costs, but also not insignificant.

      So it's simply not a minor event. It's just not a catastrophic one.

      Interestingly the European Pressurised Reactor would have survived this as it has several backup diesel generators dispersed in several locations all of which are in watertight concrete enclosures. The French have been complaining for some time that they've lost out business against the Americans as the latter have taken short-cuts with their safety standards. This would appear to be some evidence to support that with the proviso that no French reactors have had to survive a tsunami.

      There is, interestingly, a litany of Japanese nuclear accidents (some leading to deaths) and the local nuclear regulator has been accused of being far too cosy with the operators.

      1. Andydaws

        it rather depends if we compare like with like

        "Interestingly the European Pressurised Reactor would have survived this as it has several backup diesel generators dispersed in several locations all of which are in watertight concrete enclosures. The French have been complaining for some time that they've lost out business against the Americans as the latter have taken short-cuts with their safety standards. This would appear to be some evidence to support that with the proviso that no French reactors have had to survive a tsunami."

        However, the EPR wasn't around forty years ago. The comparison there has to be with the two main US-Japanese gen III+ designs, the AP1000 (Toshiba-Westinghouse) and the ESBWR (GE-Hitachi).

        IF anything, it's the EPR that loses out in that comparison. It lacks the passive systems that both of the other designs have - which are rather better than relying on back-up diesels at all.

        Certainly all the assessments I've seen suggest that those two designs are an order of magnitude better on "core damage frequency" probability than the EPR.

  90. JP19

    The ONLY problem at Chernobyl ???? Read On.....

    From Today's article.....

    "This remains the only radiological effect of the Chernobyl disaster on people outside the plant itself, though so many scare stories were and still are circulated about it that one will still be subjected to a barrage of abuse for saying so. It is now an officially acknowledged fact that the great bulk of medical damage to the public after Chernobyl resulted from mass panic and associated psychological stress, not from the accident itself".

    If El Reg thinks that this is the only effect, and is downplaying radiation damage, then you need to look at this link.....

    1. Levente Szileszky

      @Chernobyl Heart

      Yes, I suggested the same movie to Lewis, only to get my post rejected completely...

      ...he obviously not too open for criticism especially when he is soooo wrong like now.

  91. Horizon3
    Black Helicopters

    Found Some Information

    Here are the results from the last 5 days of aerial surveillance of radiation patterns from Fukushima. Notice there is no appreciable radiation anywhere near Tokyo.

  92. JP19

    On "Natural" radiation......

    I'll put Radiation Damage in the words of one of the "fathers of the Atomic Bomb" ( and Professor Emeritus ) who I've interviewed....... "When the level's of Radiation exceed those of Natural Background sources, then it starts to become a problem".

    How dangerous depends on ( 4 ) things......MASS ( size of radiation source ), TIME ( How long were you exposed to that mass ), DISTANCE ( How far away were you from that mass ), SHIELDING ( What type of shielding was there between you and the mass - example, Clothing, Lead, Wood, etc. ). Even a small source of radiation inhaled or ingested for say, 15-20 years WILL cause DNA damage, it's this DNA damage that will lead to cancers down the road in time. Here in the U.S. we use R.E.M.'s ( Radation dose Equivilent to Man ) to take into account all those factors. We hate to use the Seivert scales over here because they don't go low enough to measure radiation. Our background radiation in the U.S. is around 10-15 microREM due to the fallout from the Nevada tests during the 1950-80's.

    So the bottom line.......radiation exposures above natural background sources WILL cause cancers, it's just not certain how long, unless you know the ( 4 ) items mentioned above, then you can calculate it.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Lol what?

      "We hate to use the Seivert scales over here because they don't go low enough to measure radiation."

      1) It's "Sievert"

      2) What's the problem with using mSv and µSv? 1 Sv = 100 rem. You already use "microREM". It's written µrem, btw.

      3) It's not R.E.M. That's some music group. It's "rem", "röntgen equivalent in man"

      "radiation exposures above natural background sources WILL cause cancers".

      I call bullshit on a phrase with no meaning.

  93. G.R.L. Cowan, H2-to-B convert

    Why won't they learn

    "They will almost certainly receive fatal doses of radiation as they work around the clock."

    The Japanese must still be using the 1960s-era KTN2060 "Annihilator" clocks, built of massive cobalt, and frequently passed through the core.

    Why won't they learn? WHY WON'T THEY LEARN? Oh, the huMANity ...

  94. CLF

    Daily Mail? Calmer view?


    Surely there must be a proper news source you can reference.

    Otherwise, spot on.

  95. oyster

    It's way too early to make a judgement that this is a "minor incident"

    Surely until the problem with reactors 1-4 has been stabilised and contained we simply do not know the extent of the problem. All we know is that because these are very different reactors to Chernobyl a large part of their radioactive inventory won't all go up in one explosion. But everyday of significant seeping radiation adds cumulatively to the problem until the problem is deemed fixed. So when is it going to be fixed Lewis?

  96. CI100

    Minor? Not Really

    I would agree that the nuclear aspect of the earthquake/ tsunami disaster is minor compared to the overall death and destruction. However, as nuclear accidents go, it is not minor. It has been classified as being of the same severity as Windscale and Three Mile Island (INES level 5). Only two more accidents in the history of nuclear power were deemed more serious (Chernobyl and Kyshtym) and they are both described as 'disasters'.

    Having said all that, I am still a supporter of nuclear power. But what we have learned from Fukushima should be used to make nuclear reactors safer in the future. Arguing that the accident was caused by a set of circumstances beyond engineers'/ designers' imagination, that the plant was old etc etc and therefore nuclear energy has been proved to be safe is not valid. Perhaps nuclear plants should be decommissioned sooner. Perhaps fortifications against tsunamis should be even more robust. Certainly something should be done about the inherent design issue of BWRs, of the hydrogen explosions caused by exposure of the core which were not protected against. It is likely that, had it not been for these explosions and the equipment damage, debris etc they caused, the power would be back up by now and the remaining reactors/ spent fuel pools made safe.

    Finaly, although I overall agree with Lewis's points, I believe that his reporting style is not very different to the Fox/ Sky news he so despises.

  97. This post has been deleted by its author

  98. Anonymous Coward

    Cesium 137 - 1,630 times higher than normal 40Km from Fukushima

    163,000 becquerels of Cesium 137 has been detected in soil about 5 centimeters below the surface. Cesium 137 half-life is about 30 years, it means it will pose no danger in some 200 years.

    This fact alone is an unmitigated disaster in an area so densely populated as Japan, regardless of what Mr. Page writes.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      "163,000 becquerels of Cesium 137"

      (per kilogram)

      That means there are ~163'000 decays/s/kg.

      Or 163 decays/s/g.

      That's the radioactive activity of coal ashes or "low activity nuclear waste".

      Yes, I'm on the panicphone.

  99. dehildum

    Pu is not terribly poisonous

    Just a factual correction. Pu is not significantly more chemically poisonous than the other metals in that region of the Periodic Table. In fact, it is significantly less chemically toxic than Botox.

    Radiologically, as an Alpha emitter, it is relatively easily shielded-clothes and paper would be enough for small amounts of material. The real issue is if you manage to ingest it (a problem for Chernobyl as it was a weapons material plant) when it is distributed in small particles over a wide area.

    Of course, it is better not to let facts get in the way of a good story.

  100. interested_reader
    Thumb Down

    What's the opposite of fearmongering? Safemongering?

    On the one hand, it has been refreshing to read the article series on Fukushima, get a bit of perspective, and learn some important facts omitted in hysterical coverage elsewhere (like the fact that the control rods dropped in place right after the earthquake). But I think that Mr. Page, in his analysis of the relative safety of various forms of energy, has conflated dangers intrinsic to each form of power generation with regular old, shit-happens, people-fuck-up dangers.

    That is to say, workers falling off wind turbines or mine safety incidents are not problems with wind power or coal power per se, but instead are attributable to human error and fallibility. Saying x people fell off wind turbines last year is one thing, but making the jump to saying wind is way more dangerous than nuclear is entirely another. Instead of looking at how many people perish in the pursuit of X as an objective measure of how risky X is, I submit that it makes more sense to look at the margin for error associated with the pursuit of X. The margin for error with nuclear power is vanishingly small compared to other forms of power.

    If a mine collapses it is undoubtedly a tragedy but the population need not be evacuated, nor the area abandoned for decades. Say what you will about the hype around Chernobyl, the area has been abandoned and will remain so for many many years. Thank goodness that there have been so few accidents and fatalities associated with nuclear power-- the alternatives are not near zero, a few, some, a lot, or a helluva lot. The alternatives are near zero or a helluva lot. It is this awareness of (and fear of) the tiny margin for error associated with every step of the nuclear power generation process that has driven the hysteria in the media, with the regrettable effect of making Fukushima seem worse that it is... but let us not kid ourselves, just because we got lucky as hell doesn't mean nuclear power passed some kind of stress test with flying colors. We barely escaped a planetary-scale disaster by the hairs on our suddenly exposed asses.

  101. Geoffrey Swenson

    What planet hosts the servers for the Register?

    We have an ongoing nuclear incident that hasn't yet been fully put back into control, and this website continues to run articles that strive to minimize the incident. No doubt quite a few straw men are demolished showing that some of the people making statements about the reactor are overstating things. But it doesn't really doesn't prove that nuclear is something that we shouldn't be very concerned about.

    But even without hyperbole it already looks like there is going to be a horrifically expensive cleanup required to clean up this dangerous mess, all of which could have been avoided if the plant had been designed properly, or even better, the vast amounts of subsidies and resources had been spent on technologies without so many expensive costs and safety issues.

    This plant has now been so expensive they might as well been burning coal mixed with diamonds and then spent vast amounts of money scrubbing the flue emissions.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      "This plant has now been so expensive they might as well been burning coal mixed with diamonds and then spent vast amounts of money scrubbing the flue emissions."

      Any dollar amounts to back this up?

      Also, you would still have ended up with a countryside covered in radioactive dust and heavy metals and a HUGE pile of coal ashes.

      For greenery on coal ashes:

  102. Anonymous Coward

    Believe nothing, trust no one

    Good article with a different point of view from normal. Adds to the balance. Also, educational, strange, and entertaining comments. Just sorry I could'nt read all of them. Some just made me fall about laughing. Love it all and it just makes The Register that so much better. Thank you all.

    1. Geoffrey Swenson

      You're mistaken about "balance"

      It ain't balance if one side has their mind made up no matter what the facts are. This website continues to defend extreme non-scientific positions against global warming, and gaga pro-nuclear power using a whole slew of distorted facts and lies. The approach is to belittle the opposition and find false inconsistencies or gotchas that somehow win the argument in their narrow minds but wouldn't pass muster in any peer reviewed article.

      1. Seanmon

        Hmm, I tend to disagree

        I'm generally in favour of nuclear power, not because I think it's the be all and end all, but rather because I really can't see any other solution to the human race's energy needs right now. I don't think anyone would ever claim nuclear power is 100% "safe" - much like no-one can claim drilling for oil is 100% "safe". For me, nuclear power at this point in history comes into the "necessary evil" category.

        What the Fukushima events have shown is that yes, there is a risk, but it *IS* manageable. Isn't it a source of some comfort that, if we've *got* to have them, a 40-year old reactor can stand up to the 5th largest earthquake ever recorded with - as yet - no recorded deaths and few recorded serious injuries?

        My last word on it. Promise.

  103. Matt Hawkins
    Thumb Down

    Nil Effects. Really?

    "effects on the public look set to be nil."

    Nil? So there have been no effects on the public? Strange the facts don't seem to support that. Being evacuated from your house (if it was still standing) can hardly be described as "nil". If a few wind turbines had fallen over the effects would have been smaller I can assure you.

    The effects of radiation leakage are open to debate and some of those effects may not be known for years but to say the effects of the nuclear situation are "nil" is just plain crazy.

    As well as being untrue.

  104. Estariel

    Lewis's Toxic Legacy : Ignorance

    Lewis says : It remains highly unlikely that the workers themselves will suffer any measurable health consequences from radiation

    Japan's nuclear safety agency said : Fukushima workers in hospital after radiation exposure

    Lewis says : Radiation near the reactors rises to 2-3 millisievert/hour during planned venting operations from the damaged cores, but workers are pulled back ahead of these

    Japan's nuclear safety agency said : They were exposed to radiation levels of 170-180 millisieverts

  105. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This accident was predictable.

    The earthquake was inevitable. The Tsunami was probable. The defenses were evidently inadequate. The precautions and responses were insufficient to cope with the nuclear side which was a major 'man made' element in all of this. If the nuclear stations had never been there it would still have been a horrible disaster as many other commentators have said.

    The solutions and precautions may have seemed adequate at conception but lessons were not learned and familiarity bred contempt and that is human. There was ignorance and there is, rightly IMHO, fear now. Maybe whipped up and unjustified but so what, it is there and all the puffing that it is not as bad as portrayed is just so much hot air!

    It does the intelligence of the public and scientists a grave disservice to dismiss or downplay the event and its effects, allbeit probably not on a Chernobyl scale, of what has happened.

    I'm not an advocate of nuclear power but it will, inevitably, because of sheer commercial inertia, form part of the future and I accept that. If this event makes designers and proponents take a bit more care over their claims and costs then maybe we will have learned something after all.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Are you for real?!

      An *unprecedented* 9.0Mw earthquake followed by several *severe* aftershocks and one of the largest tsunamis *ever* seen was predictable was it, Nostradamus?

  106. cnapan

    Planetary scale disaster

    "We barely escaped a planetary-scale disaster by the hairs on our suddenly exposed asses."

    What utter codswallop. These plants were nowhere near from showering the earth with nuclear material... by design.

    And even when a nuclear reactor *DID* do that, science finds it impossible to detect any rise in mortality across Europe from this so called 'planetary disaster'.

    FFS, even when we go purposefully out of our way to ignite real ATOMIC BOMBS, the impact on life is negligible beyond the injuries and deaths caused by the blast itself.

    Here are some real examples of planetary disasters:

    1) The mass extinction of a significant proportion of life on earth in just a few hundred years by the explosion in numbers of Homo Sapiens

    2) The lemming-like desire of the human race to keep breeding then blame the world's ills on other people.

    3) The inability of dumb leaders to even consult recent history before deciding to launch the latest war.

    As for Japan, it didn't avoid catastrophe. Millions of people are suffering as a direct consequence of one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. The nuclear story should be a footnote to this story, not the headline.

    That it *is* the headline owes more to the cold-war fuelled belief in the 'bottomless pit' of damage that nuclear science can wreak on the planet.

    The only way nuclear is going to do that is if we start firing all the a-bombs we've built.

  107. penguin slapper

    Lies, damned lies and nuclear safety statements.

    Couple of examples;

    "Reactors 5 & 6 were put in cold shutdown and din't lose their cooling systems but engineers had to poke holes in the roof to stop hydrogen from building up and exploding".

    If hydrogen is building up it implies temperatures high enough to split water into its constituent parts. This does not happen in a shutdown reactor that's under control.

    And this one from this morning.

    "Radiation up to 10,000 times safe levels".

    Mich like James Delingpole's childishly ignorant rant on the Telegraph about how this was hysteria and an alarmist media there is only one thing to say these people.

    A published apology is in order.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Lol what?

      Maybe the holes were poked just in case? And the radiation is up 10K safe levels? Where? Measured how? How much?

      You can't just reguritate SCARELINES and be done with it.

      As heard this morning on German Radio: "The situation continues to deteriorate." Core meltdown, burnt workers, embargo on imported Japanese foodstuff etc.

      Soon Godzilla, I imagine.

      1. J 3

        Don't know...

        Don't know how it was measured, but it is reported two workers suffered radiation burns in the water. Details weren't many, though. I guess the Japanese prime minister is so gloomy about it just because he's such a scaremonger...

        1. Andydaws

          Well since according to the IAEA report....

          is that

          "The three were contracted workers laying cables in the turbine building of the Unit 3 reactor. Two of them were found to have radioactivity on their feet and legs.

          These were washed in the attempt to remove radioactivity, but since there was a possibility of Beta-ray burning of the skin, the two were taken to the Fukushima University Hospital for examination and then transferred to Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences for further examination. They are expected to be monitored for around four days."

          note the word "possibility".

          this whole incident has left me staggered about the ability of most of the media to ignore anything except the part of an announcement they want to hear - and the ability to transform possiblities to certainties, and to inflate consequences.

    2. Andydaws

      Or, it implies that people are erring on the safe side.....

      As to the "radiation up to 10,000 times safe levels".

      You omitted to mention, that that's INSIDE the plant - in the basement of the turbine hall of reactor 3. The same reactor 3 that's had a couple of thousand tonnes of water sprayed onto it, including into the fuel pond. Which is, of course, the most probable source of water carrying some fission products. It's notable that the fission products there are the easily released, most volatile ones - no mention of the heavier stuff, actinides, etc, that would suggest gross fuel damage.

  108. Hairy

    Surprise ally for Mr Page...

    George Monbiot mirrors the views of Lewis Page in left meets right shocker!

  109. Louis 3

    Good Article

    Thank you for pointing out that the crisis at the nuclear plant need not be cause for general alarm.

    It's shameful that in the face of the terrifying tragedy in Japan, we are so self absorbed that our own fears take the front in our dialog and in reporting by our media. Whole towns were washed away, and fat, greedy, death-sucking Americans (and others) can only think about stockpiling iodine pills, banning imports, advancing anti-nukepower propaganda, and posting apocalyptic jibber-jabber on their facebook pages. Shame!

  110. DashBerlin

    About the much hyped Chernobyl "disaster"

    Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident

    "Joint News Release WHO/IAEA/UNDP

    5 September 2005 | Geneva - A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded.

    As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

    The new numbers are presented in a landmark digest report, “Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts,” just released by the Chernobyl Forum. The digest, based on a three-volume, 600-page report and incorporating the work of hundreds of scientists, economists and health experts, assesses the 20-year impact of the largest nuclear accident in history.


    Thyroid cancer must be the most friendly form of cancer btw. It's all there in the summary of their report, go ahead and click the link!

    1. Paul N.

      Nuclear power must be phased out.

      > Thyroid cancer must be the most friendly form of cancer btw.

      I wouldn't really describe any form of cancer as "friendly".

      Are we supposed to be happy that 4000 people will eventually die of radiation exposure caused by Chernobyl??? I for one would not be happy if one person died from Chernobyl.

  111. Mark-Weitzman

    From Japan! How foreign media got it wrong!

    Almost 18 years in Tokyo. Seen all the crappy news coverage by foreign “journalists” over the years. Trust only BBC World’s Chris Hogg – he lives in Tokyo. His reports are accurate. His colleagues who dropped in for the party – mostly inaccurate reporting.

    If you have a moment, please take a look at this article I wrote that explains why people in Japan are wearing masks, why the water is safe, when the power is off, and provides corrections to a number of the erroneous reports by the world media.

    Op-Ed: Tokyo OK, foreign media’s sensational coverage shameful

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