Post Nuclear Japan, Pre Disaster United States

Michael Collins
The Japanese disaster at Fukushima I is a human tragedy of striking proportions. As many as ten thousand citizens may be dead from the general catastrophe, with many more at risk for radiation poisoning at levels yet to be determined. The fact that Japan is a highly organized and wealthy nation in no way diminishes the intensity of the losses and pain experienced by the victims. (Image)

Political and economic implications will emerge rapidly. As the whole world watches, the Japanese experience creates windows of opportunity to learn how to avert future meltdowns at nuclear ticking time bombs placed throughout Europe, the United States, India, and China.

Events have overwhelmed the highly professional Japanese bureaucracy. In a late Saturday night report by CNN, the chief cabinet minister said that he presumed that there was a nuclear meltdown in reactors one and two, with three on the way. A nuclear regulatory official hedged by referring to the "possibility" of a meltdown, which he said could not be confirmed since workers couldn't get close enough to see. The same regulatory official told CNN,

"We have some confidence, to some extent, to make the situation to be stable status," he said. "We actually have very good confidence that we will resolve this." March 12

Experts outside the government referred to the situation as desperate given the use of saltwater as a last resort for cooling the nuclear material.


See interactive map at International Nuclear Safety Center

Japanese Energy and Economic Disruption

Eighty percent of Japanese energy relies on imports. Nuclear plants provide about 30% of the electric production for the industrial base. The loss of the Fukushima I plant, for example reduces the nuclear output by 10%, just for starters. It also derails the big plans Japan has for nuclear power through 2050. Over 60% of domestic needs will be met by a robust nuclear program according to one optimistic estimate.

The following graph shows the contributions electrical production:

japan energy-Optimized-Optimized.jpg

Assume a 20% loss of nuclear power production with the elimination of Fukushima's 10% contribution and other reactors that may go offline due to preemptive safety precautions. Japan faces a near term energy shortage. The loss of 20% of nuclear production, for example, could translate into a 6% percent reduction of overall electric production. Hydroelectric and renewables are not capable of rising to the occasion as replacements. That leaves thermal/fossil plants. More imports and more pollution will go hand in hand for the next few years. Japan will pay much more attention to the Middle East, the source of 90% crude oil imports, with less focus on planned spread of nuclear plants.

This is speculation. The situation may be much worse. One thing is certain. The government regulator's confidence that "we will resolve this" seems far-fetched at best.

The damage to plant, equipment, and infrastructure led to the shut down of several automobile plants. United States exporters will feel the impact of lower Japanese corporate revenues. China, Japan's top trading partner, may well see the loss of investment and export opportunities. In addition, China may have a new competitor for crude oil due to the disruption to Japan's overall energy supply system.

Still mired in the great stagnation since 1985, healthcare costs, rebuilding requirements, and the implosion of energy production in the Fukushima Prefecture will hit the domestic economy very hard in short order.

balance of trade.jpg

As if that weren't bad enough, exports faltered in January. The country showed a 500 billion Yen trade deficit for the first month of 2011, the first drop in a string of sizable surpluses since February 2009. Japan's people and economy are in for hard times. (Graph)

What if… Lessons for the United States

What would happen if a massive earthquake hit one of California's nuclear plants? California represents 13% of the US GDP, 12% of the population, and ranks number eighth in global economies. Seismic disasters are not a new phenomenon in the Golden State.

Certainly, energy companies, politicians, and regulators considered this possibility. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) produced scientific research for years fine tuning the timing, intensity, and inevitability of future earthquakes. USGS states, "the chance of having one or more magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquakes in the California area over the next 30 years is greater than 99%." The chance for a magnitude 7.5 or greater earthquake is set at 46%. (USGS)
Was anyone paying attention? Apparently not. The seismic risk map shows the danger of earthquakes for the state.

California's two nuclear power plants are located on or near major fault lines. The Diablo Canyon facility is of particular concern. Californians have been anywhere from upset to outraged at the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility from the start. More than two million people get electricity from the plant. Designed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, there are reasons to be less than confident in this estimate. The plant operator, PG&E, completely misinterpreted blueprints in the initial construction of "certain crucial pipe supports in the reactors containment room." The misinterpretation involved constructing the pipe supports in a "mirror image" of the intended design.

Diablo Canyon is just 2.5 miles from the Hosgri Fault, a major portion of the San Andreas Fault. Construction proceeded despite the discovery of this massive fault early on.

Recently, PG&E executives diminished the importance of the Shoreline Fault less than an mile offshore from the nuclear plant. This fault was discovered in 2008. The Santa Barbara Independent reported that, "Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials and PG&E executives have insisted there’s no cause for alarm; the plant, they maintain, is designed to withstand far more force than the new fault" will generate.

The Independent interviewed USGS Chief Scientist, Tom Brocher. He noted the possibility that the Shoreline Fault runs under Diablo Canyon's reactors is "speculative" but not ruled out. Brocher said, "You’re bringing into the picture the possibility that an earthquake could crack the ground surface. This would be a disaster beyond anything we've seen in Japan:

"The prospect of such a calamity -- with two nuclear reactors operating above ground and pools of spent fuels so dangerous they have to be kept submerged in water at least five years before they can be moved to steel-reinforced concrete casks -- is the stuff of nightmarish disaster scenarios." Nick Welsh, Santa Barbara Independent.

Sitting Ducks

As meltdowns and nuclear disaster continue in Japan, we should anticipate the impact of similar disasters at one or several of those red dots from the interactive global map of nuclear facilities. Natural events, plant failures, and sabotage provide an array of scenarios that can cripple a region or entire nation.

The potential of nuclear catastrophes is dismissed by energy company sponsored and nuclear friendly government reports claiming probable nuclear plant safety in the face of well-documented risks. The nuclear firms and Japanese authorities vouched for the safety of Fukushima I. All of that was to no avail.

Nevertheless, the administration's proposed energy solution, the American Power Act, contains provisions for nuclear industry bailouts which are central to future energy needs. The industry largesse will help achieve the act's goal of a 60% increase in power from nuclear reactors.

Will someone please calculate the probability for - we are doomed.

We are led by fools.


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Are any of these reactors a) made by General Electric, and if so b) of the same model as those now failing in Japan?

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Please clarify -- your second

Please clarify -- your second sentence seems to suggest that as many as 10,000 may be dead on account of the Fukushima power plant explosion, when in fact the number of deaths due to that particular incident is less than 10, and the number of people possibly exposed to radiation is less than 200. The high mortality rate is due to the tsunami triggered by the earthquake.

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Thanks. The link makes it clear but I fixed it. On the larger risks, those are quite real. The Taiwanese government announced, with some satisfaction, that there's only a 10% chance of Japanese radiation releases hitting the island; that it would be the north coast. That's good news? 10% is a very real threat. The Japanese are evacuating people within a 13 mile radius of Fukushima I, about 50,000. If reactors 1-3 are finished (as in total meltdown) here's what happens:

If a full meltdown occurs, a huge molten lump of radioactive material would burn through all containment, destroy the building and fall to the ground, exposed. A toxic stew of exotic radioactive particles would then spread on the wind and rain.

But if luck turns south and the winds do, too, radioactive particles could be spread far across Honshu, Japan’s largest island, and beyond.Washington Post, March 13

The risks are then huge if the weather changes:

But if luck turns south and the winds do, too, radioactive particles could be spread far across Honshu, Japan’s largest island, and beyond.

Lyman said that simulations he has run on possible nuclear disasters in the United States estimate “tens of thousands of cancer deaths” from a total meltdown, although arriving at a figure is fraught with layers of uncertainty.

A 2005 census counted 103 million people on Honshu, including the population of Tokyo, which lies 150 miles to the southwest of Fukushima Daiichi. Washington Post, March 13

So 103 million people wait while the wind decides their fate. This technology is totally unacceptable.

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Japan is THE most prepared nation

They seriously are the most prepared nation for this type of disaster so the lack of real information on the nuclear information is frightening.

So much for safety. I've never believed in nuclear power simply because of the half life of radiation, although oil spills have been estimated to be more deadly.

But Japan sure isn't any Russia in terms of engineering generally so the fact we're hearing "meltdown" and "sea water" and these press releases claiming "don't worry, the radiation won't come over to the west coast of the U.S. is frightening.

Also, in terms of just an Earthquake, Tsunami, Japan is so much more prepared. Notice those skyscrapers, bridges did not fall, even with (eye ball estimate) 34 feet tsunami waves. Absolutely amazing, everything else around them was taken out like matchsticks.

But to me that shows their advanced civil engineering ....

Don't expect any miracles like that if the Cascadia fault happens....more the entire region will simply be wiped off the face of the Earth.

But to put Nuclear reactors on and near fault lines is just beyond stupid.

What was that line, it's not what we know we don't know, it's what we don't know we don't know that will kill us...

something like that, but points to the grandiosity of man.

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We are "Sheen";)

Here's an interesting graph I didn't think I could use. It shows seismic risk and university research reactors. Cascadia has a few.

The composite maps are from two separate maps presented by Andrew Schenkel at Mother Nature Network

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I just don't get these people and why they go into denial on something so deadly and deadly basically longer than man has been on the planet.

Hey, rate up my WI post! ;)

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Comprehensive National Security

But to put Nuclear reactors on and near fault lines is just beyond stupid.

As bad as this is, I think that saying that ignores Japan's position in the world. 99.8% of Japan's oil, and all of the country's coal are imported according to the latest IEA numbers.

Building nuclear plants allows them a level of self-reliance that might otherwise be missing. Assuming I'm not messing up the conversion factors. Japan got 258128 Gwh from nukes in 2008. Converted to oil equivalent, that's the same as 1.15 million barrels daily. That would increase Japanese oil imports by 30%. Or in coal equivalent, that's 86 million tonnes of coal. Or about 75% of all the coal exported from Australia in a year. In short. Nukes aren't great, but they're the best that the Japanese can do short of a serious offshore wind, tidal, and wave program.

That said. Looking at Fukushima, annual capacity factor was about 62%. Implied from that is the need to replace about 3000 Mwh of generating capacity. This is presumably going to be a problem for some time. It seems a strong possibility that for the moment, this generation is going to be kicked off onto the older oil-fired electric plants. So around 21-22K barrels daily to replace the plant. Bad for them, but not likely to have a huge effect for us.

I think that the real impact in the US is going to be disruptions in the supply chain between parts factories in Japan and transplant factories in the US. Even more, it looks Toyota's small car exports to the US market will be hit because plants were located in the region. Also, repatriation of Japanese investments abroad for rebuilding will likely drive the value of the yen up. This is at a time when it is already at historical highs. So logistical difficulties + plus yen appreciation= serious trouble for the transplants. Depending on how easy it is for the US supplier base to produce parts previously imported from Japan, this could be a huge issue.

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Emergency Diesel Generators

The big question on engineering standards (and possibly on cover-ups of failure to test and maintain) concerns the emergency diesel generators that resulted in failure of pumps at a crucial point. Remains to be seen ... and may never be seen ...

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elect/diesel/battery, all failed

Pretty incredible, the electric cooling pumps failed and then the diesel failed and then the battery backups failed.

This is like "who could have guessed", almost deja vu from the BP situation, although BP doesn't have a megaquake/tsunami to blame.

Still, there are blasts going off and finally on the news we're hearing a similar history with this company they give a lot of misinformation.

Great. Even worse, where I am in the states is in the gulf stream flow.

The final containment structure is being reported as to have cracked, but not confirmed...that's REALLY BAD NEWS if so.

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If I have the time or if anyone else does...

It might be interesting to see if the emergency diesel generators were mentioned in the scandal with TAPCO back in 2002-2003. That would be highly significant. I'm sure some able prosecutor for the Japanese government is looking into that, as we speak. Quite a story, isn't it?

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Japan economy, Nuclear information

Folks if you see a good news report on the real situation with the Nuclear reactors please post it in a comment.

On the news they seem to go for those "incredible stories of survival" when a nuclear disaster is potentially in the works, oblivion or denial it seems, as if a radioactive cloud is just "midst". (It's Not!)

Then, I feel it's kind of tacky to discuss what this will cost or how much it will shave off of GDP and find it more appalling that traders are busy shorting Japanese companies and trading on the Yen.

It's why I haven't written up the economic damage reports simply because it's so horrific and the nuclear situation also means this is unfolding.

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I have to disagree.

Quote: "If a full meltdown occurs, a huge molten lump of radioactive material would burn through all containment, destroy the building and fall to the ground, exposed. A toxic stew of exotic radioactive particles would then spread on the wind and rain."

What evidence do you have to suggest that a full meltdown of the core would mean containment breach? I'm frankly getting tired of these kinds of claims.

The slightly radioactive steam that was release (as it designed to during such situations) decays very quickly to background. If you have any information on what was released you could say otherwise I haven't seen any evidence of highly radioactive lease that would result in long term contamination or danger to the public safety.

Nuclear still has the lowest deaths per TerraWattt Hour of any power generation source "see" and any decrease in nuclear means more deaths by fossil fuels and falling, drowning, etc...

The disaster at Fukushima I is less than the disaster regarding the hydroelectro dam that was destroyed and certainly less the oil refinery but nobody cares about those disasters because they are so common.

No infrastructure is design to withstand a 9.0 quake and then level 7 tsunami but yet the safety containment seems to survived something far beyond what it was built for and you guys reach the conclusion that building these plants just isn't safe. I fail to see the logic.

So far only one person has been confirmed dead because of the plant disaster whereas more than 10,000 have died because of the Earthquake. You cited a simulation (meaning made up like derivatives value estimates) no doubt using the linear theshold model (it's kinda like the Birth Death Model for Jobs) on possible cancer deaths but you failed to compare it to radioactive emissions from coal and actual cancer rates for coal workers or how about natural gas and that nasty radon.

All energy production produces waste. Good engineers know that perfection is the enemy of better and the doable.

Taking down the plants in California would take down 20% or our energy which would be replaced by natural gas plants and I suggest you watch Gasland. I live in California and I don't want the facking polluting our supply and thereby our food.

I suggest we build newer and safer plants in better locations here in California because ours near the end of their life cycles anyway. As for the so called "waste" pools. Here's an idea; remove Carter's stupid ban on reprocessing and recycle the fuel rather have it sit around becoming a hazardous waste site. Waste not Want Not and keep the place clean.

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Thanks for you comment

The main article didn't have anything in it on death models. In the comment section, I quoted a Washington Post article which relied on several authorities. You sound authoritative but I wonder how you can be tired of hearing claims like those found in the Post and elsewhere. The crisis is only a few days old.

Pointing out the low death rate from nuclear power compared to coal is accurate. One could also point out the nonexistent death rate from nuclear terrorism compared to other forms. Would that give us any solace. Hardly. All it takes is one major event to create devastation. I hope that isn't the case in Japan but, views opposed to yours about the exposure of the meltdown to the atmosphere are out there with authorities cited. If there is a complete meltdown and radiation is released, we have to rely on the weather to protect 103 million people. This energy source is ridiculous.

As for California, quite frankly, Diablo Canyon is one of those stories that ends up in histories of great social declines. A major fault line was discovered in 1965, before construction began. What lunacy it takes to continue after that discovery. PG&E read the blueprints for the pipe supports backwards then claimed that they fixed the problem. How could PG&E be trusted to fix any problem after making such a stunning error. Then we have the new offshore fault within a mile of the plant. PG&E says it's all good and USGS says they don't know, both PG&E and USGS. The Chief Scientist at USGS said it was plausible, given what is known now, to consider that the new fault may run under the Diablo Canyon Reactor.

Who in their right mind would build a nuclear plant in such a dangerous area?

Your suggestion that "newer and safer" plants be built in "safer locations" is tacit admission that the older plants pose risks and that their locations are vulnerable. We agree. Allowing the same system to select "safe" technology and locations won't work any better than a process that allows Wall Street to create new rules and regulations in a fairer equities and derivatives market. It won't happen because it can't. Screwing up is at the basic core of the people involved.

In Japan, it was workers who discovered safety problems that led to the Tokyo power scandal forcing executives out because they took dangerous shortcuts on safety. It will be no different anywhere else, probably worse. Given the the magnitude of deaths and injuries from a full scale nuclear catastrophe, the players involved, and the number of plants operating, we can't afford to use this technology. It makes no sense in terms of risk to humans and no actuarial sense.

On a practical level, US nuclear is dead after Fukushima I. What state will fund this? How will Obama's giveaways in the American Power Act survive when the public finds out that bailouts are used to fund nuclear power plants? What private source of funding will invest in these plants? It's over. Alternatives, including extremely serious conservation efforts are the order of the day.

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Yes, I'll grant that the

Yes, I'll grant that the older plants are not as safe as they could be but that is true of any old technology.

I didn't mean to imply our current plants are totally unsafe but that they are only safe within the levels of disaster they were designed to deal with.

You can't argue like certain free market types that because planning isn't perfect we give up on it.

You are correct that Wall Street and other companies shouldn't be trusted but since I am a populist I believe that infrastructure should be publicly owned and run not outsourced to some profit seeking private companies who has every incentive to drive up profit by cutting corners.

How privatized is Tokyo power? I'm wondering if any of the safety lapses could be the result of a partial privatization scheme.

As for the so-called Nuclear Bailout those were loan guarantees which the Industry has to pay for and thus the Government usually makes money those rather losing it.

I could bring up the tax credits for windmills and other give aways but one has understand that most Nuclear subsidy is R&D for fusion and particle accelerators (bangs head against wall).

Most energy subsidies are for fossil fuels and I would support any leveling of the distribution. Say with 10 sources of energy (Coal, Oil, Fossil Gas,Solar, Wind, Hydro,Tidal, Geothermal, Fission, Fusion)give them each 10% of total energy subsidies and I guarantee that Fission, Hydro, and Geothermal will end up on top. It's just the way physics will work with EROI.

You are essentially correct that US nuclear is likely dead and all that means is more coal and natural gas while the Chinese, Indians, and South Koreans kick our asses right out the Hi-Tech Nuclear export industry.

We could be mature, upgrade the existing plants and design much safer Gen IV modular factory build plants and regain our high tech and heavy industry exports but that would political leadership not filled with overreactor political types. So go long on Fossils and lung disease, short US tech development.

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1. The possible health

1. The possible health effects of nuclear power should be weighed against the certain health effects of coal power.
"WASHINGTON — Health problems linked to aging coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year..." (though 90% of that is preventable if pollution control standards increased).

2. Clearly any future plants should have a passive safety design. That is, the plant safely shuts down without constant human control to keep it going. Sort of like the "dead man switch" on subways, if the operator, say,has a heart attack and lets go of the handle, the train stops. The B&W's proposed mPower modular nuclear reactor is designed in this way. Indeed since it can be air cooled, it can power down safety even in the absence of a water supply (the air cool design, while about 15% less efficient than if it were water cooled, allows for nuclear plant sites to be located away from rivers and oceans).

3. Since Uncle Sam is ultimately footing the bill, with tax breaks, loan guarantees and by providing catastrophic insurance. However, there's no reason to socialize the risks while privatizing the profits. The Army Corps of Engineers has built and operates dozens of hydroelectic plants on federal reservoirs and sells the power to private utilities. Likewise, the Navy (with its more than 50 years of reactor experince) could do the same for nuclear plants on federal lands.

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Profits and Fukushima I

Any substantial effort to compensate for power in this country should be a public utility, period. The Tokyo power company (TEPCO) that built this plant had a scandal concerning safety in 2002-2003 showing executives (subsequently removed) avoided prudent safety concerns raised by workers. Diablo Canyon, a management mess of epic proportions, is another exemplar of the private sector dealing with deadly energy. ENRON's fleecing of California is another reason to go public. The city of Los Angeles had no crazy price fluctuations at the same time the rest of the state, private power, was get.


This is the listing of reactors at Fukushima I.  I'm talking about the right plant and the reactors that were in question when the article was writtten, reactors 1-3.

This information came from Wikipedia, which had updated their information just after the eartquake.  There is no confusion about reactors and the primary plant for the explosion.  Here's information on Fukushima II.

On coal, great point.  It's another absurdist, nihilist solution.  Now we have "clean" coal, a neologism. 

We'll see how this evolves.  I wish the Japanese people all the best and fondly recall the two months I spent there on business during the 1980's, a wonderful experience in Tokyo. 

10% versus 4%

 Here is a direct quote from the US Energy Information Administration:

Nuclear (Japan)

Japan currently has 54 operating nuclear reactors with a total installed generating capacity of around 49 GW, making it the third-largest nuclear power generator in the world behind the United States and France. EIA preliminary data shows that Japan produced 244 BKwh of nuclear-generated electricity in 2008. The government plans to increase nuclear's share of total electricity generation from 24 percent in 2008 to 40 percent by 2017 and to 50 percent by 2030, according to the Ministryof Economy, Trade and Industry.

Here is the information on Fukushima I:

These light water reactors have a combined power of 4.7 GW, making Fukushima I one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world

Looks like the 10% I cited (well, unrounded, it's 9.5918%)

Doubling that was stated as an assumption since we're looking at automatic shutdowns and reinspections.  Given the scandal ridden history of nuclear power in Japan, it is reasonable to assume that some additional percent of nuclear electrical generation would be added to the 10%.  I just doubled it.  Even at 10%, it's a huge hit to the economy.

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MSM is completely worthless on this (as with most) matter

1) a melting of control rods to some degree is possible, even likely, but this is NOT a meltdown

2) Even in a 'meltdown' situation, there are degrees. Melting of the control rods but preservation of containment is a far cry from a mass of radioactive and red hot material burning its way into the water supply.

3) The number quoted regarding Japan's loss of electric power is ridiculous.

Fukushima #1 represents perhaps 4% at most. This is still very serious, but is a far cry from 10% or larger numbers. You're confusing the different REACTORS at Fukushima #1 with the different PLANTS: Fukushima #1, Fukushima #2, etc.

4) The fact that there hasn't been breach in containment thus far almost certainly guarantees that there won't be.

A much better article explaining the details and circumstances around this tragedy:

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Not a fan of MSM, but ...

I am not a big fan of MSM, to say the least. However, whatever your definition of 'meltdown' ...

Containment apparently has been breached. Outer containment walls have been reported as destroyed. Water level keeps falling within inner containment vessel. It's too early to pronounce that there has been no breach in containment. To some extent, at least, it appears that there has been exactly that.

As for the number about Japan's loss of electric power, that likely is reporting the loss of power available and in use over the entire grid. There is a problem in connecting the grid from west to east, due to difference from 50 cycle to 60 cycle. Much of the affected region has reduced number of hours in anticipation of interruption of oil/gas imports, due to necessary repairs of port facility infrastructure.

I would not suggest that worry solves anything, but jumping to conclusions in reaction to MSM reporting is equally a waste of time.

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You said:

Containment apparently has been breached. Outer containment walls have been reported as destroyed.

If all 3 levels of containment have been breached, there would be far higher levels of radiation being detected.

The peak level of 3000 micro sieverts detected thus far for Fukushima #1 is nothing compared to Chernobyl: 30000 roentgens.

1 sievert is .001 roentgens.

Or in other words, the 'terrifying' radiation level detected on site at Fukushima #1 thus far is 30,000,000 times less than at Chernobyl.

Any radiation leakage is not good, but at least try to understand what is going on.

So yes, the MSM is moronic and anyone relying on them for information is...

The other thing to keep in mind is Japan is mind-bogglingly safe compared to anywhere else in the world.

Where else would an injury in a traffic accident in Tokyo, a city where 30,000,000 people transit one major train station in a day, be on the local news?

Not a death, an injury.

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It seems that we have to turn

It seems that we have to turn to articles like your's to get the information that we need. I really feel that we are only told by the "authorities" what they want us to know in order to avoid panic.

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You'll likek this

"Public skepticism about government and industry assurances regarding nuclear safety will be far greater after Fukushima I. In a generally industry friendly article after Three Mile Island, the New York Times quotes an Oregon woman living less than a mile from the Trojan nuclear plant. Asked about her confidence about information regarding nuclear safety, June Burnham said:

"I guess I really don't believe the 'official' word at all," the 48 year old [Oregon] woman said. "I suppose they tell us whatever is necessary to prevent panic." New York Times, April 29, 1979

Here's an interesting source.  A long time author on nuclear power and the defense industry, Hirose Takashi, did an interviewi that hits some important points, including how to look at toxic emissions from the Fukushima plants.

What They're Covering Up at Fukushima




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real time radiation readings

Surprising, the radioactive iodine is making it to the West Coast. Most of these readings are B.S., it's the iodine one that's super dangerous but if anyone is interested in some real time readings, this site.

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