Home > 2011 Japan Quake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Crisis, Focus on Japan 2011 > * [Probably Misleading] Article to Calm People Down about the Nuclear Thing

* [Probably Misleading] Article to Calm People Down about the Nuclear Thing

March 14th, 2011

*I have been reminded that the writer of the below material posts links to strongly pro-nuclear organizations, and may be biased himself. I maintain that the writing is, at the very least, far more factual and probably much closer to the truth than a lot of the stuff we see in the media nowadays. Judge for yourself.

Update: More is coming out suggesting that Josef Oehmen and the people who put up the site are far less than unbiased or expert in the proclamations. It would appear that I got fooled. My apologies. If it’s any consolation to me, a lot of other people were taken in as well. Thanks to Troy and others for staying on top of this.

Here’s a great blog post by Dr. Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston, basically telling people that the nuclear situation in Japan is not even close to being as bad as it’s being made out to be by activists and a media looking for the sensational angle.

He explains in layman’s terms how the nuclear plants in question work, and why there’s not going to be a huge radioactive release.

A few excerpts:

I am writing this text (Mar 12) to give you some peace of mind regarding some of the troubles in Japan, that is the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

By “significant” I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.

I have been reading every news release on the incident since the earthquake. There has not been one single (!) report that was accurate and free of errors (and part of that problem is also a weakness in the Japanese crisis communication). By “not free of errors” I do not refer to tendentious anti-nuclear journalism – that is quite normal these days. By “not free of errors” I mean blatant errors regarding physics and natural law, as well as gross misinterpretation of facts, due to an obvious lack of fundamental and basic understanding of the way nuclear reactors are build and operated. I have read a 3 page report on CNN where every single paragraph contained an error.

He ends with this:

My assessment:

  • The plant is safe now and will stay safe.
  • Japan is looking at an INES Level 4 Accident: Nuclear accident with local consequences. That is bad for the company that owns the plant, but not for anyone else.
  • Some radiation was released when the pressure vessel was vented. All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.
  • There was some limited damage to the first containment. That means that some amounts of radioactive Cesium and Iodine will also be released into the cooling water, but no Uranium or other nasty stuff (the Uranium oxide does not “dissolve” in the water). There are facilities for treating the cooling water inside the third containment. The radioactive Cesium and Iodine will be removed there and eventually stored as radioactive waste in terminal storage.
  • The seawater used as cooling water will be activated to some degree. Because the control rods are fully inserted, the Uranium chain reaction is not happening. That means the “main” nuclear reaction is not happening, thus not contributing to the activation. The intermediate radioactive materials (Cesium and Iodine) are also almost gone at this stage, because the Uranium decay was stopped a long time ago. This further reduces the activation. The bottom line is that there will be some low level of activation of the seawater, which will also be removed by the treatment facilities.
  • The seawater will then be replaced over time with the “normal” cooling water
  • The reactor core will then be dismantled and transported to a processing facility, just like during a regular fuel change.
  • Fuel rods and the entire plant will be checked for potential damage. This will take about 4-5 years.
  • The safety systems on all Japanese plants will be upgraded to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami (or worse)
  • (Updated) I believe the most significant problem will be a prolonged power shortage. 11 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors in different plants were shut down and will have to be inspected, directly reducing the nation’s nuclear power generating capacity by 20%, with nuclear power accounting for about 30% of the national total power generation capacity. I have not looked into possible consequences for other nuclear plants not directly affected. This will probably be covered by running gas power plants that are usually only used for peak loads to cover some of the base load as well. I am not familiar with Japan’s energy supply chain for oil, gas and coal, and what damage the harbors, refinery, storage and transportation networks have suffered, as well as damage to the national distribution grid. All of that will increase your electricity bill, as well as lead to power shortages during peak demand and reconstruction efforts, in Japan.
  • This all is only part of a much bigger picture. Emergency response has to deal with shelter, drinking water, food and medical care, transportation and communication infrastructure, as well as electricity supply. In a world of lean supply chains, we are looking at some major challenges in all of these areas.

So, everyone stay calm!

  1. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:11 | #1

    For a whiny know-it-all this git needs to find some better facts.

    All radioactive isotopes from the activated steam have gone (decayed). A very small amount of Cesium was released, as well as Iodine. If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy. The Cesium and Iodine isotopes were carried out to the sea and will never be seen again.

    Both cores have been allowed to melt, and both containment buildings have exploded.

    There is no secondary containment, what is being bled out of the containment vessels is being released into the air.

    Talk about “control rods” is now inoperative since the damn cores have melted.

    Fukushima Daiichi plant will be decommissioned and never generate another megawatt.

    As for the energy shortage, the one thing Japan likes to do is waste electricity. I think conservation can cut the 10GW peak gap, that’s only 250W per person or so.

  2. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:26 | #2


    Portable generators have been brought into Fukushima, he said.

    Fukushima was designed by General Electric, as Oyster Creek was around the same time, and the two plants are similar. The problem, he said, was that the hookup is done through electric switching equipment that is in a basement room flooded by the tsunami, he said. “Even though you have generators on site, you have to get the water out of the basement,” he said.

    . . .

    The central problem arises from a series of failures that began after the tsunami. It easily overcame the sea walls surrounding the Fukushima plant. It swamped the diesel generators, which were placed in a low-lying area, apparently because of misplaced confidence that the sea walls would protect them.

  3. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:31 | #3

    That subduction fault 150 miles offshore, with 10,000 miles of plate behind it?

    Nah, not a problem. Put the electrical switching room in the basement.

  4. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:53 | #4


    There is no cause for concern here. The situation is under control.

    ISTM venting the damn containment buildings would be superior to having them blow up, but what do I know.

    The main problem here seems to be everyone is working without a playbook.

    This is not Chernobyl, but it certainly has the potential to be a mini-Chernobly with an exclusion zone around Fukushima Daiichi for a long time.

    The problem is loss of control of the situation. They can shoot seawater into the containment vessel, but that’s not necessarily going to be effective at cooling the core.

  5. March 14th, 2011 at 15:47 | #5

    Oehman’s article has lots of links…most to lobbyists for the nuclear industry. Check his bio, he is not really qualified to speak on these issues. Critical thinking….

  6. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:33 | #6

    and yeah, I don’t see any analysis from Mr Nuke wrt Reactor #3 burning 5% plutonium, either.

    Not that I expect Tokyo to be coated with plutonium next week, but the reason the Japanese were juicing their fission rods with it is because it burns hotter.

    NOT the thing you need when your rods have lost coolant coverage due to losing all power.

    I don’t know anything about how they’re trying to control the situation inside the reactor containment but with things blowing up and control room irradiated who knows what new problems they’re facing.

  7. Troy
  8. Z
    March 14th, 2011 at 20:44 | #8

    About thelink from Straits, here is the original release from the 7th fleet on their FB page with more details:


    The good news: US military confirms low radiation independent from Japanese news sources and measurements.

    The bad news: The choppers weren’t that near to the nuclear plant and not that long (it’s always time spent in zone x radiation level)

  9. Troy
    March 14th, 2011 at 23:57 | #9

    The key part is here:

    The low level radioactivity was easily removed from affected personnel by washing with soap and water.

    If the wind were blowing the other way this would be very bad news.

  10. z
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:21 | #10

    The new blast (March 15, 2011) sounds troubling and different, TEPCO also evacuated staff.

    Everybody near the Fukushima plant and in general in North Honshu please watch the news and wind direction extra carefully today.

  11. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:45 | #11

    The latest news Tuesday AM Tokyo time is not surprising.

    The government is saying unit 2’s suppression chamber failed.

    They’re saying 969 microsievert/hr is outside the plant when reactor 2’s secondary pressure container was breached — hotzones in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are around 300.

    They also say 8.2 millisievert/hr was apparently registered in the immediate aftermath of the explosion (and 3 millisieverts last night).

    This is not a dosage that plant workers can tolerate for more than a few hours. 100 millisieverts is apparently enough to be a cancer risk. TEPCO has apparently evacuated all but 50 workers.

    The suppression pool is an ‘overflow’ chamber that takes steam pressure from the primary reactor pressure chamber.

    If the suppression chamber valve was stuck then it would be expected suppression chamber would burst.

    “Cannot deny the possibility the fuel rods are melting”

    They can only cover about half the fuel rods with coolant, if that. If steam pressure is too high seawater cannot be injected since the steam pressure is pushing back.

    Now that the secondary chamber is breached, any venting from the primary chamber will end up outside the reactor containment.

    This makes it very difficult for people to work immediately outside the reactor since reactors aren’t supposed to vent steam directly from the core to the outside.

    This is not Chernobyl yet but this is a very bad development with unit 2, impacting the ability of the operators to control the situation.

  12. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 11:29 | #12

    Millisievert releases now.

    This is Chernobyl, at least for Fukushima-ken, if these releases are sustained.

    They need to inject sea-water to keep the core from melting down.

    This create steam that needs to be bled off into the secondary torus.

    Reactor 2’s secondary torus is apparently compromised, meaning reactor steam from #2 is being vented directly into the enclosing cubical building.

    This makes it difficult to work anywhere near the reactor.

    The building 4 fire can suck up radioactive particles in the area.

    Edano says building 2 is not responsible for high readings? He says building 4 fire is the cause of the high levels???

  13. Z
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:18 | #13

    Troy, your last comment is very appreciated.

    Anyone not familiar with micro- and milli-sievert levels should read up the differences immediately.

    Millisievert levels are very bad, especially for pregnant women or babies.

    Many people know about washing and putting used cloth in a sealed plastic bag but it’s also important to wash one’s hair when coming inside.

    Of course it’s best to stay inside (below ground is even better in concrete buildings) and of course shut off the ventilation.

  14. Ken sensei
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:23 | #14

    To be honest, I was not very concerned about the release of microsieverts, but millisieverts are a scary thought.

    An article online says a normal chest x-ray exposure is 20 microsieverts, and a CT scan equals 3 to 10 millisieverts.


    The average person is exposed to 6.2 millisieverts annually, (except for smokers, who are exposed to 53 millisieverts/year).

    Today the Japanese govt released figures of 38 millisieverts recorded between the #2 and #3 plants. This suggests radiation levels equal almost an annual dose of cigarette smoke in one day?

    These are truly alarming numbers.

  15. Ken sensei
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:28 | #15

    Luis, I know Tokyo is hours away from Sendai, but I still hope you are avoiding exposure to outside air. The wind is expected to blow in the Tokyo direction this week, so it would best to stay inside when possible.

    Is there any possibility of canceling classes nationwide until this radiation thing is resolved? It would be the most sensible thing for the govt to do.

  16. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:52 | #16

    It looks like reactor #3 is responsible for the 400 millisievert readings.

    This is the MOX-fueled (5% plutonium) reactor.

    Edano’s phrasing when announcing this level of radiation flux was very sobering.

    The good news is if the experts are/were right the core temperatures will start cooling off soon.

    But if the cores have pooled into “corium” at the bottom of the primary containment vessel, the situation might get a lot worse since this concentration can go critical again, even with all the borax being thrown into the reactor core.

    The one thing they don’t want now is a primary pressure vessel exploding due to pressure build up (like if the bleed valves become inoperative), especially unit #3 with its plutonium fuel.

    That *would* be Chernobyl for whatever is downwind. Looking at the Chernobyl exclusion zone I see that the SU was rather lucky, in that the wind took the Cesium to the N into the swamps of White Russia (pretty much an economic wasteland) and not towards Kiev.

  17. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 14:19 | #17

    Is there any possibility of canceling classes nationwide until this radiation thing is resolved? It would be the most sensible thing for the govt to do.

    Just the train situation might demand canceling classes.

    Luis’s place might be losing power tonight, starting at 3:20 and lasting until 7:00PM, Tokyo time.

  18. Luis
    March 15th, 2011 at 15:22 | #18

    One thing the government can’t hide is radioactivity spread inland; one has to assume that measurements are being made all around the area. Should radioactivity spread inland, even beyond the 20km area, I am pretty darn sure we’d hear about it. As of this time, I am unconcerned about radioactivity in the air in Tokyo. We’ll keep eyes and ears open, of course, but right now I think it’s *way* premature to worry about what we were exposed to when we went to the bank and had a bite to eat for lunch.

    As for the power stoppage, we were supposed to get it about now–but they canceled it. Again. Second straight day they planned outages and then had none. My brother and I are guessing that it is due to area-wide and maybe even nationwide drops in power consumption. Everyone is keeping home consumption low, and shops & stores have at least half their lights turned off, some even more. Here at our apartment, we have completely foregone any heating, and aside from the fridge, TV, and computers, are using virtually nothing. (Yes, I know TVs and computers take up a good amount of power; we’re on laptops and watch the TV periodically for the news broadcasts.)

  19. Luis
    March 15th, 2011 at 15:27 | #19
  20. Luis
    March 15th, 2011 at 15:43 | #20

    NHK English just announced that 0.89 microsieverts (22 times more than usual) was detected in Tokyo today. So, not really a big deal.


  21. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 16:20 | #21

    I agree about the Tokyo thing.

    125 millisievert per hour for no more than 2 hours is the “worst” the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency will allow any certified reactor to emit on a ‘design-basis’, so the Fukushima accidents are riding right up to that line.

    I can say with confidence that Oehmn is indeed full of crap, btw. His analysis omitted the part about the spent fuel pools losing half their water cover and the spent fuel producing enough hydrogen to start a fire.

    That’s just a nasty feedback loop resulting in the emission of a Chernobyl-style radiation plume just waiting to happen.

    Plus there’s no mention of MOX in his analysis, or the fact that human error did apparently cause #2 to go uncooled for hours last night.

    All the people of Fukushima watching TEPCO vent Cesium onto their farms and factories now should be allowed to punch this guy in the balls.

  22. Troy
    March 15th, 2011 at 18:31 | #22

    verts TEPCO’s release of their emission logs:


    shows they were doing a decent job limiting emissions until 9:37PM on the 14th when a 3millisievert measurement was logged at the main gate, then at 8:20AM a new batch came out, with 8.2 ~ 11.9 millisievert lasting for about an hour.

    Measurements are higher closer to the reactors, but this isn’t too bad.

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