Journalism in the Public Interest

Even In Worst Case, Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Will Have Limited Reach

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis should be largely contained to the area around the plant and a limited population.

Iodine tablets are displayed during a nuclear radiation decontamination drill at the Tri-Service General Hospital in Taipei in reaction to the nuclear crisis in Japan. (Taiwan, March 18, 2011 - REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

For more than a week the world has watched the escalating crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant slide from one catastrophic episode to a seemingly graver one, often upending assurances from the Japanese and adding to the fear and confusion about how it all might end.

Are we on a slow-motion path to a six-reactor meltdown? Or will Fukushima stop short of being the worst nuclear power disaster ever, and squeeze somewhere behind Chernobyl and alongside Three Mile Island in infamy?

While there can be no definitive answers amid a still-unfolding disaster, ProPublica spoke with seven top nuclear engineers and scientists to at least establish some boundaries for the disaster’s potential health and environmental impacts.

The rough consensus: The long-term and most severe effects from radiation at the plant, where four of six reactors are in crisis and hundreds of tons of spent fuel is a risk, will be largely contained to the area around the plant, affect a relatively limited population and will likely not spread outside Japan.

Even in the worst case, the crisis should not lead to the level of health and environmental destruction that followed the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the experts say. Unlike Chernobyl, the potential for an explosion large enough to carry contaminants high into the atmosphere and to far away areas appears remote.

A complete loss of control of the Fukushima plant, followed by total meltdowns at multiple reactors and fires in the spent fuel stocks, would be an extraordinary development leading to very high radioactive emissions and contamination of the surrounding landscape that could last for decades.

Such a scenario is now less probable, in part because the fuel rods in the reactors are expected to continue to cool each day. Even a sustained fire in the spent fuel that sits on the top level of the reactors is unlikely to result in “criticality,” or a new nuclear chain reaction and reheating of that spent fuel.

The New York Times reported that Japanese officials remain concerned that criticality is possible in some of the troubled reactors or spent fuel. But even if it were to happen, the process can eventually be interrupted.

Experts interviewed by ProPublica said that even if a meltdown scenario unfolded unabated, the contamination would likely remain localized and would not affect a large population because evacuations have already been ordered. There remains uncertainty about whether worst-case contamination could reach as far as Tokyo, about 150 miles from the Fukushima plant, but few believe there is any chance of dangerous levels of contamination spreading offshore.

“The events that have happened, and the speculation for what could happen is not on the same scale as the release from Chernobyl,” said Peter Caracappa, a nuclear engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y. “Based on all the available information, the risk to any of the places far from the plant … would be too small to calculate with any confidence. We’re not talking intercontinental effects.”

Odds of Total Meltdown Diminish

There are two aspects to the ongoing risk at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan: the fate of the reactors themselves, and the condition of the millions of pounds of spent fuel rods stored in open pools atop the reactor structures.

A total meltdown would occur if the fuel rods inside a reactor continue to overheat and break down, spilling the uranium or uranium-plutonium pellets inside them into a heap on the reactor floor. The core of the reactor containing the fuel rods is encased in a steel vessel that is then surrounded by a huge reinforced-concrete containment structure.

As the fuel consolidates, there is less space for cooling water to circulate among the pellets, which can heat into a molten substance. The hotter that molten slurry gets, the greater the possibility that it can burn through the fortified steel containment vessel meant to isolate whatever happens inside the reactor.

A breach of the reactor vessel would normally be the most critical danger. If a meltdown did happen, experts say the fuel could leak out and spread through cracks in the concrete containment, sear through a second metal liner and then flow out in the open air toward the perimeter of the plant.

“That’s the event that changes this situation from a horrible situation to a nightmare of unprecedented proportion,” said Kenneth Bergeron, a physicist who worked on nuclear reactor accident simulations at Sandia National Laboratories.

Officials have said they believe there has been a partial meltdown at least two of the four troubled reactors. But it has now been seven days since the reactors were shut down following a 9.0 earthquake that rocked the islands of Japan and triggered the devastating tsunami that swamped the power plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, continues to work to control the temperature inside the reactors and has been injecting sea water laced with boron, which short-circuits the nuclear reaction, into the reactors to maintain cooling. Experts believe that by now, the reactors should have cooled substantially. And with each day that passes, they say, the temperature drops further and the possibility of a full meltdown diminishes.

That doesn’t seem very likely now,” said Louis Lanese, a nuclear engineer who worked on the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 and now is a partner with Panlyon Technologies, a nuclear energy-services firm in Flanders, N.J. “It’s cooled down. They have water over the core. Every day makes the consequences a little bit better.”

For those cores to melt now, Lanese said, there would have to be a complete loss of water, and fuel rods would have to sit for some time – days or even weeks. Even then, he said, “I don’t know if there is enough energy in that fuel to even get out of the reactor vessel.”

Spent Fuel Is Less Potent

The greater risk may now lie with the spent fuel sitting in storage pools on top of the reactors. Those pools contain very large quantities of old fuel, at least some of which still contains significant amounts of uranium, and they are not in containment like the reactor cores.

The spent fuel rods generate residual heat and must be cooled by water, but water levels have been precariously low in at least one pool – Unit 3 – and may have dried up altogether in the pool at Unit 4. The danger is that the zirconium cladding that contains the fuel pellets, when exposed to the air, can catch fire and burn intensely and leave the fuel pellets exposed.

Twice, reports have emerged of smoke and a possible fire in the pool atop Unit 4, but it has been difficult to confirm exactly what is taking place. Those reports have also stoked concerns that spent fuel could also melt down, and because it is not contained, release large amounts of radioactivity.

But much of the most dangerous material has already been spent, or has begun to degrade. Lanese said that if the cooling water has already evaporated from the pool in Unit 4 without a significant fire erupting, it is a sign that convection cooling from exposure to the air is enough to keep the rods stable.

Explosions remain a risk at the site. When nuclear fuel is hot enough, it can split the water molecules, releasing hydrogen, a flammable gas. Should spent fuel become molten, it could melt through the floor of the pool. When doused again with water, it could create hydrogen and an explosion that released radioactive contaminants. If reactor fuel were to melt down, it could fall into an area that contains water.

There have already been three hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant – a gas buildup in the reactor buildings of Units 1, 2 and 3 destroyed the exterior walls. But unlike Chernobyl, the worst explosion believed possible at the Japanese plant would not push tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere and would be a momentary event.

That explosive power is the key difference.

In Chernobyl, the reactor burst in a fiery ball while running at full capacity. The Chernobyl plant was also an entirely different design. It did not have a containment vessel to hold the fuel inside, and the core of the reactor contained graphite. The graphite burned like coal and sustained a roaring fire for two weeks, pushing radioactive particles miles into the atmosphere. That is how some of Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout ended up in Northern Europe.

Radiation Risk Mostly Local

If there is open-air exposure of molten fuel at Fukushima Daiichi, there does not appear to be a mechanism for carrying large quantities of radioactive byproducts over wide areas or great distances. A fire or hydrogen blast could carry contaminants into the lower atmosphere, but only for a relatively short way, scientists say.

The exposed fuel rods or molten slurry emit large amounts of radiation and present a serious health risk to workers inside the plant. But the radiation itself doesn’t extend very far. To affect people outside the Fukushima facility, radioactive material has to be spread around.

Long-term radiation risks result from people swallowing or breathing in tiny particles that continue to be radioactive inside the human body and continue to emit radiation as they break down over time. The radionuclides of most concern include cesium 137 – which has been detected around the Fukushima Daiichi plant – as well as strontium 90 and plutonium 239.

“A fuel melt doesn’t necessarily lead to a big disaster, any more than what we have,” said Gilbert Brown, a professor in the nuclear engineering program at the University of Massachussetts in Lowell. “Even if it’s a fuel melt, you have to have a mechanism to get all that radiation to people, to get hurt by it.”

Bergeron estimates that even after the worst kind of explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, contamination might be detectable 200 miles away, with the most serious contamination within a 100-mile radius.

“That, although striking and horrible, is something described as manageable,” Bergeron said.

An evacuation has cleared out part of the area around the plant. Experts say the largest environmental impact, outside the facility, is potential contamination of the surrounding landscape. Fallout could affect groundwater and surface water supplies, as well as render much of the nearby farmland too dangerous for use.

Some of that environmental contamination can be cleaned up, but agriculture and food supplies could be affected for decades. Human health exposure can be limited by both evacuations and other precautions.

“I don’t think we are going to kill a lot of people,” said Victor Gilinsky, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the physical sciences department at the Rand Corporation. “But you could have a tremendous amount of land contamination. Depending on the half life, it could be many time more than 30 years before you could go there.”

Much uncertainty remains about what will happen next at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Experts caution that if there has been any lesson thus far, it is that assumptions can be easily proved wrong. But with every day that Japanese responders hold wholesale deterioration at bay – however tenuously – the health and environmental impacts should be less severe.

“I’ve worked almost 40 years in this business to keep anything even remotely like this from happening,” said Lanese. “But strange as it is, these situations tell me that these plants have even more resilience than I had expected.

“This is what an 9.0 earthquake and an eight-foot Tsunami does?” he asked. “It’s unprecedented. And those nuclear reactors are still there and still hanging in there.”

Michael Grabell and Nick Kusnetz of ProPublica contributed to this report.


Thanks for an informative and objective analysis.

i just dont understand how they can say that its nothing to really worry about when at the same time they say that they are rasing it to a level five. and also they qualifacations for a level 5 completly contradict what they say about the radiation.

You are a stupid fuck for writing that artical. If that plant has a meltdown lots of people will die. Stop being stupid and ignorant you dumb fuck. Alot of people will die. With all all that nuclear full on site it will be 3x’s worse. I am sick of the optimism. This is serious and the u.s. gov’t let the world know that. Wake the fuck up and stop living in your little fantasy. U reporters are something else….. keep it real….............

My 23 year old daughter is in Toyko. I feel that accumulation effects of radiation is something the scientific community cannot predict. In three years I predict that lighter particles (nano-stream)...will touch muchof the Japanese population…Toyko included.  I also have a good source that tells me that the power company entity is not insured for “acts of nature”. ...however,It would be in there best finacial interest to be able to prove that the plants were of defective design.This would shift the responsability to GE and muddy up the
Water enough to keep the courts tied up for years.
PS. My daughter does not speak to me.
Her mother lost the ability to reason with her years ago. Her name is Sara works near Toyoko bay at a train station. I am a viet nam vet in poor Health. Can someone there check on her for me?

I would be great if the only thing we had to worry about is hot fuel burning its way out.  The MOX fuel in No. 3 may weep enough Plutonium to go critical and send 200 Tons of Reactor Cores into the Jet Stream THAT is the ‘Worst Case Scenario’

““Even if it’s a fuel melt, you have to have a mechanism to get all that radiation to people, to get hurt by it.”

How about all of the plutonium (nuclear weapons fuel) that’s in the MOX reactor 3? You think that might do it, or are we just ignoring the facts?

The article says, “When nuclear fuel is hot enough, it can split the water molecules, releasing hydrogen, a flammable gas.”

While thermal dissociation of water into hydrogen and oxygen does occur at very high temperatures, 2000-3000 Centigrade, the nuclear fuel itself doesn’t split the water.  The water is split when the zirconium alloy cladding rusts at much lower temperatures releasing hydrogen. Once the concentration of hydrogen in air rises above 4% by volume the mixture is explosive.

The truth will never be told as in the Gulf oil spill.Dammage still remains on the shore lines as the bottom of oceans Where are the cameras and reporters covering the story have vanished..

The article assertions are not borne out by the trajectory of the disaster. It also does not admit the dearth of accurate information about the current situation in the reactors or spent rod pools or pump and piping system, or present anomolies, or the very evident degree of damage to buildings 1, 2, and 3, or how close large areas of the facility are to continual denial of access by humans. The author does not even mention the breach of the #2 reactor base. The assertion that contamination will be limited to a local area is unsupported and, frankly and unhappily, ludicrous. The writer has not thought this through, or is writing from a flawed assumption base. Unhelpful, no new information or plausible integration of existing corroborated information. Misleading.

I have no right to be disturbed by this story.  I was warned in the third paragraph that it would not be able to defend it’s title. The title should be completed!  Something like this:


The photo above tells us what Taiwan thinks of thier opinions.
As for myself I am concerned for 3 grandkids; 4yrs, 2yrs, & 1yr old. Oh, yeah, and my daughter, pregnant, in her 4th month.  Here in Ca, we get to be first in line, it is suposed to rain as this trace amount drifts in, wash it from the sky.
I know I sound a bit paranoid, but this is the same powers-that-be scenario that dropped a test virous on San Francisco.  If the cancer rate rises only on the per 1ml per scale I want the imformation that can protect my family.  And, on that note, can also protect my nieghbors family, in case they are unaware that we are not always told the truth.
Again I am presented with dumbed down imformation designed to quite the unpredictable masses. What is it that everyone is afraid we will do?  Boycott?  Hold Signs?
Reality. WORSE CASE SCENERIO.  You started it, with the title, now please finish it.

Thank you for the article.

O.k.  I might have been a bit rude, but I am completely serious. I read one article that said an exposure rate was not harmful to human health, it was compared to standing next to a microwave.  I would never build a playground next to, nor go swimming in, a microwave.  And I would never do either for the half-life of radioactive iodine.  In one of the above comments the jet stream was mentioned.  That is as much, if not more, important in a ‘worse case’ than the tsunami.  The tsunami is already fact.  This proposed article does not have to be inflamatory, but you might include the opinions of a research oncologist and a meteorologist, for example. Oh! And a soil engineer, amd maybe some experts on aquafers.

Can you people stop watching the news. Seriously. Try reading or maybe watching the local coverage in Japan. You are all misinformed. When are you morons going to realize that outfits like CNN, Fox etc.. are only there to scare you so you will keep watching, They use misleading words to make it seem worse than it is. Don’t forget newspapers are there to sell papers. If they put ” Nuke plant disaster” you will by it. If they use headlines like ” Nuclear crisis in Japan”, you won’t buy it. Are you people really that lazy that you can’t actually read and norm yourselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you bought iodine pills either. Idiots.

Great article. TO bad you seem too have an ignorant audience.

B. Rutgers - That article didn’t say inside a microwave, it said standing next to a microwave. And I’ll assume you have one in your house and your kids have been near it. As well as a TV, telephone, and computer which all emit radiation. And unfortunately at some point in time your grandkids will require an X-Ray which will blast them with it too.

The good news is that the human body can handle small amounts well. And that article above tells us in great detail that even under the worst case scenario, you will not come across any dangerous levels of radiation from this. You are more likely to come across air that is more dangerous to you by simply stepping out into the smog-filled California air. It also tells us that the worst-case scenario is extremely unlikely and gives reasons why.

You are being paranoid, which is fine. It happens to us all, especially when it comes to our family. The article cites numerous nuclear experts and confirms scientific facts that can be found elsewhere. If you believe everyone is covering things up and lying, there is not much that can be said. You’ve decided to believe what you want. But very smart people with tons of experience in this field have repeatedly stated that you and your grandkids are in zero danger and given scientific reasoning behind it. It is your choice to decide whether to believe them or conclude that it’s all a big conspiracy.

This is the first article I have seen on Pro Publica that reminds me of a mainstream media article. It contains a “don’t worry” marketing spin that is a standard public relations strategy employed by companies such as BP, the nuclear industry and other industries whose products and infrastructure inherently put people and the planet at risk. It caters to people’s desire to believe that humans can consume more and more energy, and that no matter what kinds of disasters, pollution and other negatives come from generating that energy, don’t worry, be happy, all is well. There are industry trolls on here who are engaged in marketing spin. The so-called nuclear experts all have a vested financial and ego interest in minimizing the dangers of nuclear energy. You will notice that the article does not contain even one quote from someone who challenges the rosy scenario and “gosh golly, nuclear reactors are soooo resilient” spin. This article is pro-nuclear propaganda. I am now sorry I have contributed money to Pro Publica. They have done well to expose the fracking industry’s corruption and environmental damage, but their Wall Street Journal heritage is showing here. What a sell-out!

Study the history of the nuclear power industry and you’ll find that they have always been myopic zealots-to the extreme.  They are, and always have been, fanatics.  Read about Leo Szalard and “Der Bund” (the brotherhood); about Glenn Seaborg (discover of plutonium) who literally thought he would be more famous than Jesus Christ.  The same fanaticism exists today.  Read Pete Domenici’s book “A Brighter Tomorrow” or another recent pro nuke book actually titled “Power to Save the World.” You’ll find it shocking.  Engage a nuclear engineer in an in-depth intimate discussion that allows you to see beneath their professional veneer and you will find some very very scary people.

The nuclear industry loves to portray anti-nuclear people as misinformed idiots.  Sadly, the truth is that most pro nuke folks are true believers who will remain locked into total denial until the very end.

This article is premature by weeks.  No one who has not inspected the ACTUAL condition of the reactor cores and the spent rod pools can rationally make any claim as to damage or future consequence.  Pro Publica, why are you passing along this propaganda?

Dear Japaneses , You are invited to come to our Country Bulgaria.We have many of deserted houses in the vilages , also large uncultivated acreages agricultural land. Just waiting to be used. Wellcome friends.

Why is PP covering a current news event? PP’s brief is to do investigative journalism. While I trust that PP is furiously at work on the investigative side, perforce its hour to publish is not yet. Besides, to this common or garden variety reader, you’re making a third-hand hash of it.

One expert assures us, and PP’s headline writer passes it straight on, that the damage will be geographically limited in scope based on the size of the plumes compared to Chernobyl. But another expert warns that radioactivity may penetrate the water table; to a bystander like me, that sounds super-bad for the scope of the damage, but what do I know? Then there’s the guy who sees the scope of the damage to the reactors themselves as a positive tribute to nuclear safety.

This range of opinion is incoherent because in fact NOBODY KNOWS. Fukushima Daiichi is ITS OWN EVENT, and time alone can tell. Let the NY Times do its usual convoluted reportage from Mt. Olympus. Let PP stick to its proper, rigorous coverage of the conditions, decisions, and events that led to this mess.

Warren Pollock

March 19, 2011, 1:42 p.m.

This “article” does nothing but inject cognitive dissonance into the equation.

Warren Pollock

March 19, 2011, 1:43 p.m.

My website provides some objective links on the issue.

This article is intended to reassure us that the Fukushima “event” won’t be “too bad.” Maybe bad for the Japanese in the vicinity, but nothing for us Americans to worry about. Glad to hear that, but, if I were unfortunate enough to be Japanaese, not American, I’d like to know what “vicinity” Mr. Lustgarten has in mind. But that, like much of his article, is unclear. Is it a 10, 20, 40, 80 km, ... radius? Mr. Lustgarten, with cavalier disregard for even approximate quantitative estimates, tells us not.

It is quite clear that Lustgarten is quite unqualified to write an article on this - or any other technical - subject. All he can do is ask various “experts” to give him their opinions.  And, since he himself lacks any independent knowledge of this subject, nuclear physics and engineering, he has no way to judge the reliability of these sources.  All he can do is regurgitate, more or less verbatim, what he’s been spoon-fed by these “experts”.

He tells us, for example, it (Fukushima) isn’t as bad as Chernobyl. Glad to hear that, but who said it was? Perhaps some crackpot (and yes, I see, as usual, a few here) but nobody credible. So who is Lustgarten trying to refute? Does he think us Propublica readers are all that ignorant?

Also, while we’re on that subject, it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Chernobyl. It exploded, he says, at “full power” No, much greater; 40 times greater, according to the lowest estimate, its rated power. That, given the system’s thermal efficiency of about 25%, would be about 4 GW, so the peak power of the explosion was about 160 GW. No containment structure, Russian, American,  whatever, could have withstood the force produced by that kind of power.

But whatever Lustgartn thought he was going to accomplish with this article, he missed the lesson of Fukushima, the lesson we should already have learned from Chernobyl. And that is that there’s no such thing as safe nuclear power. So, since such accidents are inevitable, the next question should be, can we afford them? I’d say no. I’d like to know what Mr. Lustgarten would say.

Doth mine eyes decieve me? An article written by Lustgarten that doesnt rely primarily on conjecture and red herrings?!?

Also, while we’re on that subject, it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Chernobyl. It exploded, he says, at “full power” No, much greater; 40 times greater, according to the lowest estimate, its rated power. That, given the system’s thermal efficiency of about 25%, would be about 4 GW, so the peak power of the explosion was about 160 GW. No containment structure, Russian, American,  whatever, could have withstood the force produced by that kind of power.

And thats precisely why no reactor, aside from the Soviet RBMK’s, has positive feedback loops present in loss of coolant situations.

john francis lee

March 19, 2011, 10:38 p.m.

Well… now the nuclear engineers have been heard from. We’ll see what happens.

The engineers, who are interested parties in nuclear energy generation on ‘the grid’, are ‘optimistic’ that land within a radius of tens of kilometers of these reactors will be rendered poisonous for decades.

I can’t say I ‘hope they’re right’. That’s a disaster large enough to keep me from building a nuclear plant.

I do hope that humans, not corporations, all around the world realize that this massive, centralized system of generating huge amounts of energy only to be wastefully dissipated at the consumption end is unnecessary, that the model to pursue is distributed production of energy with photosynthesis as the model and engine, and that we need to limit our numbers on this planet, to leave a little - a lot! - for everything else, for what makes life enjoyable here on earth.

spent fuel must be kept in zirconium cladding, that will burn if exposed to air, and then placed in cooling ponds that must be kept near freezing at all costs and for the next few thousand years. This is what all the pro-nuke folks call safe.

Please tell me this was written tongue-in-cheek. Or maybe its a script for the Daily Show and I’m supposed to swim in its irony?  The only reason that any of these nuclear experts can make these comments is due to the fact that there are several dozen people who have risked their lives to stop this multiple meltdown.  Is that a credible disaster response plan?  These nuclear experts may certainly volunteer to help out on site.  Only then should their comments be treated as credible.

Who’s TEPCO’s insurance company? The Japanese taxpayers?

Until I see an insurance product paid for by the industry I’m not inclined to believe their risk management approaches are anywhere near what is needed.


Isn’t number 4 fed with Plutonium? Isn’t that poisonous?

Finally a rational article with scientific input. I have been amazed at the alarmist scenarios that have been painted over the past couple of weeks by people that had no idea what they were talking about.

Would Propublica or any US academic ever take this “no big deal” posture if the same accident occured HERE in the USA 9adn waht is teh popualtion in teh evacuation radius of a typical US plant?)

“The events that have happened, and the speculation for what could happen is not on the same scale as the release from Chernobyl,” said Peter Caracappa, a nuclear engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y. “Based on all the available information, the risk to any of the places far from the plant … would be too small to calculate with any confidence. We’re not talking intercontinental effects.”

This seems to infer that its OK because the damage is limited to Japan - disgusting.

I’d expect these arguments from nuclear industry lobbyists adn their COngressionaladn media lapdogs - but not from scientists and journalists at Propublica.

Could the journalist please list the sources of nuclear experts, especially the ones relied on for the headline?  T’would be helpful for those of us who have experience with nuclear experts to be able to judge, think critically, and comment accordingly.  Thanks.

Just yesterday, Propublica published an article (6 reasons why Japan not chernoble) that said one of the reasosn is that the Japanese aauthorities are engaging in full dislcosure and warnign people.

Today, this article reoports the exact opposite (adn so does many others, including the NY Times).

Why are you guys all over the place spinning the good news on this story?

Are you engaging in a journlistic Sista Soulja event to build your street cred in light of the huge pushback on your fracking story?

Say One Billion dollar investment
Risk assesment


@ Ian,

No.3 is called the reactor core isolation cooling (RCIC)

No.4 is called passive cooling

Do a little research before coming here and sounding like a fool.

Tawanda Kanhema

March 21, 2011, 5:17 p.m.

Its not too late to recall this headline. It fails in two major ways. The soothing proclamation it makes is based on the speculations and opinions of experts, so it should be attributed to those experts. Just two words, “Experts say”, would do justice. As it stands, ProPublica is engaging in prophecy, which has hardly any place in investigative journalism. We are happy to hear what experts think and thank you for reaching out to them, but please attribute those opinions to them and stick to your core duty.

Please investigate the MOX fuel industry which the US government has committed billions to,  ostensibly to reduce plutonium proliferation.
However,  the technology is bogged down in cost over runs and the basic science seems questionable. 
  The use of MOX fuel in reactor three highlights the greater danger of using plutonium rather than uranium.  I would like to know how much more dangerous - how much more radiation results from MOX fuel in a crisis.
  I wonder if the under reporting of MOX’s presence at the Daiichi reactor is due to industry efforts to stiffle debate on how our domestic reactors are fueled.  How compromised is the US government after its multi billion investment in MOX ?

What a sad article, Pro Publica seems to be selling out more and more to the argumentation of the nuclear industry and its governmental and military lobby.

If this were objective information from seven different sources, how come there is not a single link to any of these sources?
How come you don’t tell us about the half-life of cesium 137 - 30 years
or Plutonium 239 - 24.000 years
How come you don’t tell us about the toxicity of plutonium?
How come you don’t tell us about the long term effects of radiation?
The risk for the yet unborn next generation, the risk for cancer?
How come you forget to tell us about Tokio’s drinking water already being radioactively contaminated at day 9?

This is mainstream manipulation, unworthy of this site, as the comments clearly indicate.

Nothing for nothing but isnt it convenient how a barage of million dollar missiles launched at Libya has turned the news cameras to the middle east….........and away from mox fuel meltdown story in Japan…...creating some cover for the nuclear industries lobbyist…..the last time i heard they reccomended washing off the radioctive contamination with soapy water….......and were guaranteeing no harmful health affects to humans… at all period…, god help us all!

john francis lee

March 21, 2011, 10:03 p.m.

“What a sad article, Pro Publica seems to be selling out more and more to the argumentation of the nuclear industry and its governmental and military lobby.”

Reviewing this article I have to agree with that statement. Who has Abram Lustgarten chosen to ‘interview’?

Peter Caracappa, a nuclear engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y.

Kenneth Bergeron, a physicist who worked on nuclear reactor accident simulations at Sandia National Laboratories.

Louis Lanese, a nuclear engineer who worked on the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 and now is a partner with Panlyon Technologies, a nuclear energy-services firm in Flanders, N.J.

Gilbert Brown, a professor in the nuclear engineering program at the University of Massachussetts in Lowell.

Victor Gilinsky, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the physical sciences department at the Rand Corporation.

Not surprising for an establishment ‘reporter’ who is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times, perhaps, but hey, I thought Pro Publica was for journalism in the public, no the (nuclear) establishment, interest.

You’ve lost a tentative fan here.

This is not up to ProPublica’s standards, and as the comment by Mr. Lee notes, both the sources and the writer should be taken into account. The fallout and rad-spread is just starting because the rad-material is certainly not contained.

There are health physicists who don’t work for the nuclear industry and media that can explain to the writer concepts like bioconcentration and how over time these longer-lived isotopes like Plutonium 239 (half-life 24,000 years, longer than the PR industry has existed) will be an issue. Understand that Unit 3 is MOX fueled—that’s mixed oxides, uranium and plutonium, as other’s noted. Since rad-hot isotopes need to decay for 10 half-lives to go away, radioactive particles are unleashed that are man-made and will be around longer than the written history of mankind. That’s a problem. And they’ll be concentrating and transported in all kinds of ways. This isn’t improving, it’s only starting. Check the spinach next month—these numbers aren’t thermal temperatures that cool in a few days.

Since we have to compare everything to Chernobyl as past accidents and fall-out from above ground tests in the west and Pacific aren’t remembered, search the German stories about radioactive boars. The government buys them for disposal.

Yes, wild boars in Germany are 12 times more radioactive than recommended for eating, 25 years after Chernobyl, which is a long way from Germany’s forests. They (boars) are expected to be concentrating isotopes from truffles for another 25 years. And that’s one food source for a small subset of people in one area. We could name others, especially top-level predators that really concentrate isotopes.

The amounts of radiation in these six units is way more than that Chernobyl’s ‘blast’. It will break the bank or Japan will run out of technicians before this is put back in those cracked pressure vessels. The military left so they brought in Osaka and Tokyo firemen. Meanwhile, the isotopes will be concentrating, and the fictional improvement that out-to-sea winds offer for lower rad-level reporting will eventually blow more to Tokyo. And did I mention Japan eats from the ocean?

Check in a few years, as leukemia wards become the new growth industry. Standing by microwaves which don’t make ionizing radiation, or getting a CAT scan, is not the same as eating or drinking radioactive particles, especially concentrated doses that nature has gathered for us.

Pretty silly article, really. A disappointment ProPublica would run it.

What makes you believe that the worst case scenario in Fukushima could not compete with Tschernobyl? the fact that this reactor is not graphite moderated and therefore a possible fire will not be as hot as at Tschernobyl? Although the Zirconium around the nuclear fuel burns at lower temperatures, this is still sufficient to blow bad particles (radioactive respirable dust) up in higher atmospheric layers.

Tschernobyl was surrounded by land, Japan is next to the pacific ocean. As you might know from school: as oceans are heated by the sun they produce an uplifting airflow - right, that is where the clouds are formed - right again, that clouds will rain down over land as well (maybe over North Americas east coast).

So please do not tell me that there is no risk of wide spread fallout if the worst case scenario becomes reality in Fukushima.

I understand your ambition to keep the uneducated majority calm - no one wants a panic at Americas east coast - but maybe it would be a good time to start telling the truth about the dangers of nuclear technology and their effect on human life, instead of telling lies about this bio-destructible and inhuman way of making money.

Best retards
a moron at work

PS: Thanks for all this good comments demonstrating that there are people who actually know what they are writing about.

How wonderful to know there’s no big danger no matter what happens next… Why doesn’t this author himself volunteer to go over to the plant and relieve one of those 200 Japanese workers who are sacrificing their lives? If there’s no danger to the rest of the country and the world, then why should any of those 200 workers risk their lives? They should all retreat and leave the nuclear plant crash and burn—nothing bad will ever possibly come out of it, right? These “experts” are so arrogant.. first, they tell you that disasters of this magnitude can’t happen, then, now that it happened, they tell you that the next disaster won’t happen.

I think that if you proposed to build a wind generation plant that had a risk, even a small one, of causing farms several miles in ever direction to not be able to sell their food for a year or two, but that this risk would be contained to the country in which the plant was built, and would only cause potential death or danger to those who work in the plant and live near it though i an entirely unpredictable manner, they (whoever they are) would not give you the permit.

The fallacy to this entire argument is that Nuclear Power is safe because when a bunch of reactors and their spent fuel storage pools get out of hand in Japan it does not affect California. 

That’s an argument fail.  Good example, of one though!

Greg Laden, that is an excellent point and should be applied to all govt/political/corporate assertions and policies.  If these assertions and policies are not applied evenly and fairly across the spectrum, then they are clearly suspect.  Take our new involvement in Libya where we are assured it is a “humanitarian ” mission.  Where was this “humanitarian” effort in Darfur?  Let’s face it, if there isn’t a banker, corporate exec, oil magnate, or Saudi Prince at the table, nothing will happen.

I turn in my grave! Can anyone write an English sentence these days? Never mind the obscene content in some of your responses, but the grammar and spelling arw unbelievable, and even positive comments often unclear. Oh, the good old days!

You’re dead, e.b.  get over it.  You don’t have to worry about grammar, spelling or radiation; just that serious weight loss problem.

john francis lee

March 23, 2011, 7:54 a.m.

“Around Fukushima Daiichi Station they measured 400 millisieverts – that’s per hour.  With this measurement (Chief Cabinet Secretary) Edano admitted for the first time that there was a danger to health, but he didn’t explain what this means.  All of the information media are at fault here I think.  They are saying stupid things like, why, we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space.  But that’s one millisievert per year.  A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760.  Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose.  You call that safe?  And what media have reported this?  None.”

- Hirose Takashi

You can read the translated interview with Hirose Takashi at Counterpunch. I tried to post the link here several hours ago, but the Pro Publica MSM censored the post.

john francis lee

March 23, 2011, 3:24 p.m.

“Dr. Chris Busby, a founder of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, and chief scientist at the Low-Level Radiation Campaign declared March 16,

“Reassurances about radiation exposures issued by the Japanese government cannot be believed. They are based on an invalid risk model which the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) itself has admitted cannot be applied in accident situations.”

This ICRP radiation risk model is the basis of and dominates all present radiation exposure legislation. Yet Dr. Busby reports,

“The basic concept of radiation dose is generally recognized to be invalid for many types of internal exposure relevant to the present emergency.”

Governments have set up “permissible,” “allowable” and “legal” radiation exposure limits because reactors can’t operate without venting or dumping contaminated gases and liquids.

Exposure to this radiation, during routine operations or from partial meltdowns — say in milk, tap water, or vegetables — is never safe.

It is merely permitted under law.”

—John LaForge

Counterpunch. Google ‘Spewing from Meltdowns” The actual article comes up 7th.

The NRC spokespeople,and others keep stating “no one has died or was sickened by the 3 mile island accident,or anywhere else by the nuclear industry”.Wow what a load of BS.Lung cancer leukemia rates went from a base line before the accident to 400-700% higher depending on location from 3 mile island.

Citing ionizing particle radiation exposure in terms of gamma radiation such as from background radiation,the sun,x-rays is absurd.If one particle is eaten,or breathed in,it sits inside and knocks off electrons off surrounding cells dna damaging them.The immune system can withstand only so much,then cancer results.Gamma radiation say from the sun,or an x-ray is not constant.ionizing radiation is 24-7.

No ionizing radiation is safe in any amount.,this is why babies,the old are more susceptible to ionizing radiation.To suggest it is is absurd.It’s like the plague,some people survived because they had a better immune system,and could withstand the bacterium. Iodine 131 has a short life,plutonium longer than man has been on the earth.Unit #3 is loaded with “Mox” which has tons of plutonium.This is the most damaged plant,and has had constant fires which volitizes the plutonium into the air for long transport.,say around the world.Iceland has detected radioactive particles from the plant in Japan.This is a world wide event.Chernobyl was also.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Safety

With the disaster in Japan, we're investigating questions about nuclear safety.

The Story So Far

Following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, hydrogen explosions rocked three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Radioactive spent fuel stored in pools was also affected, especially at one reactor—the plant has a total of six—where multiple fires erupted. Evacuation orders were issued, potassium iodine tablets distributed, and plant employees used seawater and external electrical power to cool the stricken reactors, three of which had a partial core meltdown.

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