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Saturday, April 9, 2011

WHY ARE WE AFRAID OF FUKUSHIMA WHEN NAGASAKI AND HIROSHIMA ARE SAFE?


(I thank several  colleagues--Tom Burnett, Gary McMurtry, Jay Hanson, Chuck Helsley and Hal Helsley--for contributing to the below discussion.  I am confident about the details mostly because of their input.  The emphasis in the discourse seemed to shift to fusion, so in a later follow-up posting I will review this "better" nuclear option.)


The Atomic Bomb that detonated over Hiroshima (above) used Uranium-235, while that of the A-Bomb over Nagasaki (below) was Plutonium-239.  The half-life of Uranium-235 is 700 million years, while Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000.  In other words, once on the ground, they will be there for a very long time.  Why then are Hiroshima and Nagasaki perfectly safe today?  I thus again visited both peace parks on my current trip to Japan to determine why.




Today, the background radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the same as the average amount of natural radiation present anywhere on Earth. It is not enough to affect human health.

I sort of get what these statements are saying, but the general write-up was ambiguous.  Click on the above and see if you understand.  Part of the story is that these bombs exploded high up in the air and all the radioactive material blew or rained away...somewhere.  I guess.

It is, indeed, today safe in Hiroshima (Atomic dome above) and Nagasaki (Fat Man and I below), but here is my puzzlement.  Little Boy over Hiroshima was only about 1% efficient, so what happened to the 139 pounds of the U-235 that were particularized?  From all reports, the plume just dissipated over land and sea.  Same for Nagasaki and the 12 pounds of Pu-239 particles.  There was a slight increase of leukemia in the Nagasaki region, but no additional incidence of cancers anywhere in and around Hiroshima.  Thus, contrary to any kind of logical sense, while the high altitude (1968 feet for Hiroshima and 1800 feet for Nagasaki) nuclear explosions immediately killed 200,000 people, these cities soon became safe, and are thriving today.


With respect to the relative long-term danger of nuclear power plants versus Atomic Bombs, another article mentioned that there is a lot more fissionable material in the former compared to the latter. For example, a 1000 MW reactor uses 50,000 pounds of enriched uranium/year and produces 54,000 pounds of waste, which keeps accumulating, so in a 20 year period, there should be more than a million pounds of radioactive material on site.  Little Boy (with Fat Man below), the A-Bomb over Hiroshima, had only 141 pounds of U-235, while Fat Man used 14 pounds of Pu-239.


Chernobyl released 200 times more radiation than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, combined.  As far away as Scotland, the radiation rose to 10,000 times the norm.  Frighteningly, the Fukushima reactors are said to be more dangerous than Chernobyl (used U-235) for two reasons:  more enriched uranium, and Fukushima #3 uses plutonium.

Everyone seems to fear the specter of plutonium, which is a by-product of U-235 nuclear reactors.  I do, for one, you can make more bombs, and the Cold War is why the USA decided to use uranium instead of thorium in the '50's.  However, it is reported that you can actually hold plutonium and your skin will protect you from the radiation.  A key matter is that radioactivity danger is inversely proportional to the half-life of the material.  Thus, a chunk of P-239, with a half-life of 24,000 years, should not be a health concern.  Apparently, you can even eat it, and you should survive.  In fine particles in your lung, plutonium can cause cancer.

Other radioactive products of these nuclear reactors are isotopes of iodine and cesium.  Iodine-131 is particularly mentioned, because it has a half-life of 8 days, and therefore very radioactive.  In the sea, though, much of this material loses potency quickly, so in a hundred days, it should become safe.  Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, so it can be sub-optimally dangerous, for the radioactivity is high, and safety comes only after 300 years, the time when Chernobyl is supposed to become good for human habitation.

As far as the peaceful uses of nuclear, Chernobyl (on the right) showed that a major nuclear power plant accident can contaminate a large region for a long time.  An area the size of Switzerland for 300 years is the case of Chernobyl.  You DON'T want to click on The Children of Chernobyl.  It is reported that 330,000 had to be relocated. While Fukushima will not cause as much damage if the reactors are controlled, residents within a few miles will probably never be able to return home.  This liability of nuclear fission facilities could well be the conclusive reason why there will be no new plants into the long-term future.  This is why we should be afraid of Fukushima and any nuclear facility.

One final screw into the fission coffin is that society will simply determine that nuclear power is not worth the potential damage. Chernobyl supposedly cost Ukraine, Belarus and Russia hundreds of billions of dollars.  This was greater than the revenues gained from all the nuclear power plants in those countries from the beginning of operation in 1954 to when the accident occurred.  The cost of Hurricane Katrina was about $125 billion, but what can we do about hurricanes?  (Actually, the Blue Revolution has a possible answer.)  Something similar to Chernobyl will be true for Fukushima (above left), as the estimated cost of damage will exceed $300 billion.  When you realize that Tokyo Electric Power Company reported a net income of about $1.3 billion last year, you got to wonder.

These mathematics should lead you to a conclusion that nuclear fission is too risky.  Yes, this combination of 9.0 earthquake, 124 foot tsunami and three partial nuclear meltdowns at the same location might not happen again.  But consider that many nuclear facilities are located at the coastline in the path of a possible 200 mile/hour hurricane, and you should be worried.  This is unbelievable, and really not a sensible comparison, but the energy yield of Little Boy and Fat Man combined is one-fourth the energy released by an average hurricane in ONE SECOND.

Further, there are 436 nuclear plants.  What if a terrorist organization or two or more, say a decade ago, managed to have one of their members hired.  By now perhaps there could be several terrorists plotting to cause maximum damage as insiders.  There is no way to prevent these types of orchestrated mission, and the impact will be catastrophic if this reactor happened to be in the vicinity of a large population, as no doubt will be within the planning strategy of these organizations.  If a Muslim, such a suicidal effort will allegedly get you and your family to Heaven, and there could be that psychotic environmentalist.

Maybe this is all too gloomy.  Okay, then, surely, there are a few Homer Simpsons working at a few of these facilities.  Imagine if...

Oh, oh...another aftershock at 9:47PM Tokyo time.

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