Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unfounded Fear

OK, first world countries, stop trying to one-up each other with how concerned far away you want your citizens from a nuclear plant in trouble. In this Guardian story the British foreign office advised their citizens to consider leaving Tokyo even when their chief scientific officer said they was no risk of a serious safety problem in Tokyo. We've been over this here before. In a comment on a previous blog I mentioned the frustration of research and development projects where:
some marketing wank would make me do something stupid, like that time I had to change a warning label from "stay back 1 meter," my calculated distance of safe radiation plus a fudge factor, to "stay back 2 meters" because the marketing guy said that's what the competitor's sticker said. They claimed 1 meter made our antenna seem weaker. I claimed 2 meters meant you'd have to jump off the boat and swim around the damn thing, but they won.
So we're getting to the point where you have to swim around. The source of the radiation is on a rather narrow island. The arc they want people to avoid is going to get really inconvenient. (from the Guardian article)
The British advice differed from other western countries. The US, Canada and Australia recommended that citizens who were within 50 miles (80km) of the plant should evacuate or take shelter indoors; however, France has advised all citizens in Japan to leave Tokyo for the next few days.
The hysteria over radiation is getting annoying and vaguely offensive. People really just don't pay attention in school do they? Atoms aren't scary. Anybody can understand it.

Why are people in California worried they're going to get radioactive iodine in their thyroid? (Potassium iodide is all sold out.) I have no expertise in this at all but my instinct is "Absurd!" I know at least enough to look it up. First of all the half life of radioactive iodine is only about 8 days. Even if there was a huge plume of steam that got in a cloud and it made it across the Pacific it would have mostly decayed and be extremely diluted before it got to California.
A major study in 2007, presented to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security in 2008, of what messages people wanted to hear and who they would trust after a nuclear disaster found that local officials, such as firemen, were trusted above prime ministers or scientists.
Can we please get some firemen to go to the drug stores to tell people to relax?

The people we should be concerned for are the workers at this plant. They have to figure out how to circulate water in places that are bona fide sources of ionizing radiation. They can't just walk up and lower a garden hose into the cooling pool. They are running power lines to try to get the pumps on but where is the interconnect? Is it going to be like a movie where somebody has to sacrifice himself to go clamp jumper cable on some terminals somewhere? I'm worried about that guy, not myself.

Radiation is like your oven. If I'm cooking a casserole and I bend over to get it out the air in the oven is going to feel warm. If I actually touch the glowing element it's going to burn like hell. But somebody in the other room won't know anything is happening until I start cussing. For that person in the other room to put on oven mitts and huddle in the corner crying instead of getting me an ice cube is just fucking stupid and frankly very selfish. Especially when they eat that delicious casserole later when  it cools off.

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