THE FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR PLANT AND OUR FUTURE
Radiation emanating from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan will alter ambient levels of radiation worldwide, creating acute risk in Japan within 100 miles of the plant but creating a lasting minute increase in radiation levels worldwide. The radioactive particles carried by wind and water will remain radioactive for the next ten thousand years and while the worldwide elevation in radiation is tiny, it is essentially permanent.
In every nuclear power plant, the worst case scenario involves a core meltdown. That is when the reactor core melts to the bottom of the reactor vessel and through to the containment floor where it may then proceed to the edge of the steel shell and into the surrounding environment beneath the plant, contaminating the earth and the water table. Meltdowns also involve the release of large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Although the full extent of damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is not public, either because the authorities in Japan are suppressing it or because the owners of the plant are, it appears that a meltdown of at least one of the plants has already occurred.
Plants like the one in Japan, it remains critical for the long uranium fuel rods to remain under water. When water levels drop such that the rods are exposed, the risk of meltdown rises because the heat generated is extreme.
It now appears that the nuclear disaster in Japan is as significant, if not more significant, than the disaster at Chernobyl. The radiation plume from the Fukushima Daiichi plant is already over the United States and radioactive particles are descending to the earth across this country. It is true that radiation levels will rise by a very tiny amount in the U.S., perhaps as low as one one hundred thousandth of a percent, but it is also true that radioactive particles dropping to the earth from the atmosphere will be inhaled and ingested from the surface of foods and waters into which they are deposited. Those elements will in individuals increase radiation levels minutely but not for a short period of time; they emit radiation at the same level for as long as ten thousand years.
In North America, we are typically exposed to about 3 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation per year. Pilots and stewards receive about 9 mSv of radiation per year. Nuclear industry employees receive a 20 mSv dose per year. A CT scan delivers between 10 and 20 millisieverts. An x-ray delivers between 6 and 8 mSv. Those radiation exposures are temporary, however, while inhalation and ingestion of radioactive particles involves a chronic exposure, albeit a minute one. The lowest level at which cancer is reported to occur directly following exposure is at 100 mSv. Exposure to 1,000 mSv causes radiation sickness, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased white blood cell count. Exposure to 5,000 mSv causes death. Radiation is cumulative, as exposures throughout the year mount.
There is little known concerning chronic exposures, such as the rise in ambient exposure worldwide that will come from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Likely overall cancer risk rises as a result. Potassium iodide at daily dose levels equal to 12.5 mg for adults, half that for children 3 to 12, and a quarter of that for children one to three provides a degree of protection to organs of the body that are highly iodine absorptive, including the thyroid. Too much potassium iodide can cause adverse reactions, kindling hypothyroidism. Potassium iodide works because it fills absorptive organs like the thyroid and the breast and blocks subsequent absorption of radioactive iodine. Potassium iodide cannot eliminate radioactive iodine once absorbed by thyroid absorptive organs, so it must be ingested seven or more hours before exposure.
People worldwide (not just those in Japan and Americans living or stationed there) should be consuming potassium iodide and antioxidant vitamins and minerals. In particular, we should ingest selenium (200 mcg daily for adults; half that for children 3 to 12; and a quarter of that for children one to three) to help in the conversion of T4 to T3 in the thyroid.
The long term lesson we can learn from the Fukushima Daiichi crisis involves greater appreciation for the dangers of reliance on nuclear power and the dangers multiple simultaneous environmental catastrophes can have. We must either find a way to contain and ultimately eliminate spent fuel rods safely or end our reliance on nuclear power, because spent rods, much as active rods, pose an ever present risk.
New information based on the latest U.S. geological survey and fault risk data confirms that certain of America's 104 nuclear reactors are at a much higher risk of catastrophic failure than originally thought possible at the time of their construction. The plants are not equipped with adequate redundant safety systems to guard against a core meltdown resulting from multiple powerful earthquakes. An MSNBC analysis of the data supports the conclusion that reactor cores at the following plants are at greater risk than predicted at the time of construction: (1) Three Mile Island, Middletown, Pennsylvania (the new risk estimate is 1 in 25,000 compared to an old risk estimate of 1 in 45,455); Diablo Canyon 1 and 2, Avila Beach, California (the new risk estimate is 1 in 23,810; there is no old risk estimate); (3) Oconee 1,2, and 3, Seneca, SC (the new risk estimate is 1 in 23,256; the old estimate was 1 in 100,000); (4) North Anna 1 and 2, Louisa, VA (the new risk estimate is 1 in 22,727; the old: 1 in 31,250); (5) Saint Lucie 1 and 2, Jensen Beach, FL (the new risk estimate is 1 in 27,739; there is no old risk estimate); (6) Beaver Valley 1, Shippingport, PA (the new risk estimate is 1 in 20,833; the old 1 in 76,923); (7) Sequoyah 1 and 2, Soddy-Daisy, TN (the new risk estimate is 1 in 19,608; the old: 1 in 102,041); (8) Limerick 1 and 2, Limerick, PA (the new risk estimate is 1 in 18,868; the old: 1 in 45,455); (9) Pilgrim 1, Plymouth, MA (the new risk estimate is 1 in 14,493; the told: 1 in 125,000); and (10) Indian Point 3, Buchanan, NY (the new risk estimate is 1 in 10,000; the old: 1 in 17,241). These risk estimates are conservative, based on the government's own data. Among experts in this peculiar area of risk analysis, there are those who believe the level of risk at the plants to be greater.
The minute overall elevation of ambient radioactivity levels combined with the reality that radioactive elements will be inhaled and ingested worldwide from this catastrophe leads to the ineluctable conclusion that risks of adverse effects attendant to exposure will increase, particularly the risks of thyroid and breast cancer. The best antidote lies in adopting healthy living and eating habits, including a daily regimen that involves consumption of antioxidant vitamins and minerals along with potassium iodide and selenium.
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Because of the inherent and uncontrollable risks of radiation, dependency on nuclear power is not the answer to America's future energy needs. Fossil fuels and alternative fuel sources pose the greatest promise. Development of oil, gas, and coal resources domestically depends heavily on elimination of costly federal and state regulations that now hamper the private sector's ability to make use of those resources. It is possible to extract and make use of those resources while lessening the environmental impact but the emphasis has to be on allowing the market to thrive. Without elimination of regulatory restraints now hampering development, there is no way that the nation will be able to shift its reliance from nuclear power to less risky fuel sources.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved