The Saddest Love Song (a different kind of nuclear umbrella)

One of Japan's golden oldies was a love song that went something like this:
"I want to come to you, but I can't.
The night is rainy, and I have no umbrella."

Sound wimpy? It's not.

In the 50s and 60s, nuclear devices were tested in the open air, often over the Pacific where "no one lived"--no one except millions of Pacific islanders, including the Japanese people. The fall-out was expected to disperse, and it did: carried on the wind, it filled the raindrops that fell on rainy Japan.

Often black, the rain could be lethal. No one wanted it on themselves, and no one would ever want to carry it into the home of a loved one.

To this day, it is still considered bizarre to go out in the rain without an umbrella in Japan. This habit took root thanks to unrestrained US nuclear testing, and now it is once again a necessary habit.


Incredible Changing Landscapes

One minute, there were thriving towns. The next minute, tsunami! Water. Mud and sand. Rubble. And now?

Hundreds of units of re-fabricated housing are already going up in places where the rubble has been cleared and the scars in the land smoothed over. After more than two weeks in emergency shelters, the ones whose numbers are picked in the lottery to decide who gets to move in first will have a place to call home.

Banzai, Japan! Hurray for everyone who is contributing to the rebuilding!


Iodine and Us (2)

This is from Bloomberg news, about what a scientist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute predicts, based on the fact that the scariest substances escaping from the damaged reactors are soluble:

"Ocean currents and natural dilution of seawater contaminated by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are likely to spare marine life and the underwater ecosystem from devastation, scientists say.

Radioactive materials, including iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 have been detected near the southern discharge canal from the nuclear plant.

The ocean can absorb significant increases in cesium and iodine, the two most common radioactive isotopes coming from the plant, before it becomes unsafe for humans or marine animals, said Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Health authorities would still be wise to monitor seafood, seaweed and other ocean products, he said."


Iodine and Us

This is from a Q and A in The Japan Times online, fielded by a radiation safety expert from Nihon University, Kunikazu Noguchi, in an article by Jun Hongo and Mizuho Aoki. The question concerns a radioactive form of iodine released from the generating plant in Fukushima.

"Q: Iodine was blamed for cancer cases following the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Will that happen in Japan?

A: Apart from the difference in the amount of radiation leakage in the two cases, Japanese in general consume more foods rich in iodine, including fish and seaweed, than the people around Chernobyl. Some believe as a result the presence of more nonradioactive iodide in their thyroids will reduce the intake and accumulation of toxic iodine.

Iodine not accumulated in the thyroid tends to pass into the bloodstream and is expelled in urine, Noguchi said."

Good reasons to eat more nori, wakame, and konbu!


There is Joy in Mudville Tonight!

The cooling system for the damaged nuclear generation plant in Fukushima is back. Thank you, thank you, the 160 very brave workers who accomplished this!

It takes an engineer to solve the hard problems. Here's one of the background stories behind this wonderful news.

One of the opposition parties in Japan, Komeito, set up a task force to help deal with the tsunami/earthquake disaster area. They are a small, grassroots party whose support comes from a wide swath of society. Not labor unions, not farmers, not the financial sector--ordinary working people make up the bulk of their support. Why is that good? Because those are the people with practical ideas, and the party leadership is in the habit of listening to them.

Here's what happened:

A big problem was how to get water into the pool that cools the rods that supply the heat to turn water into steam and turn the electric generating turbines. They tried dropping tons of sea water from helicopters. Dropping the water from a safe height made hitting the target with a big enough splash very difficult. They tried high power fire engines with water cannons. The fire engines helped a little, but they quickly ran out of water and had to turn back.

And then...

An engineer type looked at the problem and made a suggestion to the Komeito task force. Deliver a liquid from a great height? Have it run continuously? Not endanger the operator? Hmmm... Got it!

Why not try a contraption operated by remote control that is used to deliver sloppy, wet concrete to high rise buildings under construction?

Voila! A concrete pumping machine with an arm with a 50+ meter reach was located. It was rushed to Yokohama harbor from Mie Prefecture. (where the Ise pearl farms are) It reached Fukushima the next day, and it did the job.



Radiation and Its Danger to Human Beings

Here is a link to a very well written article by Eric Johnston of The Japan Times about radiation levels and their effect on human beings.


Among other data, he reports that, as a kind of reference, a CAT scan exposes a person to 10 doses of what are called millisieverts.

The risk of radiation induced cancer rises from around 200 doses. The levels near the damaged reactors are in that neighborhood or higher. The levels in Tokyo are relatively low.

The point is, no one knows for sure. If you don't need to be in Japan, it may be wiser to stay away until the situation has been thoroughly dealt with. The wind could change, it might rain, the reactors could spew at a heavier rate than at present. No one can know until it happens.


Earthquake (4)

A woman in Miyagi Prefecture, where the March 11 earthquake was at its most powerful, summed it up:

"There is nothing left but life itself."


earthquake aftermath

Public Service Announcement: For those concerned, Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures will have their electric power rationed, starting Monday, March 14. There will be at least three blacked-out daytime hours in every district.


Earthquake! (3)

From a scientific viewpoint, this is interesting. Usually, after a tsunami, the floodwaters flow back to the sea. This is when the big damage occurs. This time, a day later, the seawater that flowed in from the tsunami is still covering huge swaths of land.


Apparently, ground level subsided about 70 centimeters. That's close to shoulder height, using an adult as a measuring stick. Ground level hasn't rebounded. If the sun dries up the water, and all that weight is removed, will it rebound? If the earth's natural elasticity kicks in, will it rebound?

It would be nicer if this were a lab experiment, not something being experienced in real time by real people for the first time in Japan's recorded geological history.

Earthquake! (2)

Here is a link to the explanation of the Japanese earthquake magnitude scale. This seismic intensity scale describes quakes in terms of their effect on human beings and their surroundings.


Here is a link to the record of recent earthquakes. Japan is still rocking as I write.
Please note that the times are NOT Japan time.