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Nuclear alert level raised at Fukushima

Posted by feww on March 18, 2011

Japan raises alert level at Fukushima NPP

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis Deepens

Quote of the week on dumping water from helicopters to try to cool melting nuclear reactors:

“One can put out forest fires like this—by pouring water from far above… It is not clear where this water is falling. There is no control.”   ~ Gennady Pshakin, a Russian nuclear expert

Japanese authorities have raised the alert level at the doomed Fukushima Daiichi NPP from 4 to 5 [“Accident With Wider Consequences”] on 7-notch international danger scale for nuclear disasters.

This news comes amid earlier warnings by French scientists who had already classified the incident as a category 6, just one notch below the Chernobyl disaster.

Damage sustained at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP taken March 16, 2011 and released March 17, 2011. Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO)/Handout/via Reuters

IAEA Boss Returns to Japan

Meanwhile, Yukiya Amano, head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog (IAEA),  himself a Japanese national, has flown to Tokyo to obtain “first-hand” information on the unfolding disaster. However, he has made it quite clear that he does NOT intend to visit the Fukushima NPP. Instead, he  has requested “more information.”

Steam rising from the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP on March 16, 2011, released March 17, 2011.  Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO)/Handout/via Reuters.

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)

The INES, a logarithmic scale, which was introduced in 1990 by the IAEA to enable prompt communication, classifies the intensity of nuclear incidents as follows:

7 – Major Accident [Chernobyl disaster, criticality accident, April 1986]

6 – Serious Accident [e.g., Kyshtym incident, Mayak, former Soviet Union, steam explosion released up to 80 tons of highly radioactive material into the atmosphere, September 1957. ]

5 – Accident With Wider Consequences [e.g., Three Mile Island accident  Pen State, U.S., partial meltdown release radioactive gases  into the environment, March 1979.]

4 – Accident With Local Consequences [e.g., Sellafield, UK, at least 5 incidents reported between 1955 to 1979]

3 – Serious Incident [e.g., Vandellos NPP, Spain, fire destroyed control systems; the reactor was shut down, July1989]

2 – Incident [e.g., Forsmark NPP, Sweden, a backup generator failed, July 2006]

1 – Anomaly [e.g., TNPC, France, 1,600 gallons of water containing 75 kilograms (170 lb) of uranium leaked into the environment,  July 2008]

0 – Deviation (No Safety Significance) [e.g., Atucha, Argentina – Reactor shutdown caused by tritium increase in reactor encasement, December 2006.]

Serious Health Risks

Experts have warned that a major leak of radioactive substances from the stricken nuclear plant could pose serious health risks.

“At this point, there is still no evidence that there’s been significant radiation spread beyond the immediate zone of the reactors themselves,” Michael O’Leary, WHO’s representative in China said at a news conference.

“At the same time, we know that the situation is evolving and we need to monitor closely and see what happens over time. Things can obviously change, and have changed, over this last week.”

Although the risk to China would be minute at this stage, O’Leary said, there are other factors to consider.

“The reactors, of course, are quite far from China. The risk of spread depends on several factors. One is obviously the amount of radioactive material, or radionuclides, that are released from the reactor itself. Beyond that are weather and wind conditions that determine,” he said.

“As with anything that spreads or can spread out, the farther away you are, the more dispersed it is.”

Chinese Panic Buying of Iodized Salt

“The emergency has sparked panic buying of iodized salt in China, based on the misunderstanding that the iodine it contains could prevent the body’s intake of radioactive iodine that could be released in the event of a major explosion at the plant.” Said a report.

“The amount of iodine in salt is very small. It wouldn’t be possible to consume enough salt to get a protective dose. In the end, not many people will need iodine supplements.”O’Leary said.

According to one estimate, you would need an intake of about 1.5kg of salt, a lethal dose, to obtain a “protective dose” from salt.

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One Response to “Nuclear alert level raised at Fukushima”

  1. […] nuclear incident is defined as a level 5 (Accident With Wider Consequences), or worse, on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). See […]

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