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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Ontario Opposition Parties Resort to Radiation Fear Mongering

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was criticized for not releasing details of increased radiation levels in Ontario. - Photo: Joshua Sherurcij

It keeps happening, and it keeps blowing my mind.

However, this time it is not the media that is the culprit of radiation fear-mongering, but the opposition parties in the Ontario provincial government.

A story today from The Globe and Mail details how Premier Dalton McGuinty and the provincial Liberal party have come

under fire from opposition members on Wednesday for failing to tell the public about elevated levels of radiation detected in the province following Japan’s nuclear disaster.

The problem with this though, is that the increased radiation levels in Ontario are negligible.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about increased radiation levels being detected in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. The media, of course, jumped all over the story, even though the increase in radiation detected was less than the increase seen when it rains.

And it rains A LOT in BC.

The increase seen in Ontario is even smaller. In fact, as Leslie Meerburg, spokeswoman for Health Canada, pointed out:

A five-hour airplane flight from Montreal to Vancouver exposes an individual to 50,000 times more radiation than the level detected in Canada as a result of the earthquake in Japan

Let me give you some more numbers to show you just how ridiculous this complaint by the opposition parties really is.

Radiation dose absorbed in a biological system is calculated in units of Sieverts (Sv). This unit takes into account the radiation type, amount of radiation absorbed by your body, as well as the sensitivity of various organs to radiation exposure.

On average, you get about 10 micro-Sieverts (1.0 x 10-5 Sv) of radiation dose per day. That five-hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver gives you about 40 micro-Sieverts (4.0 x 10-5 Sv).

The increased amount of radiation in Ontario is roughly 0.00008 micro-Sieverts (8.0 x 10-10 Sv).

This is an increase of about 0.0008 %.

Need a visual? Here is a bar graph comparing a normal day’s worth of radiation dose in Ontario, compared to a day with the “increased levels” of radiation dose.

In other words, there is absolutely no danger associated with this increased level of radiation.

So why did the NDP give the Liberals a hard time?

New Democrats questioned government ministers for the second straight day on why they have not been more transparent with the public by publishing information on radiation levels in the air, water and food supply.

“This government totally dropped the ball,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in Question Period.

I generally support the NDP, but it was the NDP in this case that dropped the ball. I’m very disappointed by this.

Turns out, the Ontario government had already increased testing all food, milk and water in the wake of the Japan nuclear crisis. The NDP was upset that they didn’t tell anybody.

But I feel this was the right call. Why cause undo fear and panic  when there is absolutely no danger? I’m glad the government increased their testing rates, just to be on the safe side, but telling the public would have been a mistake.

Refusing to understand the science behind an issue and using fear to further a political agenda is distasteful and shows a lack of judgment. Frankly, it is something more akin to American politics.

Fukushima Q & A With Physicists

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Last week, Nature magazine held a live Q & A about the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. Understandably, people had many questions about the actual dangers associated with the damaged reactor.

The session included Jim Smith, an environmental physicist from the University of Portsmouth, U.K., and Geoff Brumfiel, Nature’s senior physical sciences correspondent.

With all the media hoopla, which included getting the science flat-out wrong and over-blowing the dangers (or lack thereof) here in North America.

Scientific American wrote a brief excerpt of the interview here. You can also get the full transcript on the Nature website.

Here’s an example of the kind of questions that were asked, and the answers given.

[Question From ZoeyZoey: ] Although there are high levels of Cesium 137 and Iodine 131 in the water around Japan many people believe that it is not cause for concern because of the ocean’s ability to vastly dilute what is put in it. Do you believe other countries should be concerned or do you agree that the ocean can fix it?

Jim Smith: Yes, there is enormous dilution of radioactivity in the marine system. By the time any contamination got across the ocean to other countries (if any did), the concentrations would be tiny and wouldn’t present any risk. The concern for the marine system is mainly in the local area to Fukushima.

 

Nuclear Fission Explained…With Skittles and Mouse Traps

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to Pharyngula for posting this. Awesome!

Radiation From Japan Reaches Canada. RUN! PANIC! AAAAAH!

March 22, 2011 2 comments

File:Radiation symbol alternate.svgOne day, I think I’m going to open up a news website or newspaper and there is going to be a front page headline that reads “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!”.

This is getting ridiculous.

New outlets, including CBC, ran an article today and yesterday about increasing radiation levels detected in Canada and in Iceland. The cause of this radiation is attributed to the crisis with the nuclear power plant in Japan. So just how big of an increase in radiation was there in British Columbia?

Gary Holub says increased radiation levels were expected, and are less than the increase in radiation levels Canadians would see naturally when it rains.

Holub stressed that the increase poses no health risk to Canadians.

Seriously? Less of an increase than when it rains? Yet the CBC chose to run a headline which said: “Increased Radiation Detected by B.C. Monitors“.

Scientific American reported what the U.S. Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency had to say about the increase in radiation.

They said the radiation amounted to one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from natural sources such as rocks, bricks and the sun.

This increased level of radiation is not even newsworthy, let alone worthy of a scaaaaaaaary headline. Everyone on this side of the pacific ocean has nothing to worry about.

Actually, unless you are one of the heroic Japanese workers trying to restore power to the nuclear plant, you have very little to worry about.

Does nobody remember that there were victims of an earthquake AND tsunami in Japan recently? Are we only paying attention to the nuclear plant now because news outlets love the fear generated by the word “radiation”?

Donations to the Japanese relief effort can be made through The Canadian Red Cross

Other places to make donations can be found here.

Relative Radiation

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

With the current crisis in Japan with the nuclear power plant, the media has latched onto the public’s fears of radiation.

And y’know what? I understand that fear. Radiation is invisible. It could be anywhere and you won’t know it until it’s too late.

But I am not afraid. Why?

The thing is that I know how much radiation we get on a daily basis, and how it compares with certain medical procedures and working near radiation sources, like a nuclear power plant. Most people do not, and the media plays on those fears to drive up ratings.

Thankfully, Randall Munroe of xkcd fame has created another wonderful (and timely) poster illustrating the relative doses associated with doing certain tasks or living near certain places.

Click on the image see the large version.

Some of the most interesting comparisons:

  • You get more than 3 times the radiation dose living within 50 miles of a coal power plant than you do living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant
  • Flying round-trip from New York to Los Angeles would give you the equivalent dose of living within 10 miles of the Three Mile Island accident.
  • Living in a stone, brick, or concrete building for 15 years gives you a larger radiation dose than anyone got from the Three Mile Island accident.
  • Using a CRT monitor for a year gives you a larger radiation dose than living next to a nuclear power plant for a year (but then again, who uses CRT monitors anymore?)

So while the Japan nuclear crisis is indeed serious, it is no reason to stop using nuclear power in general.

Oh, and the radiation dose from cell phones is zero, because phones don’t generate ionizing radiation and they don’t cause cancer. Relax, people.

Some Unexpected Stuff From Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

As Japanese officials are attempting to cool the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged after the devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami last week, some unexpected things have been happening as a result of the fear from this situation.

In an effort to help Japan conserve its electricity, game developers Konami and Square Enix will be suspending online access of their games to Japanese consumers for the time being.

Square Enix operates MMORPG games Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, and Konami operates Metal Gear Online.

How much electricity this will actually save is a difficult question to answer, but in times of crisis I suppose that every little bit helps.

In another development, Germany has temporarily shut down 7 of its nuclear power plants.

“We want to look at the risk and safety issues in the light of events in Japan,” the European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said.

While I can understand the desire for safety, particularly in light of the media-driven fear of radiation contaminating the rest of the world, I think this action is not only an over-reaction, but it adds fuel to the fire of radiation fears.

This also comes in the face of a massive anti-nuclear protest in Germany, which was already planned prior to the devastation in Japan,

Protesters in Stuttgart formed a human chain reaching 45km (27 miles) for the event, which had been planned before the current nuclear crisis in Japan because it was already a key election issue.

Switzerland has also suspended decisions on its current nuclear power structure to re-evaluate its country’s energy plans.

This is quite baffling to me because nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and safest forms of energy production. It is not exactly fair to use the Japan situation as a case against nuclear power, seeing as it was recently hit by and 9.0 magnitude earthquake AND a tsunami.

The Japanese crisis is indeed serious, but unique. It actually wasn’t the earthquake or the tsunami which directly caused the explosions. It was an unfortunate failure of the backup power systems to the power plant which prevented cooling water from circulating, which then caused overheating and eventually an explosion.

So I don’t believe that blaming the nuclear boogeyman is the right way to react to this scenario. Disasters do happen and there are unforeseeable consequences. And as I write this, the containment structures of the reactor cores have not yet been breached, and the Japanese are attempting to cool them by flooding the structures with seawater.

Much like the Three Mile Island scare, the potential for damage is there, but no large amounts of radiation have been released yet.

Unfortunately, solar and geothermal power are not quite ready to meet the world’s energy needs yet. Wind power is starting to be criticized because of its environmental impact. So for the time being, nuclear power remains our best bet for environmentally conscious energy production.

Pseudoscience and the Japan Earthquake

March 11, 2011 3 comments

Japan has suffered from a major natural disaster, and my thoughts are with all those who have lost family members and friends because of this terrible event.

Which is why I’m sickened to see that one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail, has an article today entitled “Japan Tsunami: Was ‘Supermoon’ to Blame?”

Here’s the deal. The moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse. When it is furthest from the Earth (about 405,000 km) it is called apogee and when it is closest to the Earth (about 355,000 km) it is called perigee . This time is special, however, because the moon will actually be closer than it has been in 18 years…by 2 percent.

So some astrologers and other dead-heads are claiming that it was the moon that caused the Japan earthquake.

This is complete and utter bullplop. BULLPLOP!

Phil Plait of course wrote about this on his blog as well. So tidal forces caused by the moon are extremely weak, and even though the moon will be slightly closer to the Earth at perigee, they are not powerful enough to affect the Earth in any way other than the sea tides moving in and out. There is no correlation between major earthquakes and moon phases.

And guess what? The so-called ‘supermoon’ won’t happen until March 19. The moon was 400,000 km away when the earthquake happened, which is actually farther than it usually is on average (about 384,000 km).

I give The Globe and Mail a hard time quite often, but it is only because they deserve it. Peddling this nonsense in the wake of a major disaster like this is extremely disheartening and shows poor journalistic integrity.