Reuters just hosted a live blog with nuclear physicists Danon and Caracappa. We picked out 8 key questions that will help you understand the crisis.
Are the workers screwed?
CARACAPPA: Exposures that are received in a very short period of time (minutes or hours, not days or weeks), can lead to “radiation sickness”. These require short-term doses of several Seiverts. There will be immediate effect observed, such as nausea or vomitting, but the major health damage will not be evident until days or weeks later — I do not have enough information to tell if the workers in the plants have come close to receiving doses in this range… The generally accepted risk for cancer is about 4% per Sv of dose (1 mSv = .0001 Sv, 1 microSv = 0.000001 Sv)
There’s talk of a Boric acid shortage. How important is boric acid?
DANON: Boric acid is added to the cooling water to suppress neutrons interaction and make sure the reactor is sub critical. It is important when cooling the core.
Are countries like China at risk from radiation?
CARACAPPA: The radiation levels in the immediate vicinity of the plant are elevated, and there have been small amounts of radioactive material released from the plant. As these travel further from the plant they get more and more diffuse, and therefore the risk becomes lower.
Are people in Tokyo at risk?
CARACAPPA: Radiation and its effects have been studied pretty extensively for many decades. It is generally based upon observing effects at high doses, and estimating what happens at very low doses from that. In radiation protection, we assume that any radiation exposure carries with it some small amount of risk. However, the measurements in Toyko (that I have seen reported) are a tiny fraction of the natural radiation exposure that is received in a year, so it would be very difficult to separate out any effect from this event from any natural sources
DANON: I cannot answer this question based on the information we have available.
How is this different from Chernobyl?
CARACAPPA: There are two significant differences between this event and the Chernobyl accident. The first, as I mentioned before, was that at Chernobyl there was a large quantity of graphite in the core which caught fire and spread contents of the reactor high into the air.
How radioactive is the steam from the reactor 3 spent pool?
CARACAPPA: Any release of radioactive material gets more and more diffuse as it travels across the ocean – it is impossible to put a firm number on the possibility until all of the information about the event is known, but it is safe to say that the possibility of detectable levels, let alone dangerous levels, is extremely small
Will these reactors ever be useable?
DANON: The reactors injected with sea water will probably not be operational. A cleanup effort will be mounted and the spent fuel will be send to storage or reprocessing.
In cooling with seawater, is chlorine gas a risk?
DANON: Good question, chlorine in in salt (NaCl) and it might break down at high temp. I am not a chemist so I am not sure about the reaction rates. I think this will result is a small amount if any.
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