In 2011, when disaster hit at Fukushima, the Prime Minister of Japan reported that his government was on full alert at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear Power Station. The accident was a previously unknown event of an earthquake followed by a tsunami–followed by a nuclear accident. The Japanese government’s reaction followed the known stages of grief. First there was disbelief, then, denial, anger, bargaining and guilt. The first days of government reports said there was no release of radiation. Nevertheless, there were multiple explosions and fires, releasing radioactive iodine and cesium into the air. There was “meltdown” within the plants.
Huge amounts of radioactivity were released, and 21 workers were exposed to toxic doses of radiation of over 100 mSv/year. Later, for unexplained reasons, the Japanese authorities raised the maximum allowable dose to 250 mSv/year!
Large amounts of water were pumped into the plants to cool the systems. Because of the overheating of the water, large amounts of the radioactive water were later released into the open sea. The disaster was placed at level 5 and only later changed to level 7 because officials said they feared a panicked reaction from the people.
Radioactive iodine and cesium were released into the air, also. I-131 has a half-life of 8 days. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years. However, little is known about the effect of low dose radiation over time, but the agency that studies low dose radiation effects at the U.S. Department of Energy is experiencing budget cuts and may be phased out.
In 1952, Dr. Rolf Sievert of Sweden said that “exact measurement of radiation represents the first step in its ultimate control”. He developed the concept that the human body consists of many tissues which have different sensitivities to radiation. He developed the original chambers for measuring ionizing radiation, similar chambers were used for measuring the radiation deep in Fukushima. The unit of measurement, the Sievert, was named for him.
Of interest, the Greek island of Ikaria has many radioactive springs which are some of the world’s most radioactive springs, which are used for rheumatism, arthritis, gout, neuralgia, neuritis and muscle pains. It is claimed that patients receive quite low doses of radiation, but the workers at the springs regularly receive overdoses of radioactivity, the effects of which are poorly understood. Radiation received is radon-222, and the workers doses can be 35 mSv/year. The desired limit should be no more than 20 mSv/year.
The island was named for Icarus who flew with man-made wings and flew too close to the radiation of the sun, which melted the wax that held his wings together. He fell to earth. Perhaps, there is a message here that we, also, with our current pursuit of nuclear power, are flirting with disaster with too little knowledge.
NOTE: “The lowest dose at which statistically significant radiation risk has been shown is about 100 mSv of X-Rays.” This is from a US Department of Energy Radiation Dosimetry Standardization Workshop. However, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports that “for low dose levels of ionizing radiation, cancer risks may not be directly proportional to dose.” What do we know for sure?