The world’s eyes are on the nuclear scare verging on disaster in Japan. It’s easy to forget that we here in Miami-Dade also live close to a nuclear power plant, and that the nice people at FPL who run them are working hard to install two more reactor cores.
Eye on Miami reminds us, in two related blog posts, Nukes: In Japan and Turkey Point and Japan nuclear plant disaster: rescuers should include the Miami Dade County Commission … that there are real risks here.
Let’s start by admitting that there are at least two important differences between Japan and South Florida. First, unlike with earthquakes, you can usually see a hurricane coming, so it ought to be possible to shut a reactor down in advance of a disaster; I don’t know that this is how they operate, but I sure hope so. Second, the prevailing winds around here tend to be out towards the ocean, but even so, you can’t rely on that after a hurricane strong enough to knock out the power and create a Japan-like situation here. (There’s a third issue about the extent to which our design is like Japan’s; I’m sure there are at least some differences given the age of the Japanese plants, but I’m not sure how significant those are to the problem of coping with unexpectedly large disasters not to mention expected but unspeakable ones like water levels rising from global warning.)
There are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family, and crazy as it may sound, one of the greatest is to lay in a small stock of iodide tablets. In the event of a release of radioactive gas, one of the greatest risks of even a limited exposure is thyroid cancer. In an emergency (don’t take them otherwise!), taking pills like Iostat can play a major role in protecting any people downwind of a radioactive release from this danger.
There may be a national stockpile of Iodide pills with plans to rush them to the scene of a disaster, but I never heard of it, and somehow I rather doubt it. And if the stockpile does exist I’m sure either Governor Voldemort or the the Republicans in the House are planning to defund it any minute now. So it may make sense to get a small number of these pills to have around.
As I understand it the key event that turned a routine shutdown into a disaster in Japan was the tsunami, which swept through the plant, destroying the backup diesel generators, and much of the other emergency equipment. I don’t think you’ve got much worry on that score in Florida, even a hurricane storm surge is much less destructive.
What caused the crisis in Japan was, ‘unexpected loss of power due to natural disaster’. I can see that happening here in a very bad hurricane…. It is the hurricane itself that causes the breach, the water finishes the job…
The Strategic National Stockpile (http://emergency.cdc.gov/stockpile/index.asp) includes antidotes for a radiation emergency. The Project BioShield website (https://www.medicalcountermeasures.gov/BARDA/MCM/radiologicalthreats.aspx) details contracts let for 4.3 million bottles of liquid potassium iodide (can be taken more easily than tablets by children) and over 480,000 doses of DTPA (an agent which helps remove radioactive particles from the body). Additionally, a dye called Prussian Blue can remove certain radioactive materials from people’s bodies; it too is in the Strategic National Stockpile (http://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/prussianblue.asp). Provisions are in place for rapid dissemination of antidotes to the public for a variety of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear emergencies.
The problem is that much of what you have written is based on fear and not fact.
Generation II reactors like in Japan have pumps to cool them. They usually run at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit, cooler than your oven.
Newer Generation III reactors use passive water cooling, and will not be subject to overheating caused by loss of of electricity.
Having said that, most newer reactors have a steel casing in which the nuclear rods reside. When there is a power outage, the rods sink to the bottom of the steel casing, which is in turn surrounded and contained by concrete.
The heat that needs cooling once the rods move into the steel casing, which shuts down the nuclear process, is from the residue left behind. The lack of pumped water causes the coolant to evaoporate causing overheating. That is why the Japanese are flooding the reactors with sea water, which will permanently destroy them.
Once the rods shut down the radioactive process, there is virtually no chance of a nuclear explosion like Hiroshima, etc. If the decay reside causing the heating does melt the rods, they will be contained by the steel casing and concrete walls. Chernobyl had no containment steel/concrete.
The reason Chernobyl erupted with such billowing smoke and spread radioactivity was due to poor design with graphic rods used for cooling. These rods caught on fire, causing the billowing black smoke and release of radioactivity which was not encased.
As you know, water does not catch fire, hence a major difference from Chernobyl.
Finally, the Iostat is fine, but radioactive I-131 has a half-life of 8 days meaning it will be completely gone in a few months.
More critical is Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 which have half lives of 29-30 years. The strontium can be incorporated into bones like calcium, and can cause bone cancer, and other soft tissue cancers.
So to review. We need good clear thinking to allow the proper technology to proceed with guidance from science based facts, and not fears.
Three mile island had proper containment casings, and there have been no reported medical problems some 30 years later.
In advanced societies like Japan, the U.S, France, etc. nuclear power has been used safely for years, and will probably continue to be utilized as soon as the alarmists educate themselves.
“As you know, water does not catch fire,”
Actually it does. The explosions in the Japanese reactors were from hydrogen liberated from the cooling water by the extreme heat.
They make cherry flavored children doses of iodide. The NRC had a cheery news release to announce the cherry flavored child dosage. Do we really even want to contemplate that scenario? Children shouldn’t be exposed to such dangers. We are suppose to keep them safe.
I do take issue with your wind direction. It is not the norm to have offshore winds in South Florida. Planes land against the wind to slow them down — planes land from the Everglades towards the coast West to East so winds are coming on shore most of the time.
Will it all be safely shut down in case of a disaster? It always seems in a disaster “shit happens” and here in Miami we have more than our share….we are knee deep in it. Remember, Japan safely shut down…you still need water to circulate.
Elaborating on my previous comment: “Provisions are in place for rapid dissemination of antidotes to the public for a variety of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear emergencies.” One method to do this is by suspending mail delivery, and substituting antidotes in place of mail delivery. See Executive Order 13527, http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-38.pdf,. which directs HHS, DHS, and the US Postal Service to devise a postal delivery model for antidotes). See also the Public Health Emergency website, http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/postal/Pages/default.aspx. While the model is devised with a biological attack in mind (an antidote for anthrax is the most time-urgent antidote), one hopes the feds and state have the flexibility to adapt to deliver a different antidote for a different emergency. Key for this delivery method will be getting the antidotes into the local post offices.
On a related topic, federal planners have considered a quake scenario. This year’s National Level Exercise will drill a scenario based on a quake in the New Madrid seismic zone. While the nuclear threat from such an occurrence doesn’t appear to be in the scenario…see http://www.fema.gov/media/fact_sheets/nle2011_fs.shtm, news reports indicate that the tsunami is what caused the problems in Japan…which takes us back to Michael’s intent in the original post: hopefully we won’t ever have to deal with this issue. Of course, hope does not equate to a plan.