That Greenpeace is more than a little crackers about radiation is something we all should know. They complain about trivia, things that are tiny fractions of addition to the radiation we all absorb every day. Levels of radiation that we’ll not actually be able to monitor, things that will make no difference at all to any man nor beast.
But, you know, that’s Greenpeace. Their latest being worries about the release of radioactive water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. The real point here being that the Pacific is a bloody big thing. Once that stored water – with the radioactive isotopes – goes out into the ocean, it all swirls around a little bit, it’ll make no difference at all to anything at all. Simply because, as Paracelsus pointed out several centuries ago, it is the dose which is the poison:
Japan plans to flush Fukushima water ‘containing radioactive material above permitted levels’ into the ocean
Dilute those tanks into the ocean and we’re done, the problem has gone. But that’s not how Greenpeace sees it:
Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, also disputes Tepco’s claims that tritium is effectively harmless.
“Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays”, he said, adding that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.
“The planned release of billions of becquerels by Tepco cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health”.
Billions sounds like such an awfully large number. But we do have to put it into context:
There’s much screaming and shouting from the usual suspects about the new radiation leak discovered at Fukushima, the stricken nuclear power plants in Japan. What they’re not telling you is that the radiation leakage is around the same as 76 million bananas. A fact which should help to put it all into some perspective.
This has not changed greatly over the years. Here what’s being talked about is whether some of those millions’ of bananas worth of radiation should be diluted into the ocean or not. And that’s all that is being talked about.
Most of us haven’t a clue what that means of course. We don’t instinctively understand what a becquerel is in the same way that we do pound, pint or gallons, and certainly trillions of anything sounds hideous. But don’t forget that trillions of picogrammes of dihydrogen monoxide is also the major ingredient in a glass of beer. So what we really want to know is whether 20 trillion becquerels of radiation is actually an important number. To which the answer is no, it isn’t. This is actually around and about (perhaps a little over) the amount of radiation the plant was allowed to dump into the environment before the disaster. Now there are indeed those who insist that any amount of radiation kills us all stone dead while we sleep in our beds but I’m afraid that this is incorrect. We’re all exposed to radiation all the time and we all seem to survive long enough to be killed by something else so radiation isn’t as dangerous as all that.
At which point we can offer a comparison. Something to try and give us a sense of perspective about whether 20 trillion nasties of radiation is something to get all concerned about or not. That comparison being that the radiation leakage from Fukushima appears to be about the same as that from 76 million bananas. Which is a lot of bananas I agree, but again we can put that into some sort of perspective.
Note there. The total radiation release was 20 trillion Bq. We’re talking here about some of that, from those tanks, going into the Pacific. A billion is one thousandth of a trillion. Let us be reasonable to Greenpeace, say that their “billions” is actually 20 billion Bq. That is one thousandth of the total radiation from Fukushima which should already have killed us all in our beds.
Excellent, we now have a unit that we can grasp, one that the human mind can use to give a sense of proportion to these claims about radioactivity. We know that bananas are good for us on balance, thus this amount of radioactivity isn’t all that much of a burden on us.
We also have that claim of 20 trillion becquerels of radiation having been dumped into the Pacific Ocean in the past couple of years. 20 trillion divided by two years by 365 days by 24 hours gives us an hourly rate of 1,141,552,511 becquerels per hour. Divide that by our 15 Bq per banana and we can see that the radiation spillage from Fukushima is running at 76 million bananas per hour.
Which is, as I say above, a lot of bananas. But it’s not actually that many bananas. World production of them is some 145 million tonnes a year. There’s a thousand kilos in a tonne, say a banana is 100 grammes (sounds about right, four bananas to the pound, ten to the kilo) or 1.45 trillion bananas a year eaten around the world. Divide again by 365 and 24 to get the hourly consumption rate and we get 165 million bananas consumed per hour.
We can do this slightly differently and say that the 1.45 trillion bananas consumed each year have those 15 Bq giving us around 22 trillion Bq each year. The Fukushima leak is 20 trillion Bq over two years: thus our two calculations agree. The current leak is just under half that exposure that we all get from the global consumption of bananas.
OK, so, we can now express this latest release into the ocean in terms of bananas. It is one thousandth of that half an hour’s worth of banana exposure. That is, 1.8 second’s worth of bananas.
Yes, this is what Greenpeace is complaining about. The world’s worst – second worst if you prefer, after Chernobyl – nuclear accident might release into the truly vast Pacific Ocean as much radiation as the human race actively consumes every 1.8 seconds in the form of bananas. Once. No, really, the radiation release will be the once. And this is something to complain about? Or Greenpeace is showing the intellectual capacity of a yellow piece of fruit?
Yes, Greenpeace is being bananas here.
Or as we might also put it. What’s the additional radiation being put into that Pacific?
The oceans have Tritium in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Tritium is 370 PBq or 370,000 trillion becquerels.
Our 20 billion Bq of additional radiation is, umm, 0.00005 % addition to the tritium derived radiation in the Pacific. Or:
Uranium 22,000,000 trillion becquerels
Potassium 40 7,400,000,000 trillion becquerels
Carbon 14 3,000,000 trillion becquerels
Rubidium 87 700,000,000 trillion becquerels
Tritium 370,000 trillion becquerels
Total 8,125,370,000 trillion becquerels
We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader as to what percentage increase that is in the radiation that will kill us all in our beds, murder us overnight.
Greenpeace have lost their tiny little minds to be even thinking about this, let alone worrying or warning us, haven’t they?