Much muttering about the announcement from Tepco that they’re going to have to dump that radioactive water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. This is, of course, what they should have done all along. Because the level of radioactivity we’re talking about is trivial. It simply makes no damn difference to anything at all and most certainly not to the Pacific Ocean.
So these concerns are ludicrous:
Fukushima: Japan will have to dump radioactive water into Pacific, minister says
More than a million tonnes of contaminated water lies in storage but power company says it will run out of space by 2022
A million tonnes eh? We’ll not worry about the difference between short tons and tonnes here. The water of the world weighs:
The Pacific Ocean is:
Holding more than half of the Earth’s open water supply, the Pacific Ocean
So therefore the 1 million tonnes at Fukushima is (1,000,000 / 0.5 x 1,450,000,000,000,000,000) x 100 percent. Or, well, too many zeroes there but it’s piss all, isn’t it?
Or as we worked out earlier:
The additional exposures received by most Japanese people in the first year and subsequent years due to the radioactive releases from the accident are less than the doses received from natural background radiation (which is about 2.1 mSv per year). This is particularly the case for Japanese people living away from Fukushima, where annual doses of around 0.2 mSv from the accident are estimated, arising primarily through ingestion of radionuclides in food. No radiation-related deaths or acute effects have been observed among nearly 25,000 workers (including TEPCO employees and contractors) involved at the accident site.
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. Let’s start from the beginning with the banana equivalent dose, the BED. Bananas contain potassium, some portion of potassium is always radioactive, thus bananas contain some radioactivity. This gets into the human body as we digest the lovely fruit (OK, bananas are an herb but still…):
Since a typical banana contains about half a gram of potassium, it will have an activity of roughly 15 Bq.
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.
Except even that’s overstating it. For the banana consumption does indeed get into our bodies: the Fukushima leak is getting into the Pacific Ocean where it’s obviously far less dangerous. And don’t forget that all that radiation in the bananas ends up in the oceans as well, given that we do in fact urinate it out and no, it’s not something that the sewage treatment plants particularly keep out of the rivers.
One example of what I mean is the repeated insistence that pacific blue fin tuna have become so irradiated that they dangerous to eat. When actually the Fukushima radiation that would come from a tuna steak taken off a fish caught off the west coast would be around and about one twentieth of the radiation you would ingest from eating a normal banana. Which isn’t something we normally consider to be dangerous really.
I’m reading with mounting incredulity the increasingly frenzied reports about the radiation problems at the site of the crippled reactors at Fukushima. The idea seems to be gathering speed that there is some major problem at the site, one that’s going to have regional or even global implications for health and the environment. I’m afraid this simply isn’t true. We do have a very expensive problem and there are also highly local problems at the plant. But in the larger scheme of things the dangers are somewhere between vanishingly trivial and non-existent. Indeed, an entirely reasonable and sensible solution to the radioactive water at the plant would be to simply dump it all into the ocean.
I think another good comparison would be to compare what has gone into the ocean to what was already in the ocean. The oceans have Uranium in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Uranium is 22 EBq or 22,000,000 trillion becquerels. The oceans have Potassium 40 in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Potassium 40 is 7,400 EBq or 7,400,000,000 trillion becquerels.
The oceans have Carbon 14 in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Carbon 14 is 3 EBq or 3,000,000 trillion becquerels. The oceans have Rubidium 87 in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Rubidium 87 is 700 EBq or 700,000,000 trillion becquerels. The oceans have Tritium in them. In the pacific ocean the radiation from Tritium is 370 PBq or 370,000 trillion becquerels.
So we have…
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
So we have 8,125,370,000 trillion becquerels of radiation in the pacific ocean and the antis don’t seem to care, but when the fifth most powerful earthquake ever recorded results in 20 trillion becquerels of radiation being released into the oceans over two years we’re supposed to all accept that it’s a horrible disaster.
Just dump it in the ocean already, it simply doesn’t matter.