Surprisingly Durable

Just a quick note – The Register has some commentary on the post-earthquake problems at the Japanese nuclear plants, the point being, that although what’s happened isn’t good, it could actually be rather a lot worse.

And, in fact, the surprise is indeed that it isn’t worse. What you haven’t heard amongst the media-frenzy of FUD is that the radiation leaks have actually been mild and only one of the containment vessels themselves has been breached (and that appears to be a minor incident rather than a major one). In fact, out of eleven reactors in the affected area, only three have had trouble.

So, actually, overall this incident is arguably a qualified success for nuclear safety. Bear in mind that the earthquake in question was five times – five times! – larger than the maximum for which any of these plants were devised. In fact, it’s now been rated as the 4th most powerful earthquake since records began. There simply is a limit to how much you can plan for an event that extreme.

Of course, you wouldn’t know any of this from listening to the mainstream media. They’re doing their best to add even more fear and panic to a febrile, horrible situation by wibbling loudly and repeatedly over the word ‘radiation’. It doesn’t helped that most media people (I use the word in its most generous sense) probably have no actual understanding of what radiation is, either.

(To clarify, so far almost all of the emissions from the reactors have been short-lived isotopes like Nitrogen-16. Short-lived here means a half-life of several seconds. Or to put it another way, in the time it takes you to sneeze, a good chunk of the emission has decayed into something boring and harmless. These sorts of things just don’t hang around long enough in the environment to be a major problem.)

So actually, I would contend that the news here is surprisingly good. Or at least, ‘surprisingly good’ compared to what you might reasonably expect in the aftermath of the fourth-most-powerful earthquake in more than a century.

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