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Japan Science

Fukushima's Fallout Worse Than Thought 308

gbrumfiel writes "A new study posted for open peer-review suggests that the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi released far more radiation than the Japanese government initially estimated. The study [PDF] uses global radioisotope and meteorological data to calculate the size of the release from the plant. Nature News reports that, contrary to official claims, the model shows that fuel being stored in a pool at unit 4 released a significant amount of cesium-137, a long-lived contaminant that has spread across the countryside. It also says that some Xenon-133 may have been released early on in the accident, suggesting that the plant was already damaged before it was hit by a tsunami. Overall, it estimates that Fukushima released about twice as much cesium-137 as the government claims and half as much as Chernobyl."
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Fukushima's Fallout Worse Than Thought

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @09:13AM (#37843032)

    You raise an interesting point. So who exactly are you supposed to trust to provide you with accurate information? I suppose you could go and do it yourself, but then I would have to trust you. And I don't. This means I have to do it myself, also I have to do everything else in the world otherwise it's untrustworthy. That means you're going to have to trust me. Too bad for you.

    All this sounds rather impractical. How about we set up groups of people we trust to this for us. Maybe be we voted for or something. A bit like a government or watchdog or something.

  • by headhot ( 137860 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @09:28AM (#37843164) Homepage

    Because packing up and shipping radioactive material is far cheaper then having it sit in a pool of water next to where it was extracted right? Companies always do the correct and far more expensive thing.

      I dont know about japan, but in the US regulators make them keep the fuel because congress cant get their shit together to open up the storage facility.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @09:29AM (#37843174) Journal

    Better to have a company lie to us than the government since nobody trusts companies, but too many people trust the government way to fully.

    You have the power to change government.

    How do you change a company that you're not directly doing business with, like a nuclear power company? I don't buy anything from Goldman Sachs, so how do I affect them?

    The market model is incomplete.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @09:45AM (#37843324)

    I have read reports about child labour during the industrial revolution in the area my father came from (the north-east of the Netherlands), before it was abolished. Twelve hour working days, seven days a week, of hard, dangerous work for kids who should be at school, in factories run by people who said they were giving kids enough time to play by giving them one or two 15 minute breaks per day. When I was a kid in the 1960s factories in the area still dumped their waste in nearby canals, one of which ran in front of my grandmother's house. It was covered with a thick, dirty-white layer of foam which smelled like a kitchen sink that hasn't been cleaned for months. My father remembered how boys would set the canal on fire when he was young.

    These things weren't stopped by market forces. These things were stopped by goverment regulations, but not until inspections became effective. You just have to look outside of the western world, at the oil mess in the Niger delta, the way batteries and ship wrecks are processed in India, to understand that without a stable goverment and regulations that are being enforced conditions similar to those during the industrial revolution still occur. Western companies behave reasonably well in western countries because they have to.

    If you abolish regulations and inspections what you get is not responsible corporations, you get a world where greed is far more important than your salary, your working conditions, your kids' schooling. I don't believe for a moment the west is immune to falling back. It's human nature.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @09:50AM (#37843382) Journal

    Probably yes it is cheaper, after you apply the risk factor to the potential costs of a disaster. I know as rational self interested person if I operated a power plant I'd sure as hell want to eliminate the possibility of a company ending disaster by getting that spent fuel someplace mostly safe.

    Do I care about the people living around my plant maybe or maybe not but I sure do care about the potential legal liability I face if I harm them; because that hurts me.

    This is a case where badly designed regulation distorted the risk to potential cost ratio, which almost certainly did change behavior and in this case had negative consequences. This is what large/strong government proponents need to understand there are always unintended consequences. The onus on getting society to agree to regulation should be on the regulator. Its not good enough to say OMG if something is not done something else terrible might happen, you have to also be able show that you have done the system think and convince me that you have worked through the system thinking and are not creating other new problems; which might not be obvious at first.

    If you can't do that than I am going to take well a weak/small government and allowing the market to solve the problems is likely the better approach. The market WILL solve the problem, optimally? perhaps not always but it will solve it and do so fairly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @10:05AM (#37843542)

    That's incorrect. Once you've piled up enough risk that an accident would end your career (which is what you care about, not the company), then you don't expend more money on avoiding additional risk. This "all in" behavior is not only painfully obvious, it's also empirically demonstrable. It's the same mechanism that renders harsher punishment for extraordinary crimes moot.

    The market will at best work to deflect the risk, not avoid it. Without oversight, these risks would be ignored completely, because their magnitude makes them career killers no matter what you do.

  • by rednip ( 186217 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @10:08AM (#37843582) Journal
    Thanks in part to the Robert's Court, if I had a hundreds of million dollars to support politicians, I have the same power over our government as Wall Street and the Koch brothers.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @10:09AM (#37843592)

    Since part of my job is risk management, allow me to explain how this game works. It's very unethical and very inhuman, so if you have a tender stomach, you might want to stop reading now.

    Risk management is about assessing and evaluating risk, then taking measures... or not taking measures. What matters is money. How much does it cost to mitigate or neutralize the risk? How likely is the incident going to happen? How much will it cost if it happens?

    An alert reader will notice that there's nothing about the effect of an incident in that question. What about the environmental damage, the damage to human life, the long term effect? How about making an area inhabitable for centuries? All that is summed up under "how much does the incident cost".

    And here's where government comes into play and how government dictates just what a company will do with the risk. If they act as they do far too often today, by not holding a company accountable for their actions, the sensible thing for a company is to carry the risk. Or rather, ignore it, since it will be carried by government and population. Again, the sensible thing to do from a risk assessment point is to simply forgo any and all safety and security measures beyond what's necessary to protect the company assets. Unless of course you may expect a bailout if your plant gets too hot to operate, then even that doesn't matter anymore.

    Companies do not care about safety beyond what is necessary to protect their assets. They would rather install a full blown security camera and tripwire system to keep you from stealing a single pencil than to invest a hundred bucks to change their smoke filters to keep their chimney from blowing a few metric tons of SOx into the surroundings unless you force them to.

    And remember when trying to "force" a company that fines are nothing but a risk assessment factor. If it's cheaper to pay the fine than to heed the law, fines will be paid. If risk, fine and expenses are high enough, creating a shell daughter company that will carry the risk and be promptly sunk in case of an incident is also an option.

    Laws are, to a company, just part of their risk management and cost calculation. Unless it's cheaper to follow the law than to break it, it will be ignored.

  • "..after you apply the risk factor to the potential costs of a disaster."

    But private corporation seldom do that, and when they do it's always weighed against the impact on my bonus THAT qtr.

    The long history of corporation show that they will poison people, leave the countryside a barren waste land, and level mountains. Based on the history of corporation, I would wager that without regulation they would have dumped the nuclear waste about 50 miles off the coast.

    I'm not anti corporation, but why people scream about getting rid of regulation and ignore the history of corporate activity.

  • by felipekk ( 1007591 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:12AM (#37844488) Journal

    You have the illusion of power to change government.

    There, fixed that for ya.

    Before you answer with "You can vote", choosing between two different colors of embezzlers isn't really "changing the government". Yeah, the name changes, but the outcome is always the same.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:16AM (#37844542) Journal

    Lawsuit==>bankruptcy, responsible company buys the assets.


    Bankruptcyt==> company changes its name, moves corporate headquarters, sheds all liability - continues as before. Previous corporate shell abandoned. Public gets finger.

    It's been an energy and mining and manufacturing industry strategy since the 19th century.

  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:20AM (#37844600)

    Think about the extent to which companies go to avoid being sued.

    OK, I'm thinking. I'm thinking "regulatory capture", and "political action committees", and "unlimited campaign contributions". Yep, got it.

    Now allow nuclear power plants to be sued for radiation release (they currently can NOT be sued if they meet regulatory requirements, which Fukushima did).

    OK, that can't actually happen in our current reality. Because the nuclear power plants are owned by the same companies that own the government, and they are permitted, nay, encouraged to write legislation to prevent this. You try to stop this, and all you'll get is a horse's head in your bed and an IRS audit.

    Do you see how this works?

    I sure do. The government enlists private corporations to build and run nuclear power plants by using taxpayer dollars (since nuclear fission plants are not economically viable in a free market, but the government wants them for war and science purposes) and the private corporations purchase legislation that allows them to obviate risk. It's all very, very clear.

    In a well regulated free market, terrestrial fission plants would not exist, because there aren't enough customers willing to pay for the decommissioning costs they would have to charge up front. In a laissez-faire market, of course, the plants would never be decommissioned, because there's no profit in it. The people who built them would just design them to fail after they died, and in the absence of regulation that would work... for them.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:35AM (#37844790) Homepage Journal

    Good grief yes. Deregulators drive me crazy. As if regulations didn't exist precisely because someone screwed up big enough to make us say: 'ok, now we have to regulate that so we don't have someone do that again.' As soon as you deregulate, you get 'that' again, whatever that was.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:35AM (#37844792)

    Do you see how this works?

    Why, yes, in fact, I do: []

    Empirical fact: lawsuit risk did not stop BP from making poor decisions that resulted in environmental catastrophe.

    And then there's there is the fact that the fundamental error in judgement was made by the people most at risk: engineers on the rig, some of whom died in the explosion and fire. They made decisions based on hope, not policy, and died as a result.

    Yet for some reason anti-scientific, anti-empirical idiots endlessly repeat the refrain that it "just makes sense" that "the market will take care of it." As someone above noted: people are idiots. And in the modern world, idiots can do a huge amount of damage. Public oversight is the only way of reducing some risks, however imperfect it may be.

  • by Idou ( 572394 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:44AM (#37844900) Journal
    And the population density around Fukushima is far greater than that around Chernobyl . . .

    How about this. If even the creator of the model "cautions that the resulting model is far from perfect []," perhaps we, as a community, should heed the warning that there is still quite a lot of uncertainty on how much fallout there may actually be and this uncertainty might last for quite a while.

    With so much uncertainty, does it really make sense to downplay? For instance, when someone relatively near to the event asks how to measure for contamination, does the community really have enough strong data to ridicule that individual []? Even as the experts say that "ongoing ground surveys are the only way to truly establish the public-health risk []?"

    What do you lose if your downplaying is wrong compared to those actually within close proximity of the event?
  • The main problem here (outside of stupid regulations) is regulatory capture. I don't see how to avoid stupid regulations, but regulators should, after they retire, be forbidden to work for, or accept any remuneration from, any entity that they have previously regulated. And if they run for office, they should be forbidden from accepting any campaign contributions from those entities.

    That's not perfect. In fact it's nearly minimal. But it would improve things.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.