A masters thesis in radionuclide (zinc-65) tissue distribution and elimination in amphibians doesn’t qualify me as an expert in the biology of radioactive substances, but it sure does lower my threshold of interest in what’s going on–in Japan, now, and possibly around the world, should this problem not find a solution in the next day or two.
Keep an eye on what is happening in the storage pools (versus the reactor core) of the two (or more) afflicated nuclear reactors in Japan and also pay attention to levels of cesium-137.
Cesium has a half-life of 30 years and is treated in the body like potassium. It is incorporated into living tissues and food chains for long stretches of time, with high potential to cause cancer.
“In addition to the reactor cores, the storage pool for highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel is also at risk. The pool cooling water must be continuously circulated. Without circulation, the still thermally hot irradiated nuclear fuel in the storage pools will begin to boil off the cooling water. Within a day or two, the pool’s water could completely boil away. Without cooling water, the irradiated nuclear fuel could spontaneously combust in an exothermic reaction. Since the storage pools are not located within containment, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur. Up to 100 percent of the volatile radioactive Cesium-137 content of the pools could go up in flames and smoke, to blow downwind over large distances. Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.” Forbes blog 11 March
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan were uncontrollable acts of nature. The nuclear chaos that resulted is the consequence of a choice we’ve made. I wish there was a reasonable and sustainable role for nuclear power in our future, but this chapter must give us pause, even as the Gulf oil spill in recent memory should have made us think about the costs of our oil dependence. Maybe we can use this horrible experience in Japan to consider where we go from here, and how we chose to get there. Read Japans’s Unnecessary Nuclear Disaster for thoughts on this choice.