Home > California, Environment, Nuclear Energy > From Japan to California, the Tale of the Plume

From Japan to California, the Tale of the Plume

March 18, 2011


The radioactive plume from Japan is arriving today on the West Coast of the United States where I live in Southern California. So say officials as of yesterday.

I have had thousands of readers coming back to PTWB everyday to check the updates I have been providing since the start of the Japan disaster. I am trying to dig out information from multiple sources so as to give all of us a better picture of what is going on. I do not want to jump to conclusions or start any panic, so I have been careful in how I state my headlines and not engage in any hyperbole. Yesterday, I had to make a tough decision on whether to post information about the United Nations Interactive Graphic illustrating how the route of the radiation plume coming from Japan will track across the Pacific Ocean towards the West Coast of the United States. I posted it because we all deserve to know what is going on as it affects our health and well-being.

I live on the West Coast. Just north of where I live is the San Onofre Nuclear Power plant. Like many other Californians, we live with the threat of earthquakes and possible complications — like major power outages — everyday. What we now know is the problems at the Fukushima Nuclear facility was caused by a sustained power failure. Even with diesel generator backup and 8-hour battery backup, their backup systems were insufficient. The ensuing problems all stem from lack of power. With fuel rods overheating and multiple reactor cores overheating and tons of spent fuel rods overheating there has been a cascading of events that have led to the release of radiation and other radioactive particles in significant quantities. In and around the area of the facility there is at least 19 miles of high levels of radiation. Steam, created from pouring seawater over the damaged spent fuel rod pools, is rising into the lower atmosphere over Northern Japan.

Here is where the problem lies in the information being released to the public: Officials were saying for days that any radiation was in the lower atmosphere over Japan. Here is what Accuweather stated two days ago regarding any “hypothetical radiation cloud” direction.

It should depend upon how high the cloud rose into the atmosphere. This is because the winds normally vary widely between the near-surface and the upper atmosphere, home to the eastward-flowing jet stream. Generally speaking, any radioactive cloud rising significantly into the atmosphere would travel essentially eastward and northeastward across the Pacific Ocean, eventually reaching North America anywhere between Alaska and California. The precise details as to timing and path taken would depend upon the state of the atmosphere at the time of the hypothetical radiation release.

Although such a cloud would pose virtually no threat while in the upper atmosphere, the fallout at the ground of radioactive particles from it should be a concern for any monitoring authority. A hypothetical release of radiation staying near the ground would be subject to low-level winds, which are more prone to varying.

The plume carrying unknown quantities of radiation from Japan’s damaged Fukushima reactors is arriving today in my city of San Diego and along the California coast. The recent announcement of this information did not alleviate my concerns and outright fears of others who live here in the Golden state and along the West Coast.

My concern all along has been the levels of concentration of radiation in the atmosphere. We are hearing from all types of experts and officials and they all consistently say the same thing, ” we don’t know”. The reason they don’t know is this has never happened before with this type scenario with this of reactor design. Bottom line is, “I don’t know’ means they don’t know what will transpire AND they do not want to go on the record predicting what will happen.

The bottom line is this. Government spokespersons and nuclear industry officials have constrained information so as to do two things: (i) keep people from panicking – a potential crisis in the millions; (ii) cast no dispersions on the nuclear industry – a potential crisis in billion of invested dollars. Today, Japan raised the nuclear crisis level to a Level 5 — close to that at Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. But, France has been saying all week that it was a Level 6. France is heavily invested in nuclear energy in its country. Three days ago on March 15th, the French government stated, “France will check all its nuclear plants, one by one.” French ecology minister Nathalie Koskio-Morizet said. France has -58- nuclear power plants. German Chancellor Merkel took the lead early on stating Germany will temporarily shutdown its oldest seven nuclear facilities for three months. Yesterday she defended her decision.

Deutsche World German news reports:

Chancellor Angela Merkel used a speech to the lower house of parliament on Thursday to defend her government’s policy on nuclear power. In her address to the Bundestag, she said her government had demonstrated that safety was its top priority with its decision to shut down the country’s seven oldest nuclear power plants for a period of at least three months.

“When in doubt, it’s safety first,” Merkel said.

President Obama has been hesitant to call for similar inspections as he is a proponent of the nuclear renaissance, proposing $36 billion in new leases. Finally yesterday, the President called for inspection of all 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S. He assured Americans there is no radiation threat from Japan. His short comments were not reassuring, at least not to me.

Radiation is being dispersed at different rates in different areas in different directions. How exactly does that work? If the radiation disperses into a rain cloud above as a normal rain storm approaches ‘ground zero’ at Fukushima, how does that work? There are plenty of studies on ‘black rain’ that fell after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs were dropped – how does that tie in to the current situation? No doubt, we know the fallout will be more concentrated over Japan and its eastern coast line. But as the radiation disperses over the coming weeks and more of it gets into the atmosphere, there are other questions as to the long term accumulative affects in Japan and over the Pacific Ocean on the eco-system — birds, fish, and wildlife — and the land based food chain.

Related: French Nuclear Plant Leak in 2008 — Don’t drink the water or eat the fish. Uranium levels in waterways. The official calls it, “a normal event”. Manipulation of information using minimization is a classic control tactic.

We must listen and learn.

  1. Angelique
    April 1, 2011 at 3:14 am

    My husband and I live approximately 18 miles from San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant – too close for comfort when you watch the circumference grow in Japan for evacuation recommendations.

    We just returned from an Open House at Oceanside High School gymnasium that was hosted by SCE to make the community feel good about atoms and nuclear energy. What a show they put on! they had a dozen booths that consisted of tables and 10 foot trade show displays that stated “safe” a hundred times. Each booth had a focus – security, storage, licensing, evac plan and so on.

    The biggest feeling you got as a visitor was “circus” all the way – carny like folks shaking hands and smiling from ear to ear inviting you in to take some refreshments (10 6 foot tables worth) and free plastic gadgets and a bag to put’em in, and a face painter for the kiddies – oh boy what a great PR event!

    We talked with one educated SCE worker who admitted that they do have plutonium at the site…but stuttered when we asked if plutonium is the deadliest compound known to man – and then played dumb when we mentioned it was found in Japan soil. We talked to a guy who was carrying a freebie bag, but then turned out to be an employee trying to chat us up about the safety of everything nuclear, even bomb fallout!

    overall it was what we expected, and hopefully no media wasted their time in fantasy land at the gym after we left. The only photographer was an older bearded plump SCE employee. The media table staff (5 of them!) said no one had checked in one hour after the event began.

    We need to CLOSE SAN ONOFRE immediately. Is “Bridge the Gap” the best local anti nuke community to join?

    Thank you for your blog – please post where we can all join together to make a difference – are you sick of the media’s words pertaining to fallout “safe milk, safe rain water, safe air” – will it cause panic to give me the facts, numbers.

  2. April 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for your comments. NukeFree.org is a place to start. They are SoCal oriented.

    NukeFree.org works with the environmental / scientific communities to keep musicians, artists and others educated about nuclear and safe energy issues, as well as advising people how they can best impact energy legislation – using their voices and resources to support positive new green proposals and fight against boondoggles like the nuke loan guarantees.

    NIRS is another one that networks with NukeFree.org.

    I will write a separate post on this subject.

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