Friday, 18 March 2011

Are You Prepared for Radiation?

So the nuclear plants in Japan are (partially) melting down. If you don't know how nuclear plants work or what exactly the disaster is about, this video by Hank of the Vlog Brothers (Nerd Fighters) will give you the basics.

Unlike Hank who is not too concerned, I am less optimistic. There is definitely serious radiation going on. According to Bloomberg, passengers from planes from Japan set off radiation detector alarms at American airports. The explosion at one of the nuclear plants also sent plumes of radioactive material in the air -- hundreds or radioactive spent fuel rods where shot sky high. While the Japanese (and even American) governments are playing it all down -- as one would expect of them to try and keep panic induced chaos -- independent organizations are mentioning alarming levels of radiation.

An artist's illustration of a hypothetical possibility.
If you live on the west coast of America, you may want to consider moving in land for a week or so. It's been about six days now since the explosion occurred and the jet stream that flowed over Japan at the time of the explosion should be reaching America any time now. Many people think it unlikely that radiation could reach that far, but let me remind you of the annual Yellow Dust problem we experience here in East Asia. Annually dust from the deserts in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan are swept up by winds that gusts east, carrying dust particles over all of the Far East, covering both the Korean peninsula and Japan in a fine layer of yellow dust. What most people don't know is that it is well confirmed that the yellow dust are sometimes blown all the way across the pacific to the west coast of the United States of America. A scientific study published in 2003 reported on a dust storm in 2001 where dust particles from the Gobi Desert (the China/Mongolia desert) were carried all the way to America and even over America, coast-to-coast! Now if dust from as far as way as China can reach America, there is no reason why radio active particles Japan, which is closer, could not reach America. An article on the New Scientist website confirms that pollution from Asia can reach America.

A 2007 study showed that pollution from Japan
could reach America in about 7 days.
The good news, for me living in Korea, is that, at least for now during this time of the year, the winds generally blow east and hopefully carrying the radiation away from Korea, but that is not to say that it couldn't bite us in the proverbial behind! A British paper, the Daily Mail reported in 2009 on a Japanese study that showed the dust "completed more than one full circle around the planet in just 13 days." Of course the radiation would be much less by the time it completed such a long journey. Unfortunately radiation is a long-term problem.

An illustration indicating how the Chernobyl disaster
affected many parts of Europe thousands of kilometres
away from where the nuclear reactor meltdown took place.

As we learned from the Chernobyl disaster which likely smaller in scale to the Japan incident, the radiation could seriously affected many parts of the world for years to come. You can read more about the Chernobyl disaster and long-term after effects here. Back to Japan. They have been using (sea) water to cool down the reactors and some of this water have been leaking out -- back into the sea? Also, some of the plants continue to smoke -- definitely radio active. Even if this smoke do not go into the higher atmosphere, it will still affect the local areas. How will this radiation affect the surrounding seas? How will it affect the food supplies, not only of Japan, but of Korea? With the Chernobyl incident, certain European countries had their citizens only eat tinned food for six months, for fear that the fresh produce (and soil) might be contaminated.

A good acquaintance of mine suggested that I get an emergency backpack ready, with at least some basics, like my passport and the like, in it just in case. In the meantime I'm going to start eating seaweed like crazy. (Seaweed contains potassium iodine which fills up your thyroid with healthy iodine, making contaminated radio-active iodine less likely to be absorbed by the body.)

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