Around 1939, a lot of people started to get very excited because a new term was being tossed around. A conflict which had developed between the UK, France and Germany over the German invasion of Poland started to be called “World War II.” The largest previous conflict was not retroactively re-named “World War I.” This was a big deal because it was now officially acknowledged that the hostilities were on par with the huge European war that had happened two decades earlier.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter. World War II in fact turned out to be much larger than World War I, but not because of the name. They could have called it “The Great Patriotic War,” as the Russians do or they could have called it “The War of 1939.” It would not matter.
This is not the first time that terminology has gotten people hot and bothered and it won’t be the last. Politicians have been asked if they consider the Israeli West Bank Barrier to be a “wall or fence” as if that matters. When it was discovered that Pluto was actually one of many small kiper belt objects many objected ferociously to it being downgraded from “planet,” despite the fact that it changes neither the size nor orbit of Pluto.
Well, now it’s official, Fukushima is now a “level 7″ and the media seems to be going nuts, acting like this means it is at least as bad as Chernobyl and probably worse.
Let me just try to make a point here: It doesn’t really change anything. The designation, officially known as the International Nuclear Event Scale is at least somewhat arbitrary. I have no idea why Japanese officials waited this long to decide that the events constituted a level 7, but now they did. Since level 7 is officially the highest, it encompasses all events of Fukushima scale and higher. Therefore, it one thousand reactors suddenly exploded and in the process their cores were ejected directly into sports stadiums filled with thousands of spectators, it would be a level seven, since there is no level 8.
Level 7 on the INES scale is considered “severe.” I don’t think you can dispute that this event (which has killed noone, by the way) is about as severe as an accident can get at a modern nuclear plant. Multiple reactors have lost all primary and secondary cooling, secondary support structures were severely damaged in a series of explosions, the cores have partially melted and spent fuel pools lost cooling. It doesn’t get much more “severe” than that.
Did I mention nobody has died?
Still, it could be disputed whether or not Fukushima truly rises to a level 7. One of the criteria is the release of radioisotopes with “widespread consequences” to health and enviornment and requiring mitigation or emergency response. In this case, many were evacuated and restrictions were places on food and water supplies. Whether or not that was truly necessary is another question. The levels of radioactivity have, at least in a few circumstances, reached dangerous levels, but only if an individual were in the most high level areas for an extended period of time. Iodine-131 levels have also reached levels where health consequences could be possible, at least locally, although the use of potassium iodine and evacuations are likely to prevent that.
I should add that this is not the first time that I have questioned the INES. Personally, I think the events Three Mile Island did not really justify a rating of 5 and probably should have been a 3.
Fukushima could be a 6 or a 7. It’s a bit of a judgment call. However, whatever you decide to call it, it’s not Chernobyl. There’s been no core explosion, there’s no danger of continued criticality, there’s nowhere near the level of radioisotopes released. There has not been a primary containment failure.
Did I mention nobody has died?
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 14th, 2011 at 10:49 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Nuclear, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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