Geoffrey Sea’s Nuclear Bulletin #17 – Containment Breached

Geoffrey Sea holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Science from Harvard. He did graduate work in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and in radiological health physics at San Jose State University. He is co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, which successfully defeated plans for the centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel at Piketon, Ohio. He is the director of Adena Core, a historic preservation group in Portsmouth, Ohio. He has published in the American Scholar, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and many newspapers. He can be contacted via email at SargentsPigeon@aol.com

27 iii 11, 4:00 AM GMT—Late Friday EST the story broke on CNN and CBS that radioactivity levels in Japan have skyrocketed, implying that a core breach has occurred in unit 3. That would mean that the melting core has penetrated the containment vessel in some way. Later accounts mention the possibility that a spent fuel pool has melted down. On Saturday the Japanese government accused TEPCO of withholding information from the government, implying that not even the government knows the exact situation as of Saturday. Seawater levels of radioiodine have risen from 100 to over 1200 times the legal limit near Fukushima, confirming that something major has changed. Fish from the area has been banned.
Whatever the cause, the accident now enters a new phase, where containment is no longer assured as in the first two weeks. Whatever the cause, the situation does seem to be related to the inability or unwillingness to send workers into the high radiation areas to gauge what is going on. Reports from workers have started to appear: Fukushima crisis: radiation fears grow for low-paid heroes battling disaster | World news | The Observer
Cargo shippers have started boycotting Japan in fear of radiation hazards:
Japan Ports Shunned by Shipping Lines Fearful of Radiation – NYTimes.com This will be causing major economic disruptions in and outside of Japan. 200,000 anti-nuclear demonstrators protested in Germany on Saturday, foreshadowing an expected strong showing by Greens in coming elections.
The US government has gone silent since Obama’s “At Ease” message in the immediate days after the earthquake. The Administration will be under intense pressure to cancel the nuclear loan guarantee program, while some legal considerations may force loan decisions in coming weeks.
It is difficult to offer health protection advice at this time since the nature of what is happening at the reactors is either not known or not being disclosed. It remains the case that California and the continental USA will see only tiny fractions of whatever fallout results, and so there is yet no cause for alarm in these areas. Distant fallout will depend on wind and precipitation and people will have to rely on reports by local weather and health authorities.
In Japan, it seems that authorities are doing what they can in terms of providing bottled water and restricting foods from contaminated areas. There ought to be programs to deliver potassium iodide tablets to Japan, but I have heard of none. One concern is that people will stop drinking water, which actually would do more harm than good. Once again, storing tap water now and shelving it before any major fallout clouds pass is the best protective measure.