The PJ Tatler

A translation from the Drudge-speak

Drudge Report was running their usual flashy banner (it’s already moved on to the Middle East again before I could make a screen capture):

Dangerous breach suspected at Japan nuke plant…

WATER RADIATION 10,000X NORMAL…

…Core May Be Breached

Drudge is doing the usual hair on fire thing. What that refers to is something that happened yesterday: three guys were exposed to unexpected doses of radiation, and two of them got beta radiation burns on their feet, working inside the outermost concrete building around the Daiichi Unit 3 reactor. This happened because there was unexpectedly some water in the building, and that water has some hot stuff in it, particularly cerium 144. Apparently their dosimeter alarms went off, and either because they thought the dosimeters were broken, or out of yamato gokoro, they kept working.

The total dose they got was about 17 rem, which is not something you’d want to do every day — call it 10-20 major CT scans — but under the 25 rem limit they’ve set for the emergency.

The thing is that beta radiation burns the skin if a beta emitter is close enough; it’s just like a normal thermal burn, except it doesn’t hurt at first, it just itches. So these guys apparently got water in their boots, got itchy feet, and didn’t do anything about it. But beta burns are surface burns, beta particles don’t penetrate far, and while they’re probably in for several uncomfortable weeks, they aren’t apparently in any long term danger.

The “10,000 times” thing is confusing, but a commenter dug out last night that it means “10,000 times more than they expected in the water inside the reactor building.” The thing being that they expected almost nothing in the water in the reactor building.

So here’s the translation:

– two men got burned, a Bad Thing

– standing in radioactive water is also a Bad Thing

– they were surprised to find water in the building, also a Bad Thing

– but it’s not a surprise that there was damage and radioactive stuff around, and the kind of damage this suggests is in line with what people have been saying for almost two week.

Because I can already see what the next comment is going to be, let’s remember not to fall for the doomsayers.  This is a bad accident and a bad situation, but it’s still not Chernobyl, or even close.

Update

And this is how the hair-on-fire crowd then affects the rest of the coverage: Mediaite is heading this story “Report: Fukushima 50 Exposed To Radiation 10,000 Times Safety Limit”.

They link a Daily Mail story, and that’s not even what the Daily Mail story says:

Some of the so called ‘Fukushima Fifty’ have been exposed to 10,000 times the normal amount of radiation as they battle to cool and restore power to the damaged nuclear plant, according to the Japan nuclear and industrial safety agency.

“10,000 times the normal amount of radiation” isn’t right either, but it’s at least not “10,000 times safety limit.”

Update

NISA just released details on the radioactivity in the water here.  Lots of beta emitters, no uranium or plutonium, and dominated by cesium-137, about 106 Bq. Everything else is less by an order of magnitude or more.