The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’

Anti-Nuclear Stupidity: When Ideology Trumps Science & Reason

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 15, 2011

I just wanted to post a follow-up to my earlier posts on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis (for reference, those earlier posts are here and here) and the related ideologically driven, anti-nuclear hysteria that is being pushed by far too many people.  An excellent example of this kind of zealotry is on display on the comment sections of my two previous posts, and I just want to focus on a few particular comments made here by people who are misrepresenting facts at best and engaging in some pretty despicable fear-mongering at worst.  I think it serves as a pretty useful exercise in critical thinking to examine such claims…

Comment #1: Here is the first comment I want to examine, regarding my blog post titled Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Well, I’ve been keeping track of all this fallout business from the beginning and I have to say, it’s not looking good. There are reports from Arkansas and several other states concerning elevated radiation levels in milk and municipal water supplies, as anyone who’s been keeping track of this has probably heard by now.
So if this is all B.S. then why is radiation showing up all over the U.S.? And most importantly, why isn’t the media talking about it?

First of all, this commenter is equating the detection of “elevated” radiation levels with “dangerous” radiation levels, and they are not the same thing.  As has been pretty thoroughly reported, radiation from Fukushima has in fact reached various parts of the United States (as well as other nations); however, what this commenter is not saying is that such levels of radiation have been detected in trace amounts.  In the context of radiation, “trace” essentially means “so small that you don’t have to worry about it.”  And whether or not the amount of radiation detected is higher than the normal background isn’t as relevant as whether or not the amount is near the danger level – and, in all the cases of such radiation detected in the U.S. the danger level is no where close to being reached.

What this commenter also neglects to mention is the fact that, as I’ve stated before, there are other (natural & artificial) sources of radiation around us all the time!  As this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows, there are sources of radiation everywhere – from the sky, the ground, your house, your food, etc.  Hell, chances are that you have received a higher dose of radiation from reading these words on your computer screen than you’ve gotten from the Fukushima power plant.

As for the last comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” – I have no idea where this innuendo of conspiracy comes from, seeing as how the media has been going on and on about this story for well over a month now, and all along most media outlets are screwing up the science just as is this commenter.

The comment continues:

Telling the public that radiation levels are only “slightly elevated” and causes no health hazards. Just like our Government “experts” told the natives living around the Atoll islands out in the Pacific the same line of nonsense after they tested twenty-three nuclear devices including the first hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1958. 10 years later 90% of them had died from cancer.

Again, this smacks of blatant conspiracy mongering.  Also note the outlandish claim that 90% of the inhabitants of the islands within the Pacific Proving Ground had died of cancer within ten years – there is evidence that those people were negatively affected (through higher rates of cancer & birth defects) by the related fallout, but nothing to support the claim of a 90% death rate within 10 years time.  This is precisely the kind of hyperbole which displays zealotry trumping facts & reason.

Continuing on:

Also it has been announced that Fukushima will most likely surpass Chernobyl as far as radiation emission levels are concerned.
Now, if radiation from Chernobyl was detected all over the northern hemisphere (and that is a fact)and the Fukushima event is supposedly far worse, what fool in their right mind would question whether or not radiation from the Fukushima event would make it to the U.S.?
It has and it will continue to do so.

While Fukushima has been upgraded to a level-7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the same INES rating as Chernobyl, to claim that it is just as bad – or even worse! – than Chernobyl is simply laughable.  First of all, it has been clearly documented that the total amount of radiation released from Fukushima is only about one-tenth that of Chernobyl, and that radiation release is much more localized & less lethal than Chernobyl ever was.  In fact, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a direct death toll of 56 (due to immediate radiation sickness) as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, the larger city of Pripyat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned.  It should be noted that, so far, there has yet to be a single death confirmed to be related to radiation released at Fukushima.

So, despite the similar INES rating of 7, comparing the two events – in terms of severity of radiation release & dispersal as well as human fatalities – is like comparing apples and hammers.

As for the rambling about radiation reaching the United States, see my previous notes on that.  Once again, “detectable” does not equal “dangerous”.

Last, but not least:

Now to say this is “fear mongering” is ridiculous, I have checked my facts and I suggest everyone else does the same. Because it doesn’t seem like the people we pay to keep us informed concerning such things, are doing their jobs very well. As far as hair and teeth falling out, I don’t think it will get anywhere near that bad but, the long term health effects of low level exposure should be considered at least.

More conspiracy mongering.  I think this section of this person’s comment can be best summed up as follows:

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Posted in conspiracy theories, environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Double-Whammy of Stupid Regarding the Japanese Earthquake

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 25, 2011

I’ve been sitting on this a bit, but I can’t take it anymore.  Beyond the idiocy being bantered about much of the media concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, there is an entire other layer of stupid superimposed atop that: it’s about what caused the earthquake in the first place and future effects (i.e. “mega”-quakes) resulting from the Japanese quake.

The first bit of pseudoscientific flummery comes from various physics cranks & astrological weirdos who seem to have been going on and on about something called the “Supermoon”.  Here’s a great Bad Astronomy article (written March 11th, 2011) taking down why this Supermoon nonsense is Super-Stupid…

No, the “supermoon” didn’t cause the Japanese earthquake

… The idea of the Moon affecting us on Earth isn’t total nonsense, but it cannot be behind this earthquake, and almost certainly won’t have any actual, measurable effect on us on March 19, when the full Moon is at its closest.

So, how can I be so sure?

The gravity of the situation

Here’s the deal. The Moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse, so sometimes it’s closer to us and sometimes farther away. At perigee (closest point) it can be as close as 354,000 km (220,000 miles). At apogee, it can be as far as 410,000 km (254,000 miles). Since the Moon orbits the Earth every month or so, it goes between these two extremes every two weeks. So if, say, it’s at apogee on the first of the month, it’ll be at perigee in the middle of the month, two weeks later.

The strength of gravity depends on distance, so the gravitational effects of the Moon on the Earth are strongest at perigee.

However, the Moon is nowhere near perigee right now! [Note: This article was written on March 11th, the same date as the Japanese earthquake]

The Moon was at apogee on March 6, and will be at perigee on March 19. When the earthquake in Japan hit last night, the Moon was about 400,000 km (240,000 miles) away. So not only was it not at its closest point, it was actually farther away than it usually is on average.

So again, this earthquake in Japan had nothing to do with the Moon…

The second bit of nonsense which is making the rounds on the Internet is an article published in Newsweek magazine stating that the Japanese earthquake makes it more likely there will be a super-duper “mega-quake” which will, among other things, flatten California & the west coast of the United States.  Sadly, this is yet another example of media fail on a scientific topic, because had the writer (supposedly a “journalist”, but actually someone who doesn’t deserve that title) of the Newsweek article taken just a little time to check his facts, he would have seen that such an idea is nonsense.  LiveScience.com has a great take down of this fiasco…

Bogus Claim: Japan Earthquake Won’t Trigger a California Quake

An unfounded scientific assertion by a nonscientist has swept across the Web like a tsunami over the past few days. In an article in Newsweek, writer Simon Winchester claimed that the 9.0-magnitude Japan earthquake, following close on the heels of recent quakes in New Zealand and Chile, has ratcheted up the chances of a catastrophic seismic event striking in California.

In his article, “The Scariest Earthquake Is Yet to Come,” Winchester pointed out that all three of those recent earthquakes occurred along faults on the edge of the Pacific Plate — the giant tectonic puzzle piece under the Pacific Ocean — and that this also butts up against the North American plate along the San Andreas Fault.

“[A] significant event on one side of a major tectonic plate is often … followed some weeks or months later by another on the plate’s far side,” he wrote. “Now there have been catastrophic events at three corners of the Pacific Plate — one in the northwest, on Friday; one in the southwest, last month; one in the southeast, last year. That leaves just one corner unaffected — the northeast. And the fault line in the northeast of the Pacific Plate is the San Andreas Fault, underpinning the city of San Francisco.” …

Of course, the actual journalists (not the hacks who seem to pump out useless bilge called “science reporting” at Newsweek) at LiveScience.com check with real scientists on the question, and here’s what they found:

… “There is no evidence for a connection between all of the Pacific Rim earthquakes,” Nathan Bangs, a geophysicist who studies tectonic processes at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, told Life’s Little Mysteries. “I don’t know what the basis is for the statements and implications in the Newsweek article, but there is no evidence that there is a link.”

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake geologist David Schwartz, who heads the San Francisco Bay Area Earthquake Hazards Project, concurred. “Simon Winchester is a popular science writer, not a scientist,” Schwartz said. “I’m not saying we won’t have an earthquake here in California at some point in the future, but there really is no physical connection between these earthquakes.” …

… Rich Briggs, a USGS geologist whose work focuses on how earthquakes happen, explained another way in which earthquakes can cascade. “The other way earthquakes affect their neighbors is that when a fault ruptures, it sends out seismic waves that in the case of large earthquakes can even circle the globe. In some cases, this ‘dynamic stress transfer’ increases seismicity,” Briggs told Life’s Little Mysteries. “But that only happens as waves go by, in the minutes that it takes the waves to travel out from the fault zone.” …

… So when will a major earthquake strike California? “Based on models taking into account the long-term rate of slip on the San Andreas fault and the amount of offset that occurred on the fault in 1906, the best guess is that 1906-type earthquakes occur at intervals of about 200 years,” Robert Williams, USGS seismologist, wrote in an email. “Because of the time needed to accumulate slip equal to a 20-foot offset, there is only a small chance (about 2 percent) that such an earthquake could occur in the next 30 years.” …

The Japanese earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and all the related pain, suffering, and death is a horrible tragedy that the world will no doubt be grappling with for many years to come.  However, in order for us to deal with these inevitable & uncontrollable tragedies, we must use the best tools at our disposal.  These tools include addressing things from a careful, rational, scientific, and fact-based view, not by appealing to our more primitive notions of superstition & fear-mongering.  One works, the other doesn’t: take a guess which is which.

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Radiation Dosage Put Into Perspective Courtesy of XKCD

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 19, 2011

Wow, sometimes someone comes along and really lays out the science so clearly that it just makes you go… wow.  I’ve spent much time in recent posts (here and here) discussing why it is important that the media put some context onto reports of radiation, specifically regarding accidents like that at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  The fine folks at XKCD have done an incredible job of putting the numbers I’ve been talking about for a week into a wonderful graphic; I suggest you all take a look (and try to find the dosages relevant to Fukushima, while you’re at it 🙂 )…

 

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SHARE Relief Effort for Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 18, 2011

Folks, over the last few days I’ve spent much time and energy in trying to correct many misconceptions (and yes, some outright lies) concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Of course, while the Fukushima situation is serious, the level of severity due to the broader earthquake & tsunami damage is orders of magnitude worse; so, in the spirit of lighting candles in the darkness, I want to pass along this appeal from the Center For Inquiry’s SHARE (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort)…

As the grim news unfolds in Japan, the Center for Inquiry’s SHARE (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort) is stepping up to provide assistance to victims of the earthquake/tsunami disaster.  Every dollar you give to SHARE will be sent directly to Doctors Without Borders, a wholly secular international organization.

SHARE Japan

Doctors Without Borders has sent medical teams to support the government-led earthquake and tsunami response in Japan.  Their teams are operating mobile clinics and conducting needs assessments.

Friday’s double tragedy has caused unimaginable misery.  In many areas there is no running water or power. As we write millions of people face a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures throughout the coastal area devastated by Friday’s disasters.  People are suppressing hunger while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.  Ensuring that these victims can access the medical care they need is among the highest priorities.

Image-CFI-Share-Donate-Button.jpg

We hope that you can give generously to the SHARE campaign to help the Japanese people who are in such great need. Thank you!

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Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 15, 2011

[**Update (3-16-11): There also appears to be a fake text message warning people of “fallout” coming their way.  Just an FYI, folks.]

You know, over the weekend when I was doing a bunch of research for my last blog post – Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria – I briefly ran across an image about the supposed “fallout pattern” from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.  I thought, “What a bunch of bullshit” and then moved on; not until later did I think that we’d probably be seeing that image again in the context of a hysterical, ranting chain email.  And I was right – here it is…

This is a completely, 100% bogus map, as is the email associated with it! As the fine researchers at Snopes.com have discovered, it has no association with the Australian Radiation Services, and any implication by the map that there will be nuclear fallout, a large release of radiation, or any kind of far-reaching health/environmental damage is nothing more than rank fear-mongering.

I don’t know what kind of asshole puts something like this image out there at a time like this, but I don’t find this funny in the least.  Most especially at times such as these, what we really need is to slow down, act calmly & coolly, and think about things in as rational manner as possible.  Freaking out, going hysterical, and blindly buying into & passing along garbage such as this “map” is only going to make a bad situation far, far worse.

[**Update (3-17-11): On the question of the Fukushima site and radiation, if you want to get more regular, reliable updates, I suggest using the World Nuclear News website – here’s more from that site in a recent update…

… peaking at 400 millisieverts per hour (40,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 3, and 100 millisieverts per hour (10,000 mrem/hour) on the inland side of unit 4. At the highest exposure rate, a nuclear worker or soldier could remain in the area for less than 40 minutes before leaving the site, unable to return. …

… Despite high levels of radiation close to the units, levels detected at the edge of the power plant site have been steadily decreasing.

17 March, 4.00pm  — 0.64 millisieverts per hour (64 mrem/hour)

17 March, 9.00am — 1.47 millisieverts per hour (147 mrem/hour)

16 March, 7.00pm — 1.93 millisieverts per hour (193 mrem/hour)

16 March, 12.30pm — 3.39 millisieverts per hour (339 mrem/hour)

This means that if you are at the edge of the Fukushima site itself, then receiving about 60 mrem/hour is like getting 2 or 3 chest x-rays per hour, which is a very strong dose of radiation.  However, the intensity of the radiation gets a lot weaker the further away you get from the source (I believe it follows an inverse square law).  Thus, it should be noted that if the radiation levels are that low at the edge of the power plant site, then they are most likely well within acceptable levels by the time you get to the edge of the evacuation zone, 30+ km away.  And there’s certainly no danger to people far beyond that point, including here in the United States and Canada.  Thus, despite the fact that some radiation has been released on the Fukushima site itself, the notion that any kind of “fallout cloud” will spread far & wide beyond that site is utter nonsense.

In addition, a good reference on the levels of radiation exposure (and related health effects) can be found here – http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/health_effects.html#anyamount – note that those values are in rems, whereas most of the exposure I’ve been referencing in these reports is in milli-rems (mrems).  Bottom line: the people who are going to be affected the most are the workers right there on site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are getting a potentially lethal dose; as for everyone else, I think the danger is practically non-existent.]

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Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2011

Okay, this has been one helluva weekend for science (specifically, physics) and skepticism because of the earthquake in Japan, subsequent tsunami, and the ongoing situation with the nuclear power plants in the region.  In this post, I am going to focus on the nuclear power plant question, because that is where the most amount of misinformation is being spread.  And, sadly, because much of this misinformation is being spread by a horribly irresponsible media, I will not be referring to any media articles in this post.

First of all, let me say that I’m pretty mad at the manner in which this whole situation is being framed: while there are likely many tens of thousands of dead & dying victims in the wreckage of the earthquake & tsunami, much of the media focus is on the supposed “danger” posed by the nuclear power plants.  Folks, this “danger” – while not completely fictitious – is being way, way, WAY over-hyped.  In fact, it is being so overly-hyped that many people turning to most of the media are getting the impression that this is about to occur in Japan…

[**Update: Speaking of misinformation, there is a bogus “Nuclear Fallout Image” going around the Internet.  More on that load of crap here.]

Let me continue by listing some reputable, scientifically accurate sources of information & updates on the situation with the Japanese nuclear plants and radiation in general.  I strongly suggest that you turn off the TV and go to these sources for your information on the question of all things nuclear power & radiation oriented:

The World Nuclear News website (an outlet put together by nuclear engineering professionals and science journalists to get accurate information out to the public)

Nuclear energy 101: Inside the “black box” of power plants (one of the few mainstream media outlets that gets it right – kudos to you, Boing Boing! 🙂 )

A Conversation with My Dad, a Nuclear Engineer, about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster in Japan (from Skepchick Evelyn Mervine, who did an excellent job of cutting right to the chase regarding the scientific & technical issues involved)

Calculate Your Radiation Dose (from the United States’ EPA, which takes into account the natural & artificial sources of radiation around you all the time)

Now, having listed some reputable sources on the topic, let me take some time to address some of the more misinformed & outlandish claims being tossed all over the Internet and media landscape regarding what’s happening…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

 
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