Sunday, March 27, 2011

Musings: Just Fine

Great gray globs dotted a pale sky when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The treetops danced slowly to music I couldn’t hear, drowned out, perhaps, by birds singing an exuberant greeting to the day.

It wasn’t long before pink streaks appeared in the east, followed by a flash of scarlet, then gold, which stained the space in between the leaves, turning the tree canopy around my house into a pagan cathedral of sparkling light.

Worshippers in the Big Island-based THC Ministry suffered a setback last week when the Idaho Supreme Court nixed the religious freedom defense of a ministry member who contended he used cannabis as a sacrament. In upholding the man’s conviction, the high court cited an 1879 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the government may restrict religious practices, but not beliefs.

In other news, Navy training exercises that included an underwater blast – the same kind of stuff they do right here in Hawaii — has been linked to at least three dolphin deaths off San Diego, prompting the National Marine Fisheries Service to open an enforcement case to see if the Navy violated federal law. I doubt it will have much of an impact, however, since the Navy is already vowing that ”the program it calls ‘mission critical’ would continue.”

I was particularly struck by this comment, seeing as how the Navy claims that simply watching for marine mammals is sufficient for their protection during exercises here in Hawaii:

[Cmdr. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the Navy's Third Fleet] said there were no dolphins in view when the training countdown began, and when they could be seen it was too late to stop safely.

And over in Japan, it’s becoming clear that they’re nowhere close to stopping the increasingly high levels of radiation that are expected to keep leaking into the environment indefinitely— supposedly with no impact. Or so they keep saying, even though the Tokyo Electric Power Co. is unable to produce credible readings at its own crippled nuclear plants.

Let’s face it. No one really knows what’s happening over there; heck, even Tepco didn’t know about the contaminated water until its workers were injured by it. Yet government and industry officials keep downplaying the danger and telling people the exposure levels are safe.

Not everyone agrees. Consider this interview with Hirose Takashi broadcast last week by Asahi NewStar:

Hirose: Around Fukushima Daiichi Station they measured 400 millisieverts – that’s per hour. With this measurement (Chief Cabinet Secretary) Edano admitted for the first time that there was a danger to health, but he didn’t explain what this means. All of the information media are at fault here I think. They are saying stupid things like, why, we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space. But that’s one millisievert per year. A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760. Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose. You call that safe? And what media have reported this? None. They compare it to a CT scan, which is over in an instant; that has nothing to do with it. The reason radioactivity can be measured is that radioactive material is escaping. What is dangerous is when that material enters your body and irradiates it from inside. Inhaling even the tiniest particle, that’s the danger. When it enters your body, there’s no telling where it will go.

[Interviewer] Yoh: So damage from radioactive rays and damage from radioactive material are not the same.

Hirose: If you ask, are any radioactive rays from the Fukushima Nuclear Station here in this studio, the answer will be no. But radioactive particles are carried here by the air. When the core begins to melt down, elements inside like iodine turn to gas. It rises to the top, so if there is any crevice it escapes outside.

Yoh: Is there any way to detect this?

Hirose: I was told by a newspaper reporter that now Tepco is not in shape even to do regular monitoring. They just take an occasional measurement, and that becomes the basis of Edano’s statements. You have to take constant measurements, but they are not able to do that. And you need to investigate just what is escaping, and how much. That requires very sophisticated measuring instruments. You can’t do it just by keeping a monitoring post. It’s no good just to measure the level of radiation in the air. Whiz in by car, take a measurement, it’s high, it’s low – that’s not the point. We need to know what kind of radioactive materials are escaping, and where they are going – they don’t have a system in place for doing that now.

Is it any wonder some folks in Japan are saying just gimme some truth?

Meanwhile, it was revealed the Navy helicopters that flew missions in conditions the Japanese claimed were safe were actually exposed to radiation, contaminating an American aircraft carrier that still has “hot spots” — despite a massive clean up.

And as the Wall Street Journal reported:

Part of the nation's key radiation warning system was out of service as the U.S. braced for possible exposure to the fallout from a nuclear crisis in Japan.

In California, home to two seaside nuclear plants located close to earthquake fault lines, federal officials said four of the 11 stationary monitors were offline for repairs or maintenance last week. The Environmental Protection Agency said the machines operate outdoors year-round and periodically need maintenance, but did not fix them until a few days after low levels of radiation began drifting toward the mainland U.S.

But no worries. I’m sure the government is on it and everything is just fine.


Anonymous said...

After thoroughly reviewing the following site it is clear that Hawaii has already been hit with lower levels of radiation from Fukushima in the form of all three: Xenon-133, Iodine-131, and Caesium-137.

Unknown said...

Describing dangerous kinds of radiation has been one of the biggest challenges to this disaster. My sense is that it was led to a greater sense of panic than is necessary, but I hadn't heard about people being exposed to 400 mSieverts. Is there a citation for that report?

Here's a nice guide to relative levels of radiation, from trivial to dangerous:

Anonymous said...

" The Navy claims that simply watching for marine mammals is sufficient for their protection during exercises here in Hawaii."

So I guess all that high-tech stuff they spend gazillions on to track enemy submarines and the like don't work on dolphins. Maybe they can just give it the old hand above the eyes look-see for torpedoes too and save all that money to pay the teachers.

Joan Conrow said...

Casey, here's a link to a BBC report referencing the 400 mSieverts reading.

Thanks for your link to the radiation guide.