March 22, 2011
Natural disasters can occur very swiftly, and without warning to those that are in the areas around the affected site. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the northeast section of the country of Japan did just that. Its thirty foot wave traveling at approximately 500 miles per hour brought destruction and devastation to thousands upon thousands of human lives. Unfortunately, the worst is not over. The tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant causing the plant to meltdown because of malfunctions with the cooling system. As a result, radiation of fluctuating degrees is being released in to the air around them. Now, what are the measures that these engineers and physicists doing to handle the situations? What can radiation do to people exposed to it? If exposed, what can be done to help treat it?
The problem in this particular situation is that the reactors cooling system is damaged, so the pressure built up from this excess heat or energy wants to expand outward, which in essence, may cause a nuclear explosion or meltdown. This can be observed from the excess steam or vapor that is being expelled from the reactors as well as the radiation levels. Scientists working in the area are experiencing levels of radiation from 0.6 millisievert an hour to 400 millisievert an hour. Depending on the radiation level effects can be quite dangerous. For example, radiation sickness and cancer are the two most significant short term and long term effects.
The different types of elements used in the plant may cause serious issues if the plant experienced meltdown, “but the most worrying are cesium-137 and iodine-131. Both vaporize easily and thus can disperse over large distances. Cesium-137 mimics potassium inside the body, seeking out muscle. Iodine-131 is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid gland and, in children, increases the risk of thyroid cancer. Iodine pills—which authorities are giving out in the region—can help protect against the effects of iodine-131 when taken before or within an hour of exposure to fallout.”
The current measures being done to eliminate meltdown are slow, but working. Pilots are dropping sea water on the reactors to get the heat to slowly go down to be able to make working conditions better to really fix the problem at hand. This could be truly a catastrophe if this nuclear plant happens to have a meltdown.
I found this National Geographic article to be quite helpful, and really lays out the scientific process quite effectively in general terms. They swiftly located, and acknowledged the problem through observation, and are swiftly and safely experimenting different ways of trying to fix it. At the same time, they are giving information of what the different types of effects certain chemical reactions that the reactors components can do to the human body. In this end, this is just another problem that the human race must fix, the ability to progress technologically to find a new, better, and safer means of creating energy.