• Geoff Russell

Blackout: tomorrow is too late

"Blackouts" seem to be the new black. SBS On Demand is running a couple of mini-series on them at the moment. There's a 2020 Belgian 10 episode piece simply called "Blackout" (which I haven't seen), and a 2021 German 6 episode creation, "Blackout: Tommorow is too late" (which I have), and then there's the current furore about the risks of the real thing in various Australian states; with our energy regulator recently briefly suspending normal market processes to direct generators to keep the lights on.


I started out wanting to write about the German mini-series, but thought I'd better at least look at the 2012 book of the same name by Marc Elsberg, on which it is based, before writing anything. It was translated in 2016, and that's the one I read. Hopefully, nothing was lost in translation!


Unfortunately, the book is incredibly good! So I figure I'd best devote more time to it than the mini-series.


Why "unfortunately"?


Think about it this way, when Vin Diesel hurtles out of a moving car at high speed, grabs Michelle Rodriguez in mid air and crashes tens of metres down into a car windscreen and both walk away with hardly a scratch, there's not too much chance that anybody is going to try that at home. We are all quite familiar with the real world of human physical frailty. Nobody takes such scenes seriously or believes they could happen.


But ... when a book of fiction looks (and is) very carefully researched but contains totally false and misleading claims about unfamiliar things, then there is a depressing certainty that the book will serve to entrench not just false beliefs, but dangerously false beliefs.


We've all seen the power of Twitter and Facebook to promote Covid-19 bullshit; novels have been around a lot longer and can be equally dangerous; particularly "best sellers like "Blackout: Tomorrow is too late". And the most dangerous books of all are those which are well written and blend facts with fiction in a way that makes it impossible for a casual reader to pick which is which. Which makes Elsberg's book particularly scary.


Just briefly; the mini-series

The mini-series starts as a suspected power meter hack, but soon expands into something more sinister which blacks out the whole of Europe.


The power meter hack is discovered by the one-time computer programmer who created it 20 years previously as a young political radical. Moritz Bliebtreu plays Pierre Manzano, the coder. The series is set in various parts of Germany, some close to the Italian border with a weird mix of Italian and German. Maria Leuenberger plays Frauke Michelson, who heads the German Government crisis response team. The old grey males in charge give her the job thinking she may be a convenient patsy to carry the can in the event things go badly. All too predictably, she's the shining star who eventually, with Manzano, averts catastrophe. Leuenberger is famous in my household for her role in "The Divine Order", a Swiss film about the 1970 fight to get the vote for women; famously late to arrive by a referendum (of males) in 1971. My partner is Swiss and TDO shines a light on the culture she recalls from childhood; with a mix of emotions! It's a gem of a film which takes an outrageously funny look at a deadly serious business. End of aside :)


Manzano finds his power meter crippling code and tries to inform the authorities; who don't believe him and most of the 6-part series revolves around Manzano's search for his radical friends to find who used his code to create havoc; including a nuclear reactor impending doom plot line. More on that when I get to the book.


The reliance on electricity and the broad scale of the impacts drives much of the series. Petrol pumps are electrical so transport is paralysed. Food shortages follow. Hospitals are euthanasing people as they run out of diesel for emergency generators and are evacuated. Civil unrest spreads. This is a very deadly multicountry 7-day blackout. The officials don't know who caused it or why but suspect from the sophistication that it was a state. When the Russians offer assistance, it is treated with suspicion.


This is a thriller and has the standard ending; disaster averted in the nick of time.


But of course, for many people, disaster was not averted, they died. What was averted was a numerically larger number of injured or dead. One of the averted disasters involves a nuclear plant, at which point it's better to look at the book; because it goes into far more detail, gets it mostly wrong, and has sold millions of copies!


And then the book

The book is much bigger than the film; more days, more blackness, more death, and more detail; right down to psuedocode for the code that cripples power stations. I won't detail the plot; it has plenty of twists and turns, skipping between countries and characters that make it perfect for a film. I'll focus on the problems and mistakes that could be laughable if they didn't have so many implications.


Audiences of film violence chew on popcorn and cheer. It might be entertaining, but it isn't scary. It's a bizarre quirk of human psychology; we are never as horrified of the visible and familiar as of the hidden and unfamiliar. Genuinely scary movie scenes aren't shot during the day, under the glare of sunlight, but at night. Fear is intrinsically linked to the unknown and unseen; the rustling in the bushes, the unexpected sound behind you, the dragging of the chain along the floor, the glimpse of the flash of the blade out of the corner of your mind's eye.


Details dissolve dread; even if they confirm danger.


When Elsberg gets to the nuclear parts of his book, the careful attention to detail, so evident in most of the rest of the book, simply vanishes. Instead we get vague or fantastic claims. It seems like he doesn't feel the need to supply the background like he does in the rest of the book. He treats it as a given that nuclear reactor meltdowns are dangerous and that they leave vast swathes of land uninhabitable; when they aren't and don't.


I'll present a series of quotes from the book, followed by a little detail and information.

"The enemy doesn’t need nuclear weapons – they’ve turned our nuclear power facilities on us. The first meltdown has already laid waste to parts of France."

There have been perhaps a dozen nuclear meltdowns in the history of the technology, depending on how you classify melting and partial melting events, including a few in research reactors, and also the three at Fukushima. None have laid waste to any land. This isn't just a matter of luck. It's what you'd expect from a meltdown. The fuel melts. Some reactors are designed to run with molten fuel. But in a reactor which isn't, the fuel can melt through the steel pressure vessel and collect as a lump of slag on the concrete at the bottom of the containment. This is expensive, very. But it isn't dangerous unless you want to cuddle up to the reactor itself. Typically, reactor operators will release heat (as steam) to try and avoid a meltdown if the reactor overheats for any reason. The steam is radioactive. How radioactive? Without a reference point, the numbers I could give at this point won't mean anything. So I'll give them later when I've explained what radiation doses mean.


The terrorists at the heart of the blackout didn't sabotage any reactors. The reactor problems were supposed to result from the long term loss of grid electricity to drive the reactor cooling. The terrorists didn't foresee the reactor problems:

"Saint-Laurent was something they hadn’t counted on. Overnight, the whole enterprise had taken on a new dimension. The intention hadn’t been for Europe to become uninhabitable – on the contrary."

The suggestion that Europe could become uninhabitable because of nuclear meltdowns is ridiculous in the extreme.


But wasn't there an evacuation around Fukushima? Yes. But was it necessary? No. The evacuation was against the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Again we need to know more about radiation doses and, more importantly, dose rates, to understand the IAEA guidelines (see Appendix below).


But what about the evacuation around Chernobyl?


Chernobyl wasn't a meltdown. It was a steam explosion which blew the top off the reactor and spewed radioactive material high into the sky. Big difference! But even then, some people refused to evacuate and have been living in the evacuation zone for decades. There are a few spots nobody would want to live or farm on, but that's a far cry from visions of a barren Europe! The entire area of the Chernobyl evacuation zone has become a spectacular wildlife reserve. The impacts on the animals aren't zero, but they are have been hard to find. Little white blotches on some swallows; gosh that sounds serious! There's a really big difference between radiation impacts that require decades of work and sophisticated statistics to tease out, and the kind of thing that happens when land is polluted by something seriously dangerous, for example salt. In salt damaged areas you don't need decades of science to detect tiny abnormalities, the vegetation vanishes along with the animals. What's left is a tiny selection of salt tolerant species. In contrast, all plant and animal species are incredibly radiation tolerant. If you go looking for tiny differences, then look hard enough and you'll find them; even if they aren't real. For a lay explanation, see the wonderful book by mathematician Jordan Ellenberg: "How not to be wrong!".


The net impact of the accident on wildlife has been stunningly positive, just as it has been at Fukushima. The marine animals (mostly fish) around Fukushima, in particular, would, if they could, be petitioning for more meltdowns and the restrictions on fishing that accompany the panic. For them, dealing with radiation far preferable to dealing with fishing nets and hooks and gafs and being suffocated or having your swim bladder explode as you are plucked from the depths of the ocean.


Saint-Laurent nuclear reactor balloons

Elsberg mentions multiple reactor accidents in the book, but I'll focus on one; the Saint-Laurent reactor. The plant is a little famous in France because of a partial meltdown in the late 1960s. Did that render vast areas of France uninhabitable? No.


Elsberg can't quite make up his mind in the book about what actually happened at this reactor, despite being the author of its narrative. Here's the first lurid description:


Blurred, grainy footage showed one of the Saint-Laurent reactors swelling up like a balloon, then suddenly it vanished behind a massive cloud. ‘This was the second explosion in the compromised facility. Buildings were severely damaged as a result.’ Figures in protective suits stalked the terrain around the power plant like giant insects, rattling boxes in their hands. ‘An hour later, a thirty-fold increase in radioactivity was measured.’ Another insect-man, a Greenpeace logo emblazoned on his jumpsuit, held a measurement device up to the camera. ‘Environmental organizations claim to have measured life-threateningly high levels of radiation twenty kilometres away from the facility.’

Reactors swelling up like balloons? Seriously?


A nuclear reactor is like a steel pressure cooker inside a reinforced concrete box. Could the pressure cooker explode? Kind of, but not in a way that Hollywood would script. There would be no vision; making it rather boring. What would happen?


Like a normal pressure cooker, the nuclear kind has safety valves. There are also various pipes into the vessel taking water in and out. All this means there are multiple ways to fail without "swelling up like a balloon". In the worst case scenario, the pipes would fail, effectively becoming valves like those in a pressure cooker. There are enough of these pipes to make any explosion a relatively benign affair. A pressure cooker explodes at it's weakest point ... the safety valve. Reactor vessels have multiple weak points through which to rupture and release pressure. Expensive? Definitely. Dangerous? No.


Would any such failure rupture the reinforced concrete box? No.


Steam explosions used to be common and deadly in the days when steam ships were common. Put an exploding boiler inside a reinforced concrete box and it would no longer be deadly; it's just a boiler in a box. The concrete box is called the containment because that's what it does; contains. It's designed for much bigger problems than exploding pressure cookers! If that was its only job, it'd be much smaller. No, containment structures are built more to keep stuff out than to keep stuff in. They are designed to stop penetration by fully loaded passenger jets. This kind of terrorism was envisaged long before 9/11.


The article at the end of this link has a little video embedded showing what happens when a fighter jet is rammed into containment concrete at 500 mph; the penetration depth was 60mm. Typically containment structures have a metre or more of very high quality steel and concrete. Normal artillery won't penetrate either, but there are certainly munitions which will. A rational invader of any country has plenty of means of disabling reactors by taking out transmission lines while keeping the reactors operable for when he or she takes charge. You could argue that "rational invader" is an oxymoron, but in any event it's still of no use or value to bomb a nuclear plant. It won't kill anybody other than the people who die directly in the bombing. At worst it will raise cancer rates over the following 30 years (more on this below). Raising cancer rates 20-30 years into the future is hardly a potent military achievement. No; bombs, shells and missiles are far more horrific when directed at people than at nuclear reactors.


Later in the book, Elsberg seemingly changes his explanation about what happened at Saint-Laurent ... calling it a core meltdown. You can have a meltdown without an explosion; there were three at Fukushima. The much-photographed explosion at Fukushima wasn't a reactor explosion, but a hydrogen explosion in the surrounding building; not inside the containment vessel.


What about the mentioned "30-fold radiation increase"? That may well scare anybody who knows nothing about DNA and cellular damage and radiation doses; which is most people. Elsberg relies on ignorance for effect.


Here's some context.


Each day every cell in your body gets about 10,000 pieces of damage from internal (not radioactive) processes. Raise radiation by 400-fold and that 10,000 rises by 12 pieces of damage per day. 30-fold is truly trivial. Back when the anti-nuclear movement began, in the late 1950s, people thought DNA never got damaged under normal circumstances, which made them terrified of radiation, because it was the first thing people discovered that could damage DNA. Some people, like Elsberg, have missed about 30 years of DNA biological science. There are now huge text books on DNA repair; something that nobody knew about at the dawn of the anti-nuclear movement.


And "life threateningly high" radiation at 20 km from the facility? WTF does this mean? Could I forgive Elsberg for repeating the type of bullshit that some people would surely be peddling after such an event, whatever it was? No. Once I explain doses, you'll be able to see how culpably sloppy Elsberg has been in seemingly doing no research on the issue at all. Perhaps this is too harsh, perhaps he counts research as reading some anti-nuclear campaign material; whatever. But the idea of a truly life-threatening dose many kilometers from a reactor is simply ridiculous. But we need a little background on doses and, more importantly, dose rates, to understand why.


Finally, doses and dose rates

I've tried to make this as simple as possible, but I can't avoid some jargon. Hopefully, I will explain it well enough to make it clear. Grays and Sieverts are radiation units. I use both because if you visit medical sites, one of which I've linked below, they'll also be using both and unless you know the relationship between the two, that can be really confusing.


Radiotherapy patients get hit with over 1 Gray of radiation in 5-10 minutes per treatment; day after day after day. There are two things to remember here; how much and how fast. One Gray over the course of a year wouldn't kill a tumour; the radiation rate is critical, not just the dose.


If you've seen people talking about millisieverts or microsieverts of radiation, then for many purposes, a Gray is a Sievert. If you want the gory details, then there is an appendix below. A Gray is a measure of radiation energy and a Sievert is a measure of biological impact. The units were chosen so that (mostly) one Gray causes one Sievert of damage; the Sievert is also confusingly called the dose.


As radiation interacts with your flesh, it deposits energy. Energy is measured in Joules and our mass is measured in kilograms. So a Gray is 1 joule of energy per kilogram. So 5 Grays of radiation to your entire body will deliver 5 joules of energy to each kilogram. You may have heard of radiation "burns". They aren't actually burns; because they are caused by far smaller amounts of energy than a real burn, but the cellular damage has much in common with burns; hence the use of the same word.


1 Gray to your entire body is a massive dose. 1 Gray to a lung tumor is a big dose to the tumor and to any normal tissue irradiated during the process. Of the atomic bomb survivors in Japan after World War II, 95 percent in those studied, received less than 1 Gray. Like I said; it's a huge dose.


5 Grays to your whole body in a few minutes will kill you ... over a few weeks. Why did I say "in a few minutes"? Because 5 Grays administered over 5 years is well over any occupational limits, and may raise your risk of cancer during the following decades; but it won't kill you. Radiotherapy patients might get 40-50 Grays in total to their tumor; over the course of a few weeks. The same total amount delivered all at once would be seriously life threatening; even if only to a small area of the body.


If there had been no evacuation at Fukushima, the UNSCEAR estimate of the maximum dose people would have received is 50 milli-Grays ... over the course of 12 months; and most people would have received far less. That's 20 times less than a Gray, and being delivered over a whole year, it's truly trivial. Why are the radiation limits on nuclear staff set, by chance, at this level? It's not a "safety level" ... (see Appendix on ALARA).


So why does Elsberg seem to think a life threatening dose at 20km is plausible from one meltdown when a triple meltdown didn't even come close to any life threatening dose anywhere (outside of the reactor buildings themselves)? What is plausible, of course, is people saying there is a life threatening dose when they don't know what they are talking about. What is plausible is novelists just repeating bullshit without bothering to check.


The radiation process ... in plain english

Think about radiation as a stream of particles of different sizes. There are three sizes. Gamma particles are so small that they might go through you without hitting anything. Alpha particles are huge and won't penetrate your skin. This means you can be in a highly radioactive area, but if all the radiation is alpha particles, you are completely safe. Meaning you can be exposed to 1 Gray of alpha radiation get a dose of 0 Sieverts.


Beta particles are medium sized. They can penetrate a few millimeters into your body. A recently launched treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer is a radioactive cream that kills cells up to a few mills beneath the skin surface. It preferentially kills tumor cells for reasons to complicated for this little blog article; but the point to notice is that it relies on Beta particles to do its job.


There is one point in the book where Elsberg gives a number to a radiation level; and gets it wrong, of course.


"‘Zero point two microsieverts per hour!’ he proclaimed. ‘That’s double what is classified as an acceptable dose! The cloud has reached Paris!’"

Elsberg's character is a journalist with what is called a dosimeter. It's understandable to think in measures radiation dose; but it doesn't. It measures radiation and not all radiation will end up impacting your body. You will understand now how a "Dose" measures impact, not ambient radiation. That's (tiny) error number one. The big error is the use of the term "acceptable dose" in a context that implies an increased risk.


Here's a little youtube clip of a woman on a beach in Brazil carrying a dosimeter. She's seeing about 33 microsieverts per hour ... which is 170 times higher than Elsberg's journalist is seeing. If that beach was in Japan, it would be covered in people wearing protective gear and shoveling the sand into black plastic bags ... I wonder how many Yen per hour those people get?


Here's an image from that clip. The woman who made it is sitting with her legs deep in radioactive monazite sands.

Now here's an image from 2018 taken by film maker Robert Stone, whose documentary "Pandoras Promise" is highly recommended. Note how the radiation is lower right next to the Chernobyl plant ... not a little bit lower ... but almost 10 times lower.





Remember above when I talked about an extra 12 pieces of DNA damage from a 400 fold increase in radiation? The beach in Brazil is still far less radioactive than this; you'd need to be getting about 100 microsieverts per hour to add those extra 12 pieces of DNA damage to the normal 10,000. If you are curious about the cause of those 10,000 pieces of damage each day then see the Appendix below.


Elsberg deals with nuclear risks like film makers deal with monsters. Keep things dark and vague and avoids comparing risks or outcomes. Decades of film history about radiation and nuclear plants have done most of his job already. All you need to create book-selling fear is to mouth some sacred incantations; starting with a single word: "meltdown". That will horrify at least half the audience and frighten the rest. You don't need to explain what it is; in fact you'd better not, lest you dissolve the fear. You don't need to talk about radiation types or doses. That also would totally dissolve people's fear and spoil the effect. It is particularly forbidden to compare carcinogens; which is why I'm going to do so.


Bacon or meltdowns

Suppose every nuclear reactor in the US had a meltdown in 2023. If you like, you can pretend it's as a result of some super-hacker. Which will cause more cancer during the following 40 years, those meltdowns or red and processed meat consumption?


If you picked the meltdowns, then that's as wrong as thinking a person will die quicker from a lack of food than from a lack of air. It's as wrong as thinking mice weigh more than elephants.


Generations of vague junk info campaigns and silly movie plots have primed people to believe rubbish. If you want to understand the causes of cancer and be able to rank them then you need numbers; sorry, but you do. You don't need calculus, or trigonometry or group theory or partial differential equations. But you do need at least the kind of maths that people used when they went shopping before scanners and credit cards.


Let's start. It won't take long.


Radiation is a Class 1 carcinogen, as is processed meat consumption, leather dust, sunshine, and over 100 other things. Being "Class 1" merely means the causal relationship is proven to the satisfaction of experts. It says nothing at all about how dangerous the items are. Just like guns and knives are both Class 1 killing weapons.


Everybody on the planet is exposed to sunshine but only about 324,000 people get a melanoma (the most common kind that might kill you) annually. But some 1.9 million people get bowel cancer. Whatever causes this is obviously far more dangerous than sunshine. What is it? Here's a clue. In places which eat very little red meat and processed meat, for example Egypt, the rate of bowel cancers is about 6 per 100,000 per year. In places which do, like Australia, the US, France, Germany, the rates are 33, 25,30, and 25 per 100,000 respectively. When you introduce red and processed meat into a country ... meaning a dietary shift, such as occurred in Japan in the 1950s and 60s, you get a surge in bowel cancers. It starts about 20 years after the introduction; exactly as with tobacco. Here's what it looked like for Japan:




For people paying close attention. The figures I gave in the previous paragraph were from the WHO cancer registries and are age standardised globally, as opposed to over time in the above figure.


There are other causes of bowel cancer besides red and processed meat, so not all of the wave can be attributed to them. But most of the other causes are small in Japan; like obesity which is relatively small in Japan but a significant cause elsewhere.


I've used a simple argument above about the causal relationship between red and processed meat and cancer. Epidemiologists are far more careful about the quality and amount of evidence they need, but their conclusions are similar. You can read them on the World Cancer Research Foundation website.


Now let's look at the other side of the comparison. Radiation.


Atomic bomb survivors

Even without knowing anything about doses, most people would guess that the people who survived the atomic bombs in Japan got more radiation than those around the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011; and they did.


The atomic bomb survivors were very well studied and we know how much extra cancer they got. Did their rate double? Did it go up 5 times, like bowel cancer in Japan from the dietary shift?


The solid cancer rate (which is most cancers) of atomic bombing survivors rose by just 11%. For people getting less than 1 Gray, the median loss of life among survivors was 2 months.


Conclusion

As I remarked at the beginning. "Blackout: tomorrow is too late" is really well written and mostly well researched. But its sections on the nuclear implications of extended blackouts stand out for being sloppy, ill-informed, and extremely dangerous. How dangerous? About 9,000 Germans have died as a result of the (almost complete) closure of Germany's nuclear fleet. This is down to the additional fossil fuel pollution in replacing clean nuclear with coal and gas. A generation or two of Germans, like a generation or two of Australian, have been seriously misinformed by activists who simply missed 30 years of DNA science. Their understanding of radiation, biology and cancer is stuck in the 1950s if it isn't entirely absent. Novelists have a responsibility to do their research and not misinform people. Good fiction can educate effortlessly; bad fiction can be deadly.





Appendix: Units of radiation

Radiation comes in 3 kinds, alpha, beta and gamma. How can you give a single dose figure when 3 things are involved? It's like asking what your drug dose should be when you have a choice of ibuprofen, penicillin or vitamin C.


The way radiobiologists do it is to think about the energy delivered to your body by whatever mix of the 3 kinds of radiation you are exposed to. It's like the energy in food. We can eat bananas, dates or bread. They each have a different energy content per kilogram, but if we know these factors we can work out the energy in a meal. The joule is the standard unit of energy; it's a tiny amount, so people often use kilojoules; 1 kilojoule is a thousand joules, just as 1 kilometre is 1000 metres. A teaspoon of sugar has about 68,000 joules of energy, so if you weigh 68 kg, then that's 1000 joules per kilogram. Radiation is measured like this; joules per kilogram. When radioactive particles hit your cells they bump around causing damage and losing energy, the amount they lose can be measured and the answer given in joules per kilogram. One joule per kilogram is called one Gray. If you get 1 Gray of radiation to all of your 68 kg, then you will get 68 joules of energy added to your body from the radiation. As the science progressed, it was found that damage wasn't exactly correlated with energy. Alpha particles did 20 times more damage then gamma particles; for example.


Appendix: ALARA

There are plenty of nuclear power radiation limits. The maximum dose a worker can be exposed to in a year, or the surrounding area in some period, etc etc. When people hear these they assume, perfectly reasonably, that they are safety limits, beyond which some kind of significant risk occurs. A sophisticated reader, knowing how such limits are normally set, might factor in a margin of error. If the limit for mercury in seafood is so and so many micrograms, then you can probably exceed this by 50% or so without worrying. The problem with such thinking is that regulatory bodies differ in the kinds of margins they subtract from what they think safe levels are; and with good reason. Getting a little extra water per day is different from a little extra mercury or cyanide.


The nuclear industry is different. As reflects its genesis during an age when little to nothing was known about DNA repair. Its limits are set using a principle called "ALARA", as low as reasonably achievable. The working assumption is that there is no safe level so you should do everything in your power to reduce exposure. The assumption is obviously false, meaning you can't use it for epidemiological purposes (to predict risk). This was made clear by official radiation bodies many years ago.


ALARA implies that if one nuclear plant can reduce radiation levels to some level, then every other reactor should do likewise; where reasonable. It means that if you can afford to use a 2m thick containment wall, then you should do so. Over the years, this has turned into a regulatory ratchet that has driven up costs and delayed builds. A more sensible approach would consider actual risk and regulate accordingly. But that's a big topic for another post. The bottom line is that levels of radiation 30 times the background level are well under the 400 times background levels that are known to be safe for extended periods.


Appendix: IAEA Emergency Guidelines

The IAEA guidelines for radiation emergencies are written by experts who understand the problems of emergencies. Evacuation of a large area, as should have been understood in Japan, but obviously wasn't, is an inherently risky process. In Japan, despite low levels of radiation, Naoto Kan ordered an evacuation. Sick and elderly people were thrown into buses in the middle of the night and died as a direct result.


The IAEA understands that it is impossible to measure radiation doses in an emergency. What you can easily measure is radiation levels. These are quite different from doses. You might think that if your device is showing 33 microsieverts per hour, then that's the dose you'd get. But it isn't. The dose will depend on the mix of radiation types, the thickness of your clothing and the time you spend outdoors. So the IEA sets "Operational Intervention Levels" (OIL) which are easy to measure. Contrast this with a bush fire. The smoke has all manner of toxic compounds in it; some of which are carcinogenic. Can you measure the risk? No. That's a really hard problem. Measuring radiation and acting accordingly is easy.


OIL1 is deadly serious. Evacuate immediately or provide substantial shelter. What's the OIL1 level. 1000 microsieverts per hour. We saw above what the radiation during a whole year was at Fukushima (for the public) ... 50 milligrays. So divide that by 24x365 to find the microsieverts per hour ... 5.7 microsieverts per hour. Okay. So no rapid evacuation should have been considered.


OIL2 is the next level, and it is where you'd think about temporary evacuation. The IAEA talk about grey areas, meaning you can use your discretion if you expect levels not to stay at the OIL2 level for a substantial period. What is the level? 100 microsieverts per hour (uSv/hr). The annual average of 5.7 microsieverts/hour implies that the maximum would have been higher during the initial days of the meltdowns; and it was. It hit about 600 microsieverts per hour at the site boundary at one point. But radiation drops rapidly with distance. The Japanese Government didn't use the IAEA figure of 100 uSv/hr, instead they used 2.3 uSv/hour as the criteria to evacuate people up to 30 km from the meltdown. And left them in limbo for year after year. Ignorance proved literally deadly and much more dangerous than radiation at Fukushima.


Appendix: What causes 10,000 pieces of DNA damage per cell per day?

DNA damage is caused by the processes of energy production in the cell. Those processes produce "free radicals". These aren't activists on the loose, but chemicals that can and do damage DNA. How does radiation damage DNA? It can hit the DNA directly, but mostly it hits water... because that's the biggest component by volume in your cells. When radiation hits water, what happens? You get free radicals. So most radiation damage is like normal damage. How much radiation would you need per cell per day to double the rate of the worst kind of DNA damage? The worst kind is double strand breaks. DNA is a like a plait, breaks in one strand are easily repair, break two and you've got serious trouble. These are hard to repair, but not impossible; your cellular repair mechanisms are simply brilliant! And the radiation required to double the number of double strand breaks? 1.5 to 2 Grays. This is over 350,000 times the background level of radiation. This is why radiation is so weak as a carcinogen and why radiotherapy requires repeated massive doses to kill tumors.

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