When he’s right, he’s right, which is why I keep droning on about Obama using the bully pulpit to give the public a reality check about radiation. If you follow the news closely enough to know that a nuclear-related horror has befallen Japan but not closely enough to know about sub-lethal levels, wind dispersal, etc, then yes, you’re going to overreact. And even if you do know about sub-lethal levels, people cope with fear differently. Many of the iodide-poppers, I assume, are treating it as a de facto anti-anxiety drug. If they can’t get peace of mind from knowing that dangerous doses don’t travel 5,000 miles over water, maybe they can get it from a psychiatric placebo.
News within the past hour is that they’ve finally finished laying a new power line to the Fukushima plant, which means the cooling system might be about to come back online — if it still works, which no one seems to know. U.S. officials warn that the crisis could go on for weeks, but if the plant’s water pumps can run after juice is restored, “then we might look at that moment as the beginning of the end of this crisis.” And there’s more good news, just to make the run on iodide a little sillier:
The first readings from American data-collection flights over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan show that the worst of the contamination has not spewed beyond the 18-mile range of highest concern established by Japanese authorities…
While the findings were reassuring in the short term, the United States declined to back away from its warning to Americans to stay at least 50 miles from the plant, a far larger perimeter than the Japanese government has established.
The news ain’t all good, though:
In interviews, American officials said their biggest worry about the Japanese plant was that a frenetic series of efforts by the Japanese military to get water into the four reactors there — including water cannons and fire-fighting helicopters that dumped water but appeared to largely miss their targets — showed few signs of working…
American officials were fixated on the temperature readings inside the three reactors that had been operating until the earthquake shut them down, and at the spent fuel pools, looking for any signs that they were decreasing. So far they saw none, but on the Web site of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, it was clear that there were no readings at all from some critical areas. Part of the American effort, by satellites and aircraft, is to identify the hot-spots, something the Japanese have not been able to do in some cases.
The biggest worry is still the spent fuel rods in reactor four (you can see a photo of the cooling pool in which they’re housed here), but even there, the information is contradictory. U.S. nuclear chief Gregory Jaczko swore up and down yesterday that his sources say there’s no water in the pool, that the rods are exposed to the air and getting dangerously hot. Today, meanwhile, comes this:
French nuclear security regulators say that helicopter crews flying over the crippled nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, have determined that a spent-fuel cooling pool does contain water, contrary to the public statement of the U.S.’s chief nuclear regulator.
Two statements by the Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire say Japanese helicopter crews carrying tons of water to the site saw that there was water in the cooling pool at reactor No. 4, enough water, in fact, that the choppers were diverted to reactor No. 3 to drop their loads. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko set off world-wide alarms Wednesday when he told a congressional panel that the cooling pool had dried up and high levels of radiation were being emitted.
The French observers added that the pools are boiling, so if Jaczko’s nightmare scenario isn’t here yet, it’s coming soon. Unless, of course, that power line does the trick. Cross those fingers. Exit quotation from a Nagasaki survivor: “I can’t say I’m not concerned, but I can’t say I’m all that nervous.”