18 thoughts on “Radiation Dosages”

  1. I saw a disturbing special on Chernobyl the other say on the Science Channel. Disturbing because of course I remember it well, and it’s very clear now how shockingly the Soviets lied about the nature and extent of the thing. Also the sheer human suffering: they showed footage of young men from the Red Army, conscripted to help clear the roof of the neighboring reactor of bits of the core which had blown on top of it. They’d tried robots, but the radiation fried their electronics.

    So these young men cut out sheets of lead and tied it to their bodies, took a shovel, ran out onto the roof — where because of actual chunks of core scattered about the radiation levels were sufficient to absorb a lethal dose in a few minutes — throw one shovelful of debris off the roof, and run back. Supposedly each man was limited to 45 seconds of exposure, once, and then was replaced by another man. But you know how the Soviets worked. There are survivors who claim they made half a dozen runs. Nobody knows how many of these men died, because the Soviets — nor the IAEA, to its eternal shame — would admit the risk to which they were exposed.

    What a horrible abuse of the idealism of young men. The British at Passchendaele did no worse. I wonder, now, whether Chernobyl contributed substantially to the collapse of the Soviet Union 5 years later. It should have. Chernobyl should be a monument to the inhumanity of collectivism, which should suffer the opprobrium of Nazism.

  2. That is very cool.

    So since cats are smaller than people, do I get less than 0.05 µSv from sleeping next to my cat?

  3. I wonder, now, whether Chernobyl contributed substantially to the collapse of the Soviet Union 5 years later.

    Wonder no more. This comment from Neo-neocon the other day should remove all doubt.

    Sergey Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 1:47 pm
    I remember the days of Chernobyl disaster with such clarity and vividness as only deep emothional shock can bring about, up to the moment when I first read and heard of it. For millions (tens millions, to be more exact) people in Soviet Union this was a watershed. The credibility of official propaganda was lost completely and for ever. This brought about abolishion of censorship, all events named Perestroika and Glasnost, and eventually fall of Communism. So the psychological impact on society was disproportionally tremendous and out of any proportion to actual, physical impact.

  4. Yes, well, rick it’s also sickening how the UN via the IAEA carried water for the Soviets. It took them ten years and the passing of the USSR to finally admit that just maybe a reactor with a huge positive void coefficient and control rods tipped with moderator for God’s sake — and not even touching the ideas of not bothering with a containment building, putting several reactors right next to each other, and storing cooling water in a big pool underneath the reactor core — were not, perhaps, the best design choices.

    The Soviet experience with nuclear power is one of the best arguments I know against the “information wants to be free” point of view. I do not think that social structure, stuck in Lysenkoism and purge-paranoia, could ever have harnessed nuclear fission on its own. They copied everything from the West, except Western good sense and valuing of individual human life. Had the information — somehow, don’t ask me how — been kept from them, it would have been so much better for so many millions.

  5. Randall Munroe of XKCD is a fairly young guy, but he’s been working very hard in a very earnest, snark-free way at trying to make sense of it all, and helping to point the right direction. I wonder if some day he will stand up and start to lead us into the future.

  6. I think it is okay to be amused that the US government is actually causing people to increase their rad dose by recommending evacuating on long airplane flights, rather than by having them stay in the average town near Fukushima.

  7. This WAS the free world, nuclear disaster the leftys have been waiting for. It will remove Chernobyl from the field, the way Chernobyl removed TMI.

    We’ll be moved away from NATURE causation, and slowly be moved to MAN should never have tickled the dragons tail to start with. Just how serious the left truly thinks this situation is in how many news crews are headed to the royal wedding vs how many are headed to Japan.

  8. Maybe that’s their point, Der. Maybe they can’t stand the fact that the world’s only serious accident with nuclear power was committed by the closest the world has come to their beloved socialist utopia, just like they can’t stand the fact that JFK was killed by a leftist, or RFK by a Palestinian.

  9. Carl, I’ve seen that special as well, and had much the same reaction…

    BTW, there’s a fascinating book called Inviting Disaster that goes into the stories of a lot of technological disasters, and includes chapters on both TMI and Chernobyl. It’s a good antidote to the Luddism of the MSM; even though it goes through a lot of accidents, many of which involved significant loss of life, the common thread is that we can and do build organizations that reduce the risk well below acceptable levels – but you have to have the right incentives. The communists sucked at providing the right incentives.

  10. Some of that chart might be a bit misleading because of durations. For example note the 70micros for a year next to the 80micros with no duration given (early on the green chart.) I might assume that the 80micros represents a yearly dose like the examples around it (or I could not be lazy and research the issue.)

    Otherwise, it’s a great piece of work (I’ve got to be sure not to sleep with myself because of that radiation danger… oh, just being me does it? Nevermind.)

  11. ken, Ann Coulter in her usual highly provocative style points to this 2001 New York Times article, in which the problem of regulating low levels of ionizing radiation is explored, a bit. What she points out — well, removing the hyperbole, that is — is that nobody really has a good grip on the dangers, if any, of very low doses of radiation. For one thing, the statistical challenges of the epidemiology are fiendish.

    In fact (and here’s where she got provocative) there is some argument and data that low levels of radiation are actually good for you, at least in some ways. This isn’t all that shocking, hopefully. After all, radiation is used to cure cancer, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t do it simply by killing cancer cells — it also spurs the immune system in a way that is still not yet understood.

    I recall when I was in Budapest a while ago visiting a “health spa” that had been in operation for more than a century, the claim to power of which was the naturally-occuring mild radioactivity of the water. The modern assumption is that they were just idiots — but that may not be so. It may be that the low doses of radiation actually did relieve aches and pains, and boot the immune system enough to improve general health.

    This is not to say that we don’t understand very well what a sievert or two will do for you.

  12. Carl’s lead story reminds me of the tale I heard from a rad technician who was a soviet refugee. Men who worked cleaning up around that area would shield their dosimetry badges to work more hours and get more pay. They all died soon after, of course.

  13. I read somewhere the nuclear sub crews have to turn down the sensitivity of their radiation warnings on surfacing in fresh air or they’d all go off. Now it may turn out we’re giving those brave crews more risk of cancer by keeping them in such a radiation free environment? Thanks for the link.

    Ok, so 1 sievert = 100 rem. I wish they’d all use the same unit of measure… it’s so confusing when trying to compare references to different dosages.

  14. The key argument to be made here is that drawing conclusions about the safety of modern reactors based on the Fukushima incident is like drawing conclusions about the safety of MD-80’s based on the DC-10. Current Generation III designs are far safer than Generation II like Fukushima Daiichi, which is itself far, far safer than the Chernobyl unit, which I’m not even sure qualifies as Generation I, more like Generation SI (for Suicidal Insanity).

    The lesson to be learned is that we should go full bore in getting the virtually invulnerable Generation IV designs off the drawing boards and into production at flank speed.

  15. Some of that chart might be a bit misleading because of durations. For example note the 70micros for a year next to the 80micros with no duration given (early on the green chart.) I might assume that the 80micros represents a yearly dose like the examples around it (or I could not be lazy and research the issue.)

    Unless the chart has changed since it’s been put up (which Mr. Munroe has been known to do upon occasion), the 80 micro dose is labeled as “average total dose” from the TMI accident, people w/in 10 miles…

    I guess the only research needed would be how long the accident lasted, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume that it was less than a year, and likely less than a month (probably a few days to a week?). I know that I, for one, would probably have evacuated before a month had gone by if I felt there was a danger in staying within 10 miles of a nuke-you-ler accident.

  16. It might be a good idea to weigh in here. Objections to nuclear power are based on perceived risk, right? Well, I remember reading a book whose name I can’t remember – and God only knows where it is – with a few pertinent facts. Such as the fact that coal plants emit more radioisotopes than any nuclear plant except Chernobyl ever has. Such as the enormous risk posed by large stocks of petrochemicals and LPG in various places – a risk sharply underlined by the Buncefield depot explosion some years ago near London, and the fact of large numbers of LPG tankers plying the seas. We have been lucky so far – but a large LPG tanker going up would be comparable to Hiroshima. (Except for the fallout, natch.)

    Of course, the large and ongoing cost of military operations, made necessary by 7th century barbarians having access to huge amounts of unearned money for causing trouble with, is also pertinent here. This has many disadvantages. First, numbers of the West’s best getting killed. Second, a small but significant risk of a crisis caused by this situation leading to WWIII. Third, the immense cost; the money could otherwise be used for many purposes including reduction of the US deficit or perhaps doing something substantial about getting more energy independence, and possibly making Mankind safer by spreading out and also by making it more possible to deflect the next Dinosaur Killer.

    At the moment, should Yellowstone let rip or Earth be hit by another Chicxulub, civilisation will probably end. For a small fraction of the cost of blowing holes in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, that risk could be reduced.

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