Fukushima upgraded to Level 7 nuclear event—what’s that mean?

The nuclear reactor crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has been upgraded to a 7 on the International Nuclear Events Scale. That’s the same rating as Chernobyl. It’s interesting to me, though, how these two events can share the same rating, but still be quite different in several important ways.

For instance, Chernobyl released a lot more radioactive material (Fukushima has still only released 1/10th of Chernobyl’s radioactive output) in a much shorter period of time. The slower pace of Fukushima, combined with the Japanese government’s significantly more open and responsive approach, means there have been fewer significant health impacts caused by Fukushima so far.

But the differences don’t all work in Fukushima’s favor. It’s likely to take longer to get this crisis under control, and Fukushima cleanup crews will have to deal with a lot of contaminated water that wasn’t present at Chernobyl. Because of that, there’s a possibility that these two disasters could look more similar over the long-term view than they do right now.

Nature “The Great Beyond” blog: How Fukushima is and isn’t like Chernobyl
NPR: Fukushima vs. Chernobyl — still not equal

Pot allergy is probably widely underreported

Humans are often allergic to pollen and other chemical compounds in weeds. Most of the time, if an allergy is life-threatening—or even just way-of-life-threatening—you’ll report it to your doctor, and she’ll get you treatment. But, when the weed in question is illegal, the normal process breaks down. Cases of marijuana allergy are rare in the medical literature, but a recent study suggests that they’re a lot more common in real life. Reactions range from the annoying (runny noses) to dangerous (anaphylactic shock), but if patients and doctors can’t speak freely to one another then patients miss out on treatment and medicine loses valuable information. (Via Kerri Watcher)

Tricky sickie saved by Wiki

Several papers in the UK are reporting that a 26-year-old man who was brushed off as “a neurotic” and a hypochondriac by at least 10 doctors over 12 years, ended up correctly diagnosing himself with a heart condition using Wikipedia.

Reports one tabloid, “He finally found out he had postural orthostatic tachycardia after looking up the symptoms on the internet.” Oh, if I only had a euro for every time I’ve done the same! But this appears to be the real deal.

He is now being treated by a specialist for the condition. Mr Green said he had visited his GP in 1999 and Worcester’s Royal Hospital’s accident and emergency unit in 2003 but the heart condition had not been diagnosed.

He said the GP was concerned that the symptoms were in his mind, while the hospital diagnosed chronic fatigue symptom. Mr Green has since paid for a copy of his medical notes. In them his GP says his symptoms are “neurosis which has been fuelled by his mother”.

“They kept saying it was all in my mind, that I should exercise my way out of it,” said the 26-year-old. “If I had not diagnosed myself I would be on anti-depressents right now. The doctors would just be saying I was neurotic.”

Mirror, Sun, Worcester News. (Thanks, Andrea James!)

Japan: Seawater contaminated near Fukushima; removal of radioactive water inside plant hits new problems


PHOTO, CLICK FOR LARGE: An aerial view from a height of some 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) and distance of more than 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, March 29, 2011. From right are the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. (REUTERS/Kyodo)

The government of Japan today announced that levels of radioactive iodine-131 in a seawater sample near the Fukushima plant were measured at a concentration of 3,355 times the maximum level permitted under law.

The leak is believed to be ongoing, and to have originated from the cores of nuclear reactors (probably in buildings 1 or 2, if I’m reading this right) where fuel rods have partially melted.

From the English edition of the Mainichi Daily News:

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the exact cause of the high iodine concentration remains unknown but that data collected by the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. indicate radiation that has leaked at the site during the ongoing crisis “somehow” flowed into the sea. He reiterated that the polluted seawater does not pose an immediate risk to health because fishing is not being conducted in the evacuation zone within 20 kilometers of the plant and radiation-emitting substances would be “significantly diluted” by the time they are consumed by marine species and then by people.

In related news, workers inside the Fukushima plant are today struggling to drain thousands of metric tons of water highly contaminated with radioactivity from the basements of turbine buildings.

Plutonium in low quantities has also been detected in the earth near the plant, and is presumed to come from “at least one” of the reactors there, according to news reports out of Japan:

“Considering the ratio of radioisotopes, it undoubtedly came from nuclear fuel,” said Kazuya Idemitsu, professor of nuclear fuel engineering at Kyushu University.

PSA: The 5 bodily fluids that transmit HIV

Just noticed this powerful advertisement from the Topsy Foundation. It was one of the winners at TED’s “Ad’s Worth Spreading” contest, which is generally worth checking out. This particular video does a great job (with a lovely twist at the end) at showing the effectiveness of HIV antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). There’s also a followup video you can view that checks in on the woman (Selinah) as well as chatting with the folks behind the video. Although I realize that the ARVs have been made possible by the work done in the pharmaceutical industry, and that there is a chance that Topsy’s programs are facilitated by kind donations from the same industry, it’s still a pity that there isn’t a more sustainable system for the provision of such drugs to developing countries. Pity that these sorts of medicines are usually priced way too high for individuals like Selinah, which is why so many go untreated and so many die. Pity also that laws like Bill C-393 (which aim to explore different ways to create that sustainable market and lower that price) are being deliberately stalled in government so as to guarantee not being passed. That kind of unfortunate reality deserves a megafacepalm.

Will the Harper government receive a #MEGAFACEPALM for C-393?

(FOR BILL C-393 STALLING UPDATES SEE BOTTOM OF POST: LAST UPDATE ON FRI, MARCH 25th) A few weeks ago, I was lecturing during a global issues course (ASIC200), when it became immediately clear that on some occasions, a solitary single facepalm is simply not enough. In fact, there seemed to be many things and events in this world that would merit many many simultaneous facepalms, or as we’ve been calling it in class, a MEGAFACEPALM! Anyway, when I looked it up on the internet, there didn’t seem to be any pictures of large groups of people doing the facepalm, and so I thought, why not make our own? And so after a few clicks on my camera, and a handy “Make your own motivational poster” website, here is how it turned out: megafacepalm.jpg Of course, then the big question was for what occasion should we bestow this honour – this first unaltered photographic MEGAFACEPALM image? Well, I had a chat with the class the other day, and it seemed that the issue of Bill C-393 seemed like a worthy cause. Now, if you’re late to the game and need a primer on this Bill C-393, then read this boingboing post and then come back here for the MEGAFACEPALM lowdown.

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