Japan Headed for Nuclear Meltdown?
March 11, 2011 5:13 PM   Subscribe

IF 1 or 2 or even 3 nuclear reactors in Japan meltdown in what is already being called a potentially worse disaster than Chernobyl, where will the fallout travel based on current prevailing wind and airflow models? I would specifically like information about how this may affect Hawaii where I live.

Not to be alarmist but I am considering getting to the mainland if this continues to develop in the way it appears to be. I realize Hawaii is 4000 miles from Japan. Where, in your best estimate, will the flume in greatest likely-hood travel?
posted by Muirwylde to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Industrial pollutants are carried via the Jet Stream from China to North America, but the track is far to the north of Hawaii.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:14 PM on March 11, 2011

Most (as in "essentially all") of the fallout will travel about 20 feet and be held by the containment structure.

Those Japanese reactors are not designed anything like the ones at Chernobyl, which had no equivalent of a containment structure.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:30 PM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: With all due respect, I think that fails to take into account what a full catastrophic nuclear meltdown entails, but I hope you are right.
posted by Muirwylde at 5:36 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kevin Kamp isn't an unbiased source. He's working for zero nuclear energy. it is in his and his group's best interest to drum up the fear and freak out over this. if you go a few threads down, someone from LA has similar questions. basically, every single thing about chernobyl and every single thing about the power plants in japan are very different from each other and there's not a lot of evidence that a catastrophe is on the way.
posted by nadawi at 5:43 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: And sorry for the nearly identical question to this one. I always search and didn't this time. ;(
posted by Muirwylde at 5:47 PM on March 11, 2011

Keep in mind also that the Chernobyl event started with a holy-fuck-did-not-see-that-coming outright explosion and fire. The situation in Japan is very different, on its face.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:37 PM on March 11, 2011

The containment vessel is designed to contain a full meltdown. The buildings at Chernobyl were not so designed.

There is a lot of hysteria out there about nuclear power. Don't fall for the hype.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:47 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Our best model for what would happen in a catastrophic fallout scenario is what happened after WW2. This current map of the jet stream suggests that any theoretical fall out would basically cover the entire west coast and spread across the plains states. Hawaii would actually be safer.

This in no way changes the fact that such a scenario is highly unlikely.
posted by nomisxid at 8:56 PM on March 11, 2011

Response by poster: Yes -- highly unlikely. Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed and erudite description of nuclear safety redundancies, fail-safes and their worst-case fallibilities. Pray Murphy's Law does not apply to 40-year-old nuclear facilities that have had their first two levels of redundancy stripped away by a severe earthquake (primary cooling system) and a seismic wave event (secondary cooling system either completely or severely compromised.) The article addresses both scenarios admirably. A good read and recommended. They're already warning of an imminent meltdown. Pray that it doesn’t blow throw the containment. The article deftly details how such an eventuality is possible as well as how a system of highly unstable and unfathomably dangerous variables might lead to a less extreme outcome in preparation for what is already a next-to-worse-case-scenario.
posted by Muirwylde at 11:38 PM on March 11, 2011

Speaking before the blast, Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, told the Associated Press a major radioactive disaster was unlikely.

"No Chernobyl is possible at a light water reactor. Loss of coolant means a temperature rise, but it also will stop the reaction," he said.

"Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3km radius."

Guardian, 11.40 GMT
posted by Drexen at 4:04 AM on March 12, 2011

Mod note: Comment removed. Asking for info here is fine; getting in a sniping match with answerers is not. Please keep this productive.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:29 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that Chernobyl was the result of willful overriding of safety features in a plant with a very, very different design than what is used in Japan. Three Mile Island is a much more likely example of worst-case scenario in this situation. Containment in nuclear plants is designed to do just that, contain the radioactive products. Given the seismic activity in the region, if I were a resident of Hawaii, I'd be much more concerned about living on top of an active volcano than about the very slim chance of a catastrophic explosion/meltdown 4000 miles away.
posted by Morydd at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Related question.
posted by box at 9:59 AM on March 12, 2011

Response by poster: "Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3km radius."

The Pentagon was expected to announce that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan, causing crew members on deck to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials said Sunday.

The officials added that American helicopters flying missions about 60 miles north of the damaged reactors became coated with particulate radiation that had to be washed off.


posted by Muirwylde at 8:53 PM on March 13, 2011

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