Should I try to get farther away from the reactor in Fukushima?
March 12, 2011 3:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm in Yokohama. Should I try to get as far away as possible from the Fukushima reactor that is currently experiencing serious problems?

I'm in Yokohama, several hundred miles away from Fukushima, where a nuclear reactor may or may not be on it's way to a nuclear melt down. I can catch a train and get several hundred miles farther away if need be. I'm wondering if it is time to get as far away as possible from this reactor, or if being in Yokohama as opposed to Kyushu won't make much of a difference anyway. I know nobody has a definite answer but any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
posted by farce majeure to Science & Nature (28 answers total)
 
(IANA nuclear reactor expert) in this situation I would err on the side of caution if you have the option. Farther away has to be safer than closer. Keep as safe as you can, we are all holding our breath and hoping for the best.
posted by Jubey at 4:00 AM on March 12, 2011


Oh and I would also take whatever water, medical or emergency supplies you can grab on your way out of town.
posted by Jubey at 4:03 AM on March 12, 2011


My advice would be to just calm the heck down. If we're to believe what Mr. Edano just said, the reactor is still under control (well, as "under control" as it can be under the circumstances) and they're working on containing the problem. Stay put, stay safe, and don't panic. You're in Yokohama, not Fukushima.

BTW, are you a resident, or a traveler? Because if you're a traveler, from a country where there are no earthquakes, I can understand how you could be feeling tremendously uneasy and vulnerable about everything that's happened here in the past 36 hours. If you're a resident, well, hi, fellow resident of Japan, we're all in this together for now. But my advice still stands. Be prepared, but don't panic. And stop reading that thread in the Blue, people speculating in there about what might be happening isn't really helpful in my opinion.
posted by misozaki at 4:06 AM on March 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


People on Ask MeFi are going to have no idea: this is an evolving emergency situation that's impossible for internet message board posters to assess from afar. The government says everything is under control, which may or may not be true.

If you think the government is untrustworthy, would you place more trust in essentially anonymous message board commenters?
posted by griseus at 4:11 AM on March 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Response by poster: Yeah, I live here. I'm not really scared about the earthquakes at all, but I don't have a lot of faith in what Mr. Edano said, and if the reactor has a serious problem we are well within the area that could be seriously affected, at least from what I've been able to gather in my searches around the internet. That's why I'm here looking for answers. The fact that they're flooding the reactor with seawater and boron makes me suspect things are worse than they are letting on. That's why, if I could head down to Kyushu where I used to live and hang out for a few days while this all works it self out, I thought it might be a good idea. I think it's a moot point though, I don't think I can make it to a shinkansen station before the last train anyway.
posted by farce majeure at 4:13 AM on March 12, 2011


The fact that they're flooding the reactor with seawater and boron makes me suspect things are worse than they are letting on. That's why, if I could head down to Kyushu where I used to live and hang out for a few days while this all works it self out, I thought it might be a good idea.

Then just go (if you can make the train). What's the downside?
posted by griseus at 4:15 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: I'm really just looking for information as to whether or not a difference of several hundred miles would make a difference if things do get worse. I'm not relying on askmefi to tell me if the reactor is going to explode, just for advice on whether I would be better off farther away in the chance that it did.
posted by farce majeure at 4:15 AM on March 12, 2011


Response by poster: yep, on my way now to see if I can catch a train.
posted by farce majeure at 4:16 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a no-brainer. If you have the opportunity to get away from it, then obviously, do so.

Of course the government will tell the populace that everything is under control. They have to say this to prevent panic.

They said the building wouldn't blow, but it did.

Erring on the side of caution is the best idea.

However, the likelihood is that you will be prevented from going too far, there are reports of road blocks.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 4:16 AM on March 12, 2011 [2 favorites]




If the reactor is likely to explode, then it's not only the distance from the explosion that should concern you, but the direction of wind. In that case, Kyushu is probably a good choice. I'm in Osaka, and not concerned, so you could probably stop in Kansai if you wanted.

So head west, young man, and have a nice vacation. As much fun as it is to assume that the government is all a bunch of lying scumbags, there's no reason to give in to panic just yet. Assuming the government will always lie is just as fallacious as assuming they will always tell the truth - they will do whichever serves their interests, and in this case I don't see how an outright lie will serve them. Understatement, sure, but the "to prevent panic" rationale would later wither and die under the weight of the humanitarian disaster that would result from not getting people out of danger as soon as possible.

You'll probably be able to come back to Yokohama and all will be well.
posted by MShades at 5:09 AM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not a nuclear scientist or a medical professional, but I've got an anecdote to give you some perspective:

I had a roommate who was living in Kharkov when the Chernobyl reactor went tits-up, so he was about three hundred miles away from the explosion. As you're probably aware, Chernobyl was built with all the quality and care that you expect from the Soviets and failed much more spectacularly than the reactor in question could. My roommate was 12, his little brother was a toddler. His parents were in their mid/late 30's.

He's perfectly healthy now, and has two healthy children of his own. His parents are healthy, his little brother is healthy. The only precaution taken was that he and his brother were given iodine tablets to fill up their thyroid and prevent storing any radioactive iodine isotopes. His parents didn't get any iodine. They were all a few hundred miles from the worst nuclear accident in history and years later they're all still healthy.

Obviously, if you can get further away it's probably worth it for your peace of mind. If you don't, you're going to be fine anyway.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:13 AM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


According to this wind map the winds in Japan seem to be primarily south. So if I were you I would definitely get some distance from the blast.
posted by blueyellow at 5:26 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW I would get as far away from that thing as possible. Yes I'm a nervous person.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:28 AM on March 12, 2011


Response by poster: Thanks everybody. Caught the last train to Nagoya and will be moving farther south tomorrow morning. Probably being overly cautious, but I figured that it's better safe than sorry. Thanks for all of the advice
posted by farce majeure at 5:29 AM on March 12, 2011


Glad you got out. Sounds like things have gotten somewhat worse.
posted by freakazoid at 5:34 AM on March 12, 2011


Then just go (if you can make the train). What's the downside?

It's entirely possible that the risk from the reactors is less than the risk of, say, the shinkansen you're on derailing in an aftershock, or a bridge that it's riding over collapsing in an aftershock, etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 AM on March 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Aljazeera reports that at least one reactor core is exposed, and the cooling system in the second reactor is apparently failing. Good luck and glad you got out.
posted by nj_subgenius at 7:23 AM on March 12, 2011


After the explosion, it sounds like they are doing last-ditch attempts to shut down the reactor, flooding the reactor with boron and seawater. If I were in your shoes I would get as far away as possible. Good luck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2011


Heading down to Kyushu for a few days is not necessarily overreacting. There's a lot of unpleasant going on around you. Get out of town. Go be with friends. Stay calm and read a nice book on the train.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2011


There is a dark calculus for situations like these.

Moving away from potential danger has two major costs. One, the actual cost in terms of time and energy, and two, the potential shame of having run away from a something yet-to-happen.

If the sum of costs of one and two do not exceed the emergent value of being able to brag about Surviving The Event - or Being Right That It Wasn't Gonna Happen, then get out.

Glad to hear you left for safety. Be well.
posted by fake at 10:44 AM on March 12, 2011


I'm a former reactor plant operator, and current radiological controls person. Your only real personal concern right now is if they vent off pressure to the atmosphere, releasing radioiodine gas. That will travel with the wind, and be taken up by your thyroid, causing you internal exposure.

A story I read had the authorities considering distributing non-radioactive potassium iodide to the general population in the area. What that does is saturate your thyroid with iodine so that it will not take in any more when the radioactive iodine is there. That they have considered doing that is a good sign that they care, and that they haven't done it is a good sign that they don't think it's necessary.

From the reactor plant side, everything I'm hearing (second hand, far far away from there) indicates that there probably will be no environmental release. Plant pressure is lowering, and core cooling is being provided (albeit with last-resort borated seawater flooding.) The reactor is never going to operate again, may have core damage, and may be a cleanup mess inside the containment building, but the danger to the general public sounds like it's over.

If you're concerned about getting away from a potential release to the environment, you want to get away from downwind. So, East, West, or North of the plant. But like I said, as far as I can tell, that's not necessary.
posted by ctmf at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Henry, no offense as I'm sure you meant well, but if you've heard about roadblocks between Yokohama and parts west (as opposed to roadblocks preventing people from driving into Sendai or Fukushima or other danger zones), feel free to share your sources. If not, please consider whether it's really a great idea to spread unconfirmed panic-inducing rumors during a national disaster.
posted by No-sword at 2:25 PM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the reactor plant side, everything I'm hearing (second hand, far far away from there) indicates that there probably will be no environmental release.

There has already been release of radiation. The PM claimed there was no change (no increase) in the radiation leaked.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on March 12, 2011


For what it's worth, some of my fellow nuclear power/radiological professionals are working on an unrelated project in Yokosuka right now. (A very large gray project you can probably see from Yokohama.) They're staying.
posted by ctmf at 5:51 PM on March 12, 2011


Also FWIW, my father-in-law is a retired nuclear engineer living between Yokohama and Yokosuka. He had a hell of a time getting home yesterday, but he's expressed no major concerns about the plant. It's not one of the ones he helped design, though, it's an older model design.
The latest news I saw, said radiation levels outside the plant were dropping, even after the explosion.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:07 PM on March 12, 2011


At the risk of being accused of nuclear cheerleading, I think this will be helpful to the OP.

Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation
posted by ctmf at 1:20 PM on March 13, 2011


Mod note: few comments removed - be helpful or go elsewhere, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2011


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