Saturday, May 26, 2012

Telephone Game for Nth Time: How "Fukushima's cesium contamination amounts to four Chernobyls" Came About (It's False, BTW)

I've lost track of how many telephone games there have been since March last year (here's one, I wrote more in Japanese blog), but here's the latest, and again it happened thanks to an English article written by a writer working for an English paper published by a Japanese newspaper. This time, it's Yomiuri's turn.

Here's Yomiuri Japanese on TEPCO's report of 900,000 terabequerels released from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (part; 5/24/2012):


The total amount of radioactive materials released into the environment from Reactors 1 through 3 (iodine equivalence) is estimated to be 900,000 terabequerels (1 terabecquerel is 1 trillion becquerels), 1.2 to 1.9 times as much as the government's estimates.

The Japanese reporter correctly notes the number is iodine equivalence.

Here's Daily Yomiuri, Yomiuri's English paper, reporting on the same TEPCO report, but with a different focus (part below; 5/24/2012). It is not the translation of the Japanese article but its original article, focusing more on the difference between TEPCO's estimate and NISA's estimate. It also focuses only on iodine and cesium-137:

TEPCO combined the two methods and repeated its calculations under different conditions. It reached a final estimate of 400,000 terabecquerels of iodine-131 and 360,000 terabecquerels of cesium-137.

The amount of radioactive substances discharged in the Chernobyl accident in 1986 was 5.2 million terabecquerels.

Not just in the above quote but nowhere in the Daily Yomiuri article does the writer says the number for cesium-137 is iodine equivalence. Either the writer assumes the readers would know the numbers are iodine equivalence, or he/she didn't know how these numbers were calculated. I suppose you can infer that by looking at the number for the Chernobyl accident, but without the breakdown of the Chernobyl numbers you wouldn't necessarily realize that Chernobyl number is also iodine equivalence (which it is).

The number for cesium-137 itself, 360,000, is not what TEPCO reported either. TEPCO said "10,000 terabecquerels of cesium-137 times 40 to get the iodine equivalence of 400,000 terabecquerels" for INES evaluation.

But the English sites that read Daily Yomiuri's article (but not necessarily TEPCO's press release) naturally compared the numbers this way:

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 360,000 terabecquerels
Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 85,000 terabecquerels

without realizing the Fukushima number is iodine equivalence, and the Chernobyl number isn't. Thus the headlines like "Cesium-137 contamination: Fukushima amounts to four Chernobyls" at RT, for example.

But without the 40x multiplier on Fukushima, the numbers are (I use the correct number, 10,000 which would be 400,000 with 40x multiplier):

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 10,000 terabecquerels
Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 85,000 terabecquerels

Or with the 40x multiplier on Chernobyl to get iodine equivalence, the numbers are:

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 400,000 terabecquerels
Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 3,400,000 terabecquerels

As one of the readers of the blog commented, the meme, however false, that Fukushima contamination is 4 times worse than Chernobyl seems to have taken a life of its own and is spreading. It's doubly ironic that it is all thanks to Yomiuri Shinbun, pro-nuke establishment newspaper whose owner Matsutaro Shoriki did all he could to bring about a nuclear Japan and succeeded.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you are commenting on what I wrote in the comment section this morning, but yeah, I have tried to document the amount released and Russia Today wrote a poorly written piece claiming "4 times" cesium with not convincing analysis (maybe one line at most). I go with Arnie who says cesium levels are roughly equal to Cherry Noble. ExSKF noted that some lapdog "scientific" organization is still touting the very lowest ball numbers. And even in the New Scientist you can find one writer touting the highest estimates and another on another day the very lowest ball estimates. Seems the scientists can't agree.

Thanks for tackling this issue, the problem is bad enough as is.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't wipe my arse with 'New Scientist'!!

Anonymous said...

Over a year later and the answers still aren't straight. How can we have any confidence in what these people are saying?

Trust me, I'm a scientist?

Trust me, I'm an engineer?

Trust me, I'm a from your government?

Trust me, I sell fresh produce?

Thanks for being there Ex-SKF. You have proven to be someone we CAN trust!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't wipe my arse with 'New Scientist'!!

i tried it with the online addition and it worked for me... :)

zworld said...

Thanks Arivamirpal for an excellent explanation to that article.

I would add that all figures being presented however are meaningless as they are estimations made by people who are desperately trying everything they can to hide the seriousness of this accident.

No one will ever know the true amount released, or what will be released in the future, especially when dealing with groundwater issues. Its a numbers game that ends up with confusion like RT caused.

But Id bet the ranch that no credible scientist would claim that in the long run Chernobyl will have released more radiation than Dai-ichi. If Dai-ichi hasnt passed Chernobyl yet, it will one day. And then continue forever to be increasingly worse.

Anonymous said...


You need to do a better job of explaining "iodine equivalence". Otherwise, your post does not make much sense to a lay readership.

Anonymous said...

equivalent? hmmm .. maybe Becquerels from fukushima are from a concentrate, like orange juice?

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

In INES evaluation radioactive materials are counted in terms of iodine, and there are multipliers for different radionuclides. Cesium-137's multiplier is 40.

Anon at top, I found out that it all started with the Daily Yomiuri (English) article that didn't mention "iodine equivalence".

Anonymous said...

If you still don't know, or care to know what "iodine equivalent" is after more than 1 year, maybe you should stick with HufPo.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is ironic that a pro-nuke establishment newspaper would cloud the issue with misleading or false information. It makes it a lot easier to refute people later on once the echo is started few people will remember where the disinformation originally came from.

What I really find distressing is that the nuclear industry as a whole is still allowed to guestimate their releases after it became evident long ago their detection methods are totally inadequate. Every major reactor accident release on record is a guess because the on-site sensors just happen to "fail" when they were needed most. All detection done after the fact is an extrapolation of a guess that could be wildly off in either direction depending on who's doing the guessing. The nuclear industry can quantify the release from a nuclear weapon but a simple power plant failure has to be a guess?

You can be sure if failure of detection systems were grounds for immediate termination of all company operating licenses or real jail time for top executives radiation detection equipment would be self powered, hardened and redundant. Unfortunately the world would still have to guess at the release because the information would be a national secret after all nuclear power is "too big to fail".

Anonymous said...

It is ironic in this case, as pro-nuke Yomiuri gives "ammo" to people who have been saying Fukushima is Chernobyl on steroids or to that effect, because of one sloppy writer.

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