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The last post ends with a table of nuclear incidents in India. The thing is that when it comes to radiation, there isn't too much difference between clean and safe. Contamination is unsafe. It is also expensive. So, these posts may take specific perspectives, but they are interlinked.

Radiation is not safe. Experts are increasingly in agreement that while we all get some dose of radiation as a part of normal life, there is no level of radiation that can be declared safe. However, for purposes of this article, that will sound paranoid, so let us look at only the more outstanding examples.

I have absolutely no clue and have not encountered anywhere the parameters that have been used to conclude nuclear power as safe. In a world hyperventilating over nuclear war, we have in any given reactor hundreds of times if not thousands of times the quantity of fuel found in a nuclear bomb. Security can be breached as was spectacularly demonstrated in a recent Greenpeace protest in France, where the activists got into the nuclear plants by stealth to make their point. The last activist took ten hours to be found. The activists were hounded for compromising security, but it could just as easily have been a terrorist.

Humanitarian expectations would be that nuclear facilities are not targetted in times of war. The question here is if things have come to such a breakdown of relations between two entities that they are resorting to killing each other to find a winner, which side would trust the other to not target facilities? Is it a worthy risk to count on non-targeting of facilities by enemies for own civilians to be safe? Sure, the facilities can be defended, but all it would take is to knock a power plant off whack - be it a direct strike or damage to any of many factors keeping the reactor safe. It could be done with operatives. If a Mumbai style assault were made on a nuclear plant, would our security still be able to prevent penetration? What if twice the number of terrorists came? Twenty, even fifty isn't such a large number. One busload.

Like I said, these are dramatic examples, but a security problem can be much smaller, like uh... the dome of a reactor voluntarily collapsing without being attacked. It has happened. Just google Kaiga Dome collapse to see what I mean. This was during construction itself. Expert assesments were clear that if the reactor had been in operation, the dome collapse would have prevented a safe shutdown  very difficult. 130 tons of concrete falling 13 meters to the automatic control rods below would be messy to put it in very polite terms.

In Narora, in 1993, problematic turbine blades recommended replacement by the manufacturers themselves (BHEL) had not been replaced, and resulted in a massive accident where a blade sheared off during operation, cut off other two blades and the resulting disturbance broke pipes carrying hydrogen, which caught fire, which spread and the safety back up wiring being installed along with the regular wiring, got destroyed at the same time, and workers took risks to stabilize the plant, and manually dump liquid boron into the reactor to slow the reactions because the power lost in the accident - both regular power and backup was restored after a blackout of 17 hours. This could have gone very, very wrong and we could have easily had our own dead zone if not for gutsy workers and a heck of a lot of luck.

These are just a few samples. Kaiga First? Kaiga and Other Nuclear Stories by M V Ramana and Ashwin Kumar is a mind boggling read on the state of security of Indian nuclear installations a jaw dropping collection of everything from patterns of minor accidents and fires to missing people and heavy water leaks that can only be blamed on people with security clearance acting in irresponsible ways for whatever reason. No, you will rarely find persistent questioning of these issues - issues with the capacity to turn vast tracts of the country into permanent no-go zones - in the regular media. On the subject of nuclear power, the mainstream media is impeccably coloring within lines drawn by a government determined to pursue nuclear power at all cost without paying it the due respect of safety.

In fact, our determination to ignore risks of nuclear power is so great, that there is a voluntary gag on events unfolding at Fukushima Daichii in Japan. You simply don't hear all this in Indian media. As far as India is concerned, the accident in Japan was a terrible thing, but it is under control, procedures were followed, and lives were saved. A far cry from the reality of devastated livelihoods, crippling economic losses, contamination above safety levels repeatedly raised after the accident even outside the dead zone. India rarely gets to hear of the contaminated buildings, mutated vegetables, radioactive pollen and other excruciatingly sad stories coming out of there.

A nuclear plant that is still spreading contamination, dead workers, children with holes in their hearts, thousands of animals mercilessly killed, abandoned pets starving and freezing to their deaths, a seafood loving cuisine forever blighted by unacceptable contamination, desperate farmers marking their contaminated produce as coming from other places in order to make a living..... the list is endless. The government is not even able to monitor all the things that need monitoring, and where they do monitor, the results have often been so shocking that they have been silenced, only to emerge through independent monitoring or leaks. To put it mildly, this is not safe. Japan is not safe. For that matter, by the time this crisis is over, there is no telling how far this unSafety will have expanded.

In India itself (and other parts of the world) independent studies have established a greater incidence of cancers near nuclear plants that nuclear bodies have consistently dismissed. And here's the deal, after both Chernobyl and Fukushima, the trend is fairly clear that a chunk of radiation related deaths other than the immediate ones from radiation poisoning happen not of cancer, but heart attacks - which is something we aren't even monitoring - or at least nothing has been released to the public.

In still other news, if you read the archives of Tehelka, you will discover the appalling lack of safety in our uranum mines where people working in radioactive dust don't even wear facemasks, and radioactive ore is carried for refining in open trucks covered with tarpaulin sheets that do little to prevent contamination of areas they pass through. Villages often have contaminated objects in them. There have been instances of contamination of local streams through the run off from nuclear plants or breaches in the tailings ponds.

There is a vocal condemnation of anti-nuclear activists as anti-national, criminal, funded by foreign interests and what not, and the usual process of pulling suspects out of hats has happened. However, while the government has been able to fund radio jingles (of all things) to try to make nuclear energy sound attractive to people, it apparently hasn't found the time to answer crucial questions raised by them, or the commitment to safety to address important issues with existing facilities as a token of intent with regard to safety.  For example, there is absolutely nothing unreasonable to want to know evacuation plans in existence. Or to want evidence based reassurances with regards to risk to livelihood (in other words, more than "Don't worry, nothing will happen"). I think it is absolutely vital for local communities to be provided equipment to monitor radiation levels at will and to call for shutdowns or inspections if alarmed - after all, is is their lives, livelihoods, lands and entire ways of life at stake. In fact, it can prove to be an excellent failsafe - except that the government doesn't want to do anything that gives locals any power over what happens in their vicinity. Would you trust our government this blindly?

On the other hand, the sweet talk continues. Articles continue to be written about the foreign funded NGOs that have nothing better to do than to harass governments. Latest advances in nuclear energy are flaunted . You have PR exercises launched to influence public opinion. Massive nuclear reactor clusters are called "nuclear parks" - sounds most health conscious - a place you'd definitely take your kid for a pecni Another article describes a stage in the storage of nuclear fuel as thus: "radioactive waste is first converted into inert and stable materials which are kept inside stainless steel canisters sealed with lead covers." Understand this straight. If radioactive waste were rendered inert and stable, there wouldn't be any need to store it safely, no? But few stop to question. It sounds exceedingly safe with further redundant safeguards and such, but the reality of the matter is that we have had serious security issues that are not being owned, serious information missing that can make all the difference between life and death. For example there is no plan B if something were to happen to a BARC reactor - incidentally a site that also has a lot of used fuel stored. What is a Mumbaikar to do if there is a nuclear alert? Nothing is freely available to the public explaining precautions to be taken, preparedness tips and other information that ought to be freely accessible.

The safety concerns around nuclear reactors are so high that it is impossible to cover them comprehensively here. US has not built  a nuclear reactor in the last three decades. Last month, DAE in India finally admitted to employee deaths to rare bone cancer linked with radiation exposure.

There is no nuclear reactor in the world that is insured by an insurance company. None. Strange, seeing as how nuclear power is promoted as safe. If the probability of an accident was as low as claimed, the high premiums would have insurance companies dancing to the bank and more lining up to get a piece of the action. Instead, you have reactors subsidized by tax payer money, and insured by the government. In other words, if a reactor goes kaput, it is the tax payer bailing out everyone, because the dumb tax payer doesn't stop to ask why should something safe be refused insurance.

12

"Uraniam found in 241 water samples" the headline could have screamed, but it didn't. It made modest appearance and slid into obscurity, unheralded on the news site's social networks. This was Times of India reporting on drinking water samples from Punjab as reported by chief engineer, department of water supply and sanitation in the High Court in response to a PIL in front of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Mahesh Grover.

It says "The petitioner, Mohali-resident Brijender Singh Loomba, had sought directions for adequate relief to affected people and kids due to discharge of uranium in water and soil of Bathinda, Faridkot and Ludhiana districts of Punjab. The petition had also sought directions for investigation to find out sources of leakage of radioactive material and uranium in drinking water and steps required to check its spread." among other things.

It said nothing that the people of Malda district didn't know already since investigative tests on the hair of about 88% of their higher numbers of disabled children didn't turn up stuff like arsenic as anticipated, but URANIUM in 2009.There have been vague reports on and off in local (read non-corporate) media about Uranium contamination in Punjab since 1995, which is inexplicable since there is no source of Uranium nearby.

But understand this. If there is radioactive contamination in the soil, NOTHING except not eating food grown in it at all will prevent you ingesting it. Cleaning the drinking water will not prevent radioactive isotopes from grain, for example from entering your body. That's right. "Granary of India" has areas with radioactive contamination in an era of increasing inflation and food insecurity.

Indian Express did cover it, but it covered it up as a story on the allegations of discrimination in the installing of the ROS - Reverse Osmosis plants that BARC recommended to clean the water. Adding as an afterthought "The affidavit states that the failed samples from the 49 villages include Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Barnala and Fatehgarh Sahib. The state has submitted that ROS plants are being installed in 118 villages, of which 74 villages fall in Barnala."

Anyway, the whole High Court and PIL and shocking testimony at least got it to mainstream newspapers, if not to fame and glory.

In other news - I really mean - In other news.... DNA published an investigative report about increased incidences of cancer among the employees and their families at the nuclear reactor at Kalpakkam. No! Wasn't this supposed to be crap raised by activists to prevent India's progress? Apparently not, because the report uses data from an RTI filed for the second time (The first time, the information was not provided).

The DNA claims that it is in possession of a DAE funded study by Dr. Manjula Dutta and the report categorically confirms increased cancer risk near reactors "The report states that cancer cases in villages close to Kalpakkam are seven times higher (210 per 1 lakh people) compared to just (30 per 1 lakh people) in distant villages. Morbidity levels in areas near the nuclear reactor are 2-3 times higher than normal. The study covered 22 proximate villages (within 8km radius) and three distant villages (50km from the reactor site)."

However, let it not be said that mainstream media never reports nuclear news. It does report extensively about the NPCIL's efforts to allay fears about radiation safety and there is warm and fuzzy reassurances by the BARC that it is all safe and nuclear power is our future. But then, both earlier stories also contain reassurances by BARC that the levels of radiation are safe and that the illnesses are no more than among the normal population.

BARC is like the Japanese government in India. No matter what the radiation levels, they will be declared safe. No problemo. But BARC is boosting its monitoring capacities on an urgent basis. To prove safety, I suppose. It was a Parliamentary committee that looked into the radiation monitoring of Punjab, West Bengal is examining and checking use of radioactive materials, and it is BARC declaring safe everything I have mentioned or linked here.

These are stories breaking in a country where more nuclear plants are planned amid massive controversy. Where the idea of a "nuclear park" is not some haunting nightmare scene from a Chernobyl film, but an unbelievable concept of a cluster of nuclear reactors made to sound like a health spa.

I have been following events unfolding at Fukushima closely. There is incredible amount of information from local media and bloggers in particular. While some of it is alarmist and unsubstantiated, there is enough carefully documented, including citizen volunteers monitoring data, photographs and footage of details of damage and work, information released from scientific studies, information on spread of radiation, environmental impact, inexplicable heart attacks (which I think are linked to what I mention in Radioactive People), status of reactors and more.

Fukushima is one big reason to re-evaluate the feasibility of having too many reactors too close - at this point, if one of them goes out of control, the area will have to be evacuated, and we will have six of them out of control. Does a thought like this have any implications to the idea of a nuclear park?

Yet there is silence in our media. Corporation owned media worldwide is largely silent, but they do report significant concerns raised, at least. Our news media doesn't seem to see this as an ongoing crisis at all. There is little interest on either a political front or in the media. Two headlines about America's low rating for safety of nuclear materials in India - "India scores low on nuclear security: US Study" and "India rejects nuclear safety rating by American think-tank"

It is a game of table tennis. Rather than see the security implications, we choose to fixate on the political maneuvering and preempt it - which is such a problem, that we can't accept any feedback ever - check news. This of course is about our super-size ego and Australian Uranium we import which could be influenced. There is little introspection, evaluation or consideration of risks. NO changes will happen, because accepting them will mean that we weren't safe and that will not do. How long will it be before we start paying an even greater price?

We don't hear, think or question these things, because our media carefully filters triggers to such debates. From being the first country in the world to set up a Ministry for renewable energy to being one that doesn't question harmful ways energy is procured - be it fly ash from thermal power, radioactive contamination from nuclear power, or exploitation of Kashmiris for power - it has been a long way. There is pathetic little interest in sustainable energy or the environment in our media.

We want nuclear reactors and are following the ideals of a country that has paid a monumental price for its nuclear ambitions and yet has not built a single new reactor in decades. The great fantasy of clean, safe, cheap.

We dismiss reports of workers at Fukushima dying of heart failure after handling radioactive debris. We ignore that heart failure is the most common way for those exposed to radiation to die and call it an "existing condition". We ignore reports of milk in San Francisco having levels of cesium beyond allowed standards. We don't question dubious "cold shutdowns" that have nothing to do with stopping reactors and everything to do with shrugging responsibility for liquidating the damage. We ignore radioactive landfulls and almost a year of daily and massive contamination of the oceans. We turn a blind eye to reports of increasing cancers in the West Coast of USA.

It isn't so much about what we believe. We are smart people. We arrive at conclusions based on information available to us. Which is why it becomes a serious question about intent and freedom of information that the Indian masses are not informed by their media on such things. If the information available can be rigged to make certain conclusions seem reasonable, then they are "the choice of the masses".

This has become so ridiculously extreme, that when people look at archives to find Indian reporting of the largest nuclear disaster in the history of man (hopefully it will still be the largest then), they are going to find a big, fat zero - like Pakistan's text books on Indian history and common roots.

This is also where the usual arguments like "metro media" not having access or wanting to go to far flung areas falls flat. There is an abundance of news to be found without leaving the desk - the largest nuclear or industrial disaster in the world. This leaves me with only one explanation of this radioactive silence. They don't want to.

It isn't like they went to the Andaman to cover the recent shocking news of the treatment of the Jarawa women at the hands of the police. They picked it up from the Guardian and ran with it.

So what is the difference in these fleeting news that seem to catch their eyes and an almost year long crisis involving millions of people, multiple crises with four reactors, unmeasurable environmental damage and abundant news items available freely that slides through every hole in attention and invents a few too?

Why this voluntary censorship?

I suspect the answer is less about the news than the subject of the news and the influence it may have on their interests. I suspect the answer may involve things like corporate owned priorities and investment opportunities.

 

6

Physicist Michio Kaku said in a video "If you have been exposed to Cesium 137 because you are an atomic worker, even after you are dead and buried your graveside will be radioactive. Your great grandkids can come with Geiger counters and see that great granddaddy still has radiation at his graveside"

It is a very big thought to compute. For a person dead and buried for years to still be radioactive. That also happens to be the reality of radiation. Today, every person in their thirties has been alive for two grade 7 nuclear disasters in our world. Considering that both have resulted in massive radiation and exclusion zones, it is easy to see how big a phenomenon nuclear contamination is.

But apart from these, there are hundreds smaller accidents that have happened. Fuel leaks, partial meltdowns, other contamination. Nuclear testing has deposited some nuclear contamination worldwide. Add to it nuclear contamination hidden by governments for economic or political reasons, like our Baloch friend describes in his interview. Our world is radioactive. The only difference between us and the nuclear exclusion zone is that our exposure is within what is called acceptable levels.

I can't help but wonder at the number of "radioactive people" we have. People who may be outside exclusion Zones, but their gravesides will still be radioactive.

Much has been written about prevention, treatment and harms of radiation. I think it is time for medicine to explore how people live with radiation along with how they die. Adapt better to it. A principle of Appreciative Inquiry is that we find what we seek and we can create positive change by seeking what we wish to see happening and enhancing it.

To me, it makes sense that along with learning how to "prevent and fix damage" of radiation, the time has come that we study what makes some people live long and healthy lives in spite of being exposed to radiation. Are there factors that can be duplicated to bring hope to others similarly contaminated?

Much information on increasing incidence of cancers and such. And I definitely don't deny it. Radiation must be avoided. Exposure to radiation must be avoided and treated as far as possible. Yet, we don't have enough resources to do it at times, it seems.

TULGOVICHI, BELARUS: The only villagers of the deserted Belarussian village of Tulgovichi, 370 km southeast of Minsk, inside the 30-km exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, cellebrate the Orthodox Annunciation, 07 April 2006.

Not even half of those displaced by Chernobyl are properly rehabilitated yet. The ones from Fukushima are still in a limbo till more is known of their fate. Researchers state that 0.2% of all aid is targetted at the elderly. Yet, we have people who refused to leave and Samosely who moved into abandoned homes - living lonely, but largely healthy lives within exclusion zones. Eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, rearing contaminated livestock.

Many say that the Samosely fake health so that they aren't forced to leave exclusion zones. Yet, it is quite difficult to fake being alive if you aren't. It is quite difficult to live alone in your 80s unless you are reasonably healthy. Farming own food, working to sustain livestock... And they are invariably old. And many among them have died. That is more health than what many elderly people in cities have.

Then, there are the Baloch, who claim that Pakistan's nuclear testing in the Chagai region, that turned Raskoh mountain black released radiation that is killing the Baloch population and causing inexplicable defects. The truth of this is very difficult to ascertain considering that Pakistan doesn't allow independent media into Balochistan, but the photos and information these people have put up on the net is compelling and rather difficult to explain without the white elephant of nuclear testing in the room. Yet there certainly are enough Baloch to fight an enduring war against the Pakistani state. They grew up in this environment and they seem to be fine in a physical sense, if not politically, nationally or in human rights.

Other studies describe mixed opinions on the wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Some say it thrives without human interference, others say the diversity is decreasing and worrisome mutations are happening. Dotted among these are stories of natural adaptation. Mice that had left the region after the humans left seem to be back and better able to deal with radiation. Species develop mutations, but there are also animals thriving.

Scientists experimenting with mice have been able to medically assist them to survive lethal doses of ingested radiation by treating them with drugs.

In the Emmy Award winning NOVA - Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus, scientists who have worked at Chernobyl for a long time are giving interviews in their old age. They speak of colleagues dead from heart failure but not Acute Radiation Sickness. Whatever precautions they took seemed to have protected them from coming to unimaginable harm working as they were directly at ground zero.

Yet, the common factor is also neglect. Whether it is the Baloch, the Liquidators, the scientists, the people of Pripiyat who lived in deadly doses of radiation for days before being evacuated, the people of Fukushima who claim they aren't provided enough information to protect themselves, the workers in Fukushima who didn't have personal dossimeters for the initial months of the crisis... the common thread running through is that they are left largely to their own devices. The resulting guesses born of need for information and lack of it are dismissed for being ignorant.

We may not have cures for Radiation exposure, but we do have cures for malnutrition, lack of safety gear, prompt information, for heart problems, for adequate testing and prompt prevention, and many problems plaguing these people.

Research into centenarians has been conducted to study longevity. Is it possible to study longevity among people exposed to radiation? There is an astonishing pool of neglected people who could serve to create answers.

A person had commented on some site, that these people seem to live in defiance if what we know as science, but it is possible that while they get a lot of radiation, the otherwise clean air and lack of other pollutants allows their bodies to compensate and remain healthy. While this may not be true, an interview of one such person describes the alternative accommodation provided by the Ukranian government as damp and emotionally unsatisfying, sharing a home with strangers. This accommodation was still difficult to get... Possibly a contaminated person wouldn't thrive like that, but might in an area of less radiation, but otherwise healthy life? We don't know. But we ought to find out. Research guides wise choices. Otherwise it is only paranoia - however scientific sounding.

Health is not a singular, linear thing. Also, if we are surrounded by loads of ambient radiation, and we have exposures we deem safe, is it a matter of degree rather than absolutes? And if so, is there a way to research how we can enhance our tolerance so that we are less susceptible to increases in radiation? Is there a way for more people exposed to radiation live functionally fit like the Samosely?

I think that these people have something that could be studied for the benefit of mankind. They ought to be supported better for this information they could provide us and possibly create better lives for others who have been exposed to large amounts of radiation, which currently includes populations of at least two cities and hundreds of villages already. It is not a small number.

As long as nuclear power continues to be used, we can't count on these numbers reducing. We can't even count on knowledge prevailing over political priorities or economic cutting of corners or plain indifference to potential consequences.

Now there are farmers in Fukushima who are unwilling to leave. As long as we continue to use nuclear power for electricity, as long as we fight wars, the possibility of exposure of people to radiation can never be ruled out, and it is too late to begin research after a disaster.

Recently, a researcher said that the radiation exposure after Fukushima could have been drastically less if people had used masks in the days immediately after the accident. Simple pollen masks eliminated almost all the inhaled cesium and two thirds of ingested iodine. The only thing is that it was published nine months after the accident.

Is there a way to create a cohesive system of guidance aiming at maximum functionality and effective practices that will lead to it? I am talking of a world standard that governments can simply duplicate across their countries for effective responses and better management of survivors. IAEA, are you listening?

Disclaimer: I am not recommending keeping people exposed to radiation, but using people living with radiation already to learn how they live long anyway.

Disclaimer2: I am aware that popular view holds anything less than outright condemnation and paranoia of radiation as inadequate. That doesn't bother me, obviously.

14

Twitter is ablaze with news of nuclear meltdown being imminent in Japan and some tweets are along the lines of "OMG! the reactors are going to explode! God save the world". This sounds a little extreme, and I thought I'd share what I found out in extremely non-tech terms for anyone to get an overall "panic-rating" kind of grip on the subject.

The Japanese reactors are light water reactors. Without getting into the scientifics of it, in the words of an expert, Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, a major radioactive disaster is 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 3 km radius."

IAEA seems to agree on the whole, though they are concerned and actively monitoring.

Nuclear reactors use radioactive fuel to generate electricity. In the process, the fuel gets hot, and much like say, the engine of your car, it needs to be kept cool. This is a big deal, because unlike your car, if this stuff explodes, we can forget using that area of the earth for a long, long time because its radioactive contents will get scattered in the blast. Thus, the fuel is kept at desired temperatures and prevented from overheating. There is massive planning and enginnering around this, with several methods used simultaneously, each capable of cooling the core independently. In addition to that, each method has back ups and fail safes till a mind numbing redundancy is achieved. This is in order to set things up so that once the reactor is in operation, there is absolutely no possibility that there is a failure in cooling it down. The fuel needs to be cooled for a day or two after shutting a nuclear reactor down.

Another factor is the pressure. Evaporating coolant can create high pressures that can threaten the integrity of the containment dome. This can be released by venting, which is a management mechanism and not procedure, since it means that some quanitites of radiation can get released along with the steam. This isn't radioactive materials, but the water itself absorbing neutrons from the cooling process, which are shed off quickly. This radioactivity isn't supposed to last long because the water used is specially demineralized for the purpose, thus making it extremely resistant to this kind of radioactivity. Not that the core cares what cools it, but the water not being radioactive makes it easier for managing the plant.

Sometimes, this system can fail, like it is failing in Japan, right now. When the earthquake happened, the reactors were shut down. This was pretty much instantly. Well before the tsunami. It means the control rods came and fitted in between the fuel rods, so that the ricocheting neutrons had less space to move and less power and less targets, till it would finally wind down and stop in a day or two. This is normal. Nuclear reactions are like that.

And the backup generators took over the cooling since the reactor was no longer producing electricity (and there were back up generators for the ones in operation too). This worked well for about an hour till the tsunami hit and took out all the generators. This was unfortunate, because the cooling system needs constant power. However, the third line of back up kicked in and the generator switched to battery power, which would last for 8 hours or so. Post this point, things seemed to go into chaos. For some reason, they were not able to use the time provided by the battery to rig up yet another power source, and when the battery was exhausted, the reactor started heating up. Without a circulation mechanism for the coolant, the whole thing is overheating and pressure is increasing from the evaporating water.

There are plans to let off steam. US has flown in coolant. Japan has been extremely transparent and proactive in dealing with the exposure to people. The area was evacuated well before any radiation could be found.

My suggestion would be to not panic. Yes, it can blow up, like the US Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island Meltdown. Mushroom cloud and all. Nothing is impossible. The venting could run into problems (though I don't see how). Everything to prevent a disaster could fail. But more likely it won't.

The domes that are so characteristic of nuclear reactors are basically built to contain any meltdowns. You can read about the architecture/engineering of a nuclear reactor facility, but I have, and without boring you with the details, there are vastly reassuring quantities of steel and very, very thick leak proof concrete structure. Its purpose is to contain any explosion/radiation that may occur. And there is no evidence that this integrity is breached.

Japan is a country with a reputation for engineering and efficiency. It has survived the only two atom bombs explosions in the world. I think its fair to say that they aren't going to give this up without a good fight. And, their expertise, ready aid from the world and the inherent safeguards built into every aspect of a reactor are on their side.

So, like the Hitchhiker's guide says, "Don't panic".... if the worst happens, I promise you you will have plenty of time.

Update: there has been an explosion OUTSIDE Japan's nuclear power plant at Fukushima 1. Doesn't seem to be a nuclear explosion, but building is damaged. 2killed, 4 workers injured. Uh... don't freak out just yet. Unlikely that a nuclear blast will result in 4 injuries at ground zero. More likely to do with the pressure building up or steam from some drastic cooling measure or hydrogen exploding from the venting. Let's wait for news. The only thing I am worried about is the radioactive stuff outside the containment - like spent fuel. Building gone means that is exposed, right? Or worse - exploded? But nothing in the news, so obviously I don't know as much as I imagine.

Update 2: Yep, like I said - steam. People within 20km asked to evacuate. Radiation leaking from damaged building. Residents advised to remain indoors, not drink tap water, and to cover their faces with wet towels (? for how long with covered face - but I guess for as long as it takes to get a green signal ?)

Update 3: Early, unconfirmed tweets on mushroom explosion spotted over reactor, but from an Australian, from the look of it. Could be a reaction to earlier blast, or something new? Scientists didn't seem to have invested much belief in the explosion idea for a light water reactor (like these are). Wait n watch  - you'll get to panic or breathe a sigh of relief soon.

Update 4: Stray initial tweets about pressure having been successfully released from the reactors, but paranoid Tweeters on and on about "Japanese reactor just exploded, OMG!!!" The links provided are all to the video footage of the earlier explosion OUTSIDE the reactor that damaged the building and *possibly* raised leakage. Nothing remotely like a nuclear explosion has happened yet, nor is it scheduled.

More quotes:

Robin Grimes, Professor of material physics at Imperial College, London

Despite the damage to the outer structure, as long as that steel inner vessel remains intact, then the vast majority of the radiation will be contained.

Professor Paddy Regan, Nuclear Physicist from Britain's Surrey University

"If the pressure vessel, which is the thing that actually holds all the nuclear fuel ... if that was to explode -- that's basically what happened at Chernobyl -- you get an enormous release of radioactive material.

"It doesn't look from the television pictures ... as though it's the vessel itself.

Update 5: For those who absolutely must follow microdetails (like me), a better source is http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html you will get all the techy things like timings for different things done, status of reactors, worker accident status, etc.

Update 6: News of problems at reactor 3 at Daichi.