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When news like Fukushima hits, people start thinking of nuclear radiation leaks. Then, mistakenly, they imagine that risk from radiation is a very rare thing. While accidents on such a scale are rare, radiation leaks in themselves are not. For one, every running nuclear plant is already venting "acceptable amounts" of radiation into the environment on a daily basis.

Now, there are doctors who swear that there is no way to determine an amount which has no health risks. However, this post is about actual leaks, not releases. News from the last one year from my bookmarks and a few simple searches. Some of the news may be developments on long term contamination on radiation leaks, others may be new radiation leaks.

No particular reason for this beyond some reactions to the leak at RAPS a few days ago, that seemed to see this as a rare and acceptable thing.

  1. Fukushima, of course continues to leak radiation into the environment. The description of this is beyond an entry in a list.
  2. Chernobyl too continues to leak radiation through its crumbling sarcophagus, though on a lesser scale than Fukushima.
  3. Kansas State University - 29th June 2011: Radiation leaked at 149 times the Derived Air Concentration (DAC) limit for Iodine during a trial run of its reactor. Though four different systems caught the excessive radiation levels, operators reported their belief that this was due to the proximity of a radioactive sample near the monitors.  They did not disclose what kind of sample nor why it was near four different monitors, if that’s even possible. Plus, the sample they discuss showed Cesium, not Iodine.
  4. North Carolina State University - 7th July 2011: Officials said Thursday that there is a low-level water leak in the liner that surrounds the campus nuclear reactor, but that it poses no danger to the public.
  5. Submarine, off northeast China - 29th July 2011:  A rumor began spreading on the Chinese Internet sites that there was a radiation leak on a submarine stationed near Dalian in northeast China. As the story went, the accident occurred while technicians were installing new electronic gear on a Type 94 SSBN ( nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine). Not verified, but detailed. China denies, but no one believes denial.
  6. Kakrapar Atomic Power Station, Gujarat - 1st August 2011:  An incident from 30th May 2011 came to light where four temporary workers were exposed to 90mSv from spent fuel due to operator error. Health concerns were dismissed citing absence of immediate symptoms of radiation poisoning (usually with fatal doses). As per AERB, the dose limit for workers at a nuclear plant is 20mSv, which was deliberately ignored by station director P K Dutta when he made the following quote "A radiation of 90 mSv does not cause any harm. If we get our whole body CT scanned, we would be exposed to a nuclear radiation of 60 mSv,'' who also mentioned contract workers demanding regularization because of this incident as "taking advantage of it". Temporary workers being exposed to radiation and abandoned without adequate health support or information is an ongoing problem with nuclear plants.
  7. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland21st September 2011, Guardian: Scottish nuclear fuel leak 'will never be completely cleaned up' - Tens of thousands of radioactive fuel fragments escaped from the Dounreay plant between 1963 and 1984, polluting local beaches, the coastline and the seabed. Fishing has been banned within a two-kilometre radius of the plant since 1997. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has decided to give up on its aim of returning the seabed near the plant to a "pristine condition". Staff from here has been consulting at Fukushima to share experience.
  8. San Onofre Nuclear plant, California had trouble with premature wear in the cooling tubes leading to leaks of water and gas last summer. First one, then both reactors were shut down for investigation earlier, but this seems to now be a permanent shutdown currently. The exact amount of leakage is unknown, but officials say that it shouldn't be harmful. Only harmful enough to shut down a nuclear plant, I suppose, not health.
  9. Dounreay Nuclear Plant, Scotland - 8th October 2011: Radioactive liquid effluent is understood to have leaked inside a treatment facility. It did not exit the building. Dounreay was constructed in the 1950s as an experimental nuclear power complex, but has not generated electricity since 1994 and is currently being decommissioned by Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) who got a top safety award for their work in May 2011.
  10. Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), Pakistan - 30th October 2011: heavy water leaked from a feeder pipe to the reactor leading to a seven hour emergency till it was contained. The plant was already shut down for maintenance.
  11. Point Lepreau, Canada - second half of November 2011: 23 barrels of water laced with the toxic chemical hydrazine was released into the Bay of Fundy.
  12. Point Lepreau, Canada - December 13th 2011: Almost 6 litres of heavy water splashed to the floor, requiring an immediate evacuation of the building. Point Lepreau had been shutdown for refurbishment since 2008, and the leaks happened during the preparations to restart it. Currently, it is stopped till further investigation.
  13. Orchid Island, Taiwan - 30th December 2011: Tao Aborigines from Orchid Island protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying radioactive material was leaking from a nuclear waste dump on the island. They demanded that the storage facility be removed. Although residents of Orchid Island have long suspected that a radioactive leak has occurred, it was first officially confirmed when Academia Sinica research fellow Huh Chih-an detected radioactivity on the island after being commissioned by Taipower in November.
  14. Prarie Island Nuclear Power Plant - 5th January 2012: Leak found. Alert declared.
  15. Exelon Byron Nuclear Generating Station, Ogle County, about 100 miles west of Chicago, near Rockford - 30th January 2012: The supply of power from off-site (needed to maintain backup for safety systems) went down, forcing Exelon to take Unit No. 2 offline. Steam containing tritium had to be vented from the reactor triggering panic.
  16. North Anna, Virginia, US - 17th February 2012: water taken from an on-site groundwater sampling point contained an unusually high level of tritium — more than twice the EPA's standard for drinking water.
  17. Bruce power, Lake Huron, 240km northwest of Toronto, Canada - 17th March 2012: Leaks were discovered as the reactors were being powered up after an earlier shutdown.
  18. EDF Nuclear Power Plant at Penly, Normandy, France - 5th April 2012:  A faulty joint on a pump leaked lubricant from the pump used to cool the reactor, which caused two small fires and a low level leak inside the reactor building.
  19. Point Lepreau, Canada - 21st May 2012: A third leak. 300 litres of tritiated heavy water spilled on May 21 when a valve opened too soon during pressure testing at the plant. Poor training has been cited as one of the causes for the accident.
  20. Rawatbhata Atomic Power Plant (RAPP), Rajasthan, India - some time near 25th May 2012 - 38 workers working on heavy water and tritium supply channels were exposed to tritium leaks (unspecified quantity), 3 of them in doses exceeding allowed dose.
  21. Davis-Besse nuclear station in Ohio - 6th June 2012: Small amount of radioactive water sprayed through a minor leak and no radiation escaped the plant.
  22. Dounreay, Scotland - 7th June2012: A steady decline in urine levels for uranium and plutonium has been reported for workers here.
  23. Prarie Islands Spent Nuclear Fuel pools - 8th June 2012: A U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the NRC violated a federal act by neglecting to run in-depth studies on how storing radioactive waste at nuclear power plants impacts health and the environment. Read document. 1,500 tons of high-level irradiated waste is stored in heavy steel and concrete casks on a tarmac a few hundred feet from the Hudson River. The Westchester-based plant produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste every 18 months, which is then crammed into two overcrowded, 40-foot deep spent fuel pools. Each pool holds about 1,000 tons of radioactive waste and has been leaking into the ground and river for years.
  24. Pallisades Nuclear Plant, Michigan, US  - 12th June 2012: The plant was shut down and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation has been started over a year long leak of approximately 31.8 gallons of borated water per day (not heavily radioactive - used to stop fission) from a cooling tank into the reactor's control room. The operator believes there may be several leaks involved, but the leaks have not been found yet, so repairs are pending. Pallisades had five unplanned shutdowns in 2011. NRC has downgraded the safety rating for the plant.
  25. Susquehanna Nuclear Plant - 20th june 2012: PPL Corp. shut down the Unit 1 reactor at its Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick on Tuesday to investigate what it called a minor water leak inside the container structure surrounding the reactor. Unit 1 had been online only 11 days since a 69-day shutdown starting March 31, during which the company repaired cracks in Unit 1 turbine blades.

And there are more. I have gone through about half the tabs I opened. Bored now. This list is nowhere near comprehensive. An astonishing 75% of all US nuclear reactors were found to be leaking tritium last year.

The simple point I am trying to make is that claims of safety by the pro-nuclear lobby are highly exaggerated.

s I was going through the flood of news on Fukushima, there was a conspiracy theory that the mysterious and highly radioactive black substance being found in many places was actually a decontamination experiment. It was a wild theory, but it caught people’s imagination, because of the discovery of radiotropic fungi at Chernobyl being discussed earlier. These fungi have been found to use melanin to absorb radiation and use it for energy! So in an experiment, when they upped the radiation to 500 times normal, they thrived! Not much is known about their mechanisms, but it is indeed a discovery that is memorable for being astonishing.

Then Fukushima Diary reported that the black substance (likely Cyanophyceae according to them) got generated on a road after rain and noted that its earlier manifestation had happened after snow. So one of the people had posted that this black stuff might be Cyanophyceae and might be an experiment to collect metals for easier disposal (or washing away with rain – as another commenter suggested). The commenter quoted the project description:

“Development of high affinity biosorbents by surface display of metal binding proteins”

“The project is to develop profit oriented economically feasible to implement by all metal handling industries including DAE establishments for the treatment of low and medium level metal containing effluents and nuclear wastes using enhanced whole-cell biosorption technology. It is aimed at to proceed from the proof-of concept to “field testing stage.” The development of such an efficient and affordable technology for nuclear waste treatment is essential. In this project we will develop a technology for the display of metal binding proteins at the cell surface of “cyanobacteria.” The strains will be tested for immobilization for the development of bioreactor to remove the radioactive and non-radioactive metal from industrial effluents. The process parameters will be optimized for scaling up. The proposed project may provide a cost effective, quick and more metal binding capacity and it will find an essential alternative method for online treatment in DAE and metal handling industries for safe discharge of wastewater.”

http://www.bits-pilani.ac.in/pilani/biologicalScience/ongoingProjects

Cyanobacteria; This is Blue/Green Algae. Also Known As The Black Stuff.

Curious, I clicked on the link to arrive at the website of BITS Pilani!

The above information was in the sixth or so title (can’t link individually – they expand), but the very first one said:

Low and medium level waste generated by the nuclear industry contain large number of radioactive isotopes of different metals. The volume of this waste coupled with surfactants and interfering radicals creates problem for conventional cleanup operations using synthetic resins. In our recently concluded project funded by Department of Atomic Energy, Govt of India, we have demonstrated that a non-conventional Biosorption Techniques could be employed for the effective removal of radioisotope from nuclear waste even in the presence of EDTA or nitrate. This technique require the generation/ selection of suitable biomass using molecular biology techniques which may be packed in glass or ss column for continuous operation.

No mention of the Cynobacteria in this one, but very, very intriguing.

The astonishing part is that this hasn’t hit news AT ALL. It is not a state secret. It has been announced openly on their website as research. In the context of world events, and concerns over nuclear and other metal contamination (think Punjab), etc I would think this would be a good idea to appreciate very useful research like this, no?

I think it is sad that we appreciate and share research news from the US but not India. In India, it has to either involve someone/thing famous/flashy “Kalam and kid designed anti-molestation device” or robotics and other gadgetry (like UAV projects), or has to be patronizingly surprising of the “illiterate villager designs electric pump” or “man designs cheap sanitary napkins” type. It is rare to be excited about research by Indians – as in, extending the boundaries of knowledge, even though there is no shiny object yet. Sad. We need to appreciate knowledge more without needing dazzle attached to it. Actually, now that I think of it, do we have a “science beat” at all in a country hoping for better literacy, industry, professionals and employment?

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.

There are a lot of fantasies fed to us in the name of nuclear power. How we need it, how it is the only real option for the power we so desperately need, how it isn't all that dangerous and so on. There is no space for an alternative view. The government is clear on what it wants to do, and promotes all opposition to nuclear projects as against the interests of the country. The media carefully walks the same path.

There are three key components to the nuclear power halo, and there will be three posts here looking at these claims. Clean, Safe and Cheap.

This, the first is about the Clean.

Before we get into any worst case scenarios, let us see the normal operations of a nuclear plant. Even a brand new plant vents radioactive gasses, and cycles contaminated water from the reactor to be decontaminated and reused or released into the environment. They have "allowed" levels, since these activities are part of the normal functioning of the plant. Monitoring for radioactive contamination is not possible (or methods available) for the entire known range of contamination that can happen. It is unclear what kind of monitoring is actually carried out in India. This data is not publicly made available at the very least, though it is of significance to the public at large.

As nuclear plants age, the chances of leaks rise significantly. These may be in the form of gasses, or pipes and valves that wear out. In theory, the high risk environment means that monitoring for wear and replacement is high priority. In practice, almost every plant in the world has had leaks - great or small. Many argue that it is a matter of working efficiently. However, that is debatable, considering that a factor like piping alone involves hundreds of kilometers of pipe in a single reactor. The risk of lapse will always be there.

Then you have the actual incidents of contamination. These may be security breaches or equipment or facility failures. Depending on the kind of contamination and the half-lives of the materials released, the severity can be as minor as the radioactivity dying out in a week or so to the area becoming permanently radioactive.

And you have the severe accidents a la Chernobyl or Fukushima, where the reactors are destroyed, massive radiation releases happen, vast areas become permanently out of bounds for humans and incalculable destruction of life, health, property loss, economic loss and loss of resources like food and water happens. It is entirely debatable if such loss can ever be considered a worthy risk no matter how much electricity and profit a reactor makes.

Today, most Indians barely hear anything at all about Fukushima, but almost a year from the incident, the crisis is still unfolding. Contamination is still being called in from new areas. The initial optimism of reclaiming contaminated lands (upto 100mSv within a decade and 200mSv in two decades) has been replaced with a resigned acceptance that areas measuring more than 50mSv will be permanently out of bounds for humans. The losses in livestock, farming produce, fishing, property and health are still unfolding a year from the crisis. It is still not possible to conclude about how much loss has happened.

And it is a long way from over. An entire Spent Fuel Pool (SFP) is on a rickety structure that is one good earthquake away from catastrophic collapse. And any of the reactors or SFPs going critical or even developing a massive leak (very possible) will require evacuations that will set off more. A year from the crisis, we still have no clue where the fuel from the reactors actually is.

The live cameras still show suspicious steam and flashes at the nuclear plant routinely and people working at the plant have died of heart attacks regularly. For that matter, people working on the decontamination outside the evacuation zone have also dropped dead after handling the radioactive sludge and other waste. The last known incident was yesterday, and we'll be lucky to go a week without hearing another.

Indian media has put the trauma of Fukushima firmly behind them and are currently busy describing how anti-nuclear NGOs have suspicious funding. However, while we haven't got a Fukushima or Chernobyl yet, we have had our own history of nuclear accidents that should raise the hair of anyone not obsessed with dismissing them.

Here's the list in Wikipedia, though details of these and more will soon be a section on this site. The summary of "clean" in India. The summary of such "clean" in the world is beyond the scope of this article.

Nuclear power accidents in India
DateLocationDescriptionFatalitiesCost

(in millions

2006 US$)

4 May 1987Kalpakkam, IndiaFast Breeder Test Reactor at Kalpakkam refuelling accident that ruptures the reactor core, resulting in a two-year shutdown0300
10 Sep 1989Tarapur, Maharashtra, IndiaOperators at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station find that the reactor had been leaking radioactive iodine at more than 700 times normal levels. Repairs to the reactor take more than a year078

The on line hours of unit 1&2 in 1990 were 7772 and 7827 hrs (source IAEA PRIS. Repairs lasting more than one year from 10 Sep 1989 can not yield such on line hours.surely something is wrong.

13 May 1992Tarapur, Maharashtra, IndiaA malfunctioning tube causes the Tarapur Atomic Power Station to release 12 curies of radioactivity02
31 Mar 1993Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, IndiaThe Narora Atomic Power Station suffers a fire at two of its steam turbine blades, damaging the heavy water reactor and almost leading to a meltdown0220 The cost data is not on comparable basis. 2400 or so US 2006 dollars for TMI and 220 for NAPS unit 1 is wrong.
2 Feb 1995Kota, Rajasthan, IndiaThe Rajasthan Atomic Power Station leaks radioactive helium and heavy water into the Rana Pratap Sagar River, necessitating a two-year shutdown for repairs280
22 Oct 2002Kalpakkam, IndiaAlmost 100 kg radioactive sodium at a fast breeder reactor leaks into a purification cabin, ruining a number of valves and operating systems030

11

Most people really have little clue about what they can do in case of a nuclear accident. Research and surveys conducted in Japan after the Fukushima meltdowns revealed that many people didn't really know what they could do, and exposure to radiation among citizens could have been significantly lower if they knew what was safe, what wasn't and what they could do to protect themselves better.

The widespread disinformation about radiation being harmless to certain kinds of people or in certain conditions, raised safety limits and such don't help matters either.

Similar stories come out of Chernobyl.

I think such information should be widely distributed in all countries that use nuclear power or weapons, so that in the even of an emergency, the human damage may be as minimal as possible.

So here is what I have found out. Most of this information is from information shared by various people who went through these measures or official instructions. It you have something to add, please comment.

  • If a release of radiation is possible/expected, but has not happened yet. (The reactors at Fukushima, for example failed after the earthquake, but it was a while before radiation spread).
  • Charge your phones, laptops and anything that needs charging - priority communication devices.
  • Switch on the TV/internet and follow any news and instructions that may be given.
  • Store drinking water in bottles, utensils and other air tight containers.
  • If there is time, buy food that will last long - in sealed packets.
  • Procure iodine tablets if available, but don't take them unless radiation is confirmed and instructed.
  • Bring children, pets indoors.
  • Secure an area with minimum possibility of radiation and dust entering. Basements are good if you have access to one - the ground around is a good shield, or at least shut and seal closed windows, etc. Choose a room that doesn't face large open spaces if possible.
  • If there is a burst of radiation expected, try to add "shielding" to outer walls, doors, windows, etc. Moving a cupboard in front of a glass window, taping several layers of newspapers, fixing thick quilt, etc for example. Lead, concrete and steel are very good, but anything will work if sufficiently thick.
  • Set air-conditioning to recycled air.

The idea is to put barriers to penetrating gamma radiation and prevent dust from entering the living area. Here is a list of the effectiveness of some barriers from Wikipedia

MaterialHalving Thickness, inchesHalving Thickness, cmDensity, g/cm³Halving Mass, g/cm²
lead0.41.011.312
concrete2.46.13.3320
steel0.992.57.8620
packed soil3.69.11.9918
water7.2181.0018
lumber or other wood11290.5616
air6000150000.001218

As you see, different materials shield from radiation to different extents. Using enough thickness of anything will eventually shield. Try and line the outer walls with as much protective material as possible.

After a release of radiation:

  • Follow all the above steps as far as possible without risking contamination.
  • Wear mask to cover nose and mouth to prevent inhaling radioactive particles. This is the greatest danger in a radioactive environment (even greater than ingestion - dust masks have been observed to reduce this risk to near negligible levels.
  • Confirm if your area is contaminated. If you are in a contaminated area and it is possible to evacuate, do so. (suggestions below)
  • Avoid going out, unless it is to evacuate. As far as possible decrease time spent exposed to radiation.
  • Do not handle contaminated (or suspected contaminated) objects with bare hands as far as possible. Ideally, use uncontaminated instruments to add distance. Tongs, dustpan and stick... whatever.
  • If you have been out, have a thorough bath, bathe pets with you to prevent re-contamination.
  • Bag and place used clothes outside the house.
  • Use food and water sparingly. Avoid using tap water till it is confirmed free of contamination.
  • Follow guidance on news media and rescue workers with regard to safety. When following instructions, remember that the instructions from nearest your location overrule others in case of contradictions or differences in guidance say - in national media and local rescue workers.

If evacuating:

  • Wear your face mask at all times.
  • Wear full sleeved clothing, shoes and rubber (or other) gloves as far as possible.
  • Pack essentials - money, papers, medications, portable valuables and clean food, water and clothing.
  • If you have your own vehicle, use it with windows closed, air-conditioner recycling air.
  • Avoid exertion that requires you to breathe harder.
  • Avoid touching any objects in the open as far as possible. If necessary, use a tool to keep distance or use a clean barrier you can discard.
  • On reaching safe location, follow all decontamination instructions carefully.

As you can see in all these instructions, the idea is to minimize exposure to radiation and radioactive particles through minimizing contact and exposure. So you can use common sense and improvise to ensure this when in doubt.

Here is to hoping we never need to use this information. At the same time, like most people never face a fire or dangerous earthquake, but learn what to do as a part of preparedness, I think information on radiation safety should also be widely circulated.

It adds to knowledge and it can save lives.