The news out of Japan continues to be a troubling mix of dire factual news and glib assurances out of the so-called experts who are both the only regulators and largest cheerleaders for nuclear power. As I write this Japan is quietly accepting tons of boron and concrete as we stare into the abyss of a multiple core meltdown scenario, including an even larger quantity of deadly radioactive material in the fuel pools totally outside of the containment structures than that which exists inside the actual reactors themselves. Perhaps most troubling is that reactor #3, and the smoldering fuel pool in the crippled reactor's mostly-destroyed attic area, contain not just normal uranium-based fuel, but also the far more deadly MOX or plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel.
The significance of MOX fuel is that it can disperse all of the same deadly materials as other plants PLUS much larger quantities of plutonium which tends to spread very readily in the environment when dispersed as a fine particulate (such as when it rises into air as a part of smoke or steam from a damaged reactor), embeds in the lungs and causes massive cancer risk, builds-up through the food chain magnifying smaller environmental doses into far more dangerous concentrations, and lasts for eons in hazardous forms potentially destroying lives and creating disease hundreds of generations hence.
I continue to be frustrated with the information released officially as it is full of incorrect and incomplete facts. Either the authorities have a greatly over-inflated view of their own capabilities and the capabilities of mankind and our technology, or they are just lying. Either alternative is far from comforting. I must go to work now but I will be posting an explainer later today that should help readers better understand some of the double-talk from the nuke industry and help people read between the lines. If you have studied nuclear power and the U.S. and international regulatory history for years as I have, you learn that there are certain things that they say that may sound like they are saying "everything is fine and safe" when actually there are clues to pick up on... Also I will try to explain the true risks of various types of radioactive release. The authorities keep referring to "safe" levels of radioactive releases. These "safe" numbers may be more or less accurate where simple RADIATION is concerned (just the energy from a nuclear material). HOWEVER: the "safe" level for a dose from an x-ray is far different from getting dosed by ACTUAL PARTICLES OR GASSES that are themselves radioactive. You might feel ok getting a chest x-ray (although even that raises cancer risk very slightly) but would you feel safe having a little pieces of cesium-137, and plutonium-238 or 239, and iodine-131 INSIDE your body? If the government told you that the plutonium only emitted less than an x-ray you might feel safe... and you would be very wrong.
Stay positive, miracles can happen, send a prayer or a good thought to those possibly dying to try and avert the worst case scenario.