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Meltdowns

March 14, 2011

Torah Kachur

The past week the world witnessed two of the largest and most publicized meltdowns in history:

 

1) Daiichi Nuclear Reactor

 

2) Charlie Sheen

 

First, the Daiichi nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan is currently experiencing a partial nuclear meltdown which means the central core of the nuclear reactor is leaking or is broken and the energy released is literally melting the reactor.  It sounds bad and it is, the meltdown is currently listed as a level 4 out of 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).  To put this in perspective - there have only ever been two nuclear disasters rated higher than 5 (Mayak and Chernobyl) and only Chernobyl has the pleasure of being ranked as a 7 (and, of course, Charlie Sheen).   So a ranking of 4 isn't so bad.... yet.  The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is monitoring the situation closely and has live updates of way more science than CNN can pronounce. 

 

Nuclear reactor Science in Seconds

 

The evidence for damage to the reactor is that authorities detected both cesium -137 and iodine -131 in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear reactor.  Iodine-131 is a radioactive form of an element that is important in our bodies and forms the basis of the thyroid hormones.  When an element is radioactive, it contains more energy and when this energy is inevitably released, it can damage the cells of our body.  People exposed to radioactive iodine face threats of eventual thyroid cancer - Big Pharma's dream because people at risk can just pop an iodine pill and prevent the worst of the damage.

 

Cesium-137 is more dangerous because its half life, or time it takes to release all of its excess energy, is 30 years.  This means that the cesium released into the water and soil from nuclear meltdowns can affect generations.  Great, another way we are screwing up our kids... if Nintendo wasn't enough.  Cesium-137 is generated when uranium inside the reactor is split an is chemically similar to a very common and essential element found in our bodies: potassium.  Potassium is used in all sorts of cellular processes from DNA integrity to cellular metabolism.  If people are exposed to high levels of radioactive cesium the cells then use cesium by accident instead of potassium and the radioactivity poisons the cells.

 

The Japanese know the horrors of radiation poisoning better than any other country that ever existed.  Thankfully, they are taking appropriate precautions - massive evacuations are underway, heavy monitoring of radioactivity in the area is being conducted by international agencies and for the time being, things look like they are under control.  Levels of radioactivity in the immediate vicinty of the reactor are still high but they have seen reductions in the past few hours.  However, risks of hydrogen explosions and further damage to the Daiichi reactor and 3 others that are reporting damage throughout Japan are still of immediate concern.  The next 24 hours could determine if we have another Chernobyl in the making.

 

Torah Kachur Science in Seconds Daiichi nuclear reactor

 

The second meltdown of the week: Charlie Sheen.  He's a drug-addicted manic depressive.  I'm not sure why people are talking about him when real problems exist.  Can I put in a request for the world?  If you are going to meltdown, do it in silence so we can focus on what is really important.

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