Like me you've probably been tuning into the news for updates on the state of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station which was damaged by the 9.0-scale earthquake which occured just off the coast of Japan yesterday.
Thankfully, there was no major structural damage to the reactors which resulting directly from the earthquake. Furthermore, the reactors were automatically shut-off just as soon as tremors were felt. The problem which happened immediately after the initial earthquake was that power required to cool the reactors was lost. Within minutes back-up power was lost as well triggering fears of a meltdown.
The Japanese have been trying desparately to cool the reactors releasing built-up gases and circulating sea-water. Earlier this morning, there was an explosion at reactor no. 1 due to a build-up of hydrogen gas. At the time of writing, reactors were still on the brink.
Almost all news agencies have covered the situation on the ground, but very few have taken the trouble to explain what exactly a meltdown entails. Based on what I could learn about the design of the reactors and what happened from the NHK World TV broadcast, it seems that at the moment a Three-mile Island type meltdown may be imminent. But more on that in a subsequent post.
What I want to mention here is a hoax which was circulating over the internet this morning which preyed on a lack of common-sense and our worst fears regarding nuclear energy. There were a few thousand hits to this following image which was touted as a Nuclear Fallout Map showing the effect of meltdown and the spread of radiation across the Pacific to North America.
The map looks fishy even from a first glance. It was not issued with any warning, link to a regulatory organization, or press release. It was not vetted by any organization. Instead it contains the logo of "Australian Radiation Services".
A simple search on the internet reveals that this is a small private company in Australia which offers clients services in dealing with compliance and radiation monitoring. As fas as I could tell, the handful of employees working here have no expertise in climatology, which would be needed to determine wind strength and other factors necessary to model weather patterns.
Neither would they be expected to have any idea of what state the reactors were in (which was not already a part of the public domain). After all they are not a government regulatory agency!
Lastly, simply googling the numbers would reveal to anyone that they are preposterously high. The total dose per person in a defined area of Europe with closest proximity to the more-serious Chernobyl explosion was predicted to be 0.5 Rads over a period of three weeks of exposure.
The map circulating over the internet showed a ballpark number that was 6,000 times more serious that Chernobyl without any given time-period.
No, what probably happened was some conceited bastard with a lot of time on his hands photoshopped the map from a a screenshot of a Google map and added the Australian Radiation Services logo. All he or she needed to do was to tweet it or post it.
It is probably still out there freaking someone out. Fear always travels faster than rationality.