The below first appeared in the comment thread of an article by Dr. Kelvin Kemm titled Physicist: There was no Fukushima nuclear disaster. I highly recommend going and reading the full article. However, I believe that this comment thread extract deserves more attention that it would normally receive by being buried within a lengthy thread posted in response to Dr. Kemm’s article.
It is a dialog that includes two first-hand reports from nuclear-trained US Navy sailors stationed on the USS George Washington in March 2011, when the Fukushima nuclear power station made its dramatic entry into the world’s lexicon of nuclear energy.
(I hope no one is offended by my effort to reproduce and publicize an important discussion full of useful information.)
Matt Cash: No one is immune from the hysteria.
I was stationed in Japan onboard the USS George Washington (in the reactor department) when the tsunami hit Fukushima. Our sensors are extremely sensitive, and the dust was able to set them off. Naturally, almost everyone not-nuclear trained started to panic about the potential contamination, which lead to the option of a mass evac from base. Of course, all of the nuclear trained workers just rolled their eyes and expected a massive influx of work to quell fears and start cleanup.
It was NOT fun.
Marushka France: ‘Hysteria’? The exposure and health problems are very real and have been recorded on film as well.
Admiral in Japan called in to NRC about exposure and concerns because exposure was profoundly high – on deck and at the base in Tokyo.
Try reading the NRC FOIA docs yourself
Brian: I was on the ground at Tokyo for the entire “disaster.” I received less exposure in the 50 days I was there than I did on the flight to Japan
RB: Tokyo is 180 miles from Fukushima! What was your exposure for your 50 day stay, and who issued you dosimetry?
David McFarland: The base is not at Tokyo.
It’s at Yokosuka, Japan, south of Tokyo. It is on the Tokyo bay, but there is more than a full city (Yokohama and it’s surrounding suburbs and towns) between the two. I should know. I’m a Nuclear Operator (trained specifically in Reactor Safety) stationed at Yokosuka. I’m on the base, at my home, as we speak.
I received my dosimeter from the Navy. I was a co-worker of Matt Cash, also aboard the USS George Washington (I am still attached to it to this day and live in Japan). I had the pleasure of being one of the lucky few who got to stand in a big giant metal box and look at the readouts of how much I’d received – which amounted to “if you’d eaten a banana and it was still in your digestive tract, it’d light up like a spotlight.” (Bananas contain ~15 bequerels of K-40, or 15 disintegrations a second – virtually nothing)
Essentially, being “in the plume,” meant “DON’T LICK THE GROUND,” and you’d be fine. Even if you did, you’d pretty much have to eat the dust on a regular basis to have an effect – that effect being you might set off a radiac. To get blood or blood effects, the first signs of radiation sickness, you’d have to have gone to extreme measures and it’d have to be quite intentional. It was actually to the point that it couldn’t be guaranteed it wasn’t coming from the Chinese Coal Plants, who regularly spew out trace amounts of uranium and other harmful elements and contaminate far more than Fukushima ever has.
I then had the pleasure of doing dose measurements on hundreds of my coworkers, likely Matt Cash, the above commenter, as well. I don’t remember who all I surveyed. It was a large number. Most people’s bodies, even the areas of concern of Cesium concentration acted as a shield to background radiation.
I also had the pleasure of using much of my training in radiation work. I was able to go up with our Engineering Laboratory Technicians and survey our flight-deck, which is coated in non-skid – as in, very porous and probably the best thing to trap contamination around, and hold it in to keep it from getting washed away by rain. Our sensors are so sensitive and use measurements so miniscule (more miniscule than a millisievert, as denoted in the article) that it LOOKED like we were reading a lot. Naturally, when we saw large numbers, some of us new guys, knowing a lot about radiation and not a lot about it’s application at the time (still far more than the general public), freaked out a LITTLE bit (we still knew it wasn’t enough to harm us).
Naturally, we decided to put our educations to good use – those “high” levels of radiation amounted to virtually nothing at all. Enough that laying down on that flight-deck would net you about twice as much as sun did above you. And that’s on something that trapped that stuff in – and getting direct exposure to it – and again, for a very limited time.
I’ll say this again: I’ve been educated on nuclear power by the Navy (it is frankly not probably as good as the Author’s education, but is years worth of education most commentors on this article do not have). I was there. I held the radiacs. I punched the numbers on a calculator. I work with people who have their living made off of this matter and consulted with them. The math added up to a grand whopping “don’t worry about it.” Yes, there was radiation. There was contamination. There still is contaminated water at Fukushima. There is even a bit of contaminated water in the ocean.
There’s water in the air. Are you worried about drowning? No? Why not? Oh, it’s because there is so little?
Tokyo’s background levels are so low right now, you’d actually be getting a break if you traveled there by boat (as opposed to getting a whopping 7mrem by flying – again, nothing, but more than any of us got by staying in Japan instead of flying out) from, say, a place with high background levels, like California.
Navy Nuclear-power Admirals and Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory historically “freak out” more than anyone else. Nuclear Power Plants have a lot of public hysteria to deal with. You say you detected radiation outside of a nuclear power plant, it doesn’t matter if it was from the sun, people will freak out. The military has a lot of the same problems. Combine the two, and you have people who have to walk on eggshells for a living – and in doing so, the worst they can do is expose anyone to anything considerable, whether or not it is their fault.
The Admiral you are talking about is not nuclear trained, and so has no idea what to do. He (my former boss, before he rotated to another location) was concerned on the matter because he did not wish us, or our families, harmed, and needed to know what to do.
Before you start saying “you got all your information from the military!” No, I got it first-hand. I saw it. I did it. I lived it. You don’t fake radiation levels or harmful effects – or in my case, lack thereof.
Luca Bertagnolio: Thank you for your great first-hand contribution, Sir.
This is the kind of information that should be circulated by those who understand science and technology.
We need to have more people who are well aware of the fact that we can measure radioactivity down to the individual atom decay, but that does not mean that it’s dangerous.
We need to have more people spread the good news about how clean and reliable power generation using nuclear is, plain and simple. And you’ve just done it, right there, by telling us about your first-hand experience. Thank you.
David McFarland – thank you for your Navy service and for your service to humanity by providing this first hand report. If you read this, please contact me through the contact link available in the footer of each page on Atomic Insights. We have a lot to talk about.
Note from David McFarland
I would also like to add that my comments, however they may be construed, in no way reflect the opinions of the US Navy, merely my own. I am in no way a spokesperson for the Navy.
Additionally, I was quite wrong about our Admiral; he was actually quite nuclear trained and served aboard several submarines where such training is required. However, that being said, radiological accidents are not exactly everyday occurances, and most really did not have a good idea about how to go about such things.
We operate with such low tolerances, radiologically, that his concern was likely about us exceeding those extremely low dose limits — which we did not.