The Most Important Issue

At the moment the world news is dominated by the possibility and the United States will drop a few bombs on Syria and then run away, causing deaths and resentment in many places by interfering (rather than preventing) a hideous civil war. Mr Obama has spoken and now will, like Mr Cameron, attempt to deflect some the responsibility of a course of action which may be contrary to International Law by seeking safety in numbers, spreading the decision to bomb or not to bomb, among the American congressmen and senators. However much this news dominates the world media it is not, in my view, the most important news to break.

Not much attention has been paid to what is happening at Fukushima; we are assured that things are under control, and we are told of small leaks of radiation, which are dismissed as being insignificant, and then those leaks turn out to be worse that originally stated. Now, we are told that in fact the leaks are even worse that last stated. Radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank into the earth and is actually causing radiation to be emitted at 1800 millisieverts and hour. Apparently in a fit of optimism the previous measurements of 100 millisieverts and hour were made by equipment that could not read levels higher that 100 millisieverts and hour, and new equipment has confirmed the much higher rate of radiation leakage.

In the UK on average people are exposed to about 2.7 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation a year. A millisievert is a measure of radiation dose which accounts for the fact that ionising radiation can affect different parts of the body to differing degrees. The millisievert dose also allows for the different effects of different types of radiation, x rays, gamma rays, neutrons, alpha particles and beta particles.

Four hours exposure to 1800 millisieverts and hour of radiation is likely to be lethal.

Leakage into the soil measured at 1800 mSv does not equate to humans getting dosed with radiation at this level; it is not yet possible to calculate how this leakage will translate into effects of humans, except in the case of the workers at Fukushima who may have been exposed a much larger amounts of radiation that previously expected.

Radiation is only contained by lead. It blows on the wind and passes through the soil, through buildings and through human bodies silently and undetectable except by equipment designed to measure radiation. The effects of radiation are detectable and it is an indication of just how careless humanity has been with nuclear power that two years after an earthquake and tsunami there has been so much leakage of radiation.

The Fukushima facility is being maintained and contained (or perhaps more accurately attempts are being made to contain) by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Its workers are likely to have been put at risk because the company did not use the right measuring equipment.  However, the effects of the leakage may be far greater than the deaths by radiation of a handful of workers.

The energy and rhetoric of the nations of the world would be better spent in assisting the Japanese to permanently contain the leakage of radiation at Fukushima and rendering the former nuclear power plant safe, than discussing whether to launch a punishment bombing against Syria.

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