Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

The Fukushima nuclear plant is a disabled power plant located in Japan. The plant consists of 6 boiling water reactors (BWR). The plant was first commissioned in 1971 and generated a combined power of 4.7 GWe making Fukushima one of the largest nuclear reactors in the world. On March 11, 2011 the nuclear plant suffered crippling damage during a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The damage was severe and the plant is not expected to reopen. Nine days after the accident Japanese authorities quarantined the reactors and a 20 km radius around them. The consequences of the reactor meltdown are great, but it is also beneficial to weigh the costs with the benefits of nuclear power.

A BWR uses de-mineralized water as a coolant and neutron moderator. Fission in the reactor core heats up the water producing steam. Nuclear fission is a revolutionary and complicated chemical reaction that splits the nucleus of an atom into smaller parts. This process produces free neutrons and photons. Fission of heavy elements, like those used in nuclear power plants, creates a highly energetic exothermic reaction. The energy released is both electromagnetic radiation and kinetic energy of the fragments. In order the fission process to produce energy to be captured the binding energy of the products must be greater than the energy of the starting element. This results in a product that is not the same as the starting material. This process is called nuclear transmutation.

Nuclear fuels undergo fission when struck by fission neutrons. The neutrons emitted when they break apart create a self-sustaining nuclear reaction, which releases energy at a controlled rate. The steam previously mentioned is vital in the harnessing of nuclear energy into usable electrical energy. The steam is used to drive a turbine, which is part of the reactor unit. The turbines spin, which in turn powers an electrical generator that is connected to power lines.

The nuclear fuel cycle is not always a one-way system. The fuel can either be disposed of safely at the end of a cycle, or re-purposed and added back into the cycle. The problem arises when the fuel is no longer viable and needs to safely disposed of. The fuel discharged at this time is stored either in a spent fuel pool on site, or at a facility off-site. In cases where the fuel rods themselves are spent they are then stored in either water or boric acid. Disposal of the spent nuclear fuel and fuel rods is vital in protecting the biosphere from radiation. Controversy arises over storage concerns and safety of future generations.

Spent nuclear fuel and fuel rods must be stored safely from the biosphere until the radioactivity is diminished to safe levels. While the storage itself is not that difficult, the time that radiation is present within the fuel is a huge problem. Nuclear radiation can stay present in spent fuel for up to 10,000 years or more. We have a responsibility to future generations to protect them the nuclear radiation we store. No man-made structure has ever lasted 10,000 years. So the question arises, “How do we let future generations know?” This isn’t the only problem. Storage in a geological structure is relatively simple, but the geological structure must be stable for 10,000 years or more. Typically this involves storage deep within the Earth, mountains (Yucca mountains USA), deep ocean trenches, etc.

During the earthquake and subsequent tsunami power went out at Fukushima leading to a shutdown of the reactor and emergency cooling units. Seven weeks later the crisis has substantially subsided relative to week one, but serious problems remain. While specific details of the damage to the reactors in Japan are unknown it is clear that the fuel damage during this event was larger than all other previous nuclear power plant accidents.

Nuclear fuel is stored in metal zirconium casing called cladding. When the fuel heats up, due to lack of cooling, the cladding will rupture. Once the cladding ruptures radioactive gases escape and the cladding burns resulting in flammable hydrogen. Eventually, as the temperature inside the reactor continues to increase, the cladding will start to melt and further issues can arise including greater radiation release and melting through the reactor floor.

Using this information researchers can accurately estimate what components failed in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami despite lack of Japanese cooperation. The hydrogen explosions at Fukushima are evidence of the cladding burning and rupturing as well as spent fuel pools. While fuel melting is speculated it cannot yet be confirmed. Of the six BWR’s all were severely damaged. At the time of the earthquake reactors 4, 5, and 6 were in various stages of shut down while the first 3 shut down automatically following the incident. A little less than an hour after the earthquake a tsunami wave breached the levee and flooded the reactors and the electrical generators for cooling the reactor core.

When a reactor loses cooling power, such as Fukushima, then the natural decay (due to fission) results in overheating. In reactors 1-3 there was evidence of partial core meltdown and in reactors 1, 3 and 4 hydrogen explosions perforated the upper cladding. Meanwhile, despite being shutdown, reactors five and six also began to overheat. Furthermore, spent fuel rods in the cooling pool also began to overheat. This had severe and nearly catastrophic consequences for workers, locals, and a wider radius of Japanese residents.

Workers of the Fukushima facility received the majority of radiation poisoning. The workers, at the time of the meltdown, were exposed to the radiation in shifts and evacuated afterward. Radiation concerns extend, unfortunately, far beyond the radiation directly applicable to the workers. Radiation was released into the atmosphere by deliberate venting of the reactors to reduce pressure. There was also pumping of coolant water (contaminated) into the sea. It was reported that radiation levels reached 30,000 to 110,000 TBq of iodine-131. Due to the high levels of radiation a 20km radius around Fukushima was immediately evacuated.

In order for workers to continue work at the plant the maximum radiation dose they could receive was increased to 250mSV/year. This has put TEPCO, the company in charge of the power plant, under severe scrutiny. It has been claimed that they did not provide sufficient safety equipment for the workers and proper monitoring equipment.

Radiation levels to locals became a greater concern at the end of March. Milk produced near Fukushima and the local water supply showed radiation levels above the safe limits. A very recent article published in Science News used Chernobyl as a model for possible cancer outcomes. Thirty years after the Chernobyl incident there was a marked 30% increase in thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is especially prevalent because of the use of Iodine in nuclear reactors. Unfortunately the distribution of prophylactic iodine tablets does not have a significant affect on the number of people who obtain thyroid cancer later in life. We are left with the problem: what is the cancer risk at Fukushima?

Using the Tondel method, developed by Martin Tondel, researchers were able to estimate the amount of cancers directly related to Fukushima by the year 2061 (Tondel, 2006). This method states that 417,000 extra cancers will arise in a 200km radius by 2061. Other methods, such as the ICRP method, 6158 cancer cases in a 100km radius in the next 50 years.

Safety measures are being put in place to both repair the nuclear plant and decrease radiation emission. TEPCO has returned to the site since plugs have been put in place to clear the tunnel systems and repair the cooling units. Highly radioactive water took about 40 hours to pump from the trenches into the turbine condenser. While the efforts to clear the contaminated water initially decreased water levels, they began to increase again after plugs to the ocean increased again. Japanese officials are now pumping the water into waste treatment plants to reduce the contaminated water levels.

Since the accident nuclear facilities worldwide are being scrutinized for potential risks and are being rigorously tested to avoid future nuclear disasters. The risk assessment for nuclear facilities based on Fukushima will result in a steep increase in the price of running and building nuclear power plants.

According to Selena Ng, “ there was a sort of complacency before now with regards to nuclear power, we don’t have that luxury anymore.” What Selena is ultimately saying is that the world is now awakened to the benefits and consequences of nuclear power. Regulations must be stiffer and more safety measures in place. Many scientists are saying that the IEAE needs to police nuclear plants much closer to push the new safety regulations.

Countries across the world are considering shutdowns of reactors in areas of seismic activity. In the United States, however, the Obama administration has openly stated support for the advancement of nuclear science and energy. Despite the support for nuclear energy by the government the nuclear reactors currently under construction in Texas have been shut down. The shutdown of the two projects is largely due to the loss of financial support from TEPCO and other energy companies.

Nuclear energy seems like a good alternative to our dwindling supply of fossil fuels, but upon closer examination it is clear that our safety measures are not sufficient. Nuclear energy provides a cheap form of energy, after the initial building process, but is not cleaner or safer than fossil fuels or renewable energy resources. It ultimately becomes a debate of ethics and science. To what degree do we owe our future generations a clean and safe environment? Is it ethical to sacrifice the health of a few lives to make living cheaper and easier for thousands? As a communal whole we do not have the right to sacrifice a few lives or even a single life to make the communities lives easier. Not only that, but science has not yet caught up with the potential hazards of nuclear reactors. Without complete understanding of the reactions taking place and the radiations aftermath we cannot say with certainty that nuclear energy is both safe and viable.


Hope: Belief in a positive outcome relative to ones events in their life. What a simple statement for something so utterly profound. I love this picture because I think as children we start out with our hope meters on full and through life they seem to run down to empty. Not everyone is like this, but many unfortunate people are. I have people in my life who require constant reminding that life is not hopeless, it is just the opposite. In fact life is joyful, hopeful, wonderful, beautiful, and worth every single moment. In times of hopelessness you look to those who love you: family, friends, and most importantly God.

5 things that make you happy


Currently I am taking an environment ethics course. The topic that intrigued me today: what 5 things do people need mentally to be happy. We each had to make a list and I began to realize I don't really know what 5 things I need. When you are in college you forget sometimes what is mentally needed to stay on top of your life. Our class came up with a wonderful list and I felt like it was just too good not to share.

1. Connect: this is the number 1 priority. Connect in your relationships, fall in love, see your friends, hang out with your family.
2. Be active: This one is pretty self explanatory. You need to get out of your apt. or house and do things. That can be exercise, rock climbing, going for a walk.
3. Take Notice: Watch and take in the world around you. It's fall...notice the beauty of the leaves. Pay attention to the lives of the people around you and realize it's not just you.
4. Keep learning: feed your curiosity. For many of us in our twenties this is the only mental fulfillment we receive. But learn for the joy of learning whether it's learning about a new camera you like, reading the newspaper, or watching documentaries on whales. LEARN!
5. Give: In a recent psych experiment at the University of Minnesota several people were given a hundred dollars. Half of the recipients were instructed to buy something for themselves and half were instructed to buy a gift for another person. When tested on their happiness after the purchase, those who bought a gift were significantly happier. You don't have to go out and spend a hundred dollars. But buying your girlfriend flowers (boys I promise you this will make her way happier than taking her to a movie or even dinner), making your boyfriend dinner (my personal fave), or getting silly cards for your friends is more than enough.

All of these small things cost very little money, and even very little time in the grand scheme of your life. Sometimes, you just have to take a step back from your life and realize that you have to change something. Grades are important, of course, but so is your happiness. How can you find this balance between school and the 5 basic needs? I don't know! But I do know that it's important to find a way. I am a personality that thrives of the first basic need. I need social relationships and that has become my number one priority in life. So in my opinion this is the first key to accomplishing the rest. The thing about friends, boyfriends, parents, and family is that they can give you the drive and help to achieve the rest. My final words of advice: let people in and let people help you to achieve in school and happiness. The pictures above are a very small example of the 5 things I just talked about.


Paper Help!

So, obviously this paper is not even close done, but I am having some serious writers block. If anyone has any feedback (please be nice) I would really appreciate! This is what happens when you have TOO MUCH due in one week :D

The Affect of Tourism on Megaptera novaeangliae in the Tonga Archipelago

Humpback Whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, have become an increasingly popular animal to both watch, and interact with. In Tonga the whale watching industry is still new so impacts of tourism in that specific area are not yet fully understood. In the last decade major conservation efforts have arisen to study the way tourism affects these gentle giants. This paper will attempt to highlight those efforts, and discuss the affects of tourism on humpback whales, specifically in Tonga.
The Kingdom of Tonga is a small archipelago in the south pacific. Humpback whales frequent the island chain from early July to late October to mate and give birth. In the past Tonga was primarily a whaling region. The locals lived off of whale meat, and humpback whale stocks were significantly reduced leading to the cessation of the humpback fishery. In recent years swimming with whales and whale watch tours have become increasingly popular. In recent years, however, the return of legal humpback whaling has been discussed. Because each whale is worth roughly a million dollars alive Tongans
There are, however, problems with all the attention the humpbacks have been getting. According to Rochelle Constantine, an expert in marine mammal tourism, humpback mothers with calves are the most susceptible group to long-term behavioral changes due to tourism. There are 3 main forms of tourism: aircraft, ships, and in water interaction.
Aircrafts, surprisingly, can have a large impact on humpback whale nurseries. Aircrafts, especially helicopters, produce a lot of noise when they fly or groups of whales. Humpbacks usually respond by changing direction or hastily diving. This is not a popular form of whale watching in Tonga, but some sites do offer helicopters. Due to the noise interference caused by these helicopters laws have recently come out prohibiting them from approaching less that 1000ft away.
One of the most common problems with tourism and humpback whales are the boats. Boats are noisy, fast, and large. In the 1940s a drastic decrease in Humpback Whales coincided with increased abundance of human boat activity. This occurred mainly off the coast of Alaska. Currently the same thing is starting to happen in Tonga. Whales are remaining farther out at sea, and showing a learned avoidance pattern to boats. In some instances the whale would charge the boat and scream, while others would avoid. Pods containing calves show the most behavioral disturbances. Furthermore, Humpback Whale songs were altered when boats approached at less than 275m. The whales display two avoidance strategies. These include both horizontal and vertical displacement.
Boats biggest impact on whales is noise. A whales hearing is much stronger than that of ours. They can detect SONAR and motor noises. Both of these cause faint noise masking. Masking occurs when faint noises, such as distant mating calls, are covered up. In most instances this is not detrimental to the species, but it does make mating more complicated. Humpback Whales deal with underwater noise constantly, but are not used to the loud constant noise of tourist boats. These boats often approach fast and loud. The whales can become distressed and confused resulting in diving behavior for several minutes costing precious energy. ******
There are three places in the world where people are allowed to enter the water with Humpback Whales. Tonga is one of the most important.
There are, despite all the drawbacks, some pros to tourism. In 2007 the Japanese wanted to continue whale hunting on Humpback Whales. Humpbacks are considered an endangered species, but are steadily recovering. Tonga was in uproar over this decision. Most Tongans grew up eating whale meat, but most have converted to the conservationist idea.

New Projects!

So this summer, with help from some U of M employees, I have decided to start a major project. I've had this in the back of my mind for a while now. I'm going to start a charity in my mom's name. Now everything is still in the first stages so I don't have a lot of details. But the goal is to make enough money to pay for one mother's treatments for breast cancer a year. Now this is a lofty goal, and will probably take years to accomplish. Many people don't know that it can cost between 50,000 to 100,000 to pay for treatments. Coming from a not so wealthy family I have seen first hand the toll this can take. Now here's the challenge: those of you who know my mom (she does not read my blog) keep it a secret from her!! The charity is going to be in her and Ruth Stenson's honor. I feel very passionately about this, and am so excited to start! If anyone has any advice for me please email or comment! Otherwise I will be setting up a donations link of this page soon and feel free to make a donation!

Lots of love,

God's Will

Philippians 2:13: For god is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.

This past year has been a wonderful, hard, devastating, and happy year. All these things are a part of life, but sometimes it is easy for a person to get lost. I have been lost, and clawing, scraping, and using the strength of God to get myself back on his path. Sometimes lost doesn't mean depressed or broken, it just means different. I have felt as though God means different things for me, and hopefully great things, but I just haven't been listening. It's easy to get caught up in school and boys. A book that I'm reading called "Keeping God in the Small Stuff" pretty much sums it up:

"Jesus simply summed up God's will for your life when He said: "And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all yourmind, and all your strength... and love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). That's it. No secret formula. no list of "pros and cons". Just staying focused on God."

What a great way to state the will of God. It's not hard. It's just what it is. Love. Listen to it, do it, follow it. I challenge myself to do this with some prayer and the help of those who love me.


Paper on NOMA...Finally

So, this paper took a strange turn, and ended up being delayed, and I had to think about it a lot more. At first I thought, well I believe in both and think both worlds should be intertwined. How can I call myself a scientist and a christian, and not mix both worlds. Then, however I really started to change my mind, and start to seriously think about NOMA. In case you don't know NOMA stands for non-overlapping magisteria. This simply means that science and religion should be kept completely separate. This theory was introduced by Stephen J. Gould.

Views on Non-overlapping Magisteria

Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of non-overlapping magisteria is a perfect solution for someone like me. I am both a spiritual person and a scientist. In the past I have always found it difficult to separate both disciplines. With NOMA it is easier (in most instances) to find a way to keep them separated. Personally, I think it is impossible to keep religion and science completely separate. There are too many instances, such as Adam and Eve, where science and religion come together. Or, as Gould says, the two magisteria bump together. However, NOMA does offer a way to not overlap the two groups too often. From this moment on, when debating religious and scientific matters I will think more about whether the conflict is actually relevant. There, of course, will always be moments when science can help explain religion, and religion can help explain science. For example, using forensic tests (using science) to verify biblical stories. Also, using religion to add meaning to things science cannot explain.

Personally, I believe that if you are truly a Christian then religion should encompass all aspects of your life. But since I am also a scientist this may not always be a practical option for me. I like the principal of NOMA, but I do not think it is realistic to follow it exactly.

So that is a very brief version of my paper, but you get the general idea.

I hope you enjoy, and please comment whether you agree or disagree!