Monday, March 14, 2011

Nuclear Rain and Supermoon? Lousy Journalism Strikes Again

An 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan on Friday and soon Facebook was littered with news from Japan.

The tsunami that followed further exacerbated the predicament faced by thousands of stranded Japanese. People started collecting money, aids, head of government offering condolence, some politicians' wife grabbing the headlines with stupendous comments, and pranksters set off to work.

Two of the most popular news circulating on Facebook:
1) The quake was caused by the "supermoon" phenomena. This was even reported by the Daily Mail.
In the Daily Mail, on their "Science and Technology" pages, they have a news story about some idiot astrologer who has decided this all happened because of a "Supermoon", where the moon is a couple of miles closer to the earth than usual.

Often it's clear where the bullshit came from, what was driving it, intellectually, or commercially.
But I have no idea what even a half-serious newspaper thinks it can possibly gain, reputationally or commercially, from printing something this stupid, from some dismal fantasist astrologer, about a topic this serious. I am officially surprised by the Daily Mail.


Yes, indeed the Daily Mail isn't really cool. Even Fox News made mistake. =P
Oh~! Egypt is in the Middle East! Thanks Fox News! For those of you don't understand, check the location of Egypt. Image:
I don't trust mainstream media, a lot. I prefer seeking out on my own on the web and read science blogs.

2) Nuclear rain in Malaysia.
This will not happen. For obvious reasons..

Some random dude: wah lao! Japan so far from Malaysia, not logic also la.

Another random dude: Wah! if like dat then last time then America boom Japan, why not whole Asia people become botak(bald) and die? not logic at all!

But unlike some of my friends who use "logic" to rebut this issue, I prefer a more scientific approach, though they are right that the distance between Japan and Malaysia is way too far.

According to what I've read on CNN, unlike the nuclear power plant that exploded in Chernobyl in 1986, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has a containment vessel, which theoretically would capture radioactive material if a full meltdown occurs.
This plant has three reactors, the first, and the oldest of six boiling-water units at the site, according to the nuclear association, began commercial operation in March 1971. The second reactor began commercial operation in 1974, and the third reactor followed two years later.

In fact,low levels of radiation were detected at least as far as 100 miles northeast of the plant, according to the U.S. Navy, which repositioned ships and planes after detecting low-level "airborne radioactivity."

The Navy's statement, however, also noted that the maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship personnel when it passed through the area was "less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun."

Nevertheless, the danger of radiation cannot be thoroughly dismissed.
There is a friend that shared a link by someone else saying that the radioactive source used in the nuclear plant has short half-life. Well this is NOT TRUE.

Nuclear plants need materials that have long half-life, which is why Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers do not have to refuel for 20~30 years at sea. Similarly, a nuclear power plant is a long term commitment to supply electricity to plenty of household for at least 10 years or more. They do not need radionuclide that has short half-life, because that would require them to change the fuel rod every now and then. What they really need is something like Uranium-238, which has a half life around 4.46 billion years, or Plutonium-244, 80 million years.
Perhaps the friend had sourced the information wrongly from a website, which looks like this:

Currently the reactors are releasing small amounts of xenon-137 and iodine-131, which have a half life of 3.8-minutes and eight days respectively. But experts are more concerned by the release of cesium-137, which has a 30-year

Well, if you study radiation physics, you'll understand that when a radioactive material decays, it releases plenty of daughter nucleus, which includes, yeah you've got it, xenon-137 and iodine-131.
But the danger posed by Uranium is still present, not forgetting other material such as cesium-137. Although there is a website saying that Uranium stops decaying when the rod is inserted, well... for that website-owner's information, uranium never stops decaying. Radioactivity is a random, ongoing process that can never be stopped. It can only be blocked via concrete or heavy material such as lead (gamma ray still penetrates concrete easily). In fact the rod is being inserted into the compartment made of lead to block or reduce the radiation that's coming out, but it cannot stop the decay process.

Moreover, what's happening now is that the reactor has actually exploded, exposing whatever material or radiation that's trapped within the reactor initially. That's the real concern of nuclear experts around the world. But again as I said, Malaysia is way too far from Japan. Nuclear rain in Malaysia due to the explosion in Japan will not occur, unless our very own reactor in Bangi explodes.

Check the fact before you post anything on Facebook. We are, after all, university students... Don't put stain on your own face will ya? (Some friends got offended by my last sentence. Alright I apologize >_<)


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