Saturday, October 31, 2020

Dumping the water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor

Recently, Japan announced it would dump the water from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor in to the ocean, to the great dismay of many people. I've seen headlines that talk about damaged DNA, wildlife, and many other things. But how bad will it really be?

Let's give a brief history of Fukushima's nuclear reactor. In 2011 an earthquake followed by a 1000 year tidal wave knocked out all power to the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. With no cooling coming from either the grid or its own power, amd the generators were swamped, the reactor melted down. It is worth noting that this reactor had containment for the core in the event of a melt down, and that containment has never been breached. For many nuclear reactors, if the reactor is not properly cooled, it will melt, the heat can't be easily turned on and off. After access was restored, water has been continually pumped in to the reactor chamber to keep it from melting down any further. This water is then pumped out, filtered, and stored.

This water contains tritated water, water with Tritium, an isotope of hydrogen with 2 neutrons instead of the normal 0. The filtration system is able to filter out every other radioactive particle, but as tritated water is actually water, it is very difficult to separate. To separate it would require some kind of a centrifuge. The water has thus been stored until such time that a long term plan has been created to manage. 1000 tanks are either planned or have been built to store this water.

The question remains, how dangerous is this water actually? Will dumping it in to the ocean have any measurable effect? Tritated water is actually already in all sources of water that we have. It is created by cosmic ray interactions with the atmosphere, as well as with nuclear reactions on Earth. It has a half life of 12.5 years, meaning if you store a bottle of tritated water, in 12.5 years half of it will have changed to another chemical, mostly helium-3. In the process of this, a beta particle, or energetic electron, is produce. It turns out that this a very low energy particle. Skin can easily block it. While there is much water in the human body, it remains in the body for between one to two weeks. If you were to swim in tritated water, you should be fine. Swallowing it would be problematic, but that would disappear quite quickly.

Given that all water contains some tritated water, there are standards for how much tritium is allowed in drinking water. Wikipedia states that Japan's limits are 600,000 becquerels (Bq) /liter. It is worth noting that some countries have limits as low as 100 Bq/ liter. How radioactive then is the water stored near the reactor at Fukushima? In 2016 there was a total of 760 TBq (equivalent to 2.1 g of tritium or 14 mL of tritiated water) in a total of 860,000 m3 of stored water. If you do the math, that comes to on average 883,720 Bq/liter. In other words, this water is almost legal drinking water in Japan, in a mere 7 years from then, or 2023, that water on average would be legal drinking water in Japan! Granted the older water has much higher levels, about 5x the Japanese limits, but still, the levels of radioactivity are quite low.

So what is the plan then? Well, they want to dillute it and dump it in to the ocean slowly, over the course of a year. The average amount of tritium is around 1 Bq/ liter throughout the world. If the water is then dilluted in to a body of water a million times more volume than it is currently in, that will not quite double the amount of tritated water in there. For comparison, that is roughly the volume of Lake Titicaca, the 15th largest lake in the world. While no doubt it can be measured, practically speaking it will make no significant difference.

Also of some note is there are already a number of power plants that dump tritated water in to the ocean. The Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant in South Korea does dump tritated water in to the ocean, at levels that is estimated at 600 to 800 TBq of tritium per year. In other words, South Korea likely will dump as much tritated water as was stored by Japan in 5 years.

The bottom line is, this really isn't a problem. Storing it is a huge challenge, and releasing it in to the ocean won't make a diference. Let's go ahead and release the water, saving Japan from having to build 2 tanks/ day to store this water.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Mail in ballots and other forms of voter fraud

There is a considerable difference of opinion between Republicans and Democrats about mail in balloting in the United States. Let's look deeper at the issue.

First of all, rules about voting in general are set up by each individual state, with some oversight by the Federal Government. The oversight is pretty small, mostly to the level of ensuring the ballot is fair. They do specify the date, the first Tuesday after the first Monday. It is set as such to not be on the first day of November. Tuesday has been election day since the beginning of the country, primarily to allow for travelling to the election site on Monday and be back by Wednesday to continue working on their farms. The rules are very loose, just a framework really. They primarily allow one to provide aid if disabled, ensure that everone of legal age can vote, and ensure that blatent discrimination does not happen.

The vast majority of states allow absentee voting, which is voting whereby one can vote before election day. This can be done either in person at specifically designated areas, or via mail in balloting. 10 states automatically will mail to all eligible voters, including mostly states that tend to vote Democractic, but at least a few battleground and even some Republican leaning. Many states require an excuse to request a mail in ballot, although this year COVID-19 fears is considered a valid reason. Some states allow one to request a ballot online, others require one to physically mail in a request. In every instance, a voter must be registered prior to requesting a mail in ballot.

The concern expressed primarily by Republicans is over voter fraud. To be certain, voter fraud can and does happen, although the amount of it is highly questionable. According to the Brennan Center, the actual amount of voter fraud sits at 30 votes/ million votes cast. The closest Presidential election in recent history was the election of 2000, where George Bush won with a 537 vote count with almost 6 million votes. At that rate of fraud, even that super close election did not have its count altered.

The easiest way that one could commit voter fraud would be to vote in person and mail in a ballot, but every state checks for that, and in fact most of the fraudlent votes are something along those lines. There is more of a question if the votes should happen in different states, but that is a very difficult problem to resolve. In my opinion, if one moves one's state of driver's license they shoudl automatically revoke the old state's voter registration as well, but this does not happen. In fact, once I had moved several years prior, received a jury summons to appear across the country, informed them that I had moved, and then the voter registration office from that state requested that I mail in a form to cancel my voter registration in that state! For that state, Arizona, one can do many election related things online, it was strange that this couldn't be. In any case, I just did nothing, and presumably am no longer registered. This makes sense because in many states one is registered to vote at the same time one receives a driver's license. In fact, as it is federal law to offer voter registration to eligable voters when receiving such an ID card it seems it could be tracked.

Another point of some interest. If a voter does not actually vote for a number of years they are placed on an inactive voter list. That list requries additional ID to vote. The ID must contain an address, a driver's license would be fine, proving they still live in the precint.

The other claim that often comes from Republicans is that of illegal immigrants voting. It turns out that pretty much every state does not allow for those who are not US citizens to vote. One does not, however, have to provide a birth certificate, state identification (Driver's license, etc), or other similar form of ID to prove they are eligable. Still, this seems to be limited, although it does happen. According to this paper, although if caught they could be charged with a crime. And there is enough evidence to do so, given enough time. Most states require some form of photo ID, which acts to counteract that. In North Carolina, a state which does not require showing ID to vote, a total of 19 cases of foreigners voting were brough to court, of 4.7 million votes cast. Many do end up inadvertently registered to vote, when they receive a Driver's ID card, but most correctly do not actually vote, as that would be illegal.

I will save it for another day on why such talks are so persistant, and why the Democrats in general push for more voting. But from all reports, while voter fraud can and does happen, the actual number of cases is in the dozens per million votes cast, and is not really significant.

What does it mean to be a "Free" nation?

One of the things that I frequently see in online discussions is the concept of a "free" nation. But what exactly does that mean?...