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A sad tale in three parts

From the news which I am getting it looks like the workers at Fukushima are moving into what I would view as the recovery and decontamination phase. I will explain how I view a nuclear accident as a tragic event which occurs in three parts.

1. The first act is where the plant undergoes a transition from a normal safe state into a dangerous state, this can take many forms. The act can include the management of the plant becoming over relaxed or it can involve the ageing of a mechanical object.

2. The second act is the destructive phase during which the core is damaged and maybe radioactivity is released. During this phase I see a potential for high doses to workers on site.

3. The third act is the investigation, the clean up of the site and the attempts to mitigate the effects of the accident. During this phase I would expect the doses to workers to be reduced as time goes by. The dose rates on the site may decline and also people start to worker in smarter ways which allow doses to be reduced.

Currently one of the things which the workers are doing is to use sacks of a mineral known as zeolite to reduce the amount of radioactivity which is escaping in the water. They are also putting boards in the sea to stop radioactive water escaping.

I think that these actions are intended to limit the effects of the accident by confining the radioactivity to the reactor site. You might want to ask why zeolite is being used, the zeolite is a solid which has lots of nanoscale pores the insides of which are able to bind metal atoms. Zeolites are used for a range of applications which include water softening (removal of calcium and magnesium). The application here is a waste water treatment where the zeolite is being used to remove metal ions from the water.

Alternative agents for cleaning waste water exist, for example ferric hydroxide flocs can be used to remove metal cations from water. The good thing is that the majority of the medium and long lived radioactivity will be in the form of metals which exist as cations (positively charged ions) in aqueous solution.

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