Exactly how much I-131 did Chernobyl release?

If it wasn’t for Charlie Martin, would never have noticed this.  In the comments he noted a report claiming,

“A study published in the US last week found that iodine-131 from Chernobyl is still causing new cases of thyroid cancer…

(Emphasis added)

Now, as an RCT I’d have said something like, “the effects of Cherynobyl I-131 are still being seen in heightened incidences of thyroid cancer”.  But since I-131 is still causing cancer, there must be some remaining. 

I’ll assume it’s exactly one atom.  So, if reports are to be believed, the number of I-131 atoms released by Chernobyl should be approximately:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

That’s a “1” followed by three hundred zeroes, so…

Spot on!  Thank goodness for journalists.

About wormme

I've accepted that all of you are socially superior to me. But no pretending that any of you are rational.
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25 Responses to Exactly how much I-131 did Chernobyl release?

  1. Mountainbear says:

    Wall of Zeroes hits you critically for… Not again! Help! My dice are trying to kill me!

    Seriously though, the moment I read that 131 was still causing cancer I was like “double-U Tee Eff?” and I’m not an expert on the matter. But I know that 131 has a half-life of roughly 8 days.

    • wormme says:

      Could mess around with it some more, figure out it’s mass in relation to the Earth, etc.

      But it has a certain pristine beauty as is. And I like “Wall of Zeroes”.

  2. crosspatch says:

    Shouldn’t that number be a power of 2? I mean … if there is 1 right now, then 8 days ago there were 2. 8 days before that there were 4, and before that, 8, etc.

    Actually … you could say that “eight days ago there was TWICE as much Chernobyl iodine in the environment!!!!11!!!!!eleventy!!!”

    • wormme says:

      That’s exactly what I did, hopefully. Here’s the process, with some rounding for ease:

      Chernobyl was 8,000 days ago, I-131 has an 8-day half-life. So, 1,000 half-lives. You just double that one to “two. Keep redoubling another 999 more times.

      There’s a shortcut if you’re rounding. 10 doublings is 1,024. Just round that to 1,000. So you add 3 zeros to your original “one” for every 10 half-lives. Divide 1,000 by that factor of ten, and that’s how many times you add 3 zeroes to the total.

      1,000/10, x3, equals a “1” followed by three hundred zeroes.

      Approximately a “googolplex” times a googolplex, times a googolplex.

      • crosspatch says:

        Got it. And by “rational man” do you mean you are only half the guy you used to be?

      • wormme says:

        Um…like “ratio”? A partial man? Just guessing here…

        If that’s it, it hurts because it’s probably true.

        I picked the arrogant moniker after essentially giving up on a social life. There’s still a bit of one, of course. Family and some friends. No complaints here.

        It was after giving up on finding a mate that I realized it. How almost everyone sacrifices or ignores reason for social desires.

        So I chose the phrase as an “in your face” to the social world, while the acronym describes my place in it.

  3. waytoomanydaves says:

    If I remember my high school chemistry correctly, that works out to 2.17 x 10^266 grams. Yeah, that’s a LOT of Iodine.

    By the way, according to Google the mass of the Earth is 5.97 x 10^27. A mere sliver of the total Iodine released by Chernobyl.

  4. Thanks, you just gave me a title for my Tattler post.

  5. crosspatch says:

    Press conference is vague, no specific numbers for stuff inside the plant.

    Pressure in unit #1 is said “dropping” but no numbers given.
    Pressure in unit #2 is said “stable” but no numbers given.

    Unit 3, workers were attempting to regain operation of “condenser (or condensate) pump”(?) when they encountered the water. They believe the source of the water was from the operations to fill the spent fuel pools. (would seem to me to indicate fuel rod damage in the #3 SFP).

  6. crosspatch says:

    Crawler on Kyodo says “reactor vessel of unit #3 might have been damaged” but no other information at this time.

  7. Well, I looked at it the other way just now — http://pajamasmedia.com/tatler/2011/03/24/new-scientist-and-the-wall-of-zeros/#comment-16755

    Turns out that Chernobyl released at least 2000 times more radioactivity than Fukushima.

    And that Fukushima released total about two tablespoons of I-131.

  8. crosspatch says:

    Eh, I got the ‘half the man’ thing from “rational numbers” since this seemed to be a math thread and you are the “most rational” man 🙂

  9. poul says:

    wow, you weren’t kidding about distrust for quantum mechanics.

    the thing is, according to quantum mechanics, this lone atom could have been hanging around since the day after chernobyl exploded, and there is no way to say when will it decay. you and i will die, the earth freeze, the sun will end its career as a star, milky way galaxy go dark, the universe will be ending, and this lonely atom will, for all you know, still not release the electron.

    just to spite you.

    • wormme says:

      And when it and I alone survive at the heat death of the universe, then shall I reverse-calculate its ancestral spawn at that last of all moments, 8 days per generation, and drive thusly back into the heart of the Big Bang itself!!

      That’s gonna be a lot of zeroes, isn’t it?

  10. Andrew Karon says:

    Dear Sir, “wormme”

    I counted more than ~ 300 “zeros” in your article, exactly is “1 ..” + 876 “zeros”.

    But it’s not very important – because the WHOLE UNIVERSE rather not have a “1 × 10 ^ 876” atoms, or even “1 × 10 ^ 300” 🙂

    REALLY!

    Yesterday has passed 25 years and one month after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accidents …

    … How many would then be issued I-131 atoms that remain even today – literally “one” of them?

    Since April 26, 1986 to May 26, 2011 It’s been 9,161 days. However, I-131 has a half-life of 8.04 days, so therefore passed 1,139.42 periods of I-131’s half-lifes.

    Using the formula:

    CURRENT ACTIVITY / QUANTITY =
    Initial Activity / Quantity × EXP to the power – (LN2 × t / T ½)

    NOTE: LN2 = ~ 0,693

    can be calculated that after 9161 days, will remain

    x = EXP to the power – (LN2 × 1139.42)

    x = 9.95 × 10 ^ -344 of the original number of atoms

    ie the inverse of this number: 1 / x will give us the initial number of atoms of I-131

    1 / x = ~ 1 × 10 ^ 343 atoms, numerically:

    10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

    WHAT IS A PHYSICAL QUANTITY OF I-131?
    ================================

    In 1 mole of I-131 (131 grams) is about 6.022 × 10 ^ 23 atoms, thus:

    6.022 × 10 ^ 23 / 131 = ~ 4.60 × 10 ^ 21 atoms of I-131 / gram

    Therefore:

    ~ 1 × 10 ^ 343 atoms would correspond to I-131 weight:

    ~ 1 × 10 ^ 343 [atoms] / ~ 4.60 × 10 ^ 21 [atoms / g] = 2.18 × 10 ^ 321 [g]!

    A GARGANTUAN NUM!

    The mass of the Sun with her a little 2 × 10 ^ 33 grams, a quantity of iodine from Chernobyl would have to correspond to the mass of about 1 × 10 ^ 288 Suns!

    It is assumed that in our galaxy is około150, 000,000,000 stars (150 billion), assuming that the entire universe is 150 billion such galaxies, it gives us an estimated 2.25 × 10 ^ 22 stars with a total weight (estimated) 4.50 × 10 ^ 52 grams, this means that WHOLE UNIVERSE has too little matter known by the value of approximately:

    ~ 6.24 × 10 ^ 265 grams

    that although a iodine-131 from Chernobyl could still exist …

    • wormme says:

      I messed up the zeros? It was a copy-and-paste, carpal-tunnel nightmare, so I’m not surprised.

      Yes, from the posting of this we made jokes about there being insufficient mass in the universe.

      Thanks for catching the error.

  11. Andrew Karon says:

    No matter how many zeros are those…

    Important question is HOW MUCH WE NEED the initial amount of I-131, so that he could “survive” from 1986 to 2011 although one of its nucleus? Recall that the decay constant does not have the impact of factors such as: temperature, pressure, physical state of the isotope, etc.

    My answer is – how much the Memorable Chernobyl Accident, not produced the amount of I-131 – it would NOT HAVE BEEN TO still today…

    Imagine this situation COMPLETELY physical impossible: from Chernobyl not to escape a few hundred grams of Iodine-131, but…
    5970000000000000000000000000 (5.97e27) grams,
    such as equal WEIGHT OF THE EARTH.

    Even such a GARGANTUAN amount of Iodine-131 will disappear quite quickly and will not be followed by a trail today – and also the “Planet of iodine”, too – as shown in this animation:

    http://c.wrzuta.pl/wi17319/4d15222c002301354e47beb4/0/i-131_mass_like_earth
    [GIF; 600×600 px; 4,4 MB; Created by Andrew Karon – Lic CC]

  12. Pingback: World's Only Rational Man

  13. DrSimon says:

    While I would not defend the above newspaper report, you should keep in mind that cancer is not caused immediately upon a radiation dose, but by a very specific set of mutations that can accumulate over time. That’s one of the reasons old people get cancer more often (most cancer types, anyway).
    So, technically, a radiation dose received a long time ago could contribute to a cancer starting today.

    • wormme says:

      Oh, certainly. We delve into “acute vs. chronic” here constantly. And, given the concept of radiological hormesis, which might actually be valid, 5 mrem/h might not be generally harmful at all. Though that seems a pretty toasty level of hormesis.

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