“Radiation burns” implied on the radio.

Driving in to work just now, some brief report was being made on some (presumably Fukushima Fifty) workers being hospitalized. At least one was said to have burns on his leg. And the guy reporting this said something like,

…working night and day in a plant with toxic levels of radiation, it’s not hard to see where the burns came from…

Extremely hot piping?

And you should have heard the holier-than-thou tone of this “journalist”. Obviously it was radiation.

I’m not saying it wasn’t. But the odds seem extremely remote. I don’t have enough info to be sure.

But then again, neither does that swaggering idiot.

Of course ionizing radiation can burn skin. It can burn any flesh it can get at. Experts say that alpha radiation can’t, because it’s stopped by the dead layer of the skin. Sorry, experts, Sci-Fi geek here. I merely note the Plausible/Implausible Line, I don’t stop there. And if you hammer a dead layer of skin with ten billion rads of alpha energy you’ll find it can indeed burn living skin, with vaporized dead skin as the torch.

Whoops, off-track. Point is, any sort of ionizing radiation can burn flesh. Neutrinos could, in sufficient quantites. And though I also enjoy sprinting past the Implausible/Totally Ridiculous Line, you’ll be spared.

This time.

Anyway…radiation burns, Mr. Expert Journalist? So is it beta burns, or gamma burns? Neutron, maybe?

Beta, as our expert knows, is the most common skin searer. Just as it’s most likely to produce cataracts ithrough massive doses to the eyes.

We burnt the hell out of a lot of skin during Pacific H-bomb testing, by accident of course. With beta radiation. Beta’s not penetrating enough to get through the skin. Which means that it deposits all its energy there, “burning” skin more efficiently than any other form of radiation. Gamma mostly goes right through skin. If it doesn’t interact, it doesn’t burn.

You could be coated with a “pure beta emitter”, suffer third-degree burns over every square inch of skin and eyes clouded over…but the rest of your body would be utterly unscathed. At Fukushima, they’re not dealing with pure beta.

And if you’re not coated with it, the open beta source is some feet away, those betas get weaker just fighting through the air. Wearing PPE (personal protective equipment)? That will knock it down more, somewhere between “some” and “all”.

And what if the beta isn’t out in the open, but coursing along a nearby steel pipe? Then you’re not getting hit by beta at all.

So how about it, oldHP? How likely would you rate the odds of “beta burn” among these workers?

Then it must be gamma. Right, smarmy journalist?

If gamma radiation ever burns anyone’s skin to the extent of needing hospital care, I don’t see how they’ll ever get it. To only a slightly lesser extent, it’s burnt down into the core of their body.

What do you think, our rad-experienced readers? Gamma burns?

Here’s my theory, Mr. Journalist. And I’ll bolster it with a anecdote later. From, of course, North Anna.

I postulate: your implication was right! The worker was indeed burned by radiation.

Thermal radiation.

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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29 Responses to “Radiation burns” implied on the radio.

  1. waytoomanydaves says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t consider the possibility of electrical burns. I’ve seen photos of the plant workers climbing on high-voltage gear, and it’s easy to imagine something going wrong while trying to hay-wire a temporary power connection in that mess.

    • wormme says:

      Well, didn’t know they were laying electrical cable while standing in water at the time. I defaulted to thermal since that’s what almost got me, once. Next post 2nd post coming should give that little “Tale from the Crypt”.

      • waytoomanydaves says:

        “Three workers received radiation exposure of 17 to 18 rem from standing in contaminated water while laying cable…”


  2. Juums says:

    Thermal radiation?

    Now that’s just plain absurd. It makes the neutrino source required to cause neutrino burns look positively plausible and not ridiculous in the slightest.

    • wormme says:

      So the movie 2012 was right after all…

      • Juums says:

        Haven’t seen 2012, so alas the reference went flying over my head. I gave up on Roland Emmerich after The Day After Tomorrow.

        I still remember the exact moment when he lost what little credibility he had left with me as a filmmaker. It was the scene where they were driving to New York City to rescue the kids and got stuck in Philadelphia, when the lead turned to the camera and said: “From here, we walk.” As someone who knows that area well enough, it still makes me laugh, to this day.

        • wormme says:

          2012 “instigating event”…(I think)…solar neutrinos from the Sun disrupted the Earth’s core and triggered a massive planetary realignment.

  3. Or, maybe it’s the laterst version of “radiation poisoning”. NEI is reporting

    Two workers were hospitalized for radiation exposure Thursday, even as Tokyo Electric Power continued to make progress in stabilizing reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    Three workers received radiation exposure of 17 to 18 rem from standing in contaminated water while laying cable in the reactor 3 turbine building, TEPCO said. One of the workers did not require hospitalization. The exposures were less than the 25 rem emergency dose limit established by the Japanese government.

    They’re also reporting:
    In Tokyo, the level of radioactive iodine in tap water has dropped to within safety limits Thursday.

  4. I dunno what happened to that second blockquote

  5. ansky26 says:

    One of the news reports I heard this morning specifically said “beta radiation burns” and described the situation as workers standing in contaminated water while working on the new electrical connections. Three hospitalized, one released already.

    I think that was cribbed from a BBC Radio report, by the way.

  6. midwest bill says:

    Maybe the reporter extrapolated “burns on the leg” from “standing in contaminated water”?

    Not being well versed in this stuff like you guys, let me ask … Unless they actually contaminated down to the skin of their leg, would “radiation burn” be correct for a 17rem dose, or what is the damage from that level of exposure? And can that be “treated”?

    • Skip the beta burns part because I haven’t crammed on beta burns yet, but 17 rem wouldn’t be expected to have any short term health effects except it undoubtedly would give you a creepy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

      In theory it would increase cancer risk by a small fraction, statistically, in a linea dose-response model, but it’s also near the bottom of the bucket in the non-linear hormesis model, so it’s possible that the net result is to actually reduce their risk of cancer.

      • wormme says:

        Yes, the only possible “treatment” I can see for 17 rem (.17 Sv) whole-body dose is white blood cell transfusion. And that’s ridiculous. It’s also ridiculous for them to have gotten acute beta burns, for the reasons I posted.

        I’m hoping most guys are coming out with heat stress or heat exhaustion. If their TLDs are read and these (extremely high) doses are seen, “reporters” then blame radiation for whatever the medical need actually is.

    • wormme says:

      No. Well…maybe Elric of Melniboné. But I doubt it.

      As far as damage…you could do extensive blood work on someone, give him 17 rem, then draw another sample. You might could see very slight white blood cell depletion. But you’d need that pre-dose sample because the difference between individuals’ wbc counts exceeds any changes that dose should engender.

  7. crosspatch says:

    According to NHK

    2 nuclear plant workers hospitalized

    Japan’s nuclear safety agency says 2 workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were taken to hospital on Thursday after being exposed to high-level radiation at the Number 3 reactor.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the workers were standing on a flooded basement floor while working to reconnect power lines in the turbine building adjacent to the reactor. As a result, their feet were exposed to 170 to 180 millisieverts of radiation.

    The workers were taken to a local hospital before being moved to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences for treatment.

    A third worker was also exposed to the higher-level radiation but apparently did not require treatment.

    The maximum level of radiation exposure allowed for nuclear plant workers in Japan is normally 100 millisieverts. But the health and labor ministry has recently raised that limit to 250 millisieverts for emergency crews at the Fukushima plant.

    So it sounds like another “abundance of caution” drill.

    • wormme says:

      I suspect they’re falling out from heat ,and stumbling into industrial-type accidents due to exhaustion. While they get medical treatment, their TLDs are read. If the dose are high (and probably all of them are) then radiation is obviously to blame.

  8. jaed says:

    I believe you are misunderestimating the knowledge level of Mr. Journalist. Confronted by your last line, his reply would doubtless be along the lines of, “See! I TOLD you it was radiation! Thermal radiation at that! Isn’t that the most dangerous kind???”

    There are some interesting pictures of the work inside the plant at the Daily Mail, although for God’s sake don’t read the text. Trust me on this. I hadn’t thought it physically possible to be more clueless than US mass media, but European mass media is managing that feat.

  9. oldHP says:

    “So how about it, oldHP? How likely would you rate the odds of “beta burn” among these workers?”

    We can only hope that they are using the public relations officer’s lungs as a substitute SBGTS (standby gas treatment system).

    Standing in contaminated water could give a calculable skin dose. Did they tape TLDs to their ankles or something?

    High beta IIRC can affect your eyes, like a welder’s flash burn. Don’t quote me on that though, somebody check it.

  10. poul says:

    did you just join the pollyanna brigade? thermal? seriously?

    • wormme says:

      Don’t mean to be a pollyanna. If I’ve ever been near to being electrocuted in a plant, my ignorance is bliss.

      But I have had rubber and plastic PPE melted from merely touching pipes, and my skin wasn’t far away.

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