CBS’s “8 Terrifying Symptoms of Radiation Sickness”.

Here’s the article, looks like nine pages, so there’ll be pictures. Um…pictures of actual massive overexposures aren’t pretty. Doubt we’ll see any here.

Nope, haven’t read it yet; this’ll be a drive-by blogging.

But first: any ensuing mockery is not about rad sickness. It’s not funny and getting a massively lethal dose would be terrifying. But even then…unlike other accidental deaths, this incredibly rare one usually gives you the chance to say farewells. And given modern narcotics, I’d choose this fate over most others if it meant getting to say my goodbyes.

So CBS, let’s see your journalistic take on the subject:

People are terrified about being exposed to radiation, including the stuff that some experts fear might leak from…

That “stuff” is called contamination. It’s what radiation “leaks” out of. Just FYI.

…radiation sickness…often proves deadly.

Rad sickness is extremely rare in modern times.  Given that rareness, it does often kill when it occurs.  Second page:

Nausea and vomiting are typically the earliest symptoms of radiation sickness.

No, that’s “journalism poisoning”.  The earliest symptom of rad poisoning is depressed white blood cell count.  Next: 

Spontaneous bleeding.  Unlike the woman hugging the commode, this nosebleed pic is pretty graphic.   And: 

Bloody diarrhea.  Have no idea how they decided on that photo, but the restraint is appreciated.  They’re not doing a bad job here, but this… 

Radiation “targets” cells in the body that reproduce rapidly –

…is incorrect.  Such cells aren’t “targeted”, they are much more radiosensitive.  When isotopes target certain parts of the body it’s for chemical reasons, never radiological ones.

Sloughing of skin.  Don’t worry, they just show a beta-burn.  Wait, that’s actually a sunburn?  Oh, right, beta burn victims are very hard to come by.  Unlike sun-worshippers.

Hair loss.  Is hair loss inherently terrifying?  Apparently so, if you’re in the media. 

Severe fatigueMouth ulcers.  Infections. 

And…it just ends.  With that last symptom.  No context about any of this.

The media are pushing 1 Sv (100 rem) for “nausea and vomiting”, and it’s agreed it can potentially start there.  Maybe it has, but I don’t know any examples.  I’d go more with 150-200 rem (1.5-2 Sv).  The skin needs about 500 rad (5 Gy) to really start beta-burning.  Most of those other symptoms require multiple Seiverts (200-300+ rem) which is most of the way to a lethal dose.

The lowest threshhold dose for the symptoms listed?  I’d say “infection”, or more properly “heightened chance of”.  Fewer white blood cells, more chance of infection. 

Same as when you don’t eat properly, don’t rest enough, etc.  Just as all of these symptoms are also produced by other ailments.

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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14 Responses to CBS’s “8 Terrifying Symptoms of Radiation Sickness”.

  1. oldHP says:

    File is dated Feb 8, 2011. Not yet filed with the NRC, apparently.

    Before the
    Rockville, Maryland
    In the Matter of a Proposed Rulemaking
    Regarding Amendment of 10 CFR Part 50,
    Docket No.______________________
    This Petition for Rulemaking is submitted pursuant to 10 CFR 2.802, “Petition for Rulemaking,” by the Foundation for Resilient Societies. The Petitioner requests that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), following public notice, opportunity for comment, and public hearing, adopt regulations that would require facilities licensed by the NRC under 10 CFR Part 50 to assure long-term cooling and unattended water makeup of spent fuel pools.

    • oldHP says:

      Page 52 talks about Ruthenium being an important contributor to public radiation exposure:

      6.10.5 Individual Risk Estimates

      NUREG-1738 predicts early fatalities and long-term consequences should zirconium cladding fires occur. A textual summary of graphical information in NUREG-1738 concludes:
      An examination of Figure 3.7-1 indicates the following:

       Early fatality consequences for spent fuel pool accidents can be as large as for a severe reactor accident even if the fuel has decayed several years. This is attributable to the significant health effect of ruthenium, and the ruthenium-106 half-life of about 1 year. There is also an important but lesser contribution from cesium.

       A large ruthenium release fraction is important to consequences, but not more important than the consequences of a reactor accident large early release.

       The effect of early evacuation (if possible) is to offset the effect of a large ruthenium release fraction. This effect is comparable to that for reactor accidents.

       For the low ruthenium source term, no early fatality is expected after 1 year decay even with late evacuation.
      For the longer term consequences Figure 3.7-2 indicates:

       Long-term consequences remain significant as long as a fire is possible. These consequences are due primarily to the effect of cesium-137, which remains abundant even in significantly older fuel because of its long (30-year) half-life. Ruthenium and evacuation have notable long-term consequences but do not change the conclusion.

      • oldHP says:

        Hmmm.. the chemical form is important in determining its health effects. Volatile, metallic, or oxidic.

        By now I hope the radiochemists are doing these sort of analysis of the samples.

    • oldHP says:

      Pg 83
      Spent Fuel Pool Boil Off Rates

      130 gpm should be ample even for freshly removed fuel.

      “A 5 HP electric motor running at 80% typical efficiency would consume approximately 5 kilowatts of power. Multiple units of any of the above high reliability power production technologies could supply this amount of power. A pump attached to a 5 HP motor would typically generate approximately 100 feet of head through a 2 inch pipe at 160 gallons per minute. As the boil-off rate charge shows, after only a few months the duty cycle for any power generation solution would dramatically decline.”

  2. oldHP says:


    Have you noticed that power companies have been ‘replacing’ old transformers & bringing in on-site spares? I’m talking about the behemoths that are only manufactured in a few places (Japan…) and require special multi-wheel tractor trailers that travel at 3 mph after the unit has been barged as close as possible.

    The chance of a solar storm that knocks out these transformers, and knocking out the entire national or even world wide grid, might be 1 in 100 years… Not to mention terrorism creating a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP).

    pg 106:

    Electromagnetic Pulse: Effects on the U.S. Power Grid,”
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
    October 2010

    These levels
    of GIC could also cause the possibility of widespread power system problems in these
    regions as well. For example, the Eskom grid (South Africa) sustained the loss of 14
    large 400kV transformers over the October 29-31, 2003 geomagnetic storm. Therefore,
    these lower latitude regions in combination with high latitude regions of North America
    and Europe could all experience substantial disruptive events from an extreme storm,
    effects that could include permanent damage to key power system apparatus such as
    transformers and generators. In these scenarios, the world demand for replacement
    apparatus could dwarf the world capability to manufacture and supply replacement
    apparatus. While it would be difficult to accurately estimate world damage, the U.S. Grid
    simulations can provide a rough estimate of potential GIC-caused thermal damage to
    transformers. Using the 950 amp-min exposure determined for the Salem transformer
    from the March 89 storm, a review of transformers with this level of exposure and higher
    can be undertaken. Using the 2400 nT/min disturbance peak at each location latitude
    along with the three smaller substorms of March 1989 (to simulate a long-duration
    storm), a map of at-risk transformers is provided in Figure 3-29. This calculation
    estimates that ~216 large power transformers would be exposed to these at-risk levels.

    • oldHP says:

      the above pg 106 of the PDF file is page numbered sec 3-27 of the document itself

      PDFPg 110 which is document sec 4-1

      Section 4
      An Assessment of Geomagnetic Storm-Related At-Risk EHV Transformers and
      Potential Damage Estimates
      The previous sections of this report focused upon the mechanisms for power system
      collapse due to geomagnetic storm disturbance environments, but also briefly discussed
      the possible permanent equipment damage that may result from these disturbances. In
      regards to this analysis, the ability to assess disturbance conditions that can trigger
      widespread power system collapse is at a higher level of certainty than the analysis of
      what permanent damage these environments may cause to the equipment itself. This
      discussion will attempt to provide perspectives, through experience of actual power
      system collapses, on both the nature of the initiating causes of the collapses and the
      potential level of damage that may be possible to the infrastructure. Section 3 indicated
      that in worst case situations, these types of disturbances could instantly create a loss of
      over 70 percent of the nation’s electrical service. This could be a blackout several times
      larger than the previously largest, the North American blackout of 14 August 2003. The
      most troubling aspect of the analysis is the possibility of an extremely slow pace of
      restoration from such a large outage and the multiplying effects that could cripple other
      infrastructures such as water, transportation, and communications due to the prolonged
      loss of the electric power grid supply. This extended recovery would be due to
      permanent damage to key power grid components caused by the unique nature of the
      electromagnetic upset. The recovery could plausibly extend into months in many parts of
      the impacted regions. Also other space weather environment interactions can lead to loss
      of, or permanent damage to, satellites, communications, and other infrastructures, as has
      been widely reported in the space weather community. In both cases, the concerns
      become one of highly correlated multipoint failures that can adversely affect the entire
      infrastructure and the numerous and complex interdependencies that these systems may
      have with each other.

  3. oldHP says:

    FEMA might be using too-conservative estimates of the problem:

    pg 120 sec 4-11

    Because there is considerable
    uncertainty as to the threshold level of GIC that will cause transformer failure, two levels
    of minimum GIC (30 amps per phase and 90 amps per phase) were considered as the
    screening level for possible transformer failure for the severe geomagnetic storm
    4800nT/min threat environment. For evaluations that were reported to the National
    Academy of Sciences and for the economic impact analysis performed for FEMA, a
    damage level threshold of 90 amps/phase was utilized, which makes overall estimates of
    damage levels more conservative. In contrast, a 30 amp/phase level is the approximate
    GIC withstand threshold for the Salem nuclear plant GSU transformer and possibly for
    others of similar less robust design in the legacy population of U.S. EHV transformers.
    Also, it is also important to note that other transformer failures have been observed at
    much lower thresholds and that other transformers have been exposed to levels higher
    than 30 amps/phase without indication of permanent damage. These variations largely
    stem from the diversity of design of the internal core and coil assemblies of large EHV

  4. oldHP says:

    make it stooooop…

    pg 125 sec 4-16

    Figure 4-13 provides a graphic summary of
    the fuel types for the generators that are associated with the at-risk GSU transformers. As
    shown in this summary, ~82% of the generators at-risk are the large nuclear and coal
    fired power plants. The loss is particularly important for the nuclear capacity since ~92%
    of all nuclear generation in the NE Quad would be out of service long-term.


    Similar to
    the analysis performed at the 30 amp threshold, ~77% of the at-risk generators are coal
    and nuclear fuel types for the 90 amp threshold.

  5. Pingback: Geomagnetic storms and the reliability of your electricity. | World's Only Rational Man

  6. cliff says:

    Snarky Comment Alert! ” It’s what radiation “leaks” out of” haha caught ya. Radiation travels at 186,000 miles per second. When I wake up at 4am, that’s what a leak is about. Just sayin’ 🙂

    • wormme says:

      Yep, it’s what gets me p.o.ed about radiation “leaks”. The term does get used, rarely, when talking about weak points in shielding where radiation is “leaking” out. But otherwise, never.

  7. crosspatch says:

    My work is mainly in the telecommunications area these days. One thing that I notice is the absolute lack of proper grounding with most data center installations. The TELCOs are better at this than the dot-coms. In your average dot-com you will find racks that do not have dedicated grounds. Many pieces of the gear mounted in them will come with ground lugs that are never attached to the chassis. Grounding discipline in most of the data centers in silicon valley is pretty bad.

    In many data centers there might actually be several layers of potential protection that are basically wasted and could end up causing problems rather than mitigating them. In a large colocation center, an outfit’s data operations might be enclosed in a metal “cage”. Often, this cage is ungrounded and is basically more cosmetic than anything else and is designed more for security than shielding but they could be put to good use if grounded properly. Then you have the racks themselves. Some of them are grounded at some facilities, some aren’t. The ones that are grounded are often not properly so and I have seen “ground loops” occur though rarely.

    Even if the racks are grounded, they often lack a “ground plate” or terminal board where you can run chassis grounds from each of the installed pieces of gear. A lot of routers, switches, and servers come with a special ground point. These are rarely connected to anything.

    So in many cases we have the potential for many layers of protection. You have a steel mesh cage, inside of that you have steel cabinets (racks) often with doors that close, inside of that you have steel cabinets of the various pieces of equipment inside. If everything is properly grounded you run less risk of things becoming electrically charged, the change in this charge resulting in a magnetic field that can induce charges into other things and so forth. But even where there are properly grounded facilities (most often seen at places like TELCO central offices), there is some doubt if the grounds are of sufficient capacity to carry off what might be a significant charge.

    A decent lightning arrestor / surge protector for Cat 5 ethernet cable can cost $50 … per cable. If you have an installation with a few thousand Ethernet cables, this gets cost prohibitive. My designs attempt to keep all copper cabling inside the cabinet with fiberoptic cable between the cabinets but this can not always be avoided. If you have copper cables making long runs, you are pretty much screwed.

    The fundamentals of being more survivable to EMP are pretty much the same as surviving lightning strike. Grounding is important but isn’t going to protect you against a bazillion megavolts coming in on your power circuit. Quality lightning arrestors at the building entrance are important. Station class arrestors at the power input backed up with distribution arrestors and finally, arrestors at point of use provide a layered defense. If you think about EMP as a lightning strike that hits every building in the region, you can design for it, but it will be expensive.

    So say you have weigh your options. So lets say you spend a lot of money on lightning arrestors. Now say there is a solar Carrington superflare event. All of your equipment survives but your electric utility is going to be offline for the next 6 months. Or maybe YOUR equipment survives but someone else didn’t pay attention and their gear sets the place on fire. Fire department arrives and dowses all your gear with water. Fine thing all that protection was.

    • wormme says:

      Excellently informative. Good points all. What good is it to sacrifice profits to surge-protect you capabilities if you’re dependent on a chain of others who aren’t doing it?

      Thanks for the thought and effort on this one.

    • crosspatch says:

      “All of your equipment survives but your electric utility is going to be offline for the next 6 months.”

      The point of that being that you can buy insurance to cover the equipment and if the insurance costs less than the lightning arrestors … and if it is likely that the utility will be down long enough for you to replace the gear anyway, you are better off financially doing nothing.

      In the case of a Carrington event, the insurance companies are going to be toast … as will be anyone at higher than 20,000 feet or so.

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