Favorable winds over Japan carrying radioactivity out to sea

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:16 PM GMT on March 16, 2011

Share this Blog
3
+

If there is going to be a major nuclear disaster with massive release of radioactivity into the atmosphere from Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, today would be the best day meteorologically for this to occur. The low pressure system that brought rain and several inches of snow to Japan yesterday has moved northeastwards out to sea, and high pressure is building in. The clockwise flow of air around the high pressure system approaching Japan from the southwest is driving strong northwesterly winds of 10 - 20 mph over the region. These winds will continue through Thursday, and will take radiation particles emitted by the stricken reactors immediately out to sea, without lingering over Japan. Since high pressure systems are regions of sinking air, the radiation will stay close to the ocean surface as the air spirals clockwise over the Pacific. The contaminated air will remain over the ocean for at least five days, which is plenty of time for the radiation to settle out to the surface.


Figure 1. Surface weather map for 8am EDT today, taken from the 6-hour forecast from this morning's 6 UTC run of the GFS model. A high pressure system to the southwest of Japan, in combination with a low pressure system to the northeast are driving strong northwesterly surface winds over the country. Image is from our wundermap with the "Model" layer turned on. The lines are sea-level pressure (blue contours, 4 mb interval) and 1000 to 500 mb thickness (yellow contours, 60 m interval). Thickness is a measure of the temperature of the lower atmosphere, and a thickness of 5400 meters is usually close to where the dividing line between rain and snow occurs.

Thursday night and Friday morning (U.S. time), the high pressure system moves over Japan, allowing winds to weaken and potentially grow calm, increasing the danger of radioactivity building up over regions near and to the north of the nuclear plant. On Friday, the high departs and a moist southwesterly flow of air will affect Japan. These southwesterly winds will blow most of the radiation out to sea, away from Tokyo. Southwesterly winds will continue through Sunday, when the next major low pressure system is expected to bring heavy precipitation to the country. Beginning Thursday night, the sinking airmass over Japan will be replaced a large-scale area of rising air, and any radiation emitted late Thursday through Friday will be carried aloft towards Alaska and eastern Russia by this southwesterly flow of rising air.

Ground-level releases of radioactivity are typically not able to be transported long distances in significant quantities, since most of the material settles to the ground a few kilometers from the source. If there is a major explosion with hot gases that shoots radioactivity several hundred meters high, that would increase the chances for long range transport, since now the ground is farther away, and the particles that start settling out will stay in the air longer before encountering the ground. Additionally, winds are stronger away from ground, due to reduced friction and presence of the jet stream aloft. These stronger winds will transport radioactivity greater distances. I've made trajectory plots for the next three days assuming two possible release altitudes--a surface-based release near 10 meters, which should be the predominant altitude in the current situation, and a higher release altitude of 300 meters, which might occur from an explosion and fire from a Chernobyl-style incident. Given that the radioactivity has to travel 3000 miles to reach Anchorage, Alaska, and 5000 miles to reach California, a very large amount of dilution will occur, along with potential loss due to rain-out. Any radiation at current levels of emission that might reach these places may not even be detectable, much less be a threat to human health. A Chernobyl-level disaster in Japan would certainly be able to produce detectable levels of radiation over North America, but I strongly doubt it would be a significant concern for human health. The Chernobyl disaster only caused dangerous human health impacts within a few hundred miles of the disaster site, and the distance from Japan to North America is ten times farther than that.


Figure 2. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Wednesday, March 16, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes spiral clockwise around the high pressure system to the southwest of Japan and stay near the surface. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 3. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Thursday, March 17, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes initially spiral clockwise around the high pressure system to the southwest of Japan and stay near the surface. By Saturday, though, the plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. Ascending air lifts the plumes to high altitudes, where winds are stronger and rapid long-range transport occurs. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 4. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Friday, March 18, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. The plume emitted near the surface (red line) stays trapped near the surface, but the plume emitted at 300 meters is lifted to 3.5 km altitude by the rising air associated with the approaching low pressure system. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

Rare subtropical cyclone forms near Brazil
An unusual low pressure system that came close to becoming a tropical storm is in the South Atlantic, a few hundred miles east of the coast of Brazil. The Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center has officially named the system Subtropical Storm "Arani", but I'm not sure the low would have been named by NHC, since Arani has somewhat of a loose circulation and limited heavy thunderstorm activity. The storm is expected to move slowly eastward out to sea, and does not pose a threat to South America. The latest run of the GFDL model shows little development of Arani, and the storm is now encountering a frontal system, which is bringing 20 - 30 knots of wind shear. It is unlikely that Arani will become a tropical storm. Some runs of the GFDL last weekend were predicting Arani would intensify into a Category 3 hurricane; that's the first time I've even seen such a prediction for a South Atlantic storm. The metsul.com blog has more info on Arani, for those of you who read Portugese.


Figure 5. During the daytime on Tuesday 15 March 2011 at 1820 UTC the TRMM satellite flew over a rare cyclone labeled Arani in the South Atlantic. Arani had the appearance of a tropical cyclone but has been classified as a subtropical cyclone. NOAA's Satellite and Information Service classified Arani as a T1 on the Dvorak intensity scale which would indicate an estimated wind speed of about 29 kt (~33 mph). TRMM's Microwave Imager (TMI) and Precipitation Radar (PR) data were used in the image above to show rainfall near Arani. Image credit: NASA.

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 215 - 165

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17Blog Index

Quoting TampaSpin:


The impact on Major US companies are not currently measurable. The correct thing is to protect ones assests. Nothing wrong with that!!!!

As i mentioned earlier.....The Country of Japan owns a great deal of US Bonds that they will probably be cashing to rebuild their country. Hope you understand the position the US will be in when this occurs. The US dollar will be worth little while very high inflation takes over.....NOT A PRETTY PICTURE!


I disagree regarding the USD and US Treasuries. And "NOT A PRETTY PICTURE!" is pushing the point a little hard for this forum.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


You have taken my post out of context, I never said anything about conspiracy, I said controversy.


I stand corrected. Let me sit down.

Controversy, oh my!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Yes I read the origonal post several days ago and recently the one set up by the students at MIT. They are not MIT sites, if they were they would end in .edu. I was just pointing out that there is some controversy.
That's a nice way of saying that it appears some yahoo was yammering on about a topic in which he has no professional expertise and a great many "journalists" and "editors" did no fact checking whatsoever.

(That's the way I read it, anyway.)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CyclonicVoyage:



All due respect as I have nowhere near the knowledge these experts in your links have about nuclear energy but, I have to question their comment that there is nothing to worry about. Media hype aside, there is quite a lot of worry in the minds of the people dealing with this mess. I doubt full scale evacs, spy planes and energy chiefs would be needed in an event that is nothing to worry about.


I'm not saying there isn't a problem, but knowledge is important. Read the article with a shaker full of salt if you need to, but I'm saying, read the article and it is MIT. I don't believe this is a Chernobyl. It is a mess, and there's going to have to be (hopefully) a total rethink on nuclear power and it's viability in the future, yes, but understanding what's going on is better than fear and conjecture.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting klaatuborada:


Information about the incident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants in Japan hosted by http://web.mit.edu/nse/ :: Maintained by the students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT

There is an .edu here, but it shortens to http://mitnse.com/

This is MIT guys. Conspiracy theories, oh my!


You have taken my post out of context, I never said anything about conspiracy, I said controversy.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


Yes I read the origonal post several days ago and recently the one set up by the students at MIT. They are not MIT sites, if they were they would end in .edu. I was just pointing out that there is some controversy.


Information about the incident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants in Japan hosted by http://web.mit.edu/nse/ :: Maintained by the students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT

There is an .edu here, but it shortens to http://mitnse.com/

This is MIT guys. Conspiracy theories, oh my!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Steam at Fukushima No. 3 reactor, massive water injection planned

Japan's nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power station showed no signs of abating Wednesday, five days after a mega earthquake crippled it, with the focus shifting to how to cool the possibly overheating pools that store spent fuel rods at the already troubled No. 3 and No. 4 reactors.

What appeared to be smoke coming from the No. 3 reactor in the morning led the top government spokesman to point to the possibility of damage to the reactor's steel containment vessel, but it seemed more likely later in the day that the smoke was radioactive steam coming from the No. 3 reactor's spent fuel pool.

Cooling down the spent fuel pools is a difficult task amid the high radiation level in the area, while fears of radiation among the public appeared to escalate as some companies refused to deliver relief materials to Fukushima Prefecture even outside of the government-designated warning zone.

The government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the first priority should be pouring coolant water into the pools at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, which are apparently boiling. Unless the spent fuel rods are cooled down, they could suffer damage and emit radioactive substances.

If cooling operations do not proceed well, the situation will ''reach a critical stage in a couple of days,'' an agency official said.

Article...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13526
203. Skyepony (Mod)
Here's the Flexpart model run for the explosion on the 14th (posted the one for the one on the 13th earlier)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Waltanater:
Looks like there might be another major EQ soon!! Based on recent activity, I predict a 7.8 ~ 8.2 mag earthquake within about an hour from now.

Lat: ~37
Long: ~142
Depth: ~19 miles

Good luck!


Wow, just wow.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:


I wonder where the US stores its spent Rods for cool down if they remain on site in a non contained area. Seems like a very bad error in judgement! Just my opinion.


I read that they remain on site until the US figures out a permanent storage solution. Could be a while ... it has been already.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting klaatuborada:




Please check this out



All due respect as I have nowhere near the knowledge these experts in your links have about nuclear energy but, I have to question their comment that there is nothing to worry about. Media hype aside, there is quite a lot of worry in the minds of the people dealing with this mess. I doubt full scale evacs, spy planes and energy chiefs would be needed in an event that is nothing to worry about.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
195. Skyepony (Mod)
New Zealand and two Australian search-and- rescue workers were decontaminated after they were found to have been exposed to low-level radiation at Japan's Fukushima airport, Prime Minister John Key said Wednesday. He told reporters the workers were on a Blackhawk helicopter which was forced to land at the airport, 20 kilometres outside the exclusion zone mandated following damage to a nuclear power plant, because of ice on the chopper blades. Key said they then had to use ground transportation, and levels of radiation were picked up on the New Zealanders' boots. After returning to the joint Australia-New Zealand base about 100 kilometres from the exclusion zone, they were tested for radiation exposure and "very low levels" were found on the two New Zealanders and two of the four Australians on the aircraft. "They went through a decontamination process," Key said. "We do not believe they are suffering any health risks, nor do we believe they are at any risk." They would stay in Japan on the assignment. Key said the New Zealand government was in constant contact with experts at its National Radiation Laboratory and "we are quite comfortable with their position. Nevertheless, we have taken every cautionary step you would expect us to." He said the men were flying to scan the area in which they expected to be working as part of the rescue effort. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was reported to have told reporters that the Australian workers were not expected to be at any risk. "The clear advice to me is that these two personnel are safe and well," she said. Gillard said the International Atomic Energy Agency had advised her that health risks from exposure to the radiation were low to negligible.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting klaatuborada:


MIT? These are MIT sites. Y'know, that college over there in Cambridge Massachusetts. Did you bother to read these articles?


Yes I read the origonal post several days ago and recently the one set up by the students at MIT. They are not MIT sites, if they were they would end in .edu. I was just pointing out that there is some controversy.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
193. beell
Quoting emcf30:
Aparrently, there is a 10km evacuation being conducted at the Fukushima Daini Power Plant which is about 10 mi south of the Daiichi plant. Unknown the reason at this time ( According to CNN ). Attempting to get further confirmation.


That evac zone has been in place since the 12th.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting twincomanche:


More hysteria. What the heck ever happened to "Can do"? All we get now is the chicken little syndrome.


The impact on Major US companies are not currently measurable. The correct thing is to protect ones assests. Nothing wrong with that!!!!

As i mentioned earlier.....The Country of Japan owns a great deal of US Bonds that they will probably be cashing to rebuild their country. Hope you understand the position the US will be in when this occurs. The US dollar will be worth little while very high inflation takes over.....NOT A PRETTY PICTURE!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


There is some controversy about those sites.


MIT? These are MIT sites. Y'know, that college over there in Cambridge Massachusetts. Did you bother to read these articles?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Japan vs. Haiti

Although most natural disasters carry some kind of turmoil in terms of looting and other crime, I doubt very much there will be serious incidents in Japan. In Haiti, the tent camps are hell on earth. Armed gangs roam the streets gang-raping women and girls as young as several months. Anyone can break into any tent at any time. Police appear to be complicit.

When an earthquake hits an industrialised country such as Japan, there is unlikely to be a serious outbreak of infectious disease. In Haiti, there was a massive cholera outbreak. Furthermore, most people living in the camps have no access to clean drinking water and with lack of sanitation are living in a cesspool of human sewage. Combine that with a merciless sun beaming down every day and the atmosphere is demonic.

All in all, the consequences of the Haiti earthquake are many orders of magnitude more serious. I’d say that even NOW with one year of history, Haiti is still in a much bigger state of emergency than Japan — at least from a humanitarian perspective. So while it’s obviously good that the current tragedy has provoked a strong international response, the lack of parity with other disasters sickens me. And that’s just comparing earthquake-to-earthquake, ignoring calamities that kill many more people. Despite being dramatic, natural disasters kill much less people than things like malnutrition and starvation, malaria and tuberculosis.


Will Japan's earthquake end up being worst than Haiti's, taking in consideration locan and Global consequences?
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting CFLWX:
Anybody have their preseason numbers ready for this years Hurricane Season?

I'm going 16 11 5.

P.S These numbers may need to be adjusted up.



here's mine 42 11 11

The answer is 42

then

it goes to 11
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting klaatuborada:




Please check this out


There is some controversy about those sites.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/13/world /asia/satellite-photos-japan-before-and-after-tsun ami.html?src=ISMR_HP_LO_MST_FB

The link has overlaid before and after pictures of the disaster in Japan. Put your mouse on the center line and move left or right. Sorry if this has already been posted.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tillou:
The nuclear situation seems to be out of hand.

Lets take a step back here for a bit and someone explain, to some of us, what radiation is? Is it gas or a spec of dust? Is staying indoors for some of these people really helping?

The article of the spent fuel ponds is very worrysome. Maybe this is just a little too much common sense here but why would you want to have the ponds above the reactor?!?!


In physics, radiation is a process in which energetic particles or energy or waves travel through a medium or space. It's all around us, all the time. Atmoaggie mentioned earlier that the oceans, by their very make-up, are slightly radioactive.

You can be exposed to radiation through an energy source or by particulate matter; Dr. Louis Alexander Slotin, the basis of the character Dr. Manhattan, died of radiation exposure because he accidently dropped a beryllium hemisphere onto it's mate (they contained plutonium), forcing criticality and a spike of hard radiation...no particulate, just energy.

On the other hand, tens of thousands died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima due to immediate hard radiation exposure as a result of the bombings there, but tens of thousands more died subsequently due to long term exposure to radioactive particulates ingested during the same bombings...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Floodman:


Well, a fuel rod assembly is good for 6 or so years as fuel and takes between 6 and 10 years after depletion to cool down sufficiently to be stored in "dry" conditions...


Quoting klaatuborada:
Two great articles to read to really understand how the nuclear problem is not as bad as the media is making it out to be, from MIT ->

From MIT You can stop worrying

and

MIT NSE Nuclear Information


Please check this out
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CFLWX:


OUCH!! I see my stocks are taking a little hit today!
"Earth Shattering!"
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CFLWX:
It just doesn't make sense that they would put these Nuclear Power plants in Earthquake prone areas but then again what area in Japan isn't earthquake prone. I just think it would be foolish to think that none of this radioactivity wouldn't affect the US considering the Jetstream is aimed right at the Pacific NW.


This was 1970's thinking when they built the plants.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:

Kudos to them.
Unfortunately, people in the "west" have generally lost the sense of Responsibility in the face of Crisis and become soft, and have a hard time understanding the "eastern" mind. (generalizations are odious, but the point is valid, I think)

Pottery I will have to disagree, but then again my community has a large population of active duty, veterans and military retirees. Many of these were out and about helping each other after Hurricane Ivan. Many of my neighbors are still volunteering in New Orleans
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Looks like there might be another major EQ soon!! Based on recent activity, I predict a 7.8 ~ 8.2 mag earthquake within about an hour from now.

Lat: ~37
Long: ~142
Depth: ~19 miles

Good luck!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Cotillion:


I wonder if they're going to start running out of 'I' names.
True. There really is not a wide selection to choose from. They may just stop using the "I" name all together someday.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:



This is getting mighty ugly also....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting Chicklit:
I wonder how much radiation there is in one spent fuel rod...


Well, a fuel rod assembly is good for 6 or so years as fuel and takes between 6 and 10 years after depletion to cool down sufficiently to be stored in "dry" conditions...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
my 11 year old just said why can they not use liquid nitrogen to super cool down the reactors


That's no goofier an idea than dropping water on them from a helicopter, or spraying them with a fire hose from ground level, or getting a hundred guys on ladders to shoot at the flames with squirt guns...

Out of control, it is. Out of control.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13526
March 15, 2011 Some of the problems afflicting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant appear to be related to one or more of the spent fuel storage pools at the plant. In Japan on Tuesday, a fire broke out in the No. 4 reactor building near an area where spent fuel is stored. The material is still highly radioactive, and all nuclear power plants have facilities to deal with this material.

First, some background on how nuclear reactors work.

The fuel in a nuclear reactor contains material that can undergo something called nuclear fission.

"Most of the fuel starts out as uranium material," says Francis Livens, research director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester. In the Japanese plants, the uranium material is uranium oxide that's pressed into little pellets. "It's kind of like pottery, and you put it into long metal tubes, which are sealed, and those tubes are called the fuel pins."

These fuel pins are also called fuel rods.

In a fission reaction, a uranium atom splits apart, releasing a lot of energy in the process. That energy, in the form of heat, is what makes the steam that powers the turbines that makes the electricity. But as the fission reaction proceeds, the uranium fuel gets used up. "There comes a point when actually, the fuel becomes inefficient," says Livens.

When that happens, plant operators use control rods to turn off the fission reaction, and then they take the spent fuel out of the reactor. When the pins come out, Livens says, they are hot. But the heat is not just lingering heat from the fission reaction.

"These are radioisotopes that come from the products of the fission," says Jeffrey Binder, director of the fuel cycle and isotope program at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

These fission byproducts are also very radioactive, but they're not permanently radioactive.

"The radioactivity drops very dramatically over the first couple of days, and then it goes down by a factor of a hundred over the next several years," says Charles Forsberg, executive director of the MIT nuclear fuel cycle project. He says to cool the fuel rods that have come out of a reactor, they're submerged in water in what's called a spent fuel pool. "The water does two things — the water provides cooling, but the other thing it does, it also provides radiation shielding."

Why Water Is So Key


The concern in Japan is that the water levels in the pools may be dropping. That's not good because these spent fuel rods are still producing heat.

"If you have any kind of heat source — it doesn't matter what the heat source is — take a look at a burner on a stove with a teapot," says Forsberg. "If you don't have any cooling, and you let the teapot evaporate dry, it ruins the teapot."

In the case of nuclear fuel, it would be the metal surrounding the fuel that would melt, letting out the highly radioactive material inside. And some of that might come out as radioactive gas. So the name of the game, says Forsberg, is to keep the rods covered with water. Forsberg says it doesn't matter what kind of water you use. Since the damaged reactor is near the ocean, there's plenty of water at hand.

The spent fuel rods will typically sit quietly in these pools for a couple of years. Once they become less radioactive, and less hot, they can either be shipped to a disposal site, or in the case of Japanese power plant, shipped to a reprocessing plant.

Livens says it's unusual for these spent fuel pools to make news headlines. "Normally nuclear fuel storage ponds are very quiet, very boring places actually," he says.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
The nuclear situation seems to be out of hand.

Lets take a step back here for a bit and someone explain, to some of us, what radiation is? Is it gas or a spec of dust? Is staying indoors for some of these people really helping?

The article of the spent fuel ponds is very worrysome. Maybe this is just a little too much common sense here but why would you want to have the ponds above the reactor?!?!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
my 11 year old just said why can they not use liquid nitrogen to super cool down the reactors


Its too big, and while it would cool it down short-term, it would increase pressure inside the vessel. Also, Nitrogen's ability to absorb heat is less than that of water.


Add to that the explosive potential of super cooling the spent fuel rods (we won't even go into the cores themselves).
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
Took a while.


I wonder if they're going to start running out of 'I' names.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 215 - 165

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.