The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dipen, Fukushima, Glenn and Esther, and Bangladesh

This short posting links four seemingly unrelated things for me.

Dipen Bhattacharya has been a good friend of mine for 20 years. It was his parents with whom I stayed while I was in Dhaka during the crisis that I have been describing in Dhaka: Diary of Conflict. He has lived for much of those 20 years in Los Angeles, and is an astrophysicist at the University of California, Riverside; a science fiction novelist, philosopher and literary critic. As is obvious, his scientific knowledge goes much beyond even the vast field of space research in which he is an expert. His knowledge of nuclear physics is considerable.

   Linking these two things with the fact that my nephew Glenn and his wife live in Tokyo, what he has to say relates to their lives now, as well as to the future of Bangladesh, my fourth corner of this apparently strange rectangle.

Here is what he wrote very recently as the Japanese nuclear crisis deepens.

Eventually, the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant will be contained. But this nuclear drama has implications for Bangladesh.

Fukushima Update

Who needs radioactivity?

Nuclear electric power or not, we need radioactivity just to keep us warm. The radioactive breakdown of unstable nuclei within earth’s mantle and core is what keeps this planet warm and make tectonic movements possible.

 But harnessing its energy is trickier than we thought. The workers in Fukushima Daiichi plant have been trying to get the plant under control for more than two weeks and the end is nowhere in sight.

 I would cite four recent developments that are definitely worth mentioning: 
  1. Two workers came in contact with radioactive water directly in reactor number 3 and had to be hospitalized. Their legs were exposed to 2 to 6 sieverts of radiation (remember world-wide yearly average dosage for humans range from 2,000 to 4,000 microsieverts, i.e., 2 to 4 millisieverts). Apparently, these workers show radiation burns on their legs. Experts blame TEPCO authorities for lax safety measures.
  2. Then there was a report that radiation in water in the turbine building of reactor number 2 spiked to give a reading of 10 million times normal. The culprit was I-134 (and not the usual I-131). Authorities soon recanted, the level was not 10 million times higher, but still 100,000 times higher, and the radioactive isotope was not I-134. The presence of I-134 would have meant that the reactor was undergoing fission as I-134 has a half-life of only 53 minutes. Such false measurements can happen in times of panic.
  3. There is now about a million gallons of radioactive water in these reactors. This has to be stored and decontaminated!
  4. The sea water adjacent to the plant shows radioactivity levels of close to 2,000 times the normal. It is expected that the vast ocean will disperse this radiation, but the radioactive water is migrating along the coast.

Lessons for Bangladesh

The radiation pollution has a way to move across space using wind and water. The recent contamination of ocean water near Fukushima nuclear plant and its subsequent movement along the coast should be a lesson to countries which are about to build their nuclear plants along river banks.

 Imagine you have plant built on river Padma. A disaster that brings contaminated radioactive water through this lifeline will have an effect on the entire country. Radiation in sea quickly dissipates, but that is not the case for an inland river.

 We may not have too many options regarding energy generation, but nuclear power is not a panacea for all countries. A nuclear plant built on a seismically active flood plain that is subjected to river erosion needs extensive and comprehensive risk analysis study.

Denis and Dipen 1996 (Riverside, California)
Dipen Bhattacharya


  1. Actually I focused in on Dipen's wonderful photos of the Sunderbans. I've read two books about that region (well one very good novel by Amitav Ghosh, and one book about the tigers there). I've never seen photos that really explained so well what those writers described, so thank you Dipen and Denis.

    Not meaning to detract from the terrible nuclear problem happening now and possibly more in the future, esp if Indonesia persists in all its projects. As I'm pretty sure it will..

  2. Actually, I must check with Dipen about what must now be a very old nuclear power plant I seem to recall seeing in Dhaka in 1973.
    Dipen is a very good photographer. It's rather disconcerting that one person has so many talents. I think he may be a twentieth century incarnation of Leonardo! :)

  3. Dear Denis, Thanks for those wonderful words. You are way too kind, but I am embarrassed. Thanks for the photo also. By the way, I am researcher at UC Riverside, not at UCLA.

    I think the structure that you saw in Dhaka is simply a light tower on the premise of Atomic Energy Commission. The tower used to have a red light set amidst a jagged profile giving a sensation of the throbbing heart of a nuclear reactor! Currently, Bangladesh has a small research reactor made by GE. But the country has signed an agreement with Russia to set up two one-GigaWatt nuclear units!

    Best, Dipen

  4. Hi Dipen - well, it's about time someone embarrassed you for the right reasons! :) You've always been way too modest. I'll make the correction to your research site. Uni of Cal is so big I never quite figured out where the boundaries are, but I'm sure it was on your bio and I should have picked it up.
    You made me laugh when telling me about what I thought was some sort of nuclear reactor in Dhaka. It's so obvious to me now that if there were one, that's hardly where it would be anyway (well, I HOPE not!) It's just that I hadn't thought of that image for decades - I had a colour slide of it somewhere from 1973 or so. Any idea where the Russian reactors are supposed to be set up? Gosh I think 2/3 of Bangladesh at least must be a flood plain.
    I just read that the disaster readiness plans for Fukushima consisted of one sat phone and one lone stretcher. Oops.

  5. Dear Denis, The plant in Bangladesh is proposed to be near the Ganges (Padma). In Google Earth, you can find a bridge over the river if you search for Paksey, Bangladesh. There is some cleared land south of the railway. I am not sure, but that may be the future site. Cooling water has to come from the river and there is problem with that - more about this later.
    The Fukushima preparedness leaves a lot to be desired. I hope this ends well, but the surrounding site will have to be abandoned for years.
    By the way, Denis, I must salute your zeal and energy. I think your writing and zest for life are an inspiration for the rest of us.

  6. Thanks very much for that information, Dipen - I never thought to use Google Maps to go and snoop on Dhaka as well. How great to be able to see it! What was the nearest cross street to your house in Rankin St? I can't make out which house it is for certain. Things also look different from when I was last there, which isn't surprising I guess!
    As to the Fukushima plant, it is an absolute mess and I don't know how they will solve that one quickly. The terrifying cost of NOT solving it may encourage some intensive research on ways to speed up the process of managing the decontamination, as I really don't believe that in 50 to 100 years they will still be scratching their heads as to what they will do about it.
    As to Bangladesh, its need for power in the absence of a lot of fossil fuels is critical, but contaminating the Padma would be unimaginably horrendous, so this accident may help to decide more wisely about the pros and cons – maybe even yea or nay.
    As to my writing, I find there are so many ideas floating round in there I am afraid I won’t even get a tenth of them down, but the trick is to do them at my own pace, and in a way, to let them sort themselves out. It is a very uncertain time, and the occasional sporadic stabs of sudden pain out of the blue around the tumour site remind me that plans for the future should make allowance for rapid change.


Some iPads simply refuse to post responses. I have no idea why, but be aware of this.
Word verification has been enabled because of an avalanche of spam. SAVE or compose a long comment elsewhere before posting; don’t lose it! View in Preview mode first before trying to post.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.