Archive for March, 2011

Radiation Exposure Explained: Putting Japan in Context

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Author: Justin Krometis, Transportation Analyst, IEM

This is a very good, easy-to-understand discussion of how much radiation we are typically exposed to and what the regulatory limits are, to help put into context the radiation levels being reported in Japan and even now in the US.

Emerging Ethanol Regulations

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Author: David Willauer, Manager, Transportation & Geospatial Technologies Division, IEM

In my previous blog post (Ethanol: The New HazMat?), it was inaccurate to suggest that ethanol is a completely unregulated chemical. While ethanol is not regulated under the EPA Risk Management Program (RMP) or Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) when used as a fuel (like gasoline), it is still regulated under the EPA “General Duty Clause,” and it is subject to other regulations.

HazMat is short for “hazardous material” which is a term used by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for anything that would be placarded for transport or has a UN/NA number. This also applies to chemicals required by the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) when it applies to an employer.  Ethanol has a UN number of 1170 and is placarded by the DOT for flammability. It is also listed under the National Fire Protection Act (NFPA) with a rating of health (2), fire (3), and reactivity (0) on a scale of 0-4 with 4 being the worst health hazard. Finally, OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) program does establish a 10,000 lb threshold for flammable liquids and gases as defined in 1910.1200(c) of their standard. (more…)

Ethanol: The New HAZMAT?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Author: David Willauer, Manager, Transportation & Geospatial Technologies Division, IEM

Is ethanol considered HazMat? This question continues to be debated as we use increasing amounts of this corn-based product to supplement our nation’s fuel supply. Ethanol is not a regulated chemical. Unlike MTBE, ethanol reportedly does not pollute ground water.

However, ask a firefighter about ethanol and you will get a different answer.  Whether blended with gasoline or not, ethanol is highly flammable and corrosive.

Ethanol is an alcohol-based organic com­pound produced chemically by ethylene conversion (a patented process) or through fermentation of sugars using yeasts. Ethanol (C2H5OH) is flammable, colorless, and odorless. Today we are blending ethanol and gasoline to produce E85 (85% ethanol) or E10 (10% ethanol). E85 requires modifications to engines whereas E10 does not. (more…)

Updated Estimates for 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Based on official information from March 22, 2011, showing an increasingly dire situation in Japan, we are revising the damage cost and fatality estimates published in an earlier post (The Estimated Costs of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake). We are revising our estimates upward substantially to 12,000 – 14,720 deaths and damage costs of approximately $225 billion.  As we learn more about the actual ratio of reported missing that turn out to be fatalities, these estimates may change.

The death and damage reporting on the Tohoku earthquake is as dynamic as the expanding catastrophe. Early data suggested that this most recent earthquake would be as deadly and costly as the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Recent updates are far more pessimistic. As of March 22 at 11 pm EDT, reports from the Japanese National Police Agency show 9,200 deaths and 13,800 missing from the recent earthquake. Since a significant share of those reported missing could be casualties, our death toll estimates are driven by the official reports of deaths and missing persons and the likelihood the missing will survive. Moreover, updated death toll estimates implicate new cost estimates, because costs are a function of event severity, which is captured by the death toll. Again, as these reports are updated, we will update our estimates.

Estimated Costs of Japan’s 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The March 11, 2011, earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami with catastrophic impacts. Due to the scale of this combined disaster, we estimate damage costs of $150 billion (12 trillion yen).

This 9.0 magnitude earthquake makes it the 4th largest in world history, and the largest in Japan’s history. The impact was most severe along coastal and inland areas just north and east of Tokyo. The earthquake’s epicenter is 80 miles east of Sendai, Honshu, in the northeastern part of the island nation, and 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, which is centrally located along the island’s eastern shore.

The International Disaster Database in Brussels records 37 earthquakes in Japan between 1901 and 2009, and Table 1 compares the Kobe earthquake (1995) to the others in the past century. Two facts become clear. First, the relationship between deaths and damage costs has changed over time. While before 1980, deaths were high and costs were relatively low, after 1980 the reverse is true. This shift is the direct consequence of economic development (more buildings at higher costs are affected) and improved readiness (improved infrastructure leads to fewer deaths). Second, the 1995 Kobe earthquake is far different than other historical earthquakes, having killed 5,300 people and caused over $60 billion in damages. These two facts are most relevant as we use the historical data to predict the impact of the most recent Tohoku earthquake.

Preliminary data from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications show 3,500 dead and 7,200 missing from recent earthquake as of March 19. A significant share of those reported missing will likely turn up dead. This and other evidence suggest that this most recent earthquake will be as deadly and as expensive as the Kobe earthquake. The last line of Table 1 reports our death and damage estimates, based on data published by the Japanese government as of March 19.  We are aware that other sources are now reporting higher fatality numbers and we will continue to monitor and refine our projections as these numbers are confirmed.

See IEM’s website for more information on our capabilities and experience in disaster management and emergency management solutions,performance management, and studies and analysis.


50 Mile Evacuation of Japan Nuclear Plant: Making Sense of Evacuation Distances

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Author: Jack Long, Director of CBRNE Preparedness, IEM

Since the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended on March 16 that US residents who are within 50 miles of the damaged Japanese nuclear power plants should evacuate, there has been a lot of speculation as to why the NRC would recommend such a large evacuation zone when the guidance for the plume exposure pathway emergency planning zone in the United States is for an area approximately 10 miles in radius.

First, the NRC recommendation was based on specific US guidelines for radiation exposure and some sophisticated calculations of the possible radiation doses based on what is known or suspected to be happening at all of the Fukushima plants, so this NRC recommendation is very site-specific and incident-specific whereas planning guidance is based on a wide range of possible accident scenarios.

Secondly, the US guidance for emergency planning for commercial nuclear plants never established 10 miles as any kind of outer limit or maximum evacuation zone.  Rather, the US guidance is designed to require highly detailed response plans and preparedness for a 10 mile radius zone since that area is at greatest risk and has the least amount of time to evacuate. (more…)

How Much of a Difference is there between Three Mile Island and the Fukushima Disaster?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Author: Gary Hilbert, Emergency Management Specialist, IEM

In March/April 1979, I was part of a field team working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Pennsylvania gathering information on the emergency response effort in the area around the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power station as a result of the accident that occurred there.

The elevation of the Fukushima Daishi incident to a level 5 (out of 7) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEM) International Nuclear Event Scale puts it on a par with TMI and the Windscale Fire that occurred in England in 1957.  There are only two incidents that have ranked higher in the IAEA scale:  Chernobyl and Kyshtym, both of which occurred in the Soviet Union and both of which involved release of large volumes of radioactive particulates.  As of March 18, this has not happened in Japan so the parallel ranking to TMI is probably justified.

I think there are also parallels between the TMI incident and what is currently happening at the Fukushima Daiichireactor complex in Japan. Specifically, I think it is valid to compare how officials communicate(ed) with the public about the nature of the emergency, what is being done, and most important, what the public needs to do to ensure their own safety is critical to ensuring a good outcome. (more…)

Japan’s radioactive worry: Is a pill for our prevention equal to a pound of cure?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Author: Debbie Kim APRN, MSN, Sr. Health Care System Analyst, IEM

Once again, the evening news has me scratching my head and wondering if it is time to call my healthcare provider to secure a prescription for Potassium Iodide or even Prussian Blue?  As a nurse and healthsystem analyst, I want to protect my family.  But wait!  I have a shellfish allergy, and one television medical expert said that I might not be able to take Potassium Iodide at all.  Are the drugs safe for all my family members? What about my dog, Oscar?  Time to revisit some facts.

There are several pharmacological agents that are being mentioned as being important to limit the effects of internal contamination from radioactive materials. Standard planning and response activity around a nuclear reactor includes a variety of activities, including issuing Potassium Iodide (KI) to those individuals who may have been exposed  to Iodine 131 (I-131). Another drug, Prussian blue, is a “chelating” agent that can remove radioactive materials from the body by binding with them.  Prussian blue is effective for treating exposure to Cesium and Thallium. Cesium-137 (Cs-137) has been detected from the smoke coming out of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.  (Prussian blue is also a paint color well known to artists, but medical Prussian blue is formulated differently – so please don’t eat the paint!)  A third drug, Diethylenetriamene pentaacetate (DTPA), is also a chelating agent. DTPA is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chelation of Plutonium, Americium and Curium. None of these radioisotopes (Plutonium, Americium or Curium) have been associated with the nuclear reactor fires in Japan. (more…)

Transportation Around Evacuation Areas of Fukushima Nuclear Plants

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Author: Justin Krometis, Transportation Analyst, IEM

I have participated in over a dozen evacuation studies over the last several years, many of them focused on nuclear plants, so I have been closely following the protective actions being taken around the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan. I wanted an easy way to look at the towns affected and the road network therein but I had not yet seen an interactive map that showed the locations of the plants and the areas covered by the evacuation and shelter orders. So I used the Google Maps API to create one.


Transportation Infrastructure Damage in Japan

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Japan's infrastructure

Author: David Willauer, Manager, Transportation & Geospatial Technologies Division, IEM

The damage inflicted on infrastructure by an earthquake or tsunami is is fundamentally different than that caused by a hurricane. In particular, while transportation following a hurricane is primarily inhibited by debris resulting from wind damage, an earthquake or tsunami causes substantial damage to infrastructure, including highways, railroads, airports and ferry terminals. Transportation infrastructure damage impacts personal mobility, the movement of goods and the entire global supply chain. In Japan, the earthquake impacted transportation infrastructure in Iwate, Miyage and Fukushima (see figure below). Damage included washed out roadways and highways, damaged bridges, damaged ferry terminals, buried airports and railroads. Details follow.

Japan's infrastructure damage Japan's railway infrastructure damage


Japan has been aggressively building its highway transportation infrastructure since 1963 when the first expressway opened. Since then, Japan has constructed over 7,600 km of expressways used by more than 1,600 million vehicles each year (see figure below). Highway damage was m ost extensive in Sendai, where major sections were damaged by the earthquake then buried with tsunami debris. (more…)