Conversations with Nuclear Engineer about the Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima

On March 19th, 2011 I had the honor to speak to nuclear expert Mark L. Mervine in a 50 minute conversation.  Mr. Mervine is the father of Evelyn Mervine a geologist and blogger who became recently popular with her interviews with her father about the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

Conversation with Mark Mervine (you can find a brief bio below)

The following are the conversations with Mark Mervine divided in 4 parts you can listen to them through youtube videos or download the 50min podcast from the link below.

The interviews cover the following topics:

  • Types of radiation and its risks in the affected region and rest of the world
  • Comparison of Fukushima with the Chernobyl disaster
  • Nuclear power plant design and nuclear fuel
  • Detection of radiation and the use of potassium iodine

Full conversation Podcast download

or listen to the conversations below:

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3



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Part 4

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About The Mervines

Evelyn Mervine is a geologist who is currently a 5th year PhD student in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program she maintains a blog where she writes about her career and travel and currently about the nuclear situation in Fukushima Japan.  You can find her blog and interviews with her father Mark L. Mervine here.

Mark L. Mervine is a nuclear engineer graduated from the US Naval Academy  in 1981.  In the Navy Mr. Mervine served in nuclear submarines, during his service he also qualified on two different types of nuclear power plants and served as an instructor in the  Navy nuclear power program.  After retiring from the Navy he worked for Wisconsin Electric as member of the management staff.  He also qualified and served as a Shift Technical Advisor, which is a position that was added in the nuclear power industry after the Three Mile Island accident.

After Wisconsin Electric, Mr. Mervine worked for Vermont  Yankee, where he completed the SRO certification, Senior Reactor Certification, which allowed him to do senior level reviews as a member of the plant management staff, also served on the Outside Review Committee, which is a very high-level committee for the main Yankee nuclear plant, until it closed.


Letter to a Nuclear Nation

The following is a letter addressed to all the nuclear nations in the world but specially to Japan which has been facing the negative consequences of nuclear energy after the Fukushima nuclear plant accident.


Letter to a Nuclear Nation

For many of you in Japan and in the rest of the world, the name Fukushima was probably unknown, only until this incident happened was that this nuclear facility got worldwide attention.  Words we have never heard of like sieverts, meltdown, fallout, iodine, cesium have now become part of your daily vocabulary.

Under the current situation in Japan understanding this technical terms have become vital for your survival.  In spite of our ignorance of this nuclear related terms, now we can not deny that they made part of our daily lives in Japan.

This crisis has made us aware of facts like,

-30% of the electricity we use comes from,

-54 nuclear power plants located in mainland Japan, and that,

-these represent about 17% of the world total amount of nuclear power plants, which many of them might be within 100km range to where you live.

Nuclear power plants in Japan are a main source of electricity, light, heating, refrigeration, transportation, communications, etc. Every activity we do has a small contribution from nuclear energy.  Electricity in Japan is our major source of energy, which we took always for granted, blackouts were unimaginable, and streets without neon lights out of the question. But after Fukushima, our attitude towards energy has been challenged, the earthquake left a big gap on the electrical grid, Which made energy rationing and blackouts the norm of the day.

In Tokyo, light has slowly disappeared from the streets, big screens and neon signs have been put off.   What ran before 24 hours now has remained silent, and with less electricity in Tokyo the scenery looks like something we never imagined.   This crisis has injured the big Japanese economical and technological behemoth, it feels like when the Titanic hit the iceberg and started to flood.  The scenery in Kanto region looks a bit grim, all the things we took for granted before, like electricity, gas, food are now costing us great sacrifice.  But this is not the end, Japan has endured worst situations, and throughout history it has just shown to the world its ability to survive and succeed.  As it did in the past, hopefully Japan will come out of this with a stronger sense of identity and purpose.

This is the moment in our lives were we have to start thinking about our fate and our previous lifestyle, were we took so many things for granted and thought they would be available for ever.  We are crossing through times of difficulty that will challenge our views and values, it will be a time to reexamine our own attitudes and way of living.

The nuclear situation in Fukushima has shaken the world, and also the lives of many specially those living in Japan.  It has risen worldwide awareness about the risks and implications of nuclear energy but mainly it has made us question the course of the way we lived and our fate as humans.

By Anthony Tatekawa


Criticality Accident

Criticality is a nuclear energy term and it occurs when a nuclear chain reaction in a mass of fissile material is self-sustaining, in other words the mass produces energy by itself without any external influence.  In nuclear experimentation criticality can get out of control and produce what is known as a criticality accident, which  is an accidental increase of nuclear chain reactions in a fissile material, such as enriched uranium or plutonium. This releases a surge of neutron radiation which is highly dangerous to humans and causes induced radioactivity in the surroundings, and can be extremely deadly.

Below is a clip from the movie Fatman and Little Boy (1989), a Hollywood recreation of the years of the development of the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.  In this scene nuclear scientist (John Cusack) during and experiment accidentally lets 2 cores of plutonium reach criticality releasing a huge amount of radiation that eventually ends up killing him.  This is one of the most famous criticality accidents in history.

Fictionalised criticality accident in the movie Fatman and Little Boy