Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Engineering 101: Will Acid Rain Occurs in Malaysia?

The answer is yes.

But not from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. 

There has been a circulating SMS recently about the acid (and later radioactive) rain to occur in Malaysia today, slightly more than 2 days following the second explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This SMS of course led to a mass-messaging activity by mobile phone owners to warn each other about the unfortunate incident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and the side effect that soon will hit Malaysia following the misfortune. 

The question is, will the released radiation from the nuclear power plant be carried by wind all the way to Malaysia and form acid rains? Tough question. Before we try to look into the matter, we might look into the fundamentals first. 

So here goes.


Acid rain is essentially the normal rain - falling water droplets from the sky due to water condensation in the clouds - combined with certain concentration of acids. The concentration of acid within rainwater molecules is so significant that low pH can easily be traced in collected rainwater samples when tested. The formation of acid rain typically involves the release of acidic compound in the air, most commonly sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen which can be produced in heavy industries that include open and untreated combustion processes in their systems. These released compounds will remain suspended in the air until formation of rain occurs in clouds, causing them to fall back to earth with rainwater.

Although normal rainwater is slightly acidic - pH 5 to 6 - due to the formation of organic carbon compounds in rainwater due to interactions of carbon dioxide and water in the air, acidic compounds may lower the pH up to pH 3 and lower. 

Acid rain may also be associated with other types of wet atmosphere release - snow, dew, fog et cetera. 


Of course it is. It's acid, man. Well not really, just pulling your legs around. 

However, the diluted acidic compounds in rainwater causes no direct effect on human health. Despite the common beliefs that people can get acid burn from being exposed to acid rain, it does never occur. The worst that might happen is that, people might find difficulties in breathing due to the presence of particulates - small, suspended particles in air, similar to fine dusts. Other than that, acid rain does nothing of such direct impact to human lives, despite its capability to destroy hectares of crop due to rapid pH change in groundwater reservoirs where the plants get their water supply from.

However, prolonged exposure to acid rain is not recommended. 


People are just becoming way too hyped. 

There could not be any direct relation between the acid formation in Malaysia and the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Japan. One thing is that the explosion releases radiation and not acidic compounds the air, and another the distance is just way too huge. If we are to expect anything, radiation rain might accurately fits the expectation. But will it ever occur in less than a day from the explosion? In Malaysia?


Consider this: the distance between Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo is over 5100 km. According to the SMS, acid rain (acid rain?!) will form in Malaysia airspace the next day, which we can safely assume a 24-hour period following the incident. This means, whatever compounds that were released in the airspace of Tokyo has 24 hours to get here in Malaysia.

Now we do the math: 

KL - Tokyo distance: 5100km
Time to Acid Rain Formation: 24 hours
Speed of Wind Required to Carry the Compounds from Tokyo to Malaysia:
 5100km/24h = 212.5km/h

The calculation above shows that the wind has to be constantly blowing from Japan to Malaysia at an air velocity of 212.5km/h. This means that the wind has to match the speed of that of a major hurricane and a super cyclonic storm that commonly strike at 220km/h. If that is to occur, then we better be more worried about the hurricane than the acid or radiation rain. 

But then again let's look at the global wind current pattern below. Click for a larger resolution image.

There is no major breakaway wind that flows from Japan to Malaysia. And if it does, the people in Taiwan, the Philippine, and China will be sweating much by now, because before the radiation ever to come by to Malaysia, it has to pass these countries first. 

It has to pass at least a quarter part of Japan first before it leaves the contaminated area. 

So before you worry about the acid rain to form above your head, you'd better be worried about those industries at your backyard that releases flue gases nonstop, and the recent volcanic eruptions in Indonesia that released huge amounts of sulfur in the air - major component and cause of the formation of acid rain.


1. No acid rain.
2. No radiation rain either.
3. Can stop SMS people now.

That's all for today, folks! Any question? No, of course not.


Neyra Shazeyra said...

conclusion, i tetap akan demam walau hujan apa pun. dah demam pun.. haha

Neyra Shazeyra said...

conclusion, i tetap akan demam walau hujan apa pun. dah demam pun.. haha

rawsktar said...

thanks! excellent explanation dude.

Sayuti said...

sms tu prof madya tulis tuuu!!! ko sapa???



Finn said...

Engineering 102 kot?

post more please

Mohamad Nazmi Zaidi said...

ira: ahaha :D pegi la main ujan lg

anies: oh thanks

Sayuti: oi Sayut! ye ye aku cuma semut merah T_T

finn: 101 is intended. sure. on what else?

Izzat Ruslan said...

Very good explanation. At first, I was explained it to one of my friends who did spread out this sms, but she can't accept my intention of explanation. This kind of sms can cause inappropriate panic among the public who didn't know the true story behind.

Finn said...

you, write on supermoon please :">

Mohamad Nazmi Zaidi said...

Dear Izzat,

Thank you for your kind compliment. I am here only to help. Hope this post did assist your perusals with her.


Supermoon can be found widely in the internet and therefore is not sufficiently critical to be discussed in this blog.