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As Japans nuclear crisis intensifies, China suspends all new nuclear plants

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"As Japans nuclear crisis intensifies, China suspends all new nuclear plants"

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UPDATE 4:03 PM:  “U.S. Calls Radiation ‘Extremely High’ …:  The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of threat posed by the Japanese nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than ordered by the Japanese government.”

… the Fukushima Daiichi plant, seen in a satellite photo at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday.

Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified on Wednesday after the authorities announced that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam.

The break, at the No. 3 reactor unit, worsened the already perilous conditions at the plant, a day after officials said the containment vessel in the No. 2 reactor had also cracked.

That’s from the 1 pm EDT NY Times banner story,  “Peril and Confusion at Nuclear Plant.”  Here’s more:

The possibility of high radiation levels above the plant prompted the Japanese military to put off a highly unusual plan to dump water from helicopters “” a tactic normally used to combat forest fires “” to lower temperatures in a pool containing spent fuel rods that was overheating dangerously at the No. 4 reactor. The operation would have meant flying a helicopter into the steam rising from the plant….

The reactor’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said it had been able to double the number of people battling the crisis at the plant to 100 from 50, but that was before the clouds of radioactive steam began billowing from the plant.

The Washington Post has the breaking story of how the biggest consumer of new nuclear plants is responding:

In a dramatic reversal, China’s State Council, or cabinet, announced Wednesday that it was suspending approval for all new nuclear power plants until the government could issue revised safety rules, in light of the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan.

The State Council, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, also announced the government would conduct safety checks at the country’s existing nuclear facilities and those under construction, according to a brief statement issued after the meeting and reported by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

“We will temporarily suspend approval of nuclear power projects, including those in the preliminary stages of development,” the statement said….

China, with 13 nuclear reactors in operation, at least 26 others under construction, and more in the planning stage, has by far the world’s most ambitious nuclear power program.

China thus joins Germany and Switzerland in taking strong action to assure public safety in the wake of this disaster, though I’m not certain I would have suggested going as far as Germany in shutting down the seven nuclear plants built before 1980.  A German journalist who interviewed me today said they were not near seismic faults and obviously they’re not subject to tsunami.

I’d be most concerned if they were in a 500 year floodplain and didn’t have secure backup generators for their cooling systems (i.e. not in the basement!) and of course if they also have spent fuel stored on site.

Still, as I wrote yesterday, I’d hit the pause button on the tiny number of new uber-expensive taxpayer-backed nukes under consideration here until we had, say, a full National Academy of Sciences review.

UPDATE:  See also the WashPost banner story, “AS RADIATION LEVELS SPIKE, U.S. URGES AMERICANS WITHIN 50 MILES TO LEAVE.”

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40 Responses to As Japans nuclear crisis intensifies, China suspends all new nuclear plants

  1. Chris Winter says:

    A good overview of international reaction: http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/35103/page1/?a=f

    It’s dated — but what source isn’t, in this fast-changing crisis?

  2. Lou Grinzo says:

    Perhaps I’m overly cynical after watching and reading about this situation almost every waking moment since it started, but the announcement from China really feels like little more than a PR move.

    All they have to do is make this announcement, suspend approvals/work for a few weeks while they order a group of scientists to re-examine their plans, and then tell the world that they’ve done a top-to-bottom safety review and made some very minor changes. (Minor = won’t really change safety and also won’t impact construction schedules.) They look like the good guy, and it cost them almost nothing.

    I would be much more impressed if the IAEA or IEA held an international meeting to jointly review every plan for every under-construction nuclear plant in any country, with their complete findings, with all parties clearly identified, publicly available.

  3. What a way to get an education on how much can go wrong in a nuclear power plant.

  4. Solar Jim says:

    An ancient culture, and nation of the people of Japan, is now being sacrificed and the world might perceive the hubris, fraud and technocracy of mass destruction defined via western finance as “energy resource.” The very concept that (enriched) uranium is energy is fraud. It is the basis for nuclear weapons, it is poisonous and fission products are vastly more poisonous. Emissions are routine and nuclear waste is a disgusting euphemism for unsustainable liability. Uranium is an element, a form of matter not of energy, as is buried carbon. They both are the basis for weapon materials and their delivery systems for all military-industrial states (for explosives, fission and combustion).

    Our western paradigm of defining explosive materials as “clean, safe energy” is beginning to collapse. A true transforming revolution of energy economics is now the only path for the chance of global survival. Maintaining corrupted, capitalistic, economic hubris of current financial paradigms is now leading to the demise of civilization in multiple aspects.

    Under global, militaristic capitalism, western commodity traders will turn this uranium based tragedy into selfish, economic good since petroleum prices are down. We are all climate-commodified now. Storms and other calamities are upon us.

    May the gods save the Japanese culture, for the western concept of centralized, god-like power is contaminating and killing the ecosphere, including people. I bow to workers who are sacrificing themselves to radiation poisoning for attempting to save their people, and perhaps our souls.

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    And Also (Very) Interesting …

    A very interesting story — and something to think about — is the recent one, in The New York Times, about the problems of leadership in politics in Japan. I’m not an expert (at all) regarding Japanese politics, the relationship between the politicians and government bureaucrats, and corporations in Japan, so I have no view about whether, and to what degree, the points in the article are correct. BUT …

    Reading the article should tell us something, and give us a warning, about the current highly dysfunctional state of politics here. Although the systems and situations are very different (in the U.S. and Japan), the general idea that society is in trouble when politics and government become dysfunctional and rudderless, is an important one. These days, it seems that our (in the U.S.) combination of politics (as it’s practiced), the media, the “culture”, and so forth are almost entirely unprepared to do anything intelligent — or indeed anything at all except watch as the status quo continues. We are a bit like people crowded into a canoe, adrift on a river, heading towards rapids and waterfalls, hitting each other with paddles rather than actually trying to paddle the canoe safely.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  6. PurpleOzone says:

    “The possibility of re-criticality is not zero.” Ugh.

    The level of communication is awful.

    I suspect bad blunders have compounded a difficult situation. What if they dumped too many fuel rods into the pool to get them out of the core? They took out workers because they knew the level of radioactivity was liable to go up.

    My sympathy and hopes for the workers, they are heroic.

  7. K. Nockels says:

    With conflicting reports and information, I heard that US nuclear scientists are saying that the spent rods in reactor #4 are no longer covered with water, and that this could cause them to ignite and explode. The cloud from this will go where the wind takes it and will be highly radioactive. (3:57pm pst). The Japanese are saying that isn’t true but give no futher information. I also heard on the news that the US had flown a spy plane over the plants (if true) to get a better idea of what is going on there. The true cost of nuclear power will be payed in lives, it is somthing that we will never truly control, the natural forces of this planet will just keep one upping us. My real concern for nuclear power has always been the spent fuel, which if we turn to nuclear to bring down CO2 will only increase the amount we have to store for 100′s of years. That being the case we are once again showing that we are willing to let future generations pay the price for our power use now.

  8. Mike # 22 says:

    Japan has excellent geothermal potential. Plan B mentions it: “Among the countries rich in geothermal energy are those bordering the Pacific in the so-called ring of fire, including Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia.” http://www.earth-policy.org/books/pb3/PB3ch12_ss5 Perhaps now would be a good time for Japan to look into this. Nuclear fission cannot be very popular there at this point.

    Regarding the storage of Zircon covered spent fuel above a building which can (did) fill with explosive gas, lunacy.

    Regarding the fragility of emergency cooling systems at this facility, please proceed with risk analysis of all nuclear facilities ASAP. Obviously, current safety standards are unacceptable. In this case, a single event wiped away systems which are usually considered to be robust. Not making any suggestions here (too late anyway DHS, cat is out of the bag) but what a thirty foot wave could do, maybe a single heavy airplane could do also.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    tokyohackerspace

    Japan in Crisis

    To all the people on the good planet Earth, the crew of Tokyo HackerSpace has a message that we would like to send to you … http://www.tokyohackerspace.org/en/japan-in-crisis

  10. mike roddy says:

    You’re right, Jeff, the US has ossified, and is headed toward irrelevance.
    China at least can act, but I’d be more impressed if they also canceled coal plants.

  11. Mikhail Kropotkin says:

    tokyohackerspace offline now?

    Looks to be to me.

  12. Leif says:

    A time laps video of all the Nuclear explosions from 1945 to 1998.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLCF7vPanrY&feature=player_embedded

    Not for the faint of heart. What’s two or three run-away power plants, hay no problem… Other than the fact that most Nuclear explosions each have a few pounds of nuclear material and each plant has a few tons and much more “spent” in storage. GOBP will just pass a law that science does not know what it is talking about and radioactivity is good for evolution. Whoops forgot evolution doesn’t work either. They got think tanks, they will think of something.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    Watching the Japanese drop water from helicopters today on those wrecked twisted buildings with hundreds of tons of death inside, like fighting a forest fire with a water pistol.

    Now the thing really goes down hill, it will become so hot that even sending old men on suicide missions won’t work . They will die before they reach their objective.

    In 2 days the wind will change, blowing the plume south towards 34 million people.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    Anybody thinks that private enterprise does everything better , take a long hard look at Tokyo Electric.

  15. adelady says:

    mike@8 Thanks for that, smacks forehead forcefully. It hadn’t even occurred to me to add up
    seismic activity + lotsa hot springs = bulk geothermal ready to go.

    That would be huge bulk of geothermal. With ease of use tacked on for good measure. Oz has plenty as well but virtually no use for CHP. We must convert all of it and transmit it as power. They don’t have to, they can just tap into heat during weather like they have just now!

    The preference for nuclear in such locations now looks even more foolish.

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    Thirteen years after the Chernobyl disaster, the incidence of pediatric thyroid cancer is fifty-two times the region’s pre-1986 level. In Belarus, where the fallout blew, it was 113 times higher than the country’s pre-1986 diagnosed incidence of thyroid cancer. In the immediate area surrounding Chernobyl, the incidence of pediatric and adult thyroid cancer remains the highest found anywhere in the world, more than 500 times the pre-1986 levels for the region and an order of magnitude higher than anything ever seen in any other location on earth, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The rate of thyroid diseases–including non-cancer conditions such as Graves and Hashimoto’s dysfunctions–is extraordinary. Fourteen years after the accident, thyroid diseases of various kinds were diagnosed in these Ukrainians at a rate of about one per three thousand local residents annually.

    http://www.cfr.org/japan/chernobyls-lessons-japan/p24384

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I remember those brave Soviet helicopter pilots dropping boron into Chernobyl’s fiery maw. It killed them, quickly, thereafter, I believe. I’ve been thinking of the manner in which the failure of the cooling system at Fukushima might be replicated anywhere by another foreseeable disaster, a solar coronal mass ejection, and subsequent electromagnetic pulse causing current and voltage surges that would wreak havoc with electrical and electronic equipment, anywhere. Like a solar tsunami, targeted at just those complex systems that cannot be allowed to fail, like nuclear cooling systems.

  18. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Many countries are now reviewing the furtherance of Nuclear REactors in the wake of Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    Pickering nuclear plant ‘leaked radioactive water’
    (AFP) – 8 hours ago
    MONTREAL — Thousands of liters of radioactive water have been released into Lake Ontario as a result of an accident at a Canadian nuclear power plant, according to authorities
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5igFk3qQT4TNb_dMDOiH4UwHhlTOA?docId=CNG.493888283d5c1c9742e43e1c3f5caa07.291

  20. A good source for nuke incident news is http://mitnse.com/

  21. MarkF says:

    “Our western paradigm of defining explosive materials as “clean, safe energy” is beginning to collapse.”

    A lot is said in that sentence.

    and in your entire comment.

    Thanks.

  22. adelady says:

    Kaj @23 George includes these conditions for supporting nuclear power.

    “…as long as the following four conditions are met, I will no longer oppose atomic energy.

    1. Its total emissions – from mine to dump – are taken into account, and demonstrate that it is a genuinely low-carbon option.

    2. We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried.

    3. We know how much this will cost and who will pay.

    4. There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes.”

    Considering how unlikely it is that any of these conditions (let alone all of them) will be met, I doubt Monbiot will be announcing his support any time soon.

    Seeing as he’s left out the other main condition that I’d impose, that a renewable solution is unavailable to meet the requirement, I’d say the whole thing is just unworkable. Especially for a place like Japan with abundant geo thermal, wind and tidal resources which can be organised on a distributed basis so that the entirely predictable disruptions of seismic activity wouldn’t knock out the grid wholesale as has happened here.

    I don’t know how much they’ve spent on their nuclear program, but I very much doubt other alternatives would have cost as much. Even if they did, it would have been a much better bargain.

  23. PhilR says:

    What prevented bringing in mobile generators to replace the flooded backup generators? Is it a generating capacity issue or an access issue or something else? I guess now it is too hot to work in very close, but if the pumps just need power I’m confused as to why this hasn’t been one of the options.

  24. lizardo says:

    Well this probably isn’t a useful place to post this, but… video from Japanese TV from yesterday (US time) of helicopter water dump attempts showed a fair amount of the water blown sideways off target (and could affect what if any gets where it’s supposed to go.

    Today there’s a screen shot from same source of today’s efforts and wind seems to be worse. I know that this is going to sound childish, but think about it for a minute, if helicopters can carry x tons of water in a bucket couldn’t they also carry same tonnage in a kind of water balloon that would be strong enough to hold the water in flight but break apart on impact?

    Dear IAEA, NRC, DOE et al: This is something we need to have in the international disaster preparedness arsenal.

    In this instance it’s possible that the power line they are working on will get up and running in time to replace this clearly last ditch method and get pumps going again, especially to the fuel pools since we must fervently hope that they aren’t damaged because the radiation that could be released from there is so exponentially greater than the reactors.

  25. lizardo says:

    To Phil R re generators (comment # 26): From everything I’ve read, and it’s a lot (including from NIRS, UCS, and everywhich where…)

    The diesel back up generators at these 3 reactors were located in the basement level of the reactor building.
    (all 6? 3 shutdown for maintenance but thus had even hotter fuel in fuel storage pools..)

    So plants shut down when first tremor detected and then when off-site grid power lost backup generators kicked in (miracle, often they refuse to start), but when tsunami hit it was 30 feet or higher and came over 25′ seawall and didn’t just damage generators but would have flooded basement.

    So that is where the backup, non-grid electrical supply hook up is. I assume with DC/AC conversion point.

    So sending new generators not of any use. Best hope is getting the new power line completed to supply AC power to the AC input, which would be above that flooded basement level.

    Loss of offsite power (“station blackout”) is one of the many serious threats to a nuclear power plant, as is a fire that gets out of control in the reactor building which can burn the cables that run all those sensors and pumps.

    Hope that helps explain that.

  26. Chris Winter says:

    Prokaryotes,

    It seems the Japanhackerspace site is currently swamped, and the page you linked is not found. I was able to get a text version of the message at: http://www.tokyohackerspace.org/

    HTH

  27. Chris Winter says:

    Lizardo:

    That makes more sense than the story I heard from some news source early on. (It was never confirmed.) It said that when mobile generators were brought in, they could not be connected because the connector plugs did not match. I discounted that because it would be shameful incompetence to set things up that way, and because, if it were true, the next step would be to rip out the connectors and splice the wires together — an improvisation that was never mentioned.

    So I agree that the basement generator rooms must be full of water and mud and debris which made it impossible to get the mobile generators hooked up soon enough.

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Filed under: Why Wikileaks is important

    Fukushima nuclear plant owner falsified inspection records

    In 2007, TEPCO ran into trouble again after misinforming government officials about breakdowns at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which had been damaged after a magnitude 6.8 quake. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, a US official said: “TEPCO issued a corrected statement on July 18 in which it admitted it miscalculated the amount of radiation leakage.”

    WikiLeaks cables also reveal that Japan was warned in 2009 that its power plants could not withstand powerful earthquakes.

    The US was highly critical of Japan’s senior safety director at the International Atomic Energy Association “particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices”, according to confidential documents obtained by WikiLeaks. In July 2009, in a cable to Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, the US mission at the IAEA said Tomihiro Taniguchi, the deputy director of the IAEA department of nuclear safety and security, was a “weak manager” and in a cable sent later that year said that the department had suffered because of his “weak management and leadership skills”.

    The Times
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/fukushima-nuclear-plant-owner-falsified-inspection-records/story-fn84naht-1226023073141

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station

    The two gravest incidents at Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant struck the two reactors which are now shut down. In 1977 half of the fuel rods melted down in the ABM-200 reactor. Operators were exposed to severe radiation doses and the repair work took more than a year. In December 1978 the same reactor caught fire when parts of the roof fell on one of the turbines’ oil tanks. Cables were destroyed by the fire and the reactor went out of control. Eight people who assisted in securing cooling of the reactor core were exposed to increased radiation doses.
    In recent years there have been problems with leakage of liquid metal from the BN-600 cooling system. In December 1992 there was a leakage of radioactive contaminated water at the reactor. In October 1993 increased concentrations of radioactivity in the power plant fan system were found. A leakage the following month led to a shutdown. In January and May 1994 there was a fire at the power plant. In July 1995 another leakage of liquid metal from the cooling elements caused a two-week shutdown of the reactor.
    There is an increasing concern about radioactive contamination around the power plant. Several hotspots were discovered in the region as the radiation monitoring effort was extended in recent years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beloyarsk_Nuclear_Power_Station

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    It is the largest fast neutron power reactor in service in the world. As with most Russian nuclear power plants the station lacks a containment building.

    … just a mater of time till something goes wrong elsewhere and this will happen faster thanks to climate weirding.

  31. Prokaryotes says:

    “We are all-out urging the Japanese to get more people back in there to do emergency operation there, that the next 24 to 48 hours are critical,” the official said. “Urgent efforts are needed on the part of the Japanese to restore emergency operations to cool” down the reactors’ rods before they trigger a meltdown.
    “They need to stop pulling out people—and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a recognition this is a suicide mission,” the official said. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/us-send-special-nuclear-team-japan-nuclear-regulatory/story?id=13148044

  32. Prokaryotes says:

    Scientists Project Path of Radiation Plume

    A United Nations forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern California late Friday. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/science/17plume.html?_r=1

  33. Prokaryotes says:

    U.S. Flights Over Plant Gather Crucial Data

    The first readings from American data-collection flights over the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan show that the worst of the contamination has not spewed beyond the 18-mile range of highest concern established by Japanese authorities, but there is also no indication that another day of frantic efforts to cool nuclear fuel in the reactors and spent fuel ponds has yielded any progress, according United States government officials.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/world/asia/18intel.html

  34. Prokaryotes says:

    Toles need to update the time machine

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/18/best-toles-cartoon-ever/

    Ironically nobody will listen to whoever we sent back, because of the denial machine.

  35. Prokaryotes says:

    WHO issues guidelines on radiation exposure

    In the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued fresh guidelines on how to minimize exposure to radiation that can cause cancers, especially in children and young adults.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/17/us-who-issues-guidelines-idUSTRE72G81Y20110317

  36. Prokaryotes says:

    Theory: Large Hadron Collider Could Be Used As Time Machine

    Professor Thomas Weiler and graduate fellow Chui Man Ho are suggesting it’s a possibility, and doesn’t defy the laws of physics. However, they’re very clear to point out that this is just a theory, and it would only involve particles, not human beings. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/17/large-hadron-collider-time-machine_n_836834.html

    I see the news:”Japanese Scientist beam Water back in time”

  37. Mr Green says:

    The future will never be safe. Neither is getting in a car and driving to the store. We have always had to deal with danger and the future will create even more danger. We just keep getting better at dealing with danger. Take the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being put in at GA Power’s Vogtle plant. They are about as ‘safe’ as reactors can be. As a solar developer, I am OK with nukes like the AP100 supplying the base load power and renewable energy picking up the peak loads.

    Using future generations natural gas for power generation is OK short term, but bad business long term. Future generations need it.

    Maybe soon we will learn to STOP PLAYING CHIKKEN WITH THE PLANET!