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Status of Japanese reactors, spent fuel ponds, and possible outcomes

By Joe Romm  

"Status of Japanese reactors, spent fuel ponds, and possible outcomes"

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Video of ruined nukes

The latest NYT banner headline is “Taming Reactors May Take Weeks.”  They also have a good story today on “Danger of Spent Fuel Outweighs Reactor Threat.”  CP readers learned that crucial fact back on Monday.

The Oil Drum has a useful piece today, “Fukushima Dai-ichi status and potential outcomes,” that may demystify the situation (if that’s possible).

I’ll excerpt those below, but first, an amazing video of the smoldering wreckage shot by intrepid Japanese in a low-flying helicopter:

h/t TPM

The Oil Drum quotes one nuclear expert:

These reactors are now a total loss, but I am still disturbed by their inability to bring in portable diesel generators and restart the back-up cooling. I guess the chaos of the catastrophe is the cause.

I do question the use of seawater cooling. I hope the Japanese have considered the danger they have created by introducing oxygenated seawater into this stainless steel piping and pressure vessel at boiling temperatures. These stainless steels are extremely susceptible to chloride stress corrosion cracking:
http://www.tpub.com/content/doe/h1015v1/css/h1015v1_134.htm

Since residual weld stresses and tensile stress in piping, valves, control tubing, etc. are always present, Standard Operating Reactor water quality standards require keeping chlorides at parts per billion levels. Seawater has about 3.5% or 35 grams per liter of salinity!!!

I have no way of knowing how many days they have before a stainless steel component suddenly cracks, but if it were me, I would be advocating an emergency program to get pure deionzied cooling water back into this stainless steel system ASAP. In laboratory tests in boiling chlorides, cracking of stainless in tensile stress can occur within days- they have at most a few months if they keep boiling sea water in this system and yet another disaster occurs. I am sure there are competent scientists in Japan’s nuclear industry and government regulators. I hope they are on top of this threat!

ABC News just reported that the Japanese are going to try to turn back on the existing cooling system, and if that fails, the U.S. is in the process of flying in several mammoth portable cooling systems.

As of yet, there is no serious radiation threat to Americans, but the situation remains dire in Japan, as the NYT reports:

Years of procrastination in deciding on long-term disposal of highly radioactive fuel rods from nuclear reactors are now coming back to haunt Japanese authorities as they try to control fires and explosions at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Some countries have tried to limit the number of spent fuel rods that accumulate at nuclear power plants “” Germany stores them in costly casks, for example, while Chinese nuclear reactors send them to a desert storage compound in western China’s Gansu province. But Japan, like the United States, has kept ever larger numbers of spent fuel rods in temporary storage pools at the power plants, where they can be guarded with the same security provided for the power plant.

Figures provided by Tokyo Electric Power on Thursday show that most of the dangerous uranium at the power plant is actually in the spent fuel rods, not the reactor cores themselves. The electric utility said that a total of 11,195 spent fuel rod assemblies were stored at the site.

That is in addition to 400 fuel assemblies that had been in active service in reactor No. 1 and 548 in each of reactors No. 2 and 3. In other words, the storage pools hold more than seven times as much radioactive material as the reactor cores.

Now those temporary pools are proving the power plant’s Achilles heel, as the water in the pools either boils away or leaks out of their containments, and efforts to add more water have gone awry. While spent fuel rods generate significantly less heat than newer ones, there are strong indications that the fuel rods have begun to melt and release extremely high levels of radiation. Japanese authorities struggled Thursday to add more water to the storage pool at reactor No. 3.

Four helicopters dropped water, only to have it scattered by strong breezes. Water cannons mounted on police trucks “” equipment designed to disperse rioters “” were deployed in an effort to spray water on the pools. It is unclear if they managed to achieve that.

Richard T. Lahey Jr., a retired nuclear engineer who oversaw General Electric’s safety research in the early 1970s for the kind of nuclear reactors used in Fukushima, said that the Japanese authorities may not have entirely understood the importance of keeping cool the spent fuel. The zirconium cladding on the fuel rods can burst into flames if exposed to air for hours when a storage pool loses its water, he warned.

When zirconium ignites, it emits extremely hot flames that warm up everything nearby and are very hard to extinguish, added Mr. Lahey, who helped write a classified report for the United States government several years ago on the vulnerabilities of storage pools at American nuclear reactors.

Very high levels of radiation above the storage pools suggest that the water has drained in the 39-foot-deep pools to the point that the 13-foot-high fuel rod assemblies have been exposed to air for hours and are starting to melt, said Robert Albrecht, a longtime nuclear engineer who worked as a consultant to the Japanese nuclear reactor manufacturing industry in the 1980s. Spent fuel rod assemblies emit less heat than fresh fuel rod assemblies inside reactor cores, but the spent assemblies still emit enough heat and radioactivity that they must be kept covered with 26 feet of water that is circulated to prevent it from growing too warm.

Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, made the startling assertion on Wednesday that there was little or no water left in the storage pool located on top of reactor No. 4, and expressed grave concern about the radioactivity that would be released as a result. The spent fuel rod assemblies there include 548 assemblies that were only removed from the reactor in November and December to prepare the reactor for maintenance, and may be emitting more heat than the older assemblies in other storage pools.

Even without recirculating water, it should take many days for the water in a storage pool to evaporate, nuclear engineers said. So the rapid evaporation and even boiling of water in the storage pools now is a mystery, raising the question of whether the pools may also be leaking.

The information coming from the Japanese authorities has been wholly inadequate, in part now it appears because they didn’t fully understand the situation themselves.

What comes next?  The Oil Drum’s guess is as good as any:

At this point, it is necessary to lurch towards pure conjecture. Day by day, the status at Fukushima has worsened and until the situation is stabilized, it is impossible to predict the final outcome.

Much will depend on the status and location of the fuel rods and pellets in the reactor cores. If these remain largely intact and in place then they will be easier to cool and to moderate, i.e. to have the neutrons being released absorbed by boron or the control rods already in place.

If one of the cores is disintegrating and gathering as debris on the vessel floor then it becomes much more difficult to circulate cooling water and to absorb neutrons being produced. We have had much debate about whether or not it is possible for the fission chain reaction to re-start in a pile of reactor rubble. The consensus is that this is unlikely though possible. Should this happen then the energy to be contained escalates and the situation becomes more critical. Colleagues Joules Burn and Engineer Poet suggest that restarting the fission chain reaction would be self destroying since the energy produced would blow apart the pile of rubble, shutting down the fission process immediately.

The possibility remains that an explosion (hydrogen gas?) or fire (burning what?) destroys one of the containment vessels, rendering the site uninhabitable, in which case the fate of the other reactors would be left to nature. Fire in particular could spread high levels of radiation over a substantial area.  Stuart Staniford at earlywarn.blogspot has produced [a] picture of what a Chernobyl scale disaster could mean for Japan.

I’ll spare you the picture.  It ain’t pretty (and in any case would depend entirely upon wind patterns).  Let’s all hope it doesn’t come close to that outcome

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60 Responses to Status of Japanese reactors, spent fuel ponds, and possible outcomes

  1. Wit's End says:

    There is, apparently, a long history of deception on the part of the Japanese nuclear industry (linked to on the first word…TOKYO)

    http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2011/03/everything-is-secret.html

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    Global Hawk’s EISS can provide infrared imagery of the plant, which is helping workers find the hottest areas of the nuclear reactors — some of which are thought to have either begun melting down or are on the cusp of such a disaster. http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=defense&id=news/awx/2011/03/17/awx_03_17_2011_p0-298105.xml

  3. Today at Wunderblog, Jeff Masters applied some tools to attempt a prediction of fallout from the Fukishima Daiichi reactors. One possible problem with his methodology, it seems to me, is the mechanism by which such fallout might be lifted into the jetstream. Without a significant explosion, shouldn’t the fallout stay in the lower atmosphere? And isn’t such an explosion is largely precluded by the design of the reactors (altogether different from Chernobyl, where such an explosion was very much a real possibility)?

    I post this question here rather at Masters’ own blog because there are already well over 600 comments and I can’t imagine any chance of it even being noticed, much less answered.

    Thanks!

  4. Bob Lang says:

    Instead of dropping water on the reactors they should drop ready-mix concrete and entomb the entire mess in a gigantic blob of concrete. At least that would keep radioactive particles from becoming airborne.

    This American nuclear engineer who testified at the Three Mile Island Investigation said on CBC that this is the worst accident he has experienced in his 39 years in the industry:

    http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/1221258968/ID=1846349045

  5. lizardo says:

    I saw the video via NIRS site, horrendous. Would just like to point out that as a neighbor (approx 14 miles) of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in central NC) and long term opponent of nuclear power, I learned about the much greater risk of the larger inventory of the fuel pools many years ago as that plant now has the largest inventory on site of any US nuclear plant.

    Meanwhile, there is maybe a little bit of good news on that. UCS has posted some figures of how many assemblies in the reactors and in the fuel pools at each of these six reactors based on earlier reports of various kinds, but it appears to precede the shutdown of 4, 5 and 6 for maintenance and the possibility of some of the assemblies of rods listed as in the reactor actually being added to the “spent” fuel storage pool for that reactor.

    http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/3927635973/fuel-amounts-at-fukushima

    I believe that Japanese fuel comes back to the US, it certainly appears that they are not storing 20-40 years worth in the pools, thank god. Let’s hope so, given the uphill battle going on, the risks involved, and the heroic efforts Japanese workers are making.

    This just goes to show, given how devastating the impact of a complete meltdown and containment failure is projected to be at a typical US nuclear plant, how totally unthinkable it is for a US spent fuel pool to spread its vast and deadly contents far and wide.

    Not that it’s better for that inventory to be left for our descendants.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    This post mentions US storage of fuel rods in pools. Here’s a graph from the NRC of the number of pools that are filled:

    http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/nuc-fuel-pool.html

  7. Raul M. says:

    They might try a catapult to throw bags of cement.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    U.S. nuclear plants store more spent fuel than Japan’s, experts say

    Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/17/2120693/us-nuclear-plants-store-more-spent.html

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    Tom, “Then they’ll get off there buts and JUST do something.”

    Do what? Before the explosion they had a short time window to bring in backup generators. You would have thought they sent in a squad of robots to handle the scene, after all they have 54 reactors strategic placed all over the small island. How crazy can it get?
    Reading about all the fail of safeguards since decades and the cover ups is like asking for this kind of event.

    And learning now how flawed the technology is throughout the world is just OMG. Shows how primitive, flawed and stupid the human species is. If you plot the nuclear plant threat to climate change you top all worst case scenarios, yet again. What happens in japan now will happen all over the world in the next decades. While at the same time human meddlings thought nuclear tech will solve the climate crisis.

    Maybe this super disaster marks the end of the nuclear industry and a treaty will be setup to ban nuclear technology entirely. Just as it was with the Castle Bravo fallout.

  10. lizardo says:

    I read this post too fast, and missed the NYT figure of 11,195 spent fuel assemblies stored on site. A commenter over on the UCS post reminds us that in addition to the 6 storage pools at the 6 reactors there there is a seventh “common” pool, which might be used for older fuel, and which could maybe account for the discrepancy? (with those UCS figures being off by a factor of 2.8.

    Unless some of the assemblies were in dry cask storage on site, which is much safer, air cooled, as long as the cask is heavy enough not to be dragged out to the ocean by the tsunami when it recedes. (The NYT article does just say “stored on site” as opposed to “in the spent fuel storage pools.”)

    US utilities generally have resisted dry cask storage as an unnecessary expense and instead have strong-armed our wimpy NRC into letting them re-rack the used up even-hotter fuel assembly into every more dense configurations.

    But that Oil Drum writer didn’t do all his homework apparently. Additional generators would be no help or they’d have been sent, airlifted if necessary while the battery backup was still working. The generators were in the basement which flooded when the tsunami hit (which is why they worked for the first hour after first seismic signal shut the reactors down.

    That flooded area is surely where the generators would have to hook up to provide power, which is why they are frantically working to (a) rig a temporary AC power line to the plant and (b) repair the existing damaged AC power line to the plant.

  11. Bob Lang says:

    I agree with Raul #7, let’s keep it low-tech.

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Although I don’t doubt that the Japanese authorities in charge of this have good intentions, or at least think they have good intentions, it seems to me that they must have much more information than we’re getting. After all, the Japanese are technology leaders, or co-leaders, in many areas such as: small cameras, robotics, remote controls, sensing and measuring equipment, and so forth. Are we really supposed to believe that nobody knows, and nobody can tell, by now whether the water level is way down and whether there are leaks in some of these tanks?? No way. They either know a great deal of that sort of information (and are not saying) OR they are being incredibly negligent and un-creative by not applying the latest technologies, quickly, to monitor, ascertain, and measure the states of things. So they have all the pundits guessing — What is the water level? Are there leaks in the storage ponds? Etc. — regarding questions to which the authorities already probably know the answers. And that makes me watch all the speculation and think of it as a bit odd and silly. In other words, someone has a great deal of this information, I think, but hundreds of pundits and media folks are doing the regular speculation-speculation-speculation thing, and the mainstream media (of course) are always looking for something to draw audiences and keep people engaged.

    Well, that’s it for now.

    Yikes,

    Jeff

  13. lizardo says:

    Well, surprise surprise, CNN reporting “The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says engineers have gotten an emergency diesel generator for Unit 6 running to supply energy to Units 5 and 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Water injection to the spent fuel pool is continuing.” {via their This Just In live blog page.] Bear in mind that reactors 5 & 6 are both undamaged by explosions or totally overheated fuel pool as 4,5,6 were in cold shutdown it appears. I don’t know if the fact that Unit 6 is a slightly different design (GE BWR Mark II instead of Mark I) than the other 5 means that it is easier to hook up a generator there but it seems odd that there’s a generator now running power to the two units that need it the least.

    After looking at that video, fuzzy as parts of it were, it seems incredible to me that the electrical system would be intact.

  14. lizardo says:

    Just to clarify: it seems incredible me that the electrical system would be [still] intact in units 1-3 (the ones with the blast damage). Might be intact in unit 4 except that that’s the one that might be putting out the most radiation if in fact the spent fuel there is uncovered and/or heating up….

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    Radiation data from Japanese disaster starts to filter out
    Confidential data held by nuclear test ban organisation emerging as key to monitoring Fukushima radiation.
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110317/full/news.2011.168.html

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Status of nuclear power plants in Fukushima as of 10:00 March 18 (Estimated by JAIF)
    http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news_images/pdf/ENGNEWS01_1300411879P.pdf

  17. Solar Jim says:

    Spent Fool Pools

    This entire industry is based on fraud. It is Dr. Strangelove of electrons. Sustainable chain reactions as sustainable energy.

    1) “Spent fuel pools” were never designed to hold decades of irradiated uranium “fuel.”
    2) There is not one reactor in the US that meets Design Basis, which means they are all a threat to Health and Safety
    3) The entire industry is Indemnified from harm and therefore by definition does not have to be Safe. Without Indemnification the military-atomic scheme would collapse.
    4) Atoms for Peace was really Atoms for War and has nothing to do with free-market business. It is the military, and their Cold War quest for nuclear weapons. Tens of thousands of them. $Trillions worth.

    And that story can be told another day. Anyone who speaks economics about the kWh cost of atomic fission is only discussing a fraction of the cost. Anything can be made “economical.” Especially if you are Dr. Strangelove.

    I say go with Sustainable Energy Policy Planning instead.

  18. OregonStream says:

    But, but … Life is thriving after Chernobyl (or at least bush-trees, moss, and mutated creatures are):
    http://www.npr.org/2011/03/17/134627793/chernobyl-a-quiet-wilderness-teeming-with-life

    The spent fuel storage is another concern, but NPR also had an apparently pro-nuclear guest on talking about dilution of radioactive plumes, and trying to make a comparison with the bomb testing that occurred in decades past. I thought most nuclear tests involved a few pounds of radioactive material, much of it fully fissioned, and released over several events rather than all at once. Maybe a bit different from the many tons of material in these power complexes?

  19. OregonStream says:

    Correction: I should say more completely fissioned.

  20. Colorado Bob says:

    Bare this in mind, these huge quakes make the stress down the fault increase, the Banda Quake had an 8 aftershock , down the fault 2 or 3 months later. The after shocks have marched toward the plant :

    http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Maps/10/145_35.php

  21. Colorado Bob says:

    Well this is one week -
    These the reactors look like they’ve been attacked by the United States Air Force.

  22. Mark says:

    This link (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/science/plume-graphic.html?ref=science) is an interactive map that simulates the path of the radiation based on current weather conditions.

    The related news article says no worries, the radiation from Japan will be very low by the time it gets to California.

    But it looks to me like there are some causes for concern. This simulation shows that the dosage reaching California will be between .1% and 1% of the radiation emitted at the plant.

    Another site (http://www.myhealthbeijing.com/prevention/wellness/radiation-plume-is-moving-east-over-the-pacific/) also shows estimates by the Japanese government of the amount of radiation that will make it to the US.

    However, it looks like their estimates regarding the amount of radiation that will make it across the Pacific are 1000 times (or more) lower than the estimates from the UN.

    How do we reconcile these dramatically different estimates?

    We know that the radiation at the plant reached 400 mSv / hour a couple days ago. If we assume the best case numbers from UN simulation and only .1% of that radiation reached California, then .4 mSv / hour would reach California.

    So if we had just one day of 400 mSv / hour and only .1% of that reached California, then we’d be expecting 9.6 mSv to eventually make it to California for that one day worth of radiation.

    The worldwide average background radiation from natural causes is 2.4 mSv / year.

    The legal limit set by the NRC for individuals is 1 mSv / year.

    Am I looking at this correctly? Whose simulation is more credible?

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The ABC24 is reporting that people up in NE Japan are starving. Hospitals are full but they don’t have enough food to feed them.

    Why aren’t they doing food drops? I thought Japan was organized for this sort of thing. This is terrible, ME

  24. MarkB says:

    Japanese wind farms held up nicely in this disaster, with the only loss of power due to grid damage.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-rigg/battleproof-wind-farms-su_b_837172.html

  25. Lisa Boucher says:

    FUBAR will soon be replaced with “Fuckushima’d” in the vernacular.

  26. Raul M. says:

    Old circus canons could probably
    shoot one or two bags of cement
    at a time with good accuracy.

  27. Prasad says:

    We should learn lessons from the Japan’s Nuclear Disaster.

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Shouldn’t it be possible to setup the water spraying to have it autonomously continue?

  29. Artful Dodger says:

    Prokaryotes #29: There is no water pipeline. There is a 10 ton tank onboard the firetruck. When it’s empty, the truck withdraws in order to refill.

    Do you really want to be piping in seawater to hose down a cracked, stainless steel vessel? Seawater can cause the failure you seek to avert.

  30. lizardo says:

    Update on fuel assemblies, what where at the UCS post I referenced above. Plus it appears from commenter there that per TEPCO, 6,000 plus assemblies are in the seventh common pool, and 408 assemblies are in dry cask storage, data is a year old. Still doesn’t add up to 11,195 or whatever.

  31. ToddInNorway says:

    Solar Jim @17, I support you and agree 100%. The whole global nuclear power industry is unhealable, unreformable, and at some sites, they are hiding the fact that they are sitting on unmitigated, unmanaged risks that defy all explanation. I am sure the insurance industry understands this, most if not all the investment banking industry understands this, Wall Street understands this, yet still politicians continue to prop up this monster of an industry. Oh and I almost forgot to add, the thermal efficiency of most reactors is a miserable 33%, i.e. 67% of the heat produced by the nuclear pile is simply dissipated to the surroundings.

  32. lizardo says:

    via CNN blog: Re the undamaged{?) reactor buildings 5 and 6 to which generator power supplied yesterday:

    “[2:59 a.m. ET Friday, 3:59 p.m. Friday in Tokyo] Temperatures in the spent fuel pools of the Nos. 5 and 6 nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant remain high but relatively stable, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
    “The unit 5 pool measured at 64.2 degrees Celsius (148 degrees Fahrenheit) at 3 a.m. Thursday, rising slightly in a reading 15 hours later to 65.5 degrees Celsius, according to the IAEA. The unit 6 temperature measurement went down slightly, from 62.5 degrees Celsius at 3 a.m. to 62 degrees Celsius at 6 p.m.
    Typically, the water in spent fuel pools is kept below 25 degrees Celsius, with the water boiling off – and releasing radioactive vapors – when temperatures surpass 100 degrees.”

    I’m thinking that it’s only with restoration of electric supply that accurate readings of temp in pools can be obtained. So no way to tell what’s happening in #4 (potentially hottest) or 1-3.

    Los Angeles Times: US NRC thinks unit 4 has a hole or crack in either the side or floor of spent fuel pool, based on sequence of events and “information from American contractors who were in the plant at the time.” (General Electric and Hitachi)
    (US nuke plants also hire contract workers for extra help during refuelling/maintenance.)
    It is not clear how such a crack or hole was made in the fuel pool.
    Obviously if there’s a crack or hole refilling the #4 pool is not possible, especially if it has to be seawater which could corrode the assemblies (unclear if seawater corrodes zirconium).

    Reuters: Power line has reached site but no power in it yet, maybe Sat. Tokyo time. First they said would power units 1 and 2, then said unit 4. Unclear if that’s an and or an or. Should one conclude maybe not possible at no.3?

    (LA Times: Edano says cooling #3 is most important task, rest of the world’s actual experts say no, cooling fuel pool at #4, but Edano is an idiot or liar and keeps saying radiation levels at the plant are not a health risk. When is this guy going to be fired?)

    Reuters: entombment being discussed as longer term.

  33. Raul M. says:

    A circus tram that drops the cement load
    through the holes in the roofs. A pole with
    A flexible tram attached so when rightened
    To the side of the building the cement loads
    Just keep loading the roof with cement and
    The fire trucks just keep the cement slurry
    Going into the building.

  34. lizardo says:

    Oh, I also meant to comment that I’m wondering what people in the US think now, of those who believed the PR that “nothing happened at TMI” and everything worked as it should, if this disaster is now ranked as “number five” and as bad as TMI?

  35. Bullwinkle says:

    When does the typhoon season start? It seems inevitable that Japan will be hit by a typhoon sooner or later. I’ve heard much about prevailing winds spreading the radiation. What about typhoon force winds?

  36. Joan Savage says:

    Enclosing the Chernobyl Reactor Four with concrete had its perils.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Debris_removal
    Section on “Steam explosion risk”

    “The smoldering graphite, fuel and other material above, at more than 1200 °C,[38] started to burn through the reactor floor and mixed with molten concrete that had lined the reactor, creating corium, a radioactive semi-liquid material comparable to lava.[37][39] If this mixture had melted through the floor into the pool of water, it would have created a massive steam explosion that would have ejected more radioactive material from the reactor. It became an immediate priority to drain the pool.”

  37. Prokaryotes says:

    Cell Phone Use May Have Effect on Brain Activity, but Health Consequences Unknown http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110222162308.htm

    Any thoughts about cell phone increased glucose metabolism and high radiation?

  38. Prokaryotes says:

    An official with access to the UN Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty data says that their machines have picked up the first particles from the nuclear accident at Fukushima in the United States.

    The particles detected are, according to the Associated Press, said to be “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.”
    http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/03/first-particles-from-fukushima-reactor-reach-u-s-soil/

    Watch how fox reports about the EPA network to monitor atmospheric radiation.

  39. Peter Bellin says:

    I saw the helicopter video earlier – I wish there were a translation of the comments into English.

  40. Wit's End says:

    ME, #24
    BBC had a report this morning that many elderly are dying in the shelters, it is cold, and most lost essential medication for chronic conditions in the tsunami which has not been replaced.

  41. Chris Winter says:

    I get a “not found” on Prokaryotes’ link to the status report from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF). I believe this links to the latest PDF report (2200 on 18 March): http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news_images/pdf/ENGNEWS01_1300455907P.pdf

    By the way, the JAIF English home page ( http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/ ) indicates that their 44th annual conference has been cancelled.

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Wit’s End, yes, the response has been totally inept and inadequate. Shameful for a country as wealthy and organized as Japan, ME

  43. harvey says:

    @Mark
    Radiation at the plant includes alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Gamma radiation is photonic, it cannot be part of the “radiation plume”

  44. Merrelyn Emery says:

    To all the people here who believe people are intrinsically selfish and greedy, read the article ‘The myth of the panicking disaster victim’ by Johann Hari on the front page of the Huff Post today.

    Why don’t they behave cooperatively every day? Because they are organized into a structure that produces competition and consequently self interest. These structures can be changed any time you want them to be, ME

  45. lizardo says:

    National Geographic has before and after photographs with some descriptive text which is helpful for interpreting which is reactor number which.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/03/pictures/110318-japan-reactors-fukushima-nuclear-power-plant-pictures-radiation/?now=2011-03-18-00:01

    For instance units 1-4 are all in a line with 5 -6 separate and at a little distance.

    This might partially explain why unit 4 fuel pool is in trouble when the other also cold shut down reactors less so (5 & 6).

    Re entombment, dumping cement etc.: Please read tonight’s articles in which experts explain why this could be worse at this point in time. Might happen at some point in the future but is not a fix now. Both these links appear to be different (time) versions of essentially same AP story.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=134661322

    http://enews.earthlink.net/channel/news/print?guid=20110318/60f906aa-d9e5-4864-b8a9-a87ef91263c0

    Also, third point: given that the US sold this plant design to Japan (and probably had to sell them on the technology less than 2 decades after Hiroshima) we should all start encouraging our media (and us) to refer to this as a “US nuclear plant in Japan”…

  46. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, the head vise will need a complete redesign to deal with this (h/t Stoat), and not because it includes any blatantly incorrect claims (a number of incidents of oversimplication and sunny optimism aside). It made me want to laugh, cry and curl up into a hebephrenic ball, all at once. I think it needs its own post, if for no other reason than that its like may never be seen again.

  47. Prokaryotes says:

    Steve Bloom isn’t that the kids channel?

  48. Prokaryotes says:

    Sendai 2011-Mar-11, 05:46:23 UTC Earthquake: Kinematic GPS solutions — will be updated as new results are processed. (Last modified: March 18 2011 10:58 AKST)
    http://gps.alaska.edu/ronni/sendai2011.html

  49. Prokaryotes says:

    The moment nuclear plant chief WEPT as Japanese finally admit that radiation leak is serious enough to kill people

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367684/Nuclear-plant-chief-weeps-Japanese-finally-admit-radiation-leak-kill-people.html

    And this from twitter: “Wind has shifted at Fukushima, now blowing onshore.”

  50. Prokaryotes says:

    Daiicih nuclear power plant ‘Fukuichi’ live camera at 3/19 11:00JST. http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/f1-np/camera/index-j.html

    Hiroshima survivors fear new nuclear fallout http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/18/bomb.survivors/?hpt=C1

  51. jay says:

    How smart are these Nuclear Engineers, Government Officials on all levels in all countries, NRC, etc. if they build these 10,000 half live poison factories on Fault Lines? Should we expect them to be able to deal with this; I don’t think so.

    Where were the Zoning Board members and why were permits issued? I get harassed by my local zoning board if I want to have a home business, or rent out a room in my house, so where were are you when we really needed scrutiny on critically fatal decisions; spending your political contributions?

    Thanks for the foresight , NOT…!

  52. Prokaryotes says:

    Fukushima: How To Avoid A Potential Chernobyl?

    Spent fuel rod fires could pour enough radioactive waste into the atmosphere to cause what nuclear engineers are now calling “Chernobyl on steroids.” Here lies the potential for a catastrophe larger than Chernobyl unless the Japanese and US governments use their air force and military power to entomb the reactors in concrete, sand and boric acid as soon as possible, just at the Russians did in 1986. As things stand, a Chernobyl-style release of nuclear material into the global land-sea-air interconnected environment continues to remain a significant risk, which ought to be addressed as soon as possible. Given the geographic position of Japan, such a catastrophe would inevitably have consequences for a number of countries framing the Pacific rim; and due to atmospheric and oceanic currents, many countries around the world.

    Levels 5, 6 & 7

    Although the Japanese have now classified their nuclear crisis at Level 5 — the same as Three Mile Island in 1979 — it is for the reasons of the spent fuel pools etc that French officials were the first to categorise the Japanese nuclear crisis at Level 6, with Level 7 being the highest. Level 7 was Chernobyl: uncontrolled release of fission products in 1986. Although Fukushima is not at Level 7 yet, there are more diverse cores — uranium, plutonium, MOX — and more radiation sitting there, than was the case at Chernobyl.

    Admiral Willard, chief of the US Pacific Command, acknowledges that the triple disasters — the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown threat — go beyond anything the two militaries have ever practiced dealing with. He says the reports he has received indicate the team at the reactors has had more success recently and he is “cautiously optimistic” a full meltdown of the nuclear fuel will be avoided. He indicated he will send more forces into the most dangerous area near the reactors to help if necessary.

    The Japan-US “joint task force” may have to take over at some point and bury the Fukushima reactors in concrete, just like the Russians did at Chernobyl, sandbagging the reactor with 5,000 tons of concrete, boric acid and sand. The US military is preparing to ramp up its involvement — if needed — to halt the flow of deadly radiation from the damaged nuclear plant. According to the US Navy, military operations are presently focused on humanitarian assistance, but American forces stand ready to respond more directly to the nuclear plant disaster if Japanese authorities appear unable to cover the nuclear cores themselves.

    [STOPS]

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    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/fukushima-how-to-avoid-a-potential-chernobyl-2011-3

  53. Prokaryotes says:

    ATCA is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action! http://twitter.com/ATCAOpen

  54. Steve Bloom says:

    Even so, Prokaryotes.

  55. Prokaryotes says:

    Artful Dodger “There is no water pipeline. There is a 10 ton tank onboard the firetruck. When it’s empty, the truck withdraws in order to refill.

    Do you really want to be piping in seawater to hose down a cracked, stainless steel vessel? Seawater can cause the failure you seek to avert.”

    They use seawater all the time at fukushima, now this report from twitter

    flotowg #Fukushima – unmanned 7 hour-long water spraying plan using daisy chained vehicles by Tokyo’s finest ready to start at 1h30pm local.

  56. metalman says:

    Why not move all this spent fuel to Yucca Mtn. The politics leaves this fuel in pools with no containment.

  57. Prokaryotes says:

    Japan’s Stricken Atomic Plant Gets Power Cable Reconnected

    Workers reconnected the power cable to one reactor at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic plant, signaling progress in efforts to prevent Japan’s worst nuclear crisis from escalating.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers will begin work on restoring power to the cooling system of the No. 2 reactor tomorrow morning, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said at a press conference in Tokyo. The cable will also power the No. 1 reactor, he said.

    Troops and firefighters sprayed water on four of the plant’s six reactors today to prevent fuel rods from overheating and spewing radiation into the air as they battled the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Tepco earlier cautioned that cooling systems may fail to function even after power is restored after they were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

    Seawater Delays

    Efforts to control the crisis at the plant were delayed by concerns over damaging valuable assets and initial passivity from the Japanese government, the Wall Street Journal reported today, citing people familiar with the matter.

    Tepco was reluctant to use seawater to cool the No. 1 reactor because it was concerned about harming its long-term investment, the Journal reported. The utility didn’t use seawater until the evening of March 12 after being ordered to do so by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the Journal said.

    “The situation at the power plant is still unpredictable,” Kan, who described the crisis as “very grave,” said in Tokyo yesterday. “But we’re making our utmost effort to control it, and we’ll surely overcome this crisis.”

    Japan faces a “battle with time,” International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said after meeting ministers in Tokyo. The earthquake and tsunami knocked out Fukushima Dai-Ichi’s backup generators, pitching workers into a battle to keep the plant cool and stem radiation from the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

    A backup generator at the No. 6 reactor was fixed, Tepco said in a press release today. The utility also vented hydrogen gas at reactor Nos. 5 and 6 to prevent a buildup of pressure, Tepco spokesman Kaoru Yoshida said. Such buildups caused explosions at units 1, 2 and 3.

    Japanese soldiers used fire engines yesterday to dump seawater on reactor No. 3, site of an explosion earlier this week. The dousing was stopped in the afternoon as the effort replenished some water to the spent-fuel pools at the reactor, Air Self Defense Force Chief of Staff Shigeru Iwasaki said.

    “On Sunday, a frontal system is crossing the region with heavy rain,” Austria’s Meteorological and Geophysics Center said in a statement. “Behind the front, northerly winds are predicted, increasing the risk for the region around Tokyo.”

    “Everything has been disclosed to the Japanese public,” Kan said. “We have shared what we know with the international community.”

    Japan upgraded its warning for some parts of the plant from a four to a five on an international scale of seven, the IAEA said yesterday. The five rating is for accidents with wider consequences. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 rated seven.

    Tepco, Asia’s biggest utility, acknowledged its No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at the site had been changed to a level five rating, according to a statement on the company’s website.

    The greatest risks at Fukushima may come from the spent fuel pools sitting atop the six reactors.

    The nuclear agency said March 17 there is a possibility of no water at the No. 4 reactor’s spent-fuel cooling pool. If exposed to air, the fuel rods could decay, catch fire and spew radioactive materials into the air.
    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-03-19/japan-s-stricken-atomic-plant-gets-power-cable-reconnected.html

  58. lizardo says:

    From NYT this morning: Industry insider confirms that fuel pool at unit four is leaking and “water sprayed on the storage pool had been disappearing faster than it could evaporate.” This particular design of pool has two side gates and this is where earthquake could have created a leak.

    {I can’t quite get my head around the design issues here but apparently yet another problem with having that spent fuel pool up high and not in separate building}

    and {from same NYT article] Japan is importing 150 tons of boron to mix with the water being sprayed… because “recriticality” an issue (fissioning starting up, not just heat) because of melted fuel …. still not known if all pumping systems intact even with new cable being run inside some areas….

    and yes… robots on the way…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/19/world/asia/19japan.html?_r=2

  59. lizardo says:

    Check Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear website http://allthingsnuclear.org for technical explanations of pretty much all the technical issues with Fukushima to date, but today’s post “Possible sources of leaks at spent fuel pools at Fukushima” has some scary stuff about those gates I mentioned above because it doesn’t take an earthquake or even loss of power to start draining the pool (though loss of power and failure of backup would do it) but so would equipment malfunction or operator error.

    Scary because the gates seal with an inflated tube that relies on periodic injections of air and scary because the US nuclear plants that are GE boiling water reactors, 23 in all, also have this set-up.

    UCS describes incident where failure occured at the Hatch plant in Georgia. Diagrams and photos supplied. Between the two you get a good idea of how much water is required as shielding on top of the fuel, 19+ feet deep. But the “gate” is a very very short distance above that.