Nuclear meltdown: race to save reactors in Japan

Pick a number, and that reactor is described as being near a meltdown.  The news coverage coming out of Japan is even more confused when American media deciphers it.  Hopefully hard facts come in soon…

Meltdown occurred according to Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency

URGENT: March 12 00:00 PST: Explosion at Nuclear Facility

VIDEO of explosion at nuke plant.

Reuters Live Earthquake News Feed

Several people appear to be injured at Fukushima nuclear plant – NHK

Walls and roof of a building at site destroyed by blast – NHK via Sky News

UPDATE:  22:50 PST:  BREAKING NEWS: Pressure successfully released from Fukushima No. 1 reactor: agency

UPDATE:  21:47 PST:  Meltdown underway at Reactor #1?  http://twitter.com/#!/dicklp

Fukushima fuel cores are melting at 2000C and dropping onto steel floor. Steel melts at 1500C. Could still be brought under control, but Four other Fukushima nuke reactors are struggling with similar problem. If multiple meltdown begins, it will be uncontrollable.

Nuclear reactor coolant systems are running on batteries, and the coolant has reached the boiling point.  Extremely critical situation currently at several earthquake affected nuclear reactors. Officials are concerned that a Three Mile Island 1979 meltdown could happen here.  Reuters Link

From the LA Times:

Conditions appear to be worsening at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan, according to local media.

The Kyodo news agency reported that the cooling system has failed at three reactors of Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant. The coolant water’s temperature had reached boiling temperature, the agency reported, citing the power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power.

The cooling system failure at the No. 2 power plant came after officials were already troubled by the failure of the emergency cooling system at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which officials feared could cause a meltdown.

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u.k.(us)
March 11, 2011 7:07 pm

This seems like a good time to check sources of information.
The engineers and control operators are not wasting their time giving progress reports (I hope), the situation is being handled by people that know the system.
The best, and brightest are on the job.

March 11, 2011 7:08 pm

Japan has previously had an excellent nuclear record, barring the accident at the enrichment facilities at Toka-Murai. What a shame this is. Japan uses essentially 1960s nuclear technology, i.e. US Westinghouse reactor designs. I don’t understand completely what happened here but wonder if the automatic shut-down feature might be a poorly designed system.
The one possible bright note, once Japan pulls itself back together, is that these reactor accidents are always opportunities to better understand the causes of failure and to make corrections and improvements. It’s hard to imagine a greater test of the technology than the circumstances of these earthquakes. If the containment buildings remain intact this should be no worse than Three Mile Island. It will represent a massive economic loss and a major problem in terms of real energy shortages for Japan – but hopefully no harm will come to the people who work in and live around these plants.
My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan.

Claude Harvey
March 11, 2011 7:10 pm

This is serious. Loss of coolant is the Achilles heel of all nuclear power plants. Even after a shutdown, if the residual heat cannot be rejected for several days, the danger of fuel bundle meltdown (a partial meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island), loss of pressure containment and a thermal explosion is very real. The worst case result would be a giant “dirty bomb” that could render a wide swath (depending on prevailing wind at the time) uninhabitable for many decades.
Seeing to it that such failure cannot happen under any imaginable circumstance is at the heart of all nuclear power plant safety design. Design typically includes the assumption that external electric power to the plant is lost and provides for a minimum of two redundant backup cooling systems for such an emergency. Those backup safety systems are “seismically qualified” to withstand the worse calculated earthquake possible for the geologic zone in question and protected against the worst postulated flooding.
If those backup systems failed at three of the Japanese reactors, there was by definition a defect in the design of those systems.

Sam Hall
March 11, 2011 7:15 pm

I read that they had done a SCRAM on the Fukushima No. 1 plant and the standby generators that power the cooling system had failed. If true, they could have a partial core meltdown like 3-mile Island. Very bad PR and very expensive, but no danger.

pochas
March 11, 2011 7:22 pm

The important thing is to keep the cores covered, even if they have to vent some steam to the outside, which is really harmless if they can keep the cores covered. If not, their reactor is toast and they will spend a couple of billion on cleanup. But regardless, the activists will set up a howl like we haven’t heard since TMI, only worse since this is Japan, the one-time nuclear target. The question is, why did those auxiliary diesel generators fail? And what does this mean for the future, assuming there is one?

March 11, 2011 7:24 pm

Hmmm. Scary for Japan which has suffered enough. Scary for all of us. I think a lot of us old conservationists/environmentalists who had opposed nuclear were “warming up” to it as the best and cheapest alternative to fossil fuels should they run out or global warming actually proved to be CAGW, which I doubt. Now, I suppose, for better or worse, we are stuck with fossil fuels, very inefficient wind, and very expensive solar. BTW, there are millions of us conservationists/environmentalists who feel the global warming zealots and green extremists have hijacked our beloved movement. Lets take it back!

Jimmy Haigh
March 11, 2011 7:26 pm

Scary. This is why I’ve never been a big fan of nuclear…

ggm
March 11, 2011 7:31 pm

Does anyone know if these are breader reactors or slow thermal reactors ?
From what I understand – slow reactors like these can NOT ever, under any circumstances “melt down”. They can not explode. Infact, nothing more than coolant release can happen (and that coolant is mildly radioactive, but not long lasting ??). If the coolant releases, the reactor gets a little hot, and shuts down. End of story.
“melt downs” and “dirty bomb exposions” are a myth with these sort of reactors. It`s only breader reactors (fast breaders) that have this risk, and I think it`s only the crazy Russians and Chinese who built these. If these are breader type reactors, then the Japanese are frikkin crazy people for building them in an earthquake zone. Surely the Japanse are not that crazy ??

Stas Peterson
March 11, 2011 7:33 pm

These are Gen II reactors much like the current reactors operating in the USA for decades. To provide for extra coolant in the event of a Loss of Coolant accident, to cool the reactor after shutdown. Just like your home oven after you have baked a cake and turned the oven off, it remains hot until it cools off. This is neccessary until the reactor cools off, they have spare diesel generators to provide the electricity to drive the water pumps which pump in extra coolant, in the case that standard electricity sources are unavailable.
The 30-odd new Gen III+ designs being prepared for construction in the USA, the NRC and the reactor builders have anticipated that it is possible that regular electricty may be down, and the spare diesel generators might be unable to come online, however remote.
So the new reactor designs place the extra coolant in tanks higher than the reactor so the extra coolant can flow into the reactor with simple gravity without needing any pumps, at all. In addition the new reactors have much larger reactors vessels, that are large enough that the reactor will not need any extra coolant. Further they have been re-designed so that the coolant already there, circulates by natural thermal convection, wihtout needing any internal pumps during a shutdown.
Proving once again that the new GEN III+ reactors in the process of building in the US, are even safer than the ones that have been running safely for decades, today.

Doug Badgero
March 11, 2011 7:36 pm
wsbriggs
March 11, 2011 7:47 pm

I agree, waiting for more non-MSM information is probably prudent. I’m having a hard time imagining the, properly paranoid, Japanese doing a slipshod version of Peachtree.
Peachtree in my mind was much worse than TMI. It showed that some of our nuclear “engineeers” didn’t have a clue about failsafe design. When a lighted candle in a plenum can take out 5 failsafe systems, the system isn’t exactly failsafe. One of the Swiss professors in my graduate studies group was a expert witness in the examination of the accident. The stories he told… As an American I was embarrassed to hear how poorly our “Leading Engineering Firms” had designed that plant.

Les Francis
March 11, 2011 7:55 pm

According to some Nuclear specialist sites I visited, the reactor and core is self regulating and cooling however this is regulated by a series of valves and switches which are nominally powered by D.C. The D.C. is provided by a series of back up generators and batteries.
The generators have allegedly failed (W.T.?). They were operating and have shut down?
Could be the inverters have failed and not be charging the batteries?

March 11, 2011 7:58 pm

If ever there was an ad for thorium salt reactors, this, unfortunately is it. They can’t “melt down” because the fuel is already molten. When the power fails, the fuel cools and the reaction stops.
I just hope they can cool these suckers down enough to remove the rods.

Bob Buchanan
March 11, 2011 8:03 pm

It seems that while they were designed to withstand earthquakes, apparently they were not designed to operate after a serious tsunami.
I don’t understand why the systems don’t automatically withdraw the fuel rods and stop the energy producing chain reaction.

Jim
March 11, 2011 8:23 pm

The situation is basically this
The reactor would have been shutdown No more chaim reaction.
However about 10% of heat released by a reactor comes from the decay of radiocative
byproducts after original fission event. This is the energy that is the cause of the
problem. The energy release decreases rapidly. From member, after 24 hours
the energy release from these byproducts decreases by at least a factor of 10.
There should be an ECCS (Emergency Core Cooling System). This is a big
tank of water located at an elevation higher than the reactor that can be
dumped into the reactor to help keep the core from being exposed in the
case of pump failure. There has been no mention of this in any news story.
In TMI (Three Mile Island) the core was exposed. This irrevocably
damaged the reactor, but otherwise caused no harm. It was a commercial
as opposed to human disaster. One of the problems at TMI was that
the operators did not know what was going on, but I suspect that the
engineers in Japan will know what is going inside the reactor core.
The TMI accident showed that a reactor vessel and containment
vessel could withstand a loss of coolant accident that exposed the core.
If the operators vent steam from the reactor to release energy and
pressure, there may be a lot of adverse publicity, but this does
not constitute a disaster. The steam which will be radiactive and hot
will rise and disperse through the atomsphere. Compared to the
devastation caused by the Tsunami, this is a fleabite.
If the operators have access to an ECCS with water in it, then I do not
believe the worst case scenario will occur. As far as the news stories go
the frustrating thing is no mention of the ECCS which should be available
when the pumps fail.

Doug Badgero
March 11, 2011 8:28 pm

Moderator, I think my last comment is in the spam filter.
[Posted. ~dbs]

Domenic
March 11, 2011 8:28 pm

I read that the backup generators at the affected plants were flooded by the tsunami.
It seems strange to me that the Japanese didn’t protect their nuke plant backup generators against the worst possible tsunamis.

Phil
March 11, 2011 8:28 pm

From: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html

Three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors were in operation when yesterday’s quake hit, at which point they shut down automatically and commenced removal of residual heat with the help of emergency diesel generators. However, these suddenly stopped about an hour later for reasons as yet unknown.
This led the plant owners Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to notify the government of a technical emergency situation, which allows officials to take additional precautionary measures.
Even now, the primary focus of work at the site remains to connect enough portable power modules to fully replace the diesels and enable the full operation of cooling systems.

To the extent that there is evaporation inside the containment vessel, some steam may need to be vented, but it is reportedly filtered before it is released, so any radiation release into the environment would be limited. After watching TV and reading other news accounts, the reporting on this story appears to be more than terrible. Let’s hope that Tepco will be able to properly manage this situation. It would appear that they are well prepared for it.

March 11, 2011 8:32 pm

Radiation levels 1000 times normal to me is indicative that the problem at at least one plant is past the point of just being a core cooling problem. The plant is shutdown and radiation levels should be lower than normal and dropping — normal being operating at power. With rad levels that high, at least some reactor core damage may have already occurred.

Phil
March 11, 2011 8:34 pm

From: http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2011/03/11/japanese-reactors-fine-after-7.2-magnitude-earthquake031101.aspx

As of Friday afternoon, additional backup generators were en route to the plant, and unit 1’s coolant system was running temporarily on a battery. Japanese regulators stated that pressure in the reactor had risen to 1.5 times normal levels. At 750 degrees, an engineer familiar with the BWR design told the Los Angeles Times Friday, the temperature is well below the 2,200-degree design limit for preventing cladding failure.

Cynthia Lauren Thorpe
March 11, 2011 8:35 pm

While I promised not to comment with TOO MUCH sensitive ‘Truth’ for you ‘scientist guys’ ~ Perhaps you’d like to indulge me by going to this site and deciphering the data for me.
It regards ‘Global Weather Modification’. The results certainly ‘seem’ to be compelling – for an amateur, such as myself. I’d love to read what your insightful thoughts are.
http://www.youtube.com/user/NufffRespect#p/a/f/1/Xbp6umQT58A
The title of the youtube video is called ‘HAARP CHART FOR NEW ZEALAND’ – with any ‘luck’ – maybe in a day or two they’ll post one for Japan.
In Truth,
Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

Ed Waage
March 11, 2011 8:40 pm

The International Atomic Energy Agency (where I worked for a year) has some info on the situation:
http://www.iaea.org/press/
The reactor is a boiling water reactor and has numerous backup systems. The situation is not a dire as the news media indicate. See also a report from the Nuclear Energy Institute:
http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/information-on-the-japanese-earthquake-and-reactors-in-that-region
The operators of the plant seem to be making some progress. The core is still covered, and the operators plan to relieve some of the pressure inside containment by venting the containment through filters which reduce the amount of radiation released. Backup power supplies are on site.

Phil
March 11, 2011 8:41 pm

From: http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/03/11/media-updates-on-nuclear-power-stations-in-japan/

Japanese officials also told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that pressure is increasing inside unit 1’s containment and they have decided to vent the containment to lower the pressure. The controlled release will be filtered to retain most radioactive substances within the containment, the IAEA said.

and

After the quake triggered a power outage, a backup generator also failed and the cooling system was unable to supply water to cool the 460-megawatt No. 1 reactor, though at least one backup cooling system is being used. The reactor core remains hot even after a shutdown.

March 11, 2011 8:42 pm

“This is serious. Loss of coolant is the Achilles heel of all nuclear power plants”
I’m not sure that is true. Loss of coolant is the Achilles heel of some nuclear designs. For example, the light water civilian reactors developed from nuclear submarine technology were not really optimized to cope with loss of coolant, but rather to fit in a confined space. There are designs that are better able to handle loss of coolant.
However, the news will not make that distinction. The blame will fall on nuclear energy, not on the design faults, making it all the more difficult to built nuclear plants. A really significant failure could end to nuclear power for years to come.

rbateman
March 11, 2011 8:45 pm

SOYLENT GREEN says:
March 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm
I hope they get it under control and pull the rods out too.
One has to wonder what was going through minds to put this plant on a 10 year extension just last month.
The design is straight out of the 1960’s.

Phil
March 11, 2011 8:48 pm

From: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Massive_earthquake_hits_Japan_1103111.html?je

Tohoku Electric Power Company’s Onogawa 1 suffered a fire in the non-nuclear turbine building which took eight hours to extinguish. A minor fire burned in a non-nuclear service building of Tepco’s Fukushima Daini 1 but this was extinguished within two hours.

and

JAIF issued a statement giving the status of nuclear power reactors in the effected area of Japan. This was based on various information sources, including event reports from Nisa released half an hour after the earthquake struck.
Reactor Operator Status
Onagawa 1 Tohoku Automatically shutdown
Onagawa 2 Tohoku Automatically shutdown
Onagawa 3 Tohoku Automatically shutdown
Higashidori 1 Tohoku Shut for periodic inspection
Fukushima Daiichi 1 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daiichi 2 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daiichi 3 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daiichi 4 Tepco Shut for periodic inspection
Fukushima Daiichi 5 Tepco Shut for periodic inspection
Fukushima Daiichi 6 Tepco Shut for periodic inspection
Fukushima Daini 1 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daini 2 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daini 3 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Fukushima Daini 4 Tepco Automatically shutdown
Tokai Japco Automatically shutdown
Hamaoka 3 Chubu Shut for periodic inspection
Hamaoka 4 Chubu In normal operation
Hamaoka 5 Chubu In normal operation
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 1 Tepco In normal operation
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 2 Tepco Not operating
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3 Tepco Not operating
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 4 Tepco Not operating
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 5 Tepco In normal operation
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 6 Tepco In normal operation
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 7 Tepco In normal operation
Tomari 1 Hokkaido In normal operation
Tomari 2 Hokkaido In normal operation
Tomari 3 Hokkaido In normal operation
In addition, the reprocessing plant at Rokkasho is being supplied by emergency diesel power generators.

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 8:48 pm

I have been following this pretty closely.
1. Current worker exposure inside the plants is 2% above normal … or negligible.
2. Pressure buildup in containment vessels is thermal and not due to coolant leaks. Basically, the HVAC has stopped working and the air in there is getting hot which builds pressure so they are venting it. Radiation released so far is negligible.
3. Backup power has arrived at the one plant and is being installed.
4. External grid power is now available at the second plant.
So it looks like this is going to be a non-event. The problem is that these reactors are the 1970’s – 1980’s design that requires external power, HVAC, and a lot of other control systems to operate its myriad of valves, pumps, controls, etc. Modern plants don’t need all that.

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 8:54 pm

Also, looks like the reason the diesel generators failed is because they were at ground level and flooded by the tsunami.

Tom Jones
March 11, 2011 8:54 pm

One thing that is never mentioned in the media stories, which are everywhere, is the potential safety difference of a thorium reactor, or alternative design approaches.

Dave Worley
March 11, 2011 8:55 pm

There are rail lines nearby. Generators have arrived and wiring is being installed.
More generators are on the way.
The media, as per standard form, is overplaying the situation for ratings.

TomRude
March 11, 2011 8:55 pm

Let’s appreciate how Reuters is quoting their convenient sources:
“Such a blackout is “one of the most serious conditions that can affect a nuclear plant,” according to experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. based nuclear watchdog group.”
UCS is of course a CO2 bashing global warming group.
“(It’s) a sign that the Japanese are pulling out all the stops they can to prevent this accident from developing into a core melt and also prevent it from causing a breach of the containment (system) from the pressure that is building up inside the core because of excess heat,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.”
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a private NGO.
It’s almost as if no official atomic energy source could be found to comment here.
Reuters is of course controlled by Thomson Reuters, a company owned mostly by the wealthiest Canadians the Thomson family. Among their Foundation Trustee, Sir Crispin Tickell is global warming advocate connected to the UN UNEP and IPCC since 1991. Also the Woodbridge Company, investment arm of the Thomsons bought last year Point Carbon, providing leadership in Carbon market analysis etc…
imo this Reuters report and the choice of sources is not innocent. Should the situation deteriorate, watch for a full blown attack on nuclear energy from the green lobby.

Tucci78
March 11, 2011 8:56 pm

The USS George Washington (CVN 73) carrier battle group of the 7th Fleet is assigned to Yokosuka as its homeport. With its propulsion provided by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, the George Washington carries not only an engineering department trained in handling damaged light water fission power systems but also primary and secondary hardware created to address loss of coolant accidents (LOCA).
Not to mention the assets of other ships in the battle group, which include electrical generation machinery which could be of great value in stabilizing the situation at Fukushima No. 2.
Has anybody been able to discover the officers and men of the George Washington task group are doing right now?

Doug Badgero
March 11, 2011 9:00 pm

Mike,
I work at a nuke in the USA for AEP. I speak for myself not AEP. I have held both a reactor operator and senior reactor operator license. My experience is with Westinghouse PWR design and this is a GE BWR design but the basics don’t change much. As water level lowers rad levels will rise even if no fuel damage has occurred yet because water is a pretty effective radiation shield. As I said on a previous thread, the public safety issue would only occur if fuel damage occurs due to lack of heat removal AND a significant failure of containment occurred also. Your last sentence may or may not be true we can’t tell yet.
For others,
The chain reaction ended when the plant tripped during the earthquake. Heat is still generated from the decay of fission fragments. As was stated up thread, although values were overstated, this amounts to few percent power immediately after trip to a fraction of a percent an hour later decaying slowly after that. However, some form of heat removal is required for a long time or system will heat up……it’s just a matter of how fast it heats up. Lots of energy will be absorbed heating up and evaporating/boiling the water away. As I understand they also still have some capability to remove heat via a heat exchanger that would extend time to fuel damage even further. A year from know the specifics of this event will be disseminated throughout the nuke industry. I look forward to finding out the specifics.

mike g
March 11, 2011 9:00 pm

What we may learn from this tragedy is that we just can’t engineer our society to withstand magnitude 9 earthquakes. Measly 7’s, yes, and the ocasional 8.0. But, maybe not 9.x.

Eric
March 11, 2011 9:00 pm

Jim
I am assuming they are talking about the ECCS here:
Kakizaki, the safety agency official, said the emergency cooling system is intact and could kick in as a last line of defense. “That’s as a last resort, and we have not reached that stage yet,” he added.
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/11/japan-issues-emergency-nuke-plant-leak/

March 11, 2011 9:01 pm

Utter NONSENSE!
Sorry, worked in Nuclear Power for 20 years. This is pure crap.
Running the cooling systems on “batteries”. B.S. Not happening.
Unable to start emergency generators? ALSO B.S., you can fly them in.
The reactors “shut down” as soon as the earthquake was above about 8.0 on the R. scale. Control rods in, reactors shut down.
Then the only “power” is decay heat.
At this time the decay heat is about 1/1000 the reactor capacity. I believe these are 1000 MW Electric, or 3,000 MW Thermal. That means decay heat is 3 megawatts.
That’s 10,000,000 BTU per hour. Divide by 1000 that means the need to vaporize 10,000 lbm per hour or 20 gallons per minute.
You could HAND PUMP 20 gallons per minute into the reactor. Dump the steam through the plant Xenon stack. It will have primarily Xenon in the output, with a little radioactive nitrogen, and a minor amount of trace radioactive elements aside from Xenon. NOT a crisis! Oh, wait, were the Japanese running with a bunch of failed fuel rods? UNLIKELY. Japanese BWR’s have been some of the cleanest in the world.
I just don’t trust the completely moronic media about this matter.
Max

ZT
March 11, 2011 9:02 pm

After the deepwater horizon fiasco and this – let’s hope that anyone that has a battery powered fail safe, for which there is no simple backup system, is quadruple checking and testing…regularly.

March 11, 2011 9:05 pm

PS: Radiation level’s 1000 times above “normal” is also NOT A PROBLEM.
If your background is .005 mR per hour and you vent Xenon and have a local dose of 5 MR per hour, you are 1000 times above background. If the integrated dose to any member of the public is less than about 1000 mR you are within acceptable guidelines.
That would take 200 hours, and it is UNLIKELY that any Xenon release would continue for that amount of time.

DD More
March 11, 2011 9:06 pm

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has transported coolant to a Japanese nuclear plant affected by a massive earthquake and will continue to assist Japan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
“We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants,” Clinton said at a meeting of the President’s Export Council.”
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110311/pl_nm/us_japan_quake_nuclear_clinton
Some aide to the SoS let her step in it. A bit like the Russia ‘Reset’ button.
These are BWR’s (boiling-water), made by GE(1,2&6), Toshiba(3&5) and Hitachi (4). BWR’s have the reactor steam go thru the turbines, so they have extra filtering capacity.
TMI’s reactor problem, in addition to the loss of coolant, was a high pressure hydrogen bubble which if I remember right from our Power Group VP, ‘used up about 6 of the 7 safety factors for reactor pressure.’

Phil
March 11, 2011 9:14 pm

From: http://www.science20.com/chatter_box/blog/japan_quake_media_mischief-77102

Why do some reporters like to get hold of a range of values from a scientist or engineer and then quote the number at the scariest end of the range?

and

The [Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety] agency says radiation levels have risen to up to about 100 times the normal figure in the central control room where the reactor’s operators are working.

Since when does up to 100 translate into 1000 times?

Source quoted: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/12_24.html
Not that anybody would want to alarm anyone. (/sarc)

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 9:19 pm

“I hope they get it under control and pull the rods out too.”
All of the reactors were stopped. What happened is about an hour after they shut down, the stations lost external power due to the tsunami. Without external power, they can not run the cooling systems. One site now has external power restored, the second site is operating on battery backup and will have generator power running shortly (generators are on site being installed).
It takes time to get the heat out of those reactor cores even after the reaction stops. One thing to note: NONE of the reactors have gone to their emergency cooling system. They are all still operating with the normal cooling systems. The problem at the moment is the lack of HVAC allowing the environment to heat up in the containment vessel and build pressure.
If your monitoring systems don’t have power, you can’t add makeup coolant because you can’t monitor coolant levels. They apparently lost the ability to monitor/control coolant levels when they lost power. I would expect the situation at the one plant to settle fairly soon. The other plant is a little more dicey and is still waiting that generator install.

JG
March 11, 2011 9:19 pm

Seems to be a bunch of misinformation out there.
Rods don’t get “pulled”, the control rods are inserted to add a neutron “poison” that absorbs neutrons. This is called a “scram” or automatic shutdown. Rods inserted, no more sustainable fission reaction.
Decay heat is produced by radiocative decay of fission products. This will continue for days.
If a plant is not producing power on its own, it then needs external power to operate pumps. You have to remove heat from the source, to a sink (which is usually the ocean or big heat exchangers.)
This was an 8.9 earthquake with 7. something aftershocks.
Is anyone really surprised there wouldn’t be some damage?
My mother worked for BofA and visited the Northridge branch after the 1993 earthquake. The safety deposit boxes were propeled from the ground and hit the ceiling. And these things are not light by any stretch of the imagination.

mike g
March 11, 2011 9:21 pm

I suspect the diesel generators tried to aspirate water when their building was over-topped by the Tsunami. Without AC power from offsite or from the DG’s, the station batteries would deplete in a few hours. This would result in a loss of all control room electronics. There is no battery-powered emergency cooling system. There is battery-powered control (solenoid valves, etc.) to control a turbine-driven pump that would inject water into the core. The steam for this would come from the reactor and exhaust into the suppression pool. This, in addition to relief valve discharge from the reactor, would result in the suppression pool (torus) water heating up and eventually reaching saturation pressure, as the news reports indicate. This would require venting to relief the pressure that would build up as the temperature builds up and as more and more water from outside the cycle is added.
Reports have continued to state the core has remained covered. If true, I suspect the high radiation levels are from damage the fuel assemblies sustained from the 8.9 magnitude shake.
I’ve been following reports from the Tepco website but it has been several hours since the last update. Unless they have brought temporary generators in, all batteries are likely dead now, meaning the turbine-driven pump would only be able to be controlled by some makeshift actuation of its governor.
Hopefully, sufficient external power to re-power the emergency core cooling systems is being provided. The TMI accident was only stopped because the operators eventually re-started the high pressure injection and put water in the core.
If water isn’t put in the core, the core will melt and eventually melt its way through the vessel and into the bottom level of containment. If this slag encounters water, it wall cool and solidify in a coolable geometry.

Fernando (in Brazil)
March 11, 2011 9:22 pm

5 nuclear reactors have problems after power outage.
All back up failed
There is only one possible explanation
Windows Vista [sarcastic / off]

Al Gored
March 11, 2011 9:25 pm

After reading some of the comments here, knowing how hysterical fears are about radiation and how useless the media is, and reading this here recently:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/16/going-bananas-over-radiation/
I’m wondering how serious this leak is? No doubt the anti-nuclear power gang is going to make it seem as scary as possible.

Laurence M. Sheehan, PE
March 11, 2011 9:25 pm

“Three Island Meltdown”, the great nuclear disaster that never occurred!!!!!
There never was a meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. The steam pressure got large enough that a minor amount of slightly radioactive steam from the cooling system got past the emergency pressure valve. Yellow journalism at its nastiest.
And . . . they don’t build them like that, and have not for a long, long time now.
The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyla nuclear power plant in Ukraine was the product of a flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes, complete meltdown, and there was no “China Syndrome”.
France gets 80% of its electrical power from nuclear power plants, sells a lot of the power generated to other nations, and there has not been even a hint of radioactive material escaping from those nuclear power plants in France that I am aware of.
Any source of power goes wrong when there is an earthquake of this magnitude. I am just hoping that the large aftershocks don’t light up a serious volcano.

mike g
March 11, 2011 9:28 pm

@Max Hugoson
At 24 hours after shutdown the decay heat would still be around 15 megawatts. After a couple of weeks it would be around 4-5 megawatts.

rbateman
March 11, 2011 9:28 pm

crosspatch says:
March 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm
Also, looks like the reason the diesel generators failed is because they were at ground level and flooded by the tsunami.

Drain the oil and fuel lines, bring in fresh diesel, reprime the injectors and fire up. I’m sure the plant operators are already on it.

mike g
March 11, 2011 9:31 pm

@Max Hugoson
The hand driven pump would need to discharge into somewhere around 1000 psig.

March 11, 2011 9:33 pm

BREAKING NEWS: Radioactive Cesium detected near Fukushima plant: nuke safety commission
http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/
BREAKING NEWS: Fukushima nuke plant might be experiencing nuclear meltdownNote

peter_ga
March 11, 2011 9:34 pm

Irrespective of whether the cooling system is functioning as designed or not, the shutdown plants still have to get rid of a certain amount of heat. I wonder if plants generally have large enough radiators for this, or is venting of steam the normal way of dealing with this.

mike g
March 11, 2011 9:41 pm

@Jimmy Haigh
This is why I’m not a big fan of magnitude 9 earthquakes.

peter_ga
March 11, 2011 9:41 pm

One thing I haven’t seen discussed here are these promising new electricity generators, based on co2 no less.

Once these become available, especially for coal-fired plants, a large decrease in co2 emissions would become possible.

Gary Hladik
March 11, 2011 9:56 pm

Once the crisis is over, I assume the utilities will back up their backup diesel generators with something more reliable…like wind turbines.
Yes, I’m kidding.

Phil
March 11, 2011 9:59 pm

From: http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110312-3.pdf

b. Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, Tokyo Electric Power
Co.,Inc.(TEPCO)
(Okuma-machi and Futaba-machi, Futaba-gun, Fukushima Prefecture )
(1) The status of operation
Unit 1 (460MWe): automatic shutdown
Unit 2 (784MWe): automatic shutdown

Unit 3 (784MWe): automatic shutdown
Unit 4(784MW): in periodic inspection outage
Unit 5(784MW): in periodic inspection outage
Unit 6(1,100MW): in periodic inspection outage
(2) Readings at monitoring post etc.
Variation in the monitoring post readings: No
Variation in the main stack monitoring readings: No
(3) Report concerning other malfunction
Article 10* of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency
Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ichi, Unit 3)
(*A heightened alert condition)
Article 15** of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency
Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ichi, Units 1 and 2)

(** Nuclear emergency situation)
Situation of power source to recover water injection function at the station.
-Cable from electric power generating cars are under connecting work(as of 04:00, March 12)

Pressure in the containment vessel has arisen. Steam release is undertaking in order to relieve pressure.
It was confirmed that radioactivity was increased compared to the one at 04:00, March 12.
From 04:00, March 12 by the measurement of radioactive materials in the surrounding area of the power station using monitoring cars. (As of 07:55, March12)
MP6 (near the main gate) 0.07microSv/h -5.1 micro Sv/h
(04:00, March12->07:40, March 12)
MP8 (near the main gate) 0.07microSv/h ->2.5 micro Sv/h
(04:00, March 12->07:30, March 12)

Fernando (in Brazil)
March 11, 2011 10:06 pm

Ryan Maue says:
March 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm
Meltdown underway:

exaggeration.
In this situation you should just seal the reactor.
However, the cost is very expensive. (moral, stock exchange and many others factors)
Unless the structure of containment is compromised by the earthquake.
Apparently I put my neck at a premium.

Claude Harvey
March 11, 2011 10:12 pm

Re: ggm says:
March 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm
“melt downs” and “dirty bomb exposions” are a myth with these sort of reactors.”
If it were a myth, billions of dollars would have been wasted on the design and construction of redundant safety systems for both PWR and BWR reactor systems. “Melt down” refers to a condition in which the cladding of the fuel rods is melted by excessive heat and the fuel is no longer contained in the physical configuration that assured control of its nuclear reaction. In theory, at least, that could result in a runaway situation that could result in a breach of the containment vessel (a thermal explosion) which would, in turn, contaminate a wide geographical area.
In the U.S., Three Mile Island did suffer a partial meltdown of its fuel rods. We probably came closer to the ultimate calamity, however, at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant (BWR reactors, incidentally) in the 1970’s when a fire shut the plant down and rendered both redundant emergency cooling systems inoperable. Had the plant lost off-site power over the next several days, the result could well have been catastrophic.
I am certainly not anti-nuclear and there are several new designs out there that purport to be impervious to a “loss of coolant” accident. However, the generation of both BWR and PWR designs currently in commercial power plant service in the U.S. and Japan are NOT impervious to a loss of cooling accident.

John Whitman
March 11, 2011 10:19 pm

Here are some very initial thoughts from an old nuclear guy, without much information other than my memories of yore.
First, calm down. This is a technical problem to be resolved, just that.
All the nuclear units at the both the Fukushima Daiichi site and Daini sites are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs).
During power operation the fuel in the cores of BWRs are designed to perform in a controlled boiling environment during full power operation. The nuclear plant of concern is fully shutdown with all control rods inserted. The shutdown plant’s decay heat rate across the fuel cladding is very tiny compared to power operation heat rate across the fuel cladding.
Boiling in the BWR fuel core is not itself a concern wrt to fuel cladding failure or melting, it was designed for that environment. What is of concern is that there needs to be water in the RPV (reactor pressure vessel) that contains the fuel core. The water level needs to be (if my oldish memory serves me correctly but don’t quote me on this after so many years) more than ~2/3 of the fuel core height in some BWRs. As the water in the concerned RPV boils off more water will, over time, need to be added to the RPV to keep the core sufficiently covered within design limits. So they need electric power restored to add the water; whether by batteries, DGs or from the grid (solar and wind power if it is daytime or the wind is blowing). That is a context for what is meant when talking about time factors.
Another time factor revolves around a different concern. That is the concern that steam produced by the boiling in the core (without cooling), will find its way into the secondary containment. Steam, in the existing emergency shutdown condition will normally find its way out of the RPV into the primary containment (a steel shell and large water pool with some areas having concrete structural support) because that is what it was designed for. But the concern is that without electricity to provide cooling systems to the primary containment, after a period of time, the design pressure of the primary containment might be theoretically be reached. If this happens then leakage to the secondary containment (basically the reactor building) will occur, that is the last barrier to the potential for radioactive gases being released into the environment.
I can only assume (because it is what I would do) the strategy by the Japanese utility and government would be to prevent primary containment damage (leaks), so that you still have an unchallenged secondary containment as some sort of a backup. Prevention of primary containment damage (leaks) could theoretically be achieved by periodically venting the primary containment through some HEPA filters into the environment to prevent damage to the primary containment. It is a possibility (high or low) to do that without electrical power depending on many different circumstances which are unknown to us (the public). I would consider this a good strategy (while trying to restore electric power for water addition to the RPV and cooling systems for the primary containment) because controlled release is better than the potential for uncontrolled release if the primary containment is eventually damaged by not venting it.
Some really good minds with thousands of total experience years are addressing the problems at the Fukushima nuclear plants.
John

Andy Dawson
March 11, 2011 10:29 pm

First, in both cases, the core cooling (more strictly, decay heat removal system) appears to be working as planned. In a BWR, decay heat removal works by allowing a controlled boil of coolant water, and venting that via a supression pool into the containment. Normally, there’s a secondary heat exchanger system that removes that heat to atmosphere. It’s not clear whether that’s happening.
So far as I can see, all the direct reports of high pressures and temperatures pertain to the containments, not the main reactor vessels. If anything, primary circuit pressures are likely to be low, given the rate of heat generation and removal.
At Fukushima Daiichi, the issue is the loss of back up generation. I’d expect that to be readily resolved, and once that’s running, the HVAC systems will be able to bring containment temperatures back to normal faily quickly.
At the second plant, the problem’s a bit different. The back-up generation has run as planned, but the make-up system for the suppression pool seems to have failed some hours after the shutdown.
That’s caused elevated temperatures in the containment. Again, nothing not readily manageable by controlled (and filtered) venting.
In either case, I’m not aware of any concrete reason to assume that fuel has been exposed, or undergone any substantive damage. Even traces of caesium do no more than suggest that there may be a damaged element or two.

John Robertson
March 11, 2011 10:32 pm

It is dangerous that the CANDU reactor design is not used more for nuclear power. It was specifically designed to avoid the risk of meltdown by making the coolant as the moderator. The coolant is heavy water, adding more heavy water to the CANDU reactor increases the reaction leading to heat (superheated steam) that is then run through the standard heat exchanger and off to drive the turbine generators. If there was a disaster where the station was knocked out of commission and all the safety systems shut off the worst possible case is the coolant (moderator) overheats and boils off – leading to the nuclear reactor shutting down. Note the reactor has not come anywhere close to the melting point of anything, and the reaction is not self sustaining.
Also CANDU reactors have been strongly considered for the safe destruction of the Russian and US stockpile of weapons grade plutonium.

mike g
March 11, 2011 10:37 pm

@Andy Dawson
I’d have expected it to be readily resolved, too. But, nearly a day into this, I haven’t seen any report of power to emergency systems being restored. The latest report I’ve seen is from 10:00 am local time today on the tepco site. That’s 5 hours ago!

March 11, 2011 10:38 pm

@L. Sheehan: Re Chernobyl. ” flawed Soviet reactor design coupled with serious mistakes, complete meltdown ”
I was about to object to the term “meltdown”, but then remembered more of the story. The initial accident was a steam explosion, followed by a burning graphite around the core. Only later did they discover that the core melted (maybe helped by the graphite fire) and dripped into the under stories of the building creating stalagmites of resolidified core metal.
Chernobyl was a steam explosion caused by a badly flawed, unstable design. It was a graphite moderated, water cooled core. The stupid part of its design was that the water quenched the neutron flux. Water & graphite was stable. Steam and Graphite was a known run-away situation to be avoided. It would create a hot spot, creating more steam, faster reaction, making a bigger hot spot, more steam, quickly to a Steam Explosion.
The coup-de-gras in the poor design was putting 12″ of graphite on the ENDS of the control rods. That’s kind of like filling a fire hose up with gasoline before hooking it up to the hydrant. The first squirt from the hose adds fuel to the fire.

John Whitman
March 11, 2011 10:39 pm

Andy Dawson says:
March 11, 2011 at 10:29 pm
– – – – – –
Andy,
We cross posted similar thoughts.
I am glad to see others (you included) who are not exclaiming catastrophy. You would think this is a revivalist CAGWist meeting or something.
Thanks for your post.
John

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 10:50 pm

Looks like they got the valves open:
“Japan’s nuclear authorities said on Saturday that radioactive pressure was successfully relieved at the No.1 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi plant by opening valves. “

Ed Waage
March 11, 2011 10:50 pm

Latest from the IAEA at 0730 Central Europe Time:
http://www.iaea.org/press/
“Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that, starting at 9:00AM local time, they have started the preparation for the venting of the containment of the Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant through a controlled release of vapour. The operation is intended to lower pressure inside the reactor containment.”
The containment pressure is high so they want to depressurize it to keep within the design pressures. There is apparently no uncovering of the core.

Colin
March 11, 2011 10:59 pm

MikeG: “If water isn’t put in the core, the core will melt and eventually melt its way through the vessel and into the bottom level of containment. ”
No, Mike, it won’t. That’s one of the interesting results of TMI2. Examination of its pressure vessel was done in the early 1990s and the flow of corium down the vessel. What was determined by the examination was that as the fuel melted its surface area expanded. In short, it cooled down too rapidly to melt through the pressure vessel even if all of the fuel melted, which was not the case at TMI.
John Whitman is right. Everyone needs to calm down a lot. Just watching the TV tonight someone supposed to be a nuclear expert was making references to Chernobyl. That’s so off the wall it’s not even worth discussing.

Andy Dawson
March 11, 2011 10:59 pm

John,
indeed. I was about to say, your word
“First, calm down. This is a technical problem to be resolved, just that.”
are a succinct expression of the thought processes of engineers the across the world.
All in all, the only thing that’s surprised me in this is the failure of the supression pool make up system. The best source of technical data at the moment seems to be World Nuclear News.

March 11, 2011 11:05 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BWR
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scram
Not to worry. Far more pain and suffering from the quake and tsunami. I used to work with real radiation. We once had a guy walk by a radiation detector we called a hand an shoe counter, and he set it off, just by walking by. (Really; short version: he had been to the doc for a radio-CAT scan, and he was full of medical isotopes. Those detectors we had to step on and put our hands in to be cleared were so sensitive, he could not walk past without setting them off. I’m not exaggerating. That is how low the “normal” levels are. So, 100 or 1000 times higher is no big concern.) I used to do tests that required me to work off hours so no one else was on the floor above my basement lab. Others worked with materials even hotter than that.
Too many people go bananas over radiation. We live in it. We cannot be without it. It is just not possible.
BWRs are relatively intrinsically safe. TMI was a tragedy ONLY because tragedy sells. TMI was never a significant threat, no matter what the MSN says.
I’ve never looked hard at thorium reactors, but I trust they are good designs, and thorium is even more abundant than uranium. Regardless, many passive and intrinsically safe features go in to newer designs. EBR-II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_Breeder_Reactor_II ) was about as safe as could be imagined. It would safely shut down under any expectable circumstance, even if all the backups failed.
Nuclear power will eventually rule. We may be out of coal and natural gas before anything besides nuclear fission becomes overall viable. Fusion is inevitable, but it could still be two centuries away. Sooner or later, we will simply design nuclear plants well enough to satisfy the most paranoid, and we will need them enough to overcome any resistance.

V
March 11, 2011 11:07 pm

Can someone comment on the credentials of the Union of Concerned Scientists commentary at this stage.
They seem to be drawing conclusions despite being 10,000km away?
[ryanm: lemme intercept that softball question: they have zero, zilch, nada credibility]

Kath
March 11, 2011 11:12 pm

NHK World broadcast mentions a leak of several elements indicating a possible partial meltdown. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/12_45.html
“The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says 2 radioactive substances, cesium and radioactive iodine, have been detected near the Number One reactor at the Fukushima Number One nuclear power station.
The agency says this indicates that some of the metal containers of uranium fuel may have started melting.
The substances are produced by fuel fission.
University of Tokyo Professor Naoto Sekimura says only a small part of the fuel may have melted and leaked outside.”

Phil
March 11, 2011 11:18 pm

From: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703555404576195700301455480.html

“If the water level remains at this level, the reactor core might be damaged, but we are now pouring water into the reactor to prevent it from happening,” a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The company, known as Tepco, is the owner of the plant, which is located 150 miles, or 240 kilometers, away from Tokyo.
A portion of the reactor’s fuel rods, which create heat through a nuclear reaction, have become exposed due to the cooling-system failure. The spokesman for Tepco said 1.5 meters of the 4.5 meter long fuel rods were potentially exposed. (emphasis added)

Notice the qualifiers. In addition, others have reported that they are using a fire engine to add water. So far, it sounds like the system is working. Let’s hope it all turns out well. In any event, it looks like they are going to be short of generating capacity for a time after everything is brought under control. After such a strong earthquake, everything would need to be checked and rechecked. The lack of generating capacity for some time may well be the real catastrophe in this case.

CRS, Dr.P.H.
March 11, 2011 11:19 pm

…as a guy who’s been in and around these things a few times, my thoughts and prayers are with the reactor emergency response teams, engineers, management and other emergency personnel. They are wrestling with the devil with this one, I sure hope we don’t have another quake that makes their situation even worse.
Thanks to Andy D, John W and other industry guys for your contributions to this thread!

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 11:25 pm
Tucci78
March 11, 2011 11:33 pm

At 11:05 PM on 11 March, Lonnie E. Schubert had written:

I’ve never looked hard at thorium reactors, but I trust they are good designs, and thorium is even more abundant than uranium.


Heck, I’ve been reading for some time about the notion of “mining” the huge amounts of coal-fired powerplant ash residue for thorium to be used as fission fuel.
Thorium is the principal reason why environmental radiation emissions associated with the combustion of coal means that this old-technology non-nuclear electrical power generation method actually results in more ionizing radiation release (and a helluva lot more in the way of chemical carcinogen release) per megawatt-hour than light water fission power generation ever could.
Though I can’t say with absolute reliability that one has to be either stupid or insane to push the “environmentalist” line of bullpuckey, all the indicators seem to come down in favor of that supposition.

Brian H
March 11, 2011 11:35 pm

ggm;
“breader” reactors? Are those the kind that make bread? As in $$, or from flour?
I prefer the breeder type, myself.
😉
;pPpP

March 11, 2011 11:46 pm

V says, “Can someone comment on the credentials of the Union of Concerned Scientists commentary at this stage.
Here are the details,
Union of Concerned Scientists (Discover the Networks)
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization with more than 100,000 members. Seeing its mission as building a “cleaner, healthier environment and a safer world,” … It opposes genetically engineered foods, condemns SUV vehicles, and proposes measures aimed at combating what it deems the imminent dangers of global warming. It also opposes the vast majority of American foreign policy decisions, and calls for a unilateral reduction in U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles. UCS disseminates to lawmakers and news outlets its opinions about each of these matters, with the intent of ultimately influencing public policy.
Students and faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded UCS in 1969. “Through its actions in Vietnam, our government has shaken our confidence in its ability to make wise and humane decisions,” reads the UCS founding document. That sentiment continues to this day, with UCS condemning American efforts in the War on Terror and the 2003 War in Iraq.
UCS typically minimizes threats posed by foreign rogue regimes, and challenges U.S. assertions about the intentions and military capacities of those governments. In 1998, for instance, UCS assured the public that American analysts had exaggerated North Korea’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, and that the Pyongyang regime was still many years away from being able to develop such an arsenal.
UCS vigorously opposes America’s development of a missile defense system. It also calls for the “adoption of a U.S. nuclear no-first-use policy”; “a U.S. rejection of rapid-launch options, and a change in deployment practices to provide for the launch of U.S. nuclear forces in hours or days rather than minutes”; “the elimination of all U.S. ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, intended for use on the battlefield”; “verified unilateral reductions to a total of 1,000 strategic warheads (including deployed and stored), accompanied by warhead dismantlement”; and “a commitment to further reductions in the number of nuclear weapons, on a negotiated and verified multilateral basis.”
UCS admonishes American corporations such as McDonald’s and Burger King, asserting that the presence of antibiotics in meat used by fast-food companies contributes to large-scale antibiotic resistance. In 2003, bills based on UCS research aimed at prohibiting the use of eight classes of antibiotics in livestock used by fast-food producers were introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. Soon after, UCS admitted that the majority of its claims were speculative. UCS has also warned of the alleged dangers of genetically modified food.
Another issue of concern to UCS is that of global warming. The organization circulated a petition that drew the signatures of some 1,600 scientific experts demanding that the United States ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
A Union of Concerned Scientists declaration, entitled “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making,” charges that the Bush administration “has continued to distort and suppress science in pursuit of its political goals — despite a plea from top U.S. scientists to restore scientific integrity to the policy-making process.” According to UCS President Kevin Knobloch, “We found a serious pattern of undermining science by the Bush administration, and it crosses disciplines, whether it’s global climate change or reproductive health or mercury in the food chain or forestry — the list goes on and on.” The signers of this document portrayed themselves as objective scientists with no political agenda. But in truth, over half of them were financial contributors to the Democratic Party, Democratic candidates, or a variety of leftist causes. […]
UCS is a member of the Save Our Environment Action Center, a leftist coalition that describes itself as “a collaborative effort of the nation’s most influential environmental advocacy organizations harnessing the power of the internet to increase public awareness and activism on today’s most important environmental issues.

Colin
March 11, 2011 11:46 pm

Actually the best source of information is not World Nuclear News, its Tokyo Electric.
For anyone who wants to know the plant status at Fukushima, go here:
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html
and just click through the latest two reports. There are two reactor complexes at Fukushima.
In short, all reactors were fully shut down. One worker received a radiation dose of 106 mSv (the permissible limit for 1 year is 20 mSv) and extremely unlikely to have any effect. Two workers were injured by falls at the time of the quake (broken bones). The takeway from this is that nuclear plants are built so strongly that they are still standing when everything else has been knocked flat.
V: UCS has zero credentials on anything nuclear (or anything else except Beltway lobbying). They have no engineering expertise, no nuclear physics expertise and no radiation health expertise. Their great skill is drawing conclusions on everything based upon knowing nothing.
Lonnie, the biggest problem with BWRs is that because of their single-loop system the containment has to be so huge.
Kath, that report is utterly worthless if it doesn’t give concentrations. Detected at what concentration? Parts per billion? Parts per million?

crosspatch
March 11, 2011 11:47 pm

Looks like they are slowly getting things under control. The Unit 1 Daiichi reactor seems to be the problem child at this point. Looks like once they release the pressure in the containment vessel, they can get more water in there.
The higher the pressure gets in there, the more water it forces out of the core.
BUT people need to remember that these reactors are shut down. While they do take time to cool down, with every passing hour they do lose more heat. This should be much less of a problem 12 hours from now than it is right this minute.

Colin
March 12, 2011 12:05 am

As a followup to John Robertson’s earlier comment, even decay heat isn’t a problem in CANDUs. The reactors are so big relative to the power density that all of the decay heat can simply be radiated into the building structure even in the event of loss of ECCS.

Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 12:09 am

“Looks like they are slowly getting things under control. The Unit 1 Daiichi reactor seems to be the problem child at this point. Looks like once they release the pressure in the containment vessel, they can get more water in there.
The higher the pressure gets in there, the more water it forces out of the core.”
Sorry, Crosspatch but you’re well off beam there. Water levels in the reactor vessel aren’t a function of the pressure in the containment – even just venting decay heat steam, the reactor will be pressurised (at a guess) to perhaps 5-10 bar – well above the pressure in the containment.
As John W. has pointed aout above, the problem is simpler. The primary containment will only stand a certain level of overpressure without uncontrolled venting into the sencondary containment (the reactor building). That’s not catastrophic, but it’s not a desirable outcome. That’s why they’ll be using controlled venting to reduce pressures.
As an aside, there’s a certain irony here. Last week, the NRC gave last stage design approval (only one more hoop to jump through) for the latest iteration of the reactor types at Fukushima – the “Economically Simplified BWR” (ESBWR).
The ESBWR is a beautifully elegant design. Direct Cycle, inherently safe and – here’s the real beauty – doesn’t use coolant pumps at all. All the make-up systems are gravity fed, and there’s a “S**t or bust” option to simply submerge the whole reactor. Even at full power operation, it’s a natural circulation design. So, loss of power to coolant pumps isn’t an issue – there aren’t any.

Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 12:12 am

“Lonnie, the biggest problem with BWRs is that because of their single-loop system the containment has to be so huge.”
Absolutely not. BWRs (at least post the BWR6) have much smaller containments than PWRs of equivalent power. They use a “wet” contaimant, and don’t use heat exchangers.
The trick is the ability to drive fast-acting isolation valves to cut the steam supply/return to the turbine.

John Whitman
March 12, 2011 12:14 am

Andy Dawson says:
March 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm
John,
All in all, the only thing that’s surprised me in this is the failure of the supression pool make up system. The best source of technical data at the moment seems to be World Nuclear News.

– – – – – – –
Andy Dawson,
Glad to get your comment. Thanks.
Regarding the potential that that there was/is a failure of the suppression pool make up system at the 1F1 plant of concern, the suppression pool at that plant (if my oldish mind remembers correctly) is a toroidal design (aka a torus). The suppression pool is, of course as required by the fundamental design, below the level of the RPV.
1F1 is a BWR model that does not have (as I recall) a gravity feed water makeup (supply) system, unless a plant modification was done recently. That is, it doesn’t have a pool of water at an elevation higher than the suppression pool (torus) so that you could just open a valve for makeup water. The plant must therefore have a shutdown mode makeup system that uses electric motor driven pumps. If they had a complete simultaneous loss of incoming grid power (an off site power supply), both Emergency Diesel Generators and all other internal electrical power then suppression pool makeup water would be unavailable. The media and internet sources I have seen are consistent that they had an electric power source blackout, so that explains no suppression pool makeup. I think rigging up a temporary electric source isn’t a long term problem.
That said, I do not think (guess) they have a lack of water in the suppression pool unless it was damaged and leaked the water into the secondary containment; I just do not know if it was damaged. But I would think (guess) that there probably is sufficient water in the suppression pool. The problem would rather be with the lack of electric power to pump water from the suppression pool back to the RPV to keep the water level sufficient high to cover the core to the needed height. Anyway, even if the suppression pool lacked water for make up to the RPV, there are by plant design potentially several other redundant sources of water to put in the RPV besides the suppression pool. But they also require electric power to pump to the RPV. I think that is the problem, not any one system’s failure by physical damage but lack of electric power, but I just do not know.
Andy, there some significant factors that I just do not know, so although it would be great to discuss the strictly speculative possibilities of the plant conditions, this is not the appropriate environment to do so. People are prone to out-of-contexting.
John

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 12:14 am

Japanese authorities have successfully released pressure from the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor and thus avert a potentially catastrophic meltdown, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said on Saturday.
http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article1531579.ece

Konrad
March 12, 2011 12:15 am

Good links from Crosspatch and Colin. I find it most revealing that better information on this non climate related incident is found at WUWT rather than the lame stream media. New media wins again. If I can steel myself with a bottle of reasonably priced Australian red, I might click over to see where the Guardian coverage is at. Or not…

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 12:19 am

Well, I was repeating what TEPCO said. They said they couldn’t get more water in there until they vented the pressure in the containment vessel. That might be a function of the cooling system they are using which I believe is a backup system on that reactor.
“Even at full power operation, it’s a natural circulation design. So, loss of power to coolant pumps isn’t an issue – there aren’t any.”
Yeah, same way the AP1000 works.

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 12:22 am
Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 12:28 am

“Andy, there some significant factors that I just do not know, so although it would be great to discuss the strictly speculative possibilities of the plant conditions, this is not the appropriate environment to do so. People are prone to out-of-contexting.”
Fair point, and thanks for the info (although I wasn’t aware that suppression pool water return to the RPV – is that a good idea from a radiological perspective?). I don’t claim BWR expertise – CO2 and graphite is my background!

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 12:36 am

Might have been a hydrogen explosion in the secondary containment.

tokyoboy
March 12, 2011 12:39 am

One of the nuke reactors blew up, and the radioactivity was measured to be ca. 1 milliSievert at just outside of the reactor site. This may mean that a person inhales a dose, equivalent to one-year dose in normal life, only in an hour.
Could be a really terrible situation for those living nearby.

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 12:41 am

So we might have seen a non-catastrophic explosion of accumulated hydrogen in the secondary containment. Reactor pressures had actually been dropping rapidly according to this report:
http://e.nikkei.com/e/fr/tnks/Nni20110312D12JF516.htm
So while this isn’t a “good” thing, it might not have damaged the primary containment.

Alex
March 12, 2011 12:44 am

Sort OT:An Italian Institute says that after preliminary analysis the earth axis was displaced 10cm. So, how many studies about earthquakes and climate ?
http://translate.google.it/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fit.reuters.com%2Farticle%2FtopNews%2FidITMIE72A0GB20110311&sl=it&tl=en&hl=&ie=UTF-8

John Whitman
March 12, 2011 12:44 am

Kath says:
March 11, 2011 at 11:12 pm
NHK World broadcast mentions a leak of several elements indicating a possible partial meltdown. http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/12_45.html
NHK said “The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says 2 radioactive substances, cesium and radioactive iodine, have been detected near the Number One reactor at the Fukushima Number One nuclear power station.”
– – – – – – – –
The agency says this indicates that some of the metal containers of uranium fuel may have started melting.
The substances are produced by fuel fission.
University of Tokyo Professor Naoto Sekimura says only a small part of the fuel may have melted and leaked outside.”

– – – – – – –
Kath,
I am confident the sources you show are in the best possible position to mention the possibility of the ‘melt’ word.
I can just mention that the severe agitation of the fuel rod (they say containers) by the 8.9 eartquake ~80 km away coupled with scram thermal transients might have caused some mechanical cracks in the fuel clad that could have potentially caused release of fission decay products into the water. That would give the same isotopic indicators in the water that the sources above mention. So, melting I think is possible and the sources known best about the actual plant situation, but mechanical damage without melting is also possible.
At this point without further input I will wait for more confirmation of the suggestion by the authorities of melting. Inspection later after the plant is stabilized will show the actual fuel condition.
My thoughts are with the teams of the Japanese utility, consultants and government as they solve this technical situation.
John

Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 12:46 am

crosspatch,
re
“Yeah, same way the AP1000 works.”
No, the AP1000 can run on natural circulation in decay heat removal mode. In normal operation, it uses circulation pumps. The ESBWR doesn’t use them at all

CRS, Dr.P.H.
March 12, 2011 12:49 am

This seems to be a good site with useful information on the BWR design features, including some nice drawings:
http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2011/03/some-links-on-fukushima-daiichi-1.html
This also provides a link to a nice publication on GE Mark I BWR containment structures by fellow Illini Prof. Magdi Ragheb.

Baxter75
March 12, 2011 1:04 am

Quote: That caused Tepco to declare an emergency and the government to evacuate thousands of people from near the plant. Such a blackout is “one of the most serious conditions that can affect a nuclear plant,” according to experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. based nuclear watchdog group.
“If all AC power is lost, the options to cool the core are limited,” the group warned.
Good to know we’ve now got the real experts on the job!

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 1:05 am

“No, the AP1000 can run on natural circulation in decay heat removal mode. ”
It is my understanding that it can operate at 100% capacity with passive cooling. Indefinitely with an external water source.
http://www.ap1000.westinghousenuclear.com/ap1000_psrs_pcs.html
Apparently the AP600 can run two weeks without external water, the 1000 runs 3 days.

JG
March 12, 2011 1:07 am

@Colin:
(the permissible limit for 1 year is 20 mSv)
When I was a rad worker, the occupational limits were (3 Rem) 30mSv/quarter and (5 Rem) 50mSv/year.
Chernobyl design critiques,
it is true that the Chernobyl reactor had a positive void coefficient of reactivity (steam void increases, reactor power increases), operational limits and safety interlocks were in place to prevent such accident from occuring. It did indeed occur not because of design, but because operational procedures were violated, and saftey interlocks were defeated in order to conduct a test. The test was to trip the coolant pumps to see how much flow they would provide while coasting down. The plant was in an unsafe condition when the pumps were tripped, and the plant blew up. The releases of radioactive material was measured in the mega-curies. I was used to seeing measurements of micro-curies. 1 curie = 3.7 x 10^10 disintigrations(decays) per second.

Stephen Brown
March 12, 2011 1:09 am

0855 GMT Saturday 12 March: Some pictures have come through now on Japanese TV of that explosion at Fukushima. It looks very strong. You can see debris being blasted from the building, then a cloud of smoke mushrooming up from the plant.

Al Gored
March 12, 2011 1:10 am

Wow. Not good.
Fukushima, Japan – Nuclear Reactor Explosion – March 12, 2011

crosspatch
March 12, 2011 1:12 am

Looks like maybe the turbine building, not the reactor containment.

Jim
March 12, 2011 1:19 am

@Crosspatch that is what I thought as well but all media sources seem to disagree.

Nigel Brereton
March 12, 2011 1:19 am

Sky News reporting that radiation levels 8X background outside plant and 1000X background inside control room.
Further new Tsunamis expected up to 3 meters, evacuation of coastal areas to higher ground implemented.

Craig F
March 12, 2011 1:22 am

I did want to comment about some of the poor ( and excellent) reporting going on around the world regarding this incident but since i have been considering what to write there has been the explosion.
I will bring you video from Sky News Uk as it becomes available. ( I don’t have the actual explosion yet but I see that it is above )
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9tA3jxqKoA&w=640&h=390%5D

Craig F
March 12, 2011 1:24 am

I’d appreciate it if a moderator could sort the embedding out in the previous post ( and explain how to do it as I have more to post )

John Whitman
March 12, 2011 1:24 am

tokyoboy says:
March 12, 2011 at 12:39 am
One of the nuke reactors blew up, and the radioactivity was measured to be ca. 1 milliSievert at just outside of the reactor site. This may mean that a person inhales a dose, equivalent to one-year dose in normal life, only in an hour.
Could be a really terrible situation for those living nearby.

– – – – – – –
tokyoboy,
This is surprising news if it is related to the essential structure of the 1F1 reactor building. So I would like to know if it an associated building such as the rad-waste building or truck access bay or auxiliary building or transformer/switchgear building or turbine building instead of the reactor building essential structure itself.
We are all trying our best to sort it out and understand.
Do you have a link about the explosion?
John

Al Gored
March 12, 2011 1:27 am

Wish I spoke Japanese. Some live untranslated coverage here plus hopefully more translated soon:
http://live.cnn.com/

March 12, 2011 1:28 am

If you watch that video when they show the close up you see that the roof didn’t collapse inward it was blown off. There is a very definite and visible pressure wave going straight up and the walls blew outward.

John G. Bell
March 12, 2011 1:31 am

Re: crosspatch
I would say the turbine building. The containment building is only now said to be pressured a two atmospheres. That won’t create a pressure wave like we saw after the explosion. A turbine building could have steam under great pressure and I could imagine such an explosion there. No flash so it wasn’t a chemical explosion.

P. Solar
March 12, 2011 1:33 am

Doug Allen says:
March 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm
>>
Hmmm. Scary for Japan which has suffered enough. Scary for all of us. I think a lot of us old conservationists/environmentalists who had opposed nuclear were “warming up” to it as the best and cheapest alternative to fossil fuels should they run out or global warming actually proved to be CAGW, which I doubt. Now, I suppose, for better or worse, we are stuck with fossil fuels, very inefficient wind, and very expensive solar. BTW, there are millions of us conservationists/environmentalists who feel the global warming zealots and green extremists have hijacked our beloved movement. Lets take it back!
>>
Exactly.
I hope for the local population that can be brought under control but for the rest of the world it probably could not have come at a better time.
Hopefully this will be wake-up call for the GW zealots. Do they really want to believe that CO2 is more dangerous than nuclear fission reactor fuel and waste products?
Let’s hope that the environmental movement can get off the AGW bandwagon and start concerning itself with REAL pollution issues again.

Nigel Brereton
March 12, 2011 1:33 am

External radiation now 20X background level, Sky News.

Craig F
March 12, 2011 1:37 am

@boballab
Yes, that was something i noticed to. This was a distinctive upwards explosion ( I’m ex Royal Artillery, I know my bangs ;))
Japan’s chief secretary confirms radiation leaks now ( breaking ) but confirms that the 6 mile evacuation zone is enough.
This is the reporting from Russia Today ( which is a great if you ever get the chance to tune in )
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZfutqhyBYQ&fs=1&hl=en_GB&rel=0%5D

P. Solar
March 12, 2011 1:38 am

I’m sure Al Gore will say the more frequent and more violent earthquakes are an expected result of global warming and all this is completely consistent with model predictions of the effects of AGW.
Just wait ’till someone works out how much CO2 escaped from F***youshimmer #1.

Konrad
March 12, 2011 1:43 am

Whatever was blowing up it the video, it does not look like a 4 foot thick concrete containment structure. Given that the simple solution to the problem is to vent the reactor vessel down to 1 bar then add water at will, the only reason a melt down could occur is because venting of mildly radioactive steam is delayed for political reasons. While I can accept that the Japanese often exhibit extreme bureaucratic paralysis, I am unwilling to accept that all their engineers are a bunch of [snip].

CRS, Dr.P.H.
March 12, 2011 2:00 am

@ John G. Bell says:
March 12, 2011 at 1:31 am
Re: crosspatch
I would say the turbine building. The containment building is only now said to be pressured a two atmospheres. That won’t create a pressure wave like we saw after the explosion. A turbine building could have steam under great pressure and I could imagine such an explosion there. No flash so it wasn’t a chemical explosion.
———
I think you are correct, John. Makes all the sense in the world to me, considering how much trouble they must be having with controls & subsystems.
From Yahoo News:
Footage on Japanese TV showed that the walls of one building had crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing.

Craig F
March 12, 2011 2:08 am

Japan’s Nuclear Power Stations Explained

Shevva
March 12, 2011 2:10 am

There’s a good graph half way down showing the power released into the ocean (From our friends at NOAA):-
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365229/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-Fears-massive-death-toll.html

Jim
March 12, 2011 2:10 am

“Given that the simple solution to the problem is to vent the reactor vessel down to 1 bar then add water at will, the only reason a melt down could occur is because venting of mildly radioactive steam is delayed for political reasons. While I can accept that the Japanese often exhibit extreme bureaucratic paralysis, I am unwilling to accept that all their engineers are a bunch of [snip].”
Apparently they tried to manually vent the gas (the valves do not have power currently). The worker doing the release was exposed to a fair dose of radiation so they have gone back to the drawing board.

Nigel Brereton
March 12, 2011 2:15 am

Evacuation radius now set to 12 miles, people told to not leave any skin uncovered, use wet towels wrapped around face and head, do not drink tap water.

robertvdl
March 12, 2011 2:17 am

http://www.ustream.tv/news
Updates in English
Live from Yokkaichi, Mie, Japan

Michael
March 12, 2011 2:19 am

Almost simultaneously with the strong shock that hit Japan and triggered a giant tsunami in the Pacific, the Russian Kamchatka volcanoes erupted too. Erupcji towarzyszyły trzęsienia ziemi. Eruption was accompanied by earthquakes.
Other volcanic activity in Japan and other places too.

pwl
March 12, 2011 2:26 am

Slightly better quality video of what appears to be a nuclear reactor containment building exploding.

Why are the buildings cube shaped rather than a cylinder with a dome? Is the reactor contained within another containment structure within these cube like buildings? Anyone have design diagrams of this facility?

Jimbo
March 12, 2011 2:36 am

The speculation about the Tsunami / future Tsunami’s being caused by global warming has already begun. See here, here, here.
For Warmists who are inclined to believe this nonsense then please believe the following things caused by global warming:
Bird migrations longer
Bird migrations shorter
Boreal forest fires may increase
Boreal forest fires may decrease
Earth’s rotation to slow down
Earth’s rotation to speed up
Plants move uphill
Plants move downhill
Sahel to get less rain
Sahel to get more rain

1896
Japan Hit By Earthquake, Tsunami And Typhoon On The Same Day
New York Times [via S.G. image]

Enough said!

Jarmo
March 12, 2011 2:39 am

According to a Finnish expert, the explosion was caused by hydrogen that has formed in the reactor. He says this is the second worst accident after Chernobyl.
Luckily the wind is blowing to the sea.

sean houlihane
March 12, 2011 2:40 am

Harrabin on BBC news being very non-alarmist at the moment, even pointing out that hydro-power is more fatal per kwh than nuclear.

Jarmo
March 12, 2011 2:43 am

BBC News: Japanese authorities are extending the evacuation zone around the two Fukushima nuclear plants from 10km to 20km, according to local media.

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 2:50 am

Nuclear power has always been volatile. No matter the safeguards something can go wrong. If the same time and money that has gone into developing nuclear power had gone instead into developing low energy nuclear reaction it would already be in use. I already know some will tell me low energy nuclear reaction doesn’t work and that no nuclear reaction is taking place in it. It has been commonly, an incorrectly, called cold fusion. And that has left a lasting impression that fusion takes place in the reaction. But fusion does not take place. And since no fusion is taking place some are saying it does not produce more energy out than is put in. But it does.
This video will show that it does work:

pwl
March 12, 2011 2:57 am

Oh, youtube video tags need to be on a line all by themselves to show up embedded as a video, if you put them on a line with any other text they are presented just as a link! Please add that to the instructions below the input box. [reply – I think those are standard instructions – not sure they can be modified. ~jove, mod] Thanks.
CNN reports:

pwl
March 12, 2011 2:59 am

Japan may have been moved 8 feet!
“(CNN) — The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis.
“At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass,” said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9-magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters).”
http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/12/japan.earthquake.tsunami.earth/index.html

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 3:00 am

Michael says:
March 12, 2011 at 2:19 am
the Russian Kamchatka volcanoes
The video you posted is from October 28, 2010. Is there a new eruption happening today?

John Whitman
March 12, 2011 3:03 am

pwl says:
March 12, 2011 at 2:26 am
– – – – – –
pwl,
All the Fukushima Daiichi (1F) site and Daini (2F) site nuclear plant have structurally square reactor buildings. It is the design for the model BWRs at those sites. The cylindrical reactor buildings are mostly PWR reactors.
You can google BWR Mark 1 reactors and if you search long enough you can probably get the basic structure of the type of BWR that 1F1 is.
Note: I think that there may be a cosmetic set of paneling supported by steel structural beams over the original concrete faced essential structure of the reactor buildings. The paneling with its supporting structure would just be to make the building look better than the original grayish essential concrete structure of the reactor building. I am sure detail will emerge about the explosion to support or reject these thoughts.
John

March 12, 2011 3:08 am

CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
March 12, 2011 at 2:00 am
@ John G. Bell says:
March 12, 2011 at 1:31 am
Re: crosspatch
I would say the turbine building. The containment building is only now said to be pressured a two atmospheres. That won’t create a pressure wave like we saw after the explosion. A turbine building could have steam under great pressure and I could imagine such an explosion there. No flash so it wasn’t a chemical explosion.
———
I think you are correct, John. Makes all the sense in the world to me, considering how much trouble they must be having with controls & subsystems.

Ok first things first: Fukushima I is a BWR (Boiling Water Reactor) not a PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) that most people think of when dealing with nuke plants. A BWR works by boiling the water directly into steam and then having it turn the Turbines for power, then re-condensing the water and pumping it back in. A PWR uses a secondary loop and a Steam Generator.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_water_reactor
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressurized_water_reactor
So What does this mean?
Yesterday they stated that the Reactor Core had reached 2000 psi, where most BWR’s are designed to operate at around 650 PSI (PWR’s are designed for around 2000 PSI operation). Now the atmospheric pressure in the containment building has no bearing on the pressure inside the pressure vessel. So if you have high pressure in the steam lines in the Turbine building, you have the same pressure inside the Reactor pressure vessel unless they are able to shut the valves between the two building and isolate the two. If that is the case the Steam in the Turbine building would NOT increase in Temp/Pressure but the Pressure Vessel would since that is what is generating the heat (latent heat from the rods).
Now the Fukushima I plant is also an old design and there have been doubts about them if they experience what they are going through right now.

Though the present fleet of BWRs are less likely to suffer core damage from the 1 in 100,000 reactor-year limiting fault than the present fleet of PWRs are (due to increased ECCS robustness and redundancy) there have been concerns raised about the pressure containment ability of the as-built, unmodified Mark I containment – that such may be insufficient to contain pressures generated by a limiting fault combined with complete ECCS failure that results in extremely severe core damage. In this double worst-case, 1 in 100,000,000 reactor-year scenario, an unmodified Mark I containment is speculated to allow some degree of radioactive release to occur. However, this is mitigated by the modification of the Mark I containment; namely, the addition of an outgas stack system that, if containment pressure exceeds critical setpoints, will allow the orderly discharge of pressurizing gasses after the gasses pass through activated carbon filters designed to trap radionuclides.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_water_reactor#Disadvantages
We know from press reports that the emergency release valves to the stacks failed, they have been doing the pressure releases manually.
Also NHK in Japan has reported that the Japanese Government has stated that the core has been exposed 90 centimeters and that at least one rod has started melt.
At this time the Japanese Government doesn’t know if it was the Turbine building or the Containment building (this leads to that the reactor has not been isolated from the Turbine building via valves).
Naval Nuclear Power School graduate Class 8602

wayne
March 12, 2011 3:09 am


In this video Al Gored supplied at about 50 seconds in there is a closeup, there is what appears to be one single frame, maybe two, at the instance of the explosions where you can see a flash inside the building. By the next frame the gray smoke has already engulphed the front of that building.
Wonder if that could have been a buildup of hydrogen or such, if it was steam pressure that blew you shouldn’t see a bright flash.
Does anyone have a way to get to a single frame out of these videos? It’s hard to get it to stop at just the right point.

March 12, 2011 3:11 am

pwl says:
March 12, 2011 at 2:26 am
Why are the buildings cube shaped rather than a cylinder with a dome? Is the reactor contained within another containment structure within these cube like buildings? Anyone have design diagrams of this facility?

A lot of reactors world wide do not have those big concrete domed reactor vessels, especially for BWR style reactors that operate at much lower temps and pressures then PWR.

Mark
March 12, 2011 3:13 am

Bob Buchanan says:
I don’t understand why the systems don’t automatically withdraw the fuel rods and stop the energy producing chain reaction.
Fission in a reactor is regulated by control rods, made of a neutron adsorbing material. These have to be withdrawn from the reactor for fission to take place. Inserting the control rods can stop any chain reaction very quickly.
However a significent amount of energy continues to be produced due to radioactive decay, from fission products, their daughter elements and isotopes resulting from neutron capture. Cooling is needed to prevent the fuel assembles melting for some time after a reactor shutdown.

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 3:22 am

V says:
March 11, 2011 at 11:07 pm
Can someone comment on the credentials of the Union of Concerned Scientists commentary at this stage.
Their name is not accurate.The organization is not comprised of all scientists. There are some scientists in it. But it should be called The Union of Concerned Activists. Their web site nowhere says they are all scientists.
……an alliance of more than 250,000 citizens and scientists. UCS members are people from all walks of life: parents and businesspeople, biologists and physicists, teachers and students.
link to their web site:
http://www.ucsusa.org/about/
I thought there were laws in the USA about misleading naming of organizations. Maybe no one has ever challenged their naming.
They are also activists for global warming. Bill Nye refers to them to substantiate his alarmists opinions of global warming. I suppose if they were called The Union of Concerned Activists he would not refer to them. The word ‘Scientists’ give them a level of credibility they do not really have, or deserve.

John Silver
March 12, 2011 3:27 am

Here is NHK, Japanese state television, on the right and commentary in English on the left:
http://www.ustwrap.info/multi/yokosonews::nhk-gtv

pwl
March 12, 2011 3:28 am

Fukushima nuke plant out of control? RT talks to nuclear expert from Hiroshima, Japan

March 12, 2011 3:29 am

Jarmo says:
March 12, 2011 at 2:39 am
According to a Finnish expert, the explosion was caused by hydrogen that has formed in the reactor. He says this is the second worst accident after Chernobyl.
Luckily the wind is blowing to the sea.

It’s possible, depending on how much of the core has melted. The more of the core that melts the more hydrogen is released and forms a bubble at the top of the pressure vessel. We all should know how explosive Hydrogen when there is enough Oxygen present so a single spark and boom. This was one of the fears of happening at Three Mile Island:

About 130 minutes after the first malfunction, the top of the reactor core was exposed and the intense heat caused a reaction to occur between the steam forming in the reactor core and the Zircaloy nuclear fuel rod cladding, yielding zirconium dioxide, hydrogen, and additional heat. This fiery reaction burned off the nuclear fuel rod cladding, the hot plume of reacting steam and zirconium damaged the fuel pellets which released more radioactivity to the reactor coolant and produced hydrogen gas that is believed to have caused a small explosion in the containment building later that afternoon.[17]
SNIP
On the third day following the accident, a hydrogen bubble was discovered in the dome of the pressure vessel, and became the focus of concern. A hydrogen explosion might not only breach the pressure vessel, but, depending on its magnitude, might compromise the integrity of the containment vessel leading to large scale release of radiation. However, it was determined that there was no oxygen present in the pressure vessel, a prerequisite for hydrogen to burn or explode. Immediate steps were taken to reduce the hydrogen bubble, and by the following day it was significantly smaller. Over the next week, steam and hydrogen were removed from the reactor using a plasma recombiner and, controversially, by venting straight to the atmosphere.

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

cedarhill
March 12, 2011 3:34 am

News media splash pages will be running the explosion mostly throughout the day and likely will have it as a lead for days.
Countries that have no better alternative may accelerate and/or retro their plants. The Japanese will for sure continue building theirs but will turn their engineering skills to fix whatever the outcome is from this one from locations to withstanding a 10.0+ quake in a Cat 5 hurricane while buffeted by a Cat 5 tornado with a near-miss of an asteroid strike. The Japanese are not the best creative people on Earth but, imho, are the best engineers.
Politically, in the US, expect Obama to completely shut down the nuke industries including “increased” inspections followed by various agencies issuing shutdowns to fix whatever issues they find. The narrative becomes a narrative of safety and fear. Hydrocarbons, nuclear and even hydro (eventually) will be “feared” out of use. Maybe before 2012 and certainly if Obama is re-elected. Fear will win, politically. It almost always does.
The Greenies and other fear groups are already out mass manufacturing glow-in-the-dark costumes to wear for the next million-corpses march on DC or such.
Oh, and but of course, the only “safe” energy is Obama and his cronies energy.

March 12, 2011 3:35 am

pwl
“Why are the buildings cube shaped rather than a cylinder with a dome? Is the reactor contained within another containment structure within these cube like buildings?”
This type of reactor is a BWR (Boiling Water Reactor) as opposed to a PWR (Pressurise Water Reactor)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_water_reactor
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressurized_water_reactor
There appears to be a lot of confused details being put out by the MSM at the moment. As bes as I can gather the explosion has occurred at the Fukushima II site but there is also a Fukushima I site.
Fukushima II (Daini) – http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Fukushima+Daini&aq=&sll=51.89273,-0.354505&sspn=1.242417,4.22699&ie=UTF8&hq=Fukushima+Daini&hnear=&radius=15000&ll=37.317445,141.029134&spn=0.012509,0.033023&t=h&z=16
Fukushima I (Daichi) – http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Fukushima+Daini&aq=&sll=51.89273,-0.354505&sspn=1.242417,4.22699&ie=UTF8&hq=Fukushima+Daini&hnear=&radius=15000&t=h&ll=37.234497,141.021023&spn=0.025045,0.066047&z=15

March 12, 2011 3:37 am

Here is the link to NHK’s World Service that is mostly in English when there is breaking news (Normally only English at the top of the hour for about 15 minutes before going to other languages)
http://wwitv.com/tv_channels/6810.htm

March 12, 2011 3:43 am

KevinUK says:
March 12, 2011 at 3:35 am
As bes as I can gather the explosion has occurred at the Fukushima II site but there is also a Fukushima I site.
Kevin I’m listening/watching the NHK World service (Japanese TV station) and they have always reported it as Fukushima I and that is also what the press conferences with Japanese officials are also stating. Again according to the Japanese Government as shown on NHK the explosion occured at Fukushima I and the evac zone around it is now 20km.
Now Fukushima II is also now experiencing a complete loss of cooling but has had no explosion and it’s evac zone is only 10 km.

John Silver
March 12, 2011 3:46 am

From live press conference:
Nuclear reactor not damaged, explosion was from hydrogen containers.
Increase in radiation from normal venting.

March 12, 2011 3:49 am

boballab,
I’m with the ‘Finnish expert’ at the moment.
But the official line from the Japanese authorities just now appears to be that the reactor pressure vessel is still intact.
Without any doubt there has been a signifiant release of radioactivity as a result of that explosion.
IMO this was all building up (to the explosion we’ve just seen) yesterday and up until the explosion, the Japanese authorities were trying to ‘keep a lid on it’ so to speak. Some of the reporting in the MSM is completely wrong. For example BBC news reported earlier today that the affected reactor was ‘Reactor 1’ at Daichi. when it fact its very clear (see earliet Google map links) that the explosion has been teh northern most reactor building at the Fukusima II (Daini) site.

JOJO
March 12, 2011 4:02 am

How does the radiation from a melt down in Japan stand up against radiation in bananas?
Can we have a follow up article comparing the two please?
[Reply 🙂 ~jove, mod]

Shevva
March 12, 2011 4:03 am

Live from here :-
http://www.ustream.tv/news
Live press release – Wave took out cooling, they released pressured and the levels hit 1200 but lowered and is down to 70.5, the reactor is intact and the explosion was hydrogen build up.
live now.

Scarlet Pumpernickel
March 12, 2011 4:03 am

http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/japan-nuke-plant-explosion/
Some good info here on the nuclear reactor

Dave Springer
March 12, 2011 4:08 am

Drudge Report Headlines 5:20am EST 3/12/11
Building At Fukushima I Power Plant Blows Up…
Radiation leaking, pressure in core unstable…
Caesium detected; points to nuke fuel melt…
REPORT: Evacuation widened to 20 km…
VIDEO…
‘MAY BE EXPERIENCING NUCLEAR MELTDOWN’…
Japan nuke officials: ‘High probability’…
‘No immediate health hazard,’ officials say — while evacuating 45,000…
Concerns grow about second nuke plant…
Japan declares emergencies at 5 nuclear units…
Evacuation at Fukushima II…
Justified or not this’ll put the kibosh on nuclear power plants as an answer to alternative energy for a couple of decades. I suspect LFTR (liquid flouride thorium reactor) has its own set of problems that may or may not have economical workarounds even if containment isn’t one of those problems – things that seem too good to be true usually are.
What gets me is that a crowd (this one) so down on climate models would be so trusting of worst-case scenario models in nuclear reactor design. I’ve no doubt the models predicted that these nukes in Japan could withstand this assault on their integrity but as we can plainly see the model was not competent.
I wonder what kind of damage was sustained by Japan’s wind farms? One thing’s for sure – none exploded or went into meltdown. I suspect they’re all still standing and spinning helping to make up for the loss of nuclear energy.

Shevva
March 12, 2011 4:09 am

Moving to 20Km because there going to use sea water and have never done this before.

Beesaman
March 12, 2011 4:12 am

Well if I was to do the maths I’d ban people living near the sea way before I’d ban nuclear power stations. Then there’d be folks living on floodplains, near volcanoes, driving cars and so on. Why is it that we forget basic numbers when it comes to nuclear power and get all hysterical?

pwl
March 12, 2011 4:15 am

“Government spokesman says the nuclear reactor container at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant has not been damaged, and the level of radiation has dropped following the explosion earlier on Saturday, AFP reports.” – BBC
http://twitter.com/#!/BBCWorld/status/46542532053708800

John G. Bell
March 12, 2011 4:18 am

Some good news if true…
http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/77149.html
URGENT: Explosion did not occur at Fukushima reactor: Edano
TOKYO, March 12, Kyodo
Japanese authorities have confirmed there was no explosion at the troubled No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, top government spokesman Yukio Edano said.
The chief Cabinet secretary also told an urgent press conference that the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has confirmed there is no damage to the steel container housing the reactor.
==Kyodo

John G. Bell
March 12, 2011 4:32 am

But we want to know what is going on at Fukushima II. How strange Yukio Edano doesn’t answer that question also.

AndyW
March 12, 2011 4:43 am

Looks like it was a reactor building but the reactor may have been protected as radiation levels are now going down it seems. Note this is from the governement and in the past they have been rather economical with the truth, however hopefully things are past their worst.
Shows again that for all power generation there are pitfalls.
Andy

March 12, 2011 4:55 am

KevinUK says:
March 12, 2011 at 3:49 am
boballab,
I’m with the ‘Finnish expert’ at the moment.
But the official line from the Japanese authorities just now appears to be that the reactor pressure vessel is still intact.
Without any doubt there has been a signifiant release of radioactivity as a result of that explosion.
IMO this was all building up (to the explosion we’ve just seen) yesterday and up until the explosion, the Japanese authorities were trying to ‘keep a lid on it’ so to speak. Some of the reporting in the MSM is completely wrong. For example BBC news reported earlier today that the affected reactor was ‘Reactor 1′ at Daichi. when it fact its very clear (see earliet Google map links) that the explosion has been teh northern most reactor building at the Fukusima II (Daini) site.

Kevin the northern site is Fukushima I not Fukushima II. NHK just put up the evac maps and shows which one is which. Also the Chief Cabinet Secretary has stated the explosion happened at Fukushima I which is the northern plant not Fukushima II

March 12, 2011 5:02 am

Here to help with the confusion:

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (福島第一原子力発電所 Fukushima dai-ichi genshiryoku hatsudensho?, Fukushima I NPP, 1F), often referred to as Fukushima Dai-ichi, is a nuclear power plant located in the town of Okuma in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture. With six separate units located on site with a combined power of 4.7 GW, Fukushima I is one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world. Fukushima I is the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Unit 1 (FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI-1), which had been built by General Electric in the late 1960s, was in commercial operation since March 1971, and was targeted for shutdown in March 2011.[1]
In March 2011, in the immediate wake of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government declared an “atomic power emergency” and evacuated thousands of residents living close to Fukushima I. Ryohei Shiomi of Japan’s nuclear safety commission said that officials are concerned about the possibility of a meltdown.[2]
Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant, 11.5 kilometres (7.1 mi) to the south, is also run by TEPCO.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_Nuclear_Power_Plant
Coords for Fukushima I: 37°25′17″N 141°01′57″E
Coords for Fukushima II: 37°19′10″N 141°01′16″E

Jarmo
March 12, 2011 5:14 am

I was watching the interview of the Director General of Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Jukka Laaksonen, made yesterday. He was quite scathing on the electrical systems of old BWRs in Japan and the US. He called them “flimsy” and said that the Japanese had failed to carry out similar modernization as the the Europeans have done.
Laaksonen said he had visited the Japanese plants and US plants and that these problems had been pointed out to the Japanese and also to the Americans. The Japanese answer had been that the systems are good enough for them. Laaksonen remarked drily that perhaps the Japanese will listen to them now.

Solomon Green
March 12, 2011 5:31 am

The video link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg4uogOEUrU to which the article referred is fascinating. The first 45 seconds shows the smoke spreading while the flotsam in the foreground are absolutely stationary. Dirty screen? Computer enhancement? Ultra slow motion? Trick photography? Any other solutions? Or did the sea really stay motionless?

P. Solar
March 12, 2011 5:38 am

Shevva says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:03 am
>>
Live from here :-
http://www.ustream.tv/news
Live press release – Wave took out cooling, they released pressured and the levels hit 1200 but lowered and is down to 70.5, the reactor is intact and the explosion was hydrogen build up.
live now.
>>
Yeah, a live video feed of a japanese watching TV, about as exciting a watching paint dry.
From time to time he translates something about an “arsequake”. Don’t know what he’s watching.

David
March 12, 2011 5:40 am

Much worse than the (slightly) alarmist coverage by most of the rolling news channels, was the dear old BBC, baring its ‘green’ credentials for all to see..
Who do they get to comment on the unfolding situation..? An engineer, say, from the UK’s Nuclear Inspectorate..?
Nah – a guy from Greenpeace..!! (I suspect he’d been on the phone to them, saying: ‘PLEASE let me comment on the nuclear disaster in Japan..’)
Letting someone from Greepeace loose on this subject is akin to letting an avowed vegetarian comment on eating red meat – they HATE nuclear power, and will do anything in their power to bad-mouth it. No wonder the guy looked really pleased with himself at the end of the interview – he and the BBC have probaly put the UK’s nuclear energy programme back five years – and rolling power cuts will become the norm….

NadePaulKuciGravMcKi
March 12, 2011 5:43 am

Never forget 9/11 lies.
Study prevailing winds.
Traditional cooling not possible.
Containment has been breached.
Dishonest governments never tell the truth.
Corrupt controlled media never tell the truth.

Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 5:44 am

“Nuclear reactor not damaged, explosion was from hydrogen containers.”
That’s good news (in a way…)
It’s also consistent with the comments upthread by those saying that the explosion appeared to come from the turbine hall.
The main usage for hydrogen on a power station (nuclear or conventional) is turbine stator cooling.

March 12, 2011 5:47 am

The only thing I find scary about all this is the endless abreactionary drivel I will have to put up with from the enviroloonies.

P. Solar
March 12, 2011 5:49 am

JOJO says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:02 am
>>
How does the radiation from a melt down in Japan stand up against radiation in bananas?
Can we have a follow up article comparing the two please?
>>
A melt down would have nothing to fear from bananas.

Jarmo
March 12, 2011 5:49 am

Tepco, the company that runs Fukushima reactors, seems to have safety culture issues:
Tepco president to step down following nuclear safety scandal
Published: Sep 3, 2002
3 September 2002 – Nobuya Minami is to leave his post as president of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) in October after the utility admitted its safety reports on nuclear power plants were falsified.
http://www.powergenworldwide.com/index/display/articledisplay/153635/articles/power-engineering-international/business/tepco-president-to-step-down-following-nuclear-safety-scandal.html

AndyW
March 12, 2011 5:52 am

Solomon Green, that sea full of flotsam in the foreground is stationary because it is land.
Andy

P. Solar
March 12, 2011 5:54 am

boballab says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:02 am
>>
Here to help with the confusion:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_Nuclear_Power_Plant
>>
Yes, I’ve often found quoting wikipedia “helps with confusion” . That’s why I avoid using it as a reference.

March 12, 2011 5:59 am

From NHK World service:
The Chief Cabinet Secretary stated that the explosion at Fukushima I was not from the reactor vessel but was caused by the walls falling in and that Radiation levels have not risen from it. Also starting at 8pm Japan time they started using Seawater to cool the reactor core.

March 12, 2011 6:11 am

There is more speculation and hysteria than there are facts at this time.
At the end of it all, lets compare the relative direct human impact of the Tsunami and Dam break(s) and fires, with that from Radiation. So far, I understand that there was a hydrogen explosion; possibly related to the Turbine electrical end of things, as hydrogen is used for low windage in the generator.
Facts first please.

Colin
March 12, 2011 6:11 am

JG: “…when the pumps were tripped, and the plant blew up…”
No, as has been thoroughly documented more than 20 years ago, the steam blast occurred when the AZ5 reactor scram button was pressed and the reactor was shut down. The shutdown system injected positive reactivity into the reactor.
There’s still far too much speculation in this thread among people who should know better. The only reliable information comes here:
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html

March 12, 2011 6:15 am

And by the way; UCS, to me, stands for Union of Confused (or Crappy) Scientists.

Beesaman
March 12, 2011 6:21 am

Interesting to note how many people are pedalling their own personal views and not being logical, pragmatic or even, dare I say it, scientific about all of this. No wonder the debate on the global climate is such a mess. Also interesting to see how the conspiracy therorists get all agitated when something like this comes along. Personally I think it’s all a conspiracy, but I can’t tell you by who because they might be reading this (was that really sarc or not, only they can tell you!).

Shevva
March 12, 2011 6:26 am

P. Solar says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:38 am
Shevva says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:03 am
He’s trying to translate the live government broadcasts into English as best he can, maybe give him a break?

mike g
March 12, 2011 6:29 am

@JOJO
As was the case with Chernobyl, people will continue to receive more radiation from bananas than from this event.

ShrNfr
March 12, 2011 6:30 am
Curiousgeorge
March 12, 2011 6:32 am

Another effect of the earthquake/tsunami that hasn’t been addressed is the agricultural sector of Japan. In particular their importation of agri products from the US. How many know that Japan imports a great deal of rice from the US for example? 320,000 metric tons last year alone.
Here’s some info: http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/common/link.do;jsessionid=8C528FA3476EA1CD90AC96E33216342A.agfreejvm1?symbolicName=/free/news/template1&paneContentId=5&paneParentId=70104&product=/ag/news/topstories&vendorReference=0353b2fa-34a2-481b-912d-1cb46058ad3a

mike g
March 12, 2011 6:33 am

@Jarmo
If that moron from Finland has to endure a magnitude 9 quake, perhaps he will not be so smug.

ew-3
March 12, 2011 6:34 am

Doug Badgero says:
March 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm
This seems to be the best source for info on status:
Thanks for the link and your knowledge on the subject.
And thanks to all the other knowledgeable posters as well.
Have CNN on, and they are hyping nuclear horror stories…

Crispin in Ulaanbaatar
March 12, 2011 6:38 am

Glad to see mention of the CANDU reactor by John and Colin. The Pickering plant is almost within sight of my parental home and built while I watched. I was never a fan of pressurized light water reactors for the reasons of: earthquakes, attacks and Homer Simpson errors.
While mention is often made of TMI, it is always best to see the data (i.e. numbers). The public exposure was the equivalent of eating two bananas (remember that bananas accumulate P40). Hardly Chernobyl.
As nukes are part of the future, hopefully sanity will prevail, not those fearing bananas, or who are bananas.
CANDU uses 5% U235 and requires the presence of heavy water to work. The water is held ‘up’ in the reactor by compressed air. If anything breaks the water falls out. The system shuts off. If they had been used in Japan there would have been no steam, no explosion, no heat, no chase for spare back up batteries, no melting cores and no fears.
It seems the era of the PLWR is about to be declared over. Thank goodness. This situation is ridiculous because it was really all about creating bomb-stuff in the first place.

pochas
March 12, 2011 6:44 am

Andy Dawson says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:44 am
“Nuclear reactor not damaged, explosion was from hydrogen containers.”
Hydrogen can also be generated by water contacting a very, very, hot metallic surface such as an uncovered reactor core, but hydrogen produced in that way should not reach the turbine hall. This is a known complication of a meltdown. If it is from the reactor, scratch one Japanese BWR.

Chris Wright
March 12, 2011 6:48 am

Roger Harrabin, on the BBC, made an interesting comment. He said that, when safety is compared to the amount of energy generated, nuclear power is very safe. Surprisingly, he said that the most dangerous (per megawatt hour) is hydro electricity, probably because of dangerous dam failures.
I’ve visited Japan twice, many years ago. I was always impressed by the kindness and friendliness of the Japanese people. Like many others, I would like to express my sadness for this awful and incomprehensible disaster. I hope they will be able to quickly recover and rebuild. My thoughts are with them.
Chris

March 12, 2011 6:52 am

In the picture we see four white rectangular buildings. What contains these buildings? In the explosion video, it seems to be one of these buildings that blows up…

March 12, 2011 6:56 am

@JOJO says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:02 am
How does the radiation from a melt down in Japan stand up against radiation in bananas?
Can we have a follow up article comparing the two please?

Many a true word spoken in jest. I too would be very interested in a comparison between the two. Probably best to wait for them to assess just what was actually released into the atmosphere once they get things under control (as I have no doubt from reading the comments here, they will).
Thank you to all the commenters here for not indulging in the same disasterbating we seem to be seeing in the media.

matt v.
March 12, 2011 6:58 am

I posted parts of this on an earlier blog track on WUWT about green energies . I was criticized by some who claimed that nuclear energy is completely safe today . The Japanese incident shows how risky nuclear energy still is.
Today we also face new risks such as terrorists, regional conflicts, risk of rising sea levels, the risk of lack of sufficient water to cool the reactors due to drought, and other unexpected natural disasters. How quickly and safely can we dismantle or move the nuclear plants and material versus coal or gas fired plants? How quickly can we rebuild? How much contamination and pollution is there with both options?
Nuclear power may be safe in the hands of rational people, operating and maintaining safe plants, in safe locations, during stable geological and political times. Much of the world is not this way, nor are the times ahead projected to be environmentally, politically and geophysically stable. Before we throw out the fossil fuel baby lets be sure of what lies ahead and which option really has the greater risk. Both options have some risks. ? Are we jumping from the fossil fuel pan into the nuclear broiler?
We need cooler heads who properly present all the viable energy options and their risks instead of just preaching doom and gloom in a panic and calling for more nuclear plants.
There may very well be good cases where the cleanest and latest technology based fossil fuel energy options may still be the best solution. Until alternative cleaner energies like solar, wind and geothermal can be developed in plant sizes comparable to those of fossil fuel plants, we should not rush into nuclear energy as the main large capacity option to replace our current fossil fuel plants.

Hobo
March 12, 2011 7:00 am

Someone asked about the Union of concerned Scientists
Looked up this group and found this intesting article posted last week (and attached link to the report). THey are saying that the nuclear energy is too heavily susidized (I say regulated) to allow solar and wind to compete fairly… Come on anthony that is good for a laugh.
http://www.stltoday.com/business/columns/jeffrey-tomich/7d858196-3f7d-11e0-a61b-0017a4a78c22.html
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/nuclear_subsidies_report.pdf
“Additional [nuclear power] subsidies would also provide nuclear
power with an unfair competitive advantage over emerging
renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind,
which can reduce global warming emissions faster and
more cost-effectively than nuclear power, and with less
risk. The nuclear industry already stands to benefit from
any future price placed on global warming emissions;
this report clearly shows why any additional subsidies to
this industry are both unnecessary and unwise.”
Certainly no bias against nuclear power and in no way a proponent of green technology…HOBO

ShrNfr
March 12, 2011 7:08 am
March 12, 2011 7:09 am

Whatever the outcome, this is a serious setback for nuclear. I am not arguing the science/technology of newer nuclear designs, but the inevitable public reaction. So where do we go from here? I think and hope that this will also be a setback for CAGW hysteria which is based on model projections and not empirical data. We have had 20 years of global warming, 1977-1998, in the last 63 years. That warming is NOT unprecedented, not even unusual; the trend line of about 0.7C +/- 0.2 C per century continues as far as one can interpret ongoing trends. Unless and until global warming shows some indication of of following CAGW model projections, we need to repeat over and over to the media and to the global warming fearful: look at the data, look at the data, LOOK AT THE DATA.

Ethan Brand
March 12, 2011 7:13 am

This event will be excellent in ferreting out those at WUWT who really believe in critical thinking and objective analysis of facts, and those that just say they do. There is a lot of quality comment being made here. Here’s how to tell the difference between the baloney and reality: Do the comments relate to the actual event, do the comments relate to physically possible phenomena, do the comments logically and rationally assemble easily verifiable information. I have been hunting for decent information on this event, and was gratified that I found it at WUWT.
Good, reliable and objective information is available, insist on finding and using it. Use the same methods we use when dealing with AGW babble.

March 12, 2011 7:21 am

This is bad, if accurate.
If the explosion was caused by hydrogen, there are a couple of possible sources.
One of those would non-related to the reactor and that would be as a result of a leak of the gas coolant that is used in the electrical generators. Generator hydrogen fires and explosions have occurred in a number of plants around the world, most of them at plants powered by coal or other fossil fuels.
Another possible source would H2 generated from a damaged core. If there has been core damage to the point that hydrogen is being released, then this is a “severe accident.”
Wikipedia is saying that they will be using sea water to cool the core and adding boric acid to prevent criticality.
These are “severe accident” mitigation strategies and are likely preplanned.
United States nuclear power plants are mandated to have Severe Accident Management Guidelines (SAMG). These guidelines call for an “ad hoc” approach to dealing with the events that have damaged the core — use the best resources available to cool and cover the core and keep it subcritical, even if those resources are not the safety systems designed to do that. The drastic actions of using seawater and boron are likely to be just that and would probably be options identified in a Japanese version of SAMG, if they have taken that approach. (Boiling water reactors do not use boron.)
The hydrogen explosion in SAMG parlance would have actually been a deflagration — a burn — rather than an explosion. The resulting pressures of the deflagration, though, could conceivably have put enough pressure on the building to produce the images seen on the video.

March 12, 2011 7:31 am

Re Dave Springer says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:08 am
“Justified or not this’ll put the kibosh on nuclear power plants as an answer to alternative energy for a couple of decades. I suspect LFTR (liquid flouride thorium reactor) has its own set of problems that may or may not have economical workarounds even if containment isn’t one of those problems – things that seem too good to be true usually are.
What gets me is that a crowd (this one) so down on climate models would be so trusting of worst-case scenario models in nuclear reactor design. I’ve no doubt the models predicted that these nukes in Japan could withstand this assault on their integrity but as we can plainly see the model was not competent.
I wonder what kind of damage was sustained by Japan’s wind farms? One thing’s for sure – none exploded or went into meltdown. I suspect they’re all still standing and spinning helping to make up for the loss of nuclear energy.””
David please divide the total energy thus far produced from all wind farms into the total energy produced from all nuclear facilities. Now take that result and multiply all the wind farm accidents and bird deaths, tell me your result?
Now, using the same number, also divide the non planned down time of all wind farms into the total hours of wind generation and then compare that to the same number vs nuclear.
Do the same with other forms of energy. Despite this accident, nuclear, even with older plants, has proven far safer then most other energy. Please do not encourage emotionalism when important decisions need to be made. Cars are far more dangerous then nuclear plants, yet we continue to drive.
As to “”I suspect LFTR (liquid flouride thorium reuactor) has its own set of problems that may or may not have economical workarounds”” Your feelings, do not sound very scientific.
Alternative energy policies are creating economic disasters which will force us into nuclear, sooner then you think.

March 12, 2011 7:40 am

Mr Springer, here, I statrted research for you. http://www.wind-works.org/articles/ASummaryofFatalAccidentsinWindEnergy.html
Fatal accidents in wind energy
By year:
Year 08 09 10
No. 9 5 5 19 fatalities last three years

Steve Keohane
March 12, 2011 7:45 am

JOJO says: March 12, 2011 at 4:02 am
How does the radiation from a melt down in Japan stand up against radiation in bananas?
Can we have a follow up article comparing the two please?

This is a great idea insofar as a standard unit everyone understands, where exposure would be in units of banana equivalents. ‘Rads’ and ‘picocuries’ are just too abstract.

harvey
March 12, 2011 7:49 am
March 12, 2011 7:49 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents
In the 25 years since Chernobyl there have been 7 deaths, verses 19 fatalties in wind in the last three years, with nuclear providing many times the energy of wind.

March 12, 2011 8:00 am

boballab,
Thanks for that extra info as it certainly clears up the confusion I’ve been having thanks to bad info in Google Maps/Earth. Moral of the story – don’t rely on the search facility within Google Maps/Google Earth (and Wikipedia). Always check at least 3 different sources.
I’m about to do a new thread on Digging in The Clay that recounts my experience this morning in following this incident on the internet and MSM.

March 12, 2011 8:01 am

To the comment that TMI suffered a “partial meltdown”.
I’d call the top 2/3’s of the reactor “melting down”, more than a partial meltdown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident
Alas, the containment system for a PWR (pressurized water reactor) versus a BWR seems much better capability wise.
Max

March 12, 2011 8:01 am

I keep hearing the word “unimaginable” used by virtually all media. Nonsense. Unfortunately, we have been bombarded with graphic images of all sorts regularly for a very long time. It seems the press has jettisoned its duty to exercise caution when reporting events like this to avoid fomenting panic. The media is now completely focused on spreading fear and anxiety. There is no longer any limit to the hyperbole and exaggeration. What a despicable display.

Stuck-Record
March 12, 2011 8:07 am

David
I just saw the Greenpeace Nuclear expert on the news. My wife, who isn’t political at all, turned to me, unprompted, and said, “why would they ask a Greenpeace nuclear expert? They HATE nuclear power.”
Yep. That’s why.
BBC hate nuclear. Just as mainstream opinion was starting to think, ‘hey, we could solve this Global warming/change/disruption malarkey with nuclear, this has to go and happen’.

ShrNfr
March 12, 2011 8:10 am
Andy Dawson
March 12, 2011 8:19 am

I recommend this for technically credible news updates:
http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html
The sea water for coolant issue hangs on what it’s for. If it’s make-up for the reactor proper, someone’s getting pretty desperate. If it’s make-up for the suppression torus, then it’s a long way from normal operations, but not mind-blowing. The wording of the WNN story (“injection into the building”) suggests into the suppression pool.
As I’ve said before, the longer this goes on, the less the heat removal problem.

Rich D.
March 12, 2011 8:24 am

The extreme redundancy involved with nuclear plant design, construction and operation, backups to backups to backups, yet they locate generators critical to the operation during a power failure at sea level(assumption). Where is common sense applied in this industry. During Katrina hospitals, build on land below sea level, lost power when their diesels located in basements were flooded. Common sense again seems to have been lost on those engineers, architects, and builders of these facilities.
I’m sensing a business opportunity here. “Common Sense Analytics” .com
Another thought mentioned earlier, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, is able to shutdown safely during a power failure without any human action. The scientists at Oak Ridge working on LFTR during the sixties would shutdown the reactor every weekend simply by shutting off power and allowing the fluid core to drain, cool and solidify in a geometrically non- critical storage tank. Monday morning they would turn on the tank heaters and pump the melted fluoride salts back into the core to restart the reactor. Thorium is the future of safe nuclear power.
Rich D.

Burning in Illinois
March 12, 2011 8:25 am

A new low for CNBC – stealing photo of nuclear explosion
http://i.imgur.com/P8Y6y.jpg

March 12, 2011 8:27 am

Not the best of powerpoints, but the file has good information:
http://www.ati.ac.at/fileadmin/files/research_areas/ssnm/nmkt/06_BWR.pdf
More reactor powerpoints:
http://www.ati.ac.at/fileadmin/files/research_areas/ssnm/nmkt/
BWRs are not my favorite design, but they are still good designs, and quite safe. Part of the reasoning behind them is the larger water path between the radiation of the core and the primary pressure vessel wall. The radiation embrittles the steel, and we must shut thee reactor down long before more common considerations would dictate. The embrittled steel could possibly crack in a fully brittle manner, leading to a large breech in the primary pressure vessel, which would be a significant disaster. The longer water path of the BWR design reduces the embrittlement rate, thus promising longer overall life of the reactor.
Anyway, these things are quite safe. We will make even safer designs with the lessons learned from this catastrophe. The primary cost of these events at the power plants will be monetary. The Japanese will recover with little pain, and we will all benefit in the long run.

March 12, 2011 8:27 am

http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf
44 fatal accidents in wind energy, verses 5 in nuclear in the last ten years . In those ten years nuclear provided thirty times the energy of wind. 44 x 30 equals 1,320 deaths verses five. In the last decade nuclear has been 240 times safer then wind energy on a energy produced verses fatal accidents basis.

Neo
March 12, 2011 8:30 am

The containment building that exploded appears to be Fukushima I. Fukushima I is the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and is the smallest Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) of the 6 units at the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility.
There are 3 different nuclear facilities in the Fukushima Prefecture, with a total of 17 reactor units. All are run by TEPCO. There are 17 nuclear facilities in Japan, with a total of 55 reactor units.

Hobo
March 12, 2011 8:31 am

More will have died from mass transit trains in Japan than from the radiation from these plants. Maybe we should consider banning these before we ban nuke plants. I hate it when the greens gloat in times like these. They are probably pretty giddy right now. no sarc off

Neo
March 12, 2011 8:32 am

These reactor facilities seem to have one major “design flaw.”
The genius that did their “failure analysis” seemed to overlook the fact the large earthquakes are often accompanied by a tsunami.
From the TV images and pictures, these nuclear facilities appear to be built on a rising bank on the side of a river not far from the ocean. It appears from the stories that the backup generators were disabled by water damage, so the backup generators must be near the bottom of the river bank .. a perfect place for a tsunami to disable them.

rxc
March 12, 2011 8:35 am

From the video and the before/after photo of the building where the explosion occurred, I think that one of the main steam lines from the reactor vessel ruptured outside containment. This is bad because it creates a direct release path from the vessel for fission products. It is also good because it completely depressurized the reactor vessel so that low pressure pumps, such as fire pumps, can now fill the vessel and maybe even the entire containment with water, to prevent further fuel failures.
This plant is an older BWR, and the total loss of AC power scenario is well understood, and the plant should have the capability to withstand it by use of the RCIC system and batteries, until additional power supplies can be provided. The ultimate limit for how long it can be sustained is the containment temperature and pressure, because until a normal cooling path is established, all the decay heat is rejected to the suppression pool, which is in the torus. It has a limited amount of heat removal.
In the case where the containment reaches its limits, this plant should depressurize completely, through a filtered vent, so that low pressure pumps can refill the vessel. It looks like the plant has been depressurized, but not intentionally. Instead, as a result of a steam line (or feedwater line) break.
The radiation releases that are described so far are trivial, but of course the media thinks all radiation is dangerous, so that aspect is going to continue to be trumpeted.
Because this is a BWR, uncovering the core is a red herring – during normal operation the top part of the core being cooled mainly by steam. During certain accidents and transients, the operators are taught to actually lower the water level to about 2/3 core height to improve mixing – some fuel may fail, but not catastrophically. You get some gap release, but most fission products stay inside the fuel.
Lots of BWRs have square secondary containment buildings – engineers like right angles. The primary containment inside that square building is some sort of round shape. Depending on the date the plant was built, it could look like an inverted lightbulb, a truncated cone on top of a cylinder, or a simple cylinder. The square buildings have corner rooms with machinery in them. The explosion seems to have blown off the sheet metal panels in the top structure, leaving the structural steel in place. The video looks just like the steam line break videos I have seen before.
Those of you who think that thorium reactors (or some other type) would be insensitive to this sort of event do not understand this technology, and should stay in your current fields. The nuclear industry really does not need any more new research projects (see, e.g. Fort St. Vrain, Molten Salt Reactor Experiment, Pebble Bed Reactor). Good ideas, but not enough money to figure out how to make them work on a practical basis.
I used to regulate reactor fuel designs and BWR safety systems at the NRC, was a Navy nuke, and designed PWRs, and so have some experience here…

DirkH
March 12, 2011 8:36 am

Katz at http://www.ustwrap.info/multi/yokosonews::nhk-gtv
has just given his translation of the words of the Secretary General of Japan; he said that Fukushima power plant never prepared for a hit by a Tsunami.
He says they are moving a Toshiba turbine on road to the reactor now, it has been landed at Fukushima airport and is on the road now.
BREAKING – he says: NHK has a press conference on the nuclear emergency: nuclear plant No 1 is being cooled by seawater now, they are starting to put in seawater.

Tesla_X
March 12, 2011 8:38 am

Guys,
Anyone know where fallout would hit the West Coast and where the jetstream is right now?

ShrNfr
March 12, 2011 8:43 am
March 12, 2011 8:51 am

David says:
March 12, 2011 at 8:27 am
http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_and_radiation_accidents
http://www.energyliteracy.com/?p=310 (see pie chart, 8% nuclear, .3% wind)
44 fatal accidents in wind energy, verses 5 in nuclear in the last ten years . In those ten years nuclear provided thirty times the energy of wind. 44 x 30 equals 1,320 deaths verses five. In the last decade nuclear has been 265 times safer then wind energy on a energy produced verses fatal accidents basis.
Sorry for the bad back of envelope-top of head math in my earlier post.

Malaga View
March 12, 2011 8:51 am

In the 25 years since Chernobyl there have been 7 deaths

rolls eye….

In the last decade nuclear has been 240 times safer then wind

rolls other eye…
think cancer and immune system deaths…

derise
March 12, 2011 8:53 am

Just got word from some people working over in Japan that they increased the evacuation radius to 16 km and started distrubution of KI tablets. That sounds like major FEF to me, unfortunatly.

harrywr2
March 12, 2011 8:55 am

Doug Allen says:
March 12, 2011 at 7:09 am
Whatever the outcome, this is a serious setback for nuclear.
And how long to you think the moratorium on Oil Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will last?
TMI was a ‘contributing’ factor to the slowdown in the US nuclear industry.
The larger factor was that ‘expected demand growth’ didn’t materialize.
US Nuclear reactors were running at less then 75% capacity up until 1998.
The same goes for our coal fired plants.

Atomic Hairdryer
March 12, 2011 8:58 am

re Dave Springer says:

I wonder what kind of damage was sustained by Japan’s wind farms? One thing’s for sure – none exploded or went into meltdown. I suspect they’re all still standing and spinning helping to make up for the loss of nuclear energy.

Someone is certainly still spinning. Sadly, you are probably right that the ‘renewables’ lobby will exploit this heavily to keep pocketing subsidies, and raising energy prices. Of course you have no evidence that wind turbines are still standing or spinning after the 8.9 quake. Ones on higher ground may have avoided damage from the tsunami, but what do you think a tsunami would do to an offshore wind farm?
As plenty of people have pointed out, the reactors were old designs and modern ones are safer. Reactors built in areas where there is no or less earthquake or tsunami risk would be safe(r). Here in the UK, that could be more interesting given we’ve built some on our eastern coastline which could be vulnerable to tsunamis if there’s a repeat of the Storegga slides. But that would take out our offshore wind farms first. Or, look at where the UK’s largest recorded earthquake was. That was at Dogger Bank in 1931, where we’re planning to build a large offshore wind farm. Wonder what soil liquification effects would be on a large wind turbine?
If you want to see real anti-science in action, just look at the fearmongering coming from sections of the mainstream media and green lobby.

March 12, 2011 9:01 am

“Decay heat is produced by radiocative decay of fission products. This will continue for days. If a plant is not producing power on its own, it then needs external power to operate pumps. You have to remove heat from the source, to a sink (which is usually the ocean or big heat exchangers.) ”
This is a design accident waiting to happen. The reactor shuts down because of an emergency that is big enough to also shut down external power, you will have a problem. This is completely predictable and a poor design.
How can these designs be approved for land based power stations? There are plenty of reactor designs that need no external power to cool themselves in the event of a reactor shutdown.

pochas
March 12, 2011 9:02 am

If they pump sea water into the reactor they have already written the plant off and are just trying to maintain the integrity of the reactor vessel and avoid an even greater mess. The chlorides in sea water can eventually cause stress corrosion cracking in stainless steel, and running a reactor that has contacted sea water would be unthinkable.

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 9:03 am

boballab,
thanks bob for writing in an understandable way. I’ll be looking for your name in the comments as the story progresses.

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 9:04 am

Dave Springer says:
March 12, 2011 at 4:08 am
Justified or not this’ll put the kibosh on nuclear power plants
Maybe this will be the impetus for turning to LENR.

Claude Harvey
March 12, 2011 9:06 am

It’s now being reported that sea water is being pumped in for cooling and Boron poisoning is being introduced into the reactor. If true, that indicates to me the operators are now fighting a “last ditch” defense.

DirkH
March 12, 2011 9:06 am

More from Katz from the press conference:
The 4 people who got injured were near the turbine when the explosion happened. They’re being treated in hospital right now.
The temperature of the reactor is coming down.

Amino Acids in Meteorites
March 12, 2011 9:08 am

NadePaulKuciGravMcKi says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:43 am
Never forget 9/11 lies.
I wish your nutty assertion about 9/11 had been snipped.

DirkH
March 12, 2011 9:08 am

David says:
March 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf
44 fatal accidents in wind energy, verses 5 in nuclear in the last ten years . In those ten years nuclear provided thirty times the energy of wind. 44 x 30 equals 1,320 deaths verses five. In the last decade nuclear has been 240 times safer then wind energy on a energy produced verses fatal accidents basis.”
You forgot the biggest killer: forestry. (Wood is used for heating so that’s partially energy economy). No day goes by without deadly accidents in forestry.

DirkH
March 12, 2011 9:16 am

More from Katz:
We’re on level 4 of the IAEA nuclear event classification scale, a GE(?) press release says, it goes from 1 to 7, 1 to 3 is an event, 4 to 7 are accidents; Three mile island was 5, Chernobyl was 7… “Damage to the core and radiation exposure to employees” is the classification of level 4…

exNOAAman
March 12, 2011 9:18 am

Burning in Illinois says:
March 12, 2011 at 8:25 am
A new low for CNBC – stealing photos of nuclear explosions.
==============
Great catch, BiI…(send more)

March 12, 2011 9:18 am

“BWRs are not my favorite design, but they are still good designs, and quite safe.”
Form a quick look a the pdf reference material, it appears that a pressure buildup in the Reactor Pressure Vessel is a weak point. Sufficiently high pressure will overcome the weight of water due to gravity, limiting passive cooling unless you vent pressure. With this venting comes the possibility of venting radioactive material.

Ian UK
March 12, 2011 9:19 am

Stuck Record says:
“I just saw the Greenpeace Nuclear expert on the news. My wife, who isn’t political at all, turned to me, unprompted, and said, “why would they ask a Greenpeace nuclear expert? They HATE nuclear power.””
What he didn’t mention was the Greenpeace rep’s claim that, based on his personal experience, the Japanese authorities are always “economical with the truth” when dealing with such matters. As if we’d rather trust Greenpeace and their ilk!

Julian in Wales
March 12, 2011 9:20 am

My Japanese wife who has been watching live satelite Japanese TV tells me the Japanese media are saying it was the control room above the reactor that exploded and the cover to the main reactor was not damaged. Hydrogen caused the explosion.
They are reporting the reactor had started to meltdown but they have been introducing sea water to cool the process down.

Dave Springer
March 12, 2011 9:25 am

David says:
March 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf
44 fatal accidents in wind energy, verses 5 in nuclear in the last ten years . In those ten years nuclear provided thirty times the energy of wind. 44 x 30 equals 1,320 deaths verses five. In the last decade nuclear has been 240 times safer then wind energy on a energy produced verses fatal accidents basis.

The wind farm numbers include accidents during manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
The nuclear number (4) wouldn’t even account for mining accidents digging up uranium ore, refining it into fuel, moving millions of tons of steel and concrete needed to build the plants, and actual on-site construction accidents.
You don’t seriously expect anyone to take what you wrote seriously do you?

Tesla_X
March 12, 2011 9:25 am
Fred from Canuckistan
March 12, 2011 9:35 am

Well look on the bright side . . . all this screaming media hysteria about the core melting has prevented them from hysterical screaming that this is all the result of global warming.
They catch up on that meme as soon as this current media scream job loses steam.

March 12, 2011 9:35 am

JOJO says: “How does the radiation from a melt down in Japan stand up against radiation in bananas? Can we have a follow up article comparing the two please?”
Banana Equivalent Dose (BED): The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. Radiation leaks from nuclear plants are often measured in extraordinarily small units (the picocurie, a millionth of a millionth of a curie, is typical). The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana. The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv).
Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling of nuclear material at US ports.
That being said, it is difficult to make a comparison of Banana Equivalent Dose to what is happening in Japan, because (as far as I have been able to discover) nobody is releasing the actual quantitative numbers and units that would allow that comparison. The expression “a thousand times normal” can be interpreted any number of ways. Is it a thousand times background, a thousand times what is normally measured at the front gate (which could possibly be background), a thousand times what one worker normally receives in an hour? As far as radiation, we also have the difficulty of whether it is alpha, beta, gamma or neutron. And which radiation products are we dealing with, as far as half-life? A short half-life item is very hot, but doesn’t last long. A long half-life item might linger a long time, but isn’t as active. As with most technical discussions, defining terms has to be the first order of business.

Dave Springer
March 12, 2011 9:43 am

Uranium mining appears to be quite the hazardous profession.
http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/resources/edkit/21uramine.pdf
http://www.ccnr.org/bcma.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_mining_debate#Health_risks_of_uranium_mining

In January 2008 Areva was nominated for an Anti Oscar Award.[13] The French state-owned company mines uranium in northern Niger where mine workers are not informed about health risks, and analysis shows radioactive contamination of air, water and soil. The local organization that represents the mine workers, spoke of “suspicious deaths among the workers, caused by radioactive dust and contaminated groundwater.”[14]

This alone dwarfs the deaths related to wind energy.

Brad
March 12, 2011 9:45 am

Apparently that was a momentary glitch, the original link from David is now working:
http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf

J. Felton
March 12, 2011 9:50 am

ShrNfr
Your linked article said that radiation levels in the area rose to around 1000 Microsivert, and that many people were exposed.
My level of understanding on nuclear reactors and radiation, ( which isnt very high, I must admit) is that short-term exposure to such a level is still quite harmless. Is that correct?
If Im wrong, somebody here can gladly correct me.
Thanks

March 12, 2011 10:01 am

Wow, an 8.9 shake and several nuclear reactors get a stomach ache. The death and distruction from the shake and Tsunamni are going to be enormous. I hope there is more follow-up on what actually happened at the nuc plants.
From the info here, (and critical speculation by some who really appear to know) the nucs are quieting down – we hope – but I think many or most people on this Earth consider the facilities to be magic and therefore something to be feared.
The reports of a 4 to 10 inch change in the Earth’s axis and a possible movement of Japan 8 feet testify to the power of this event. I’m impressed that all the plants didn’t have serious problems with radiation releases. Some good engineering (and rapid response by the operators) there.
Thoughts and prayers for the people caught in this.
Mike

Jack Simmons
March 12, 2011 10:05 am

Max Hugoson says:
March 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm
Utter NONSENSE!

I just don’t trust the completely moronic media about this matter.
Max

I don’t trust the completely moronic media on any matter.

March 12, 2011 10:07 am

P. Solar says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:54 am
boballab says:
March 12, 2011 at 5:02 am
>>
Here to help with the confusion:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_Nuclear_Power_Plant
>>
Yes, I’ve often found quoting wikipedia “helps with confusion” . That’s why I avoid using it as a reference.

I’m guessing that you missed my post right above that one where I mentioned that the NHK World Service (and in case you don’t know what NHK is, it is a Japanese TV/News service) where they put up the a map of where each plant is. Now right after that I link to the Wiki article, now I know this might be hard for you but if you think real hard on this you might realize that I VERIFIED THAT WHAT WAS IN THE WIKI ARTICLE WAS CORRECT. If the information is correct there is nothing wrong in citing it.

lanceman
March 12, 2011 10:10 am

From the obviously distorted news reports, here is what appears to have happened:
1. Reactor scram from earthquake
2. Safety systems performed normally for about an hour
3. Power loss to cooling systems prevented core from depressurizing to allow a recirculating cooling system to bring the reactor down to low temperature and pressure conditions. Not only do you need to supply coolant to the core, there needs to be a place for it to go and have its heat removed. With this capability lost, the reactor is cooled by adding water and venting the steam to the containment. This is a “feed and bleed” method of cooling.
4. At some point, the core was uncovered and the zirconium clad that encases the fuel was oxidized by steam and produced hydrogen gas. This happens at temperatures above 1600 F.
5. The feed and bleed cooling released this hydrogen to the containment and eventually to the concrete and steel building containing the containment.
6. The hydrogen accumulated to a flammable/explosive concentration and a spark (from a motor or valve actuation) ignited the hydrogen. This is the explosion seen on the video. If true then the reactor vessel and the containment vessel are still intact.
7. The unavailability of a recirculating cooling system has depleted the purified cooling water supply. This would explain why sea water is apparently being used as cooling water.

March 12, 2011 10:11 am

Dave Springer says: “Uranium mining appears to be quite the hazardous profession.”
If it is being done as conventional mining, it is very hazardous. However, modern techniques use in-situ mining, which is the same technique which had been used to mine sulfur for many years (before sulfur became abundant as a by-product of burning coal).
http://www.wma-minelife.com/uranium/insitu/items002.htm

March 12, 2011 10:14 am

Mike Bentley says March 12, 2011 at 10:01 am
Wow, an 8.9 shake and several nuclear reactors get a stomach ache.

Water; they were fine for an hour on generator till THE WATER apparently did them in (specifics not known).
Can I just say it? You have engaged in FALSE CORRELATION. Thanks.
Fix the vulnerability regarding the generators and you have a winner …
.

Curiousgeorge
March 12, 2011 10:21 am

Chris Wright says:
March 12, 2011 at 6:48 am
I’ve visited Japan twice, many years ago. I was always impressed by the kindness and friendliness of the Japanese people. Like many others, I would like to express my sadness for this awful and incomprehensible disaster. I hope they will be able to quickly recover and rebuild. My thoughts are with them.
Chris

I’ve lived there. About 3 years total. Don’t mistake politeness for kindness/friendliness. And hai (yes) doesn’t always signify agreement. While I also wish the general population well, there are also some very unfriendly, and very prejudiced, people in Japan.

littlepeaks
March 12, 2011 10:25 am

With every technology, there are trade-offs between benefits and risks. The real question concerning nuclear power plants is the benefit worth the risk. Personally, I would say, “Yes”. Yes, I would be willing to live in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant. I would not be worried about the risks, but I would be more concerned about aesthetic concerns. Here in Colorado Springs, I suppose the biggest perils a nuclear power plant would face would be weather related (severe thunderstorms, blizzards, hail, and tornadoes). I do not know how a nuclear power plant would hold up in a tornado, but I surmise that the answer would be very well.

Pamela Gray
March 12, 2011 10:33 am

While I haven’t read but a minuscule amount of the posts (I eventually will because all are worth it), as I am getting that job done, I must state the obvious for me. First, large nuclear plants are inherently weak, as they are responsible for supplying too large of a percentage of power. When one fails, too many people and businesses are without power. Rebuild with multiple smaller units across the power grid. Second, large plants built on a major earthquake fault is a fool’s plan. Third, if that country is so prepared for a tsunami, why all the towns, roads, railroads, and businesses sitting on the beach? These design flaws go way back. And Japan is not the only country guilty of such flaws. At the individual level, humans make the same mistakes. They build on sand and have become spoiled on the idea that someone else will provide their abundant “necessities” of life.

Dave Worley
March 12, 2011 10:35 am

Dave Springer says:
“The nuclear number (4) wouldn’t even account for mining accidents digging up uranium ore, refining it into fuel, moving millions of tons of steel and concrete needed to build the plants, and actual on-site construction accidents.”
So what are the numbers Dave? Don’t forget to include those mining the copper and other unsustainable materials required to make the windmills. How inconveinent.
No rush, it’ll be a while before another nuke is built in the US.

Coach Springer
March 12, 2011 10:36 am

I’ve gone through the thread, read some links, watched the video, googled it myself, called my brother who is responsible for managing emergencies at a nuke – so let me see if I’ve got this straight:
They shut the reactors down with the earthquake.
The tusnami took out the cooling structures
They managed their way through it with some small releases.
A hydrogen explosion got people talking all Chernobyl-like when it wasn’t. Environmental types reacted with alarmism to extremely precautionary safety actions that were taken.
The cool down continues.
Maybe they should have thought of tsunamis in geologically active ocean front zones, though.
It sounds very well done in the face of enormous natural physical forces at work and proves safety even when an unforeseen tsunami occurs. I doubt very very much that you will be able to detect even a banana’s worth of effect in most of Japan and certainly not gobally.
Admittedly, Jackson Browne will be quite upset, though.
That said, those guys aren’t done with an incredibly hard job and the people are enduring plenty of hardship.

DirkH
March 12, 2011 10:37 am

Dave Springer says:
March 12, 2011 at 9:43 am
“Uranium mining appears to be quite the hazardous profession. […]
In January 2008 Areva was nominated for an Anti Oscar Award.[13] The French state-owned company mines uranium in northern Niger where mine workers are not informed about health risks, and analysis shows radioactive contamination of air, water and soil. […] This alone dwarfs the deaths related to wind energy.”
You intentionally didn’t pick Australian Uranium mining standards, i guess. So the right answer to that would be pointing to the “safety standards” the Chinese use in mining of rare earths used in wind power construction, and the environmental havoc and diseases it causes in the rural population. Do you still think you want to follow that alley?

March 12, 2011 10:43 am

CNN March 12, 2011 1:25 p.m. EST

An explosion that sent white smoke rising above the Fukushima Daiichi plant Saturday afternoon buckled the walls of a concrete building that surrounded one of the plant’s nuclear reactors, but did not damage the reactor itself, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.
The explosion was caused, he said, by a failure in a pumping system as workers tried to prevent the reactor’s temperature from racing out of control.

lanceman
March 12, 2011 10:44 am

@Julian:
“My Japanese wife who has been watching live satelite Japanese TV tells me the Japanese media are saying it was the control room above the reactor that exploded and the cover to the main reactor was not damaged. Hydrogen caused the explosion.”
The control room is not located above the reactor even in the 1960’s design of Fukushima. Further, if it was the control room that exploded, there would be reports of dozens of fatalities as I am sure there are several people in the control room. Also, if the hydrogen is from the reactor, it is undoubtedly accompanied by very high (but localized) concentrations of airborne radioactivity. For these reasons, I think the report is erroneous. I think my scenario above is most likely (with some details incorrect, no doubt) that is consistent with the media reports that are available.

JDN
March 12, 2011 10:49 am

I keep seeing this report that Japan’s coast has moved 8 ft. There is no data or links to data. Which direction did it move? Anyone know where the original data is?

March 12, 2011 10:54 am

Pamela Gray says:
March 12, 2011 at 10:33 am
Third, if that country is so prepared for a tsunami, why all the towns, roads, railroads, and businesses sitting on the beach? These design flaws go way back. And Japan is not the only country guilty of such flaws.

Pamela the Japanese and even US experts have all stated that the reason things failed is because they only prepared for a high 7 to low 8 magnitude quake. They based that on what they saw from the historical record that the fault there only generated up to that size quake. So they built to that standard and of course Mother Nature camne along and saw “Psyche!”.

jtom
March 12, 2011 10:54 am

I am hopeful that this will be nuclear’s finest hour. Power plants subjected to a 9.8 magnitude earthquake, devastating tsunami, and considerable damage, yet no harmful radiation releases, and a successful shutdown/(possible) decommissioning.
The ultimate proof of the safety of a system isn’t how long it goes without a problem under normal operating conditions, but rather what happens during the worst possible situation.
If these plants are successfully shut down, unless you think you live in an area that could see a natural disaster worse than this one, you should have little to fear from a nuclear power plant.

lanceman
March 12, 2011 10:56 am

@littlepeaks
“I do not know how a nuclear power plant would hold up in a tornado, but I surmise that the answer would be very well.”
Turkey Point south of Miami survived hurricane Andrew in 1992.

March 12, 2011 11:00 am

Pamela Gray says: “First, large nuclear plants are inherently weak, as they are responsible for supplying too large of a percentage of power. When one fails, too many people and businesses are without power. Rebuild with multiple smaller units across the power grid. Second, large plants built on a major earthquake fault is a fool’s plan. Third, if that country is so prepared for a tsunami, why all the towns, roads, railroads, and businesses sitting on the beach?”
Pamela, I generally agree with your postings. However, I am in an argumentative mood today (part of just getting over a nasty flu). First, smaller power plants tend to not be as efficient as larger power plants. Second, the whole country of Japan is a major earthquake fault, ring-of-fire and all that. Third, when you build something that is five miles away from the beach, you really don’t expect a tsunami to take you out. Some reports are saying that the last time a tsunami of this size occurred may have been 1400 years ago. You can plan for ten-year disasters, sometimes 25-year disasters, and maybe 50-year disasters. But when you get into 500-, 1000- or 2000- year disasters, all bets are off. I’m sure that the disaster-planners of Japan would like to just shave off the top of all the mountains, and build up there where everyone would be safe from floods and tsunami, but they would probably unleash a myriad of other problems that would be just as devastating.

janama
March 12, 2011 11:02 am

wiki appears to be up to date on the event
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_Nuclear_Power_Plant

MDAdams
March 12, 2011 11:07 am

The translator here:
http://www.ustwrap.info/multi/yokosonews::nhk-gtv
said that 4.5 hrs ago (at 11:30 Japan time) that the Japanese nuclear commission measured the radiation level around the affected Fukushima plant was 70 microsievert, which I believe is about 7 mrem. If true, this is not a significant level. On the other hand, if the discharged gasses were carried out to sea, there may have been greater levels earlier.
mdadams

harrywr2
March 12, 2011 11:18 am

Dave Worley says:
March 12, 2011 at 10:35 am
No rush, it’ll be a while before another nuke is built in the US.
The first components for Vogtle Unit#3 were delivered last fall.
http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2010/09/10/first-components-arrive-at-plant-vogtle-for-unit-3.aspx

March 12, 2011 11:19 am

If you are really interested in the health effects of radiation then read this:
http://www.nwmo.ca/3.2
Its lengthy, and contains primers to understand the issues.
I suspect more people will have died in the Bronx bus Crash than from radiation at this time, in Japan, when it is all over.

AndyW
March 12, 2011 11:30 am

Janice said
“Third, when you build something that is five miles away from the beach, you really don’t expect a tsunami to take you out.”
It’s actually on the coast.
Andy

TC in the (hopefully won't be shaking soon) OC
March 12, 2011 11:32 am

Although these events with the reactors are serious I feel they will pale in comparisons to the damage from the tsunami. I know nuclear radiation scares a lot of people but we really need to keep things in perspective. I really truly hope and pray that the story on the following link is not true. But if you remember the last big tsunami the actual horrific reports about the tragedy took several days to unfold.
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2011/03/12/2011-03-12_minamisanriku_has_9500_residents_missing_from_town_after_earthquake_tsunami_rava.html

Colin
March 12, 2011 11:33 am

Crispin, not quite. CANDU uses natural uranium which has a U235 concentration of 0.7%. There are two heavy water systems, the first is the moderator in the calandria tank, and the second is the heat transport system from the reactor to the steam generators. The operating temperature in the moderator at nominal power is about 80 C. The whole calandria and fuel channels are surrounded by a large shield tank containing several thousand tonnes of light water. The core temperature in the fuel channels at nominal power is about 380 C (it varies a bit depending on the reactor. For any significant release of material from the reactor core all of this water, 600+ tonnes of heavy water and several thousand tonnes in the shield tank all has to be boiled off first. It takes several days at a minimum.
The problem with PWRs or BWRs is that they have relatively little water in the reactor systems and can be boiled off in several hours without emergency core cooling. It’s also an inherently more stable reactor than any other type with a smaller void coefficient than any other power reactor type. These are among the reasons why CANDU is generally known to be have about an order of magnitude smaller possibility of any significant release of radiation under any accident condition.
Dave Springer, you just disqualified yourself from commenting on nuclear issues as soon as you reference CCNR. Being a bit coy about the fact that it’s an antinuclear propaganda group, aren’t you? For your information, despite the fact that underground mining is one of the world’s most dangerous professions, uranium mining has an industrial accident rate of less than half the industrial average from all activities. Go check the IRR for Cameco and Areva if you don’t believe me.
So no, Janice, it’s not particularly hazardous the way it’s routinely practiced and the high standards which it has to meet. Please learn something about the uranium mining practices and standards before presuming to pass judgment on it.
Pamela, your point about scale is foolish. The same problems of scale and the loss of a large station affect large fossil and hydro as well. And there have been many more catastrophic hydro losses than there have been nuclear. As a testament to how you have all been brainwashed, during the same month as TMI in 1979, a large hydro dam in Gujarat Province in India ruptured and drowned 10,000 people in less than 15 minutes, and the press never reported a word about it. It was too caught up in Walter Cronkite’s stupid “worst industrial accident ever”.
Your comment about coastal development is equally foolish. The entire world has been developing heavily its coastlines for the last half century. Japan is no different.
Littlepeaks: ask Florida Light and Power about nuclear plants and high winds. Turkey Point gets routinely hit by hurricanes every year or so. The US midwest is riddled with large coal-fired thermal stations, and none of them are significantly affected by such weather conditions even thought they are built to much less rigorous standards than a nuclear power plant.
J.Felton: typical natural background radiation exposure is about 3.5 mSv annually. Two-thirds of this comes from the earth as radon gas and most of the rest comes from cosmic radiation. Live in Denver and your radiation exposure is double because of the elevation and increased cosmic radiation. Live in Winnipeg or anywhere else like it and your radiation exposure is doubled because of the granite bedrock. Live on Copacabana Beach in Brazil, and your natural background radiation exposure is about 10 times because of the thorium in the beach sand. For the record, the highest level of chronic radiation exposure for which no short term or long term effects have ever been observed is about 2,000 mSv. Such an exposure would have a large effect if delivered as a prompt dose within seconds or a few minutes.
The maximum permissible dose to the public from nuclear activities is 2 mSv and to plant workers it’s 20 mSv per year. The action level (the point at which a utility must take action) is typically 1/10th that amount.
Please be aware that radiation exposure and radiation dose are not the same thing. Mere radiation exposure tells you little about the radiation dose, or effect it will have on living creatures.

March 12, 2011 11:40 am

Fuel rods *** starting to melt ***
NOT meltdown through the reactor container
See: Japan Reactor Fuel Rods May Have Begun to Melt, Atomic Safety Agency Says
“If the fuel rods are melting and this continues, a reactor meltdown is possible,” Kakizaki said. A meltdown refers to a heat buildup in the core of such an intensity it melts the floor of the reactor containment housing. “

March 12, 2011 11:40 am

You can also try these on for size.
http://www.energypulse.net/centers/author.cfm?at_id=283
There are about 10 articles here, about half of which deal with nuclear power and relative risks.

kwik
March 12, 2011 11:51 am

jtom says:
March 12, 2011 at 10:54 am
“I am hopeful that this will be nuclear’s finest hour. ”
I hope so too. Must admit I wonder why they don’t have a water-pool higher than the plant, so that gravity can provide emergency coolant.
Watching with horror the video from Sendai Airport-Terminal.
Good grief, they have my sympathy.

R. de Haan
March 12, 2011 12:16 pm

Another blow to nuclear energy.
“Holy cow, the president of an official EU’s EESC body has declared that the earthquake was a sign from Mother Nature that we need to combat global warming. I want these crooks to be outlawed!”
http://motls.blogspot.com/2011/03/another-blow-for-nuclear-energy.html

March 12, 2011 12:23 pm

Andy, I was not speaking of the nuclear reactor, but of generalities such as canals, highways, buildings and such. Though it appears the nuclear reactor actually did quite well, considering both