12 Mar

(UPDATING) NEWS OPEN THREAD II – Japan’s Tsunami “Fallout”: failing reactors, and the entry of politics

                                       

Read OPEN THREAD I here.

SCROLL TO END OF POST FOR REGULAR UPDATES

While there is no shortage of heartbreak and disaster to focus on in the wake of Japan’s (now upgraded) 9.1 magnitude earthquake, yesterday morning my thoughts concentrated on what was then a quiet story in the background… the problem with then one of Japan’s many nuclear power facilities that supply about 30% of their needs.

By yesterday eve, the story started gaining traction as rising radiation levels were detected at the adjacent Fukushima #2 facilities. Because the cooling back up generator systems had failed, the pressure was building in the core and plans were made to open valves, releasing some of that pressure. Apparently, the plant’s officials decided to use seawater as a coolant, which would indicate they had written off the 40 yr old plant’s functional future, as it would corrode the metal innards.

Despite efforts, in the US’s west coast mid-night hours, the Fukushima #1 facility exploded, blowing the roof off one building and destroying exterior walls where the troubled reactor was housed.

Only the skeletal frame remains of the boxlike housing of the No. 1 reactor at
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear station after an explosion. KYODO PHOTO

While some media (such as the NYTs above) quoted officials that said with the explosion came an abatement of some of the radiation levels, it also led to others, expressing increasing concern about an imminent “meltdown”.

First, to put some perspective on the extreme event of a meltdown, we non-nuclear engineers need a better handle on how these facilities are constructed and what fail safe measures are in place by design. The BBC article today provides a basic working visual for we non-nuclear engineers, plus a diagram of a boiling water reactor system. It explains how the pressure could build as a result of a failed cooling system, and also explains that if the actual metal containment vessel that actually houses the cores were intact, that radiation should be contained.

And the big fear within the anti-nuclear movement, as used in the film The China Syndrome, is that the multiple containment of a molten core might not work either, allowing highly radioactive and toxic metals to burrow into the ground, with serious and long-lasting environmental impacts – total meltdown.

However, the counter-argument from nuclear proponents is that the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island did not cause any serious effects.

Yes, the core melted, but the containment systems held.

And at Chernobyl – a reactor design regarded in the West as inherently unsafe, and which would not have been sanctioned in any non-Soviet bloc nation – the environmental impacts occurred through explosive release of material into the air, not from a melting reactor core.

According to Chief cabinet secretary Chief Yukio Edano, the reactor’s containment vessel was not damaged by the explosion and remains intact.

But the world is getting some mixed messages INRE the reactor status. The facility’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), insists that ther reactor is in “subcritical” mode, while Ryohei Shiomi, an official at Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, is quoted as having said a meltdown was possible. The latter possibility is heightened when Japanese authorities steadily widen the evacuation area, and prepare to distribute iodine as a protection against radiation exposure. As of today, some media have been reporting the same news, but with a more hysterical tabloid headline, “3000 flee Japan’s nuclear RED ALERT”.

Granted the last thing Japanese officials need is to pile on mass panic over the reactors. I would say that headlines like UK’s tabloid, “The Sun”, uses above doesn’t help… but then, I doubt the Japanese are busy reading The Sun these days. Japan is a nation already stressed to maximum in resources, grief, and facing possibly decades of rebuilding. There are cities and agricultural areas that were virtually wiped clean by the tsunami. And now with a large portion of their power in the state of emergency, the rescue and recovery effort is nothing short of a precipitous climb.

The BBC is more concerned it’s a TEPCO “cover up”, noting that thus far, “…the whole incident so far contains more questions than answers.” Even the NYTs above noted what they find to be inconsistencies, and suggest that TEPCO’s facilities are fraught with a past filled with safety violations.

Yes, folks… while the body count still rises, search and rescue commences for the thousands missing, all amidst high magnitude aftershocks, politics and energy agenda has begun to enter the picture. And they are going to use TEPCO’s plant as their poster child.

I suggest that this story is not dissimilar to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf. It’s dangerous to allow catastrophic events to dictate energy policy and direction. US oil and shale reserves are plentiful, and provide inexpensive energy for consumers. Nuclear power is clean, also affordable, and if Japan can demonstrate containment and success – even in such an earthquake volatile region of the world – then abandoning this type of energy using fear tactics is simply despicable.

For me? I’m following this story not because of the politics I knew would be interjected along the line, but because it is one more heinous event on top of what they are already having to deal with. Like the Deepwater Horizon, I’m going to leave aside the smearing of companies, and cheer on successful containment, solutions and possibly new design ideas for future safeguards. Japan doesn’t need to lose any more if it’s citizens to radiation exposure.

~~~

UPDATE 3-15-11 10:28AM: From Reuters live blog updates:

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a news conference that there was a “possibility of core damage” at unit 2. “The damage is estimated to be less than 5 pct.”

UPDATE 3-15-11 8:13am PAC Time: A Japan Times 3-15-11 article, is putting out some radiation levels.

But fears were heightened Tuesday over whether a containment vessel might be compromised, after the suppression chamber of the No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel failed.

A small explosion took place at the No. 2 reactor, causing partial damage to the chamber. Attached below the vessel, the suppression chamber’s function is to cool the steam flowing from the vessel and thus relieve its internal pressure.

At 10:22 a.m., a radioactivity monitoring post near the No. 3 reactor showed 400 millisieverts per hour, 400 times the amount an ordinary person is exposed to in a year.

The figure was 100 millisieverts per hour near the No. 4 reactor and 30 millisieverts per hour between the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

The radiation leak prompted the government to order residents between a radius of 20 km to 30 km to stay indoors to prevent exposure. People living within a 20 km radius have already been ordered to evacuate.

“There is no doubt it is an amount that would have (a harmful) effect on the human body,” Edano said. “But that is the amount right near the leak. The farther away, it drops.”

Radiation exposure of 7,000 to 10,000 millisieverts per hour is considered a lethal dose, said an official at the Institute of Applied Energy. A millisievert is 1,000 microsieverts.

UPDATE 3-15-11 8:05A PAC Time: Below is the status of the four reactors as TEPCO’s Fukushimi Daiichi site as of 9PM 3-14-11, Pacific Time.

UPDATE 3-14-11 9:21pm PAC Time: Reuters live blog updates say that radiation levels in Saitama near Tokyo are reported to be 40 times normal levels: (Kyodo quoting local government)

UPDATE 3-14/11 7:54PM PAC Time: While I’ve been absent from FA for the past day and a half, taking care of what I would hesitate to call domestic house “emergencies”, the FA community as thrown in interesting tangents and data in my absence. Thank you all.

As of this moment, CNN is reporting of the newest two explosions. Three of the six TEPCO reactors are experiencing different levels of failure, and the Japanese authorities have widened the area to include anyone within 30 kilometers of the power plants should remain inside, as the levels between all the released emissions in the air have reached a level they describe as being enough to “affect human health”. Hard to determine what that means, but it’s obvious that between the damage, and the difficulty of keeping the cores cooled, and maintaining the existing flooding of seawater and release of pressure in each of the reactors.

At this moment, Units 1-3 have different degrees of failures, and all three have experienced explosions. Units 1 and 3 have been overheating. Unit 2 is the latest entry to the mix, and it is uncertain at this update if Unit 2’s latest explosion has damaged the containment vessel. Heretofore, all officials have been adamant that neither Unit 1 or Unit 3’s containment vessel was compromised.

At this moment, I’ve been having a problem accessing TEPCO’s press release site. It is, no doubt, overloaded, and becomes a hit and miss as to when you can get in.

According to a late posting Reuters article, Japan is asking the US for additional equipment to help keep the core cooling process stable.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:45PM PAC time: MSNBC reports the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says the cooling process for one of the crippled reactors is going well. It should take about 10 days to totally fill the reactors containement vessel with seawater. In the interim, the 2nd reactor with a cooling problem seems to be following the same procedures as the first… release of pressure, then injection of seawater and boric acid.

The Japanese authorities have classified the event at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 as a level 4 “accident with local consequences” on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The scale is used to consistently communicate the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation — no safety significance) to 7 (major accident).

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania was a level 5 (“accident with wider consequences”). The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a level 7 (“major accident).

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:35PM: Ah yes… Never let it be said a Democrat Congress member with an agenda to pursue allows even someone else’s crisis to go to waste. Already MA Rep Edward Markey, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, warns that the US is vunerable to the same “…nuclear accident that has sent waves of fear through northeast Japan.” Waves of terror? Over the reactor? The Japanese, quite used to earthquakes, are more wary of the tsunamis. I see no “waves of terror” INRE the power plants, save in the Congressman’s mind.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 9:28PM PAC Time: TEPCO, owner of the crippled reactors in the news, has their own press release site. Per their news, all six units of their Daiichi Nuclear Power Stations have been shut down. Three are due to regular inspections.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 3:23pm PAC Time: Personal comment… Wolf Blitzer is an ass! The Japanese Ambassador is *not* an enemy of his people, or a war criminal. Blitzer, in his quest for some breaking catastrophic news, demonstrates he knows nothing about Japanese culture, their approach to crisis, and emphasizes he’s simply a news whore.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 3:04PM PAC Time: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is blazing headlines that a “possible meltdown is in progress”, and trying to get the Japanese Ambassador to “admit” that it’s happening. Ambassador reiterates that the container vessel is, indeed still in place…. Mata Musing: do your best, guys. Get it under control, and forget the pundits trying for disaster headlines!

UPDATE: 3-12-11: Three tested positively for radiation exposure. Levels not mentioned. From CNN live blog news:

[1:20 p.m. ET, 3:20 a.m. Tokyo] Authorities have begun radiation exposure testing around Fukushima prefecture where three people – randomly selected out of a group of 90 – have tested positive for radiation poisoning, according to Japan’s government broadcaster, NHK.

UPDATE: 3-12-11 11:38AM: A CNN report ID’s the 2nd plant with cooling trouble as Fukushima Daini , located in a different town in the same prefecture.

Most of the concern initially had centered around the first Daiichi plant, which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters on Friday “remains at a high temperature” because it “cannot cool down.”

That plant and three others were shut down after the quake hit around 2:46 p.m. Friday local time, prompting authorities in Tokyo to declare a state of atomic power emergency.

Three of the Daiichi reactor’s six units shut down because of the earthquake, while operations at the other three were out due to “regular inspection,” the Tokyo Electric Power Co. said in a news release Saturday.

…snip…

The trouble the Daiichi plant happened after its once operating reactors had been successfully shut down, Edano said.

UPDATE 3-12-11, 11:29A PAC time: The French Nuclear Safety Authority says current winds make it likely any radioactive fall out would drift out over the Pacific.

“Apparently the situation is serious,” Mr Lacoste said, adding that his team was receiving incomplete information from Japan because of the number of people tied up with managing the crisis.

~~~

Again, as on the last thread, I so appreciate all news updates you all add. This is a fast moving story that requires the latest updates that you will run across. And it’s much easier to have the sequence of events in one or two posts, as opposed to several outdated posts over time. Besides, I can’t do it all without you!

About MataHarley

Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.
This entry was posted in Disasters, Energy, Japan. Bookmark the permalink. Saturday, March 12th, 2011 at 10:29 am
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123 Responses to (UPDATING) NEWS OPEN THREAD II – Japan’s Tsunami “Fallout”: failing reactors, and the entry of politics

  1. gregory_dittman says: 1

    Not all the reports about the explosion said why it happened. This was a hydrogen/oxygen explosion. The hydrogen came from the cooling process. Without saying that, it could lead to people to believe the explosion was nuclear related.

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  2. MataHarley says: 2

    That’s true, Gregory. But then, were it a nuclear related explosion, there would be no hiding radiation exposure. Nor would there be any reports of a decline in the leakage of radiation. Whether the levels have gone done in reality, I don’t know. But I, personally, automatically assumed it was not a nuclear related explosion because of the absence of radioactive fallout.

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  3. Nostradamus says: 3

    How can you get a Nuclear Explosion out of 5% enriched Uranium? It’s IMPOSSIBLE. The explosion was Hydrogen related. It HAD to be.

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  4. Nostradamus says: 4

    I don’t think the reconstruction of the devastated areas in Japan will take decades, as was suggested in this essay. First of all, Japan basically got the shit kicked out of it in ’45 and it didn’t take decades to rebuild it. (Using ’45 technology).

    Furthermore, I’ve seen several video reports and read quite a few eyewitness reports from blogs that are right at the scenes of some of the worst devastation.

    A couple things jumped right out at me.
    The Japanese public have their act together!
    These people were obviously trained and prepared. Many of them (other than professionals like police and fire) are shown to be grabbing gear (gloves, uniformly colored and reflective overalls, hard hats ect.) and were sprinting into action leading people into areas safe from falling debris, helping the wounded, putting out small fires and leading people out of buildings.
    These people knew what to do, and did it. FAST.

    Also, there are absolutely no reports of looting or civil unrest. (Unlike the animal show in New Orleans).
    No signs of panic. People are polite, waiting in lines and letting traffic merge, following the directions of public officials.

    The Japanese should be PROUD of the way their countrymen and women are responding to this disaster. I sure am!

    I look forward to seeing the restoration and reconstruction efforts in the coming year.
    I said ‘year’ instead of ‘years’ because from what I’m seeing of self-discipline these people are demonstrating, I wouldn’t be surprised if a year or two from now you wouldn’t even know this happened.

    Just an amazing and refreshing display of courage and community spirit.

    Thinking of what would be happening in America if this kind of thing happened makes me shudder.

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  5. MATA hi, I tryed the sign saying; read open thread 1 here in red and big,
    on your post and it said ; PAGE NOT FOUND, bye

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  6. just a wild guess; could the previous TSUMANI,had a inderect effect of destabilisation underground,
    which with time brought about this event,

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  7. MataHarley says: 7

    Thanks for the heads up, Bees. An HTML programming error on my part, and is corrected now.

    @Nostradamus, I mean no slight to the Japanese… a well disciplined culture who never places limits on their achievements. Just to clarify if that’s what you thought I meant about decades.

    I would hope it wouldn’t take that long, but I fear the reality of returning to the status quo would indeed take that long. And I’m speaking of two distinctly different rebuilding endeavors.

    For the Miyagi communities, towns and cities that were wiped clean like a black board, there is not just rebuilding the physical buildings. Which may, or may not be accomplished in the somewhat ambitious timeframe you suggest. Before a community can be reinhabited in the same flourishing status enjoyed before, they will need businesses, supplies, customers with paying jobs to support those businesses, etc. It is rebuilding commerce simultaneously. In all comprehensive planning is a balance between business and residential growth. Rebuilding a community is not just slapping up the previous buildings. If that were the case, rebuilding many of the US areas that are virtual ghost towns because of economic reasons, or prior disasters, would be much easier.

    For that reason, I would hope for, but not anticipate, your timeline of recovery. In fact, many Japanese may not return to that area for the risk and memories. Others who considered that area for their future may now reject it for the same reasons. It may start out smaller as a community and take time to again grow to previous status and population.

    Then we come to the agricultural communities that were destroyed…. crops, animals, ag buildings, inventory, supplies, fencing, equipment. All gone. It is virtually impossible to reach the anticipated annual crop yield they have done in previous years in the time frame you suggest. The clean up, assessing environmental and ocean deposits that may negatively affect the soils… or even replacing the soil nutrients that were there for years is one issue. The clean up alone may take up to a year, before one can even plant even the first new crops or replace their herds. I don’t know of any rancher or farmer who thinks they can duplicate a complete loss of business in the time frame you suggest.

    Then there’s getting insurance claims completed to purchase new equipment, till the soils, buy the crops, replace the herds, the ag buildings needed – all added to building the home for the farmers. The latter is a piece of cake… assuming insurance claims go thru quickly. The former is not that easy, as I’ve outlaid in the paragraph above.

    Only after all the equipment, supporting structures, and soil is ready can the first crops go in. An ambitious timeline for even a modest yield, unlikely to match the regular performance prior to the tsunami, would be three years at best, IMHO. And that’s banking on one heck of a first year yield.

    Also remember that the rest of the country who has damage will also have to wait for their insurance claims… (BTW, I hear that Afleck has the bulk of the Japanese insurance biz)… then face the same slow rebuilding of commerce, buildings and residences.

    I, too, admire the Japanese compartmental discipline and drive. Always have. Worked many years for a Japanese company where I developed a respect for the culture. (not to mention a real penchant for shabu shabu). But they will not be hasty, nor haphazard in their rebuilding. They are not a culture of snap decisions by nature. It will take time for them to achieve the same pre-disaster status. Perhaps somewhere between your “year” and my “decades” is the real answer.

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  8. Nostradamus says: 8

    MataHarley: You bring up several good points, especially about soil contamination and whether it would be wise to rebuild in an area(s) already proven susceptible to this type of disaster (Tsunami).
    But one thing I know is that the Japanese are deviously diligent planners (as well as archiving everything that was there) and I have no doubt the surveyors will be out there in short order re-plotting every building lot. The decision on whether to “rebuild” what WAS there (for the same use) is one thing.
    Three things are certain.
    A) Look at how they employ technology into everything they produce. There is no question that these people are capable of adapting to change in a swift and meaningful way. Anything they rebuild will undoubtedly be BETTER than what they had in place.
    B) Land in Japan is at a premium. They will find a use for every square inch. If need be, they will rebuild higher, stronger and more efficient. One thing you probably won’t see are “Katrina Trailers” all over the place. After the most powerful earthquake in their recorded history just a few hundred miles from Tokyo (And they get more earthquakes than anywhere else in the world) not a single high-rise building collapsed. NOT ONE. Now that is “planning” for ‘ya. California Northridge? Not so good.
    If it wasn’t for the Tsunami, Japan would have been barely affected by the 4th most powerful earthquake in recorded history (It was recently upgraded to 9.1). The reactor secondary cooling system failed because the diesel generators were flooded by the Tidal Wave.
    C) This is a nation with the worlds 3rd largest (arguably) economy. Yet they possess basically no natural resources. (One of the reasons for the Pearl Harbor Attack. We put Imperial Japan under embargo).
    They have made a CULTURE out of importing raw materials, applying brain-power to those materials and transforming them into marketable products at the cutting edge of technology. To them it’s not even just “a way of life.” It’s a matter of survival as a Nation.

    They didn’t invent the TV, Automobile, Stereo, Cell Phone, Computer or really much of anything. But they sure beat the snot out of their competition in re-inventing all those things and a lot more.

    As for funding, they’re pretty good at good at funding major projects too. I would not be surprised to see their government just take charge of the whole process. Government puts up the cash and deals with reimbursement by insurance companies back to the government instead of to the owners at a later time. Guaranteed replacement value is what’s important.
    Japan knows that the longer it takes, the more vulnerable their economy becomes.

    It will be interesting to see what they do and how successful they are.
    So far, Wall Street seems to be betting on Japan because after this disaster began the American Stock Market rose when many predicted it would sell off.
    I’m sure there will be plenty of companies willing to bet on Japan and invest in their efforts to rebuild.

    One other thing is certain: This sure ain’t Haiti.

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  9. MataHarley says: 9

    I do believe we are on the same page in faith in the Japanese themselves, Nostradamus. Which is why I wanted to make it abundantly clear my prediction of “decades” was not a judgement call. But in addition to rebuilding under normal circumstancs, the Japanese economy was still in jeopardy, which only makes that rebuilding process slower. Also, because I spent many years working with those who made decisions “across the pond”, as we called it, I know they are not a culture who rushes willy nilly into projects quickly. They are a very careful and deliberative culture by tradition.

    There’s an interesting perspective by the Curious Capitalist I had read that echoes what I feel are the hurdles the Japanese must overcome in their recovery. He quotes some B of A/Merrill Lynch economists, and their assessment on Japan – post this event, and considering their fragile economy prior.

    This time, the two hardest-hit prefectures (Miyagi and Fukushima) account for 3.1% of Japan’s nominal GDP. If we include Iwate, Ibaraki and Tochigi, the size of production from the affected areas expands to 7.8%. Assuming the size of the disruption of economic activity is similar to the case of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (3-5% decline in Miyagi and Fukushima, 1-2% in Iwate, Ibaraki, and Tochigi), the impact on Japan’s GDP would be 0.2-0.3ppt… But, as in the case of Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, there remains a relatively large spare capacity to offset the production loss in Japan now…In addition, the cost (demand) for the rebuilding of ruined capital could be 1.0% of GDP or larger although it is very difficult to estimate its size at this point.

    Consider the already declining growth of Japan’s GDP, then add the assumed impact loss on an already low number. Then assume that 1% cost of rebuilding.

    ouch… “Uphill” is a term that is ambitious at best.

    As creative for funding as the Japanese are, they are also not fiscally ignorant of their current status, and what this may do to their recovery timeframe. (thus my “decades”….) I did take this into consideration when I pondered their uphill path. They were, after all, at one of the largest debt burdens of any industrialized country, at about 200% of GDP. None of this weighs in their favor.

    I’d always bet on the Japanese to snap back. Just not at the speed you project, or I’d like to see.

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  10. Nostradamus says: 10

    By the way, regarding “Japanese Planning”, have any of you seen this short video, “One Minute Warning” cross-posted by “Hot Air?”
    Watch the whole thing (4 minutes in total).

    I GUARANTEE YOU that if the same thing happened 300 miles from Los Angeles nobody would have a clue until the buildings started pancaking down Hollywood Boulevard.

    THIS….is “Planning”:

    http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/03/11/6247882-how-quake-prediction-works-or-not

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  11. Nostradamus says: 11

    @MataHarley:

    I was not aware of that (Negative estimate of 8% GDP contribution). But actually, I thought it was worse because I thought I read that the Honda and Nissan Plants were in jeopardy as well as their ports of export.
    I actually have no idea where those are all located.

    No doubt that those figures you posted are not good news, and I thought their Debt-to-GDP was improving from 2-times GDP.

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  12. MataHarley says: 12

    I guess it’s what you classify as “improving”, Nostradamus. As you can see by the chart below, when you consider where they were in 2009, it’s improved. But in steady decline at a very inconvenient time right now.

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  13. Nostradamus says: 13

    Thanks for the chart.
    No, that’s not good and I thought the improvement was much greater than 3% (Which the chart doesn’t even reflect anything close to).
    I know about “The Ten Year Recession” due in large part to their “Quantative Easing experiment” that our nit-wit-in-chief is now trying.

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  14. MataHarley says: 14

    I believe that the Japanese equivalent term for what you are describing is called “The Lost Decade”, Nostradamus. Many thanks for your flexibility and analytic abilities in this discussion, BTW.

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  15. Nan G says: 15

    Posters here at FA are correct!

    Emergency at a second reactor, Japan’s nuclear agency reports

    Cooling systems failed at a second nuclear reactor on Japan’s devastated coast Sunday.

    Japan’s nuclear safety agency then reported an emergency at another reactor unit, the third in the complex to have its cooling systems malfunction. To try to release pressure from the overheating reactor, authorities released steam that likely contained small amounts of radiation, the government said.

    The explosion at the nuclear plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, 274 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, appeared to be a consequence of steps taken to prevent a meltdown after the quake and tsunami knocked out power to the plant, crippling the system used to cool fuel rods there.

    The blast destroyed the building housing the reactor, but not the reactor itself, which is enveloped by stainless steel 15 centimetress thick.

    Inside that superheated steel vessel, water being poured over the fuel rods to cool them formed hydrogen. When officials released some of the hydrogen gas to relieve pressure inside the reactor, the hydrogen apparently reacted with oxygen, either in the air or the cooling water, and caused the explosion.

    So, it was the hydrogen, not the rods that blew.

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  16. Nostradamus says: 16

    Thanks.
    But you know, Japan HAS also had quite a lengthy history of destruction via Cyclones too, some of which rank right up there with the ‘best’ of Hurricanes.
    I’ve never been to Japan so in my mind I perceive it as a kind of Singapore (been stationed there on layover to another Amph Group) only with a more ‘American’ type of government. I KNOW that’s probably foolish and naive but I have to say that so far I’m pretty impressed with the way they’re handling things.
    What WOULD disappoint me is if we discovered they weren’t being honest with their press releases regarding the severity of the problems they’re having with the reactors.

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  17. John Cooper says: 17

    Mata writes:

    we non-nuclear engineers need a better handle on how these facilities are constructed and what fail safe measures are in place by design.

    What do you me “we”, white woman?

    I’m retired now, but worked in the nuclear industry for a number of years out West. My specialty was Residual Heat Removal systems.

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  18. John Cooper, yes, I was wondering when you would show up,
    this post is a good one for your expertise
    and another one missing who eventualy show up is
    TallGrass, he is also an expert ingeneer in nucleor,
    bye

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  19. Nan G says: 19

    Another reactor [this makes it 6] at Fukushima nuke plant loses cooling functions

    TOKYO, March 13, Kyodo

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday another reactor of its quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plants had lost its cooling functions, while at least 15 people at a nearby hospital were found to have been exposed to radioactivity……

    More at link.

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  20. John Cooper says: 20

    Thanks for remembering Mizz Beez {hug}. I’m in a pizzy mood tonight, so maybe I’ll post something tomorrow. My peach trees are blooming here in NC, and I’m eagerly awaiting the bees to show up and pollinate the blossoms.

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  21. John Cooper says: 21

    NanG–It’s simple. The cooling systems (mostly) run on electricity. No electricity=No cooling. With the reactors shut down, these plants must rely on external utility power or internal diesel generators to run the emergency cooling systems. Apparently, the dumb a**es who designed these Japanese plants placed the emergency diesel generators on ground level where they could be flooded by a Tsunami.

    When offsite power failed, and the diesel generators failed, there was nothing they could do to save the plant. Everything went dark.

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  22. John Cooper, yes they will and you will eat those juicy sweet pears soon

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  23. MataHarley says: 23

    John Cooper, as you mentioned, they did have the back up generators that failed. Then again, you have to take into consideration that this facility, and design, is four decades old. That is already nearing the end of it’s functional life span, not to mention behind the latest technology. Probably why they decided to pump the sea water in and render it virtually beyond repair. But I would be curious… they are obviously of the mindset that the facility isn’t worth saving. Assuming that the containment vessel for the cores is mostly intact, what would be the optimum way to implode/destroy the facility with the max containment potential?

    Oh, BTW..been waiting for a readers post from you on this. Where ya been? Why the heck are you leaving this crap to me, the novice? LOL

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  24. MataHarley says: 24

    Nostradamus: What WOULD disappoint me is if we discovered they weren’t being honest with their press releases regarding the severity of the problems they’re having with the reactors.

    I think there’s plenty of hyperbole on the media side, and well as extreme caution on the government/TEPCO side. I wouldn’t take the big cable three, or the western press’s interpretations as a measure of their honesty, Nostradamus.

    I think there are two things in play here. First, there are a lot of “cooks in the kitchen”, which confuses the media message. (i.e. too many people “in charge” of the reactor problem).

    Secondly, I think the Japanese government does not want to instill panic into an already stressed citizenry. If they can curtail any meltdown… of any degree (and there are different degrees of melting vs meltdown, and whether that has massive effects)… then why panic a nation already living on the edge for the simple items like food, water and shelter? That nation doesn’t need a Wolf Blitzer or FOX News rewriting reality, desperate for another nuclear catastrophe as a headline.

    Listening to FOX News today, and I was equally disgusted. Frankly, FOX has annoyed me since the moment the earthquake happened. Me, the insomniac, started catching the anchor reports from it’s first reporting in the wee hours (and stayed with it with cat naps inbetween), and frankly… the bimbo they had on the anchor desk for this was truly embarrassing. CNN genuinely has a wider net of overseas contacts and affiliates as sources to draw on. Problem is, they had dipshit anchors too. I swear, if I could have reached in and throttled Wolf Blitzer today… that pompous gorilla idiot… I would have during his interview with the Japanese PM. Wolf’s expertise and finesse doesn’t extend much further than grooming his beard, and using a zipper while in the men’s room. The Japanese Ambassador was more kind and polite than I would have been. His attempt to educate bone head Wolf to Japanese approaches to crises were patient, and a waste of time. Wolf only wanted to look like a “hard hitting reporter”. What an idiot.

    Won’t even bother going to MSNBC. Tried the Weather Channel, and they were using used CNN video handoffs as “new video”.

    Comes down to this… CNN for the generic, and the internet for the breaking news. But only if careful on the reporting.

    Thus, as shown to me clearly during this event, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can do without FOX, CNN and MSNBC equally and live by Internet news. I do really like the biz news channels, but their punditry can be just as annoying at times. Save Cavuto, of course. My biz pundit hero.

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  25. Nostradamus says: 25

    @MataHarley:

    I agree completely because internet sites comprise the whole spectrum of gathering news and opinion, and for the most part do a decent job of separating the two.
    Simple phrases like “I think, I Believe or In my opinion” let the reader know….WTF IT IS that they’re actually looking at!
    Websites also run the whole gambit of coverage from “Big Journalism” , “Pure Bloggers”, “Left vs Right”, “Just Science”, “All Law”, “Op-Ed” or a pleasant mix of those, like RealClearPolitics does.

    In addition – (VERY IMPORTANT) – websites like FA, RightWingNews, AOS, Hot Air and most others hyperlink words embedded in their commentary to give the reader some insight on how they developed their opinions in the first place.
    CNN and FoxNews are catching on but are still woefully lacking in that regard and all to often post opinion as news and that really pisses me off. And Liberal news sources are famous for what they ignore and what they promote. Josef Goebbels perfected that art and believe it or not learning how to do that and recognize it are courses taught in Officer Candidate School.
    I know it when I see it.
    A perfect example is when you see the same talking point repeated by several liberal media parrots like “Shared Sacrifice” or “The previous Administration” or “Unexpected increase in” used over and over.
    The internet has unchained the public from the bondage of that practice used ad-nauseam in the days when all your propagan…..I mean “News” came from the big 3 of CBS, ABC and NBC. (Okay, I’ll throw PBS in with that infamous group).
    May Dan Rather enjoy his retirement. (By the way—How’s that lawsuit going Dan buddy? Haven’t heard much about it in the past 3 years).
    Just say’in.

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  26. MataHarley says: 26

    Nostradamus, here’s more reading on Japan’s economy, their plans for spending, economic outlook, etc from Bloomberg this eve.

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  27. MataHarley says: 27

    John Cooper: Apparently, the dumb a**es who designed these Japanese plants placed the emergency diesel generators on ground level where they could be flooded by a Tsunami.

    JC, in order to avoid the damage from this 30′ tsunami wave, they’d have to had mounted the generator four stories up. Even tho the generator is that elevated, what’s to prevent failure in the rest of the power chain, likely powering elements at lower levels? Strikes me as just placing the generators at a higher level doesn’t completely solve the problem. Isn’t that rather like having the GFCI outlet just below the ceiling, powering a computer tower on the floor, and still expecting the computer to work when the room floods? The facilities, if not the containment vessel, were also damaged by the tsunami.

    I do believe they are still trying to sort out why the back up generator system did not work in this facility. Many other of the same facility’s units (they have six in that location, I believe), with the same back up system, did perform as expected.

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  28. Nostradamus says: 28

    @MataHarley:
    Thanks for that link. I believe it pretty much sums up some of what both of us were saying.
    What I will watch for is what you touched on, the reimbursement process from insurers and reinsurance companies.
    I just hope that this recently cursed country gets some relief from weather and geological disease.

    And I also hope that our country will assist in ensuring Japan isn’t taken advantage of in areas of offshore resource harvesting and national security issues by their dubious neighbors while in a position of weakness and while Japan tries to focus on domestic issues vs foreign issues.

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  29. Machiavelli says: 29

    I’ll step in here as someone who spent close to five years living in Japan, and who’s devoted considerable time to studying the country and language as well. Japan is indeed a highly disaster prepared country; when you face down earthquakes, volcanoes, and typhoons on a regular basis, you had better have your act together. However, let us all remember that this is the 5th most powerful earthquake in recorded human history. I compare this to our government having built bomb shelters all over the place to ensure the continuation of governance in the case of a nuclear World War III. What was always the caveat with these shelters: “Anything but a direct hit.” Well, Japan is very disaster prepared, but they took a direct hit on this one. The quake happened a scant 80 miles off shore, so that tsunami wave was liking crashing through houses maybe 10 – 15 minutes after the violent shaking stopped. As far as the nuclear plant, my guess is that it is practically impossible to engineer something that will shake off an 8.9 earthquake without any ill effects. They could have had alternative generators set-up, but they were simply damaged in the course of all that shaking, and absorbing the impact of tons of water moving at high speeds (estimates were the wave was moving across the land at 40 – 50 mph).

    Now, the reason why there is some suspiscion amongst the Japanese media when hearing reports from Japanese officials regarding possible radiation leaks has to do with history, and to a degree Japanese culture and sociology. Back in the fall of 1999, there was a nuclear “incident” at a plant in northern Ibaraki Prefecture. The government and officials from the plant management were painfully slow in releasing details; as they have been with certain other industrial accidents in Japanese history. Basically, it is borne out of a cultural belief that it is better to have a few people in an affected area suffer, than to cause wide-spread panic by full disclosure. Am I in any way saying that this is what is going on here; no. I simply am trying to point out why there is a degree of skepticism amongst the fourth estate types when announcing official government statements. I earnestly hope and pray that in this case what the Japanese government is saying is on the level; as I lived for some time in the city of Iwaki, which is quite near the nuclear plant in question, and still have a number of friends there. Hope this contributes a little to the discussion.

    I echo the above post, in hoping that the U.S. will help watch Japan’s proverbial back in the “tough” Northeast Asian neighborhood, while it deals with this internal tragedy. I was encouraged to hear that South Korea (a nation with which Japan has considerable historical acrimony, and even some current friction), was also deploying disaster relief units to help.

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  30. John Cooper says: 30

    Mata–

    I’m flattered (blush) that you’d ask me for a Reader Post. I’d gladly do it but my expertise is in PWRs, not BWRs. I would only be speculating on what’s going on in Japan. Now I could write a book on the deficiencies in the Residual Heat Removal systems in Westinghouse 4-loop PWRs…Oh wait, I did that already. It was only 42 pages long, but the management told me where to stick it. When I gave my findings to the NRC in 1982, that ended my career with the utility. They didn’t fire me exactly, they just transferred me to a remote power station in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the middle of winter. I got the message, and just moved on. Oh, the NRC wasn’t interested at the time either, but years later they took some of my advice. Oh well, I have the personal satisfaction that I was an engineer ahead of my time. But I digress…

    I don’t know enough about BWRs in general or the specific design of the plants in Japan to offer much other than generalities. I believe that the diesel generators and RHR systems are probably similar in both BWRs and PWRs. Here’s a simple of the emergency cooling systems in a BWR (Sure wish I could see the other half of the page). You can see those “Safety Relief Valves” discharge into the “Supression Pool” in the bottom of the primary containment. We have to figure that when emergency cooling was lost, those relieved and blew steam down into the suppression pool.

    On the diagram, you can see that the two RHR pumps suck from the reactor (near Recirc. Pump A), cool the water in the heat exchangers, and then pump the water back into the core (above Recirc. Pump A). That would be the normal configuration.

    If this diagram applies to the plants in Japan, then the entire RHR system is in the Reactor Building. Bad thing, because now there’s no way to manually open or close any of those valves or anything. At least in the Westinghouse PWRs, all that stuff was in the Auxiliary building so the operators could get to it even if there was a release in the main containment structure.

    Oh, several posters mentioned a hydrogen explosion. It that’s the case, then it confirms a substantial meltdown. From Wikipedia

    “The next stage of core damage, beginning at approximately 1500 K, is the rapid oxidation of the Zircaloy by steam. In the oxidation process, hydrogen is produced and a large amount of heat is released. Above 1500 K, the power from oxidation exceeds that from decay heat (4,5) unless the oxidation rate is limited by the supply of either zircaloy or steam.”

    Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t realized that those plants were 40 years old. That may explain a lot about the design. I’ll keep looking to see if I can find a diagram of the plant in Japan.

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  31. John Cooper, hi, could the RESIDUAL HEAT REMOVAL SYSTEM , of THE cOMPANY HAD A
    FLAW in the making it? because of the fact that you took all the time to write a 42 pages book
    giving your ingeneering expertise was most important for WESTHINHOUSE to pay attention enough to figure a potential probable flaw and to reexamine the plans,?
    NOW get that book out and check the possibility of a relation probability to occur in JAPAN:
    AS you know, It take only one bad SCREW to destroy any big or small and most sophisticated technology driven COMPONENT of any kind

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  32. John Cooper says: 32

    Mizz Beez:

    Yes, the Westinghouse plants had a number of design flaws in their RHR systems, mostly related to the suction valves going closed “spuriously” (to use the language of the NRC). Imagine a garden hose with two valves in series. Both of them must be open for water to flow through the hose. Close either of them and the flow stops. That’s what the Westinghouse RHR system is like.

    In the Final Safety Analysis Report [FSAR] – the legal document “proving” that each power plant is safe to operate, Westinghouse claimed:

    Westinghouse does not consider spurious operation of electrically-controlled valves as a credible single active failure” (FSAR section 15.4)

    Yet those valves spuriously closed all the time (27 incidents through 1981) at plants around the world due to their byzantine control system.

    Secondly, there was no alarm to alert the control room operators that the suction valve had gone shut while the pump was running and cut off cooling to the reactor. A number of RHR pumps were destroyed by cavitation while the pumps were running with the flow of water cut off. (No problem, the ratepayers sprung for the replacements.)

    Thirdly, in Westinghouse plants designed prior to 1965, there was only a single suction line from the primary system. They claimed (in the FSAR, again), that the system was totally redundant, but obviously if that line broke during an earthquake, it would disable both RHR systems. IOW, Westinghouse lied, and the NRC bought it. Later Westinghouse designs, and Combustion Engineering designs featured two lines from the primary system. Those were truly redundant.

    There were many other problems with the system, but like I said, nobody was interested. Amazingly enough, the NRC let the utility get away with calling the RHR system “non-safety related”, even though NRC Regulatory Guide 1.139 required it. To get around that conflict, the NRC just withdrew the Regulatory Guide on “Guidance for Residual Heat Removal”. Problem solved!

    “The NRC is withdrawing Regulatory Guide 1.139 because it describes an overly conservative and prescriptive method for complying with the aforementioned criteria.”

    Well hell, it’s only a nuclear plant. We wouldn’t want to be conservative or anything…

    Oh, for any researchers that might be following this thread “Decay Heat” is sometimes used synonymously with “Residual Heat”. Some plants use RHR and some plants use DHR.

    Just think, I compiled all this information before AlGore invented the Internet!

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  33. John Cooper, although I dont understand all in your comment, I have the feeling that they will find bad dreams following the JAPAN DESTRUCTIVES EVENTS, I strongly feel there is somewhere a bad screw relation, in what is going on, thank you for your informations, hide your book somewhere never to be found by the wrong people, but keep it availeble for the right people who would surely want to know more of it, as your book has gain a priceless interest on both side, WORLD WIDE thank you

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  34. Nan G says: 34

    A couple weeks ago the Shinmoedake volcano woke up after 42 years.
    Then, last week one of Hawaaii’s volcanoes had its cone collapse and more lava than usual is coming out.
    Then the Japan earthquake swarm, including the 9.1.
    Then another volcano on the ”ring of fire.”
    Now, today the Shinmoedake volcano started back up again!

    It is not raining, it is pouring!
    And who knows where it will strike next.
    Many parts of the west coast of North and Central America, even South
    America are also on the ring of fire.

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  35. MATA in case you don’t already know,I read at GUARDIEN, that JAPAN is already bracing for a second EARTHQUAKE, and so far they approximate the death toll to 88000 ,
    one men mentionned It’s so huge as BIBLE dimension.
    bye

    ReplyReply
  36. blast says: 36

    @ Mata:

    Mata: … they are obviously of the mindset that the facility isn’t worth saving.

    I think even if it was a brand new facility, given the severity of what they have described the incident, safeguarding the core from becoming uncovered is their prime goal at this time, regardless the financial cost.

    Even tho the generator is that elevated, what’s to prevent failure in the rest of the power chain, likely powering elements at lower levels? Strikes me as just placing the generators at a higher level doesn’t completely solve the problem.

    I think your questions here really are good… It looks like several layers of the safety have been peeled away. Now we hope the containment holds. Oh, and keep in mind now since the fuel rods have partly melted down this reactor is hot (highly radioactive) for the next 600 years. Only time will tell what will happen next, I am praying that the sea water works and cools the core. If the core does become uncovered it would be unimaginable as to the damage and potential loss of life particularly since it will be the luck of the wind direction that will keep the cesium (and other elements) from killing thousands.

    From Article in Time

    A radioactive isotope is generally considered dangerous for 10 to 20 times its half life, which in these cases tops out at about 600 years.

    If man had control of these elements in earlier days, an accident in 1411 would now be considered no longer dangerous. We as a society have a duty to understand fully what we are working with. I am in favor of using nuclear power for electrical generation… however… this incident SHOULD cause everyone pause given the stakes. The damaged reactors will now be monuments for the next 600 years. That is almost the age of Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

    I suggest that this story is not dissimilar to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf. It’s dangerous to allow catastrophic events to dictate energy policy and direction.

    What is the half life of an oil spill? Are there any cesium eating microbes out there? We need not act as the apologists to the nuclear energy community (even those who want to see the use of nuclear power). It should be up to them to make their case with us being very sharp at looking at what they represent as facts. A good case of cynicism never hurts when the downside is so big.

    Many decisions need to take place… beyond how to design one safely… such as where we build the reactors… there is potential for them to fail (no matter how clever we think we are).

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  37. blast, this is good to learn, thank you for it; would you know if the wind and
    AIR CURRENTS would or could bring those radiations and toxics elements to this part of the hemisphere or another neighbourly part of AMERICA? thank you

    ReplyReply
  38. blast says: 38

    @ilovebeeswarzone: not sure, but the news has shown them describing the potential for it to get into the jet stream. That sounded like speculation, but if it did, I would guess it could get to the US. Obviously if there was on shore or southern winds (and a breech of containment), Japan would have serious problems. I hope this effort they have with the sea water works, the cover the reactor with water, cool it down.

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  39. blast thank’s, you know evaporate water they pour into that core,bring VAPORS by the intensed heath in the air, so am I right to think that will make into clouds countaining toxicts radiation, while thoses clouds travels, push by air currents around the world, untill some here and there along their routes will let in rains on the EARTH anywhere ,with the radiation toxcins it countain therefor poisonning our wells
    and agriculture land, and waters at diffrent parts of the GLOBE,?

    ReplyReply
  40. John Cooper says: 41

    Once the core has melted, I’m not sure that covering it with sea water will do much good. It’s a matter of surface area and heat transfer. With an intact core, there is a lot of surface area around the fuel rods to carry away the heat. With a molten blob, not so much.

    In a PWR, there’s a phenomenon called Departure from Nucleate Boiling [DNB]. When the reactor is operating correctly, only tiny little steam bubbles (like in a glass of champagne) are produced along the fuel rods, then swept away to collapse by the primary coolant. If the coolant flow is inadequate for any reason, you get “film boiling”, which means each fuel rod is surrounded by a “film” of steam. If that happens, the heat transfer from the nuclear fuel to the water goes way down because the steam acts as an insulator. In that situation, the fuel rods can get too hot and melt. It’s a dangerous thing in a PWR, and I think the same scenario is possible in a BWR.

    You can see the difficulty in discussing technical stuff like this. Everybody’s eyes just glaze over…

    Edit: Winds at Japan Power Plants Should Send Radiation out to Sea

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  41. Greg says: 43

    @blast, #26:

    We need not act as the apologists to the nuclear energy community (even those who want to see the use of nuclear power).

    The current Japanese accident should give us pause concerning expansion of the prevailing uranium-based nuclear power industry. We shouldn’t let it be used to put us off nuclear energy in general, however. Nuclear power is an essential component of America’s energy future.

    The nuclear reactor problems we’re watching in Japan wouldn’t be happening with a thorium fuel cycle reactor. You simply don’t have the possibility of a core meltdown. Nor do you wind up with any high-level nuclear waste to dispose of. You can get 300 times the energy from a given quantity of thorium as from uranium.

    The United States has greater domestic thorium reserves than any other nation in the world–enough to last for centuries. When you mine rare earth metals you get your thorium for free, as a by-product. We currently have stockpiles.

    Thorium reactors are no theoretical, pie-in-the-sky energy technology. Early on, we chose uranium over thorium reactor technology simply because we wanted the hot by-productions of uranium fission for nuclear weapons. A thorium reactor is under construction in India that is scheduled to be in operation later this year. We could and should be doing the same.

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  42. anticsrocks says: 44

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the Japanese people. I looked at the photos of the damage and the devastation is horrendous.

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  43. GREG, hi, we learn every day, I never heard the name THORIUM,
    My step son’s horse’s name is THOR, that is all I knew,
    It’s very interesting to read, It seems to have a potential to get businesses interested,
    too manage that resource, thank you

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  44. blast says: 46

    @Greg: good feedback. I hope the decision is not made by those who have a vested interest in supporting the lesser technology.

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  45. John Cooper says: 47

    Wordsmith: In reading the article, it seems that only 300 people showed up for that protest. I guess the rest of the population was enjoying their nuclear-heated homes at the time.

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  46. John Cooper says: 48

    Greg writes: “The current Japanese accident should give us pause concerning expansion of the prevailing uranium-based nuclear power industry.”

    Really? Tell us, how many people have been injured or killed by nuclear power plants since their inception fifty years ago?

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  47. Greg says: 49

    @John Cooper, #48:

    Would you argue that the potential for a major catastrophe isn’t there, based on the observation that one hasn’t happened yet?

    If we’re going to expand nuclear power production–and we need to–we should expand into a nuclear technology that’s much safer, far more efficient, creates no huge problems in terms of waste, and depends on a cheap fuel that we possess in great abundance. That was my point.

    ReplyReply
  48. blast says: 50

    @John Cooper: Ever heard of Chernobyl?

    ReplyReply

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