You should probably update your story
Current radiation level near the reactors of that plant is 100-400 mSv/h, which has immediated health consequences.
The story of the three quake- and tsunami-hit reactors at Japan's Fukushima plant continues, with indications that one of the three worst-hit reactors has sustained further damage. A fire also broke out at another reactor, shut down at the time of the quake and not previously thought to be a problem, but this has now been put …
"All reports indicate the situation is getting worse, and is very serious"
Really? Would that be reports from competent scientists or from news agencies that make money by having "exciting" headlines?
I don't mean to belittle the risks of nuclear power but frankly, I think the situation has been handled remarkably well - Added to which, compare the current risks from radiation (which I understand as being minimal from my own reading) with the other effects on the area and really nuclear power is by far the smallest problem they're facing
I admit I have no knowledge beyond a degree in Physics (Different area) but really this does seem to be over-hyped.
Of course, we'll find out over the next few years who is right. I sincerely hope it's me for obvious reasons.
Thank you thank you thank you. To quote Dr Antone Brooks in that book "In my opinion, low doses of radiation are a piss-poor carcinogen and just not a big hitter when it comes to health effects. We have through our fear of radiation parlayed it into a major player when it is not".
Another excellent book along a similar thread is Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.
Thanks El Reg for continuing to report the news with regards to this, and not the rest of the media's self-stoked fire. The Japanese earthquake has enough tragedy to be reporting on without adding scaremongering to the story.
"Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!" said Lewis Page yesterday.
He even posted a link to a blog to the supposed writings of Dr Oehman - not the original one of course as the comments on their discredit it but a copy. Dr Oehman's Dad worked in the Nuclear industry, he himself works in "supply chain management"
I wonder what Lewis Page's credentials are - is he employed by the nucelar lobby?
In other news Japan's nuclear crisis has been upgraded to number six on the INES scale of nuclear accidents.
I think Mr. Page has made his thoughts on Nuclear power clear in the last couple of days (and before if you'd read any previous related articles). Yes he is being paid for his point of view - unless el Reg let him write opinion pieces for free.
Implying he is being bribed somehow to say these things is a piss poor attempt to discredit what he is saying - I'm not being paid to say this either, but I think that 95% of news is hyperbole, and that the current load of bull being reported is no exception.
Regardless of who is being paid to say what, taking money for being right doesn't make you wrong. Just potentially a bit corrupt.
Regarding the #6 scale thing, according to the INES User's Manual (2008 edition) that means that there has been a significant release of radioactive material likely to require the implementation of planned countermeasures.
Which is pretty much what happened.
Strangely, no mention of whether or not any deaths from radiation have to happen for this level to be assigned to an incident - however levels 4 and 5 both mention explicitly deaths from radiation overdose. Did they assign is a smaller level first or go straight in with a six?
To my knowledge there have been no deaths from radiation overdose, yet, even in the plant itself. Shurely shome mishtake?
It all really depends on what you call 'significant', doesn't it. I would suggest that a graphite fire and subsequent release of a lrge plume of long-lived radioactive isotopes over much of northern Europe, a-la Chernobyl would rate as significat, hence level six.
On the other hand, short releases of very short-lived isotopes (i.e. tritium in radioactive cooling water released as steam) which decay to harmless isotopes in a matter of minutes, in the immediate vicinity of the plant, raising the ambient radiation to ~6 sieverts on the same timescale, before returning to much lower levels is by no menas as 'significant'.
We have yet to see if any harmful isotopes have been released, but I suspect not. Iodine tablets have been issued to those living in the area, as a precaution against the effects of radioactive iodine releases but people have not been instructed to take them. This indicates to me that there has been no measurable level of radioactive iodine released, which means that there has been no release of core material. Some workers may have been exposed to potentially 'harmful' (but probably still actually safe) levels of radioactivity, most likely tritium which decays to nothing in a short time, and are being treated for the effects of such.
My prediction of the health effects of this episode are: No deaths, no increased incidence of cancer in the general population, minor radiation poisoning for one or two people who will make a full recovery in a matter of days or weeks.
In the meantime, 10000 people are declared missing or dead in the area from the effects of the tsunami, oil refineries are still burning (AFAIK), releasing unpleasant organic pollutants into the environment which undoubtedly WILL enter the food chain and have health effects on people. These are the sort of things that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (i.e. cause birth defects), exactly the fears that people have about the consequences of nuclear power.
You got there before me; tritium it does have a half life of about 11-12 years.
It is also mostly harmless as it only emits low energy beta radiation.
The same tritium gas is in my key ring fob, very useful if i drop it at night as I can find it with ease.
Said radio active key ring fob was purchased from el Reg back in 2003, and still glows bright enough to be useful.
?does that boffin look like he glows in the dark?
Oops, my bad - it's the oxygen isotopes produced by neutron bombardment of water that have half-lives in the minute range (i.e. Oxygen 15 or Oxygen 14). Very little tritium would be produced by fast neutron bombardment of water, only a small quantity of deuterium, which is, of course, stable.
"In the meantime, 10000 people are declared missing or dead in the area from the effects of the tsunami, oil refineries are still burning (AFAIK), releasing unpleasant organic pollutants into the environment...", and now the weather is getting colder, with snow and freezing temperatures expected (see e.g. http://english.aljazeera.net/weather/2011/03/201131411569226380.html). That is going to account for more lives over the next few days, probably more than will *ever* be attributable to the Fukushima events.
A sense of proportion would be useful amongst the nuclear worry-warts.
1) your MIT scientist is not a nuclear physicist, or a reactor engineer. He is a well educated scientist making educated guesses, and some of his information such as that in the case of meltdown the first reactor core will drop into the core catcher, are incorrect as this reactor has no core catcher. Its a good post but has been super seeded by events.
2) The worrying development at this point is the fire in an irradiated fuel storage pool. This is of concern because the variety of released nucleutides is potentially greater and more problematic.
What has probably given people in the know nightmares is that computer simulations of BWR failures show that small containment structures incorporating pressure suppression measures such as tanks, wet wells or ice condensors, offer much less security than the alternative design of a large heavy containment vessel. The small containments at Fukushima have a much greater risk of failing in the event of a catastrophic steam explosion or the high pressure ejection of the molten core - both of which could happen in a BWR.
The good news is, as Lewis points out, the production of energy in the reactor is rapidly diminishing, and with every hour the risk of further melting recedes. The reactors are slagged, but it looks like the vessels have held.
Where I disagree with Lewis is that the lesson of Fukushima is not to build more reactors now, it's to sit down and look at reactor designs and see if we need to learn lessons from this tragedy. Since we don't know the precise sequence of events that led to the loss of all off-site and on-site power for the pumps it is probably worth finding out what went wrong before proceding with new build. Fortunately we're not going to be building any more 1960s vintage reactor or containment designs; but that doesn't mean it isn't worth looking long and hard at what happened here and improving things further.
Right now, I'd be looking at CANDU reactors, not just because the Canadians are nice people, but because we could start building them as soon as possible, they work, they work well and they're safe.
I would like to see further development of Liquid Thorium Fuelled Reactors - as previously mentioned on El Reg, and as the Chinese have announced they will be developing....
Watch the excellent summarised mix of Google Talks available at http://youtu.be/WWUeBSoEnRk
Fascinating.... wouldn't have been subject to the problems currently being seen in Japan...
The emergency power generators were designed to withstand a 6.5m Tsunami, which in itself is rather unthinkable. Unluckily for the engineers who designed the plant, the 7m tsunami that hit the plant put a "spanner in the works" so to speak.
In all engineering, there is some level, which must be set. 6.5m? 21.3m? 7.5 magnitude? 8.3 magnitude? pick some numbers. The ones chosen were prudent and in every other situation yet experienced during mankind's reign on the planet they would have been collectively sufficient (the structures are all still there and intact remember, after an 8.9!). Personally, I am quite impressed that designs as old as these ones - we know so much more now and are capable of significantly better designs and implementations - have withstood what really is a massive natural disaster.
The spent fuel in the containment pool can't catch fire, it's not combustible. However aside from that minor, but important point, the fire at reactor 4 was put out within 2 hours and as of 02:00 UTC (02:00 GMT) the fire had been extinguished. But perhaps the most important point is that the pools were no on fire, the fuel was not on fire. So your post is wrong on several levels. Frankly, you're doing nothing more than falling for the media crap. as of this morning more than 12 hours (US time) after the fire was put out, the US media are still reporting a fire at the plant, not that it's extinguished and are talking of growing radiation levels when in fact the radiation levels have been falling for the majority of the last 8 hours.
No one in the media has bothered to point out that the reactors are shut down and that the issue is that the residual isotopes that decay quickly are what is causing the continued heat. Once those isotopes decay (which should happen in the next few days) the reactors will effectively go cold because the control rods are in place in all three reactors.
This entire story has been utterly mis-reported by the 'news' media. So much so that I can only describe what they are doing as scaremongering and driving panic so that they have something to report. It's not so much fun reporting that the Japanese people are reacting with stoicism and calm to a disaster that would be incomprehensible to most people. It's much sexier to open news broadcasts with days old footage of a hydrogen explosion or some anonymous nuclear fuel storage pond and then spout words like meltdown and Chernobyl. That's what beings in the viewers and advertisers.
Frankly the media's response to the calamity in Japan has been offensive. They have trivialized he loss of life by not reporting anything by the supposed international nuclear crisis unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi.
Not that it will happen, but I would so love, once this is over, for someone in a major news organization to go back and retell the story with the truth, and contrast that time line with the news reports coming from the major media organizations. There are so many 'journalists' who don't deserve the title now.
I would upvote your post about 10 times if I could.
It makes my blood boil to see BBC News headlines "Disaster in Japan" followed by a story on the difficult (but progressing) shutdown of a nuclear plant. Very little is said about the massive humanitarian disaster in the surrounding countryside caused by the earthquake and tsunami.
The biggest danger is that people focus on the minor incident and forget the major one and that much needed support is lost as a result.
The Fukushima Daiichi issue is a non-event. Japan was just struck by one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history followed by a massive tsunami with a death toll certainly in the 5 or maybe 6 figure range. Has anyone even been hurt or been irradiated enough to get a tan from the power stations issues yet? Compare with 000s dead by being crushed, drowned, electrocuted etc
The Japanese live in a wobbly part of the planet and are well prepared, but preparation is one thing, how they act when the proverbial s***t hits the revolving apparatus is what impresses. The nuclear engineers and the electric company that own the plants have demonstrated skill and integrity, and the government of Japan seems on the ball as well - but this is a non-story!
Worse, the MSM are not reporting, they seem to be making it up as they go along, scaremongering and demonstrating zero ability to deal with what is happening in factual terms.
MSM lost the plot years ago, and I removed BBC World from my TV years ago - they are as crap as CNN now - superficial, supersillious and super bad.
"the electric company that own the plants have demonstrated skill and integrity"
Which planet did you say you were on? Five senior executives commit fraud, get caught and then you declare the company has demonstrated integrity? Mind you, executives in some UK industries commit fraud on a routine basis and never get held to account.
"MSM lost the plot years ago"
That we can agree on. Though it was nice to see Walt Patterson on TV again, and I gather the UK's Channel 4 News has had John Large in.
... But the zircaloy tubes it is packed in, under certain circumstances, certainly are. If the fuel gets hot enough (through its own decay heat) zircaloy may oxidise very rapidly, i.e. burn. The reaction is strongly exothermic and thus adds additional heat to the system, which will further propagation.
Also note that the spent fuel pool of No. 4 (the one in trouble) contains a full reactor core's worth of fuel elements that have been unloaded from the core a couple of months ago (or so). These are quite hot both in the conventional and the radiation sense of the term, and if cooling fails a zirconium fire is not at all unlikely.
Such a zirconium fire will result in a white hot molten eutectic mixture of zirconium and uranium oxides, spiced up with fission fragments many of which are volatile at temperatures involved, and there will be no containment structure to stop these from getting into the environment.
So they are left with 4 fused and corroded raioactive lumps to get rid of and a large amount of the country's generating capacity ofline at a time when they rest of thier infrastructure has taken a huge hit. It will take years (decades, never?) to dismantle the site and years to get their capacity back to where it was before the quake both at enormous cost. Win!!!!
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No related to this incident but there are a number of situation where fuel is used to cool.
Dragster engines use a large quantities of fuel to cool the cylinder head as it passes through.
Many rocket engines used fuel passed round the nozzle to cool it, and film cooled ones use fuel down the sides as well.
I did spend my summer holidays in Pripyat back in 2008... ok it was only a day, but the only thing stopping me from going back for a two week break is the lack of bars, rather than the radiation levels.
You think Pripyat is unsafe? Tell that to the workers at the Chernobyl power plant, which was still operational until 2000, and to this day is still manned 24/7 by crews decomissioning the plant.
Presumably the lack of bars is not because of they have introduced prohibition but because no one lives there to staff them. So are you saying Pripyat should not have been evacuated or that every so often, having to abandon a city is not really a big deal.
oops... there goes Oldbury. Hey Bristol, Cardiff, Glouchester. Do you mind coming back in 10 years? People in Swindon... can you stay indoors for 5.
Thanks in advance.
Magnox North Limited.
Producing weapons grade plutonium under the guise of 'clean energy' since 1962.
... I have been thinking about it. The major stoppers are that it is an essentially lawless area,* which is a major downside (I wouldn't go to Somalia, Afghanistan, or even Panama for much the same reason), and, as far as I know, you need special permission to enter the area. The "radiation risk" does not even enter enter into it when I consider reasons not to go.
* I have a problem - I love places where there are few people, especially those areas that were built-up previously, but I am not the right type to be able to cope with the numbers of people living outside the rule of law.
Would anyone like to take a guess at the number of deaths (annually) that are directly attributable to coal fired power stations?
Seriously Let's look at this;
Coal mining - dangerous, there are deaths.
Burning the coal, not so dangerous, unless there is an accident, then, who knows.
Pollution - heavy metals in the exhaust gas, CO2 in epic quantities.
Coal Ash - Look this one up folks. this stuff is nasty. It contains high concentrations of dangerous heavy metals and is produced in huge quantities by coal powered power plants. It's often stored in landfill, or as a slag heap and contaminates the local water table. Of particular note is that there have been huge accidents with Coal ash containment 'ponds' failing and the resulting landslide of poisonous ash mud has killed many people.
I have to wonder how many people annually die as a direct result of generating electricity by burning coal. I bet it's far, far more than anyone things and far exceeds even the most doom laden information about Nuclear power. That doesn't even include the potential attributable death and injury caused by global climate change induced in part by increase CO2 output.
We always here about the specter of Nuclear contamination by radioactive waste or other materials. what about the contamination of the land by the coal ash, or the exhaust gasses?
Nuclear power is an easy target because people don't understand radiation, or atomic energy and whenever it's mentioned they get images f mushroom clouds or Chernobyl in their head. Nuclear energy is beset by the largest myths around, and there appears to be no sign of those myths being torn down - no matter the truth or evidence.
You discuss contamination by coal dust or exhaust gasses and compare this to nuclear waste. There is no comparison. Nuclear waste is the waste that keeps on giving. You appear to imply that coal dust is as bad as nuclear waste, will I can just imagine a terrorist group trying to make a dirty bomb from coal dust and it having the same effect as a dirty bomb from nuclear waste.
And before you try to slag me off by saying that I don't understand radiation, or atomic energy. I'm a physicist and understand exactly how nuclear fission and fusion work and the different types of fission reactors being used. Half life is an interesting concept, it all sounds good to state that something has a half life of a couple of days. The problem being is the decay is exponential which means it will still be hanging around months after the event.
Over all you sound like an advert for the nuclear industry and it appears to me that the whole industry is in major damage control mode.
We always here about the specter of Nuclear contamination by radioactive waste or other materials. what about the contamination of the land by the coal ash, or the exhaust gasses?
Nuclear power is an easy target because people don't understand radiation, or atomic energy
A physicist? Really? Yet you think that exponential decay is a bad thing? You think that a substance with a half life of a couple of days will be hanging around months later? You're correct, but let's assume you mean 2 months and look at the worst case. It will be an infinitesimal fraction of the original. Specifically it will be 1/(2^30). Which is 0.00000000093 of the original. Or roughly a billionth.
To put some perspective on it;
How many people die in car accidents in a week in the UK?
How many people are murdered in one month in the UK?
Whilst I would not claim any nuclear accident was trivial, I would suggest that like most air accidents, they are over-hyped by the media seeking to play on the fears of an ill informed public in order to sell papers and air time.
The triumph is there, if you look, you simply don't wish to see it.
Show me a power plant anywhere else in the world that can survive a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a Tsunami higher than 7 meters and still be halfway safe or even partially operable. Go on, oh, wait, you can't, because they don't exist.
The earthquake was of 9.0 magnitude at the epicenter, not at the nuclear site.
The nuclear reactors also did not survive, they are extremely expensive wrecks by now.
The so called triumph seems to come from the idea that anything short of a chernobyl-like catastrophe is a success.
A very intelligent man once said: never start a project until you have set a standard for failure.
Could it be that the pro-nukes-crowd's idea of a failure is "something visibly worse than Chernobyl"?
Let's just hope and pray that the economical desaster that has become Japan's nuclear energy rests at that and does not become an ecological desaster as well.
You're missing my point, Highlander.
The "triumph" swipe is directed at the person that wrote the original report, "analysis" he called it. The mistakenly called "journalist" reported on a win before the horse had crossed the line. And he lost the bet. Real journalist report on facts and may construct an analysis that factual-based to inform others.
As to the engineering of the plant, what does that matter now? Unsinkable ships and 100%-safe nuclear power plants.
I feel sorrow for those putting themselves in danger to control the plant. Japan has already a human tragedy caused by the tsunami, the last thing they needed is another caused by human arrogance ("Sure, we can build them safely. Duh...").
Now imagine a coal ash slurry pond(s) being hit by a similar Tsunami and getting spread over the land and/or washed out to sea. I think that would have received some press, but anything with the word "nuclear" in it is obviously easier to scaremonger with.
Can we get the radiation levels in the 1km-away-from-plant range, rather than the licking-the-fence range?
Do I detect something rather less triumphalist than Lewis's last, rather ill-considered headline? Whatever this is, it is not a triumph for nuclear. It may not be a full-on environmental disaster, but it's going to be extremely expensive to clear up.
The obvious question to ask is whether the risk assessment was done correctly, and was this taken into account in the placement of the plant? Tsunami is a Japanese word, so they can hardly plead ignorance as to the vulnerability.
The rather stupid thing here is that the measures required to place the relevant parts of the plant beyond the reach of a tsunami are probably going to turn out to be considerably less than the clean up costs, the writing-off of the remaining plant life and the economic damage caused by loss of generating capacity. Fair enough, the loss of life is likely to be limited, albeit the emotional impact of poisoning land cannot be ignored. However, the economic cost is much worst and much of it could surely have been avoided.
So was it a triumph for the nuclear industry? Decidely not I would say. Much better is to be a bit humble, learn lessons and not over-state cases. This was a bit of a cock-up by the original designers as what has happened is a far from unlikely scenario. Most likely optimistic assumptions were made and short-cuts taken.
I'm guessing here (and, apparently, the only commentard here to admit that - I can only wonder how the rest of you, clearly employees of TEPCO currently deployed at Fukushima, have time to be commenting here), but presumably having the plant near plenty of water was a direct result of the risk assessment being done "correctly" - to cope with exactly the circumstances that they are currently (successfully) dealing with.
Hardly worth replying to an idiot, but I guess I can't resist it.
Firstly, who the hell suggested building nuclear plants away from copious supplies of water? Everybody knows thermal power stations need that. However, it's not beyond the wit of mankind to place the critical parts of the plant out of reach of the tsunami, yet being close enough to the coastline to pump water. The important thing here is that the backup generators were apparently disabled by the tsunami and, at the very least, such critical backups should have been protected - or maybe the plant could have been built on a platform excavated into the hillside sufficiently high enough to be out of reach of any tsunami that might reasonably be expected. Or possibly there are diversionary barriers that can be built - you can't stop a tsunami, but you may be able to direct it away. You do not need oceans of water to provide emergency cooling for a reactor - it's only the residual heat and that generated by the decay products that need to be dealt with. That's a tiny fraction of the energy produced under power, but the important thing is to keep the emergency cooling circulating which is what failed here. Now this all costs money, but a fraction of the economic costs we've seen here.
Also, whilst I'm not a nuclear engineer, I'm a physics graduate and involved in critical IT infrastructure. The issues of multi-layered protection, risk management, recovery procedures, disaster scenarios and so on are not so different. Oh - and without going to much into it, some of those IT systems are critical. If they fail, people will die and the costs will be enormous on some of these systems (albeit not in the billions).
Now mine are just suggestions - but whatever happened, something has gone very wrong and I find it not credible that this couldn't have been forseen and dealt with. Probably it was cost cutting and optimistic assumptions that held sway - read Richard Feynman's account of the Challenger disaster and he describes very well the systemic issues that occur in a project which screw up the risk assesment process.
"Also, whilst I'm not a nuclear engineer, I'm a physics graduate and involved in critical IT infrastructure. The issues of multi-layered protection, risk management, recovery procedures, disaster scenarios and so on are not so different."
Great, then what are you doing in I.T.? Obviously you should be Senior Director of Hindsight at TEPCO?
Might I suggest that addressing the issues and arguments rather than misdirected sarcasm is the appropriate thing to do. Questions regarding the placement of nuclear facilities vulnerable to a tsunami on a coast with known vulnerabilities are surely valid questions to be asked.
I think when the dust has settled on this issue, to use an unfortunate metaphor, we will see that all governments with coastal nuclear facilities vulnerable to tsunami will be evaluating how well their plant is protected. Some might argue that is in hindsight, but that does not, to use another unfortunate metaphor, hold water as there have been others warning of the dangers of nuclear plants in geologically active areas for many years.
here's one example at plucked at random. It might, or might not, be valid. It's clear that the Japanese got this one wrong.
Foot in mouth 101.
Your false assumption that the tsunami risk was not part of the design permeates you pointless post. Not only was it known, it was factored in at a phenomenal 6.5m. Unluckily, it seems that the unthinkable of 7m occured. Your "suggestions" show that you know little and have bothered to find out less
if you need a copious supply of water, then it makes sense to build on the coast...
but why the Pacific coast, why not the coast of the Sea of Japan? -much less risk of tsunami in that nice more sheltered patch of water?
if for this fact alone surely the comments about "was the risk properly assessed" or "was the site a wise choice" actually make sense.
Require to be sited near large quantities of running water so that effective cooling is provided to remove the waste heat and make best use of all the energy in the steam. It's all about thermodynamics.
I suspect the original commentator was meaning by his/her post was that Japan has an Earthquake and Tsunami history. Siting a Fng Dangerous power station close to the sea, while a good idea from the point of view of cooling, was executed badly in that far to little thought (economic and Engineering) was given to the consequences of a massive water ingress and the failure cascade that might ensue. Even back in 1970's we executed FMEAs - we just called them different things then.
That being said, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had the designers/builders included the Tsunami level in their calculations they might have doubled or trebled the cost making the whole project at the site marginal with everything that follows from that. However, the Kobe earth quake should have been a wake-up call and if it was it wasn't sufficient. The nuclear clean up costs will be, probably/hopefully, only a small proportion of the overall recovery costs.
We should learn the lesson and make sure, if we are unfortunate enough to be forced down a major Nuclear route, that we include proper costings for failures and keep a constant watch for continuous improvement in safety assessment. Think Buncefield and Flixborough.
I don't think I've read anything on here that has suggested that we should blithely stick nuclear power plants everywhere without a) learning where improvements can be made, and b) doing the risk assessments that are required by law in most countries (and before you ask, I did read Lewis's "triumphalist" article).
I'm not sure what you are getting at, really. What has been shown is that a 40 year old design of reactor has at least met its design brief, and probably exceeded it. There have obviously been some problems with the backups (or we wouldn't be discussing this), and it is clear that, with hindsight, there were some assumptions made that were not safe. Again with hindsight, it is clear that some of these assumptions could have had a significant safety margin built in relatively inexpensively (e.g. putting the backup pumps and power supplies higher than the reactor).*
The cost of dealing with the the damage caused by the earthquake and mere water (broadly defined, and not merely economic) are going to make the nuclear power station decommissioning/repairs look trivial. We will probably never see the costs (again, broadly defined) of dealing with the burning refinery,** but they will be as important to risk assessment as anything that has happened at Fukushima.
*However, I understand that this is irrelevant in modern reactor designs, since the water supply is gravity fed, with power needed to get the water out, not to put it in. Risk assessment was clearly performed long before this particular incident.
** Has anyone seen a casualty list from the refinery or around it? I'm not saying it isn't there somewhere, but it isn't all over the news.
There is an article in Today's Telegraph via Wikileaks diplomatic cables which states that representations had been made to Japan that their nuclear reactors were not sufficiently safeguarded against earthquake risks
Worth noting for those that point out that this was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and that the reactors were designed for magnitude 7 that this was nowhere near the epicentre. What really matters is the ground level accelerations that are experienced.
Go read what I originally posted (before some idiot called me a commentard) and you'll see that is pretty well what I said. The one difference is I have a very strong suspicion that the original risk assessment was heavily affected by short term financial considerations and overly optimistic scenarios.
I've no doubt that the total cost of clearing up after the tsunami overall will be far higher than the problems with the nuclear plant, but the latter will still be a considerably proportion of the whole and distinctly less than trivial. Just rebuilding the lost capacity is bad enough, but the clean up is now going to be enormous too. If the worst happens and a significant portion of Japan's limited land suitable for occupation we deemed uninhabitable, then it would be worse again. I think the Japanese nuclear industry needs to admit to the errors made here and why it won't happen again. I simply don't buy the idea that this is a one in ten thousand year event - it simply doesn't match with what we know. I'd be amazed if these consequences couldn't have been avoided - if a 40 year old design was inherently dependent on the auxilliary power supply for emergency cooling, then it should have been protected to a much higher level.
The lasting issue of this failure of the nuclear facility is going to be economic and not health. That was the lesson of Three Mile Island. I should add that I'm not anti-nuclear; far from it. But this is not a time for triumphalism - there is something in the nature of the longevity of radioactive contamination that means it needs special levels of attention, even if some of it is to deal with the psychology.
Wow - that really touched a nerve didn't it? Although I think if you read what I actually wrote, I called myself a commentard too.
Clearly in your vital work as a life-saving-physicist-cum-network-admin you're not used to people disagreeing with you. I'll leave you to it - you're obviously quite right, I just hope you're consulted on all future engineering decisions.
was a bit dismayed I missed the comments boat on the other piece you did, but good job.
I think everyone has to remember that while radioactive material is inherently dangerous, so is being a few thousand feet in the air. Planes make that risk tiny, and good engineering at nuclear plants make the risk of radioactive material being dangerous to the general public tiny.
It's ok to be scared of high dose radiation, but that doesn't automatically mean you should be scared of nuclear power, in the same way that I'm scared of coming face to face with a tiger, but not too worried about running into one in my back garden or the local park.
I wish more people would read informed articles (like this one) and lookup a little of the science behind it before spouting the usual bullshit that just scares other people. This applies to many things.
I have nothing but admiration for those techs. Constantly fighting to get a nuclear power station to a stable situationm quite a few of them most likely have their families holed in some sports centre 30 miles away as their own houses and possessions may have been destroyed.
You think you have it bad when a user's PC falls to pieces or a database backup failed to work.
the IAEA are reporting a measurement of 400 *milli*Sv/hr "between units 3 and 4", while pointing out that this "is a local value at a single location and at a certain point in time". Anyone suffering continuous exposure at this level would become very ill within a few hours and have a lethal dose after 12 hours.
I'm hoping that the 8 mSV/hr figure is the 'real' one (for comparison, a commercial airline pilot could expect to receive 8mSv exposure during a year's normal flying).
...the source of the radiation detected is particularly short lived isotopes that pose no long term health threat.
These reactors will be cold by the weekend. The control rods are in place, all that is left is the decay heat as the transient short lived isotopes created during operation decay. The reactor temperatures will cool gradually as more of the isotopes cease being significantly active. This is inevitable, and why a Chernobyl style meltdown can't happen. The other thing is that Chernobyl was an uncontained reactor which used graphite rods in it's design. The fire inside the reactor building was naturally fed by the heat of the reactor and the graphite burning. As the heat increased the fuel rods broke down and the radioactive material was sublimed into the smoke of the fire, hence the release of actual fuel in the fire.
These reactors are boiling water reactors, they don't use graphite or any combustible material in the reactor. The control rods are in place, and their are several elements to the containment system of the reactors. A Chernobyl incident can't happen with these reactors.
Something doesn't seem quite right with the units being quoted, with the BBC suggesting radiation levels about 100 times greater than El Reg.
From the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12740843:
"After Tuesday's blast, radiation dosages of up to 400 millisieverts per hour were recorded at the site.
A single dose of 1,000 millisieverts causes temporary radiation sickness such as nausea and vomiting."
vs this article:
"Following the apparent release from inside the suppression chamber, radiation levels at the site briefly rose to 8217 microsieverts per hour "
& from Wikipedia Background Radiation article:
"The worldwide average background dose for a human being is about 2.4 millisievert (mSv) per year."
Is there a milli/micro mistake somewhere, or am I missing something?
I've been looking through a few wikipedia articles on nuclear power and radiation and I must have seen at least half a dozen units for measuring radition intensity. Would someone be kind enough to enlighten me as to the current estimated level and how much is need for significant health problems or (God forbid) a fatal amount?
I thought of one too: a lewis (with of course millilewis and microlewis and kilolewis and etc. employed as needed.
A lewis would be the amount of radiation that, no matter how high (or not) it is, proves indubitably (within a day of "analysis") that nothing is or could ever be a big deal. After all, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fine nowadays, aren't they? So, there, no big deal. They must, by definition, have been exposed to one lewis dose of radiation.
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I think the mSv / uSv depends on where you measure. The 1304GMT update here mentions both;
"radiation monitors detecting 400 millisieverts/hour in the vicinity of the plant's reactor no. 3 shortly before it burnt out"
"Radiation levels at the plant gate rose to 8000 microsieverts/hour during the fire"
So there's a ~500x drop in radiation level by the time you get to the plant gate. As with any scientific reporting, it's important to understand exactly what the figures mean, rather than just reading the headlines...
(but it's not your fault, as nobody really seems to be interested in accurate reporting anyway ;-).
The radiation level as it was measured very close to reactor number three spiked to 400 mSv/h for a short while. A different sensor, located on the border of the plant measured 8217 µSv/h -- which can be easily explained by applying the infamous inverse square law.
So no real inconsistencies, just that world+dog needs to find a better 'scientific' editor for their publication/tv-station/...
"easily explained by applying the infamous inverse square law."
Inverse square law applies to omnidirectional stuff (there's a posher word for it, isotropic maybe?). Typically stuff that comes out and behaves like waves (light, RF, sound, etc) unless specifically instructed otherwise by e.g. lenses, mirrors, obstructions, etc.
It is entirely inappropriate to apply inverse square law to stuff blown by the wind or by tidal currents (eg particles of nuclear industry toxic waste).
Of course there's flak if you are going to attempt to write Chernobyl off as "56 dead".
Or call Fukushima "entirely safe" after people have died. I know, I know - the reference was in regard to the nuclear threat blah blah blah - but it does come across as a bit callous to gloss over the death of people who died in the line of duty, just to push a point.
You can lead a Horse to water but you can't make it drink.
For a world that prizes knowledge it's a sad state of affairs when someone who actually knows something gets shot down by people that don't have a clue what they are actually talking about.
I guess that's why gossip mags enjoy such good circulation.
You think Lewis know's something, he was guessing in his original article that all way well, if is not.
Just watch the nuclear lobby in this.
Before the accident, it was that there are layers of safety, even in the event of an earthquake there are safety systems in place, loss of cooling could not happen.
Then we had the earthquake and tsunami - predicatble events - it turns out the generators we build at ground level because there was a wall to defend them against a tsunami - so much for layer upon layer of safetly.
So, they wheel out Dr Oarmen, his dad worked in the nuclear industry - a fake blog post from his 'relative' and instructions for this to be copied far and wide, similar sounding twitter posts. Anyway, Dr Oermen told us that the container would not be breached and escaping radioactivity would be gone in seconds, nothing to worry about. This will not be another Chernobyl.
So, today the containment is breached, radioactivity is detected in Tokyo - so much for the safely outside the fence.
Now we have Lewis posting how Chernobyl was no big deal there were only 63 deaths, by implication, no other health effects - retards posting about the black death.
So, what is Lewis preparing us for? Chernobyl not that bad and radioactivity harmless, make a daily dose on of your five a day.
It would have been best to shut up rather than prematurely claim a triumph.
If you actually research the information on this story, you can find it, all. The original article and this one are factual in all regards about the events at Fukushima Daiichi. I understand that reality may in fact conflict with your world view, and there's nothing much I can do about that, but it is, what it is.
But at least he does correctly dose-by-hour, etc. stuff a lot of quantitatively-challenged journalists just copy from a bad NHK translation.
Actually, Lewis seems to have missed the worker with 109 mS exposure - not enough to cause radiation sickness, but enough to raise cancer rates for leukemia significantly, and to possibly sterilize.
100 mS is only temporary sterility. A MUCH more massive dose is needed for permanent damage. Plus I guess the workers have protection "there."
How long before the cooling becomes non critical? Each one is still generating maybe 500kW? Does this carry on dropping off to the point where an hour's loss of cooling becomes a non-issue, or are they stuck in this state for months? How soon before closer inspection becomes feasible? Can we expect more precise monitoring over the next 24 hours might give some clues about the extent and half-life of the contamination or is it all going to be guesswork?
Who said it will continue indefinitely? The original poster's question is pertinent. What is the rate of cooling, muppet? Several days of spraying water on it seems to have had much less of an effect than we'd like, so I suspect you'd do better shutting your bloody fast mouth too... Or are they paying you per post here?
Ok, you flame the OP for asking the question and suggesting figures as high as 0.5MW
Reactor 1, the smallest of the bunch, is rated at 439MW electrical output from 1380MW thermal.
From Wikipedia - After a day, the decay heat falls to 0.4%, and after a week it will be only 0.2%.
So after a day, I read that as 5.5MW of heat; after a week, half that.
Reactors 2 and 3 are 2381MWt, so 9.5MW after a day, and still 4.8MW after a week.
Which is not insignificant.
Much better piece than your earlier effort. That one while it was fundamentally accurate was Clarksonesque in it's zeal and so quite harmful to the message it attempted to portray. This piece has a much more professional tone - bravo.
Meanwhile Merkel has the German nations knee jerking so hard and fast their boot might take out the ISS.
in about 5 years time demand will be oustripping supply in the uk.
a few days in the dark,
no street lights, traffic lights, traffic management CCTV - therefore major accidents on all trunk roads.
no runway lights, no atc, no ils, VOR offline - therefore aircraft dropping from the sky left right and centre
all because the bleeding wind isnt blowing hard enough.
might just make people wonder how likley it is that we are going to see a 9.0 earthquake, AND 100 foot wave rushing 10km inland at a couple of hundred miles an hour.
maybe those people will hold a different view.
Is the general populace being awakened to the nuclear saftety lie. No ammount of ranting from
regtards supporting nuclear will make ANY difference. I am loving their frantic scramble to defend the indefensible.
The pundits are just upset their long time propaganda campaign to increase the use of reators has been torn to shreds and thrown in the bin.
There are more deaths amongst coal miners in a single year than there have been directly caused by nuclear energy in the past 60 years. Much like you are more likely to die in an accident on the way to the airport than one in the airplane, yet people just love to worry about the daftest things. and they try to use any excuse to show that they are right to worry about it. I would suggest those people use precautionary principle and stay in bed in case something happens, but then again as more people die in bed than anywhere else, where does that leave you?
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So what if coal fired electricity generation causes more deaths than nuclear - I don't think anyone is clamouring for a coal fired power plant to be built in their backyard either? What is the point of this line of reasoning?
I should be more afraid of coal than nuclear? So if a coal mine collapses then the area for dozens of kms around needs to be evacuated???
The thing is, a disaster in the coal fired electricty generation chain is a disaster sure, but unlike nuclear it probably won't affect anyone 1,000+ years in the future. I'm afraid of nuclear because of it's ability to create a problem that lasts longer than human civilization has so far.
And it's not only the potential problem that "can't possibly ever happen because everything is so perfectly safe", it's also the problem that is a planned part of the process through the issue of nuclear waste.
Who cares if coal causes more deaths, we need to find a way to get along with less of both, imho.
I think it's about time Lewis Page tells us all what qualifies him to tell us all what a non-event this nuclear distaster apparently is (according to him).
The register should stick to tech news rather than biased opinion pieces rehashed from elsewhere. Congratulations on learning how to avoid copy-and-paste abuse by rewriting other people's work.
Sorry but I haven't noticed any credits to Dr Josef Oehmen for your articles despite the fact that the vast majority of your work seems spookily similar to his.
Your failure to be neutral on your reporting is something you need to work at.
I heard one Japanese commentator on a TV interview say that the problem was a lack of fuel( to power the back-up generators to power the cooling systems). I guess they expected to use the power from one of the other reactors to power the shutdown systems of a failing reactor. Or the fuel leaked
Nice to know if its the story
The problem was that power for emergency cooling was provided by diesel generators (you can't rely on the other reactors - they all automatically shut down due to the earthquake). This appeared to have worked find immediately following the earthquake but were disabled by the tsunami that followed a few tens' of minutes later. At that point there was only battery power which only had short duration.
That, at least, was the main issue. Note that it doesn't require huge amounts of power to drive the emergency cooling as it's only dealing with residual heat and that generated by the decay of relatively short lived isotopes in the fuel roads (which are produced as a result of the fission process).
it would have been a really good idea to site the generators (or at least their air intakes) far out of reach of any tsunami.
This is what bugs me a bit about all the "but this was an old design, now we know better!" talk. This was a low-tech failure mode, one that people driving land rovers in wild places have dealt with for decades. It would have been cheap to retrofit on an existing old plant, just run some sturdy ducts up high in the building. Yet somehow, it was completely unanticipated. If we're so much smarter now, how did this cheap preventive measure elude us? And what "obvious" preventive measures are being overlooked in the newer better reactors?
Though from reading reports it was a 6.5 meter wave they built defences against and they got a 7 meter wave. Not sure how reliable that is.
This is the negative of building on the coast I guess to go allongside the positives
I do agree though, design lesson from this is stick it on the roof !
Maybe underground fuel storage, water proof engine & very highly placed exhaust ?
who thinks he is intellectually superior to everyone else (though never the ones smart enough to be able to humiliate him. Those he always sucks up to). This geek decides a thing is good, and it absolutely does not matter how serious it's associated risk, doesn't matter if millions of people think it is very dangerous, or other very knowledgable people think if something can go wrong, sooner or later it will so you should never ever treat certain risks with contempt. This geek never gives a flying fuck about anyone else. His arrogance is pathological.
Oh, I expect there are girl geeks like this, but I never met one. I don't say 'he' because I'm a misogynist.
Also, it always looks like a reaction to having been largely ignored at school on account of having been neither tough nor cool. They make a career of a fit of pique. They're never as smart as they think they are (kind of like Mensa members not catching onto the importance of humility).
And they seem to be crawling out of the woodwork this week!
"Oh, I expect there are girl geeks like this, but I never met one. I don't say 'he' because I'm a misogynist."
No, you say that because you haven't met enough girls.
"And they seem to be crawling out of the woodwork this week!"
You have to be shitting me, you've literally only just noticed that everyone in the internets is indistinguishable from from a semi-retarded sociopath with all the happy social skills of Jack the Ripper ?
Where the fuck have you been ?
...you say 'he' because you are a misandrist byt he sounds of it.
Just because millions of people believe something to be true does not make it so. For a proof in point, pick any major religion, if it's teachings are true, then there are BILLIONs of followers of other religions that are wrong. Conversely, if you happen to have picked the wrong religion, then BILLIONS of people INCLUDING YOURSELF are wrong.
On the other hand, you could read up about a subject, so that you understand what you are talking about and then present the facts as you understand them to others less well educated as yourself; if this makes you a geek and somehow arrogant then so be it. It doesn't make you wrong.
I thought this author would have stopped writing after his brilliant analysis yesterday. I hope for his sake he's being well compensated by the nuclear industry for his efforts.
The fuel is cooling but so is a boiling kettle in the instant it's removed the stove. If the uranium is uncovered long enough to melt, it can form a critical mass at the bottom of the vessel and in the absence of artificial safety measures like added boron, it will resume fission. These are real problems in a system that does not fail-safe, and as we have seen, the natural modes of failure have completely overridden all the safety engineering.
Pumping seawater is an act of final desperation.
The bottom of the vessel is designed so that if the core melts into liquid, it will spread out rather than pool. It wouldn't resume fission - it would just cool, become solid again, and become a real headache to clean up. Pumping seawater is not the final resort; the containment vessel is the final resort (duh).
The control rods fell into place automatically when the earthquake hit and the reactors shut down. They failed safely. The residual isotopes that are decaying are providing less than 1% of the normal heat the reactor creates and are decaying quickly. The cooling efforts and boric acid will inhibt this further. But ultimately, the reactor will cool naturally. the system is designed with three failure mode backups. the primary cooling system, the diesel driven backup, the batteries and finally the fire system used to inject sea water and boric acid. As another commenter points out the failure mode of the reactor is that if the core suffers a catastrophic melt down, it falls to the base of the reactor containment vessel and solidifies in a safer state.
There's a thing called research, do it.
so, "the reactors... failed safely", did they? what definition of safety are you using?
a bunch of hydrogen explosions that blew the concrete tops off the buildings doesn't seem all that safe to me. neither are the releases of radioactive material. even if they have short half-lives and are mostly getting blown away from population centres. nuclear power stations are not supposed to leak radioactivity into the environment. so if they do, there's clearly a safety problem.
it's also far too early to assess the impact of these incidents. nobody knows for sure if things are "safe" or not. though we can say there's not been a catastrophic leak of of radioactivity. so far.
it doesn't seem safe that the reactor design didn't have enough backup systems to keep the cores from getting too hot when the main cooling systems failed.
Are they expecting a severe earthquake followed by a tsunami? This situation is dire, for sure, but I think if you load up those Powerpoint slides and look under the one titled "Worst case scenario", it would be this.
Actually, it possibly could have been worse, the station could have been hit with the 7m wall of water, destroying everything, damaging the cores, which then blew up... While we all think bad things about nuclear, just keep in mind what they endured on March 11th.
Because they have elections coming up in three months and the voters that actually grasp the complexities of the subject are by far outnumbered by those who are afraid of what they don't understand.
So there's a 'review period' that concludes after the elections, after which can be decided that the stations are deemed to be safe anyway and restarted. Those that have to manage the shutdown/restart and keep the grid going in the meanwhile had better not planned a vacation until then.
The obvious figure missing is the comparison with other energy sources. What is the rate of deaths-per-megawatt for coal, gas, oil, wind, hydro, etc.? What would be the increase in death rate if we used less electricty and thus had darker streets and colder homes?
(*Also tally cancers-per-megawatt, birth defects-per-megawatt, etc.)
Read Sustainable Energy — without the hot air, by David JC MacKay.
He gives a mesurment of “deaths per GWy (gigawatt-year).”
Nuclear being the lowest (read Safest) at less than 0.2 deaths per GWy, very closly followed by wind.
Oil is just over 4 deaths per GWy.
If you are going to count cancer/birth defects as well, I presume you are interested in the local radiation level.
Well there has also been a study that shows that the area surrounding a coal fired power station has far higher radiation levels than that around a nuclear power station! The released gases contain radioactive particles.
Pro nuclear - Yes
Biased - Yes
But I think we should be thinking about the 'Real disaster' and the suffering of those affected by the earth quake and tsunami.
An interesting point. Most nuclear power starts off with ripping up the landscape of people who can't defend themselves against the rapacious mining corporations that must have their dose of profit. Environments and indigenous peoples just don't count for mining corporations - they're real Untermenschen. That's before it's decided who and where will have the resulting crap dumped on them - at no cost to the mining corporations, since our supine governments see this as their/our public duty. Doubtless some bright spark will have a good idea - the crap can be dumped where the original material came from, because the environment there has been destroyed anyway, and we all know that the people there don't count.
Since when is nuclear power cleaner or less deadly than, say, tar oil? Oh, and like conventional oil, the raw material's running out.
According to a nuclear spokesperson on today's World At One, the backup diesels were designed to withstand a tsunami of 6 metres. The one on Friday was around 10 metres.
I guess that helps explain why they lost backup power so catastrophically, leading to the events we've seen over the last few days...
Still, it's relatively simple to correct this problem in future reactor designs (either through better backups, passive cooling or a combination of the two). Although I don't quite agree with Lewis's "build more reactors NOW!" stance, it seems there''s no fundamental reason why new designs of reactor couldn't be shut down safely in what are clearly very extreme circumstances.
As Lewis points out, the presence of the reactors has (so far) not really added to the dangers already faced every day by the residents of Japan.
> As Lewis points out, the presence of the reactors has (so far) not really added to the dangers already faced every day by the residents of Japan.
this is utterly wrong. ask the 1-200,000 people who have had to be evacuated because of the problems at fukushima. ask the japanese rescue services and civil defence forces who were already overwhelmed dealing with the aftermath of the quake and the tsunami. or how about the problems to the rest of japan from the power cuts because of the failed nuke plants and the others that have had to be shut down until they can be checked. all of these are consequences of using nuclear reactors. they wouldn't have happened if the tsunami had taken out a handful of coal or gas burning power stations.
the tragedy in japan has definitely not been helped by having fukushima blow up and spew radiation about. you and mr. page should know better.
I suggest you go find out (a) how many GW of power is generated at Fukushima Daiichi versus how many coal fired stations would be needed to replace the Fukushima Daiichi complex. Next, figure out where you are going to build them and how you are going to deal with the logistiocs of a coal fired plant. There are many many difficulties with coal-fired as previous posters have noted. Keep in mind that vast tracts of flat land are not something Japan has a lot of
Nuclear has real advantages, especially when there are no coal mines nearby.
As for coal, well I am from one of Japan's primary sources of coal, and grew up spitting distance from a pit head. I know first hand about the costs of coal.
Problem is, Tepco as well as Japanese authorities already admitted that the vessel of reactor #2 is breached and no more impenetrable.
Not to mention those pools where nuclear combustible (from reactors #4,5,6) is not immersed anymore and is burning freely, spilling radioactive material into the air without any control (but here there are no vessels in the first place, so no chance they'd get breached, indeed).
And this is only what Japanese authorities are daring to admit for now.
Next time, better stick to facts rather than highly biased opinions that are proven wrong just a few hours after publishing.
I, for one, applaud El Reg for continuing to give an alternate view point to the normal mainstream stuff.
It doesn't matter whether a particular article is way off base or not, it's important to know there's an easily accessible (and popular) source where one can look at the other side of the coin.
In a world where every single news source toes the same line, alternatives are vital.
Well done El Reg
Tribal authorities confirmed this morning that runaway exothermic oxidation reaction occurred in Cave No.3 at or around 03:00am last night. As of this moment the situation remains fluid and rapidly developing. It could be positively ascertained that the runaway reaction occurred when the operators allowed the stored ready-use fuel rods to accidentally come into close proximity to the reactor pit.
An operation to supply additional fire suppressant to the accident site initially proved unsuccessful due to slippery conditions outside the cave, prevailing darkness and misplaced emergency buckets, but after several attempts the reaction was brought under control and the residents of the affected cave evacuated.
The authorities are carrying out damage assessment operations and decontamination procedures. Some sources speculate that the damage sustained by the cave may be beyond economic repair.
Residents representatives of Caves No. 5 and 7 have called for an immediate ban on all exothermic oxidation processes in open pit reactors and an urgent review and suspension of any further oxidation reactors development plans. Caves No.5 and 7 are known to specialise in production of thermal clothing and fur-clad head- and foot-wear.
Reports from Cave No.2 suggest that an open pit reactor operator may have been terminated and eaten as a precaution.
I could be wrong, however I always thought that control rods were inserted into the reactor to speed the reaction up not slow it down.
Nuclear fission generates high energy neutrons, however these high speed particles tend to pass straight through the fissile material. To make the reaction sustainable a moderator such as graphite is lowered into the reactor to slow the neutrons down and encourage them to cause further fission.
So to shut a nuclear reactor down, you withdraw the control rods.
Of course I could be totally wrong here and have completely mis-remembered my nuclear tech lectures.
AFAIK control rods are boron to absorb said neutrons and slow the reaction. tho on a similar note i always thought they sat above the fuel and were lowered in - or dropped in the event of a snafu with the control system - hence fail safe. though al the pretty little graphics universally show these rods being jacked up into place. could just be the graphics dept?
Again, this is what I understand from years of casual study, so I am not an expert.
The control rods form a part of the control system. They are not normally either completely in or completely out, they are normally partially inserted to control the speed of the reactor and thus the energy output. Whether they are above or below the core depends on the reactor design. These are apparently BWR (boiling water) reactors, and the rods are below the core, and held against hydraulic pressure by electromagnets or similar, such that should there be an interruption in electrical power, the rods will be automatically inserted by the pressure. This is a fail-safe system.
The rods allows the operators to 'damp down' (insert the rods) the reactor in times of low power demand or maintenance, and open it up (withdraw the rods) during periods of high demand. Under normal operation, you would never completely insert the rods, because that would stop the critical reaction, and effectively stop the reactor.
In the case of a serious event (such as an earthquake), it would be normal to completely insert the rods as a precautionary measure. This would effectively make the reactor subcritical, which will cause it to cool and eventually shutdown. This does not make the reactor immediately safe, but will remove any chance of it melting down. Most of the residual energy in the core will come from decay products of the U235 fission reaction that are themselves radioactive with short half-lives, and thus will spontaneously breakdown, releasing energy in the form of heat. These will breakdown naturally over a matter of days to the point where the reactor will generate less heat that it will loose through convection or conduction, and thus become 'cold'. This is what I think is meant by 'cooling fuel'.
It is this gradual breakdown of the decay products that requires cooling until a sufficient amount of them have decayed to the point that natural cooling will be greater than the heating effect.
Conversely, during startup, removing the control rods will allow the neutron flow to increase (U235 will always spontaneously decay and produce neutrons even in a non-critical reactor) until the critical point is reached, and the reactor becomes self-sustaining. Looking at sources, it appears that for a completely shutdown or new reactor (one with no uranium decay products in the fuel rods), a source of neutrons can be used as a 'starter' to speed up the build up of the neutron flux to achieve a critical reaction more quickly.
For anybody who is worried by the term 'critical', this is not being used as in 'dangerous', but as in a tipping point, in this case where the nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.
If you trust it, there are very good articles on nuclear reactors, BWR type reactors, control rods, and nuclear starters in Wikipedia. These appear quite objective and appear to me to be trustworthy, at least they do not conflict with other sources I have read.
Whether the control rods are above or below depends on the design. In BWR instances, the rods are below the core - see the wikipedia article on boiling water reactors that actually have a diagram of the Fukushima type reactor, which is why I used the terms "inserted" and "removed" rather than "raised" and "lowered".
The simple fact is control rods in, reactor slowed. Control rods out, reactor quickened.
There are also different types of rods in some other types of reactor. There are moderator rods, whose purpose is to slow fast neutrons be become slow neutrons, which will actually speed up the reactor, and then there are the control rods, which are intended to quench the neutron flow to stop the reactor.
In a BWR type reactor, the whole core is immersed in water, and the water itself is a neutron moderator. There are only one type of rod, and these are all control rods. This is very different from PWR and AGR type reactors.
Latest from IAEA:
"Attempts to return power to the entire Daiichi site are also continuing. After explosions at both units 1 and 3, the primary containment vessels of both units are reported to be intact. However, the explosion that occurred at 04:25 UTC [4.25am GMT] on 14 March at the Fukushima Daiichi unit 2 may have affected the integrity of its primary containment vessel. All three explosions were due to an accumulation of hydrogen gas. A fire at unit 4 occurred on 14 March 23:54 UTC and lasted two hours. The IAEA is seeking clarification on the nature and consequences of the fire. The IAEA continues to seek details about the status of all workers, reactors and spent fuel at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. "
When in a hole; stop digging!
Does the IAEA have a representative in Japan? I would wager they do not.
"seeking clarification"? that indicates to me they are making anally originated summations (ie. pulling it out of their collective arses).
Like ALL UN agencies the IAEA is about as useful as tits on a grasshopper, why people still lend any credence to them is beyond me.
Another excellent article Lewis .. Keep up the good work.
It seems to me that some of the commentards are saying a design is poor because it doesn't take into account a NEVER SEEN BEFORE WORLD RECORD MAGNITUDE FIRST OF ITS KIND event.
Gee, with all these planets floating about in space its only a matter of time before we collide with one, we must therefore design our buildings to withstand the destruction of earth....
Not to scare you peeps, but engineers only factor in PROBABLE events, not all possible ones.
And how many future deaths and cancers are being caused by the blazes around that gas storage facility? WHO CARES, thousands have already died instantaneously. Where is the criticism of the government for not building a 20 metre, no 60, no 5000 metre tall earthquake proof wall around the WHOLE OF JAPAN. cause you know, shoulda seen that coming (SARCASM, just to spell it out for the tardos)
This was not a world record earthquake - it's generally reckoned to be the fourth or fifth strongest ever recorded, although the geological evidence clearly shows that earthquakes of this magnitude occur fairly regularly - maybe a decade or two apart. It's also far from being a record tsaunami. In some places the 2004 tsunami is reckoned to have reached 30 metres and there are other recorded tsunami's in the 20th century that were over 15 metres, although local coastal conditions make a huge difference.
Clearly they go the assumptions were too optimistic on what is one of the most tsunami vulnerable coastlines in the world.
Even though the problems in (Fukushima, Onagawa, Tokai...) Japan are ongoing, this disaster has already proven one thing: calculating nuclear-power-related risks exceeds real human capabilities.
It may be the sheer complexity of the task, or mainly the inherent corruption of the process due to economic and political expectations. In any case, wishful science has crippled Japan for the foreseeable future by wiping out quite a bit of its electricity generation, with a considerable human toll sure to follow.
(While other technologies lend themselves to speedy repair and rebuilding, NP does not, due to the radiation and subsequent risks and dangers.)
Basing future plans on obvious imponderables does not seem sane, especially given the alternatives. While the cost comparison between renewables and nuclear has too many flavors to satisfy, they are within reach, both financially and time-wise.
I would say that calculating anything-related risks exceeds human capabilities.
At some point in time, you gotta say "go for it or stay on this spot forever". Then things will turn out well or pear-shaped [the black swan comes along] depending on what reality decides and the only thing you can hope for is to have invested enough time and money into contingency planning and fallback plans given the inevitable economic scarcity that reality saddles you with.
All this "risk calculation" mainly serves to butter the bread of plane-hopping consultants.
I also don't know about the speedy repair and rebuilding of other energy-furnishing tools in the present situation.
Wow, you could not be more wrong
"In any case, wishful science has crippled Japan for the foreseeable future by wiping out quite a bit of its electricity generation"
First of all, it was an extremely powerful earthquake followed by a massive tidal wave that has damaged japan, not "wishful" anything, lease of all science or engineering.
Secondly, just one of the other reactors on site at Daiichi replaces two of those that are having problems, so generation is unlikely to be that much of a problem.
"with a considerable human toll sure to follow."
I hate you and all your snivelling panic-ridden thinkalikes.
A day passes. The crisis worsens. Radiation levels increase over Tokyo, hundreds of kilometers away, giving the lie to the notion that only totally harmless short-lived isotopes are emitted. Still an engineering triumph? I think not. More like a slow-motion plane crash. Four nuclear reactors (so far) scrapped. The financial toll is not insignificant by any measure.
We may have to continue building nuclear reactors. But we need to account in their design for very bad failure modes, because they do occur. Engineers who I respect do not call glaring failures "engineering triumphs". They accept them in all their horror and use them to learn how to avoid such tragic failures in future designs. People who say otherwise are not engineers. They are political tools of one sort or another.
increases over Tokyo yupp its CNN
,809 micro siverts which is 2 times the normal background level.
or 1/2 your dose if you just installed a nice cornish granite top in your kitchen.
But you got to admire the media giving hour by hour reports about the problems at a stricken nuclear plant while ignoring the stench of 1000s of dead
1) The Japanese government released information that the highest level of radiation at the plant was up to 400,000 microsieverts, not ~8000. That was during the fire in the fourth reactor building, where spent fuel rods were being stored. -http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14911490,00.html. Reports state that the level has decreased considerably and is being monitored.
2) 400K microsieverts is potentially hazardous to human health. Anything over 1000K microsieverts or 1 sievert is the dose where humans start to die. These are not insignificant amounts of radiation.
3) The substructure of reactor 2 has been damaged, and the fuel rods in that reactor were without water for up to 5.5 hours. The pressure in the reactor was so high that the firehoses used to pump seawater into the reactor could not overcome it. They had problems releasing the pressure as the the emergency relief values were stuck due to lack of power and nitrogen gas used in the backup system.
4) The Japanese government has already stated that some fuel rods at reactors 1, 2 & 3 had "probably" melted to some extent
5) "The head of France's nuclear safety authority, Andre-Claude Lacoste, said Japanese officials had briefed him, saying the concrete vessel around the Number 2 reactor at Fukushima was no longer sealed. " This statement has not been confirmed.
6) "Lacoste also said that the Fukushima accident now rated a six on the international seven-point scale of severity, up from four, putting it second to the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and ahead of Three Mile Island in the US state of Pennsylvania as the world's worst nuclear accidents."
7) "The No.4 reactor's cooling pool, where spent nuclear fuel is stored, may be boiling and the water level may be falling" This is the reactor where the fire occurred, possibly as a result of uncooled spent rods. "Radioactivity at the cooling pool is high and Tokyo Electric cannot make checks at the site or determine what has burned." -http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/15/japan-quake-keypoints-idUSL3E7EF16720110315
8) "The government gave no update on the status of a steel container surrounding the core of the plant's No.2 reactor, deemed by observers as most at risk of a meltdown."
Stating that there is no possibility of a containment vessel breech at this time is an opinion, unfettered by facts.
It's possible that the vessel has already been breeched, but reported radiation levels don't seem to indicate it.
Given the damage to site already, it's possible that TEPCO has no working monitors left in the reactor and wouldn't be able to discern a small breech.
Even assuming the containment holds at the moment, if the #2 reactor loses seawater cooling for a further length of time, the rods inside in the core will melt and produce a much larger amount of heat. Given that the relief values have already had issues, the constrained stream could certainly generate enough force to breech the vessel. It might be unlikely, but certainly not "impossible"
Another reasonable possibility for the release of unacceptable levels of radiation (as a core breech isn't the only way to put human life at harm's risk) is that the "already out of the containment vessel" spent rods stored in reactors 4,5 & 6 might also lose cooling and melt, thus releasing their radioactive cores into the atmosphere directly. Given that the rods in unit 4 have lost cooling once, and that temperatures in units 5 & 6 are rising, we have yet another way to potentially expose the public.
At this point in time, there are many ways for the plant to release radiation at unacceptable levels.
Please stop trying to soft sell the issue.
"Nick Davies dared to include the Chernobyl myths of thousands dead (actually the established figure is 56"
56 people perished as a direct result of the Chernobyl explosion, the immediate aftermath, or trying to contain the radiation. Deaths and deformities that occurred after the fact were not acknowledged as such by the Soviet or Russian governments. For chilling accounts of what happened, I highly recommend Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.
It looks like there are large amounts of spent fuel rods stored in each reactor building. Why? There's a paper of a talk available (from 2010) where the company talks about building a separate building for storing spent fuel, because the amount of spent fuel is getting so large that it can no longer only be stored in the individual reactor buildings.
The company told us, that the did not worry about not cooling the spent fuel pools due to much bigger problems around. After the second explosion - which did not look at like a hydrogen explosion originating from outside the secondary containment - the spent fuel located in reactor number 4 began burning and the water boiling.
There's an image available which shows thick black smoke emerging from the power plant areal. If this smoke is from spent fuel, the radiological situation is really really really bad. The german state run TV reported shortly that the US Army was helping in putting this fire out. Nobody else reported it and I actually think that this is true and that the fact of low profile news reporting is showing that things are really worse.
The german society for nuclear reactor safety is preparing analysis for the german government. The put it online and they grabbed the japanese radiation measurements, made a graph and tried to interpret it:
The activity during the various venting events:
The activity resulting from some incident afterwards:
The whole analysis can be read here:
Unfortunately you have to invest a lot of time visiting a lot of sites with a lot of user feedback from people having operated nuclear plants to get an overview which makes technical and physical sense. I did this and - being a physicist myself - came to the conclusion that things are really really bad in Japan.
Now what I would like Lewis and other journalists to find out to clarify open questions:
1. Is the USAF flying sampling missions over the Pacific and what did/do they measure?
2. Is anybody else in addition to some german research institute creating wind and radiation spread simulations to find out where the stuff is going? Are they the only ones putting them online?
3. Has the IAEA's classified (which means data will not be published) extremely sensitive sensor network already detected traces of radioactive isotopes? The next downwind one in on Hawaii. Are there any rumours?
As I said, I things are looking pretty bad, the worst case scenario being further hydrogen or steam explosions throwing radioactive isotopes including Plutonium from MOX fuel around.
But why the pessimism? The biggest problems seem to be the external pool in 4 and the low water levels in reactor 1 and 3.
Also, how does the IAEA have a classified sensor network? Nations will object and demand data... one would think the IAEA is beholden to various nations delivering data to it, not the inverse.
Really excellent point. The situation with the spent fuel store is incredibly worrying; it was not made clear at first that they had vast quantities of spent fuel lying around in the cooling ponds.
If those fires really are from spent rods then the radiation situation just went from manageable to extremely dangerous. MOX fuel just makes it worse.
This is not a matter of nuclear safety / reactor design/ core meltdown. This is a matter of incompetent management and unsafe operation.
Well, Lewis does like to be a bit contrarian, so it's interesting to see how much contrarian spin can actually be applied and still be (mostly) consistent with the facts. This is no worse (or better) than most of the media who are hell-bent on spinning the facts in the opposite direction. I don't mind reading either point of view, so long as it's intelligently presented.
My own view is that the reactor engineering has proved itself, in that it would almost certainly have breezed through an earthquake of the size it was designed to withstand. But this one was much bigger.
If there has been a failure - and I think there has actually been a HUGE failure - it is that an earthquake and tsunami of this size wasn't considered possible. I know it's Japan's biggest, but having an earthquake bigger than you've had before isn't something you should discount when designing a nuclear power plant, especially in an active earthquake zone. And it's no good saying that these were old reactors. If that meant they were no longer up to the job, they should have been shut down.
As things stand, Japan may well prove lucky and escape without dangerous radiation release, but the measures being taken are very much seat-of-the-pants stuff. Even if they succeed, it should never have come to this, and it wouldn't have done so if the reactor design had been up to the risks posed by their location.
So this doesn't put me off nuclear power, but it does make me worry a good deal about the risk assessments and the regulation of nuclear power plants.
... is that why they built six in the one spot (with another two planned to come on stream) and another four at the twin site just up the coast ? (Yes I know two were cold for maintenance at the time).
IF we are going to have to live with this form of power generation for a while yet, then bloody over-engineer the things thrice over - and then a bit more PLEASE!
I really don't care if the chance of hot reactive gloop burning it's way through the reactor vessel is very, very slim, I just don't want to know it can happen, ever. Just make the vessel that safe it can't happen and build it over a huge pit of graphite or boron (whatever) even if it's never actually EVER going to fall in. Build three layers of containment building just for the plant as well while your at it please and make that 3 x bunker busting bomb proof (inside and out). Then I might just start to feel more comfortable with the concept that Nuclear Power is reasonably safe.
Yes I know this cluster exceeded their seismic shock specs, but running them for some forty years! - is that best practice in an industry that has such potentially dramatic side effects. Surely the IAEA should set tougher specs on the things and maybe, as many commentators have said, the IAEA should have far fewer folk from within the industry making the decisions, if in fact it needs any at all.
Yes, I know the freak tsunami overwhelmed the backup generators - but what about some off-site backup backup generation - that can either be rolled into place or power the plant from where it is.
I know all this over engineering comes at a price, but I think more and more folk would see that as worth paying in order to make an industry which already has a pretty good safety record that much safer - because lives can't be replaced when problems occur.
And - lets have a multi-disciplined approach and apply our skills, with the same vigor, to; solar, wind, wave and geo-thermal sources while we are at it - (with the appropriate "thrice over" engineering approach of course). Even the Thorium thesis should be explored fully as well - I understand it has the potential to use some of our current plutonium(?) "waste" stockpiles as fuel (that can't be bad).
Just bugger the cost - there's actually loads of money in the world to pay for it and we have the brains to find solutions too! Then we wouldn't have to send people into very, very hazardous holes in the ground to dig out coal and other stuff etc. (well except for open cast thorium / uranium mines I suppose).
I don't like it when economics are the first casualty of irrational fear. Is your car a Jankel-armored Toyota Hilux? I somehow doubt it.
Now, where could that money be? Last I checked, all the economies are 6 feet under with banks redlined, governments looking at monster deficits and impossible-to-service liabilities and the private sector trying find out how to service the credit card bill.
According to "Nuclear Scientists at MIT" my ass. This MIT guy is not a nuclear scientist. His only connection to Nuclear science is his daddy who has worked some time at a nuclear power station. He is a Dr. alright, but not in nuclear science. Take a look at his publications and you will notice his previous work is in the field of management and economy.
Getting a hobby wikipedia scientist like yourself to backup your idiotic statements doesn't make them fit for reality.
How can anybody think that a system that blows up / self-destruct while switched off should be considered as an example to be followed ? (Reactor #4 was shut down at the time of the quake, remember ?)
Nobody here has considered yet the spent fuel that is stored in pools, next to the core, outside of the containement vessel, on the last floor of the building... Some of this spent fuel undergoes decay heat too, and thus needs cooling. If keeping the core cool is such an issue, keeping the pool cool could well prove only marginally easier. Now that the roof has gone, the pool is directly exposed to the ambient air, which leaves only the spent fuel cladding as a barrier between fission products and the open air. If cladding melts or otherwise fails...
Certainly not the mainstream commercial media - nothing like a crisis/disaster to sell copy.
Certainly not the vested interests in the nuclear industry - they will downplay the risks as they have a product to push.
Certainly not the operators of the affected nuclear plants - every time they say things aren't that bad, they are; things are getting better, but they aren't; it is under control, but it isn't; there is no risk from a radiation leak, but there is; the radiation leak poses no harm to humans, but then it does.
Remember it was originally "only one reactor" with a "minor problem" then it became two, three, and now four reactors with critical problems.
Given the length of time it takes to decommission a PROPERLY shut down nuclear reactor where everything is intact (17+ years and heaven knows how much money), it will end up being a very long, messy, expensive and controversial process to bury this mess.
I hope that once and for all this disaster will utterly destroy not only the complete fiction of "safe, clean and green" nuclear power, but this entire dirty industry itself and direct all those billions of dollars into honestly green technologies.
A new fire has broken out in reactor 4, the US Institute for Science and International Security rates the incident INES 6 with potential for INES 7 - however they are still sorting out if someone has a daddy that used to work in a german power plant - like the MIT nuclear economy wikipedia scientist guy you were mentioning in your article. So it might turn out they lack the necessary expertise for such an assumption.
Doesn't seem like a bad idea with the benefit of hindsight does it. In fact the difference between the 6.5m tsunami on which the plans were based, and what happened (7m?) isn't even thrice over, so it might well have been cheaper in The Big Picture (including cleanup costs) to have made these things sufficiently robust in the first instance. Too late now though.
But if you do over engineer them sufficiently, and do include the cleanup costs on the basis of "the polluter pays" rather than the taxpayer pays, the economics don't look good any more in comparison with the alternatives. And it's the economics that's being used to justify them.
Sufficiently robust = unaffordable vs competition = byebye nuclear.
Is that what people want? Even those with a clue, as distinct from those being fed the media garbage found on CNN etc (and here too, regrettably), where the non-nuclear chaos is near invisible?
Japanese officials report that at least one of the "no chance the vessels breach" vessels already has breached and is releasing radioactive steam, radiation levels are rising, latest reports indicate rising amounts of jodium and caesium in tap water in the Fukushima area. This article is an insult to the workers risking their lives in Fukushima and to all residents already affected.
I sincerely hope this garbage stays forever, as a memento to pseudo-elitist hubris.
For 40 (!) years now I had to listen to some "My, you are a leftist/greenie, aren't you?" crap, whenever I dared mention the problems associated with nuclear waste. It is a shame that we need this horror unfolding before our very eyes to question the technical superstition of the self-defined educated classes.
Believing (sic!) in the viability of nuclear energy to this class of people is a sign of their station in society just as their Land Rovers/Volvos/Toyota Priusses are. (Let's not start with "energy-saving" mercury-vapour lights) That a man of Mr. Pages intellectual prowess and formal education could commit such a trivial but horrible error as to write a triumphant article on the very first day of a crisis which any alumnus of wikipedia-U could have known to last at least a week in a best case scenario is a sign of this quasireligious superstition of the so called educated classes.
You will never find those people in church on sundays, but question their belief in certain technologies and I assure you: a right wing priest whom you forcibly try to convert to atheism will be less emotional. Proof: the utterly silly downvotes on posts reporting actual devolopments at the powerplant.
No, don't pull these valuable documents, they will help future generations to understand our times and our superstitions.
Lewis is clearly doing a sterling job on keeping us updated on the events in Japan. I think it is our duty readers of El Reg to club together (only £1 each) and send him to the reactor site to report on just how just how safe this everything is. Of course, according to Lewis, this is a non event, but even still I think once he gets there, he might find a certain empathy with the locals.
Thanks for this nice and level-headed article. As somebody who is still doing the usual 9-to-5 routine in Tokyo I can't agree more to the view that the situation is much more under control than the mainstream media would make you believe. I'm working in a basically engineer-only environment and there have been more sneers than I can count at the media magically transforming "may have been" into "has been" or "is still going on!!!". Everybody here is sure that the confusion and fear-mongering has had more of an health impact than the radiation itself.
Here in Japan (Wednesday afternoon) the situation is stable without big news...but everything seems to have lost quite the level of urgency that the media had whipped up over the last few days.
Again, thanks for the spot-on analysis.
Lewis, there are so many inaccuracies in your story it is amazing. For example, you claim that the reaction has stopped and that only the short half-life radionuclides are now generating all the heat. That's not completely true, with the control rods in, the uranium will continue to fission, just not at the same rate. You also neglect to consider what could happen if the fuel rods melt and drip into a puddle at the bottom of the reactor. Is it possible for the blob to get big enough to start the chain reaction back up? I think so. This may already have happened.
Although this reactor has been well designed and has coped reasonably well with an incident which was beyond its design requirements - nature can and frequently does through a spanner in the works.
Also the Japanese operators have done a great job keeping everything under control. What if the operators were not as skilled or the plant itself was not as well built?
The fact that the US Navy detected radioactive particles 100 km away destroys your argument that it is only affecting the site and local area.
Nuclear in its current form has dangers and the current proponents of nuclear power are not willing to come clean on the (admittedly small) dangers.
The Register should stick to reporting about IT, something which is within its bounds of competence and an area where misreporting has limited consequences to the environment and the lifeforms which depend on it.
As I write caesium isotopes from Japan's nuclear reactors are reported to have reached the UK- completely destroying Lewis Page's assertions that only short lived isotopes could ever be released, and also destroying his credibility. But like other brands of deniers, he is not called to task for his failed predictions and instead is given more airspace in The Register to continue to spout further "head in the sand" theories about what might or might not happen.
The Register - "Mouthpiece for the Nuclear and Fossil Fuel industries, and any other right wing cause of the day!"
Once again you've gone out on a limb as the limb was being sawed off. Can I give you a double thumbs down for saying that there's no chance of a containment breach? If tomorrow I read in your column that there's no chance of a Chernobyl-like disaster, I'll know it's probably already happened.
Give it a rest. Anyone who builds a nuclear power plant in an earthquake/tidal wave zone is asking for just this kind of disaster. "Clean" energy isn't clean if it leads to catastrophe. Even if it doesn't, what happens to the spent nuclear fuel rods, which are still radioactive? Who's disposing of them, and how?
Skimming through all these comments reminded me of a saying I read once...
"The facts, however interesting, are irrelevant." (Don't remember where I saw it)
That sentence summarizes the attitude/mindset of many of the commenters here as well as that of the supposed experts & talking heads spouting crap on what on what's called "The News" today.
I've heard better and more informational reporting on the local radio station.
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