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Japanpost-earthquake nuclear crisis keeps going
March 17, 2011 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Fukushima Dai-ichi status and potential outcomes The Oil Drum has begun posting daily threads about the Japanese nuclear plant event. As during the last energy crisis, the comments there tend to have a good signal-to-noise ratio.
posted by mediareport (1789 comments total) 101 users marked this as a favorite

 
Posting new thread after reading Jessamyn's comment in MeTa.
posted by mediareport at 4:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


here's the previous (ongoing?) thread on the topic, to get everyone up to speed.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Up to speed? That would take hours. Zero to 60 in 12 hours! ;)
posted by futz at 4:20 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gregory Jaczko, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said today that getting Fukushima under control would “take some time, possibly weeks.”

[...]

Do any of us have good information? American nuclear officials came out last night and more or less said that they didn’t believe what their counterparts in Japan were saying—that it was, most charitably, too incomplete to be considered accurate. Gregory Jaczko said that “we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures,” and the water meant to keep reactor No. 4’s fuel rods cool might be not only too hot but completely gone. The reply to that, from Hajime Motojuku, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric, was not exactly reassuring: "We can’t get inside to check, but we’ve been carefully watching the building’s environs, and there has not been any particular problem."

Have they maybe noticed unparticular problems? This is the reactor in which two fires have been reported. The company also said that, at reactor No. 4, “The possibility of re-criticality is not zero,” and that it had been “re-racked”—which means that it was something like a closet with extra things stored in it, which, the BBC notes, is allowed but makes it more dangerous now. People in Japan are growing angrier about the information they have been getting, and one can see why.
cite
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 4:22 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me that it's been almost a week since the initial earthquake. Wow. I don't know if that seems like too long a time or too short. But either way, I'm 4000 odd miles from where the trouble is. The mind (and the heart) continue to fail to grasp the enormity of what's gone down (and continues).
posted by philip-random at 4:22 PM on March 17, 2011


The Mefi-specific development over there today was this:

BungaDunga: "It's "in line" on Vimeo.
and
Flipped on YouTube (long may it last).

(I agree, fairytale. The original video is presumably not compressed to shit like this is, and they must have some sort of deshaking done on their own if they thought it would be useful).

Still, why they don't have some sort of stabilized camera I don't know- I mean, if Planet Earth can do it..
"

BungaDunga: "A version without any contrast tweaks."

BungaDunga created an image-stabiliized version of the JDF helicopter flyby. The footage was flipped to avoid it being auto-yanked for (c) issues.

The #4 waste pool does appear to be visible as a reflective or glowing surface within the wreckage at about :36-:40.
posted by mwhybark at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


http://gebweb.net/japan-radiation-map/ was posted in the other thread. The readings for Fukui are approximately identical to a listing I found recently for ambient radiation readings near the Tsuruga, Fukui power plant and the latter uses nGy (or essentially nanosieverts) per hour. All of the readings on the map are currently in the " banana equivalent dose range, if that's the case.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:28 PM on March 17, 2011


The possibility of re-criticality is not zero...

I'm just astounded by that statement. Almost Rumsfeldian is the only way I can think to describe it.
posted by marxchivist at 4:29 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


From previous thread:

Live #nuketruth chat is open. Ask experts your questions http://nuketruth.yovia.com Via Yovia on Twitter.

From personal observation, I've seen a number of completely shitty "give me some hits" ploys based on the nuclear accident on Twitter. The worst one was some asshole last night repeatedly posting "REACTOR 5 IS ON FIRE" with either a link to the NHK World feed on Ustream (where they were spamming links into the chat sidebar, too) or to their own presumably-evil-trollish site.

Anything like that on Twitter without reliable sourcing probably isn't reliable.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:30 PM on March 17, 2011


Best summary of the situation from the previous thread: Nuclear Boy.
posted by sfenders at 4:31 PM on March 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


Not nuclear, but OMG surfing the tsunami in a car.
posted by warbaby at 4:31 PM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ah, confirmed from checking the "View values over time" link on that map, they are in nGy/hr (which means "you'd be worse off in terms of radiation exposure from being in an airplane, or perhaps smoking a single cigarette.").
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:31 PM on March 17, 2011


Thanks, mediareport. That old thread was getting unwieldy.

To start this one off, let's recap with the best Fukushima-crisis-related video of the last twelve hours: "Nuclear Boy has a Stomachache". It's sort of the modern version of "Duck and Cover" from 1951 -- an animated cartoon aimed at kids to talk about nuclear safety.

It brings a bit of much-needed levity to the situation.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the new thread. The old one was unwieldy. And thanks to everyone for the good work. It's been riveting.

And now, back to our continuing MetaFilter team coverage of Japanese Atomic Shitstorm '11.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:33 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like Nuclear Boy. It's cute and reassuring, but emphasizes that it's not certain everything will be a-okay.

I just wish it also described the danger of the spent fuel situation. Perhaps nuclear boy keeps his favorite poos in a hot tub on the fourth floor of his house? And the hot tub is leaking and getting hotter?
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:34 PM on March 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


Dammit, now I have the "Duck and Cover" song stuck in my head. It's so frickin' catchy. There was a turtle by the name of Bert...
posted by Asparagirl at 4:34 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah crap, "banana equivalent dose" up there should be to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:34 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, mediareport.
posted by zarq at 4:36 PM on March 17, 2011


All life is precious.
posted by futz at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2011


Dammit, now I have the "Duck and Cover" song stuck in my head. It's so frickin' catchy. There was a turtle by the name of Bert...

And now you've got me going. My favorite part of Duck and Cover has always been the very end right before the reprise of the song: "There might not be be any grown-ups around when the bomb explodes. Then... you're own your own." That would have scared the heck out of me as a kid.
posted by zachlipton at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2011


yeah, anything that's measuring in nGy/hr is not a worrying level of exposure. A friend of mine had radiotherapy for breast cancer, and her exposure (targeted, not whole-body, which is an important difference) was something like 50 or 70 Grays. Now, that was enough to cause side effects that they call mild radiation sickness when it happens outside a radiotherapy setting; fatigue, decreased appetite, &c. But that's still 72,000 times as much radiation as would be absorbed in the highest value listed on that map over the equivalent 7 weeks.
posted by KathrynT at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: I can't hold my poo any longer!
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:41 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the new thread.

Honestly if it wasn't for Mefi I wouldn't be able to figure out what the heck is going on. My trust in MSM has gone down the proverbial crapper.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:42 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I saw one Labour MP in the UK defending nuclear power on the basis that you have to take the safety record in its entirety, showing very few problems among hundreds of plants over almost 60 years.

In other words, they are very safe apart from when they not very often become unsafe.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 4:42 PM on March 17, 2011


The Oil Drum's information is always top-notch, but spend more than five minutes on any of their posts about peak oil and you'll just want to cry at the overwhelming pessimism/realism.
posted by UncleBoomee at 4:43 PM on March 17, 2011


Everybody hug it out and then let's get to the facts.
posted by futz at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some highlighted readers' comments from NYT blog (re: With Quest to Cool Fuel Rods Stumbling, U.S. Sees ‘Weeks’ of Struggle article); worth reading.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2011


Alia, I'm still pretty pro-nuclear-energy, but I am rapidly becoming anti-nuclear-industry. And the news coverage would be no less helpful if it just said "Everybody run for cover under a copy of USA Today with the graphs facing out!!!!!!" I was watching the news while working out, and I got so mad (and cranked my speed up so far as a result) that the machine beeped at me and said it wouldn't let me go any more unless I could slow my heart rate down.
posted by KathrynT at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


If you are an old-school USENET type of person who followed any of the nuclear-related discussions back in the day, or you checked out the nuclear section of the wonderful USENET archive web site yarchive.net (which has been posted to the blue a couple of times), you probably recognize the name John DeArmond.

He's a former nuclear industry guy who seems (to me, anyway) to really know what he is talking about on this stuff. I've been wondering if he had anything to say about this event, and sure enough he just posted a blog entry about it. It's interesting reading.
posted by FishBike at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Note that the in-car video of the tsunami is from Chiba Prefecture, next to Tokyo. Very far away from Sendai/Miyagi-prefecture which was closest to the epicenter. Point being- the tsunami was much, much, much more powerful than depicted in that in-car video.
posted by gen at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2011


A good way to put it, in a nutshell: nuclear power is "low probability, high consequence danger".
posted by rainy at 4:46 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Translator coworker is somewhat appalled that we all know about Nuclear Boy. "I didn't imagine someone was going to translate this thing."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:46 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Translator coworker is somewhat appalled that we all know about Nuclear Boy. "I didn't imagine someone was going to translate this thing."

Seriously? I think it's an Oscar contender myself. I bet cable news won't even be able to resist playing some clips.
posted by zachlipton at 4:50 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


A good way to put it, in a nutshell: nuclear power is "low probability, high consequence danger".

Unfortunately what we use now for most of our power is a "100% probability, high consequence danger".
posted by Justinian at 4:51 PM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I still think the biggest danger remains a "molten core hits water" scenario - if it happens, it's certain to create a large steam explosion that would drive radioactive material high into the air. In the previous thread panaceanot linked a very good description from this former nuclear engineer (who worked on "severe accident phenomenology" at Sandia National Labs in New Mexico):

Allen agrees with reports that explosions caused by a hydrogen buildup likely blew the roof off the outer containment buildings at least two of the reactor sites, exposing pools that store highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods to the environment. But, based on reports he's heard or read, he thinks the explosion that occurred March 14 at the Daiichi Unit 2 reactor was a steam explosion inside the reactor pressure vessel that probably occurred when part of the exposed fuel core melted and allowed some of the liquefied fuel or super-hot fragments to drop into the water below.

"When that happens, you're going to have a massive steam explosion, which creates extremely high pressure in the reactor pressure vessel," Allen said...."I've done many of these experiments...When you drop a molten core into water, there's a big explosion."

....If workers are unable to get additional cooling water into the reactor vessel, the molten fuel core will collapse into the water in bottom of the vessel. Eventually the heat from the decaying fuel would boil away the water that's left, leaving the core sitting on the vessel's lower head made of steel. Should that happen, "It'll melt through it like butter," Allen said.

That, in turn, would cause a "high-pressure melt injection" into the water-filled concrete cavity below the reactor. Because the concrete would likely be unheated, the reaction created by the sudden injection of the reactor's ultra-hot content would be immense, he said. "It'll be like somebody dropped a bomb, and there'll be a big cloud of very, very radioactive material above the ground," Allen said, noting that it would contain uranium and plutonium, as well as the fission products.


A hot mess of molten metal and radioactive core material dropping into a water-filled concrete cavity is, from what I've read, very much close to a worst-case scenario.
posted by mediareport at 4:51 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


KathrynT wrote: "Alia, I'm still pretty pro-nuclear-energy, but I am rapidly becoming anti-nuclear-industry."

I don't want to get too deep into it, but I'm anti-nuclear-politics, not even anti-nuclear-industry. The earlier hysteria is a large part of the reason why we're looking at another 20 years of using outdated reactor designs before newer ones come online. These old BWR and PWR designs are pretty darn safe, but there are better (and cheaper!) designs out there now that just don't get done.

It would be a lot harder for cheapness in operations to fuck up a less complicated and more inherently safe design. The "nuclear battery" concept being pushed by Toshiba and a few others is the ultimate expression of the concept. Of course, as we've seen, without a place to put the waste, the design of the reactor itself becomes less important to the safety of the overall system.

Shame on Obama for cancelling Yucca Mountain without having an alternate plan identified and in progress.
posted by wierdo at 4:53 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously, American media needs more dioramas and poop analogies if it wants to compete in the emerging global news ecology. Hiroko Tabuchi just reported that NHK even had a "how to make your own menstrual pads" feature a minute ago for women in shelters.

And yes, mediareport, I think that's one variation on what other engineers have been calling a "core-on-the-floor" scenario, which is bad.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting reading.

With respect, it's a piece of nuclear boosterism that equates any bad news with hysteria. Let's stick to the discussion of facts here, if we can.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2011


Note that the in-car video of the tsunami is from Chiba Prefecture, next to Tokyo. Very far away from Sendai/Miyagi-prefecture which was closest to the epicenter. Point being- the tsunami was much, much, much more powerful than depicted in that in-car video.

A scary video of the the tsunami in Miyako City that was posted in the previous thread.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:55 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Amazingly, the Daily Mail took the exact opposite stance from the one I would have predicted.
posted by bonaldi at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just saw an e-mail in my inbox from a government-run Los Angeles county / Orange County air quality monitoring group:
from: Dr. William Burke <drwilliamburke@aqmd.gov>
date: Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 7:26 AM
subject line: AQMD to post daily updates regarding radiation levels in Southern California

You have probably heard news reports about harmful radiation escaping from damaged nuclear power plants in Japan following the recent tsunami. Some have even voiced concern that this radiation could travel across the ocean and impact California. There is no increased risk of harmful levels of radiation exposure in the United States, based on the situation to date and a review of actual monitored levels by AQMD as well as other public health officials and technical experts.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, your local air pollution agency, has operated radiation monitors for several years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). AQMD monitors radiation levels at three sites in Southern California and sends the radiation measurements every hour to EPA. The California Department of Public Health also operates an additional radiation monitor in Southern California.

Starting today, you can get a daily update regarding levels of radiation in Southern California at AQMD’s website at www.aqmd.gov. Monitors operated by AQMD/EPA will detect any change in outdoor radiation levels.

Further general information on EPA’s radiation monitoring network can be found at http://www.epa.gov/narel/radnet/. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s response to the situation can be found at http://www.nrc.gov/.

Monitoring radiation is a very small part of the many activities AQMD does to protect public health and clean the air that we breathe. For more information on how you can help clean the air, go to www.cleanairconnections.org .

William A. Burke, Ed.D., Chairman
South Coast Air Quality Management District
That's all very nice, and I guess I'm happy that they're being proactive at calming people down out here, but...how the hell did they get my e-mail address? Was it because I'm on my local Los Angeles neighborhood council's e-mail distribution list? I dunno. Reassuring and weird all at the same time. Anyway, looks like we can add the South Coast Air Quality Management District to the list of resources, for people in SoCal.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:00 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure if it's the same John DeArmond, but here's some safety tips about flamethrowers.
posted by warbaby at 5:04 PM on March 17, 2011


Thread #3.

To be honest, I got nothing right now. Too busy with work and travel. Writing this in a cab on way to airport.

Pro nuclear people: this accident is worse than you think.

Anti nuclear people: this accident isn't as bad as you think.

Everybody: pray that power line hold. Power stabilize everything except #3 in hours, and makes that one much eaiser to fight.
posted by eriko at 5:04 PM on March 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


From the Telegraph:
23.36 Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) asked the Japanese government earlier this week to permit a full withdrawal of its employees from the Fukushima plant, a Japanese daily newspaper has said. TEPCO had first concluded that it would be "difficult" for its workers to continue to restore the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, where high levels of radiation have been monitored, the Mainichi Shimbun said.

But Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned down the request, telling TEPCO: "Withdrawal is impossible. It's not a matter of whether TEPCO collapses. It's a matter of whether Japan goes wrong," according to Mainichi. An unnamed official related to TEPCO, however, was quoted by Mainichi as saying:

If withdrawal is unacceptable, it's as if (Kan) said 'Do it until you are exposed to radiation and die.
Grain of salt; we'll probably never see confirmaton/repudiation of this; etc. But, holy fuck what the fuck TEPCO.
posted by yeoz at 5:06 PM on March 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


WikiLeaks made it clear that a few years ago we (the weikleak is from US) knew that those (Japan) plants were not safe. The company faced down the govt and kept things up and running. Meanwhile, we have had a number of leaks in the US and some 33 world-0wide, most of which not reported (I posted this report and it is reliable)...nuke expert said we have potential problem here since we have no containers at some places and insufficient ones elsewhere.
France has a lot of plants but they are all run by the govt and thus not subject to corporation lies and misinformation----but that is socialism! (many utilities in our country used to be govt till somehow the privates took them over).

The Japanese now seem to distrust their govt mostly because we gave out information to the public that stated things were worse than noted by the Japanese govt.

Do we trust our govt? Obama et al say all is ok here. I have reason to believe otherwise.
posted by Postroad at 5:07 PM on March 17, 2011


yeoz, I have not seen that yet in the Japanese media. If I can confirm it here, I will.
posted by gen at 5:07 PM on March 17, 2011


When workers families start suing over the next generation, TEPCO may intend that to be part of their defense, "hey, we asked if we could stop". You aren't cynical enough.
posted by nomisxid at 5:08 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's nice to see Naoto Kan showing some backbone, even if the level of intensity is above and beyond what a lot of us might be comfortable with when we talk about human costs. Translator coworker has a very low opinion of Kan and his government; there's been a lot of "Kan is useless" from his end from the minute the Japanese elections were over.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:09 PM on March 17, 2011


Having greatly appreciated and benefited from the previous threads but found them overwhelming due to the large number of comments:

I would like to request that chatter and debates about the merits of nuclear power or other types of energy be kept to a minimum, so I can more easily keep up with the news and interpretation as it is posted to this thread. And many thanks to everyone who is doing so.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


I was pro-nuclear until this event. The so called experts who can't seem to give clear risk assessments have left ms convinced that there just isn't the subject matter expertise to manage this technology at scale. Sorry humanity we have to find another alternative.
posted by humanfont at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon wrote: "With respect, it's a piece of nuclear boosterism that equates any bad news with hysteria. Let's stick to the discussion of facts here, if we can."

With no undue respect, I'm reminded of the people who were screaming about the Deepwater Horizon blowout having moved the wellhead 20 miles from where it was originally, leaving a gaping hole in the seafloor.
posted by wierdo at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pro nuclear people: this accident is worse than you think.
Anti nuclear people: this accident isn't as bad as you think.


Orphic pronouncements and bifurcated simplicities are nice and all, but some of us actually don't fall into either of your camps: we actually are not interested in this incessant need to frame this story this way and don't have an axe to grind either way.

Amazingly, the Daily Mail took the exact opposite stance from the one I would have predicted

re: Daily Mail headline:
"Why what's happened in Japan should be an ENDORSEMENT of nuclear power"...

This insane, reflexive "OMG even covering this still unfolding news story is to capitulate to anti-nuke hysteria" POV is so silly and reductive, it has got to stop.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


Also, NHK World has repeatedly been saying there has not been a criticality incident and they have specifically said that no neutron radiation has been released. However, zippy's comment based on TEPCO's data seems to contradict that. Can anyone put the neutron radiation levels into context and/or explain what exactly they mean?
posted by zachlipton at 5:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Orphic pronouncements and bifurcated simplicities are nice and all, but some of us actually don't fall into either of your camps: we actually are not interested in this incessant need to frame this story this way and don't have an axe to grind either way.

You have to admit that some people do, though, and those kinds of statements - considering the feedback eriko had in the last thread - are helpful to some.

I'm pro nuclear, anti 8.9 earthquake.
posted by cavalier at 5:17 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obama et al say all is ok here. I have reason to believe otherwise.

Wait. What?
posted by werkzeuger at 5:20 PM on March 17, 2011


How is neutron radiation measured? If it is obvious when released, then we should know soon enough.
posted by gen at 5:22 PM on March 17, 2011


Well, the budget for Hanford's cleanup might not go through.
posted by nomisxid at 5:22 PM on March 17, 2011


Nuclear disasters are terrible, but not the reason to panic. The reason to panic is the engineering "solutions" produced by cutting corners and wanton disregard, even under the best of conditions.
posted by yeloson at 5:22 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for moving this to a new thread. Especially with mobile devices, those super long threads just don't work.
posted by Forktine at 5:22 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


geez, folks. do we have to start every thread about this with the exact same shit?

Please try to post linked citations to stuff you find, especially if you think it hasn't been widely disseminated. Obviously, it's impossible to avoid some opinionating, but just look at the top of the last thread to see why it's not valuable in the context of these threads.

polyhedron initiated an irc channel at the following coordinates:

#fukushima-ot on irc.slashnet.org:6667

delmoi pointed out you don't even need an IRC client:

delmoi: "Slashnet has a web client just click this link and pick a username."

Last thread, the pro/anti arguing got pushed into MeTa until the mods said 'stop.' The thread was markedly more informative while MeTa was the designated fightzone.

Please use #fukushima-ot to duel your archenemies until the situation stabilizes.
posted by mwhybark at 5:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


The report about Kan and Tepco noted above... It's from the Telegraph. Hardly a reputable news source.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:24 PM on March 17, 2011


You have to admit that some people do, though, and those kinds of statements - considering the feedback eriko had in the last thread - are helpful to some.

Why do I have to admit something I don't agree with? On the threads in question I have read remarkably little actual anti-nuclear posturing, but have read remarkably large amounts of pro-nuclear hand-wringing (i.e. anticipation of anti-nuke bias everywhere, most of which is never forthcoming) over this: it's not even close to symmetrical on that score.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 5:25 PM on March 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Japanese now seem to distrust their govt mostly because we gave out information to the public that stated things were worse than noted by the Japanese govt.

Americans told the Japanese that? I thought the distrust was because the government kept saying things were OK and things kept getting worse, and the evacuation zones kept growing over time, etc. and it's plainly obvious on observation alone that the government had the wrong idea at the outset.


This insane, reflexive "OMG even covering this still unfolding news story is to capitulate to anti-nuke hysteria" POV is so silly and reductive, it has got to stop.


I doubt you're going to find that a tabloid newspaper is going to advocate not covering sensational and still unfolding events. This is an opinion piece in a section called "Debate" responding to certain arguments that have been put forward.
posted by Hoopo at 5:25 PM on March 17, 2011


...not that it's actually been fighty over there, actually. but there has been as you might expect a bunch of ot chatter.
posted by mwhybark at 5:27 PM on March 17, 2011


wierdo wrote: "With no undue respect, I'm reminded of the people who were screaming about the Deepwater Horizon blowout having moved the wellhead 20 miles from where it was originally, leaving a gaping hole in the seafloor."

I would like to clarify that I didn't intend to imply that BP (eponysterical?) was the source of any of the Deepwater Horizon crazypants theories.

As far as the situation with the plant specifically, I'm hopeful that the power line helps things out. The pumps these plants have can inject an amount of water that boggles the mind. I seem to remember "olympic-sized swimming pool in 45 seconds" sort of pumping capacity. (I was once a nuke geek, but other things have since taken up much of the brain-space)
posted by wierdo at 5:27 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do I have to admit something I don't agree with?

Sigh. You win. I was being rhetorical, you can continue to be argumentative with someone else.
posted by cavalier at 5:28 PM on March 17, 2011


Why do I have to admit something I don't agree with?

You don't, but you don't have to argue everything you don't agree with either. If you don't have a side, eriko wasn't addressing you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:29 PM on March 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


One of the linkdumps at The Oil Drum includes this sad story: Trapped in the radiation zone, and no help in sight

AN AWFUL realisation is setting in for those trapped in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex: people are afraid to help them. Residents describe spooky scenes of municipal cars driving down near-empty streets telling people to stay indoors, but they have seen few other signs of outside help.

Aid agencies are reluctant to get too close to the plant. Shelters set up in the greater Fukushima area for "radiation refugees" have little food, in part because nobody wants to deliver to an area that might be contaminated. And with little or no petrol available, not everyone who wants to leave can get out. Radiation fears are mingling with a sickening sense of abandonment...

"The government is demanding that we don't go out, but it isn't bringing us anything," Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of a city close to the exclusion zone, complained in an interview with the national NHK television network. "Truck drivers don’t want to enter the city. They’re afraid of being exposed to radiation ... If the government says we’re in a dangerous area, it should take more care of us!"


And then there's this:

The survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived the rest of their lives with the stigma of having been exposed to radiation. Known as Hibakushas, they are formally recognised by the government if they lived within proximity of the blasts, and receive a special medical allowance.

But the designation also led to them being ostracised by other Japanese, who feared wrongly that the contamination was contagious or could be hereditary. The result was that many survivors of the bombings, and even their children, lived ghetto-type lives because of their exposure to radiation. The prospect of a similar stigma now worries some of those in and around the Fukushima plant.

posted by mediareport at 5:37 PM on March 17, 2011 [31 favorites]


The pumps these plants have can inject an amount of water that boggles the mind. I seem to remember "olympic-sized swimming pool in 45 seconds" sort of pumping capacity.

That's assuming the pumps themselves aren't damaged. Right from the get-go, there were reports that at least some of them were: "With the loss of power at reactor 3, and with its valves and pumps damaged by the tsunami, emergency workers were pumping in seawater mixed with boron" (BBC News, Mar 13). So I'm hoping that when they do get the juice back on, there's something to run with it.

Although it'd be nice to have a steady source of power for the non-plant equipment too, of course.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:39 PM on March 17, 2011


If you don't have a side, eriko wasn't addressing you.

I have a third side: that of advocating in favor of withholding, at least for now, treating the reality of this disaster as if it were in anticipation of a PR battle over nuclear power.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 5:41 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I would like to request that chatter and debates about the merits of nuclear power or other types of energy be kept to a minimum, so I can more easily keep up with the news and interpretation as it is posted to this thread. And many thanks to everyone who is doing so.

This is not a site dedicated to your specific vision of how threads should be used. Anyone is welcome to make on-topic comments if they are respectful. No one gets to say what topic areas are OK to discuss, and not everyone agrees about what is "chatter" vs. what is useful. The mods have confirmed this in reference to these specific threads..
posted by serazin at 5:41 PM on March 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


There were quotes from a blog posted to the old thread by a Daiichi worker where he or she said that "the machine that cools the reactors" was damaged and they were trying to get it to work in the first 8 hours. I'm not sure if that was referring to generators or pumps and / or pipes. Anyone know / have further information on this?
posted by rainy at 5:43 PM on March 17, 2011


NHK vs. TBS coverage, summed up neatly in a tweet from Joi Ito 10 minutes ago.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:45 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's hard to imagine that the underwater intakes for the pumps weren't damaged or filled with debris as a result of the tsunami itself - even if the pumps themselves were ok.
posted by Rumple at 5:48 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a third side: that of advocating in favor of withholding, at least for now, treating the reality of this disaster as if it were in anticipation of a PR battle over nuclear power.

OK? I'm certain if Eriko had time and motivation, he would have made sure everyone's individual viewpoint ended up on his list. I'm not really sure why his "I'm in a big hurry and I'm summarizing wildly" statement is creating huge offense.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:48 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


FelliniBlank wrote: "That's assuming the pumps themselves aren't damaged."

Sure, but since they're below the spent fuel pool, it's unlikely the hydrogen explosion caused serious damage to all of them. In designs I'm more familiar with (layman familiar, not nuclear engineer familiar), the pumps are all in the same building as the reactor, which I don't believe received tsunami damage in this case.

Also, part of the reason for the pumps being able to pump far in excess of their capacity is precisely for the purpose of dealing with leaks. As long as the pipes aren't completely torn asunder, some water should make it in..or so the idea goes.
posted by wierdo at 5:50 PM on March 17, 2011


The International Atomic Energy Agency is also updating the situation.

Downwind doses are currently pretty low, in 0.1 mSv (100 uSv) / hr range, max. For a short period a few days ago, however, Unit 4 was producing 400 mSv/hr, e.g., someone in vicinity would get max yearly dose in 12 minutes.

Max exposure / yr for rad worker is 50 mSv/yr,
Avg exposure forUS citizen is 6.2 mSv/yr
A chest X-ray is about 0.2 mSv (or 200 uSv)

See also: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=japan-nuclear-fallout
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:53 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is not a site dedicated to your specific vision of how threads should be used. Anyone is welcome to make on-topic comments if they are respectful. No one gets to say what topic areas are OK to discuss, and not everyone agrees about what is "chatter" vs. what is useful. The mods have confirmed this in reference to these specific threads.

That is true and you've made that point a number of times now serazin, but there are many of us who feel like this topic in particular right now on MetaFilter should be treated differently. I am one of those people and I haven't commented a lot on this topic over the last few days, in the last few threads, but in this case I'll just say that I feel like you are not helping right now, at a time when many of us could use the help.
posted by dubitable at 5:56 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


If we can't take the energy policy discussion elsewhere, can't we at least take the discussion about where to take that discussion elsewhere?
posted by neal at 5:59 PM on March 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Spent fuel pools summary from previous thread:

Two papers I’ve found useful are:

Severe accidents in spent fuel pools in support of generic safety. V.L. Sailor, et al, Brookhaven National Laboratory. Issue 82. July, 1987.


Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States (pdf). Robert Alvarez et al. Science and Global Security 11. 2003

These papers describe serious aspects of spent fuel pools draining and the fuel burning:

1) there is much more fuel in the cooling pool next to a reactor than there is inside the reactor.

2) the cooling pool is not contained in a high pressure steel vessel like the reactor

3) the interior of an uncovered fuel assembly in the cooling pool will reach 2000 C under some storage conditions (according to computer simulation)

4) uncovered fuel assemblies give off locally lethal levels of gamma radiation, which means once they're uncovered, it is very hard to deal with them

5) they are much dirtier than the fresh fuel in the reactor

6) possible outcomes are for a plume and large long-term exclusion zone if the fuel cannot be cooled down

Also,

7) It can happen due to operator error or part failure, like these incidents in the US, including one where 200,000 gallons poured out in 20 minutes and another with 141,000 gallons which went unnoticed for 7.5 hrs.
posted by zippy at 6:00 PM on March 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


solid, zippy. TYVM.
posted by mwhybark at 6:03 PM on March 17, 2011


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

This was my thought as well. I've heard that they are rebuilding the powerlines as fast as possible to return power. But I wonder how quickly a few truck mounted generators might have curtailed the problems. All just a layman's thoughts and not at all meant to cast blame.
posted by Splunge at 6:06 PM on March 17, 2011


Reuters: Nuclear safety agency says aiming to get electricity restored to reactors No. 1 and 2 Friday
BBC: 0057: The restoration of electricity at Fukushima's reactors 3 and 4 is expected on Sunday - Kyodo.
... What happened to Saturday?
posted by yeoz at 6:06 PM on March 17, 2011


Thanks for your hard, steady work at keeping us informed, zippy.
posted by ardgedee at 6:07 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the video of the flyover, just before the steam cloud over #3 obscures the view, there's a bunch of bright green stuff that seems to stand out from all the grey/blasted stuff around it. Anyone know what it might be?
posted by nomisxid at 6:08 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


So we should know in the next few hours if they have managed to get power and cooling in place on 2 or 4 reactors. That's good. However if the problem
is the fuel outside reactor 4 then this really doesn't matter too much.
posted by humanfont at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2011


nomisxid, I read somewhere that it's a wrecked crane arm, but I can't remember where to source it.
posted by KathrynT at 6:11 PM on March 17, 2011


Well, humanfont, it means that 1) it could lower the radiation levels in the plant as a whole and also 2) that they could coordinate all their resources on the SFP for reactor 4.
posted by KathrynT at 6:13 PM on March 17, 2011


NHK said it's the green crane used to transfer assemblies from reactor to pool.
posted by rainy at 6:14 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The powerlines don't require fuel or maintenance. They also provide redundancy. The responders on site really don't want the water or power to stop again.

For ref, this page says a 2 megawatt diesel generator consumes 100 gallons/hr (380 liters/hr) of fuel under 3/4 load. Trucking that fuel in, storing it, and keeping the generators running may require more people on-site.
posted by zippy at 6:16 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


However if the problem is the fuel outside reactor 4 then this really doesn't matter too much.

No, it matters a great deal. It means 5 and 6 and their storage pools will no longer be worrisome and the reactors they can pump water into will (hopefully) reach some level of holding steady/getting better.

And if they can hold that line, then they can focus on coming up with a way to deal with the spent fuel in 4.

Think of this like a forest fire -- you want to get a perimeter and create containment. The more containment you get, the easier it is to maintain that containment.
posted by dw at 6:16 PM on March 17, 2011


there's what looks like a puddle of it in a container, and none of the other metal around it is melted....it seems like if anything could stand heat, it'd be the crane, not some random metal box in the room. moreso, it just seems odd to me that everything else visible has been blasted a uniform grey, while this looks like hulk green paint fresh out of a can.
posted by nomisxid at 6:18 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


And remember that water provides a certain amount of radiation protection. The more water they can get into reactors and pools, the longer they'll be able to work in the area, and the less likely there will be needs for these periodic evacuations.
posted by dw at 6:18 PM on March 17, 2011


nomisxid: that doesn't necessarily look like a puddle, it could be a wide part of the crane assembly. The rest of the structure was already uniform grey. I doubt this is "green nuclear goo "
posted by rainy at 6:20 PM on March 17, 2011


There's not a lot of green radioactive material I can think of other than uranium glass and its A-bomb sibling trinitite. And neither of them are that color green.

It has to be the crane, at least what's left of it.
posted by dw at 6:23 PM on March 17, 2011


Twitter user TepcoDisaster that 130 Tokyo firefighters are being dispatched to Fukushima Daiichi. Live NHK footage shows them in Iwaki, just south of the reactor. They appear to be specialists at dealing with fires in tall buildings and structures and have brought 30 trucks equipped with powerful pumps that should considerably enhance the firefighting situation.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Joi Ito reporting that the 130 firefighters from Tokyo are part of the Hyper Rescue Team. Link goes to Japanese Wikipedia, you may require machine translation.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:24 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


high five, KokuRyu. we look like we planned that.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:24 PM on March 17, 2011


Wonder if city firefighters have nuke training. I talked to my SoCal fire captain brother-in-law today and we didn't get to the nuke stuff. He's collapse-trained and almost went to Haiti with his team, but didn't expect his people to go to Japan this time.

We go SanO with him and his family about once a year, burned the HELL out of my legs last summer. Radiation! From space!
posted by mwhybark at 6:27 PM on March 17, 2011


well, preview fail! Thanks you guys.
posted by mwhybark at 6:28 PM on March 17, 2011


I've been wondering about that green debris too because it's all over the outside and inside of the plant and very bright green and colorful compared to the rest of the debris.

I don't think it's fuel, but I was thinking maybe it's an institutional/industrial green paint that was used on the inside of the plant, and what we're seeing is building debris fragments that have that paint on them. I hope.
posted by loquacious at 6:29 PM on March 17, 2011


I don't think it's radioactive goo out of a sci-fi movie, I was wondering more along the lines of if they'd dropped a smoke flare for some reason, like to get wind-direction/strength or something.
posted by nomisxid at 6:31 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has there been confirmation that they got the power line up and running, and has anyone heard from ctmf?
posted by vrakatar at 6:32 PM on March 17, 2011


My 6 year old Japanese nephew LOVES the Hyper Rescue Team - now I definitely have to buy him that set of Tomika vehicles the next time I'm in Japan...
posted by birdsquared at 6:33 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know it probably doesn't need pointing out to most people, but water is heavy.

A single cubic metre of water weighs a metric ton (1,000 kg; 2,200 pounds). That helps explain (a) why the tsunami packed such a punch and (b) why it is hard to move it in large volumes uphill into these storage vessels, or lift enough with helicopters.

(my pet design feature change for new reactors, or to retrofit reactors, would be to have water brought to the site by siphon from uphill lakes or reservoirs. It wouldn't be costly, relies pretty much only on gravity, and with the right, flexible and/or redundant design could be earthquake resistant.)
posted by Rumple at 6:33 PM on March 17, 2011


This insane, reflexive "OMG even covering this still unfolding news story is to capitulate to anti-nuke hysteria" POV is so silly and reductive, it has got to stop.

To be fair, I think you're missing some of the context there, which is that:
a) this piece is in the Daily Mail, which is still embarked upon its mammoth project to classify every noun and verb in the world as "cancer-causing" or "not-cancer-causing" and so silly and reductive are almost tautological
but:
b) the other British tabs, its competitors, are busy hyping the fear to max
so:
c) "even covering it" is a million miles away from what they're pushing against,
and besides:
d) finding the one paper you'd expect to be out-doing the rest here ("Cancer fear for Diana body as toxic nuke blows"; "House price slump as nuke wind blows") actually fighting the trend is refreshing and notable amid the hysteria.
posted by bonaldi at 6:33 PM on March 17, 2011


half of tokyo has been evacuated

Said in jest, just to clarify.
posted by gen at 6:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I found an intereting paper covering the geology of the prefecture and coal fields here. A nightmare scenario would be the melted hot slag from the core meets a coal seam. Centralia, PA meets Chernobyl.
posted by humanfont at 6:39 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


birdsquared: "My 6 year old Japanese nephew LOVES the Hyper Rescue Team - now I definitely have to buy him that set of Tomika vehicles the next time I'm in Japan.."

Tomica Hyper Rescue Ambulance (Japan)

Man, no wonder he loves 'em.
posted by mwhybark at 6:40 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whole page of those awesome Hyper Rescue toys, courtesy vastly bemused translator coworker.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:43 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


has anyone heard from ctmf?

ctmf tweeted that he's arrived in Atsugi, and he also commented today in the old thread:

Ok, so I'm here and have the lowdown. Nobody's said not to write anything but... I'm not going to put any numbers or forecasts, for fear of poorly wording something and causing a runaway internet panic. I'm deciding that for myself. Let's just say I'm not pleased by the data.

The Japanese people are pulling together fantastically. From what I've seen (in one partial day) morale is surprisingly good down South here. People seem to feel betrayed by TEPCO, but feel that the government is doing the best they can and are extremely grateful for the assistance the US and other countries are providing.

Looks like we're going to be busy mofos for a while here. I'm beat. I'm going to bed, and then reporting for (whatever) early tomorrow morning

posted by FelliniBlank at 6:43 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


humanfont: So, are there coal seams under Fukushima Daiichi?
posted by floam at 6:44 PM on March 17, 2011


he says $134 is highway robbery they're more like $40 in-country
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:45 PM on March 17, 2011


ctmf also tweeted earlier that he was relocating away from Atsugi due to "forecast wind shift."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:50 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd like to pimp an alternative discussion point if people would like:
I just started #fukushima-ot on irc.slashnet.org if you're really dying for some speculation or not-directly-relevant discussion and can't find an appropriate venue. Join #mefi while you're there.
posted by polyhedron at 1:37 on March 17 [1 favorite +] [!]
You can use mibbit from any browser and if you'd just like to vent or do the pro-nuke/anti-nuke that may be a better place. I've found the previous two threads to be absolutely the best resources online for covering this whole debacle and I hope this one can do the same.
posted by Skorgu at 6:53 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The earlier hysteria is a large part of the reason why we're looking at another 20 years of using outdated reactor designs before newer ones come online. These old BWR and PWR designs are pretty darn safe, but there are better (and cheaper!) designs out there now that just don't get done.

No, the reason we are using outdated reactors, and why we will always use outdated reactors, is that the upfront construction and ongoing safety costs are high, which means the investment takes decades to make a return, which means the investment will be used for decades - long after it is crude and clumsy compared to modern designs. (You can make smaller cheaper reactors, but their generation is also scaled down, so the payoff likewise is long-term.)

As long as profits or price-competitiveness are a factor, outdated reactors is the only game in town.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:54 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


BBC:

"#
0135: In possibly the first ever use of Japanese on a British newspaper masthead, the Daily Mirror runs a line of Japanese script immediately under its title - with the translation "Japan, you are not alone""

Awesome.
posted by futz at 6:57 PM on March 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


fairytale of los angeles: "he says $134 is highway robbery they're more like $40 in-country"

So, he thinks they should cost the same as in town?
posted by mwhybark at 6:58 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I myself am contributing frivolous links and ill-advised wisecracks in the IRC.
posted by mwhybark at 7:00 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


i read on bravenewclimate that the reason that new diesel generators were not used was that the power circuitry they had to connect to was located below ground and completely flooded.
posted by paradroid at 7:07 PM on March 17, 2011


BBC:

"We are currently awaiting a news conference by chief government spokesman Yukio Edano who is expected to give further details on the nuclear plant crisis, and Japan's response to the wider devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami."
posted by futz at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2011


NHK has the conference live right now, it's mostly the same, power will be on soon, firetrucks will be there soon and flights will resume.

Someone asked him about Clinton's offer, he said they are in discussions and are accepting the help as needed.
posted by nomisxid at 7:11 PM on March 17, 2011


nhk-world cut off the conference and went back to talking heads and the diorama, and nhk-g doesn't have a translator, but it sounds reporters asking questions still, not him making a new statement.

doh
posted by nomisxid at 7:13 PM on March 17, 2011


The subtext of this NYT article is essentially saying that the Japanese government had to call on the Americans for assistance to get its own information about radiation levels in Fukushima.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:16 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


More BBC:

"Japan's nuclear safety agency says smoke has been seen rising from reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. A spokesman says the agency does not know the cause, but an explosion occurred in the building earlier in the week."
posted by futz at 7:21 PM on March 17, 2011


The geologic maps are not clear but it looks like the whole underlying region layers of sedimentary rocks with shale, coal, etc. It seems likely that there is coal down there, though I can't say for sure. A real geologist could probably say much more. This Prefecture apparently played a major role during the Meiji restoration because of the Joban coal fields. Seems sort of like Pennsylvania of Japan, a once industrial heartland now down on its luck.
posted by humanfont at 7:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


paradroid, for confirmation, The Economist also reported that "crucial electrical switching equipment was in a basement, and therefore got flooded."
posted by mediareport at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arclight is giving a little talk about common-cause failure on Twitter, complete with mildly sardonic observations about Fukushima Daiichi.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Al Jazeera:

11:25am

Japan says it will accept technical help from the US to fight the nuclear crisis at Fukushima plant.
posted by futz at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2011


A German member of another messageboard I read says that German state TV channel ARD reported that the "Fukushima Fifty" may actually be made up of about 10 engineers and 40 temporary workers -- former drug addicts, homeless people, and prostitutes whom TEPCO has a policy of hiring for short manual labor stints to help them get back on their feet. The job pays well and when they hit their limit for radiation exposure, TEPCO fires them.

Can anybody with access to German state TV confirm this report? It sounds like some of those plant workers are even bigger heroes than we even thought.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The subtext of this NYT article is essentially saying that the Japanese government had to call on the Americans for assistance to get its own information about radiation levels in Fukushima...

Meant to add that the subtext is that the Japanese government doesn't trust the TEPCO info, and so has turned to the US for help
posted by KokuRyu at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


BBC confirms:

#
0232: Mr Edano now says that Tokyo is willing to accept US help in dealing with the country's nuclear crisis, and is discussing the matter with Washington, the Associated Press reports. "We are co-ordinating with the US government as to what the US can provide and what people really need. We have repeatedly asked for specific support, and indeed, they are responding to that."
posted by futz at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2011


In my cartoon understanding of an incident at a nuclear energy plant, we first see a rolling landscape of pleasant neighbourhoods and church steeples, the sun setting against cottony pink-edged clouds. Then, on one side of the frame, just at the horizon, there is an almost apologetic puff of a mushroom cloud, and we immediately know that everyone in the pretty vista and far beyond is totally screwed. It's an understanding that sees nuclear calamity, whether by bomb or mishap, as an explosive breakdown of civilization followed by a silent creeping death. It's a view fostered by the culture of the 60's through the early 80s, Alas Babylon and that quiet movie with Jane Alexander.

This event isn't unfolding that way. I'm finding it hard to reconcile thoughts that this confirms that we're fooling with forces too big for us to control, and other thoughts that the apparent repercussions of even the worst mistakes here will probably be far more limited than what the cultural imagination has led us to expect. I grew up in a town with multiple large scale petrochemical plants. A six day loss of systems control there would result in plenty of blows up real good and poison in the air. Right now the claims of nuclear experts and science fans almost lead me to believe that everyone could walk away from this site and it would fold into itself, ruin a good chunk of real estate for many years and cost billions of dollars to clean up or cover over, but that its toll on surrounding human life would be relatively minimal for an industrial accident of this scale. While it's difficult for this pessimistic rubber-necker to see how they might now regain control, with many safety protections and containment already breeched and many pathways for the situation to worsen, the outcome thankfully won't be the nuclear disaster I was taught to expect. I don't know if that makes nuclear energy more palatable or not.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:37 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


A German member of another messageboard I read says that German state TV channel ARD reported that the "Fukushima Fifty" may actually be made up of about 10 engineers and 40 temporary workers -- former drug addicts, homeless people, and prostitutes whom TEPCO has a policy of hiring for short manual labor stints to help them get back on their feet. The job pays well and when they hit their limit for radiation exposure, TEPCO fires them.

I lived in a Japanese nuclear town for ten years, and while I have no idea about who is fighting the fires, I can say that where I lived labourers would be bused in from Osaka (the nearest big city) to do cleanup, and bused out when their work was complete. Back in the 90s when I was more interested in nuclear issues I recall reading some scholarly literature that used Kansai Den's Mihama Plant has a case study that said the same thing.

However, the firefighters in this case appear to be made up of highly trained firefighters and workers with an intimate knowledge of the plants.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Japanese government doesn't trust the TEPCO info, and so has turned to the US for help

Malfeasance aside, the monitoring instruments at the site are probably fubar'd - if not actually melted into slag, then certainly whomped out of calibration. Off-site instruments would be more reliable for certain things (e.g. thermal imaging).
posted by Quietgal at 7:42 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Malfeasance aside, the monitoring instruments at the site are probably fubar'd - if not actually melted into slag, then certainly whomped out of calibration. Off-site instruments would be more reliable for certain things (e.g. thermal imaging).

Yes, of course, that's right.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:49 PM on March 17, 2011


The latest report from ARD's Tagesschau mentions a call for volunteers, but doesn't say anything about homeless, etc. (There could always be something deeper in the site, of course.)
posted by gimonca at 7:50 PM on March 17, 2011


Hey, look, it's a Hyper Rescue truck with a giant flexible hose, of the sort we briefly entertained fantasies about in the other thread. Anyone know what it's for? It's some kind of Isuzu Forward, the TFD-2 CX.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:50 PM on March 17, 2011


Looking at the tiny chopper dropping water on the reactors makes me think they should seriously consider one of these instead.
posted by storybored at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2011


I totally forgot about that Evergreen 747 tanker. That would be awesome to deploy here!
posted by gen at 7:56 PM on March 17, 2011


Dropping water from a 747 is good for fighting forest fires, I think the accuracy for dousing a cooling pool might leave a bit to be desired.

Even the helicopters seem to really struggle with any sort of accuracy.
posted by vuron at 7:58 PM on March 17, 2011


The Martin Mars would be a dream come true in this situation ....
posted by cdalight at 7:59 PM on March 17, 2011


The giant flexible hose can spray foam at fires to suffocate them, or it can work the other way around to suck up smoke and vent it outside.

Oh, man, I'm going to geek out on the equipment manufacturer's page for a bit.
posted by Jeanne at 7:59 PM on March 17, 2011


More in-depth video from Tagesschau about the "50 Tapfere", doesn't seem to be any evidence to support the homeless/prostitutes story here, either.
posted by gimonca at 8:02 PM on March 17, 2011


Looking at the tiny chopper dropping water on the reactors makes me think they should seriously consider one of these instead.

Dropping water from the air is a very bad idea for two reasons. First, the power plant will be generating some heat. If it is generating a lot of heat then it will be creating turbulence that is dangerous for fixed-wing craft, and extremely dangerous for helicopters. Second, the target in question is very small and those firefighting aircraft are designed to lay down a swath of water. This is like trying to fill a fountain pen with a lawn sprinkler full of ink.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:02 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


588 Marines, sailors, and civilians deployed to support Operation Tomodachi so far, per the US ambassador. (That says Marines and III MEF, the Third Marine Expeditionary Force; I'm assuming it's primarily USMC and some Naval support, and not all the forces the US has helping out.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:03 PM on March 17, 2011


Dropping water from a 747 is good for fighting forest fires, I think the accuracy for dousing a cooling pool might leave a bit to be desired.

I think in the other thread someone mentioned the pools were 40 feet a side, and the copters were having trouble hitting that spot from 1000 feet up and hovering. Imagine trying to do that with a 747 at a higher altitude going 180mph, even if you had 20x the water.

Tanker planes are awesome for spreading a couple inches of water over a wide area. They're terrible at delivering several feet of water into a tiny area.
posted by dw at 8:05 PM on March 17, 2011


NHK has been showing footage of ten or so firetrucks from the Tokyo fire department. They mention that the equipment includes a tower that can be used to elevate the firehose to make it easier to hit the target located on top of the reactors. They cite this height as the reason why the riot canon wasn't useful.

It seems like they might finally be getting the right equipment in place. This raises the question of why it has taken a week to get the right gear onsite.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:05 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think they need bigger helicopters. More water per trip means less exposure for the same volume. The Mil Mi-26 can actual pickup the chinooks that were dropping the water. There are some Mi-26s out there for hire and they have done some crazy jobs before. They lifted a wrecked chinook out of Afghanistan. They were at high altitude and 4,00 pounds over the weight limit for that altitude. Some cowboy Mi-26 pilots may go in close for the right amount of money.
posted by Procloeon at 8:08 PM on March 17, 2011


The two video feeds I've been switching between are NHK World (English) and Yokoso News. NHK seems to loop after a while, and Yokoso's coverage drifts.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:09 PM on March 17, 2011


I am not comprehending the logic behind building a device with this amount of destructive power that cannot be monitored remotely effectively in extreme emergency environmental conditions.
posted by effluvia at 8:10 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some cowboy Mi-26 pilots may go in close for the right amount of money.

I'm no nuclear engineer, but a cowboy crashing his Mi-26 into the plant and possibly leaving wreckage on top of the tanks and reactors, obstructing the opening would be terrible. Firetrucks = Awesome. Save the helicopters for the news crews and relief supplies.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:10 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


-harlequin-: "As long as profits or price-competitiveness are a factor, outdated reactors is the only game in town."

Can you imagine a time when those factors won't be the most decisive ones? If you can, you have more faith in humanity than I do.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:12 PM on March 17, 2011


This raises the question of why it has taken a week to get the right gear onsite.

Due to broken roads making access difficult ...

Plus the firefighters have, I imagine, been searching for people in the rubble, and also we don't know at what point the water was gone and plant operators knew it.
posted by zippy at 8:12 PM on March 17, 2011


ArsTechnica on the situation
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:13 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would like to clarify that I didn't intend to imply that BP (eponysterical?) was the source of any of the Deepwater Horizon crazypants theories.

Thanks, weirdo. I appreciate that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2011


Edano before and after.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Looks like this is going to be part of the next US news cycle: new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists: The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010 (executive summary, full report, both .pdf). My fave of the 14 incidents they're calling "near-misses" is this one from Duke Power's Catawba plant in South Carolina:

Security problems prompted the NRC to conduct a special inspection. Details of the problems, their causes, and their fixes are not publicly available.
posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


gimonca: "The latest report from ARD's Tagesschau mentions a call for volunteers, but doesn't say anything about homeless, etc. "

Maybe the folks calling for volunteers aren't Republicans.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:17 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not comprehending the logic behind building a device with this amount of destructive power that cannot be monitored remotely effectively in extreme emergency environmental conditions.

There are a lot of things we build that are like this, though. Refineries. Mines.
posted by dw at 8:21 PM on March 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


It’s unclear how much electricity is now available on site or why Tepco called on General Electric to deliver 10 mobile generators from the United States. A GE spokesman said he did not know when the request from Tepco came in or when GE would be able to deliver the generators.

from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/nuclear-crisis-solutions-simple-but-not-easy/2011/03/17/ABK6E7m_story.html

If true, this means they did need generators and couldn't get them anywhere in japan of the needed type / quantity.
posted by rainy at 8:36 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's other interesting commentary there from Lake Barrett, who led emergency operations at TMI.
posted by rainy at 8:37 PM on March 17, 2011


Okay I finally got caught up on the thread. I think it took me a couple hours :P
Ah, ok. Yes, the Soviets set an incredibly low mark for candidness. I'd also say TEPCO and the Japanese government have held information back. Possibly in order to prevent panic, I don't know. -- zippy
Well, they would either have to tell people they weren't telling (which would obviously cause people to panic even worse) or else lie, which would in the long run do serious damage (even more) to the prospects of nuclear energy if people found out they were lying. TEPCO isn't responsible for morons buying up iodine pills in San Diego. This paternalistic attitude doesn't do anyone any good in the long run
I'm having trouble believing that an entity like the US Army can storm Baghdad and storm an entire country with thousands and thousands of ground vehicles and tens of thousands of troops in less time than it takes to get more than a few dozen vehicles and 50-100 response workers on a site.--loquatious
Um, hello, there was a giant tsunami just last weekend, and rescue operations are still going on. This nuclear reactor is not the biggest crisis that faces Japan right now. If something does go wrong, the area has already been evacuated. But the tsunami caused massive destruction, people need medical attention and fire trucks may be required in places where people actually are.
There's not enough trained response workers? There's not enough response vehicles? Yeah, sounds like a profits before safety issue. Fuck. All. Of. That, and fuck you, TEPCO. Fuck you very much.--loquatious
Calm down. What do you think would have happened to that dedicated fire response team in the tsunami? It would have been destroyed, along with all the redundant safety systems they did have, like the backup generators to continuously pump water. Had those systems not gone down, we wouldn't be having this problem. On the other hand, a disaster that took out those systems would have taken out any fire trucks they had on site. What they are doing is bringing in fire trucks to replace the water pumps that were de-powered in the quake/Tsunami.
"250 mSv/hour one hundred feet above the plant"

Total mSv/year at reported rate: 250 per hour(365 x 24) = 2,190,000 mSv/year.

Lowest clearly carcinogenic level: 100 mSv/year

Does that mean the radiation levels reported 100 feet above the plant were 21,900 times the amount minimally known to cause carcinogenic effects? Or are radioactive effects non-linear? Or is this insufficient information to say?
-- saulgoodman
It means 1 hour of exposure is an annual dose. Basically, people have a lifetime 'safe' level of radiation, after they've gotten it, they're not allowed to get any more. Think about it like buying tickets to the cancer lottery. After you've bought enough, they don't let you buy any more. It doesn't matter how quickly you buy them, just the total amount (to a very simple approximation)


---
About that video:
Thanks for the repost, BungaDunga. If you look at the Youtube version , you can see a very clear view of the entire cooling pool at secs 39-40 -- again, watch the top of the open but intact-frame panel, and you will see the whole pool slide by. It does look fairly clear of debris and lit up with Cherenkov, so there must be at least some water at the point the video was taken. Though that doesn't eliminate the possibility that the tops of some racks are exposed.-- tavella
All I see is some dark blue blobs of color with steam hovering over them. There's nothing I can identify specifically as being the cooling pool shown in this diagram
A German member of another messageboard I read says that German state TV channel ARD reported that the "Fukushima Fifty" may actually be made up of about 10 engineers and 40 temporary workers -- former drug addicts, homeless people, and prostitutes whom TEPCO has a policy of hiring for short manual labor stints to help them get back on their feet. The job pays well and when they hit their limit for radiation exposure, TEPCO fires them.--Asparagirl (this thread)
That sounds like bullshit. For one thing, it supposedly isn't even 50 people, but rather 50 at one time.
posted by delmoi at 8:41 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So far, beyond the workers who died in the nuclear plants because of earthquake-and-tsunami-related trauma, the only people who have died because of the Fukushima situation are about 20 sick and elderly people who were forced to evacuate the area and weren't well enough to be moved, or didn't get the medical care they needed because of the relocation process. So we can say they should have reacted more strongly and more quickly, but how many deaths might it have caused if they had?

It probably won't be clear for a long time whether the people responsible for making the decisions thought, "We can probably get out of this without asking for more help," or "We're screwed, but let's pretend things are okay until we have a better idea," but until things genuinely became really bad... how do you justify pulling emergency responders away from searching through the rubble for survivors, to something that might just be a minor problem?

I did kind of feel "What, you didn't think of this earlier?" about some of the day's developments, but it's probably a more complicated calculus than that.
posted by Jeanne at 8:44 PM on March 17, 2011


The big nuclear scare I grew up with was global nuclear annihilation. The truth is, I'm relieved and kind of impressed at how localized this disaster remains. The tsunami was far more destructive.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Translator coworker says that disadvantaged folks will always turn up for highly-paid work, and TEPCO does hire temp labor, but he didn't believe that the 10/40 engineers/former sex workers et al. thing was at all accurate in this case.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:45 PM on March 17, 2011


If true, this means they did need generators and couldn't get them anywhere in japan of the needed type / quantity.

To be fair, they have to replace a half-dozen huge plants.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 PM on March 17, 2011


For a little sobering perspective, so far no one has died of acute radiation poisoning from this disaster.

OTOH, there are multiple reports of earthquake/tsunami survivors dying from exposure. It's been cold and snowy in much of the ravaged area.

Yes, we're a long way from this being over, and there will likely be long-term victims of radiation exposure, but right now hypothermia is killing more people than this nuclear nightmare.
posted by dw at 8:57 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


One thing that pisses me off to no end (and probably was behind the "replacement generator plug didn't fit" rumor) is the non-standardization in large motor power supply. Civilian power is standardized, but large (and costy) motors are cost-optimized (or legacy-adapted) and seem to exist in any random voltage you care to name.

Who knows what voltage the water pumps are - or if they're even all on the same voltage. 480V? 600V? Where do you find a compatible generator or find (and safely install) a humongous transformer on zero notice? Those don't just sit on the shelf. Probably the Japanese 50/60Hz grid split doesn't help either...
posted by anthill at 8:58 PM on March 17, 2011


Posting [in this] new thread after reading Jessamyn's comment in MeTa [so as to keep current on the evolving discussion here now on MeFi].
posted by ericb at 9:00 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems like they might finally be getting the right equipment in place. This raises the question of why it has taken a week to get the right gear onsite.

Something I sometimes forget, and I'm probably not the only one, is that this densely populated country was just devastated by an incredibly strong earthquake and a horrifying tsunami. For the first few days there were people buried under rubble. Your town is not going to to offer your only remaining fire and police vehicles to a power plant (that, as far as the media tells you, is only in a little bit of trouble) when your town is burning and people are dying under wreckage.

And of course, Japan has a rather troubled past regarding radiation. The US deliberately incinerated and maimed Japanese civilians with nuclear weapons during World War II. We want to help, part from guilt and part from human nature. But I completely understand any pride that may prevent this from happening. This was a horror of the war and, yes, there is a stigma that it's citizens must endure. Countries that do not have as troubled a past as mine might have to take up the slack here.
posted by chemoboy at 9:00 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Second Harvest Japan needs your help to distribute supports needed by people in the affected areas| Sending other than money | A US Dollar-Yen calculator. Or sending funds to the Japan Red Cross etc | Ways to send money to Japan to help.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has 180 workers in protective gear, working in crew shifts of 50

Who are the Fukushima 50?: "Fukushima 50," so nicknamed because the 180 employees at the site work in 50-person shifts.

Japan's troubling history of downplaying disasters

The situation at Japan's damaged nuclear power plant is still serious but does not appear to be deteriorating, the United Nations nuclear agency has said, after emergency workers took drastic action to avert a meltdown.

Free calls from Australia to Japan from Telstra assistance to check on family and friends in Japan.

Yukio Edano, the 'Jack Bauer' of the crisis. He finally sleeps.

Early cherry blossoms bloom in a suburban Tokyo park as post-quake life slowly returns to normal here.

Japanese student learns family is alive thanks to YouTube video | Lost her cat in the tsunami, finds it again.
posted by nickyskye at 9:02 PM on March 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Where do you find a compatible generator or find (and safely install) a humongous transformer on zero notice?

Oftentimes it's "find a generator and bring in some engineers to cobble together a solution to get it to work with the system." Of course, that takes time and good electrical engineers.
posted by dw at 9:03 PM on March 17, 2011


From NHK now -

1) Firetrucks should start spraying in about an hour.
2) Power has been established to an office building onsite, and is in the process of being relayed to the plant. (no idea what that means)
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:05 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


after emergency workers took drastic action to avert a meltdown.

I'm curious about all the various reporting that includes some variation on this language above. I thought it was pretty well established by now that we had probably already seen at least a partial meltdown in one or more of the reactors. Is it still accurate or meaningful to say that the aim here is to prevent a meltdown? Or is this sort of a careless use of language?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2011


The US deliberately incinerated and maimed Japanese civilians with nuclear weapons during World War II.

I'm trying to imagine how dropping a nuke on a country you're at war with could ever NOT be deliberate.

"Oh, we accidentally destroyed a major city and left tens of thousands sick and dying of radiation and burns? Sorry, our bad!"
posted by dw at 9:07 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK just cut away from the press conference just as they were about to answer questions about what was happening. That is the most suspicious thing I've seen in my life. This is a quote from memory -

Tepco - "So addressing the heat and radiation levels from the spent fuel pools, we can report...."
cuts away.....
NHK - "And that was the Tepco press conference regarding the reactor problem."
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:11 PM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The US deliberately incinerated and maimed Japanese civilians with nuclear weapons during World War II. We want to help, part from guilt and part from human nature.

I think the idea that virtually any of the desire to help Japan by the United States is due to guilt from the second World War is ludicrous. It's also kind of insulting to the very real outpouring of grief and sympathy by many Americans.
posted by Justinian at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


dw writes "Oftentimes it's 'find a generator and bring in some engineers to cobble together a solution to get it to work with the system.' Of course, that takes time and good electrical engineers."

And an at least semi functioning transport system. The devastation to roads will play merry hell with plans and efforts to get personnel and equipment to the site.
posted by Mitheral at 9:13 PM on March 17, 2011


delmoi, let the youtube video load and then jump to :34 or so. First it pans over the roof girders, then you can see that the top front has two intact panels in the center, with the rest blown out. It's the open panel to the right of these that you want to watch. It has a bar a few feet down from the top; watch that bar. At around :39-40, you can clearly see a rectangular lit area pass behind the bar.

It's not artificially lit, because there's no power. It's not sunlight reflecting, because it's a gray day. It's not lit by burning detritus or glowing rods, because it would be in the yellow to red spectrum, while this is silver to greenish-blue. It has to be Cherenkov glow, and the only place you would get it was a pool with rods and at least some water.
posted by tavella at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


And an at least semi functioning transport system. The devastation to roads will play merry hell with plans and efforts to get personnel and equipment to the site.

I'm no logistics expert but:
1. Find equipment
2. Load it into a cargo aircraft (747 / AN-225 as required)
3. Fly to, say, NRT
4. Mi-28 the gear to Fukushima. You might have to stuff a few Mi-28s into your AN-225

Only problem is that there is only a single AN-225 in the world. But there are plenty of 747 freighters, C-5s and other heavy lift aircraft.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:25 PM on March 17, 2011


I'd also say TEPCO and the Japanese government have held information back. Possibly in order to prevent panic, I don't know. -- zippy

Opinion. Not fact until you provide evidence. I do not trust TEPCO at all.

Japanese government has many reasons not to lie to it's own people at this juncture. It's one thing to not have information, it's another thing to suppress or coverup.
posted by gen at 9:26 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Picking up one of my loose ends:

The NRC document, "Fact Sheet on NRC Review of Paper on Reducing Hazards from Stored Spent Nuclear Fuel", is a rebuttal of the paper "The Debate over the Dangers Posed by Sabotage of Spent Fuel Pools, and Possible Resulting Fires" by Robert Alvarez et al.

I used the Alvarez paper in a series of posts in the last thread to attempt to get a handle on the consequences of a spent-fuel storage pool fire.

The upshot of it was roughly, yeah, there's cause for concern here if there's a fire involving the fuel storage.

Alvarez used some bounding assumptions on rate of release that reflected assumptions in prior NRC studies. Here's what the rebuttal has to say about that (please note, the Alvarez paper frames its concerns about fuel-storage fires as a potential outcome of terrorist attack):

"Overestimation of Radiation Release

In estimating fuel damage, the paper again makes reference to past NRC studies which conservatively assumed bounding pool configurations for cooling analysis and conservatively assumed the extent of radiation release. In the 1997 Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) study, “Severe Accidents in Spent Fuel Pools in Support of Generic Safety Issue 82,” (NUREG/CR-4982), it was assumed that 10-100% of the cesium-137 was released to the atmosphere. Similarly in NUREG-1738 the base case assumed the release of 75% of the total cesium-137 inventory. The assumption of such a large release in NUREG-1738 was a large conservatism which was tolerable for the purposes of that study. However, it is neither a realistic estimate nor an appropriate assumption for a risk assessment of security issues where realism is needed. Ongoing research to address these issues includes more detailed realistic analyses of the thermal response of fuel to loss of water scenarios and more detailed, realistic analyses of the radionuclide releases for those scenarios where adequate cooling is not maintained. Based on preliminary analyses, we conclude that spent fuel in pools is more easily cooled even in the event of a complete loss of water. Further, preliminary analysis indicates that previous NRC estimates of the quantities of fission products released were high by likely an order of magnitude. Earlier NRC studies used large conservatisms, in generic calculations, with simplified modeling.

Further, the paper generally does not give credit for the likely intervention by operators to prevent uncovering the fuel or to provide emergency cooling to the spent fuel although it acknowledges some of the very long times available for loss of cooling events. Our ongoing analyses suggest that longer times than previously estimated are available for operators to intervene to restore water to ensure that the fuel remains cooled.

The National Research Council in its 2002 report, Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, found: “The threat of terrorist attacks on spent fuel storage facilities, like reactors, is highly dependent on design characteristics. Moreover, spent fuel generates orders of magnitude less heat than an operating reactor, so that emergency cooling of the fuel in the case of an attack could probably be accomplished using ‘low tech’ measures that could be implemented without significant exposure of workers to radiation.” The Commission agrees with this statement, and through its February 25, 2002 Order directed licensees to develop guidance and strategies to maintain or restore spent fuel pool cooling capabilities using existing or available resources."

So, if I may summarize, the NRC rebuttal says that the radiation-release estimates used as the basis of Alvarez' calculations are invalid because they were hand-wavy to begin with, but it was OK in the context of the original study for reasons not specified. More realistic research is called for, and that research needs to include a better understanding of spent-fuel radiation release potential. Initial guesstimates say there is potential for waste cooling even if there's no water in the pools. Also, the NRC now thinks the initial figures for releases "were high by likely an order of magnitude."

The NRC also states that the timeline for responding to a no-water waste-fuel event is long, possibly longer than they had thought previously, and plant operators should be able to respond effectively in part because " 'emergency cooling of the fuel in the case of an attack could probably be accomplished using ‘low tech’ measures that could be implemented without significant exposure of workers to radiation.' "

The rest of the response is covers how the NRC sees the Alvarez paper as overstating localized economic effects in the region of a given event and requesting overly-expensive remedies to ameliorate the safety issues. I didn't review those sections in detail.

So I guess the next question is, did the NRC or others ever commission or publish updated information concerning the release potential of waste fuel? I suppose, regrettably, we may be watching that experiment in real time.
posted by mwhybark at 9:27 PM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've lost track of several things in the course of all this. Can anyone address these -

1) The initial problem was the reactor and containment in #1. The last I heard was that they believed it had lost all coolant circulation and water level was dropping. So what is going on with that? Has it melted down inside the containment? I haven't heard anything about the #1 reactor in a long time.

2) I've been watching NHK and they seem to be hinting that the firetrucks have done some water spraying, but the complete lack of video, or results, or details about that leave me wondering whether they mean the trucks are actually absolutely spraying, or whether they just intend to. They said one truck wasn't powerful enough, but another trucks were on the way. That was over 20 hours ago though. Anyone know if the trucks are actually there spraying?

3) My understanding is that the electrical switching was flooded, which is one reason power couldn't be restored. But now we have new power lines being built out to the plant. These seem to be at odds. If the problem is the switching, a new power line will do no good. And if switching isn't the problem, why not just bring in generators? We know they can get firetrucks in, certainly trucks with generators would be possible. What specifically is this power line suppose to do?

4) I know that people in the old thread suspected that robots would short out under high radiation. But We've seen plenty of highly manuverable hovering drones linked on the blue. Things that can be controled with a cellphone even. Why are they not even trying these? You can buy them on the Internet. Seems like shorting out a few just to try them would be an incredibly good idea. So why aren't they doing that?

5) Has anyone asked NHK why they keep cutting away from press conferences? This seems wildly bizzare. Surely someone has just flat out asked. Anyone know?

6) The videos showing #3 and #4 look like the sides have blown out. That's clearly different from the #1 hydrogen venting explosion where the roof blew off rather cleanly. Any idea what caused the #3-4 explosion? It looks very different.

7) I remember them reporting the explosion at #1 and #3, but not at #4. Did the #4 explosion get reported officially?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The cutaway that y6 posted about at 9:11 is the second time that I've seen NHK World cut from an ongoing live press conference of TEPCO to show old footage, business news, and weather. This is just not news as normal, especially when broadcasting a live press conference during a disaster - I can think of no US example coming even close. I'm sure there's something going on behind the scenes - but I also am clueless as to what is usual for NHK World. Any Japan locals more familiar with the news there want to speculate?

Also if anyone sees any articles re: news media in Japan, how things are being reported, etc. I'm passing such info on to my fellow mass communication studies folk via Facebook, would love any links.
posted by batgrlHG at 9:33 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


FishBike writes "He's a former nuclear industry guy who seems (to me, anyway) to really know what he is talking about on this stuff. I've been wondering if he had anything to say about this event, and sure enough he just posted a blog entry about it. It's interesting reading."

Be interesting to see a month from now whether John's post is accurate and to what degree.

tavella writes "It's not sunlight reflecting, because it's a gray day."

You can get a bright reflection of an overcast sky off of water. Especially in the case of digital video camera which has relatively little dynamic range compared to the human eye or even film.
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Darnit, y6 and I have same question. Shoulda waited longer and re-hit preview.

Randomly NHK World just now said "let's go back to press conference" - and we're seeing the start of it that we had watched moments ago - possibly they cut away in order to have a delay in case they needed to edit anything for...what, language? Dunno.

posted by batgrlHG at 9:35 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK just cut away from the press conference just as they were about to answer questions about what was happening. That is the most suspicious thing I've seen in my life.

I've seen them do exactly this a bunch of times before over the past few days. I'm not sure I can really attribute it to malice or a deliberate coverup since the press conference is still happening and reporters are still sitting there asking questions and reporting the information. I think it is more a result of the insane insistence NHK World seems to have on sticking to an absolute schedule at all times. It's as though there is a manager somewhere who insists that the business news, weather, and other segments be aired exactly as scheduled, no matter what's going on. They cut the business news right after the Emperor's remarks for crying out loud. Maybe they are all too busy making dioramas to run a better newscast?

It's also possible that they do things like this to give the translator a break, since it seems they only have one translator on the air at a time. Simultaneous interpretation is incredibly taxing and a rapid fire situation like this has to be even more difficult. I wonder why they can't call in more staff since this is surely the highest English-speaking audience they have ever had?
posted by zachlipton at 9:36 PM on March 17, 2011


"It has to be Cherenkov glow"

I know the flash of light you're talking about, and I absolutely don't agree with your analyses. That could be all sorts of things. The walls have huge holes blown in them. Light could be coming in from the outside, it could be a reflection, or you might just be seeing a hole in the far side.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:36 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


If that silvery thing in the video is Cerenkov radiation, I'll eat my hat.

You don't need direct sunlight for the surface of water or some other reflective thing to be bright. Imagine placing a mirror on the ground and looking down at it---on a gray day you will see the gray, silvery sky.

I have the impression that Cerenkov radiation is fairly dim. Most Google image search results for "spent fuel cerenkov" seem to be photos taken in dark rooms. I imagine that anything hot enough to produce as much light during daytime as you see in the video is probably not something you want to be flying helicopters around.

Furthermore, in all the diagrams and photos we've seen of this and other spent fuel storage pools, the fuel is located so far below the lip of the pool that the glowing parts would not be in the direct line of sight of that helicopter shot. For Cerenkov radiation to light up the whole pool that way, well, again, probably way too hot for spent fuel.

IANANE.

But I bet that it's either sky reflecting off the pool surface or (more likely IMHO) a bright-colored piece of wall/ceiling material or plastic sheeting illuminated by the sky.
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 9:37 PM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The devastation to roads will play merry hell with plans and efforts to get personnel and equipment to the site."

Apparently not. They are driving firetrucks up to the reactor buildings.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:38 PM on March 17, 2011


y6: it's not just our conclusion in this thread, NHK clearly said in the video that's what they think it is.
posted by rainy at 9:38 PM on March 17, 2011


I'd be very cautious about analysing such low quality images, especially when you're not an expert on what to look for.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 9:39 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


2) I've been watching NHK and they seem to be hinting that the firetrucks have done some water spraying, but the complete lack of video, or results, or details about that leave me wondering whether they mean the trucks are actually absolutely spraying, or whether they just intend to. They said one truck wasn't powerful enough, but another trucks were on the way. That was over 20 hours ago though. Anyone know if the trucks are actually there spraying?
I can't speak to any of your questions but this one.

-Yesterday afternoon, they sent out a police riot squad water cannon. They didn't hit what they were trying to hit, and didn't get a chance to try again because of the high radiation levels.

-JSDF fire trucks sprayed water from 7:30 onward, drew back when they ran out of water. Don't know why they didn't keep going, but possibly a combination of radiation, darkness, waiting to see if it had any effect or not. They may come back today for more spraying.

-As of this morning, the Tokyo fire department has sent in these Hyper Rescue trucks, including at least one water supply truck that can pump sea water directly. There's been some hemming and hawing about whether to prioritize the electricity hookup or the water pumping, but as of the latest I've heard, they're going to start pumping water about 2:00.
posted by Jeanne at 9:40 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NYT is reporting (Radiation Fears and Distrust Push Thousands From Homes) that now many in Fukushima prefecture are leaving beyond the Japanese govt. designated safety zone. It's clear that few trust TEPCO. Now it's clear that some Japanese believe the govt. is also covering up.

I don't blame them at all.
posted by gen at 9:41 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


y6y6y6: I'm not sure how up to date it is, but this table at Wikipedia suggests the fuel in #1 is 70% damaged and seawater pumping is "continuing".
posted by floam at 9:41 PM on March 17, 2011


I've been watching NHK and they seem to be hinting that the firetrucks have done some water spraying, but the complete lack of video, or results, or details about that leave me wondering whether they mean the trucks are actually absolutely spraying, or whether they just intend to. They said one truck wasn't powerful enough, but another trucks were on the way. That was over 20 hours ago though. Anyone know if the trucks are actually there spraying?

They did some spraying yesterday a while after the helicopter water drops. The riot police truck wasn't powerful enough to reach the target, but the air base fire squad trucks got at least some water in the building, but its not really clear how much made it into the pool. The Guardian says that "afterwards, radiation emissions rose from 3,700 microsieverts per hour to 4,000 per hour, the Kyodo news agency quoted Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) as saying."

They will be trying more spraying later today with more powerful fire trucks from Tokyo that are used for highrise building fires.
posted by zachlipton at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2011


y6y6y6 writes "Apparently not. They are driving firetrucks up to the reactor buildings."

A week after the earthquake and tsunami. Seems likely civil engineering and maintenance crews have been busy that whole time.
posted by Mitheral at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Evacuation Zones Around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant
posted by nickyskye at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2011


So days ago NHK World was showing us entire press conferences. What they just showed was the exact beginning to the press conference we saw once - and then it broke away again just a it had when we first saw the footage minutes ago. So they're recycling the news that shows a news conference where a question is asked and then cut away so we can't hear the answer - and then they repeat that one bit. Even if they're running on a specific schedule of weather 10 min past hour, business news at 15 min, etc. - that sort of thing - there's no way you'd run the same footage of a press conference where you cut away only after a question is asked and before an answer is given. That leaves all your viewers hanging - and I can't imagine that it would go down well in another culture any other way than "oh look, here's a question you won't see answered." But that they've got the same footage on a loop and are reshowing it so close together....weird.

Note: I'm not seeing conspiracy here, I'm seeing a producer that's seriously making crap decisions, perhaps for a reason? No idea. But it's not normal for news production.
(Former grad student of mass comm, radio/tv, fellow grads/current profs and I have been discussing this and we're all flummoxed.)
posted by batgrlHG at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2011


Small nit: Do you really gotta be using rems, NYT? If anything not-horrible has come of this disaster, I think we've all pretty much switched over to the SI unit for radiation exposure.
posted by floam at 9:46 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Question: would rain make the situation better or worse? On the one hand it would probably(?) extinguish the on going fires and cool things off, but on the other it would release more radioactive steam. I'm guessing the former to be the best bet though. Any idea on this? Apparently it won't rain again until Sunday or Monday at the plant.
posted by zardoz at 9:46 PM on March 17, 2011


batgrlHG: You gotta keep in mind, this is NHK World here, and I doubt most in Japan are watching this. They seem to kind of suck, but you can't draw much from it as far as what the people there are getting information-wise. It'd be kind of like watching Univision to keep ontop of 9/11 or something.
posted by floam at 9:48 PM on March 17, 2011


Rain would be good because it'd wash down radioactive dust. Release of more radioactive steam would not be an issue. It would help for a bit of time, the workers would be able to approach closer to buildings.
posted by rainy at 9:49 PM on March 17, 2011


floam beat me to it: NHK World is scheduling things in a really crappy way, but if they're broadcasting more smoothly inside the country in Japanese, then I really doubt there's any kind of conspiracy going on.

Is anyone here watching the local NHK broadcasts? Are you getting the whole conference or this weird stop-and-start coverage?
posted by maudlin at 9:52 PM on March 17, 2011


You can actually sort of (ineffectively) cause rain. The Russians tried cloud seeding with Chernobyl, and it probably would be to the disadvantage of the people getting radioactive-rained on and for the benefit of those further away. The size of Japan may be a factor here.
posted by floam at 9:53 PM on March 17, 2011


"On the one hand it would probably(?) extinguish the on going fires and cool things off"

IANANE, just my understanding -

I don't think we're dealing with fires. All that white stuff is steam, not smoke. Steam is a somewhat good sign, since it means there is some water.

As for cooling things off, that's not really the challenge. Even if you cool it off, it just heats right back up. This is something like a magic red hot fry pan that just turns red hot again after you take it out of the water. You need many tons of circulating water to keep cooling it constantly. That magic is what makes this stuff so great as a power source.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2011


I'd been watching the local NHK broadcasts earlier and they did seem to cut away quickly and weirdly from a press conference a while ago. I'd shut off my desktop to go to bed (uh, fail) so I'm not watching now.
posted by Jeanne at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2011


(And right now we maybe don't have that kind of particulate up in the high atmosphere like they did in Chernobyl.)
posted by floam at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2011


s/mi-28/mi-26/g
posted by b1tr0t at 9:57 PM on March 17, 2011


floam: "batgrlHG: You gotta keep in mind, this is NHK World here, and I doubt most in Japan are watching this. They seem to kind of suck, but you can't draw much from it as far as what the people there are getting information-wise. It'd be kind of like watching Univision to keep ontop of 9/11 or something"

I have the impression that NHK is more like PBS - it's the 'national' network and has some sort of official status. I don't think there are even ads on the Japanese broadcast. Did you see the 6-way video of realtime cutins about the earthquake? It was linked in the main thread, and NHK was showing some high-level government meeting, live I think, when the quake hit.

Also, batgrlHG, YokosoNews often gives off-the-cuff live translations of news conferences and you can get the main, in Japanese, NHK stream here to cross-check programming if you'd like.
posted by mwhybark at 9:57 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Live firehose on NHK/NHK World now.
posted by mwhybark at 10:06 PM on March 17, 2011


mwhybark: From what I understand, NHK World is intended for a foreign audience (like BBC World or France 24). I believe NHK also has separate domestic news programming.
posted by neal at 10:06 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK - Is showing 2-3 trucks spraying water on #3. Lots of water, lots of steam.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:06 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can actually sort of (ineffectively) cause rain. The Russians tried cloud seeding with Chernobyl, and it probably would be to the disadvantage of the people getting radioactive-rained on and for the benefit of those further away. The size of Japan may be a factor here.

As I understand it, cloud seeding requires certain weather conditions already before it can be even minimally effective (assuming it works at all), and it's not really possible to control the results once you've started the process. You could seed a cloud and have it move a good distance before it starts raining. I doubt Japan even has much local expertise with cloud seeding, so trying this would probably mean asking China for help. I can't imagine that the government asking China to send cloud seeding experts would have any result besides a mass freakout of the Japanese population and making everyone think that the officials have lost their minds.

(And right now we maybe don't have that kind of particulate up in the high atmosphere like they did in Chernobyl.)

Perhaps we'll get a better idea of that issue once the special US plane used for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty monitoring flights does its survey. Presumably that would give us high altitude data we may not already have.

batgrlHG: You gotta keep in mind, this is NHK World here, and I doubt most in Japan are watching this. They seem to kind of suck, but you can't draw much from it as far as what the people there are getting information-wise. It'd be kind of like watching Univision to keep ontop of 9/11 or something

More like watching Voice of America to keep on top of 9/11 or the BBC World Service to keep on top of the 7/7 attacks.
posted by zachlipton at 10:06 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


They say they are going to be rotating 7 trucks. And spraying a total of 50 tons of water.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:09 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Voice of America is providing really good and timely information about the situation in Japan right now.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 PM on March 17, 2011


They're spraying as I type. Those fire trucks look close. Lots of steam, I hope that's good, I hope it's enough for now.
posted by zardoz at 10:13 PM on March 17, 2011


So this is interesting. From the PM's English twitter @JPN_PMO:
"Mr. Edano:Some foreign governments have asked their citizens within 80 km radius of the nuclear power plant to evacuate as a precaution. Such a more conservative approach in protecting the lives of their nationals is understandable. JPN would do so if it were in their shoes. But, JPN is taking appropriate measures so far based on monitoring results."
So the government is essentially endorsing the wider evacuation radius of the US and other governments and saying it would do the same if this were happening someplace else? I wonder how this will play out domestically. Anyone in Japan have any analysis or know how the Japanese press is reporting this?
posted by zachlipton at 10:16 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu: "Voice of America is providing really good and timely information about the situation in Japan right now."

like on the radio? got a link? I suppose they prolly have local reporters.
posted by mwhybark at 10:17 PM on March 17, 2011


mwhybark, I think the point is that NHK World is explicitly directed at an international audience, and regular NHK itself is what the Japanese are seeing. In other words, an analysis of how NHK World handles a press conference may not tell you much about its agenda wrt domestic information dissemination.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on March 17, 2011


Looks like good news, there is a very large (huge) storm heading over the radiation plume area, likely taking plume out to sea and north.
posted by nickyskye at 10:18 PM on March 17, 2011


dhartung: "mwhybark, I think the point is that NHK World is explicitly directed at an international audience, and regular NHK itself is what the Japanese are seeing. In other words, an analysis of how NHK World handles a press conference may not tell you much about its agenda wrt domestic information dissemination"

Well, being able to determine if the cutaways are happening at the NHK World level or the NHK level would help batgrlHG determine if the intent is to differentiate the information streams. I kinda think the cutaways are the same but haven't done a splitscreen.
posted by mwhybark at 10:20 PM on March 17, 2011


6) The videos showing #3 and #4 look like the sides have blown out. That's clearly different from the #1 hydrogen venting explosion where the roof blew off rather cleanly. Any idea what caused the #3-4 explosion? It looks very different.

7) I remember them reporting the explosion at #1 and #3, but not at #4. Did the #4 explosion get reported officially?


I was wondering about this too -- I don't think it ever got addressed in the previous thread.

Also, from what I remembered, #3 was slightly more damaged than #1 when it blew. Now, it looks like the entire building has disintegrated. What happened? Were there multiple explosions (and if so, how? presumably another large hydrogen explosion would not be possible once the building had lots its top)

I remember reading that #4 was mildly damaged when #3 blew its top, but never heard how the building turned into its current (severely damaged) form.

I'm also very, very confused about the backup electricity situation. Their ability to run backup power lines seems to be extremely at odds with the rest of the situation. (Though the previous thread did address my concern that backup diesels are not particularly difficult to fly in -- the pumps apparently require power on the order of several megawatts to operate. That's potentially several dozen very large tractor-trailer sized diesel generators, which would seem to explain why that option was never practical.)
posted by schmod at 10:20 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


They're spraying as I type. Those fire trucks look close. Lots of steam, I hope that's good, I hope it's enough for now.

They were saying yesterday that it would have to be within 100 meters (328 feet). NHK World is saying now that these are the same SDF fire engines as yesterday. Do we know what happened to the Hyper Rescue trucks?

I too hope this is good. I haven't really seen any commentary from nuclear experts as to what they think of yesterday's water drop and spray efforts. Has anyone else?
posted by zachlipton at 10:20 PM on March 17, 2011


But I bet that it's either sky reflecting off the pool surface or (more likely IMHO) a bright-colored piece of wall/ceiling material or plastic sheeting illuminated by the sky.

Yeah. It's not going to be the Cherenkov radiation that we're seeing there. I once got the chance to see Cherenkov radiation in person- safely under many feet of water, at a college's small reactor. It's very dim. You can see it in a bright room, a little- you can see it much much better with the lights out. By a "bright" room, I mean "much darker than anything outdoors, ever, even on a cloudy day" (if there's one thing fiddling with photography has taught me, your eyes lie. Anything inside lit by lights is much dimmer than sunlight).

It's a reflection, off something. Maybe water, maybe not. Also, it probably looks brighter after I upped the contrast than it did in the original one.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:23 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK was saying the various spraying units are maintaining operational cohesion, so there's an SDF unit, the Hyper Rescue guys (which term NHK hasn't used in this session that I heard), and a couple others (not sure what, plant firefighters and police maybe?). Each unit has been assigned responsibility for a plant.

That's why the NHK v/o is identifyingthe #3 spray team as SDF. I think the plan assignments must have been covered at one of the press conferences over the past 24h.
posted by mwhybark at 10:24 PM on March 17, 2011


It's hard to tell, but I would guess the distance they are at now is more like 50 yards.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:25 PM on March 17, 2011


6) The videos showing #3 and #4 look like the sides have blown out. That's clearly different from the #1 hydrogen venting explosion where the roof blew off rather cleanly. Any idea what caused the #3-4 explosion? It looks very different.

The BWR-3 vents hydrogen from the reactor vessel into secondary containment, as we know.

(Everything below this point is a best guess and nothing more; I'm poking around at IAEA and can't really find too much about the Unit 3 explosion in technical detail.)

My speculation is that the Unit 1 explosion was exactly like the design spec-- the vessel vented and then the gas in the secondary containment exploded.

I'm not sure what happens when hydrogen from the spent fuel pool explodes, though, and I wonder if that's what we saw in the other two cases.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:27 PM on March 17, 2011


FWIW, NHK is now running canned (?) refugee-shelter footage vs live v/o with replays of the spraying that just ended on NHK World.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on March 17, 2011


Is anyone here watching the local NHK broadcasts? Are you getting the whole conference or this weird stop-and-start coverage?

Yes, in Japan. Similar broken-up coverage.
posted by gen at 10:30 PM on March 17, 2011


"It's a reflection, off something. Maybe water, maybe not."

Actually we're now seeing a closeup of #4 while they are zooming in on the spraying of #3. #4 clearly is missing large wall sections on the west side (the side where the light would be coming from) all the way to the ground. Seeing this now I'm pretty sure the light we're seeing is a view right through the building. And even if not, there is clearly a large amount of light coming in from the other side, enough even to illuminate a wall of floor.

Said another way, the assumption that there is no other light source in there is wrong. There are huge holes on the other side, and possibly all four sides.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:31 PM on March 17, 2011


VOA's Steve Herman has a Twitter feed (pretty bleak Tweet about apparent rad levels in Fukushima City proper, located about 50km as the crow flies from the power plant), but I just go to the website.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone asked Arclight for his opinion of the current situation:
We're deep into the decay curve & things are less chaotic. Things are slowing down.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


btw, am I the only one who can't help but think that the NHK World "weather music" sounds like background music for a Wii channel? Every time they do a whether report I keep chuckling at this

Yes, in Japan. Similar broken-up coverage.
Hey Gen. If I haven't said it to you already, glad you are well :) Is this style of coverage normal for NHK and/or other Japanese broadcasters? It seems very disorganized to me, but maybe I'm just too used to CNN other US newscasters.
posted by zachlipton at 10:34 PM on March 17, 2011


We're deep into the decay curve & things are less chaotic. Things are slowing down.

Can I get a translation? Does "decay curve" mean the strength of the rods' emissions?
posted by zardoz at 10:37 PM on March 17, 2011


U.S. nuclear officials suspect Japanese plant has a dire breach, LA Times.

"U.S. government nuclear experts believe a spent fuel pool at Japan's crippled Fukushima reactor complex has a breach in the wall or floor, a situation that creates a major obstacle to refilling the pool with cooling water and keeping dangerous levels of radiation from escaping."

Looks like they're talking about Reactor 4.
posted by dialetheia at 10:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The LA Times is reporting that the NRC believes that the wall of the #4 reactor pool has a significant hole or crack. If this is the case, it would be a major obstacle to attempts to refill the pool with cooling water.
posted by zachlipton at 10:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think in the other thread someone mentioned the pools were 40 feet a side, and the copters were having trouble hitting that spot from 1000 feet up and hovering. Imagine trying to do that with a 747 at a higher altitude going 180mph, even if you had 20x the water.

The videos of helicopter runs I saw did not have them hovering. They made passes over the reactors at speed, to limit the radiation exposure to the pilot. But otherwise I agree with you, a 747 wouldn't do any better at it.
posted by scalefree at 10:39 PM on March 17, 2011


METAFILTER: "It's a reflection, off something. Maybe water, maybe not."
posted by philip-random at 10:42 PM on March 17, 2011


Zardoz: Check out this Wikipedia article on decay heat; the decay curve plots the level of heat dropping over time, from the moment when the reactor is shut down ("scrammed") at full power to the point where it's a very small fraction of the total reactor power.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:43 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


U.S. nuclear officials suspect Japanese plant has a dire breach, LA Times.

The article was confusing because it contained a mixture of current info and old info (no mention of the pumper trucks at #3 today, as well as stating that IAEA was set to arrive in Japan on Fri - it's Thurs in LA but already late aft Fri in Japan - whereas he's already arrived).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:47 PM on March 17, 2011


Incredibly stupid question of the thread (really, I'd like official recognition for this).

If there is a crack in the No. 4 pool, it needs to be fixed. But could they slow down the leak by feeding in something, like an alginate, that would turn into a gel on contact with water? (Basically turn the pool into a giant disposable diaper, pace Nuclear Boy.) Apart from the fact that they may not even be able to create a gel, or that a gel would not be enough to significantly reduce leakage, would a gel also be much, much worse than water at the job of keeping the rods cool?
posted by maudlin at 10:48 PM on March 17, 2011


maudlin: yeah, much worse because it'd have no convection. Other than that, they can't even get water in there reliably. Other than that, they probably have no idea how gel would chemically react in that environment.
posted by rainy at 10:50 PM on March 17, 2011


Suppose there is a crack in the pool. Thus they can't refill it with water. What we've talked about in the past means that exposed spent rods will have huge radiation emissions, immediately-fatal-level emissions, so you can't even get workers near it.

If you can't refill it with water, then your next step must be to put some form of shielding over it to allow workers to get close enough to do whatever the *next* step is? So you need to basically lay a monster lead blanket over it?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:57 PM on March 17, 2011


Ah, even worse than I thought. Thanks. I'm glad to see I've set the current standard for stupid in the thread.

So what solutions, if any, have people made work in any remotely similar cases? I know we probably haven't dealt with this specific situation before, but have there been any other engineering successes at dealing with a massive leak from a safe distance?
posted by maudlin at 10:57 PM on March 17, 2011


They talked about it on Rachel Maddow show yesterday, with a nuclear scientist. He basically said, let's hope the pool is good and intact, because otherwise you need to get assemblies out of there somehow, and that's, uh... basically, let's hope it's intact. That's what he pretty much said.
posted by rainy at 10:59 PM on March 17, 2011


I wonder if they could dump liquid nitrogen into #4 to cool things off for a while, then try to patch the hole. They really need to get a robot or something in there to see what's going on.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on March 17, 2011


maudlin: the only leaks that happened before did not involve massive radiation so they could be fixed by normal means, like closing a hatch.. there were links on top of thread with the list of accidents of water loss. Broken pool with massive radiation is not something that ever happened, as far as I know.
posted by rainy at 11:03 PM on March 17, 2011


The IAEA's latest update has new temperature figures for the pools in reactors #5 and #6. Apparently they were able to hook up a diesel generator at reactor #6, so the temperature there has decreased slightly. So that's one bit of good news!

Unit 5
17 March, 03:00 UTC: 64.2 °C
17 March, 18:00 UTC: 65.5 °C
Unit 6
17 March, 03:00 UTC: 62.5 °C
17 March, 18:00 UTC: 62.0 °C

Still no word on Unit 4 since this reading, as the measurement equipment was apparently damaged in the explosion:
13 March, 19:08 UTC: 84 °C
posted by zachlipton at 11:04 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that liquid nitrogen wouldn't be as effective. It would just boil off too fast. Remember the rods don't need to be cooled off a lot, they need to be cooled off constantly. Without circulation they just heat right back up.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:05 PM on March 17, 2011


delmoi, I was thinking of nitrogen too, but it's probably not practical. water is actually a really excellent substance that's great for heat exchange properties and there's equipment to spray, pour or otherwise deliver it. If they are having trouble with water, they have no chance with anything else. But water would be good enough if they could continuously spray it at a very large rate, even with a significant leak.. If there's a hole, I wonder how big it is.
posted by rainy at 11:06 PM on March 17, 2011


My concern would be that if the damage to the #4 pool was large enough to cause such a significant hole, doesn't it stand to reason that the storage pool's careful configuration could also have been mixed up enough that criticality (with water added) is more possible. Does anyone have any clue what the significance is of the neutron radiation measurements I mentioned earlier?
posted by zachlipton at 11:11 PM on March 17, 2011


My understanding is that liquid nitrogen wouldn't be as effective. It would just boil off too fast.
Well, if it boiled off it would take a large amount of heat energy in the process, just as water would. As far as filling the whole pool up to carry energy away that way, it wouldn't work if there was a hole in the pool.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 PM on March 17, 2011


JSDF press conference just ended. I didn't catch it all but did hear that 6 of 7 water trucks hosed down reactor 3.
posted by gen at 11:13 PM on March 17, 2011


Why the hell would that LA Times story need to have a blind source when the head of the NRC said the exact same thing a day ago?

"That assessment by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials is based on the sequence of events since the earthquake and information provided by key American contractors who were in the plant at the time, said government officials familiar with the evaluation. It was compelling evidence, they said, that the wall of the No. 4 reactor pool has a significant hole or crack."

Grump.

That GlobalHawk deal, the UAV surveillance, that's a thing that hasn't happened yet, correct?

The sourcing above makes no mention of any sources with better observational tools for #4 than the ones that TEPCO and the Japanese government have. I wonder if they have some satellite imagery they can't talk about. I mean, this is clearly something the NRC is quite sure about, but their sourcing to the media is for shit.
posted by mwhybark at 11:14 PM on March 17, 2011


I wonder if they have some satellite imagery they can't talk about.

I would believe this to be the case. We have a lot of eyes up there that have very good resolution; no reason not to use them.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:24 PM on March 17, 2011


Le Monde liveblog:
7:34 CET:
On CNN, the plant's engineers are saying that the generators are working again.
posted by neal at 11:38 PM on March 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have managed to catch Arclight's attention for a second about explosion in Unit 1 vs. explosions in Units 3 and 4, but am not sure how much data I'm gonna get. We'll see.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:39 PM on March 17, 2011


So the next question is, what would air-exposed fuel assemblies look like to conventional video?

The bright object in the stabilized video, we are told, is taken by the emergency team to indicate that the pool has water. If there's water, there's Cherenkov radiation, but that is said to be faint, and blue, but also infrared-rich, and therefore possibly prone to appear bright and possibly blue or violet in digital images. Or possibly it's a reflection of the sky and the Cherenkov radiation is too faint to be seen.

So what if there's no water? Would the assemblies be throwing a LOT of infrared out, in addition to creating a local high-intensity radiation environment? Like enough so that the infrared would reflect out to the point a digital video camera would see it as a light source? Googling 'nuclear fuel infrared' and the like now produces hundreds of pages about the accident and the occasional Halo screenshot, so I'm stuck there.

A side note here: the reporting we've seen about area radiation on the plants seems to support the position that there's still water in the pool, I think. There's been no disagreement at all about whether or not uncovered spent fuel produces a highly radiation-intensive environment. What I do not know with regard to this specific issue is how big the field would be.

Is the 100m distance the firefighters are using a baseline for even uncovered fuel? Anybody?
posted by mwhybark at 11:45 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reviewing comments on TOD, some folks believe that #1 had different construction on top which led to lighter explosion.
posted by rainy at 11:47 PM on March 17, 2011


Rainy: Arclight started mentioning the date each reactor unit came online when I asked, so that may be relevant, yes. Unit 1 came online in 1971, Units 2 and 3 in '76, Unit 4 in '78. He also mentioned that Units 2 and 3 had high pressure water injection going on longer, and that Unit 1 lost its RCIC system first. I'm not sure what I'm to make of all that yet; he sometimes skips around answering people.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:51 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


also can someone who reads Japanese translate this cartoon for me? I'm assuming it's trad media vs. bloggers, as in comments, but would like to know what it says.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:52 PM on March 17, 2011


mwhybark: I've seen figures like ~1 Sievert outside of pool (but close to it, like right next to the building) - for exposed assemblies without water. 100m from the building would still be bad and before they evacuated workers at lower radiation levels.

I think the way pool without water would look would depend a lot of the temp of rods. You know how steel has yellow, red, etc (?) stages of heating? They would be able to tell the range of temperature based on colour, if it works anything like many other materials.
posted by rainy at 11:53 PM on March 17, 2011


fairytale: that's something that occurred to me in regard to confusion over generators / mainline power. Perhaps generators were only supposed to be used for low pressure cooling. Perhaps their plan is to try to connect main power hoping high pressure cooling is still usable. If you could ask arclight on this point...
posted by rainy at 11:55 PM on March 17, 2011


mwhybark: however, radiation outside of building would depend highly on current geometry inside the building. If the assemblies are dry but covered with pieces of debris and parts of roof above, it may be they can approach unit #3 from the side farthest away from #4 and levels aren't too bad there. Are they spraying #3 from the ocean side or from the other side? If from ocean side, #3 can shield them from #4.
posted by rainy at 12:01 AM on March 18, 2011


I once got the chance to see Cherenkov radiation in person- safely under many feet of water, at a college's small reactor. It's very dim.

College research reactors tend to be fairly dim things indeed; very small and low powered in comparison. A fully loaded spent fuel pool for a commercial reactor is a very different animal. Not faint, even in a well lit room.
posted by tavella at 12:02 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


rainy: "mwhybark: I think the way pool without water would look would depend a lot of the temp of rods. You know how steel has yellow, red, etc (?) stages of heating? They would be able to tell the range of temperature based on colour, if it works anything like many other materials"

I'm specifically interested in the way they would look on digital video, not what they would look like to our eyes.

Do you have a Wii or a Kinect or anything that uses infrared light? Take a picture of its' infrared light source with your cell-phone camera (in the Wii, that's the sensor bar, the part that sits parallel with the TV facing the player). If the camera sees the item's light source, you'll see a light source in the image on the phone that you don't see with natural vision.

If the assemblies are illuminating in infrared, they could show up as light sources on conventional video.

But I have absolutely no idea if that's plausible.
posted by mwhybark at 12:02 AM on March 18, 2011


rainy: "mwhybark: they spraying #3 from the ocean side or from the other side? If from ocean side, #3 can shield them from #4"

They are spraying it from the north, a position midway between #3 and (I think) #2.
posted by mwhybark at 12:04 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, if you're using a TRIGA research reactor to make a ton of neutrons very quickly, it's pretty bright compared to its rest state. Warning, video is quite loud.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:07 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


mwhybark: that would be very much consistent with them trying to shield from #4. They could be confident about state of #2 and scared of #4. Not necessarily if the water is gone completely, but if enough of assemblies are exposed, they'll want to keep away from it.
posted by rainy at 12:07 AM on March 18, 2011


It looked to me like the firetrucks were spraying from the northwest corner of the building (#3). So not really blocked from direct line of sight of #4.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:08 AM on March 18, 2011


Quake tools by Rick Martin.
posted by nickyskye at 12:12 AM on March 18, 2011


fairytale, that cartoon seems to be in Chinese. I don't know who it's comparing NHK to, but I would guess the Chinese news channels.
posted by No-sword at 12:23 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Maybe Taiwanese news, as the characters are unsimplified.)
posted by No-sword at 12:27 AM on March 18, 2011


Collecting info on spent fuel pool #4 from the other thread:
"If the entire core of a reactor had been unloaded into the spent fuel pool only a few days after shutdown, the time [to boil off] could be as short as a day."

Unit 4 was taken down for maintenance on November 30 2010 (source: IAEA, specifically the March 15th 1800 UTC update). The entire core was unloaded at that time-- how long does it take to unload and store an entire core? Anyone?

So, basically, we're looking at November 30th/ December 1st to the day the quake hit as far as the storage period.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:09 PM on March 17 [+] [!]
and
Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage, a report from the NRC in 2006:
[Normal] Pool heat loads can be quite high, as exemplified by a "typical" boiling water reactor (BWR)... [An imagined case study by the NRC, a storage pool which has 3000 assemblies stored in a pool that's 35'x40'x39' with a water capacity of almost 400,000 gallons] the total decay heat in the spent fuel pool is 3.9 megawatts ten days after a one-third core offload. The vast majority of this heat is from decay in the newly discharged spent fuel. Heat loads would be substantially higher in spent fuel pools that contained a full-core offload.[...]

In some reactor designs [such as the ones at Fukushima] the spent fuel pools are contained within the reactor building, which is typically constructed of about 2 feet of reinforced concrete.[...]

The typical spent fuel pool is 40 feet (12 meters) deep and can be 40 or more feet in each horizontal dimension. The pool walls are constructed of reinforced concrete typically having a thickness between 4 and 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 meters). The pools contain a 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6 to 13 mm) thick stainless steel liner, which is attached to the walls with studs embedded in the concrete. The pools also contain vertical storage racks for holding spent and fresh fuel assemblies, and some pools have a gated compartment to hold a spent fuel storage cask while it is being loaded and sealed.

The storage racks are about 13 feet (4 meters) in height and are installed near the bottom of the spent fuel pool. The racks have feet to provide space between their bottoms and the pool floor. There is also space between the sides of the racks and the steel pool liners to allow for circulation of water. There are about 26 feet (8meters) of water above the top of the spent fuel racks. [...]

[...]nearly all pools contain high-density spent fuel racks. These racks allow approximately five times as many assemblies to be stored in the pool as would have been possible with the original racks, which had open lateral channels between the fuel assemblies to enhance water circulation.
Alvarez and his co-authors concluded that [a complete loss of water in the spent fuel storage pool] would lead to the rapid heat-up of spent fuel in a dense-packed pool to temperatures at which the zirconium alloy cladding would catch fire and release many of the fuel’s fission products, particularly cesium-137. They suggested that the fire could spread to the older spent fuel, resulting in long-term contamination consequences that were worse than those from the Chemobyl accident. Citing two reports by Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL, 1987, 1997), they estimated that between 10 and 100 percent of the cesium-137 could be mobilized in the plume from the burning spent fuel pool, which could cause tens of thousands of excess cancer deaths, loss of tens of thousands of square kilometers of land, and economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The excess cancer estimates were revised downward to between 2000 and 6000 cancer deaths in a subsequent paper (Beyea et at., 2004) that more accurately accounted for average population densities around U.S. power plants.

Resolution of Generic Safety Issues: Beyond Design Basis Accidents in Spent Fuel Storage, NRC report NUREG-0933, rev. 3 - originally prepared 1983, identifies drainage of the spent fuel pool as possible, describes its consequences, but assigns it such a low probability that they think no action to avert it is warranted in their cost/risk/benefit analysis.


NYT on the general problem of the spent fuel pools at Fukushima

Rachel Maddow interviews expert about the spent fuel pool problem, from yesterday

NPR guide to different types of radiation and what they mean

Guardian liveblog - good English source for updates

Guardian blog for "your suggestions about how to tackle the Fukushima problems" - includes discussion of eg, "why not drop water balloons or snow/ice rather than liquid water?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 AM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


There was NRC's rebuttal to Alvarez, discussed in the new thread, that stated that his numbers and assumptions may be inaccurate. But there were no experiments to get precise measurements.
posted by rainy at 12:38 AM on March 18, 2011


The brightness of Cerenkov radiation goes up with the intensity of the source.

Irradiated fuel monitoring by Cerenkov glow intensity measurements. Dowdy et al. Program for technical assistance to IAEA safeguards. Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Sept 1979.

"The calculations indicate that Cerenkov light production is negligible for gamma rays with E <>= 2 MeV"

Earlier, they also say that fuel rod cladding attenuates both gamma rays and beta rays from the fuel rod reaching the water, to the point that gamma radiation is neglible re Cerenkov radiation. Here, though, there is likely to be damaged cladding, so we have more gamma radiation than normal as well as beta radiation, both leading to Cerenkov radiation.

Brighter Cerenkov radiation here than that in a normal, undamaged, nicely spaced fuel pool seems possible.
posted by zippy at 12:43 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


And a subsequent chapter of that "Safety and Security" report that is relevant:

What would be the radioactive releases if a spent fuel pool were drained?

They are envisioning it being drained by a terrorist attack. They note the previous study which said a large seismic event was the most likely cause of drainage, other that terrorist attack. They say that a study on mechanisms of draining the pools (ie what type of damage an attacker would have to inflict) has been done but the specific results are classified (which makes sense). They say Sandia has a study ongoing (at the time of this report, 2006) but i'm not sure if the findings were made public. Maybe someone else can find that, since I have to sign off for the night.

Here's a quote from the 2006 report:
There are two ways in which an attack on a spent fuel pool could spread radioactive contamination: mechanical dispersion and zirconium cladding fires. An explosion or high-energy impact directly on the spent fuel could mechanically pulverize and loft fuel out of the pool. This would contaminate the plant and surrounding site with pieces of spent fuel. Large-scale offsite releases of the radioactive constituents would not occur, however, unless they were mobilized by a zirconium cladding fire that melted the fuel pellets and released some of their radionuclide inventory. Such fires would create thermal plumes that could potentially transport radioactive aerosols hundreds of miles downwind under appropriate atmospheric conditions. [...]

[How fast the cladding catches fire depends on how the fuel is stacked, especially on where the "younger"/hotter fuel is in the array; it also depends on whether there's room for air convection around the stacked fuel; the air convection can be blocked by a low level of water at the bottom of the pool, but if there is no water the air convection will have an easier time cooling the fuel]

[Regarding the suggestion of installing basically a sprinkler system:] The committee carried out a simple aggregate calculation suggesting that a water spray of about 50 to 60 gallons (about 190 to 225 liters) per minute for the whole pool would likely be adequate to prevent a zirconium cladding fire in a loss-of-pool-coolant event. [...]

[footnote] ENTERGY staff mentioned the possible use of a specially equipped fire engine to provide spray cooling. The committee does not know whether this would deliver sufficient spray cooling where it is needed or would provide sufficient protection if terrorists are attempting to prevent emergency response, but the strategy is worth further examination.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:45 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, html error in the last post.

"The calculations indicate that Cerenkov light production is negligible for gamma rays with E ≤ 0.6 MeV and rises steeply with greater gamma-ray energy, reaching values of 50 or more Cerenkov photos per gamma ray for E ≥ 2 MeV."
posted by zippy at 12:46 AM on March 18, 2011


I admit I didn't read their rebuttal to Alvarez, but in the 2006 report they describe the Alvarez vs later critics by basically saying, he was right about what could happen but we dispute the probability numbers he assigned to various events that could cause this. We don't dispute his findings about what would happen if a pool were drained, we dispute his findings about how likely it is to happen. (But you've read the rebuttal, so you've got a better handle on this than I do. In any event, signing off now)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:48 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess the thing I take from that NRC report and the mention of ongoing work at Sandia is, they have gamed this out at least somewhat. They have thought about the numbers, the amount of water you need, the amount of radiation that's released and how fast in this type of event. I don't know if they've thought about what you do next - I'd like to think they must have, but maybe the details of all this stuff will be classified. But I suspect there is extra knowledge about this type of scenario in the background of the 50 mile radius and the other announcements we've heard from US nuke authorities. I am thinking it's less "we don't know what happens with a drained pool" than "we do know, and we think you should get out".
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:53 AM on March 18, 2011


I didn't get to reading the rebuttal, just quotes posted here. To be honest, I don't know who to believe. Neither Alvarez or rebuttal seem to have made their own experiments, and nobody is super sure about calculations.
posted by rainy at 12:55 AM on March 18, 2011


By the way, Japan evacuated about 60 thousand people. If they followed US suggestion, they'd have to evac about 2m. Something to think about...
posted by rainy at 12:57 AM on March 18, 2011


More fun reading on Cerenkov radiation and spent fuel:

Review of Information for Spent Nuclear Fuel Burnup Confirmation. B. B. Brevard et al. US NRC. NUCREG/CR-6998. Dec 2009.

3.5 CERENKOV RADIATION MONITORING DEVICES

... The intensity of Cerenkov light generated by irradiated fuel is proportional to the radiation field intensity in the vicinity of the irradiated fuel.

[Also, born reduces the intensity]

Water quality in spent fuel pools is also an important factor, although it should be constant in any one facility over a short time period. It was
noted that the spent fuel pool at Ringhals Unit 2 contained about 2,000 μg/g boron to absorb neutrons emitted from the spent fuel. The boron caused the light intensity of the Cerenkov glow to be reduced to about half the intensity received from similar spent fuel assemblies in a pool with no boron.

[I wonder what effect salt water has?]
posted by zippy at 12:58 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It makes sense for the US to be more conservative with evacuation, though:

1. It costs them nothing. Few people, no panic (for US expats anyway).

2. They are responsible for them and yet they have no control over what's going on there, and no certainty they get full information from Japanese side.

It makes perfect sense for them to quote a larger evacuation radius in any case.
posted by rainy at 1:01 AM on March 18, 2011


zippy: thanks, that's what I suspected too but was too lazy to find!
posted by rainy at 1:03 AM on March 18, 2011


Anyone have links to description of HOW cementing operation would be implemented given the ongoing high risks ? Why not pursue this at this stage rather than water cooling?
posted by dougiedd at 1:07 AM on March 18, 2011


Evacuation zone thinking: clearly one thing Japan can NOT risk is panic in a large population
Deaths from panic could be problematic
posted by dougiedd at 1:08 AM on March 18, 2011


Also, I think the Cerenkov radiation depends on the refractive index of water. I am too tired to follow the math in the Wikipedia entry to figure out how it might vary between pure water and salt water.
posted by zippy at 1:10 AM on March 18, 2011


I guess the thing I take from that NRC report and the mention of ongoing work at Sandia is, they have gamed this out at least somewhat. They have thought about the numbers, the amount of water you need, the amount of radiation that's released and how fast in this type of event. I don't know if they've thought about what you do next - I'd like to think they must have, but maybe the details of all this stuff will be classified.

Remember what Arclight said about working out fuel drop accident models last night. If it's been gamed out that far, it's been gamed out presuming conditions that bound reality-- hotter fuel in the pool, higher-density racks, pool geometry changes, assembly geometry and spacing changes, "what if we dropped a plane onto it" (yes, I've seen a radiological terrorism paper that cites numbers for plane impacts in spent fuel pools, sometime last night when I should've been asleep), etc. etc.

If no one's simulated the Fukushima conditions yet, or sets of conditions that could be grouped to gain an overall picture, they sure as hell are doing it now, in labs we don't know about, with teams of coders and engineers and researchers who need more Red Bull and our best wishes.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:11 AM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


When they were using boron and sea water earlier, does the boron stay around after the water steams out? Does it continue to capture neutrons in a helpful way? Expect it to stick to the fuel rods, or settle at the bottom?
posted by floam at 1:12 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Living Social will match your donation. You donate 5 bucks, they add another 5 bucks.
posted by nickyskye at 1:16 AM on March 18, 2011


Well, boron itself has a boiling point of 3927 C, but I see that boric acid is at only 300. So I'll guess it's probably not as likely to stick around like I was thinking, but I have no idea what kind of chemistry would occur.
posted by floam at 1:17 AM on March 18, 2011


Japanese reactors power restored. (kidding)
posted by nickyskye at 1:26 AM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Japan's nuclear calamity compounded by history of neglecting safety and downplaying accidents. Are the yakuza partially responsible?

Any human undertaking should always assume a significant amount of incompetence, negligence, graft, and corruption. You really should not get involved in nuclear power when cultural factors like organized crime, a tribal mentality, a tradition regulatory incompetence, etc. dramatically increase these risks.

Italy's Prime Minister, and favorite Mafia money launderer, Silvio Berlusconi has decided to halt the subsidies that've made Italy among the first in the world in solar and wind uptake, instead constructing nuclear power plants. You see, his Mafia buddies can skim more from large government contracts than from small diverse subsidies.

Europeans should be very concerned about Italy's Mafia owned construction, etc. businesses being involved in nuclear power. Anyone remember the trash piling up on the streets of Naples?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:29 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Italy is slightly geologically active.
posted by panaceanot at 1:31 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


God, I actually remember that Pokemon ep.

Thing I hadn't noticed before and haven't heard about in discussions of these specific reactors-- BWRs often have a safety system that operators can kick on in the event that scramming the reactor does not stop criticality, the Standby Liquid Control System. Operators appear to be trained never to kick that sucker on unless they want to destroy the reactor, though-- sort of the "do not press the big red button unless there really is a fire" lecture you get in data center/ render farm operations training, I'd think.

I wonder what shape the SLCS systems at Fukushima Daiichi are in. I doubt they were deployed; the operators wouldn't have had reason, when the quake hit, to think "this is all about to go way south," since they still had emergency power at that point. I wonder if there's any way to get the neutron poisons out of the tanks and into the fuel pools, if there's anything in the SLCS tanks, if the piping and the explosive valves and so on are still accessible, if blowing the SLCS systems now will shore up the situation in the reactor vessels proper.

(You can also use the SLCS in event of, here's a new buzzword, an anticipated transient without scram derangement-- ie, shit hits the fan and the reactor does not scram because the scram system's hosed. I am pretty glad that didn't happen here.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:37 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You really should not get involved in nuclear power when cultural factors like organized crime, a tribal mentality, a tradition regulatory incompetence, etc. dramatically increase these risks.

I'm going to politely hope this is some kind of obfuscation for "humanity should never get involved in nuclear power ever," which, while way too late now, is vastly less inflammatory than making specific "Nation X is like this and Nation Y is like that, amirite" statements.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:43 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Economist also reported that "crucial electrical switching equipment was in a basement, and therefore got flooded."

That's just... I'm sorry. I don't have polite words. Amateur hour is the best I can manage. I wouldn't put critial gear for a datacentre in a basement, and I just deal with other people's money, not nukes.
posted by rodgerd at 1:50 AM on March 18, 2011


LobsterMitten, thanks for all that, it definitely moves the ball forward. Your gloss on the NRC rebuttal is about correct I think. I have not read the 2006 paper, looks like I ought to.

I think it's pretty interesting that the study validates a part of the Alvarez paper, looking forward to getting the deets. Tomorrow.
posted by mwhybark at 1:51 AM on March 18, 2011


Flying to Reagan battle group for: contamination control of aircraft and pilots, issuing dosimetry/tracking exposure for air crews, helping with other issues. Not as front-line exciting as I would prefer, but that's where they need the help at the moment.

Driving a nuclear-powered ship through a high background area is especially a nuisance, since now your easiest ways of detecting problems in your own plant are out the window. If my instrument is reading high, is that a problem with my plant, or did driving downwind of the other thing cross-contaminate my stuff?

Shipboard crews are typically not equipped for doing isotopic IDs and things not directly related to the propulsion plant like that.
posted by ctmf at 1:52 AM on March 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


"Anyone have links to description of HOW cementing operation would be implemented given the ongoing high risks ? Why not pursue this at this stage rather than water cooling?"

Because if they can cool it, the problem is solved. If they cement it they've got a big problem that will never go away.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:01 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


shit hits the fan and the reactor does not scram because the scram system's hosed.

That sounds fantastic to me, but I only know a lot about shipboard reactors, not commercial.

In a naval reactor, the rods actually are pulled up to withdraw against giant springs. The motors grab the rods with latches that need electric power to stay latched. The "scram system being hosed" would have to mean either gravity failed to work as advertised, or something physically stuck the rod in place.

All the drawings I've seen of the reactors in question have the rods inserted by motors pushing them up. I don't know if that's because that's how they are, or because somebody was trying to draw a generic, not-accurate-enough-to-be-controlled-information infograph. Seeing those drawings makes all my navy training scream "bad and wrong", but maybe it is really like that for reasons I don't know about.
posted by ctmf at 2:02 AM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why is Cherenkov radiation blue?

Here's the Frank-Tamm formula for the color distribution of Cherenkov Radiation.

Anyone want to graph it over visible light frequencies for 1) the refractive index of water, and 2) the refractive index of salt water, just to see what happens?

"The Frank–Tamm formula yields the amount of Cherenkov radiation emitted on given frequency as a charged particle moves through a medium at superluminal velocity. It is named for Russian physicists Ilya Frank and Igor Tamm who developed the theory of the Cherenkov effect in 1937, for which they were awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1958."

"The relative intensity of one frequency is approximately proportional to the frequency. That is, higher frequencies (shorter wavelengths) are more intense in Cherenkov radiation. This is why visible Cherenkov radiation is observed to be brilliant blue. In fact, most Cherenkov radiation is in the ultraviolet spectrum; the sensitivity of the human eye peaks at green, and is very low in the violet portion of the spectrum."
posted by zippy at 2:25 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I think the Cerenkov radiation depends on the refractive index of water.
Why is Cherenkov radiation blue?

My brain is too fried to sort this out right now, but here's a go. The refractive index of seawater (n) should be greater than that of pure water, since it's being mucked up by salinity, and minerals, and the occasional starfish. Since Cherenkov radiation is based on radiation exceeding the phase velocity of light in our seawater, this actually sets a lower requirement for the speed required for emission, as compared to pure water. However, based on the Frank-Tamm formula, it looks like an increase in n results in a decrease in energy emitted per unit length. If that's more or less equivalent to a decrease in wavelength, it could go one of two ways: More Cherenkov light being within the visible spectrum (since a lot of it is ultraviolet), or the existing light looking more greenish overall.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I should really go to bed now, and that, holy crap, it's possible to produce Cherenkov radiation inside your eyes.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:46 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ain't nothing wrong with inflammatory rhetoric that gets universally stronger nuclear regulations passed by E.U. that'll push all Europeans away from nuclear power and establishes a model that prevents it's adoption in Africa and the Middle East.

Italy and Berlusconi have a uniquely high profile criminal history that'll make any "inflammatory rhetoric" more effective, especially in swaying the French away from nuclear power.

France itself already has the dangerous mixture of nuclear power, organized crime, and North African client states. Ain't like a French politician can publicly endorse Italy's adoption of nuclear power though while people are publicly talking about the Italian Mafia, Japanese Yakuza, and nuclear power.

There are basically three 'advantages' of nuclear power : It imposes all externality costs upon the government and the postpones them well into the future. It focuses the immediate government subsidies towards heavy construction and heavy industry, favoring the politically well connected, i.e. the corrupt, organized crime, etc. It'll help obviously prevent the adoption of nuclear power elsewhere if the Japanese disaster tars nuclear energy with the image of corruption and organized crime instead of white coated scientists.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:58 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ain't nothing wrong with inflammatory rhetoric that gets universally stronger nuclear regulations passed by E.U. that'll push all Europeans away from nuclear power and establishes a model that prevents it's adoption in Africa and the Middle East.
First of all WTF? And second of all it seems unlikely that a country like France would move away from nuclear power when they get 70% of their energy that way.

But basically if you have to resort to demagoguery and national stereotyping to make your argument, you probably don't have a good argument to begin with.
posted by delmoi at 3:20 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


<福島原発>東電全面退去打診 首相が拒否…水素爆発2日後 (Mainichi)

Not sure if I've seen this yet in the English media: TEPCO wanted to abandon the Fukushima plant on 14-Mar but Kan, Edano and Kaieda said basically, "No fucking way, your mess, you fix it!"
posted by gen at 3:37 AM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm having trouble understanding the machine-translation of that article. Did TEPCO want to completely abandon the site, or did they want to leave but have someone else take over?
posted by floam at 3:45 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


>> My understanding is that liquid nitrogen wouldn't be as effective. It would just boil off too fast.
>
> Well, if it boiled off it would take a large amount of heat energy in the process, just as water would.

Sure, and it starts off colder, but liquid N2 has less than half the specific heat of water (~2 joules to raise one gram of it one degree C, vs ~4.2 j/g/°C for water) so boiling off a poolfull of it removes a lot less heat than boiling off a poolful of water. And it has to be manufactured and trucked in (you don't have a whole ocean of it nearby, this not being Titan) and you sure can't spray it from fire trucks or drop it from helicopters. Might as well use water.

(P.s. the specific heat of water, an elegant 1.0 Calorie per 1.0 gram per 1.0 °C, sure gets messy when it's converted to SI units [joules, for heat energy.] And they wonder why some of us cling to ells and stones and furlongs per fortnight.)
posted by jfuller at 3:49 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did TEPCO want to completely abandon the site, or did they want to leave but have someone else take over?

TEPCO wanted to walk away entirely and leave it to the JSDF and the US Military to clean up/make secure.
posted by gen at 4:01 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it is not clear from my continuous statement on this topic, I consider the management of TEPCO all corrupt and would strip every last yen from all of them, put them in jail until they die, and distribute all of their profits to the victims.
posted by gen at 4:06 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cable dated:2008-10-27T08:20:00
C O N F I D E N T I A L TOKYO 002993
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR EAP/J, ISN/CTR, ISN/MNSA, ISN/NESS DOE FOR KBAKER, NA-20
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2018
TAGS: PARM, ENRG, TRGY, NRR, MNUC, PUNE, JA">JA">JA
SUBJECT: MP CRITICIZES JAPANESE NUCLEAR PLANS
REF: STATE 107836

Classified By: Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Lower House Diet Member Taro Kono voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security during a dinner with a visiting staffdel, Energy Attache and Economic Officer October 21. Kono also criticized the Japanese bureaucracy and power companies for continuing an outdated nuclear energy strategy, suppressing development of alternative energy, and keeping information from Diet members and the public. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the current election campaign law. End Summary.
US embassy cables: MP criticises Japanese nuclear strategy | Environment | guardian.co.uk
posted by gen at 4:12 AM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


For those interested, gen's link seems to be the Japanese source of yeoz's story.

"Withdrawal is impossible. It's not a matter of whether TEPCO collapses. It's a matter of whether Japan goes wrong." = 「撤退はあり得ない。 [...] 東電がつぶれるということではなく、日本がどうなるかという問題だ」 (Quick alternate rendition: "Withdrawal is out of the question. The issue is what will happen to Japan, not whether TEPCO goes bust.")

"If withdrawal is unacceptable, it's as if (Kan) said 'Do it until you are exposed to radiation and die.'" = 「『撤退は許さない』というのは『被ばくして死ぬまでやれ』と言っているようなもの」 (Quick alternate rendition: "Saying 'Withdrawal is unacceptable' is more or less saying 'Keep at it until the radiation kills you.'")
posted by No-sword at 4:15 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


> I consider the management of TEPCO all corrupt and would strip every last yen from all of them, put them in
> jail until they die, and distribute all of their profits to the victims.

Just so's y'all will know, TEPCO will be building and operating two new nuclear plants in Texas. (via fark, deservedly)
posted by jfuller at 4:19 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do it until you are exposed to radiation and die.^

I am not immune to admiration for the plant workers onsite facing tremendous obstacles, but I think that they all knew exactly what cashing their generous paychecks for all those years might entail. Without regard to culture or ethnicity, it would incredibly shameful and dishonorable for any one of them to abandon their post now. From the tradition of seppuku to Jesus saying "they that take the sword shall perish with the sword", it is an ancient and universally understood truth that if you play with fire, you may get burned.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:22 AM on March 18, 2011


Just so's y'all will know, TEPCO will be building and operating two new nuclear plants in Texas.

TEPCO may not exist in a month, given the above. Either way, I doubt this will go forward as currently planned. "Unpalatable" is putting it mildly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:31 AM on March 18, 2011


at least, not exist as an entity capable of doing anything but winding down/turning over operations and addressing its liability...
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:32 AM on March 18, 2011


UPI: Fukushima is now an IAEA Level 7 incident

Indo-Asian News Service (via NDTV): 'Suicide squad' mans Japan's nuclear plant

MSNBC: High radiation reported 18 miles from nuke plant -- Japan reclassifies rating of accident; official admits that government 'could have moved a little quicker' in wake of disasters.

MSNBC crawl is reporting elevated rad levels detected 'beyond Tokyo' but I can't find anything written on their site yet.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:40 AM on March 18, 2011


Free London 'read it over someone's shoulder on the tube' paper Metro had a front cover this morning that showed a green glow coming from within one of the wrecked buildings. Don't know if its been posted here yet?

Green glow photo
posted by memebake at 4:41 AM on March 18, 2011


Looks like green-painted machinery to me.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:41 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Notice how all the surfaces facing the camera are uniformly green - if they were being lit by a green glow it would have to be coming from the same angle as the camera. If it was being lit from the side or below, there would be obvious shadows and the greenness would not be uniform.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:44 AM on March 18, 2011


McGuillicuddy, I really sucked at my ethics courses, but I'm not sure I can get behind martyrdom-as-obligated-justice or whatever the hell that is in this case. Feeding your family via whatever industry doesn't mean you've got some moral imperative to sink with the ship when things go horrible. To require that, I think, demands some sort of presumption that there's some kind of inherent wickedness to their profession, and I don't think that's a fair judgement to be making of these guys out there risking it all to protect their countries and families. They're doing it anyway, and any admiration isn't as unearned as you're appraising.

And geez, it's not likely many of these allegedly crooked industry officials are the ones there in radsuits clambering over hot concrete and metal.
posted by floam at 4:44 AM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


memebake: that could just be the paint job, we know the cranes are painted green. Also, the Cherenkov radiation is supposed to be blue, not green.
posted by delmoi at 4:46 AM on March 18, 2011


Delmoi: There was speculation upthread that it might have a green tinge from seawater.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:49 AM on March 18, 2011


True, it could be paint rather than glow.
posted by memebake at 4:49 AM on March 18, 2011


UPI: Fukushima is now an IAEA Level 7 incident

Wait - isn't it at level 5? The article says "raised from four to five on a seven-point scale"
posted by cashman at 4:50 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The EPA just added two more radiation detectors in Hawai'i .

"We have not seen any change," she said. "All background normal levels."

Honolulu officials sought to reassure the public yesterday that measures are in place to handle possible radiation fallout while re-emphasizing that the chances of danger are minimal.

... In the case of a catastrophic release of radiation, Hawaii would have three to four days to respond, Jeff Eckerd, acting program manager for the Indoor and Radiological Health Branch of the state Health Department, said at a state Senate briefing yesterday.


Can anyone else (please!) add some optimism for Hawai'i people watching this unfold? I'm not trying to be a fear-mongerer, but what could "measures in place" possible be? It is not like they can evacuate one million people over 3000 miles.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:50 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]



Wait - isn't it at level 5? The article says "raised from four to five on a seven-point scale"

ACK! You're right. I followed a badly worded link and didn't read far enough in.

LEVEL 5.

Sorry.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:52 AM on March 18, 2011


If stuff can reach Hawaii, it can also reach Alaska and a bunch of other places, like most of China, India and Southeast Asia. At this point, no-one seems to have suggested that serious radiation can get that far in any scenario.
posted by memebake at 4:58 AM on March 18, 2011


A few notable bullet points from the UPI story, having now actually read it.

*The change in the level moves the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant two levels below the 1986 Chernobyl disaster on the international danger scale for nuclear accidents.

*Amano said he hoped new testing would help reassure the Japanese public "by having an international authority carry out its own observations"...Kan vowed to provide more information about the nuclear crisis Friday, Kyodo News reported...."I want to promise that we will disclose as much information as possible to the IAEA, as well as to the people of the world," Kan said.

*Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said radiation readings at the plant had been following a downward path through Friday morning, based on measurements taken about a kilometer (0.6 mile) west of the No. 2 reactor after ground water spraying from trucks, Kyodo News reported.

*The New York Times reported Thursday the first readings collected by U.S. flights over the plant showed the worst of the radioactive contamination had not gone outside of the 19-mile range of highest concern set by Japanese authorities.

*Infrastructure in area "gradually" being restored

*Death toll @ 6,400. Over 10,000 still missing.

*G7 countries agreed on Friday to take steps to curb the sharp rise of the Yen against the USD, to prevent damage to "Japan's export-dependent economy by making Japanese goods more expensive in importing countries."
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:00 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is the update at the IAEA site. Reactors 2 and 3 are at INES 5, while the spent fuel pool at reactor 4 is at INES 3. The classification seems to come from the Japanese authorities. There have been reports in the last days that the French authorities consider this an INES 6 accident.
posted by ltl at 5:05 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looks like green-painted machinery to me.

Now how the hell did they get a tractor in there?
posted by mikelieman at 5:19 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


( I know, wrong green... )
posted by mikelieman at 5:21 AM on March 18, 2011


During the main 7 and 9 o'clock news programs you're apparently seeing the Japanese-language NHK feed with real-time English translation, both on the streaming sites and on the NHK channel made available without charge for Comcast and AT&T digital cable subscribers. I just confirmed both sources were showing the same program. At other times the streaming sites show the NHK world feed which apparently loops at 15 minute intervals.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:46 AM on March 18, 2011


Feeding your family via whatever industry doesn't mean you've got some moral imperative to sink with the ship when things go horrible.^

floam - The captain going down with the ship is not an idle expression. While not maritime law, it is the expectation among those that work at sea that captain and crew will man a sinking ship until all passengers are safely removed and/or all reasonable attempts to save the sinking vessel have been made. Trained crew routinely follow orders in an emergency, even at great risk to themselves. For centuries, to do otherwise has been considered cowardly and dishonorable.

I would not claim that the admiration in which the workers are held is undeserved. But their sacrifice must be expected - both by nuclear power workers and societies that benefit from nuclear power. The potential for catastrophe is the well-understood price of admission for the ballgame. If that price now seems too high, then clearly, so is the price of nuclear power.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 5:46 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


rodgerd writes "That's just... I'm sorry. I don't have polite words. Amateur hour is the best I can manage. I wouldn't put critial gear for a datacentre in a basement, and I just deal with other people's money, not nukes."

Does the power for your data centre come in on big towers? If not you are depending on critical electrical gear located below ground.

memebake writes "If stuff can reach Hawaii, it can also reach Alaska and a bunch of other places, like most of China, India and Southeast Asia. At this point, no-one seems to have suggested that serious radiation can get that far in any scenario."

Because those directions are against the wind.
posted by Mitheral at 5:46 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


All the drawings I've seen of the reactors in question have the rods inserted by motors pushing them up. I don't know if that's because that's how they are, or because somebody was trying to draw a generic, not-accurate-enough-to-be-controlled-information infograph. Seeing those drawings makes all my navy training scream "bad and wrong", but maybe it is really like that for reasons I don't know about.

That's really how they are in this design of BWR. The rods insert from the bottom of the reactor to shut it down, rather than dropping from the top. Each rod has its own separate drive, and these drives are spread out as much as possible in different areas of the plant.

They're powered by reactor pressure through a valve that fails open (so something like a loss of power causes the valves to open and steam pressure pushes the rods in to shut the reactor down). There are enough rods that you don't need them all to work to shut the thing down. So there's a fairly massive amount of redundancy in that system, and it's not quite as weird as it sounds compared to the other types where the rods fall in under gravity.

And there's the standby liquid control system available too, in case for some reason all or most of the control rods fail to insert.
posted by FishBike at 5:55 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've seen figures like ~1 Sievert outside of pool (but close to it, like right next to the building) - for exposed assemblies without water. 100m from the building would still be bad and before they evacuated workers at lower radiation levels.

Yeah, if that estimate of gamma radiation from uncovered spent fuel is anything like correct, they're not getting anywhere near within a couple hundred metres of the thing when there's no water left and big holes in the wall/roof. Turns out that air is very good at scattering gamma rays. It's not much like pointing a flashlight up into space, more like aiming a flashlight into very dense fog, it illuminates a relatively small area and doesn't penetrate all that far. Not much gamma makes it 1km away, but it's scattered all over the place in closer. (If you're more than a few tens of metres away from a plane source, the majority of exposure is coming from air-scattered gamma, and eyeballing figure 10 there, it looks like very little is going to make it more than 500 metres from any source.)

So I conclude that if that 1Sv estimate is accurate and not some unrealistic worst-case number as is reportedly used elsewhere in that study, then there is still water covering the spent fuel. As seems likely anyway for other reasons. The helicopters wouldn't have gone anywhere near it if there wasn't water at that point.

Eh well, I'm just guessing, but it does seem likely to be a bad thing if they can't get water in, bad enough that nobody could get near the thing.
posted by sfenders at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


IAEA says Level 5 but everything I read says Level 6, no? Clearly this is much, much worse than TMI.
posted by gen at 6:29 AM on March 18, 2011


IAEA says Level 5 but everything I read says Level 6, no? Clearly this is much, much worse than TMI.

IAEA factsheet on INES levels

I'm no expert but it looks like it could be 5 or 6 based on current information.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:35 AM on March 18, 2011


Here's the more comprehensive INES User's Manual
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:38 AM on March 18, 2011


LobsterMitten: "And a subsequent chapter of that "Safety and Security" report that is relevant:

What would be the radioactive releases if a spent fuel pool were drained?


OK, I read this and I absolutely concur with your analysis and the excerpts.

tl;dr; for what follows: I think it's possible to guess that the Alvarez' dispersal zone projections as seen in Alvarez fig 4, p. 11, are currently seen as good-enough by the NRC, without reference to the dispersal loads carried to the zone as seen in Alvarez.

It was irritating to read, repeatedly, that this aspect of that aspect of the updated studies are classified. In particular, the studies appear to have examined dispersal models for zirconium fires. The dispersal model used in Alvarez was the section of the work that was most clearly critiqued in the NRC rebuttal. Since the new studies appear to have been carried out but remain secret, there is no additional basis for establishing potential dispersal parameters. It is not clear that the "Safety and Security" authors were allowed to see any information pertaining to updated dispersal modeling.

Now, here's something interesting. The larger US evac zone seems to roughly correspond with the zone theorized in Alvarez figure 4, page 11, which features a 125km reach for highest-intensity dispersal. Going back and looking at what Alvarez says about where they derived the dispersal zone estimates, the modeling used may not be specifically included in the assumptions the NRC rebuttal critiques. The NRC rebuttal disputes Alvarez' choice of a 10%-100% fuel-dispersal figure to present edge cases and also argues that the fuel-uptake into a dispersal mode is likely lower than that 10-100%, but makes no critical mention of the actual dispersal modeling, which is also derived from prior NRC studies.

"Ongoing research to address these issues includes more detailed realistic analyses of the thermal response of fuel to loss of water scenarios and more detailed, realistic analyses of the radionuclide releases for those scenarios where adequate cooling is not maintained. Based on preliminary analyses, we conclude that spent fuel in pools is more easily cooled even in the event of a complete loss of water. Further, preliminary analysis indicates that previous NRC estimates of the quantities of fission products released were high by likely an order of magnitude. Earlier NRC studies used large conservatisms, in generic calculations, with simplified modeling."

So here's a guess: the initial dispersal modeling was not, in and of itself, seen as highly inaccurate, but was noted as worthy of further study. Further study produced relatively similar results. Persons in the US NRC decision-making hierarchy may or may not have access to the updated dispersal modeling. Either way, their decision-making, in conjunction with the position that the pool at #4 is empty, is condition on the possibility that a wider area of potential dispersion should be established.

Additionally, as noted up-thread, the lower relative cost to the US in encouraging US citizens to head out meant that they must feel they have no other choice then to ask for a larger zone.
posted by mwhybark at 7:10 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've seen figures like ~1 Sievert outside of pool

Sievert is not a rate.
posted by schmod at 7:13 AM on March 18, 2011


Have we seen this in here yet?

NYTi: Forecast for Plume's Path Is a Function of Wind and Weather

posted by mwhybark at 7:23 AM on March 18, 2011


Just so's y'all will know, TEPCO will be building and operating two new nuclear plants in Texas. (via fark, deservedly)

That link was horrendous. I couldn't even read through it, it was so stupid. "I had a Toshiba computer once, and it broke, and these reactors might break too." "Obama is going to kill us all with nuclear plants." Geez, people. Not that I want Tepco operating plants a hundred miles from me, but can we try to find links that are some kind of reasonable?

To be honest, even now I would be happy to see some nuclear plants in Texas instead of the seven new coal plants they were proposing.

Also, Re: Hawaii. My family is there, and I was comforted by the projected path of any plume. It went way to the north of Hawaii. And the amounts would be ridiculously small, it seems. But, still, it's comforting.
posted by threeturtles at 7:25 AM on March 18, 2011


GOD DAMMIT

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

do NOT cut and paste wikileaks cables here

Now I cannot read this thread anymore. Just great.

So long.
posted by smoothvirus at 7:33 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bye.
posted by fixedgear at 7:36 AM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why is there so little new information coming out right now? Is there just nothing happening all of a sudden? Or is there just less reporting?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on March 18, 2011


@fixedgear

it means s/he is a government worker; but if my memory serves me, we've c&p a lot of stuff from cablegate on MeFi, so the whole site should be technically out of bounds for them.
posted by liza at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2011


Saulgoodman, It is nearly midnight here.

(I'm anxious about it, too)
posted by gc at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2011


I see--so it's probably just the lull in the news cycle.

I think I actually worried myself sick over this yesterday (threw up when I got home and spent all evening in bed with a 101 degree fever; can't stop worrying about everyone there).
posted by saulgoodman at 7:45 AM on March 18, 2011


saulgoodman: "Why is there so little new information coming out right now? Is there just nothing happening all of a sudden? Or is there just less reporting"

Yeah, it's the overnights. Barring further catastrophe, news is likely to resume in the afternoon Pacific time (it's currently 7:45a, so, say, 6-8h from now).
posted by mwhybark at 7:47 AM on March 18, 2011


saulgoodman: "I see--so it's probably just the lull in the news cycle.

I think I actually worried myself sick over this yesterday (threw up when I got home and spent all evening in bed with a 101 degree fever; can't stop worrying about everyone there.
"

Aw, dude, I'm sorry to hear that. let it go a little but, it's out of your control. FWIW, for a variety of reasons I'm feeling relatively optimistic about outcomes today. Not, you know, 'Hey it all worked out great!' optimistic but 'maybe no giant exclusion zone' optimistic.
posted by mwhybark at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2011


I'm watching the NHK report on the nuclear plant now. (They're not reporting much on it, because there's not actually much to report on. Things are in a holding pattern. They're making progress slowly. You can always find more old people and moms in school gymnasiums to interview. Or, you know, show people how to make a toilet out of a cardboard box.)

The Tokyo fire department is working on getting things set up to be continuously pumping seawater, but they've run into a bunch of problems -- good locations for pumping seawater have been destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami or covered in debris. They're working on it.

They're still trying to get electricity in. They're prioritizing reactor 2 because its structure is still relatively intact, so it's harder to spray water on it. (Reactor 1 is on the same circuit, so hopefully they'll get electricity back to both.) Here is a diagram of what they're doing. The dark lines are what they've already done; the dotted lines are what they're going to do now. They're going to work through the night and hopefully connect electricity sometime tomorrow.
posted by Jeanne at 7:59 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


so what exactly happens to the radiation that wafts over the ocean? I know we all like to believe that some magical reaction happen whereby all radiation gets neutralized when it comes in contact with salt water but I'm wondering is it more likely that it gets absorbed by the fish and unknowingly consumed by people around the world? Any precedent for something like this? We've become much more of a global marketplace since the last nuclear disaster and I doubt I can identify which country half of the food I eat every day comes from.
posted by any major dude at 8:02 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why does linking to wikileaks mean that smoothvirus has to leave the thread?
posted by kitcat at 8:03 AM on March 18, 2011


kitkat: People who work for certain governmental organizations can have nothing to do with anything wikileaks-related.
posted by jferg at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know--I'm trying. Not sure why this has got me so personally rattled, honestly. Maybe because my little sister lived there until just a couple months ago; maybe because there are so many MeFites I'm awfully fond of over there. At any rate, don't waste any sympathy on me. There are lots of people who need it more.

It does seem as if there's a decent chance at the moment of the worst-case outcomes not being realized, so that's a relief for now.

so what exactly happens to the radiation that wafts over the ocean? I know we all like to believe that some magical reaction happen whereby all radiation gets neutralized when it comes in contact with salt water but I'm wondering is it more likely that it gets absorbed by the fish and unknowingly consumed by people around the world? Any precedent for something like this? We've become much more of a global marketplace since the last nuclear disaster and I doubt I can identify which country half of the food I eat every day comes from.

I'm curious about this, too. We just saw one major ocean impacted by a severe environmental calamity. We've been seeing signs of breakdown in the ocean's food chain and widespread species die-offs for years now already. How much more abuse can the oceans stand?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:06 AM on March 18, 2011


Not much.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:08 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


DOOM!!!!
posted by cavalier at 8:10 AM on March 18, 2011


Would I be correct in understanding that, as radioactive material disperses and dilutes in the air or ocean, it still remains toxic and harmful, but just that the chances that a given lifeform would absorb it decreases?

We just saw one major ocean impacted by a severe environmental calamity. We've been seeing signs of breakdown in the ocean's food chain and widespread species die-offs for years now already. How much more abuse can the oceans stand?

I'm given to mind how much abuse the oceans have already endured, with countless nuclear tests and pollution from just about every conceivable source.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:10 AM on March 18, 2011


There was speculation upthread that it might have a green tinge from seawater.

FWIW, by "greenish," I meant longer-wavelength greenish blue (e.g., cerulean), as opposed to shorter-wavelength purplish blue (e.g., ultramarine). It's not clear to me that visible Cherenkov radiation can get out of the violent to blue range.

That said, I hope it was clear from my post that my figuring was the early-morning work of an insomniac social science major, who apparently thinks of radiation in terms of oil paint colors. Yikes.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:11 AM on March 18, 2011


Mahalo threeturtles - it looks like the plume goes north of Hawai'i - south of Seattle; guess LA is more in direct path. (Still a scary animation)
posted by Surfurrus at 8:12 AM on March 18, 2011


A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945 - by Isao Hashimoto
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:12 AM on March 18, 2011 [24 favorites]


I watched that a few days ago, Mister. I had no idea we had detonated THAT MANY. Good lord.
posted by gc at 8:14 AM on March 18, 2011


Oh man, new idea to raise funds for disaster relief: We start dealing drugs wrapped in WikiLeaks cables! The feds will never know!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:14 AM on March 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm given to mind how much abuse the oceans have already endured, with countless nuclear tests and pollution from just about every conceivable source.

Exactly--and if those effects are cumulative, we probably just ratcheted the strain on those systems up another not insignificant notch.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:15 AM on March 18, 2011


It's not clear to me that visible Cherenkov radiation can get out of the violent to blue range.

Freudian typing slip?
posted by birdsquared at 8:15 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


birdsquared- Absolutely. (I did mention that insomnia part, right?)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:18 AM on March 18, 2011


I'm curious about this, too. We just saw one major ocean impacted by a severe environmental calamity. We've been seeing signs of breakdown in the ocean's food chain and widespread species die-offs for years now already. How much more abuse can the oceans stand?
Radiation in small doses isn't as harmful to 'nature'. It's dangerous to humans because we are afraid of getting cancer. There is plenty of wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, for example.

And the radiation levels (so far) are really, really low. It's not stuff that's healthy for a person to be in but it's not something that will kill you outright (i.e. give you radiation sickness). You need about 6-8 Sv to kill people with medical care over 50% of the time, although 1-Sv can kill people (and I think we've speculated that the radiation might be that high if pool 4 is actually empty). I don't think we've actually seen a reading that high.

Anyway, It would be cool if we could use quadrotors like these to get better footage from inside the building, but it's likely these models can't be used in high-radiation environments.
posted by delmoi at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2011


Well, gc, we once even tried to nuke the Van Allen Belt surrounding the Earth to smithereens just to see what would happen, so the history of nuclear tech development in modern times is not exactly what you'd call a model of sober, cautious, and responsible scientific experimentation.

Radiation in small doses isn't as harmful to 'nature'.

Well, maybe not, but it's dangerous to 'life,' and as I understand it, it can be bioaccumulative, so every little bit potentially adds up. Also, there's a lot of non-linearity in nature, so small changes in initial conditions can potentially yield larger scale effects.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had no idea we had detonated THAT MANY. Good lord.

If you want a graphic history of the American testing of atomic weapons ON Americans on American soil, I strongly, strongly recommend this book.

American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War

I'm going to do a FPP on this (give me a few minutes to get it up and we can discuss it there.)
posted by gen at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think we'll have any idea of what long-term accumulation in fish and seafood looks like until we have a better idea of exactly what radioactive material was released, and in what amounts, and how much radioactive material with longer half-lives, like Cesium, has been released.
posted by Jeanne at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just for the record, by my estimate only 675 or so of those nuclear weapon detonations were above ground. Everybody but France and China went to underground tests in 1964. France stopped in 1974. China in 1980. Not that it changes the fact that there's been a helluva lot of radiation blown around over the years. Much more than people think.

Also, I think that it's not only fear of cancer, delmoi, but also fear that somehow it will effect a person's genes. It being invisible can't help either. Without the proper instruments you'd never even know you'd even encountered radiation unless you got such a high dose that you developed obvious symptoms.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:28 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


That detonations animation is very, very eye opening. Does anyone have something similar, or at least a count, for the last 13 years?
posted by jindc at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2011


Well, cancer is caused by gene damage. But people have separate copies of their DNA in every cell, and it only takes one 'bad' cell to cause cancer. On the other hand, in order to affect your offspring it would have to mutate very specific cells (it's called a germ line mutation). Humans already have lots of mutations in their body, but cancer just increases the number.
posted by delmoi at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2011


Er, I'm sorry radiation increases the number of mutations, leading to a greater likelyhood of cancer.
posted by delmoi at 8:36 AM on March 18, 2011


Does anyone have something similar, or at least a count, for the last 13 years?

At a glance this only lists a possible test from North Korea in that time. wikipedia: List of nuclear tests
posted by pixie at 8:40 AM on March 18, 2011


I should have been more clear, I meant precisely an unreasonable fear of germ line mutation.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:42 AM on March 18, 2011


Random question: If memory serves, during the Cold War, Russia had a bunch of military installations on the Kamchatca peninsula, and maintains some there to this day. Including their nuclear sub program.

How are Russian-Japanese relations these days? Is there any chance that Japan would accept technical assistance or equipment from Russia? It looks like there are Russian rescue workers helping with the recovery efforts in the north, but I'm not seeing anything beyond that (except this).
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:43 AM on March 18, 2011


pixie,

thanks for that (and for reminding me how lazy i am...wikipedia...who knew? Ha!)
posted by jindc at 8:43 AM on March 18, 2011


There is plenty of wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, for example.

In fact, I've heard it reported that wildlife if flourishing in the exclusion zone. The long term removal of humans from the general area has been good for pretty much all natural populations, enough so to posit that nuclear fallout and related environmental poisoning is less toxic to the environment than basic industrialized human habitation.
posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


My Tokyo-born American-raised wife is planning a visit to Tokyo in two weeks. (Postponement possible, of course, contingent upon circumstances.) Last night she called her aunt in Tokyo (and by the way, AT&T is nicely waiving fees on calls to Japan under their long-distance plan), and Aunt Sadako said, "You come to Tokyo, you die!"

It seems like there may be too little information in Japan, too much in America.

I know this is pretty anecdotal, but it seems as if the many millions who live in Tokyo are a lot more scared than they really should be at this time. Perhaps Japan's record of less-than-transparent reporting, as pointed out above, is less than reassuring to Tokyo's residents.
posted by kozad at 8:48 AM on March 18, 2011


gc writes "I watched that a few days ago, Mister. I had no idea we had detonated THAT MANY. Good lord."

Holy crap, me neither.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2011


Does anyone have something similar, or at least a count, for the last 13 years?
From the look of the text beneath the video link Isao Hashimoto created this art work in recognition of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty starting to come into play. The implication is that the only recent tests have been some (perhaps) by North Korea.
posted by rongorongo at 8:50 AM on March 18, 2011


Is it fair to assume that's probably because animals don't push their lifespan as much as we do? I mean, cancer tends to hit us in mid to old age. Animals in the wild don't have medicine and have predators.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:50 AM on March 18, 2011


By which I mean, if radiation has an effect, it kills them after they've had offspring.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2011


but it seems as if the many millions who live in Tokyo are a lot more scared than they really should be at this time.

Data point: my friends who live in Tokyo seem very calm. The main concern for them is the power outages that they're having to deal with.
posted by statolith at 8:58 AM on March 18, 2011


How are Russian-Japanese relations these days?

They run hot/cold.

Since the quake, Putin has tried to accelerate the Sakhalin-3 project and pushed Gazprom to enable Russia to provide more LPG to Japan sooner, which was very much welcomed by Japan.

Before the quake, relations were much colder, as Japan and Russia still are at odds over a portion of the Kuriles. But Russia and Japan do trade a lot, and really do need each other, so it's complex.
posted by gen at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2011


I know this is pretty anecdotal, but it seems as if the many millions who live in Tokyo are a lot more scared than they really should be at this time.

That's odd, because the CBC has been playing a brief interview with a Canadian teacher who came home because her parents insisted (and paid for the ticket). She saw a fair bit of damage in her apartment, but she can't wait to go back, and also says that she finds people and the media here in Canada to be freaking out much more than the people in her neighbourhood. We've also had other reports straight from Tokyo showing life going on pretty much as usual, even during aftershocks.

So: some are scared, some aren't.
posted by maudlin at 9:03 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


gen, my wife just talked to her sister back in Chiba, who said that there were reports on the news that Russia was refusing entry to Japanese people. I have absolutely no way to verify this, just wondering if you've heard anything about it.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2011


Tiny amounts of radiation reach Calif. -- "First readings are 'about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.'"
posted by ericb at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2011


UN watchdog: Japan nuke crisis stabilizing -- "Official says that that situation at crippled plant remains grave, but at moment appears 'fairly stable.'"
posted by ericb at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2011


I've seen figures like ~1 Sievert outside of pool

Sievert is not a rate.


To be fair, even the New York Times seems to have had trouble on this point; I've seen bare Sieverts used for rate sitting uncorrected for at least 12 hours in some articles. For journalists and internet commentators, I have prepared the following blunt instrument. Please print out, laminate and carry in wallet/attach to monitor:

1. MILLI (m) = 1000 MICRO (μ). DO NOT CONFUSE.

2. PLANT READINGS ARE EXPOSURE RATES (Sv/hour). DO NOT CONFUSE WITH DOSE (Sv).

3. SIEVERTS (Sv) = DOSE; TO GET DOSE, MULTIPLY RATE (Sv/hour) BY EXPOSURE TIME (hours)

4. 100 mSv = INCREASED LONG-TERM CANCER RISK; 250 mSv - 1 Sv = POSSIBLE ACUTE RADIATION SICKNESS; >1 Sv LIKELY SICKNESS, POTENTIALLY FATAL.
posted by monocyte at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


Right. Some are scared, some are not. Aunt Sadako says that the power outages last three hours. For city people used to the comforts that electricity brings (and the cold in Tokyo can be pretty bone-chilling, often tempered by electric space heaters), the power outages are no fun.
posted by kozad at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2011


there were reports on the news that Russia was refusing entry to Japanese people.

Have not heard this myself. I think that would make the news as most countries are bending over backwards to repatriate their citizens from Japan at the moment.
posted by gen at 9:10 AM on March 18, 2011


Tiny amounts of radiation reach Calif. -- "First readings are 'about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.'"

In other words, about a million times beneath levels that would be newsworthy. Fuck you, alarmist MSNBC.
posted by rocket88 at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ann Coulter: Radiation Is 'Good For You'
" ... in a column called 'A Glowing Report On Radiation,' Coulter said that many scientists have been studying the effects of radiation and have found that, as she put it, 'at some level--much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government--radiation is good for you,' and actually reduced the risk of cancer."
She repeated the claim on Fox News.
posted by ericb at 9:12 AM on March 18, 2011


" ... in a column called 'A Glowing Report On Radiation,' Coulter said that many scientists have been studying the effects of radiation and have found that, as she put it, 'at some level--much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government--radiation is good for you,' and actually reduced the risk of cancer."

Has she read about radiotherapy and got confused?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:14 AM on March 18, 2011


Fox News' Japan Map Mistakenly Identifies Nightclub As Nuclear Plant.
posted by ericb at 9:15 AM on March 18, 2011


Someone was saying the same thing in the original thread. People exposed to very low radiation rates (like plant technicians) get very slightly lower cancer rates. But it didn't sound like it was statistically significant, and I don't remember what was the source quoted (but I'm sure it wasn't Coulter!).
posted by rainy at 9:16 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, maybe not, but it's dangerous to 'life,'

Radiation is dangerous to life? You really need to specify some kind of parameters here, because that's stretching it. Sure, certain kinds at high enough levels will kill something dead, but in general life as we know it and evolution kind of don't mind some mutation. We don't know that there are even levels that will get into water that will cause that, mind you.

Exactly--and if those effects are cumulative, we probably just ratcheted the strain on those systems up another not insignificant notch.

Well, compared to the levels seen in the past (and obviously, depending on how Fukushima eventually concludes), some people actually kind of have a place to contend we may expect this to be an entirely insignificant notch. And the cumulative thing is interesting, because I'm not certain (tell me if I'm wrong, I haven't researched this part specifically) we've seen cumulative negative effects from nuclear fallout/radiation on our ocean life over time. It was a little vague though - what were you referring to specifically there?
posted by floam at 9:18 AM on March 18, 2011


> Fox News' Japan Map Mistakenly Identifies Nightclub As Nuclear Plant.

"Nuclear Plant (D)"
posted by ardgedee at 9:19 AM on March 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


Has she read about radiotherapy and got confused?

It sounds like she's referring to radiation hormesis, which is something that might be a real thing but hasn't been sufficiently well proven yet.
posted by FishBike at 9:22 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


ericb writes "Tiny amounts of radiation reach Calif. -- 'First readings are "about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening."'"

Unconfirmed readings from secret data via an anonymous source. Not exactly confidence building. Considering all the science being done in California you'd think their would be a nice public source providing confirmation.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tiny amounts of radiation reach Calif. -- "First readings are 'about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.'"

In other words, about a million times beneath levels that would be newsworthy. Fuck you, alarmist MSNBC.


You say 'potato.' I say 'potato.'

I take it as reporting to those in California, Oregon and Washington that they have nothing to fear regarding radiation coming over the Pacific. Just now when driving to pick up lunch NPR also reported the findings.
posted by ericb at 9:37 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm getting some degree of ZOMG IT IS HERE from people I know, including one "so donate to breast cancer research now" appeal.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:40 AM on March 18, 2011


Tiny amounts of radiation reach California, go to beach, use In-N-Out drivethrough.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:40 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan?
posted by statolith at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan?

Exactly. Also, how much variation is there in everyday background radiation in the first place?
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:46 AM on March 18, 2011


Well, I probably should have said 'potentially harmful to life,' but it is, isn't it? In large enough concentrations, radiation can hurt many living things. And since certain forms of radiation are bioaccumalative, then it stands to reason there might be a potential for negative consequences.

And the cumulative thing is interesting, because I'm not certain (tell me if I'm wrong, I haven't researched this part specifically) we've seen cumulative negative effects from nuclear fallout/radiation on our ocean life over time. It was a little vague though - what were you referring to specifically there?

The truth seems to be, we don't know exactly what all the various causes are, but we are right now living through the sixth mass extinction of biological life in Earth's history. No one can say exactly why, because its a multi-factorial problem. Our oceans do in fact seem to be dying, and we're finding evidence of bioaccumulating human pollutants everywhere we look.

There's no direct evidence implicating nuclear tech, but for god's sake, why do we keep doing so many things that we don't understand the longterm consequences of?

How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan?

They can track radioactivity quite well actually. It's been reported widely that scientists internationally were able to track the radiation released from Chernobyl pretty much on its entire route around the world. Radiation, from what I understand, is fairly easy to track, actually.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2011


Tiny amounts of radiation reach Calif. -- "First readings are 'about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.'"

Apparently the yearly limit for an adult is 5000 milli-Rems, which is 0.05 sieverts. A billionth of that is 5.0 × 10-11 sieverts, or 50 pico-sieverts (I think?). Is that amount even detectable?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2011


statolith writes "How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan"

Probably they'd be looking for man made short lived isotopes that couldn't come from anywhere else.
posted by Mitheral at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan?

Isotopic Signatures
posted by nomisxid at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


You knew it was inevitable: "The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has received reports of people being admitted to poison centres around the world after taking iodine tablets."
posted by ardgedee at 9:50 AM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Interesting. I've learned a lot from this thread and its predecessor. Thanks, everyone.
posted by statolith at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2011


A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945 - by Isao Hashimoto

That is hysterical. For the entirety of the Cold War we've lived in fear of being nuked by the other side when, in fact, each side has spent 60 years nuking the shit out of themselves.
posted by mazola at 9:52 AM on March 18, 2011 [20 favorites]


"The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has received reports of people being admitted to poison centres around the world after taking iodine tablets."
I wish I could favorite with Ironic.
posted by nj_subgenius at 9:53 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is hysterical. For the entirety of the Cold War we've lived in fear of being nuked by the other side when, in fact, each side has spent 60 years nuking the shit out of themselves.

Plus apparently the Pacific ocean has a scarily large nuclear arsenal for an inanimate body of water.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:53 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found it interesting how many times the UK got credit for a dot in the U.S., and I can't figure out what the dot near the gulf coast is that we got credit for.
posted by nomisxid at 9:54 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the info in this thread, guys.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:55 AM on March 18, 2011


I like how Britain and France wanted to have nuclear weapons, but just didn't feel like testing nuclear missiles within their own borders. Thank god for colonies!

And yeah, a billionth is infinitesimally small. For instance, if I were to apply the small tag to this sentence one billion times, you wouldn't be able to
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:58 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

do NOT cut and paste wikileaks cables here

Now I cannot read this thread anymore. Just great.


MeTa
posted by indubitable at 10:04 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Coulter said that many scientists...

no.... no no no. Given how her subset reviles "scientists" all the time (say irt Climate change), she does not get to use this with any level of authenticity. The whole thing is twisted out of shape anyways.
posted by edgeways at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since there is currently a lull in the news cycle, now would be a good time to make sure everyone has seen nuclear boy.
posted by Dr. Zira at 10:11 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This wikipedia entry on Nuclear weapons testing further breaks down the tests by type (atmospheric, underwater, underground).

Also, further notes on US fallout exposure from Nevada test site (1951-62) and compensation.
posted by mazola at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not nuclear at all (but still earthquake-related/interesting): sound of the earthquake and some aftershocks under water.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:15 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW, found a couple of useful points of info about radiation in general.

First, the Banana eqivalent dose wikientry which is a way to talk about radiation by comparison to naturally occurring radiation in many foods like bananas.

Second, there's an EPA pamphlet "Radiation: Risks and Realities" (PDF), which is a useful backgrounder on radiation in general.
Much of our knowledge about the risks from radiation is based on studies of more than 100,000 survivors of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of people receiving large doses of medical radiation. In these studies, scientists observed health effects across a wide range of radiation doses, including single doses comparable to an average person’s lifetime dose from naturally-occurring background radiation (about 20,000 millirem). We learned many things from these studies.

The most important are: Current evidence suggests that any exposure to radiation poses some risk, however, risks at very low exposure levels have not been definitively demonstrated. While experts disagree over the definition of “low dose,” radiation protection measures are based on an assumption that even small amounts of radiation exposure may pose some small risk. Factoring in the entire dose of natural background radiation accumulated over a lifetime, the risk of developing cancer as a result of this exposure is estimated to be roughly 1 in 100. The additional contribution from all man-made sources of radiation is much smaller. It should be noted that all of the long-term health effects associated with exposure to radiation can also occur in people due to other causes.
And the EPA has a radiation subsite, with more information.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:21 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


How could they possibly know it was coming from Japan?

Yeah, as someone else mentioned, if they are looking at the specific types of isotopes, and their compositions it should be easy to tell. But at such low levels it might be hard to get a statistically valid sample.
posted by delmoi at 10:46 AM on March 18, 2011


I would like the US media to please stop talking about anything related to radiation. They are too stupid. Straight up too dumb.

Here is the reality of the chance radiation from Fukushima will threaten people's health on the west coast - Zero. Nothing. Absolutely and completely zero chance at all of anything. The chance is zero. 0%.

And yet we have fear inducing bullshit like this being splashed all over the place.

The only way that graphic shows meaningful amounts of radiation reaching the US is if the reactors are designed and built in a way they aren't, they melt through the containment vessel they can't melt through, they magically melt through the ground to a coal seam no one knows about, the spent fuel rods sprout legs and wander over to this hole so they can toss themselves in, and then Doctor Evil makes an explosion to somehow expose the thing to the air again. And then faeries carry the particles to us. And then we all go out in the pasture and graze for a few days.

So rather than tell the truth - The graphic shows it can't reach us - they go with Dr Evil/faeries version.

So.... US media...... please stay the hell away from science. You aren't ready for it, as you seem to have skipped it in high school. Real life is not a fucking video game.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:59 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


TEPCO apology. I think this is the original in Japanese.

They give March 22 as the date two senior TEPCO managers will be stationed in the area.

Could someone with more knowledge tell me, is J Village the Fukushima Daiichi plant? Does this statement mean that TEPCO Vice President Norio Tuzumi will be on site for the duration of the incident?


We would like to express our great regret at the loss of people by the
Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyo-Oki Earthquake occurred on March 11, and our deep
sympathy to the people and their families suffering damage.

Besides, we would like to make our deep apologies for concern and nuisance
about the incident of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the
leakage of radioactive substances to the people living in the surrounding
area of the power station, the people of Fukushima Prefecture, and the
people of society.

Currently TEPCO has jointly established the Joint Headquarters for
Response for the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyo-Oki Earthquake (Head: Prime
Minister Naoto Kan) and endeavored to prevent further damages and secure
the safety of our facilities as early as possible. [W]e will appoint Vice President Norio Tuzumi and Manageing
Director Akio Komori to station at Fukushima City and J Village
respectively from March 22, 2011.

Vice President Tuzumi will direct to collect voices from the people of
living in the surrounding area ... regarding the incident .... Managing Director Komori will direct to prevent
further damages and secure the safety of Fukushima Daiichi ... as early as possible.

posted by zippy at 11:03 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only way that graphic shows meaningful amounts of radiation reaching the US is if the reactors are designed and built in a way they aren't, they melt through the containment vessel they can't melt through, they magically melt through the ground to a coal seam no one knows about, the spent fuel rods sprout legs and wander over to this hole so they can toss themselves in, and then Doctor Evil makes an explosion to somehow expose the thing to the air again. And then faeries carry the particles to us. And then we all go out in the pasture and graze for a few days.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
posted by msalt at 11:15 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is the reality of the chance radiation from Fukushima will threaten people's health on the west coast - Zero. Nothing. Absolutely and completely zero chance at all of anything. The chance is zero. 0%.
You seem to be absolutely certain of this.
Is this a scientific mindset?

(Not saying there is a chance but science always leaves some wiggle room for doubt)
And yet we have fear inducing bullshit like this being splashed all over the place.

An info graphic that illustrates possible air flow and is accompanied by text that states there is a minimal chance that any significant radiation will come to the west coast is fear inducing?

I thought is was informative.
posted by yertledaturtle at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2011


J Village is a large athletic training facility about 22 km south of Daiichi. Seems like a reasonable place for a command center just outside the exclusion zone.

Is it too much to ask that a native English speaker comb over the translation? "Nuisance" makes it sound like this whole this is equivalent to finding a hair in your soup, or stepping in gum. The Japanese "meiwaku" is a very flexible word but I think it gives some sense that they acknowledge the seriousness of it.
posted by Jeanne at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So rather than tell the truth - The graphic shows it can't reach us - they go with Dr Evil/faeries version.

That's not really fair. Radiation can reach us and we believe it has already reached the west coast. That's exactly what the graphic shows. There were some radioactive particles at Fukushima and now they are here--that's what "reaching us" means.

Now, there's a huge difference between "radiation can reach us" and "harmful amounts of radiation can reach us." The former is true, while the latter, to the best knowledge of scientific consensus, is not. The second paragraph of the story that came with that graphic reads:
Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule.
That doesn't seem like "fear inducing bullshit" at all to me. The levels are only measurable because we're good at measuring stuff like this at really low levels, not because there's so much radiation. Air moves and the stuff in the air moves with it. We shouldn't pretend otherwise because we don't want to scare people. Not everyone has been particularly responsible with their reporting, but at some point it's not the media's fault. When someone on the east coast of the US is freaking out and making themselves sick because they are popping KI tablets, they are the ones with the problem, not the newspapers.

Now, for the real question: why are people so quick to trust the scientists that the radiation is coming this way, but so insistent that science is wrong about the amount of radiation, that evolution is real, or that vaccines don't cause autism? If scientists are lying about the health risks, why didn't they just lie and say that the radiation can't make it here?
posted by zachlipton at 11:22 AM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


@yertle Cliff Mass, a professor of meteorology at the University of Washington has been addressing that issue in his blog.


posted by calamari kid at 11:24 AM on March 18, 2011


Heh. Take a look at the traffic stats for the Wikipedia article Banana Equivalent Dose. That's quite the leap.

Um, and now there's apparently a tornado warning for San Mateo (just south of San Francisco). That simply doesn't happen here. WTF PLANET EARTH? WTF???
posted by zachlipton at 11:25 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, link didn't take. I'll try again.

http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/03/us-west-coast-is-not-at-risk.html
http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/03/us-west-coast-is-not-at-risk.html
posted by calamari kid at 11:25 AM on March 18, 2011


Thanks calamari. Yes ... I am aware of his work.
posted by yertledaturtle at 11:26 AM on March 18, 2011


Japanese earthquake takes heavy toll on ageing population -- "Shocking stories of deaths emerge as the military is enlisted to help at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant."
posted by ericb at 11:26 AM on March 18, 2011


Now, for the real question: why are people so quick to trust the scientists that the radiation is coming this way, but so insistent that science is wrong about the amount of radiation, that evolution is real, or that vaccines don't cause autism? If scientists are lying about the health risks, why didn't they just lie and say that the radiation can't make it here?
People will just pick and choose which information to believe in order to maximize their fear. At least some people will. Anyway I don't think there's really much of an argument for withholding data because some people are going to panic. Give people all the data and if they freak out that's their problem.
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Japan Admits Disasters Overwhelmed Government.
posted by ericb at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2011


Um, and now there's apparently a tornado warning for San Mateo (just south of San Francisco). That simply doesn't happen here. WTF PLANET EARTH? WTF???

There are small tornadoes in the California bay area. They are rare but they do happen. There was one in sunnyvale a few years ago that did some minor damage.
posted by yertledaturtle at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2011


People will just pick and choose which information to believe in order to maximize their fear.

I notice this a lot with anti-drug hysteria. Someone who would go outside to check the color of the sky if a fed went on TV to say it was blue, yet will spout drug propaganda from the Nixon era without a hint of question.
posted by nomisxid at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I take partial credit for that banana equivalent dose stat spike-- my coworkers found it incredibly amusing, especially since one of them was eating a craft-service banana the other day. (One of them figured that was just someone fucking with Wikipedia, too, because what, he had bananas all the time.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:34 AM on March 18, 2011


From BBC live blog a Tweet: "Phone call from a friend in Iwaki. Iwaki-shi and Minamisoma-shi are now totally cut off the supply. People are about to starve and freeze to death. No media coverage, no relief operation, because they fear radiation. We cannot move because there is no petrol. Please do not ignore us."
posted by adamvasco at 11:36 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here is Ars Technica's round up of "the most reliable information [it] can find, using material provided by multiple credible sources."

also, people are so incredibly irrational it's a miracle we've survived this long, and incredible funny to think that we've always prided ourselves on being exceptional among the animals for our capacity to reason.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


evidenceofabsence: "Tiny amounts of radiation reach California, go to beach, use In-N-Out drivethrough,"

orders from secret menu since data source is secret too
posted by mwhybark at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I notice this a lot with anti-drug hysteria. Someone who would go outside to check the color of the sky if a fed went on TV to say it was blue, yet will spout drug propaganda from the Nixon era without a hint of question.

Or worse, the folks who seriously oppose health care reform because they want the government to keep its hands off their Medicare!

From BBC live blog a Tweet: "Phone call from a friend in Iwaki. Iwaki-shi and Minamisoma-shi are now totally cut off the supply. People are about to starve and freeze to death. No media coverage, no relief operation, because they fear radiation. We cannot move because there is no petrol. Please do not ignore us."

This is pathetic. We've been reading stories like this for days. I can see why relief workers are afraid to go in there, but I haven't seen any signs the government is organizing anything. Measure the radiation levels and get some buses and fuel in there so these people can get the hell out of there. Medical science is pretty settled on the effects of starvation.
posted by zachlipton at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sieverts seem to be the wrong scale for usefulness. The millisievert should actually be the sievert - instead of "1 microsievert, 1 millisievert, and 1 sievert" we'd have the more familiar. "1 millisievert, 1 sievert, and 1000 sieverts".

Oh wait, 100 rem = 1 sievert.

Um, why the hell did they change this again?
posted by scrowdid at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sieverts seem to be the wrong scale for usefulness. The millisievert should actually be the sievert - instead of "1 microsievert, 1 millisievert, and 1 sievert" we'd have the more familiar. "1 millisievert, 1 sievert, and 1000 sieverts".

Because 1 sievert = 1 J/kg. It's all derived from the base units.
posted by zachlipton at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Interesting that TEPCO chose March 22, 2011 as the date VP Norio Tuzumi and Managing Director Akio Komori will be stationed in the area. To me, this signals that TEPCO believes that the crisis will continue until around the 22nd, at which point the worst of it will be over. Otherwise, why wouldn't they move executive-level personnel there immediately?

While the announcement is obviously supposed to show solidarity with the people of Japan, "we're in this together", the delay seems to show something else.
posted by formless at 11:55 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cliff Mass updates. He refers to updated graphics but I don't see 'em yet.

"As before, there is little if any risk of significant landfall of radioactive materials on the West Coast due to the mixing, settling, decay, and rainout of radioactive materials...even if the trajectories were straight into us."
posted by mwhybark at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2011


The origin of the Sievert.
posted by zippy at 12:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Understanding radiation units:

"The amount of radioactivity emitted by a source is measured in Becquerels or Curies. The SI unit the becquerel (Bq), one decay per second. The traditional unit Curie (Ci) is 3.7 × 1010 Bq and is about the radioactivity of a gram of radium.

The amount of radiation received by a source is measured in grays or rads. The SI unit Gray (Gy) corresponds to one joule of energy absorbed by one kilogram of matter. The traditional unit rad is 0.01 Gy.

The biological effect of radiation is measured in Sieverts or rems. Biologically effective dose is the amount of radiation received multiplied by the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of the type of radiation source. For x-rays, the RBE is 1. For alpha rays, the RBE is 20. The SI unit of effective dose is the Sievert (Sv), which corresponds to one Gy of x-rays. A rem is 0.01 Sv."
posted by mwhybark at 12:21 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


All the drawings I've seen of the reactors in question have the rods inserted by motors pushing them up. I don't know if that's because that's how they are, or because somebody was trying to draw a generic, not-accurate-enough-to-be-controlled-information infograph. Seeing those drawings makes all my navy training scream "bad and wrong", but maybe it is really like that for reasons I don't know about.

Just to add on to my earlier comment about this being how it actually is, the reason why it's like that is because in a BWR, there's a steam separator and steam dryer in the top of the reactor. These make sure water droplets don't get carried along with the steam going to the turbine, which would erode the turbine blades. The steam separator and dryer are in the way of where the control rods and rod drives would have to go to be inserted from the top. So they get moved to the bottom instead.

Most other types of reactors don't use steam generated inside the reactor itself to feed the turbine directly. There's still steam separators and dryers, but they're not right on top of the reactor, so there's room to put control rod stuff up there.
posted by FishBike at 12:45 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Japan Admits Disasters Overwhelmed Government.

This links to a HuffPo article that is not attributed to anyone. The first paragraph appears to be scraped from either AP (more):

Sirens wailed Friday along a devastated coastline to mark exactly one week since an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear emergency, and the government acknowledged it was slow to respond to the disasters that the prime minister called a "great test for the Japanese people."

The original AP story doesn't mention the word "overwhelmed":

"The unprecedented scale of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, frankly speaking, were among many things that happened that had not been anticipated under our disaster management contingency plans," (Edano) said.

"In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster," he said.

posted by KokuRyu at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2011


Measure the radiation levels and get some buses and fuel in there so these people can get the hell out of there. Medical science is pretty settled on the effects of starvation.

Which makes me wonder...where's the military? Usually, soldiers swear they'll put their life to risk to save the nation and that's exactly a case in which they are badly needed.

Clearly it's a logistical hell they're going to meet, so let's enlist private companies and see if they live up to their often overhyped claims of being massively efficient.
posted by elpapacito at 12:49 PM on March 18, 2011


Here is the reality of the chance radiation from Fukushima will threaten people's health on the west coast - Zero. Nothing. Absolutely and completely zero chance at all of anything. The chance is zero. 0%.

Very low is not the same as zero. Perhaps it bothers you that people are now focused on absolute worst case scenarios where the core is exposed to the atmosphere, large quantities of highly radioactive particles are emitted to the stratosphere and end up raining out on the Pacific Northwest or California. The reality is that many of the people who've suggested this issue would be handled or contained by the inherent safety systems of the reactor have been wrong. The dire catastrophists have also been wrong, but we simply don't know as yet how bad this is going to be.
posted by humanfont at 12:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


They're there flying helicopters and on the ground. The JSDF is all the military Japan has.
posted by joegester at 12:51 PM on March 18, 2011


I completely misread your comment. Disregard my post.
posted by joegester at 12:53 PM on March 18, 2011


The Guardian article that ericb linked to is heartbreaking:
"In one particularly shocking incident, Japan's self-defence force discovered 128 elderly people abandoned by medical staff at a hospital six miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Most of them were comatose and 14 died shortly afterwards. Eleven others were reported dead at a retirement home in Kesennuma because of freezing temperatures, six days after 47 of their fellow residents were killed in the tsunami....

Although the people from the hospital near Fukushima were moved by the self-defence forces to a gymnasium in Iwaki, there were reports that conditions were not much better there.... 'The condition at the gymnasium was horrible,' said Cheui Inamura. 'No running water, no medicine and very, very little food. We simply did not have means to provide good care.'"
I understand that there are difficulties getting water to the reactors. But surely, it should be easier, and possible, to get these people some food, water, and fuel?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


JSDF article from Wikipedia. There's 240,000 active-duty personnel, give or take, and about 58K reservists. No clue how many of them have gone missing in the quakes or the tsunamis, how many can't get out of northern Japan, the conditions of any given JSDF base in the north right now, how much fuel is available for all their vehicles, what the supply lines are like, etc.

Theoretically, if Japan started drafting people, which I don't think is a thing they're particularly into, they have an eligible pool of about 43 million potential conscripts.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2011


1950: Statement from the Fukushima station operator (Tepco): "Tepco has connected the external transmission line with the receiving point of the plant and confirmed that electricity can be supplied."

1927: Much has been made of the power cables being laid to restart water pumps that cool the reactors but a worrying report in the LA Times notes that some engineers believe the cooling pumps were irretrievably damaged by the initial hydrogen explosions.
*crosses fingers*
posted by yeoz at 1:12 PM on March 18, 2011


Worst headline I've seen yet, which I'm not even linking to because whaaaat:

Japan’s wind farms save its ass while nuclear plants founder
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:13 PM on March 18, 2011


The article seems pretty accurate, if incredibly one-sided in its tone.

Here

But if the wind farms are still up and running, not sure what else there is to be said.
posted by Windopaene at 1:17 PM on March 18, 2011


Sat photos of the plant, fairly recent. First pictures I've seen that show the entire site in one frame.
posted by warbaby at 1:18 PM on March 18, 2011


Japan's Wind Farms Save Its Ass while Nuclear Plants Founder

It's actually a pretty interesting article. I didn't realise that Japan had developed as much wind power as it has, and that the earthquake and tsunami didn't damage any of it -- including offshore installations less than two hundred miles from the epicenter of the quake that presumably got a piece of the tsunami, too.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 1:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


To be fair, the wind farms weren't built 40 years ago.
posted by euphorb at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2011


Yeah, funny how in all the rush to vindicate/condemn Nuclear, we haven't been giving any real scrutiny whatsoever to the relative performance of other energy tech in Japan.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:20 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


And, in other homebrew civil defense measures, here's a Geiger counter in Santa Monica, CA, with accompanying background article (although that link seems comparatively totally slammed).

(I live in Santa Monica. It's not mine.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2011


There are about 35,000 US troops in Japan. After all the crap we've put Japan through to keep our bases there, the least we could do is drive or float or fly by Iwaki, and drop off some MREs. As far as I can tell, the air bases and naval base near Tokyo are operational, and nothing in Okinawa should have been affected by the quake.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Overwhelmed?

Japan got struck by the fifth largest earthquake on record, one of the largest tsunamis ever recorded that literally washed several cities out to sea, and a nuclear accident involving three reactors and six pools of fuel (not counting the problems that the other plants initially experienced, which were resolved before they cascaded into the clusterfuck that we have at Fukushima). Simultaneously

If there's a government equipped to cope with this, please tell us. I'd love to know who it is.

The backlash against the Japanese government has come too soon, is probably unwarranted, and is going to severely jeopardize the cleanup/recovery operation. Now is not the time to point fingers. We'll have plenty of time to do that later on.
posted by schmod at 1:23 PM on March 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


"Perhaps it bothers you that people are now focused on absolute worst case scenarios where the core is exposed to the atmosphere, large quantities of highly radioactive particles are emitted to the stratosphere and end up raining out on the Pacific Northwest or California."

This isn't a worst case scenario. It's an impossible scenario. If you have one let's hear it. Go ahead. But the only scenario I know of that results in large quantities of highly radioactive particles from Fukushima raining out on the Pacific Northwest or California is one involving faeries and Dr Evil.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:23 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand that there are difficulties getting water to the reactors. But surely, it should be easier, and possible, to get these people some food, water, and fuel?

It's really disturbing, but the most charitable way to look at it is that there are 500,000 refugees scattered across a wide area, most of it inaccessible due to a destroyed transport network.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on March 18, 2011


Monirobo, the radiation monitoring robot reported on-scene. Sorry for BB link; they have pix up.
posted by mwhybark at 1:28 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are about 35,000 US troops in Japan. After all the crap we've put Japan through to keep our bases there, the least we could do is drive or float or fly by Iwaki, and drop off some MREs. As far as I can tell, the air bases and naval base near Tokyo are operational, and nothing in Okinawa should have been affected by the quake.

From what I can tell by reading Stars & Stripes, after affected bases took care of on base needs, volunteers have been going out to help local communities.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:31 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.): "Japan's Wind Farms Save Its Ass while Nuclear Plants Founder
Even the country's totally badass Kamisu offshore wind farm, with its giant 2 MW turbines with blades big as the wings on a jumbo jet, and only 186 miles from the epicenter of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan, survived without a hiccup thanks to its "battle proof design."
posted by psyche7 at 1:31 PM on March 18, 2011


We should force people to subsidize and generate their own power for personal use, rather than relying on centralized energy distribution systems.

Then the NIMBY effect would whittle away the more dangerous and dirty energy tech, since most people, given the choice between installing a small fossil fuel burning power plant, a nuclear reactor, a wind turbine, or a solar array in their backyards would probably tend to choose the less dangerous and dirty tech alternatives available, even if it meant having to limit their consumption a little more than they might otherwise.

Monirobo, the radiation monitoring robot reported on-scene. Sorry for BB link; they have pix up.

Go robots, go!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:32 PM on March 18, 2011


There are about 35,000 US troops in Japan. After all the crap we've put Japan through to keep our bases there, the least we could do is drive or float or fly by Iwaki, and drop off some MREs. As far as I can tell, the air bases and naval base near Tokyo are operational, and nothing in Okinawa should have been affected by the quake.

I'm sure that some of them are actively engaged in relief efforts. Here's a youtube of one U.S. helicopter crew dropping off food at an area that hadn't been reached by ground crews yet.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:36 PM on March 18, 2011


Warning, Daily Mail link:
The moment nuclear plant chief WEPT as Japanese finally admit that radiation leak is serious enough to kill people

So, not sure I trust the Daily Mail, but the article is actually fairly cogent. I wondered about this bit, though:
Later, six fire engines and a water cannon tried to spray the building with 9,000 gallons of water from high pressure hoses. However, radiation levels within the plant rose from 3,700 millisieverts to 4,000 millisieverts an hour immediately afterwards.

If that's right, then they can't get anywhere close without risking radiation poisoning. Yikes.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:39 PM on March 18, 2011


stupid question from me: why not drop sand into the reactors now, esp. if there's problems with wind blowing dropped water away from the plants? Sand would be harder to blow away, maybe easier to get where you want it?
posted by angrycat at 1:40 PM on March 18, 2011


Another useful paper I linked in previous thread.
Further analysis of extended storage of spent fuel, IAEA publication IAEA-TECDOC-944, published 1996.

Has details about normal operation of the spent fuel pools, their water chemistry, the chemistry of the storage racks, and:
-"burnup rates" (which I take it means the percentage of the nuclear goodies that will be used up in the reactor before the fuel is put into wet storage -- the more it's burned up, the less radioactive goodies remain, but the more the walls of the cladding deteriorate during its service life - could be interpreting this wrong) for various countries, Fukushima plant is specifically mentioned (p 30) as heading for burnup rate of 50 GW-d/t U. On p 45, it says this about burnup rate (which is says is steadily increasing, so it might be over 50 GW-d/t U by now.):
Burnup increase results in:
An increase in fuel rod internal pressure at the end of the service life; More zirconium alloy cladding corrosionduetolonger in-service residence time; An increase in the cladding hydrogen concentration resulting from the increased Zircaloy corrosion.
- "failure mechanism" of individual tube cladding and some measurements of what comes out after failure (starting p 30) - someone smarter than me might be able to figure out what this means for what isotopes etc are available to liberate from the storage pool.

-Table III, p 39 shows specs on the fuel stored in wet storage in Japan as of 1996


An addendum explains various research project funded under this scheme, and describes a research project being done in Japan:
Development of Under Water Remote Welding System for Pool-Lining
Chief Scientist: Toru Onishi Company: PNC Contract no. No.7024

If leakage of water would take place at the stainless steel pool-lining offuel storage
pool because of the unforeseen accident, under water remote welding system to repair the pool-lining is required. However, such a system is not available now. PNC planned to develop the under water remote welding system for repairing pool-lining of fuel storage pool of Tokai Reprocessing Plant.
It would be interesting to find out if they ever had success with that project.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:42 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine works for Aeryon developing basically a suitcase-sized quadrotor hi-def video/photo surveillance UAV. Apparently they're trying to get something over there, but there's "politics" in the way. To which I say, fuck politics. Really. Fuck it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:43 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"why not drop sand into the reactors now"

Because sand makes the problem worse, not better.

What they need is water circulating around the fuel rods. If they can't have that, just some water covering them would be very good. Packing them in something like sand that will insulate them is a rather bad idea.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:45 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Radiological Terrorism: Sabotage of Spent Fuel Pools; Journal Article, INESAP: International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, issue 22, pages 75-78; December 2003
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom

This seems to discuss amounts and what type of isotopes would be released, but I don't have time to do a detailed summary/excerption right now; someone else may want to tackle that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:48 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Charting the Human Costs of Different Types of Energy (from ProPublica)
(Looks like the real news is starting to pick up now, so I'll suspend any further energy policy-commentary for now...)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:48 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The backlash against the Japanese government has come too soon, is probably unwarranted, and is going to severely jeopardize the cleanup/recovery operation. Now is not the time to point fingers. We'll have plenty of time to do that later on.

Certainly the entire government response needs to be looked at in context after this is all over, but my point is that every day we keep getting new and increasingly dire reports from people in shelters in the 20-30km zone that they have been basically completely ignored, are quite scared, and are running terribly low on food and fuel. Yes this is a massive natural disaster and resources are thin, but Japan is a big country. As I understand it, much of the Tokyo area is business as usual except for the blackouts; it is not as though the entire nation is destroyed right now. If there aren't enough buses in the "stay indoors" zone, Japan could start cancelling some bus service in Metro Tokyo and evacuate these folks. Air drop some food even, I don't know, but it simply cannot be that hard for some part of the government to do something for them.

When people are starving and freezing to death because the government told them to stay put and days have passed without any response, a finger has to be pointed at someone, and I'd rather do it now before more people die.
posted by zachlipton at 1:52 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


BungaDunga, as far as I can tell that's a dramatic misstatement of the fact that radiation levels measured at the "main office" rose from 3700 microSieverts/hr to 4000 microSieverts/hr ... before starting to steadily decline. They've been up and down since then: 3484 at 1:50 p.m. rising to 5055 by 5:00 p.m., going down to 3611.0 by 8:00. But we are talking µSv/hr, not mSv/hr.

Feh, Daily Mail.

(NISA says the rise in radiation is because the water hits the spent fuel storage pools and turns into radioactive steam. I guess they think the overall cooling effect is more important than the radiation release.)

(Asahi is just today reporting that some of the workers at Daiichi are hitting the former limit of 100 total mSv. I'm actually surprised that it took this long, but it's a good reminder that radiation levels at the plant are still not... instant-death-worthy.)
posted by Jeanne at 1:52 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


BungaDunga, as far as I can tell that's a dramatic misstatement of the fact that radiation levels measured at the "main office" rose from 3700 microSieverts/hr to 4000 microSieverts/hr ... before starting to steadily decline. They've been up and down since then: 3484 at 1:50 p.m. rising to 5055 by 5:00 p.m., going down to 3611.0 by 8:00. But we are talking µSv/hr, not mSv/hr.

Aha, thank you. I hadn't been following the actual data. Silly me, expecting media to have worked out this micro/milli thing by now- I mean really.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:55 PM on March 18, 2011


Yeah, all the NHK numbers I heard yesterday were microsieverts. A 4Sv reading at Unit 4 would have NRC shitting the bed.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:55 PM on March 18, 2011


Charting the Human Costs of Different Types of Energy (from ProPublica)

I'm sure there are at least a few former Pripyat residents who would disagree with the nuclear data, if they were still alive to do so.

To be fair, the Coal/Oil/Gas numbers clearly don't count deaths due to extracting the respective resource. If they did, the coal number would be at least ten times bigger.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:56 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, the "main office" where those readings were taken is about 500 meters north of reactor 3, so the reactors themselves are quite a bit hotter. But I don't think we're seeing anything like 4 Sieverts/hr.
posted by Jeanne at 1:57 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


That "human costs" chart is really dumb as it totally ignores externalities in its consideration of plant ops only. How about mining coal? How about deaths from pollution? Oil wars in the middle east? I could be a douche but seriously: that chart is bullshit.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


a worrying report in the LA Times notes that some engineers believe the cooling pumps were irretrievably damaged by the initial hydrogen explosions.

I really need to shut my jinxy ass up, because this is like the third time I've mentioned some non-great possibility in the thread, and then within 12 hours, there's a report that "Engineers fear [improbable-sounding thing FelliniBlank said]."

On the upside, I did also wonder about the "put a platform up on the same level as the spent fuel pools so the firefighters can get up there with the hoses instead of trying to shoot water up three stories from the ground" idea but thought it was too harebrained to mention -- and it turned out to be the plan after all.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:01 PM on March 18, 2011


Since folks here were discussing previous atomic detonations earlier this AM, use "nuclear tests" as a search term here on MetaFilter. Interesting previous discussions.

I remember the controversy surrounding Amchitka (which probably birthed Greenpeace) and Plowshares, referenced in this previous MeFi post referring to the above Hashimoto video. People in general were dumbfounded. Corporate techno-weenies were thrilled.

If you think "fracking" is problematic, check out one of the previous Plowshares projects, Rulison. I remember the debate around this event to be filled with incredulity on the part of opponents with a quintessentially facepalm reaction to the lost battle as the nuclear techno-weenies won the day.

And, though this is tangential, regarding nuclear threats anywhere, anytime, who can forget this astonishing tale?

Humans...

BTW, this site with various reporting points is still indicating no departure from background recorded levels on the West Coast of the US by people using one of these. From one of those units in Tokyo.

Now, back to our previous programming.
posted by WinstonJulia at 2:02 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


b1r0t and seanmpuckett: wouldn't those deaths be included under the category "possible deaths from a catastrophic accident at an average site" on the chart--or were they killed instantly in a blast? I don't think the chart is meant to vindicate Nuclear at all. But I can't speak for the accuracy of the data. It does seem odd that hydro gets lower marks.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on March 18, 2011


I hate to ask this but...in my reading this week it seems that there is some very specific cultural baggage regarding radiation in Japan. I had forgotten that after the war that those who had been exposed to radiation had been....ostracized?...not sure if that would be the proper term but apparently there was social stigma.

In that case could cultural attitudes be contributing to the fact that people are starving and freezing?

And if that is the case, is there anything that "outsiders" could do to convince whoever needs convincing that letting these people suffer without help is NOT an option???
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:03 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


LobsterMitten: "Radiological Terrorism: Sabotage of Spent Fuel Pools; Journal Article, INESAP: International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, issue 22, pages 75-78; December 2003
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom.
"


"A typical 1 GWe PWR core contains about 80 t fuels. Each year about one third of the core fuel is discharged into the pool. A pool with 15 year storage capacity will hold about 400 t spent fuel. To estimate the Cs-137 inventory in the pool, for example, we assume the Cs137 inventory at shutdown is about 0.1 MCi/tU with a burn-up of 50,000 MWt-day/tU, thus the pool with 400 t of ten year old SNF would hold about 33 MCi Cs-137. [7] Assuming a 50-100% Cs137 release during a spent fuel fire, [8] the consequence of the Cs-137 exceed those of the Chernobyl accident 8-17 times (2MCi release from Chernobyl). Based on the wedge model, the contaminated land areas can be estimated. [9] For example, for a scenario of a 50% Cs-137 release from a 400 t SNF pool, about 95,000 km² (as far as 1,350 km) would be contaminated above 15 Ci/km² (as compared to 10,000 km² contaminated area above 15 Ci/km² at Chernobyl). Thus, it is necessary to take security measures to prevent such an event from happening."

This seems to me to be in line with Alvarez, although Zhang's dispersal coverage figure is significantly greater, presumably due to differences in his use of the tool that both authors call the 'wedge model.' Alvarez gives the MCi potential as 35 in 400 tons, which seems close enough.

Zhang also has less detail about his assumptions w/r/t the fire and his use of the wedge model than are presented in Alvarez.
posted by mwhybark at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: " I had forgotten that after the war that those who had been exposed to radiation had been....ostracized?"

Citation, please. Link if possible.
posted by mwhybark at 2:06 PM on March 18, 2011


I think I saw that part at a news site but I googled this pretty quickly, mwhybark.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2011


How close is your home to a nuclear power plant?If a crisis at a nuclear reactor happened in the U.S., could you be living in a danger zone? In a 10-mile radius, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the air could be unsafe to breathe in the event of a major catastrophe. In 50 miles, food and water supplies may be unsafe.
posted by nickyskye at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2011


From the article I just linked:

Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki share an affliction and a story. They also share a name.

The 227,565 people recognized by the Japanese government are hibakusha, a name that literally means “explosion-affected people.”

Generations ago the term was regarded by the Japanese as a mark of shame, a sign that one was potentially damaged. Impure by no fault of one’s own.

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Radiation sickness was not understood in the years immediately following the bombings, and many of the Hibakusha found themselves ostracized from society."

ABC News article. The Hibakusha were not formally recognized as such until 1957 under Japanese law. More at Wikipedia.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:09 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


actually, seanmpuckett, on closer review, I think you're right. But notably: "We have excluded renewable energy sources because there is a shorter history of their use, because they make up a small percentage of our energy, and because so far they have not shown as great a potential to cause catastrophic damage."

Citation, please. Link if possible.

Here's the obvious one.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:09 PM on March 18, 2011


fairytale of los angeles: ""Radiation sickness was not understood in the years immediately following the bombings, and many of the Hibakusha found themselves ostracized from society."

ABC News article. The Hibakusha were not formally recognized as such until 1957 under Japanese law. More at Wikipedia
"

Thank you!
posted by mwhybark at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2011


A couple of links suggest there are some nuclear-storage-ready remote control vehicles for fixing the bottom of a spent fuel pool, assuming a leak in the steel is the problem (rather than eg a huge chunk of concrete missing) - I haven't read these but they suggest at least someone has been working on the technology:

Use of a remotely operated vehicle (submarine) for nuclear plant inspections - Radiation hardened underwater ROV for nuclear plant inspections, 1989

Development of maintenance technology with underwater TIG welding for spent fuel storage pool - remote operated underwater welding in nuclear spent fuel pool in Japan - 2009
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


More fun with the Daily Mail:I believe they got the managing director's name wrong. Should be Akio Komori, not Akio Komiri.

Fun thing about that is that if you search for "Akio Komiri," you can see all the news sources that are running the same mistake, including Mother Jones. News sources including an AP photo of Mr. Komori bowing deeply (Yahoo News, ABC (US)) are more likely to have his name spelled correctly.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:11 PM on March 18, 2011


>>"Perhaps it bothers you that people are now focused on absolute worst case scenarios where the core is exposed to the atmosphere, large quantities of highly radioactive particles are emitted to the stratosphere and end up raining out on the Pacific Northwest or California."

>This isn't a worst case scenario. It's an impossible scenario. If you have one let's hear it.


I don't know if you're right, but you're certainly being obnoxious about it.

There was one scenario discussed repeatedly in the earlier topic. Details varied, and there seemed to be variations where this could happen either in one of the reactors, or in a spent fuel storage pool after the water boils off. But the common scenario was fuel or spent fuel melting (perhaps after the zirconium cladding burned or melted), and slumping to the bottom of it's vessel, then either hitting water and exploding or melting through the bottom of a containment vessel, reacting with concrete and water pooled in or (I forget) contained in the concrete, and exploding. Result, very large plume that could rise very high in the atmosphere, perhaps high enough to rain out in the NW.
posted by msalt at 2:14 PM on March 18, 2011


Fukishima's Nuclear Martyrdom
posted by serazin at 2:16 PM on March 18, 2011


nomisxid wrote: "I found it interesting how many times the UK got credit for a dot in the U.S., and I can't figure out what the dot near the gulf coast is that we got credit for"

What I can I say, we USians are a helpful bunch. Need to test a nuke? Well, we've got just the place!

The Alabama shot was part of Project Plowshare. As I recall, it was detonated in a salt dome to see if such cavities could be used for storage. Other Plowshare shots included one in Colorado which was intended to increase the flow rate out of oil/gas wells, and one in Alaska, which tested the idea of excavating a harbor with a bomb.

psyche7 wrote: "Even the country's totally badass Kamisu offshore wind farm, with its giant 2 MW turbines with blades big as the wings on a jumbo jet, and only 186 miles from the epicenter of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan, survived without a hiccup thanks to its "battle proof design.""

Said wind farm wasn't affected by a tsunami in the traditional sense of the word "affected." Wave heights from tsunami out at sea are on the order of inches. They only become large and damaging when they approach land and and the slowing of the wave due to friction causes all the water to pile up on itself.
posted by wierdo at 2:22 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


msalt - That scenario results in a fire which would send up much fewer particles then Chernobyl. But it would take a much larger particle cloud than Chernobyl to result in significant amounts of particles reaching California. What you are suggesting is that "a" scenario indicates that "the" scenario is possible. It doesn't.

Split hairs all you want, but there is no scenario anyone has presented - none, zero, notta, 0.00% - which leads to "large quantities of highly radioactive particles are emitted to the stratosphere and end up raining out on the Pacific Northwest or California".

You know what the real actual danger is here? Idiots poisoning themselves with iodine. I think that's important.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, and msalt, "the solution to pollution is dilution." It seems stupid on its face, but is actually quite true. It would be highly unlikely for enough radioactive material to matter to rain out over the US even in a worst case scenario. Now, if you all have a lot of ruminants up there, it might be within the realm of possibility (not likelihood) to cause problems in the milk supply, at least for those most susceptible to radiation.

The worst case is looking less and less likely, though.
posted by wierdo at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2011


Survivor testimony from Miyagi prefecture
posted by nickyskye at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2011


project plowshare, the nuclear mortar. Maybe it's time for me to re-watch The Atomic Cafe, remind myself of all we have done and how we used to feel about it.
posted by nomisxid at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you need a moment of levity, may I humbly suggest this primer on the Japanese tradition of apology-by-bowing (previously).
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:27 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


A father's goodbye
posted by serazin at 2:27 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Could someone with more knowledge tell me, is J Village the Fukushima Daiichi plant? Does this statement mean that TEPCO Vice President Norio Tuzumi will be on site for the duration of the incident?

J Village (Japanese wikipedia) is a sports center in Naraha, Fukushima, which is where the number 2 plant is located. It looks like J Village is about 10 km south of the actual plant. So he won't be on-site, but he'll be relatively close. I would speculate that he and/or his team were unwilling to be actually on-site, and J Village was the nearest other place where it was convenient for a lot of people and possibly equipment to set up a temporary base.
posted by No-sword at 2:31 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The firefighters and JSDF people also seem to be setting up a base at J Village.
posted by Jeanne at 2:35 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi wrote: There is plenty of wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, for example.

philip-random wrote: In fact, I've heard it reported that wildlife if flourishing in the exclusion zone.

If by "flourishing" you mean drastically increased rates of albinism, mutations, lowered life expectancy and heavily increased mortality rates - sure, life is flourishing. I posted links earlier about this. Life isn't "ok" in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Yeah, there's plenty of wildlife - but don't take that as a sign you'd want to live there or raise a family there or that it's marginally safe to live there. The animals are only there because they don't know what radiation, mutation or cancer is and we can't realistically keep them out. If they had a choice they probably wouldn't choose to live/eat there.

Wildlife lives in nuclear hot spots in the US, too, and it's a problem. Animals like rabbits or rats can get into stored radioactive waste or contaminated plants, eat it and then crap out highly radioactive pellets outside the perimeter of the controlled area. They have to hunt down these radioactive animals and dispose of them. One of the articles I was reading had rabbits chewing on a sugar-based adhesive or sealant on pipes that was radioactive.
posted by loquacious at 2:35 PM on March 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


y6y6y6 -- Here are some of the scenario comments I referred to earlier. 1 2 3

I think it's fine to say that large scale fallout in the U.S. is very unlikely, but you are claiming certainty (and then hiding behind the word "significant" and the comparison to Chernobyl). I don't think that certainty exists, and I think amounts of fallout less that Ukraine received from Chernobyl might still be "significant."

We know that some miniscule amount of radiation has already reached the west coast of the US, and none of these bad scenarios has occurred yet. It's not as if weather, air currents, etc. are perfectly understood and predictable systems. Perhaps existing models indicate that even the worst of these explosions would still be unlikely to deposit deadly quantities of fallout in the US. (Though, Hawaii? Guam?) But, you know, a lot of the nuclear industry's models have proven wrong recently. We've found out in the course of this that much more spent fuel is in these ponds than originally planned, perhaps more than we even know right now.

There's certainly enough uncertainty in these predictions for you to be a bit less sneering in attacking other commenters.
posted by msalt at 2:40 PM on March 18, 2011


Sure, no significant amount of radiation will make its way to the West Coast, and people have repeatedly cited very skilled scientists on this matter... but perhaps some sort of allowance can be arranged for those who feel so insistent about getting irradiated?!
posted by markkraft at 2:55 PM on March 18, 2011


> but perhaps some sort of allowance can be arranged for those who feel so insistent about getting irradiated?!

fuel rod suppositories?

Hey, who needs yucca mountain!
posted by mrzarquon at 2:56 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some people who survived the tsunami and then helped others do the same.
posted by nickyskye at 2:56 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt has some very good tsunami damage analysis maps and satellite images available for download (English Version) - the freely available "medium resolution" is very good (e.g.) and it looks like you can register for high resolution versions.

About a dozen images available, and can be had as .kmz files as well.
posted by Rumple at 3:00 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


markkraft: Sure, no significant amount of radiation will make its way to the West Coast, and people have repeatedly cited very skilled scientists on this matter... but perhaps some sort of allowance can be arranged for those who feel so insistent about getting irradiated?!

So, nothing about this situation has encouraged you to be more humble about predictions concerning this technology, or the very skilled scientists who have been making them? OK, then. Wish radioactive poisoning on people who disagree with you. Good call. Well played, sir.
posted by msalt at 3:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


If by "flourishing" you mean drastically increased rates of albinism, mutations, lowered life expectancy and heavily increased mortality rates

I wouldn't want to live there but I think you're exaggerating. There has been an increase in albinism among swallows, and some mutations in insect populations. There hasn't, so far as I am aware, been any documented increase in mutations among other animals. I'd be interested in reading studies about heavily increased mortality rates, I didn't know those had been done. Where do you see that?

The half life of cesium 137 is something like 30 years. I wonder how long the exclusion zone will be in place? 60 more years?
posted by Justinian at 3:07 PM on March 18, 2011


The half life of cesium 137 is something like 30 years. I wonder how long the exclusion zone will be in place? 60 more years?

I don't know how this plays out in large scales, but in the world of nuclear medicine, something's considered cold after 10 half-lives. (Or at least it is in my dad's.)
posted by KathrynT at 3:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


in my dad's LAB that is. I swear if this baby doesn't start sleeping for more than a couple hours at a go soon, I'm going to lose my damn mind.
posted by KathrynT at 3:12 PM on March 18, 2011


Result, very large plume that could rise very high in the atmosphere, perhaps high enough to rain out in the NW.

Still, we're talking about 7000 miles. That's a lot of distance for it to dissipate over.

Maybe if multiple reactors and pools went into full meltdown all at once and exploded into some massive conflagration you'd see radiation levels in the US significantly elevate. But even then, you're talking about what we've seen in/around Tokyo -- 4-6x normal, but still well below the dangerous levels.

Maybe. But keep in mind that Chernobyl's dangerous radiation plume was only 1500km in radius, IIRC. And again, 7000 miles is a LOT more than 1500km. You'd have to eject far, far more into the jet stream than Chernobyl did in its immediate area to get dangerous or even worrying levels of radiation on the US West Coast.
posted by dw at 3:15 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe. But keep in mind that Chernobyl's dangerous radiation plume was only 1500km in radius, IIRC. And again, 7000 miles is a LOT more than 1500km. You'd have to eject far, far more into the jet stream than Chernobyl did in its immediate area to get dangerous or even worrying levels of radiation on the US West Coast.

Sure, I don't disagree. And as an Oregon resident, I've very heartened by that. (Though I grimaced at an earlier analysis by some scientist who said "unless there's precipitation, you have no risk at all!" Very little comfort to a Portlander, as I soak in a solid week of rain here.)

All I'm saying is, "unlikely" is very reasonable but "zero. zip. nada." is not. And no need for y6y6y6 to be so rude about his/her certainty, even if correct. This situation is confusing and prior certainties are being reconsidered.
posted by msalt at 3:22 PM on March 18, 2011


> perhaps some sort of allowance can be arranged for those who feel so insistent about getting irradiated?

They could eat the magic pill in their household smoke detector, or hack their microwave oven into a hand-held tanning salon.
posted by ardgedee at 3:24 PM on March 18, 2011


All I'm saying is, "unlikely" is very reasonable but "zero. zip. nada." is not.

Okay, well, to put it into context without saying "zero", for practical planning purposes it's somewhere in the same vicinity as the probability of a large meteorite strike wiping out California tomorrow morning.

But never mind the US. Daily Mail says radiation could reach the UK within a fortnight! Time to evacuate to the moon!
posted by sfenders at 3:29 PM on March 18, 2011


Slate wants to hear your ideas on how Japan should do to avert nuclear disaster
posted by desjardins at 3:33 PM on March 18, 2011


if you want to worry about meteorite strikes, I highly recommend lowflyingrocks on Twitter
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:34 PM on March 18, 2011


Okay, well, to put it into context without saying "zero", for practical planning purposes it's somewhere in the same vicinity as the probability of a large meteorite strike wiping out California tomorrow morning.

Polite conversation is not disaster planning; also, humans don't do uncertainty well.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:34 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


There has been an increase in albinism among swallows, and some mutations in insect populations.

There has been an increased mutations and albinism observed in swallows because they are migratory and leave the exclusion zone, as well as increased mortality rates. You left that part off and it's not exaggerated - it's in the same study that noticed the albinism and mutations.

The problem with these "Well, it's only slightly contaminated" judgments is we end up playing dice and statistics with human life and suffering in ways that aren't immediately apparent. 100 people could live in a low level contaminated area, and let's say ten people get cancer, but of those only three is from man made radiation.

It's not a black or white problem - it's a gradient of risks and probabilities. This is what you're actually discussing when talking about low density Cesium 137 fallout - statistics and the probabilities of a particle decay and gamma ray emission at the wrong place and time. And Cesium-137 isn't something you really want to have around even in small quantities. It's the primary contaminate in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl.
posted by loquacious at 3:41 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


All I'm saying is, "unlikely" is very reasonable but "zero. zip. nada." is not.

Well, this comes back to a lack of understanding about risk among humans. The people who freak out about the very, very long odds of fallout over the US while driving.

The odds of dangerous levels of radiation reaching the US from Fukushima Daiichi are non-zero, but they're so close to zero you might as well consider them zero. I think you'd stand a better chance winning the Mega Millions jackpot than getting a harmful amount of cesium-137 dropping on the West Coast.
posted by dw at 3:44 PM on March 18, 2011


Using fantasy documents to tame disaster.

Grist article


Foreign Policy article


Harvard Business Review article

Most disaster planning is utterly useless because the planning process (like most planning) is a political exercise that demonstrates who has the power to plan. Hence, most planning is worthless when the crunch comes.

As we are seeing once again. People never seem to get that the definition of disaster is an emergency that overwhelms the ability to deal with it. If you can deal with it, it's not a disaster. Still and all, when the shit hits the fan, you have to find some way to deal. It's never pretty.
posted by warbaby at 3:46 PM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Zero chance of radiation danger to the US west coast? We lack certain facts to set the probability to zero. These include quantity of particulates, rate, and composition. Furthermore we have no idea how much longer radiation will be released. Computer models for particulate dispersion can be wrong, as was shown during the Icelandic Volcano incident last year. You may recall that UK METS shutdown airspace for almost a week before discovering that in fact the ash quantities were much lower than predicted because the atmospheric models were wrong.
posted by humanfont at 3:51 PM on March 18, 2011


ProPublica: Six Ways Fukushima is Not Chernobyl
posted by Weebot at 3:58 PM on March 18, 2011


Also, at the risk of being obvious, models are never 100% certain for disaster planning because by definition, accidents don't happen according to plan. In this case, our models are based on a sample size of basically one comparable incident or arguably two, and the details vary drastically.
posted by msalt at 3:58 PM on March 18, 2011


y6y6y6 wasn't particularly rude, msalt. Nor was I. But if you come into a scientific discussion saying, "well, others were wrong, so they can be wrong here too..."

Well, that's not a scientific argument.

My best friend is in Tokyo. And my sister is in Oregon, too.

In the event that any kind of freak event happens which is capable of propelling a huge amount of radioactive material that high into the atmosphere -- more so than we saw with the runaway Chernobyl, and enough to make it all the way over to Oregon in any measurable amount -- well, let's just say that I *still* won't be giving any thought to my sister's life or even my own, since I am also on the coast.

All my concern would be for the people of Japan, who would effectively lose one of the world's greatest cities, if anything so powerful were to occur. I would be worrying for my friend and for their partner, who works with his government and cannot leave right now, even if he wanted to... and frankly, my best friend would *never* leave him behind. I'd worry about their ability to somehow get out before they contracted radiation poisoning.

I just find your thoughts to not only be unscientific but also rather self-obsessed. And you can be that way if you want... but I most certainly will mock you for it, because frankly, I have bigger concerns right now than being exposed to trace amounts of radioactivity.

In any event, try to calm down a bit and think about those most seriously affected first, if possible.
posted by markkraft at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2011


Models are by definition a simplification of the real world to isolate and study variables and their interaction.

If that wasn't the case, the model would be reality.

Conclusion: models always under-represent, and therefore underestimate, the complexity of the real world.
posted by Rumple at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The details aren't terribly important, though. We (well, not me, but physicists) know to a near certainty what the distribution of fission fragments and decay products looks like. We know to a near certainty that any radioactive particles will be vastly diluted before reaching here, even in a worst case scenario.

The probability is so terribly low, it's not worth considering. Unless you're concerned about an asteroid slamming into the earth tomorrow, anyway.
posted by wierdo at 4:04 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's the primary contaminate in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl.

This is because cesium-137 has a 30 year half life. The radioiodine was actually far more harmful (especially in Ukraine where it got into cows' milk and then into kids), but its short half life meant that the danger passed within a year.
posted by dw at 4:05 PM on March 18, 2011


Huh, crisis must be over, NHK-G just went back to regular programming. They just started some soap opera looking show whose title sequence starts with hashbrowns and eggs.
posted by nomisxid at 4:05 PM on March 18, 2011


I think the much more immediate question is, what's likely to reach northern suburbs of Tokyo or other population dense areas. Does anyone have a population density map of that area of Japan?

Something else I have been wondering - suppose you are a person inside the 30 km zone, you've been told to stay indoors, and maybe your car is out of gas. But you're running out of essential supplies, you have no heat and no food and maybe no water (we've heard that from some reports).

What is the point at which it would make sense to just walk out? Let yourself get exposed to the levels of radiation that exist now, for the hours it would take you to walk out, betting that worse levels of radiation are coming?

How long would it take to walk out of the zone, say to walk 10 km?
Given the radiation levels as of now, how much exposure would you get in that time period?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:06 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


And do we know if the people who are stranded in the zone have the potassium iodide tablets? I assume not, since we've been hearing about how the gov't has not provided any assistance to them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:07 PM on March 18, 2011


My concern is not for the US as I am reasonably certain we have little to no risk here. I wonder about Tokyo, and for the rest of Japan. Seeing as I live within the fifty mile radius of Shearon Harris, it's a wee bit more than academic interest.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:07 PM on March 18, 2011


Given the level of radiation there now (outside the plant, anyway), I think the worst effect from walking out of the area would be a slightly increased chance of cancer later in life. This is not Chernobyl, where staying in the area unprotected means "you die soon."
posted by wierdo at 4:10 PM on March 18, 2011


Something else I have been wondering - suppose you are a person inside the 30 km zone, you've been told to stay indoors, and maybe your car is out of gas.

They were just talking about that on NHK World when I happened to tune in. The people inside 30km are advised to avoid going outside unnecessarily, not to not go out at all. Levels of radiation there are said not to pose any immediate threat to health right now, the risk is that they are considerably variable and might get worse.
posted by sfenders at 4:15 PM on March 18, 2011


This is not Chernobyl, where staying in the area unprotected means "you die soon."

No it does not! Look, I'm not trying to downplay Chernobyl. It was one of the worst industrial accidents ever, and by far the worst radiological disasters. But there have been people living in the exclusion zone for more than 25 years.
posted by Justinian at 4:16 PM on March 18, 2011


maps of Japan including a population density map based on 2000 census

Wikipedia population density of Japan map

(would be nice to find something more fine-grained of just the nearby area, though)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


To contrast with Chernobyl radiation levels: near reactor core 300 Sv, area of the affected unit: 10-15 Sv, nearby concrete mixing unit: .1-.15 Sv; on Daiichi highest reported spike so far was .4 Sv.

If fuel pool did run dry, it would be 100 Sv at the edges of pool / right above it.

All units are per hour.
posted by rainy at 4:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Justinian, maybe that was supposed to be "at Chernobyl when the accident was going on" not "many years later".
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:18 PM on March 18, 2011


On all sides, confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's some good information in this World Nuclear News article about what happened to cause this crisis, based on official reports from the utility to the IAEA. From my reading of this, it looks like the earthquake didn't do much damage at all, and the problems now are due to flooding of pump rooms and generators.

That suggests the plumbing and so forth is fine and if they can get some of those pumps going again (particularly for the residual heat removal system) then things might get a lot better. There is some concern that a hydrogen explosion might have taken place inside the torus of one of the units, though, damaging it.
posted by FishBike at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2011


Looking at the Google satellite view of the area, it looks like there is a north-south strip along the coast of developed land, which is something like 5 km wide east-west, and to the west of that line it's just green, totally undeveloped. If you walked west from the Fukushima power plant, would you quickly run into mountainous terrain, or is it agricultural land, or what?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:23 PM on March 18, 2011


Something else I have been wondering - suppose you are a person inside the 30 km zone, you've been told to stay indoors, and maybe your car is out of gas.

Based on the various articles I've read, you're grumpy and unhappy at the government, and wondering how this is going to work out since you don't even have running water inside.
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:25 PM on March 18, 2011


FYI, St. Alia, some percentage of what we're discussing is specific to first-generation boiling-water reactors does not necessarily apply to Shearon Harris, which is a pressurized water reactor.

If anyone wants to know what kind of reactor lives near them, or if any reactors live near them, IAEA will happily tell you. If you already know the name, Wikipedia is a fairly reasonable aggregator of data.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:29 PM on March 18, 2011


Al Jazeera:


Timestamp:
5:50am

More on that power cable: Nearly 300 engineers are working to restore power at pumps in four of the reactors. at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Operator Tepco said:

Tepco has connected the external transmission line with the receiving point of the plant and confirmed that electricity can be supplied.

Another 1,480m (5,000 feet) of cable are being laid inside the complex before engineers try to crank up the
coolers at reactor No. 2, followed by 1, 3 and 4 this weekend, company officials added. Laurence
Williams, of Britain's University of Central Lancashire, said:

If they can get those electric pumps on and they can start pushing that water successfully up the core, quite slowly so you don't cause any brittle failure, they should be able to get it under control in the next couple of days.

If not, there is an option of last resort under consideration - to bury the sprawling 40-year-old plant in sand
and concrete to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
posted by futz at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Justinian wrote: "No it does not! Look, I'm not trying to downplay Chernobyl. It was one of the worst industrial accidents ever, and by far the worst radiological disasters. But there have been people living in the exclusion zone for more than 25 years"

Sorry, I miswrote. I meant that at the time of the accident, staying in the area too long would indeed give one a serious risk of immediate radiation sickness and possibly death. It is true that at this time (and even not too long after the event), most of the exclusion zone is not hot enough to cause immediate effects.

There's still quite a good number of hotspots, however, which make wandering off the beaten path in the area a somewhat risky activity, at least if you plan to have children.
posted by wierdo at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2011


Answering my own question, yes, terrain gets more mountainous to the west. The Fukushima power plants are on a narrow flat coastal plain which rises abruptly to mountains not very far to the west. If you were leaving the area on foot you'd probably go north or south, unless you were already well the to west. (I think based on maps - obviously people who are in Japan/have been to this area will know better - please correct me)

Looking at Google's topo map of the Fukushima power plant area gives good perspective. Also if you run up the coast with it you can really see how low-lying the areas hit by the tsunami are, and in satellite view you can see that all the low-lying areas are heavily settled and sharply bounded by the largely-undeveloped mountainous areas.

Wikipedia topographic map of Japan shows nicely how the narrow coastal plain runs along the central northeast coast, and then as it goes south, widens out to a very large plain which Tokyo sits on. Does this mean that typical weather patterns tend to push things toward Tokyo, rather than west over the mountains?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:41 PM on March 18, 2011


Ah, yeah, Chernobyl was not a good place to be at the time of the accident. Of course I wouldn't want to be anywhere near the Japanese plants either.
posted by Justinian at 4:45 PM on March 18, 2011


y6y6y6 wasn't particularly rude, msalt. Nor was I. But if you come into a scientific discussion saying, "well, others were wrong, so they can be wrong here too..." Well, that's not a scientific argument ...In any event, try to calm down a bit and think about those most seriously affected first, if possible.

Pointing out the limits of models and the failures of previous hypotheses isn't scientific? But I guess ridicule is, and your snark wishing radiation on "those who feel so insistent about getting irradiated." Here's a clue: telling someone to calm down is rude. I've been perfectly calm, and you have no idea who I'm concerned about. y6y6y6 is all "fucking bullshit ... idiots .. you're too dumb. ... fairies/Dr. Evil scenarios... give me a scenario. Out with it. Go ahead." And then there's this statement:

"Here is the reality of the chance radiation from Fukushima will threaten people's health on the west coast - Zero. Nothing. Absolutely and completely zero chance at all of anything."

I don't know how long ago you finished school, but that is not science. It's you and y6y6y6 acting superior and snarky and dismissing people who don't agree with you.
Being socially inept doesn't make you a scientist. That's just a stereotype.
posted by msalt at 4:46 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Zero probability is shorthand for "exceedingly unlikely, on the order of being wiped out by a gamma ray burst from a distant star." Anything can happen, at least according to quantum physics.
posted by wierdo at 4:49 PM on March 18, 2011


Are they letting civilians enter the evacuation zone -- so as to bring relief supplies or help evacuate stranded people? Because I am a pretty wimpy person, but if I were in country, I would have ZERO problem hopping in my car right now and popping in there to bring a carload of people out -- in areas that are car-accessible. I have to think that there are plenty of people in the non-decimated areas close to the zone who'd do the same if they had the gas and knew specifically where people were stranded.

I mean, you go in there, you pick up people for 20 minutes, you drive out. How harmful could that possibly be unless they're living in a penthouse at the top of Reactor #4?
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Models are by definition a simplification of the real world to isolate and study variables and their interaction. If that wasn't the case, the model would be reality. Conclusion: models always under-represent, and therefore underestimate, the complexity of the real world.

Fair enough. My point is, they are particularly limited in value for making plans for accidents, since every accident is inherently a situation where things go off the rails. You can guess what might go wrong, but severe accidents are naturally likely to be scenarios you didn't predict (or you would have prepared better for it.)

Models of standard natural and man-made processes are a better bet -- poker hands, chess games, that kind of thing.
posted by msalt at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2011


I mean, you go in there, you pick up people for 20 minutes, you drive out. How harmful could that possibly be unless they're living in a penthouse at the top of Reactor #4?

I had the same kind of thought. But where would you take them to? And how many desperate people would you drive past and ignore on the way to Fukushima with your load of supplies?
posted by sfenders at 4:58 PM on March 18, 2011


Anything can happen, at least according to quantum physics.

You apparently don't even understand quantum mechanics.
posted by humanfont at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2011


Zero probability is shorthand for "exceedingly unlikely, on the order of being wiped out by a gamma ray burst from a distant star." Anything can happen, at least according to quantum physics.

The quantum physics point is a bit silly; I don't think anyone here would challenge a statement such as "a nuclear reactor can't blow up like a nuclear bomb." That is a physical impossiblity, AFAIK, quantum weirdness aside.

I think MeFites are fully capable of understanding phrases such as "vanishingly small" and "exceedingly unlikely" (which is only 5 letters longer than "zero probability.") And, can you understand that the earned reputation of nuclear engineers for hubris and overestimating safety might make that distinction worth the effort, at the current moment?
posted by msalt at 5:02 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


> The animals are only there because they don't know what radiation, mutation or cancer is
> and we can't realistically keep them out. If they had a choice they probably wouldn't choose
> to live/eat there.

The main takeaway I got from the reported condition of wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is that it takes a fuckton of unhealthy side effects to outweigh the advantages of getting rid of the people, and the existing unhealthy side effects there have not managed it.
posted by jfuller at 5:03 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


That Ars Technica link has one piece of horseshit certainty. It passes along as fact something that may turn out to be one of the most persistent myths about this event:

In some ways, the Japanese plants, even though they are an old design, performed admirably. They withstood the fifth-largest earthquake ever recorded, and the safety systems, including the automatic shutdown and backup power supplies, went into action without a problem.

So far we have very few first-person accounts of what happened as the earthquake hit, but this story, "Terror at N-plant during quake," includes a report from one of the plant workers evacuated early (posted in the previous thread) claiming that pipes had begun bursting and showering the plant with water almost immediately after the earthquake:

When the earthquake struck, he was doing electrical work with some coworkers inside the containment building of the reactor, which was operating at the time, in an area where there was ordinarily no fear of radioactive contamination and thus no need for protective clothing.

"It was such a powerful jolt I could hardly stand. I was thrown from side to side," he said. "I thought, 'That was no ordinary jolt.'" He also heard loud crashes of a crane, lighting and other equipment being bounced around, he said.

Soon the lights inside the building went out and emergency lighting came on. An announcement came next, telling workers to stay where they were. But seams on metal pipes installed in the ceiling had been broken by the strong jolts and water started flooding out.

Someone yelled: "This could be dangerous water. Let's get out of here!" and they rushed down the stairs to the first floor exit.


There's no mention of the tsumani hitting at that point. I suggest that it's a bit premature to be insisting with some force that the plant "withstood" anything, let alone that first powerful bunch of quakes.
posted by mediareport at 5:09 PM on March 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


But where would you take them to? And how many desperate people would you drive past and ignore on the way to Fukushima with your load of supplies?

Well, yeah, I'd probably help the first desperate people I saw, but I was thinking more of an organized team effort. Obviously, there are many, many, many people needing help from Iwate to Ibaraki, and only so many troops and cops and relief organizations and regular schmoes to go around. But if there aresome people with the wherewithal in the inland areas just outside the evacuation zone, couldn't grassroots "carpools" get set up? Maybe they are in the works as we type.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2011


Also, here's a clear scenario y6y6y6 seems to have missed, posted early in the thread.
posted by mediareport at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2011


Can we just cool down our rhetoric in here? There's a nonzero chance of radiation coming to west coast USA but it's overwhelmingly likely to be very very small amounts that won't harm people living on there. I think we pretty much all agree about that. There's no need to call each other stupid or get into back and forth over this. We're all tense because it's scary and there are a lot of unknowns and people in harm's way, and we wish we could take out some of the fear and anger on people who deserve it - eg maybe people who should have put better disaster plans in place, or people who should have insisted on more stringent design or testing of these facilities, or thought through what to do with the dangerous waste in a more honest way. But none of those people are in this thread, so let's ease off on internal conflict here, I think we're all on the same side, namely "this sucks", and it's no use getting upset with each other over who thinks it sucks more/for the better reasons.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:11 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


(sorry, that applies to discussion a bit further up thread)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2011


There's a nonzero chance of radiation coming to west coast USA but it's overwhelmingly likely to be very very small amounts that won't harm people living on there.

Nitpick: There's a 100% chance of radiation coming to the west coast of the USA since it has already been detected in Sacramento. Tiny, tiny, tiny amounts.
posted by Justinian at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2011


"Also, here's a clear scenario y6y6y6 seems to have missed, posted early in the thread."

No. That event would eject less radioactive material into the air than Chernobyl, and would carry it to a lower altitude than Chernobyl. And as everyone seems to be agreeing, even a Chernobyl level event would cause insignificant radioactive fallout in California.

Again. No.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If not, there is an option of last resort under consideration - to bury the sprawling 40-year-old plant in sand and concrete to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

You mean the one that's threatening to collapse in on itself and isn't really sealed at all? The same one that has holes in it big enough to drive a car through? Birds fly in and out of it, rainwater pours in, dust filters out and the core is pretty much only loosely contained and covered because it melted and dispersed into the basements.

They're talking about having to build an entire secondary sarcophagus to contain the first one because it's really looking like the roof might fall into the still hot core and kick up a large radioactive dust cloud.

One proposal was to build what amounts to a retractable sport stadium roof on rails so the construction happens away from the sarcophagus and core, instead of right over it. Then they'll roll the entire roof structure over the sarcophagus and other attached reactor. It would be a huge structure.
posted by loquacious at 5:20 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why Chernobyl is the sole metric by which people want judge this whole situation. Seriously, I was three years old when Chernobyl happened. Whether Fukushima is only 46.57% Chernobyl, or bears a passing resemblance to Chernobyl, or is generally considered Chernobylesque, none of this means anything to me. I want to know what is going to happen to Japan, both its people and its environment. I do not care one whit about to what degree this situation resembles Chernobyl at this point, and if I see one more facile comparison in either direction, I may scream.
posted by dialetheia at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


One proposal was to build what amounts to a retractable sport stadium roof on rails so the construction happens away from the sarcophagus and core, instead of right over it. Then they'll roll the entire roof structure over the sarcophagus and other attached reactor. It would be a huge structure.

Like a less ugly, more useful Astrodome.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:27 PM on March 18, 2011


y6, you clearly stated that one condition for an escalation was not only impossible, but downright sneer-worthy: "they melt through the containment vessel they can't melt through...."

I'm pointing you to a scenario from a nuclear engineer who worked on reactor safety at Sandia Labs for 14 years who seems to think there is definitely a risk of radioactive materials melting through the containment vessel. "Like butter."

Do you have a serious objection to his statement? I'm leaving aside the travel-to-California issue, which I (right now) don't believe is or will be a serious risk. But your certainty about the melting bit speaks to your reliability as a source of opinion, and I'd love to hear your rebuttal to Dr. Allen.
posted by mediareport at 5:30 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread is getting huge and seems to have derailed a bit.
I don't have time to read all of what I've missed since yesterday; can someone kindly provide a summary (or links to such) of the latest on the situation?
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:34 PM on March 18, 2011


This thread is getting huge and seems to have derailed a bit.

You should see the other guy.
posted by mediareport at 5:36 PM on March 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


dialethia, your frustration notwithstanding, I recommend The Battle Of Chernobyl. I was thirteen when Chernobyl happened - but that doesn't mean I knew any more than you. So I did myself a favor and watched it this week and learned a lot. Very cool documentary of an amazing and horrible story.
posted by scrowdid at 5:39 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Michio Kaku is on CNN right now saying that the water drops are futile and that they just need to drown the reactors and boron and bury them already.

In other news, tonight we are at a Level 1 Anderson Cooper Popped Collar Alert
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Couldn't grassroots "carpools" get set up?

I guess what I'm hoping for is the "little Nissans of Fukushima". Convoys of cars go in, load up with people at shelters, and haul 'em out far enough that they can at least get access to bare-bones refugee and medical services.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2011


crap. dialetheia. i even double-checked the spelling too.
posted by scrowdid at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arclight's wasn't too thrilled with Dr. Kaku the other day; it is sort of a Bill Nye the Science Guy situation, since Kaku's background is more strictly theoretical. Kaku's probably no stranger to people questioning his commitment to Sparkle Physics, though, since he's a string theorist and physicists like to talk shit about each other's pet paradigms.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:47 PM on March 18, 2011


(It's worth noting, though, lest I seem too dismissive-- I'm not, I'm just sitting at work staring into a pile of fuck on my project-- that Kaku was one of Edward Teller's proteges and rejected the entire nuclear power/ atomic weaponry paradigm for the theoretical field. Wikipedia.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do not care one whit about to what degree this situation resembles Chernobyl at this point, and if I see one more facile comparison in either direction, I may scream.

If you do scream, please record it and post it to soundcloud so we can use it in the forthcoming Fukushima hardcore remix.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:58 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


NHK reports that the city of Toride in Miyagi prefecture is, in fact, sending out buses to pick up residents of Minamisoma (which is inside the 30-km area). Sounds like other local governments are making plans to evacuate some of the other cities inside the "stay inside" zone.

And Nikkei reports that they've restored water circulation, via diesel engine, at reactors 5 and 6. It won't help with cooling, but if the water level starts to get low, they will be able to more easily put in new water again.

It looks like a positive direction.
posted by Jeanne at 5:58 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nitpick: There's a 100% chance of radiation coming to the west coast of the USA since it has already been detected in Sacramento. Tiny, tiny, tiny amounts.

Nitpick of your nitpick: any radiation that reaches the United States is trivial to the point of total insignificance. Even in Tokyo, there is no abnormal radiation level. Or, to be specific, there is increased radiation, something like 1 micro (milli?)severt, but to put that in perspective, when you get an x-ray at the doctors' office, that's five hundred micro(milli?)severts.
posted by zardoz at 5:58 PM on March 18, 2011


By the way, y6y6y6, sand is totally an option. Google it. Why are you being so dismissive?
posted by futz at 6:00 PM on March 18, 2011


I was wondering why Spitzer (and Good Morning America this morning) was interviewing a theoretical physicist on the matter. Then I realized he's got a new book out and it all became clear...
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


zardoz: yesterday in Tokyo, radiation was 0.049 microSieverts/hr. Normal background radiation? Anywhere between 0.028 and 0.079 microSieverts/hr.

source: MEXT's study on radiation levels in the cities and prefectures, which has an English translation, and is updated a couple times a day. You should keep watch on this if you're in Japan and worried about your exposure!
posted by Jeanne at 6:07 PM on March 18, 2011


I want to know what is going to happen to Japan, both its people and its environment.

The short answer is if they can stabilize the reactors and the spent fuel pools (no more radioactive steam venting, no more spent-fuel fires), it'll be helpful, but the people in the 20-30km evacuation zone won't be going home for probably 6 months. Efforts are being made right now relocate the 500k homeless folks and refugees to other parts of Japan.

In Tohoku, there will be a lot of work for construction companies rebuilding roads, infrastructure and housing, but agriculture is going to take a huge hit. Who's going to want to buy Fukushima-branded milk or rice? As well, fish will become more scarce. Kessanuma, in Miyagi, was the headquarters of the Japanese pelagic fishing fleet. Most farmed salmon in Japan comes from Miyagi. Iwate was a center of oyster production. The tsunami wiped all this out.

If they cannot stabilize the reactor buildings, especially the spent-fuel pools, this could be a bigger problem. Of course, it's politically correct to say that Tokyo would not be affected, but a serious fire involving spent fuel rods could potentially contaminate farmland in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Niigata, Yamagata, Miyagi...
posted by KokuRyu at 6:08 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Experts knock notion of burying Japanese reactors
posted by Camofrog at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2011


Or, to be specific, there is increased radiation, something like 1 micro (milli?)severt, but to put that in perspective, when you get an x-ray at the doctors' office, that's five hundred micro(milli?)severts.
Uh... you don't know the difference between a microSievert and a milliSievertyou probably shouldn't be talking. 500mSv over a short period would be enough for some people to feel symptoms of radiation sickness, twice that can kill people without medical attention.

---
Then the NIMBY effect would whittle away the more dangerous and dirty energy tech, since most people, given the choice between installing a small fossil fuel burning power plant, a nuclear reactor, a wind turbine, or a solar array in their backyards would probably tend to choose the less dangerous and dirty tech alternatives available, even if it meant having to limit their consumption a little more than they might otherwise.
They don't seem to have a problem driving SUVs. Gasoline engines don't produce a lot of visible environmental problems, so I imagine a lot of people would want to burn those. And remember people used to burn coal in their own homes
Other Plowshare shots included one in Colorado which was intended to increase the flow rate out of oil/gas wells
Atomic Fracking!
Yeah, there's plenty of wildlife - but don't take that as a sign you'd want to live there [in the Chernobyl exclusion zone] or raise a family there or that it's marginally safe to live there.
Uh, no one said that. What we said is that as an ecosystem, it was fine, and even flourishing. Obviously it's dangerous for individual humans.
posted by delmoi at 6:10 PM on March 18, 2011


I was somewhat shocked at this statement in the World Nuclear link article posted upthread.
"One hour later the plant [Fukushima Daini] was inundated by a tsunami said to be seven metres in height, compared to design basis surge of 6.51 metres."
Planning for only a 6.5 meter tsunami seems like a large mistake considering the size and frequency of tsunamis to strike Japan in recent (and long ago) history. For comparison the sea wall at the San Onofre nuclear plant located in Southern California is 9 meters high. Digging around trying to find some historical data, I learned that some of these issues were addressed at the 1st Kashiwazaki International Symposium on Seismic Safety of Nuclear Installations which was held recently in November 2010 in Niigata Japan.

Session B covered tsunamis and nuclear plant safety and all the slides from the various talks are available as pdfs. This one in particular by Makato Takao from TEPCO entitled "Tsunami Assesment for Nuclear Power Plants in Japan" is quite interesting. Apparently this group claims that they assessed and confirmed the safety of the two Fukushima plants and they describe the effects of the tsunami which hit the two plants on Feb 28 2010 as a result of an earthquake in Chile. Slide 14 has a cutaway design of Fukushima Daiichi and puts the facility at 10-13 meters above O.P. As far as I can tell O.P. is the low tide level in Osaka Bay. The mean tide level at the plant is O.P. +0.8 m. The maximum water level designed for (expected?) was O.P.+ 5.7 m which was clearly not adequate.

Another set of slides entitled "Tsunami Assesment method for NPP, JSCE, Japan" describes the process of assessing Tsunami risk for Japanese nuclear power plants. Slide 18 takes a figure from a previously published paper (pdf) that suggests 7 meter tsunamis are once every 400 year events (for Iwate prefecture north of Fukushima).

Finally this set of slides entitled "Tsunamis - Disasters and Countermeasures -" was much less dry and had some interesting before and after photographs of tsunami damage. Sorry for the length.
posted by euphorb at 6:20 PM on March 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


> Finally this set of slides entitled "Tsunamis - Disasters and Countermeasures -" was much less dry and had some interesting before and after photographs of tsunami damage. Sorry for the length.

That last pdf mentioned the Taro, Iwate's sea wall successfully protecting the area from 3 previous Tsunamis.

This is what happend with the wall this time around.
posted by mrzarquon at 6:33 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dr. Zira: "Michio Kaku is on CNN right now saying that the water drops are futile and that they just need to drown the reactors and boron and bury them already.

I am not a beloved and hyperintelligent theoretical physicist, but based on the literally tens of pages I have read about models for cooling partially-compromised spent-fuel pools, I believe this assertion to be incorrect. The water drops may not be futile. I haven't gone back and plugged in the numbers but may do so as the whim moves me.
posted by mwhybark at 6:34 PM on March 18, 2011


euphorb: "Slide 14 has a cutaway design of Fukushima Daiichi and puts the facility at 10-13 meters above O.P."

GOLD, euphorb. That is how it is done! Thank you!
posted by mwhybark at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


doomsaying keeps people watching
posted by Mach5 at 6:40 PM on March 18, 2011


This one in particular by Makato Takao from TEPCO entitled "Tsunami Assesment for Nuclear Power Plants in Japan" is quite interesting.

Dear god, some of these slides are just painful to read: "A manual containing emergency and restoration protocol in the event of a major disaster [at Fukushima Daiichi] has been created." And a sparklingly effective Accident Operating Procedure! How many times do you imagine Takao has said, "Oh fuck ME" in the past week?
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2011


Has anyone given a big thank you to Jeanne yet? If not, big thanks -- you've been consistently providing excellent, germane, informative updates on 47 different issues of interest for days on end.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:45 PM on March 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


Meanwhile, NHK World is reporting that 30 engineers are working on setting up power to Fukushima Daiichi through the line that normally carries power out. It will flow through an external transformer, before being put into plant 2. Why plant 2? Because its outer containment is largely intact, it's hardest to get at with hoses. They hope to be able to cool it internally, and then power the other plants in the same way.

For the other units, the third day of water cooling will resume at noon. (They sprayed reactor 3 for 20 minutes this morning, but stopped so work on the power connection could proceed.) There are 13 firemen and 5 trucks on site, one with a 22-meter tall water discharging arm.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:47 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slide 11 may imply that the tsunami effects were somewhat intensified by the seawall or whatever that hook structure in the water is, if the epicenter of the quake was tto the north of the plant. I kinda think it was, but don't know offhand. Anybody else?
posted by mwhybark at 6:56 PM on March 18, 2011


Yes, it was to the north.
posted by rainy at 7:00 PM on March 18, 2011


I believe it was -- pretty much due east of Sendai.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:02 PM on March 18, 2011


In an attempt to get back on track here a quick round up from scanning the BBC and the news sources:
-Independent media setup radiation monitoring throughout Japan shows very low levels of increased radioactivity over the background radiation, but levels are not rising.
-Coolant pump restoration efforts continue to struggle with overly optimistic schedules. What had been scheduled for two reactors on Friday, is now scheduled for reactor 2 only on Saturday. Spraying with water has stopped temporarily while they do the electrical hookup to reactor #2.
-Spraying efforts have been expanded, and seem to be the primary hope for keeping things in a stable state.
-US experts have warned of a long drawn out situation that will take time to resolve.

My take on this is that they are going to keep the fire hoses on this for weeks and try to cool it down slowly. As long as background radiation levels in Japan stay at acceptable levels, there would be little reason to do something more dramatic. They may be spraying the reactors down for a couple of months, but this may be less risky than say dumping sand on it and risking throwing up radioactive dust. If they can get internal pumps working again, the situation will be under control much sooner.
posted by humanfont at 7:19 PM on March 18, 2011


Nothing else in the quake-stricken area has come through anything like as well as the nuclear power stations, or with so little harm to the population. All other forms of infrastructure – transport, housing, industries – have failed the people in and around them comprehensively, leading to deaths most probably in the tens of thousands. Fires, explosions and tank/pipeline ruptures all across the region will have done incalculably more environmental damage, distributed hugely greater amounts of carcinogens than Fukushima Daiichi – which has so far emitted almost nothing but radioactive steam (which becomes non-radioactive within minutes of being generated).
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


The reactor cores will take weeks to cool, the US Navy has given high pressure seawater pumps to the workers at the plant http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=59142. If the can get electricity back at the plant, they can get the plants pumps working. Right now the know that the reactors are destroyed. They know that the will not use them agian, right now they are trying to contian the problem. It looks like a FUBAR situation, but they are holding ground, slowley the will get it back. Big problem is the cooling pools for the spent fuel. And there is not enough info to figure out what is going on in them.
posted by ionized at 7:29 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


and I cannot type worth anything
posted by ionized at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2011


KokuRyu, that Register article is another source making unfounded claims about how well the reactor handled the earthquake:

The Fukushima reactors actually came through the quake with flying colours despite the fact that it was five times stronger than they had been built to withstand. Only with the following tsunami – again, bigger than the design allowed for – did problems develop...

Again, that appears to contradict at least one report from a worker evacuated from the plant, who claims water was bursting out of pipes in the ceiling soon after the initial shock and (as far as I can tell from the few details, like working emergency lights) *before* the tsunami hit and knocked out the backup power.
posted by mediareport at 7:41 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Latest TEPCO data have the main office at 3181 microSv/hr, well down from 4000 earlier. JSDF sent a helicopter over the reactors to use thermography to measure their temperatures -- no data yet on the results. It does seem like the situation is stabilizing, if they can just keep pumping water on the reactors until they can get the electricity back online (and repair pumps, etc, as necessary). Knock on wood. Fingers crossed.
posted by Jeanne at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2011


The pumps that the Navy delivered are hydraulic, a diesal generator is connected to them. *PDF* of the pumps here http://www.essmnavy.net/S18000.pdf. If they can get these working it will help. These pumps are the ones they use to refloat sunkin ships, the pull seawater like nobodys business.
posted by ionized at 7:51 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"One hour later the plant [Fukushima Daini] was inundated by a tsunami said to be seven metres in height, compared to design basis surge of 6.51 metres."

I laughed briefly, but then recalled that we are talking not about a wave like you'd find at the beach, but a surge of water seven meters high that may be hundreds or even thousands of meters deep. Think of a kid playing in a bathtub - when the kid moves back and forth, the water level doesn't change all that much in the middle, but it will go up the walls at either end.

I'm still not a civil engineer, but it seems like you need to design facilities that can survive a powerful water surge, not walls that keep them dry. Think of the footings at the base of bridges, not dams.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:53 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


From what I have read, if the had not lost power, this would have been an non-issue plant. Losing the pumps really hurt. Remember these guys that are working here will not move fast, they need to make sure what they do will not make the situation worse.
posted by ionized at 7:56 PM on March 18, 2011


good point b1tr0t
posted by ionized at 7:57 PM on March 18, 2011


The Onion has its surprisingly understated take on the situation at Fukushima: 'Nuclear Energy Advocates Insist U.S. Reactors Completely Safe Unless Something Bad Happens.' I can't help thinking about how this low level of attention differs from their first post-9/11 issue. Perhaps they felt they'd already exhausted their earthquake humor here and here?
posted by gerryblog at 8:00 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting back-and-forth on Twitter right now between NYT reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and writer Matt_ALT about journalistic slant and the less-than-stellar reporting done by the Western media on the crisis in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:03 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu, I agree with you onn the western media, The reporting is terrible.
posted by ionized at 8:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have blogged a little about English-language media coverage here. Perhaps 'yelled' would be more accurate.
posted by Jeanne at 8:06 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The Fukushima reactors actually came through the quake with flying colours despite the fact that it was five times stronger than they had been built to withstand. Only with the following tsunami – again, bigger than the design allowed for – did problems develop."
Yes, thank goodness there is no connection between earthquakes and tsunami
posted by dougiedd at 8:06 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hindsight is 20/20 dougiedd.
posted by ionized at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2011


connecting tsunami and earthquakes requires hindsight?
I suppose that was true for primitive man
posted by dougiedd at 8:19 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know it's dangerous to move fuel rods around but would one of the long term solutions be moving the fuel rods to a spent fuel pool somewhere else until they can get the ones at Daiichi properly repaired? Would they consider moving them somewhere else permanently? Or are they considering keeping everything there and working around them (once the "emergency state" has passed and they've at least restored power/water to the pools)? I'm wondering how they could appropriately and permanently fix cracks/holes/whatever in the storage pools without being able to drain them and get up close and personal to fix them. I'm sure there is technology I'm not aware of though.
posted by MultiFaceted at 8:21 PM on March 18, 2011


Really? They figured for the tsunami, really, the had a 8.9 or 9.0 and then had a bigger tsunami. What should they have built that sea wall for?
posted by ionized at 8:22 PM on March 18, 2011


Multifacited, I think they will close this plant permanatly. The fuel rods will be moved out and the plant will be buried. They are getting control slowly, but the plant will not be viable after this.
posted by ionized at 8:26 PM on March 18, 2011


perhaps building nuclear reactors on fault lines located in tsunami inundation zones is a bad idea?
just thinking out loud here...
posted by dougiedd at 8:27 PM on March 18, 2011


ionized: historically that kind of tsunami is not unprecedented, there was a 20m in 19th century, in Japan but not in the same exact area.

However, the main point is that they didn't have a plan B for what happens if all generators are knocked out for any reason. They had 8 hours... The containment units did survive the tsunami without a problem. I don't see why generators could not be protected just as robustly.
posted by rainy at 8:28 PM on March 18, 2011


I agree with you there, but where do you draw a line at the worst situation? You cannot plan for what happened, No one really thought it could get that bad.
posted by ionized at 8:29 PM on March 18, 2011


You are right rainy, They made a mistake with the generators and the placement, Damn humans......I know myself that I never make a mistake.
posted by ionized at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2011


ionized: I would draw the line at, lets look at the worst things that happened in the last 150-200 years and have backup plans for that level of damage. I mean, the ridiculous thing is that all coastal plants could now be undergoing the same situation as at Daiichi. None of them were designed for this tsunami. Can you imagine 5-6 plants doing the same dance at the same time?
posted by rainy at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bid to 'Protect Assets' Slowed Reactor Fight

So not surprising.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:36 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


And agian, I agree with you, we have4 plants doing the dance. As I said hind sight is 20/20. They really never expected this. We are all looking in the rear view mirror and saying all these engineers should have known. I really do not see it, what is the highest tsumai that the had in that are? Engineers research what they are building and where. You are blaming all this on we should have known, what was the highest wave they had there, and did they buils the sea wall higher?
posted by ionized at 8:38 PM on March 18, 2011


This is fighting agianst a storm
posted by ionized at 8:39 PM on March 18, 2011


"No one really thought it could get that bad."
yes, the current predicament is purely an act of god...
no one knew of the persistent failure of the Japanese nuclear industry to adhere to safety standards...no one warned that accidents were likely to happen...
posted by dougiedd at 8:40 PM on March 18, 2011


well, dougiedd, Now you are argueing a industry or corporate policy with me, I cannot do that. I know that the engineers built the plant, I know how the workers that take care of the plant think, I have no idea of the corporate policy work. You do realize that the earthquake was a 9.0 and the wave was gigantic. What I want to know is how you would have solved the problem?
posted by ionized at 8:45 PM on March 18, 2011



no one knew of the persistent failure of the Japanese nuclear industry to adhere to safety standards...


NOT TRUE.

CNN.com - Heavy fallout from Japan nuclear scandal - September 2, 2002

Liberal Democrat Party politician Taro Kono was trying to raise red flags around the safety concerns of building a fast breeder reactor and other nuclear industry safety concerns from 2007. Kono could not get the mainstream media to cover this issue because the utility companies, including TEPCO, are/were major advertisers and pressured the TV companies to kill the coverage. I posted this above.
posted by gen at 8:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lots of ads from the American Petroleum Institute on CNN about how awesome natural gas is.
posted by Camofrog at 8:51 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


dougiedd, ionized, I thought the no-politics thread policers were overreacting, but this bickering is terrible and bad for the thread. Please stop.
posted by gerryblog at 8:55 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


ionized: no, this is going on at one plant, at 4 units. What I was saying is that it could have happened at 4-5 or more plants at the same time. And you would say that they performed to the design, and "hey, you never know with them tsunamis.. it's human to err".
posted by rainy at 8:58 PM on March 18, 2011


We are all looking in the rear view mirror and saying all these engineers should have known. I really do not see it

I don't expect engineers to anticipate all possible outcomes. But I wish policy makers would factor in the historical reality that there has never been a human invention that is indestructible. The unanticipated happens - every time - eventually. That's why I think we should use caution in our energy policies.
posted by serazin at 8:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bid to 'Protect Assets' Slowed Reactor Fight

The Wall Street Journal is shocked, shocked to find that asset-protecting is going on in here.

Japan's Self-Defense forces showed up [Wednesday 3/16], though a spokesman said some of their personnel and equipment waited 15 miles away. "We have to wait for Tepco to come to us and request help," said Tetsuya Kono, a ministry of defense spokesman.

Holy crow. Whoever mentioned earlier that there seem to be disquieting parallels to the USG vs BP fiasco had it right on the freakin' nose.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:00 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


agree serazin!
posted by ionized at 9:01 PM on March 18, 2011


Thanks fairy tale of los angeles, well actually thanks for saying you lurked for years, this really seems a touchy subject and one that really, maybe I should not comment on.
posted by ionized at 9:03 PM on March 18, 2011


What are the main issues in the places that we have seen in the area [northeastern japan]?

For the moment, in the 20 or 30 different evacuation centers we have visited, the main issues we're facing are chronic diseases among elderly people. Their treatment has been interrupted, so our doctors are looking at restarting the treatment to avoid that these elderly people fall into acute situations. Another issue is that communications have been very erratic over the last four days. It’s getting better but it's still quite difficult. Transportation is difficult. Roads were cut almost everywhere we went, as well as lack fuel for our cars.

posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agreed, I think the potshot at the 'signed up date' is some serious tinfoil hat syndrome. And I'm really sad this thread is turning into "all debate, all the time" I guess I should have anticipated it when Hitler/Godwin's Law came up in the previous post.

Ctrl+F: Pol Pot and Hitler, really? [Sorry, I don't know how to link to specific comments.]

ionized: I have no problems with your veracity, though I reserve the right to, as needed, doubt your accuracy. Thanks for adding your 2 cents (when it applies to the 'signal' portion of the thread, instead of the 'noise' portion of course).

Did I mention that I really wish the mods had made it clear that dedicate, dyed in the blood, political debates should be kept in the metalk area instead of coddled here?
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:07 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Roland: I believe you can link by right-clicking on 'time link' at the bottom of a comment and choosing 'copy link location'.
posted by rainy at 9:11 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


ionized: "I agree with you there, but where do you draw a line at the worst situation? You cannot plan for what happened, No one really thought it could get that bad"

well not 'no-one,' just no-one in a decision-making or power-holding position.
posted by mwhybark at 9:13 PM on March 18, 2011


oops, missed the fighty upthread, ionized, or I woulda been slower on the snappy comeback. you are important to have here in my opinion.
posted by mwhybark at 9:15 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


UStream has great coverage of Japanese journalists chatting between press conferences (via Joi Ito)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of ads from the American Petroleum Institute on CNN

And the dueling UStream ads I received, on following KokuRyu's link? Both for BP, and about how well the Gulf has recovered from oil (as I was told by some authentic, folksy types).

Man.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, Back on the rail, They seem to be taking conrol of the situation. The things bring out the conspiracy thoeries. What I see right now is engineers and the nuke technicians slowly gaing controll of a bad situation.
posted by ionized at 9:27 PM on March 18, 2011


UStream has great coverage of Japanese journalists chatting between press conferences (via Joi Ito)

Bahahahhaa that's hilarious. A few non-Japanese journalists too apparently, as I heard someone discussing in English how they want a big plate of shrimp right as the stream started. The folks on the left sure don't seem to realize that 3,400 people are watching them work right now, and there's a guy on the right who just started leafing through a magazine from a fellow journalist. Get back to work! I feel so powerful :)
posted by zachlipton at 9:27 PM on March 18, 2011


zachlipton: "a big plate of shrimp beans"

ftfy
posted by mwhybark at 9:28 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they can get the power lines hooked up to the plant, and the Navy salvage pumps, they can cool the plant. Thats is what is needed , cooling.
posted by ionized at 9:29 PM on March 18, 2011


The navy salvage pumps are diesels and are self contiane, they are made to actually drain a sunken ship so it floats, hopefully the put those on the beach and throw water like its going out of style.
posted by ionized at 9:31 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


contained, the pumps are self contained. cannot type tonight. deisels provide the power, loomking for the gpm on those, but they refloat a sunk ship it has to be a major amount.
posted by ionized at 9:33 PM on March 18, 2011


(Ignorant, UStream-related questions: Do most people in Japan take a lunch hour, or eat at their desks? Is 13:30 considered a late lunch? Or are journalists just...well, journalists, the world round?)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:34 PM on March 18, 2011


The "Topic: Nuclear Power" at Salon dot Com has a pretty good recap of a number of articles out today and the last couple of days. Six or so that have already been cited here today, but all available in one location starting with "Japan's Nuclear Danger Explained." Cookies have to be enabled, short ad pitch to access.
posted by WinstonJulia at 9:40 PM on March 18, 2011


mwhybark, where do engineers decide to build and to what conditions. I appreciate your opinions. should we build them for an asteriod? just wondering, this plant held, the electricity ended, I think the diesels shouldve been inside so power was enabled after that........but really can everyone think of all the extreme, and this was, situations?
posted by ionized at 9:42 PM on March 18, 2011


and mwhybark, i really like the conversation.
posted by ionized at 9:43 PM on March 18, 2011


ionized, yes they should build it for once in 5 million years asteroid but not for once a hundred years tsunami. /sarcasm
posted by rainy at 9:46 PM on March 18, 2011


That would be hamburger rainy!
posted by ionized at 9:47 PM on March 18, 2011


Anyway, I think this wasn't linked so far, apologize if it was: possible reasons for initial hydrogen explosions
posted by rainy at 9:48 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


That would be hamburger/ not sarcasm(both are the same rainy). Your link is great, nuke plants have a lot of problems, ussually controlled by coolant. In this case they lost it. Now, they just have to conrol and get back what they lost. That is why they are bieng so slow.
posted by ionized at 9:54 PM on March 18, 2011


Really guys I am not standing up for the Nuke industry, I just feel that these guys that are trying to slay the dragon, need to be given a good fkn job guys. They are fighting like hell to keep it contained, and looking at the pictures of the plant, I think they are.
posted by ionized at 9:57 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a good question what they should build for, but they should be building to exceed whatever they can reasonably expect the plant could be hit with. If the plant will have a 50 year service life, they certainly should be designing to 100+ year events (eg what's the biggest earthquake/tsunami this area gets every 100 or 200 years, what's the biggest flood we get in 100 years, what's the biggest hurricane, etc). This is not to slag the engineers - I'm sure they were under huge pressure from the company to produce the "right" numbers, to keep the cost of the plant down. But this level of disaster *was* foreseeable for this area - it's a 100-200 year earthquake.

Again, the workers in the plant and the engineers who designed it are doing the best they can, no slagging them -- the corner-cutting from the company, and maybe corruption in government that lets it go on, is the problem.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:58 PM on March 18, 2011


[A couple comments removed, I know it's a heated topic but if you're sniping at each other or being hyper-responsive in a thread it's pretty much time to step away from the computer and go get some air or something.]
posted by cortex at 9:58 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


YokosoNews reported that the electrical hookup has successfully been implemented for reactor 5, with 1, 2, and 6 to follow. Water spraying will continue on 3, from the truck with the 22 meter hose lift. I didn't pick up a mention of reactor 4. Says that both American and Japanese media outlets are stupid for asking if Mt. Fuji might erupt. Hah.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think everyone in the thread is in support of and sympathy with the crews on the ground, ionized.

one other thing, I am not sure you and rainy got each other's back story of interest here - ionized, you are retired Navy, ex-nuke, but sailor, not plant engineering, if I recall correctly. Please correct me if I am wrong.

rainy, I have the impression you were either affected by or emotionally impressed with Chernobyl as a kid, is that correct?

As for me, I'm just some guy on the internet. But I was very fascinated with Chernobyl as it happened and after, and my interest in space and aviation somehow relates to this.
posted by mwhybark at 10:03 PM on March 18, 2011


evidenceofabsence: So they're saying the electrical systems are up or that the pumping/piping systems they power are up and coolant is flowing? And was that numerical list in order of importance/priority?

I'm guessing the former but hoping for the latter. Either way, this is great news.

Thanks for the info and we totally understand if you don't have the followup info.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:04 PM on March 18, 2011


er hi cortex how was austin
posted by mwhybark at 10:04 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's a 100-200 year earthquake.

But a 1000 year tsunami, or so I read somewhere. The last one this high was in 800-odd AD.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:06 PM on March 18, 2011


evidenceofabsence: "Says that both American and Japanese media outlets are stupid for asking if Mt. Fuji might erupt. Hah."

Well, there was a force 5 centered on the cone since the big quake, so maybe not actually stupid. Hypervigilant, let's say. Although I didn't hear Katz and he said whatever he said.
posted by mwhybark at 10:07 PM on March 18, 2011


RolandOfEld: The order in my post wasn't of any significance. Sorry!

I might not have it right, but I think Katz was reporting that they have successfully delivered power to reactor 5, not necessarily that they've gotten the pumps running. Still, that's no small thing! Earlier, NHK World said that reactor 2 would be the first to get a hookup, but it sort of makes sense that the engineers would want to try the electrical connection out on one of the more stable plants first.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:09 PM on March 18, 2011


mwhybark, you are correct, I took care of the nuke missle on the sub, we worked closely with the nuke techs on the submarine becuase of the radiation danger and becuase, well we worked with the same thing, well kinda. We had to know each others job and the critical situations. rainy, if I have huert and upset you I opoligize.
posted by ionized at 10:12 PM on March 18, 2011


mwhybark- Good point. Even so, I want to know why YosokoNews didn't have redundant systems in place for a worst-case-scenario, media outlets being stupid scenario. They happen more often than nuclear failures, tsunamis, and earthquakes, combined!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:12 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


hurt, and if you were by chernoble, that was a fubar squared.
posted by ionized at 10:12 PM on March 18, 2011


I don't know the history on the tsunamis. I guess I have been thinking that max tsunami height should be easier to model, once you know the bottom topography. I'm sure that's too simple.

But it sounds like the plant was built to expect an earthquake just slightly larger than a 50 year earthquake. That seems like under-engineering it to me. (And again, that's not a rip on the engineers, but on the pressures that force them to under-engineer it.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 PM on March 18, 2011


still cant type, might be the cans i have off to my right
posted by ionized at 10:14 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


LobsterMitten wrote: "But this level of disaster *was* foreseeable for this area - it's a 100-200 year earthquake."

Tsunami seem much less predictable. We've had some gigantic earthquakes that don't produce much of a tsunami and smaller ones that produce locally devastating tsunami. I'm not sure where this one fell on the scale of predictability. It's a quite variable phenomenon.

More predictable than rogue waves, though.
posted by wierdo at 10:15 PM on March 18, 2011


Er...YokosoNews. They should also implement a plan to cope with dyslexic internet users.

The truck that will be focusing on reactor 3 hasn't started yet. But I think he just said it can pump 3 tons of water a minute. Reporting 60 uSv recordings 10-20 km from the plant.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:16 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Carry on people, been a fun talk, and this does worry me, it really is not under control until it is. Thank you for the discussion, hopefully we will not ever have to talk about nuclear weapons.
posted by ionized at 10:17 PM on March 18, 2011


mwhybark: just the opposite, in fact! I was in a russian school at the time and I never heard about Chernobyl because local coverage of it was so minimal. I've only heard about it years later.

ionized: not hurt at all and generally appreciate you sharing your views, I have nothing against engineers.. the ones working on it now are not responsible for the design decisions but have to risk their lives to contain it. I would be happy if it comes out that this was some kind of rare unpredictable combination of events, but so far it seems in line with Tepco's terrible record of falsifying maintenance records and that sort of transgressions.
posted by rainy at 10:19 PM on March 18, 2011


rainy, I agree with you about Tepco, but really its the people that take care of the nukes that keep going in, really the company might be crap, but the people working with it know whats going on and really now what the danger is.
posted by ionized at 10:23 PM on March 18, 2011


BungaDunga: in fact there was a 20m tsunami in Japan in 19th century. There were some 30m tsunami in 20th century near aleut islands. This one was 10m max, 7m at Daiichi. Once in 1000 years? Doesn't seem right..
posted by rainy at 10:23 PM on March 18, 2011


and with that I am out, Thanks guys.
posted by ionized at 10:24 PM on March 18, 2011


take care ionized!
posted by rainy at 10:25 PM on March 18, 2011


'Nite, ionized!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:26 PM on March 18, 2011


It seems like they don't really have plans to hook up power to reactors 3 and 4 though, which are both rather damaged and showing high radiation levels. Reactor #3 is a wreck from the explosion and the wall or floor of the storage pool in reactor #4 is believed to be breached. Reactor #3 sure doesn't look like the kind of building you can just power up. Is there any plan for these besides keep spraying water and we'll hope it helps? It seems we have very little if any data about these storage pools.

Still, it sounds like they are in a good position to start cooling the pools in reactors 5 and 6 before they explode too and they have a fair shot at better stabilizing reactors 1 and 2 if nothing else. Having four emergencies instead of six here would be a great step, and I hope it works.
posted by zachlipton at 10:27 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


BungaDunga, if news is to be believed... based on the 3-5km inland reach of the tsunami in the Sendai plains area they said that it matches up with an event 1,140 years ago. The earthquake may have been in the few hundred years range, but the tsunami was in the 1,000 year range. As has been pointed out earthquake != tsunami, you can have one without the other. In another place with a 10m sea wall built after several recorded tsunami intended to cover the worst case scenario, this tsunami reportedly went 4m over that... 14m tsunami! They got hit with massively large quake and even larger tsunami and are probably doing better than could be expected. And hey, at least the ground didn't crack open under all 6 reactors or people would be saying they didn't prepare enough for that situation.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:27 PM on March 18, 2011


rainy, definately more than 10m max. 10m sea walls were swept over like nothing.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2011


The pdf that was recently linked that covered history of tsunamis and protection had an amazing story about a beach with 9 people -- it was hit by a tsunami and not one of them survived. Here's the kicker.. tsunami height was 0.7m. I guess speed counts, too. It's a huge mass of water and not to be joked with... By the way, the pdf was a direct translation from japanese so it was a bit hard to understand at times, but it seemed like that was the only way to interpret that page.
posted by rainy at 10:30 PM on March 18, 2011


About planning for tsunamis, b1tr0t made an excellent point upthread:

It seems like you need to design facilities that can survive a powerful water surge, not walls that keep them dry. Think of the footings at the base of bridges, not dams.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:34 PM on March 18, 2011


BungaDunga: in fact there was a 20m tsunami in Japan in 19th century. There were some 30m tsunami in 20th century near aleut islands. This one was 10m max, 7m at Daiichi. Once in 1000 years? Doesn't seem right..

Hm, you might be right. I don't know. But, this is what the BBC says here.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:34 PM on March 18, 2011


zen: I've heard initial reports of 10m max, I could be wrong. However the match with 1,140 event ago means something different.. that's like saying a specific spot only has a 7M (for example) quake once in a thousand years. The infrastructure has to be safe against quakes / tsunamis occuring *anywhere* because Japan has nuclear plants all over the coast.

If I've read the linked pdfs right, a large quake is in the range of 90% probability to cause a large tsunami. It's not a perfect correlation, but a very high one. Doesn't mean a 10m or 14m but higher than average (the paper wasn't very specific).
posted by rainy at 10:35 PM on March 18, 2011


LobsterMitten: "I don't know the history on the tsunamis. I guess I have been thinking that max tsunami height should be easier to model, once you know the bottom topography. I'm sure that's too simple.

But it sounds like the plant was built to expect an earthquake just slightly larger than a 50 year earthquake. That seems like under-engineering it to me. (And again, that's not a rip on the engineers, but on the pressures that force them to under-engineer it.
"

Did you see the Nov. 2010 presentation slide upthread? It appears to posit a 5.x tsunami and to show the berm height at 10.x.

The other slides in the presentation are worth looking at, the prefatory examples explicity refer to the Feb 2010 quake in Chile as a tsunami generator as a way of denoting the parameters within which the plant design was developed.
posted by mwhybark at 10:38 PM on March 18, 2011


Bunga: yes, looks like they're talking specifically about Sendai and reach inland. The thing about Tsunamis is that they come in 3 types (at least). I'm not an expert or anything but I think they can have different speeds, different reach inland, different width, and height. The same tsunami can be 2.5m in one spot, 3.5 a few hundred meters away and 4.5 a few hundred meters more.

So it would appear they are saying that exact same profile of a tsunami was 1000 years ago.
posted by rainy at 10:38 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did look at one of those but had a hard time extracting their rationale for the multipliers they used. But I suppose this is the money quote from the comment you linked:
"Slide 18 takes a figure from a previously published paper (pdf) that suggests 7 meter tsunamis are once every 400 year events (for Iwate prefecture north of Fukushima). "
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:42 PM on March 18, 2011


I read a thing in the NY Times (I think) that said the wave got 60 feet high in places because of the cliff faces and inlets and coves all along the coast.

I think the rule should be: the more crucial the device/structure/backup system may become, the "could it withstand THIS?" standard must be increased.
posted by vrakatar at 10:44 PM on March 18, 2011


Regardless of the longterm history and what the designers knew to design for in 1960(?), in light of the massive 2004 Banda Aceh tsunami wave heights and the ongoing rise in sea levels worldwide, I'd think the folks who specialize in tsunami risks at coastal power plants in the Pacific Ring of Fire would have been pissing themselves for the last few years trying to improve the disaster back-ups insofar as they could.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:48 PM on March 18, 2011


Everyone but me seems to know what this means. When they say radiation will hit (has hit) California... what does that mean? How does it travel? Does it hitch rides on gas molecules in the wind? Water? Dust?
posted by small_ruminant at 10:48 PM on March 18, 2011


An interesting point raised in the slides of those talks (linked in euphorb's comment above) is this:

The water intake for the plant is in the seawater, and the tsunami is likely to change the bottom topography of the area right next to the plant. So it might cover up the water intake with meters of debris, or it might leave the water intake hanging high and dry at low tide. After a tsunami they have to go check and.. dig it out? or backfill to it so it's not dry at low tide?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The tsunami wave experienced on a ship at sea.
posted by nickyskye at 10:55 PM on March 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


s_ruminant, a radioactive dust particle from the plant was carried across the pacific by wind currents. They can identify the particle as being from the plant using its isotopic signature.
posted by calamari kid at 11:04 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to Katz: "[REVISED] NSCJ said the cooling pump of spent fuel pool in Fukushima reactor No.5 started working again during the press conference." Also reported by NHK.

He also mentioned something about the government helping people in the 20-30 km indoor zone get to neighboring towns. Presumably, not because of any danger, but so they aren't housebound without food. I can't find an English-language source to back this up, though.

He is having katsu curry for lunch.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:05 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Keep in mind that the plant is 10-13m above OP. If OP = MSL and the tide were in, then a 7m tsunami = an 8m actual tide.

7.3m was the highest recorded in Fukushima prefecture. Up in Miyagi, there were multiple places where the tsunami was ">10m" -- the wave was higher than the tsunami gauge could measure. In Minamisanriku it was 15m. In these conditions, a 4m seawall is going to provide zero protection.

Should they have planned for a 10m tsunami, which would be a 200-1000 year event? I don't know. It does seem that people are asking not for disaster-resistant or even disaster-proof but disaster-impossible.

Planning for only a 4m tsunami, though, seems awfully shortsighted in retrospect.
posted by dw at 11:06 PM on March 18, 2011


As goes safety: Could it be said that having a plant near the water is safer, in case of emergency—but that being near the water's edge might make a plant more prone to emergencies?

From what I understand, pressurized-water and boiling-water reactors need to be built near water, in no small part because of its ability to suffice as coolant if things start going pear shaped. (I am not sure if this is less true for, say, gas-cooled reactors. Anyone know?) This means that plants have to be built to withstand the host of weather and ground conditions that come with being on a shoreline. Even if earthquakes and tsunamis aren't in the picture, you're contending with landslides, wind shear, plain old floods, etc.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:08 PM on March 18, 2011


Bid to 'Protect Assets' Slowed Reactor Fight
posted by nickyskye at 11:15 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Containment buildings themselves had no trouble with tsunami. It's not like you need to build a 5km wall around complete plant territory.
posted by rainy at 11:18 PM on March 18, 2011


Radiation near Tokai Village just one of many untold stories
posted by nickyskye at 11:19 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Everyone but me seems to know what this means. When they say radiation will hit (has hit) California... what does that mean? How does it travel? Does it hitch rides on gas molecules in the wind? Water? Dust?


Dust and other small particulate, and the jet stream. It would take a long time, and a compete, six-reactor plus meltdown, to put rad levels high enough to hurt or kill people on the west cost of the USA. Pacific fisheries will need to monitor however.
posted by vrakatar at 11:25 PM on March 18, 2011


Seems to me, the key is not to plan for specific natural (or man-made) sources of problems, such as earthquakes or tsunamis (though that is wise too.) You should be plan for failure of part of your system. In this case, what is your plan is your water intake fails? If your electricity is lost? if your pipes or wires are damaged?

Any number of things might cause any of these eventualities, but the key is to have a way to keep the reaction controlled and the fuel and spent fuel cool if they happen. Your systems are much more predictable than the vectors that might attack them.
posted by msalt at 11:30 PM on March 18, 2011


Radiation near Tokai Village just one of many untold stories

This is very interesting. To quote the more significant portion:
Monitor D is detecting 2.4 times the radiation level at monitor A, which is within 1.5km. The discrepancy remains irrespective of wind direction, and all readings are higher when wind speed is lower. If radiation in Tokai was being blown 125km from Fukushima, the effect on all four monitors would be consistent and wind direction would influence readings. This morning’s rate was six times the ICRP recommended civilian exposure and eighteen times the normal background radiation level currently observed at Tepco’s west-coast Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant*. Something is wrong in Tokai village, and it’s receiving no scrutiny.

Tokai Dai-Ni was shut down automatically on Friday 11th March 2011. But operators Japan Atomic Power Company later submitted a report to local government advising that one of the two pumps used to cool water in the suppression pool had stopped working, and that two of three diesel generators used to power the cooling system during power failures were out of order. Restoring Tokai Dai-Ni to operation could mitigate Tokyo’s rolling black-outs, but at time of writing output is still flat-lining.
I'm skeptical because radiation measurements have been very erratic from Fukushima-1 and it's very difficult to tell what's going on here. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this is a pretty bold claim around a situation we don't really understand. Also, I read somewhere in this thread that sometimes radioactive particles can collect inside monitoring equipment, leading to falsely high readings and other abnormalities. All that being said, the guy doesn't seem like a total crank and there definitely seems to be something strange and non-linear with the data here.

From my Googling, it is clear that the utility did publicly announce last Sunday that Tokai-2 had problems with one cooling pump after the earthquake or tsunami, but that the other cooling system was functioning and that all was well. Certainly, the most likely situation is that the facility is still offline because of the need to make repairs and inspect equipment after the earthquake, that everything is cooling normally, and the radiation measurements are an aberration. I very much hope this is the case.

On the other hand, if there are problems at Tokai-2, the government and/or the utility keeping them secret while attention is focused on Fukushima-1 is certainly not at all inconceivable to me in this environment. I'm curious if anyone has seen this story picked up elsewhere and whether there is any other more direct evidence of current problems there, such as signs of increased activity at the plant or any visible releases of steam?
posted by zachlipton at 11:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sorry if this has been posted before, but I just ran into an article about nuclear liability in Japan in the Wall Street Journal. Japanese nuclear operators have unlimited liability, but they're exempt from liability in accidents "caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character." The law would seem to remove almost any financial incentive to planning for natural disasters like this one.
posted by neal at 11:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


exempt from liability in accidents "caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character."

Hurm, we'll need lawyers and weathermen and shamans to sort that out. Filthy.
posted by vrakatar at 12:04 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Saperlipopette! Thwarted by the paywall! Try the first result here.
posted by neal at 12:13 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Saperlipopette!"

DO WHAT NOW

nice, I treasure it! A fresh profanity!
posted by mwhybark at 12:23 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


..sapper lee po pet...?

HOT OFF THE PRESS.
posted by vrakatar at 12:27 AM on March 19, 2011


Offer void where prohibited. May not apply in Quebec. Hostie d'câlisse d'tabernak!
posted by neal at 12:34 AM on March 19, 2011


If you are not Quebeçois, that dude just said some nasty stuff.
posted by atomicmedia at 1:39 AM on March 19, 2011


Photos of post earthquake Tokyo.
posted by nickyskye at 2:34 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Tokyo Fire Department plans to use a temporarily unmanned fire engine to spray water into the No. 3 reactor's storage pool at the quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
posted by floam at 2:56 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


With a Mighty Hand: The Japanese government’s influential and manipulative role in commercial nuclear power

Japan’s choices—to sway public opinion through subsidies, social control tools, and manipulation—have left little room for public debate on the issue of nuclear power. The local residents—whom we see bearing the heaviest burden of the ongoing crisis in Fukushima and who have been exposed to radiation by past accidents at the Monju FBR, the fatal accident at Tokaimura, and elsewhere—are seen not as partners, but as targets for policy tools. A plan-rational approach, as Chalmers Johnson might have called it, has placed reactors in areas vulnerable to the threat of tsunami and pushed rural communities into dependence on the economic side payments which accompany these facilities.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:59 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Japan cites radiation in milk, spinach near plant

Japan said radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex exceeded government safety limits... The tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant while the spinach was collected between 50 miles (80 kilometers) and 65 miles (100 kilometers) to the south, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters in Tokyo.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't worry about eating your food in the short term, Japan Mefites... "Edano said the amount of radiation detected in the milk would as much as one CT scan if consumed continually for a year while for spinach it would be a fifth of one CT scan." It looks like they have very safe limits which have been only surpassed somewhat.
posted by floam at 3:40 AM on March 19, 2011


"Another earthquake." "Upper Shindo 5 in Ibaraki." 56 minutes ago. Via
posted by nickyskye at 3:55 AM on March 19, 2011


It seems like they don't really have plans to hook up power to reactors 3 and 4 though, which are both rather damaged and showing high radiation levels. Reactor #3 is a wreck from the explosion and the wall or floor of the storage pool in reactor #4 is believed to be breached.

This apparently went unanswered earlier. They do have plans to hook up power to all 6 reactors. They are starting with no.s 1 and 2 because they can't spray water into them from outside, since the "blow-out panels" and rest of the building are still intact. After they are connected, power is to be hooked up to a line that feeds the rest. Then they will try to get the control systems and pumps working.

The storage pool in #4 is almost certainly not empty. That was apparently baseless speculation. If it were empty, the spent fuel would've caught fire by now, the radiation levels would be much higher, and they would know about it. They are spraying water on #3 instead of 4 because they have some indication that its water level is lower and/or hotter. The radiation would increase as the water level drops, so they can possibly tell from that.
posted by sfenders at 4:10 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


#3's SFP is also the one that would have the MOX fuel in it (presumably), which might merit some priority.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:17 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


From nickyskye's "Bid to 'Protect Assets' Slowed Reactor Fight":

Kazuma Yokota, a safety inspector with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA, was at the plant at the time. He ducked under a desk as the temblor struck with a force that cracked the walls, he recalled. He then moved to his monitoring office, a 15-minute drive away. "There was no power, no phone, no fax, no Internet," he said. He wasn't able to get a backup generator working until that night.

Another first-hand account that suggests the plant may not have weathered the first quake as well as some folks are saying it did.
posted by mediareport at 4:48 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Power has been hooked up to reactors 1 and 2! (NHK). Tomorrow they will be testing the pumps and valves to make sure everything's working before turning the electricity back on, and trying to hook up reactors 3-6 as well. Temperature starting to drop slightly in reactor 5 as a result of diesel-powered water circulation. Surface temperature at 1-4 is under 100 degrees C according to aerial thermography (wish they could get more specific than this, but 'not boiling' is better than 'boiling.') Radiation levels also declining at the plant -- 2971 microSv/hr at the main office. (TEPCO is putting out their numbers really frequently now, I assume because the numbers are better than they were when we were lucky to get new figures every 12 hours.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:27 AM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Opposition LDP lawmaker Taro Kono was on Spitzer's show on CNN regarding the dichotomy between the US and Japanese stances on the reactors.
posted by gen at 5:36 AM on March 19, 2011


It's now becoming apparent that TEPCO dithered until Wednesday when JSDF assets began to be employed. Since that time, things have gotten a little bit worse (due to continual radiation leaks) but no explosions, etc. Since Wednesday, it's been a holding action with the only good news being the lack of really bad surprises.

At least they're starting to get some resources mobilized. We watched for five days as they decreased resources and turned away help in some sort of misguided attempt to protect assets.

It is becoming a little clearer that there was some sort of change to the command structure that began around Tuesday. As time goes by, there will a lot of attempts to spin the situation, but it should be possible to piece together what actually went down. That's not unusual. It typically takes a couple of months to sort through the information and build a picture of the whole situation.

This is typical, not extraordinary. Good emergency planning only seems to come after repeated catastrophes. Industries with good disaster planning tend to be those that have had lots of experience with bad disaster planning. The more politicized the planning process, the worse the planning is.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, try and find out what your local earthquake disaster plan is. There isn't one that will work. It's all fantasy.

Here in Bellingham, we've had a massive chlorine leak and a pipeline fire that I've witnessed. In both cases, the emergency plan was useless and mostly unknown. In practice, it looks like paralysis until public outrage goads some symbolic action. All leavened with a generous heaping of media hysteria and irresponsible misinformation.

Clusterfuck is Standard Operating Procedure.

Good to see it's finally starting to turn around. Nowhere near out of the woods and there's going to be weeks of uncertainty ahead. Nobody is safe and it's not under control. Likewise, it's not Armageddon and we all aren't going to die.
posted by warbaby at 6:14 AM on March 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


It is becoming a little clearer that there was some sort of change to the command structure that began around Tuesday.

This is when the Japanese Government stepped in and created a joint-disaster control office to deal with the Fukushima situation because clearly TEPCO couldnt handle it on their own.
posted by gen at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Reuters) - One of six tsunami-crippled nuclear reactors appeared to stabilize Saturday as Japan raced to restore power to the stricken power plant to cool it and prevent a catastrophic release of radiation.
posted by gen at 7:32 AM on March 19, 2011


I don't think it's so much "TEPCO couldn't" handle it. I think it's more like TEPCO had no reason to handle it (not having any liability) so did fuck-all despite behind-the-scenes prodding. And then the government, according to its own liability laws, finally had to own the problem. (Because if your laws declare no industrial liability/responsibility for a disaster, that means government has to deal with it.)

There's a tradition of silence around Japanese conference tables when people don't agree. Three or four days of silence, in this case. During which time a lot of really bad shit could have happened suddenly but thankfully hasn't, mostly.

It's not particularly flattering.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:37 AM on March 19, 2011


For me, at least, when I have said that the Fukushima Daiichi plant "withstood the earthquake," what I mean is that 1) it scrammed as designed and 2) it didn't break open and have fuel rods collapse everywhere like mop handles from a broom closet. As far as the reactor and the earthquake were concerned, it failed partially but not in the most important way. That doesn't happen by luck, it happens by design.
posted by KathrynT at 8:02 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


and yeah, that's a pretty low bar, but it's also a pretty damn important one.
posted by KathrynT at 8:06 AM on March 19, 2011


But they clearly are learning. Notice the radiation monitoring of milk and vegetables is already in place. This was a major screwup at Chernobyl.

The initial paralysis is an indication the existing emergency plans were political fanatasies, just like Lee Clarke has been writing about for a long time.

Bad plans can be worse than no plans when the fit hits the shan.

Here's an NRC document (PDF) from yesterday with a summary of events at Fukushima and some discussion of US emergency policy. If you read down, you'll find that the most industry is willing to do is "validate" the problems.
posted by warbaby at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


"I want to know what is going to happen to Japan, both its people and its environment."

Best guess?!:
In the short run, there will be unhealthy levels of radiation within 30 km, with occasional high levels outside of the zone, based on occasional radiation spikes.

The biggest risks are no longer the reactor cores, but the storage ponds... if they can get enough water in these, and/or get the water circulating through their efforts to restore electricity, the biggest risks will soon be over.

Reports from yesterday were promising, with a significant, systemic scaling-up of the reaction to this crisis, with a lot of thought being given on how to get large amounts of water on the problem areas, and how to get teams in-and-out, quickly and as safely as possible. They will have seven hours of spraying per day tomorrow, which is a huge effort, considering how quickly some of teams might have to be rotated out... but expect this to scale up rapidly, as needed. This will be a huge effort, and should significantly decrease radiation levels as it becomes clear that their incremental efforts are finally starting to get ahead of the problem. Decreasing localized radiation over these storage ponds means that they can significantly scale up the duration of their efforts... so a little progress goes a long way.

Ultimately, the question is whether the response will be quick enough to prevent a worse problem. Judging from what the government is reporting, the answer seems likely to be yes. If so, radiation will decrease quite sharply over the next week. Workers on the project will be exposed to radiation, but it's likely that only the first responders will face any significant short-term health problems. I suspect they'll be national heroes and well cared for.

In the long run, Japan will likely get a new, relatively small nature reserve. I'm not convinced, as yet, that the effort to contain the radioactive materials will have to be as big and ugly as others think. We'll have to see how well the water and circulation efforts suppress radioactivity in the upcoming weeks. If water and circulation is reestablished, it might be possible for less extreme steps to be taken.
posted by markkraft at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2011


markkraft, the 7 hours of spraying started today. They actually sprayed for about 10 hours, and sprayed enough water to (theoretically) completely fill the fuel storage pool up from empty. Obviously much of this may have turned to steam, or not hit the pool straight on, but it should be enough to make a difference. Radiation levels keep going down...
posted by Jeanne at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Graph of radiation levels at Daiichi from 8:35 a.m. March 17th to 8:35 p.m. March 19th. Pink is the main office, blue is the west gate. Levels are below 3000 µSv/hr for the first time in days.
posted by Jeanne at 8:33 AM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


NHK is rerunning a press conference from a few hours ago with the firefighters. It sounds like the rubble onsite was a real hindrance to getting the fire trucks set up to a good location they could spray from. The radiation levels are not terrible -- of the firefighters, one was exposed to 27 mSv total, a few in the 15 mSv range, the rest less than that.

"I want to go home to my family and have a drink," said one of them. I want you to do that too!
posted by Jeanne at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I want to know what is going to happen to Japan, both its people and its environment."

Farm Products Contaminated Near Japanese Nuclear Plant

This isn't just in Futaba-cho; higher amounts of iodine have been found in milk from another part of Fukushima, and in spinach from neighbouring Ibaraki. So now Ibaraki food and ag products will potentially be branded as being "unsafe to eat", regardless of where the food is grown.

The reporter here, Steve Herman from VOA, has also mentioned on Twitter that "Gov't says radioactive iodine beyond limit detected in tap water in Fukushima"
posted by KokuRyu at 8:50 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Housekeeping on older issues:

Here's a post at the Oildrum that clears up the location of the fuel storage pools: the fuel is kept underwater for the entire transfer from reactor to pool. Neat picture and explanation.

Wiki on the Nuclear Events scale. Includes a reference to the Kyshtym disaster, a storage tank with ammonium nitrate blows up for the only scale 6 event ever. The brief time frame of the incident limited the plume to a 300 km trace. Kept secret for 30 years.

Probably a better comparison than Chernobyl for the worst case for Fukushima; bearing in mind Fukushima would occupy more time so the plume would not be a single narrow trace.
posted by warbaby at 8:50 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Global Voices Online has translated some Tweets from Fukushima.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2011


(posted by gen to Twitter)
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 AM on March 19, 2011


From nickyskye's link:
Tokai village was also the setting for a “flash criticality” in 1999 that was – like Fukushima Dai-Ichi** – rated severity four on the IAEA’s seven point scale. Three inadequately trained and supervised engineers mixed over six times the permitted dose of uranium oxides using steel buckets while preparing high grade fuel for an experimental fast-breeder reactor. The self-sustaining reaction continued for twenty hours, ultimately killing two workers and exposing 175 people to radiation exceeding the recommended annual limit.
I made a comment a day or two ago that I was worried that TEPCO was hiding something above and beyond mismanagement of the quake/tsunami itself. Something they didn't want outsiders and/or (the wrong) government officials to see or discover.

This is exactly the sort of thing I was worried about TEPCO hiding - fuel experiments, whether it was blending, recycling/upcycling and/or active enrichment.

I'm willing to bet a couple of beers TEPCO has things in cooling pools that they technically/legally shouldn't have laying around, but that's one of the known dirty secrets of the nuclear industry. The tendency for operators to experiment.

*wonders aloud if Japan maybe had a secret weapons grade enrichment program*
posted by loquacious at 8:59 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"the 7 hours of spraying started today"

I know they sprayed today, but they said something about spraying 7 hours tomorrow... which, given NHK World's constant repeating of the same stories over and over again, may very well have been today... or at least my tomorrow... which is to say, a couple hours ago, in Japan.

Lots of time zones between here and there...
posted by markkraft at 9:06 AM on March 19, 2011


TEPCO had nothing to do with the flash criticality accident. Japan Nuclear Fuel Conversion was responsible. However, I see your point.

*wonders aloud if Japan maybe had a secret weapons grade enrichment program"

They have enough plutonium lying around that they could be called a "threshold state." However the goal was to create a "plutonium fuel economy" or plutonium fuel cycle with breeder reactors, to make Japan truly energy self-sufficient. In the meantime, it's expensive to store plutonium, which is why there has been pressure for the adoption of MOX mixed-fuels.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2011


Out of curiosity, does anyone have any details on the systems they have in place as far as decontamination for workers and equipment working on the plant? That, in itself, could be a big project, with vehicles needing to be scrubbed, workers checked for radiation and cleaned, etc.
posted by markkraft at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2011


However the goal was to create a "plutonium fuel economy" or plutonium fuel cycle with breeder reactors, to make Japan truly energy self-sufficient.

Wow, that doctrine sure sounds familiar.

Not that I have any particular feelings about Japan owning nuclear weapons or weapons grade fuel any more than I do anyone owning nuclear weapons. I just don't think anyone should own them. But if wishes were fishes I could safely cut fugu.
posted by loquacious at 9:15 AM on March 19, 2011


Video of firetrucks spraying water on what looks like reactor 3 or 4.
posted by joegester at 9:16 AM on March 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


*wonders aloud if Japan maybe had a secret weapons grade enrichment program*

No, but the Japanese nuclear industry has been trying to get approvals to build fast breeder reactors, see prototype at Monju. Let's hope the Japanese people will kill any further plans for FBRs.
posted by gen at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2011


loquacious, that level of conspiracy sounds fairly high-risk. The link that nickyskye posted about the plutonium reprocessing accident was no 'fuel experiment', it was plain bad management and corner-cutting, and was thoroughly investigated.
posted by anthill at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


wow those trucks are closer than i had imagined, given the rad levels i've seen.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2011


joegester, the label on the video says that it is spraying reactor 3.
posted by birdsquared at 10:31 AM on March 19, 2011


Thanks, lately I've really been wishing I could read Japanese.
posted by joegester at 11:09 AM on March 19, 2011


Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Safety Reports, Accidents
posted by dougiedd at 11:11 AM on March 19, 2011


I want to buy a bottle of sake for those firemen.
posted by panaceanot at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2011


Michio Kaku is on CNN right now

One more reason not to watch CNN.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heroes
posted by panaceanot at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2011


Botched Container?

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, 67, working as an engineer at Babcock Hitachi K.K., helped design and supervise the manufacture of a $250 million steel pressure vessel for Tokyo Electric in 1975. Today, that vessel holds the fuel rods in the core of the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant, hit by explosion and fire after the tsunami.

Tanaka says the vessel was damaged in the production process. He says he knows because he orchestrated the cover-up. When he brought his accusations to the government more than a decade later, he was ignored, he says.

The accident occurred when Tanaka and his team were strengthening the steel in the pressure vessel, heating it in a furnace to more than 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that melts metal. Braces that should have been inside the vessel during the blasting were either forgotten or fell over. After it cooled, Tanaka found that its walls had warped.


from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-17/japan-s-nuclear-disaster-caps-decades-of-faked-safety-reports-accidents.html
posted by rainy at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Clusterfuck is Standard Operating Procedure.

That's pretty much The American Way, isn't it.

It was the same in the USSR but they were terrified (to the point of brutality) of anyone saying so. In the USA no one cares if you announce it because speech has no consequence.
posted by clarknova at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


And they're still not wearing suits that actually resist radioactivity, too... damn. I would have these flown out ASAP. $50k worth of protective gear could potentially double their ability to keep people on-scene, putting water on the problem.
posted by markkraft at 11:47 AM on March 19, 2011


It appears that Bulgaria's reactors will be run by organized crime.
We should make a FPP about this that also touches on Japan's faked safety reports and Berlusconi's push for nuclear power in Italy, but I don't have time right now.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:56 AM on March 19, 2011


He ducked under a desk as the temblor struck with a force that cracked the walls, he recalled.

I had a job interview right after the Nisqually quake with a company based in one of those buildings next to old Union Station. They pointed out the cracks in the plaster from the quake like they were badges of honor. The building was never in any danger.

If they said they had no cracks from a 9.0 some 65 miles away, I'd think they be lying.
posted by dw at 12:04 PM on March 19, 2011


Here in Bellingham, we've had a massive chlorine leak and a pipeline fire that I've witnessed. In both cases, the emergency plan was useless and mostly unknown.

I was in a bit on UW disaster planning, and I've learned three things about how these things usually work:

1. Some people expect there will be a book that will tell them exactly what to do in event of any and every disaster, and when the city is covered in a foot of molasses they'll turn to the chapter on molasses and there will be The Perfect Plan.

2. Some people want a sketch of a plan, because every disaster is completely different and they figure they'll just have to wing it, even though when you press them in a tabletop they seriously have no idea what they'd do.

3. Everyone has a completely different view of communication and chain of command, and that always comes out in bad ways during disaster planning. Lower divisions expect upper divisions to tell them what to do. Upper divisions expect lower divisions to know what to do. Either way, there's no good plan for moving data up or down the chain.

The Perfect Plan is impossible. But the We'll Wing It method is also a recipe for greater disaster. And either way, the plans never focus on the basics of what each level needs to do and what they're responsible for, much less how to communicate with each other even if communications get strained or broken.

And also keep in mind that the people of the state of Washington want everything and won't pay for it. So when you do get a disaster response based on a crappy plan written on the weekend by a staffer, you end up with a bunch of taxpayers demanding their money be spent on this. And then you turn around and ask them for the money, then we're wasting money, don't you see, because these disasters never happen.

My biggest concern is that the plans for a lot of western Washington municipalities are based on a 7.0 on the Seattle fault, not on a 9.0 megathrust dip-sip off the coast. The idea of something that huge is still a new concept for the locals.
posted by dw at 12:29 PM on March 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


They really need to get a robot or something in there to see what's going on.


Japan asks iRobot for help.

iRobot sending robots to aid in Japan.

iRobot has modified their Packbot 510 and Warrior 710 robots for Japan's needs* and is sending six employee volunteers to help operate them.
posted by ericb at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I swear I am not attempting to be funny, but I'm surprised Japan has to look elsewhere for robots of all things.
posted by desjardins at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


They probably could get them domestically but their non-disaster-stricken partner is likely to get them a better product faster.
posted by polyhedron at 1:12 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I imagine iRobot is one of the companies that has warehouses of their robots available for rapid deployment, they are still one of the first places I know that is commercially producing robots of any sort in serious numbers.

So do you take the robot from the R&D lab or a pallet from the warehouse of iRobot?
posted by mrzarquon at 1:21 PM on March 19, 2011


dw, you're enumerating all-too-common, horrible assumptions of contingency plans. I did this for 10+ years, but for geographically dispersed offices, IT infrastucture and enterprise systems. Waaaay easier than something like this (for one, you have to respond *onsite* always, secondly, the complexity is mind-boggling to me, and I could go on).
Most people cotton to contingency responses that correlate to specific external events(tornados, earthquakes and the like) - which is wrong, because with that mindset, where do you stop? Solar flares, alien invasions? I remember one ridiculous plan that prescribed the organization's response to thermonuclear war - 'call the emergency operations center at xxx' - when the so-called emergency operations center wouldn't have time to have been staffed, as it could only be staffed on order of one specific person who (natch) had no backup. Presupposes no EMP either. Ugh.
The most effective method is to review failure modes that are material to the operation of each component, to identify external failure modes (simply stated - like 'water source unavailable for x-y hours', not why) that fail/ompromise that component, then to identify failures/compromises in other system components that fail/compromise that component, the state that causes it, and so on.
Sure, the engineering is supposed to do that in a ideal world, but in a fast-developing, chaotic situation, not everyone has memorized schematics, multiple failure modes and their ramifications. So, after an analysis of simgle and multiple failure modes, you can at least document them; create coherent, repeatably testable responses; and, from testing, determine how far you might be from success in responding to multiple kinds of failures.
The worst problem to my mind is that the regular organizational hierarchy is all too often kept in place in a contingency, and I've seen it happen in real life with a dedicated contingency response team that reported to the CEO directly and overrode all hierarchy. That way you don't have to depend on people to make decisions who may have been completely unprepared to do so, owing to chaos, confusion, shock, etc. You get some really furious VPs and middle managers, though, which was the only fun part :-)
Just saying.
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:30 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


xkcd explains radiation in chart form - helpful for those of us who slept through science class
posted by desjardins at 1:35 PM on March 19, 2011 [24 favorites]


It's not my intention to start an argument about long-term spent fuel storage, but the Chicago Tribune has an article today about plans for spent fuel at a decommissioned plant on the Lake Michigan shore, plans to make it earthquake- and seiche-resistant, etc.

It ends with a rather ominous statement about how the company is not monitoring erosion occurring north of the plant, but "if it became a problem, the company would take care of it."
posted by radioinsomnia at 1:41 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty interested in the topic moving forward and I think with all the great information made available lately anything less than an excellent FPP would be unfortunate.
posted by polyhedron at 1:46 PM on March 19, 2011


Understanding the radioactivity at Fukushima: A physics and engineering perspective (PDF) by Prof. Ben Monreal, UCSB Department of Physics.
posted by scalefree at 1:51 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tokai-2 (Tokai Dai-ni) announcement (pdf) from the Nuclear and Safety Agency:

"18 Mar 16:48 JAPCO reported to NISA on the accidents and failures in Tokai Dai-ni NPS (Failure of the seawater pump motor of the emergency diesel generator 2C) pursuant to the Article 62-3 of the Nuclear Regulation Act. "

I had to dig around a bit to find it, but I believe this is the Nuclear Regulation Act:

Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors (pdf, from NISA / METI). Article 62-3 doesn't give us more to go on. One trigger is the possibility for harm.


Article 62-3: Report to competent Ministers, etc.
If [at a] reactor facility, spent fuel storage facility, [etc] an accident that has caused [or may cause] impairment to a human being, a malfunction of the refining facilities, etc., or another event specified in the Ordinance ... occurs, the licensee [shall] report on the state of the
event ... to the competent minister (or prefectural public safety commission...), without delay.

posted by zippy at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's a timeline of post-tsunami reactor events from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, as of Mar 18.

Sequence of Developments at Nuclear Power Stations Affected by the Earthquake (pdf). Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.
posted by zippy at 2:15 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


zippy: "Tokai-2 (Tokai Dai-ni) announcement (pdf) from the Nuclear and Safety Agency:

"18 Mar 16:48 JAPCO reported to NISA on the accidents and failures in Tokai Dai-ni NPS (Failure of the seawater pump motor of the emergency diesel generator 2C) pursuant to the Article 62-3 of the Nuclear Regulation Act. "


I'm confused, are you indicating there's a new situation developing, or seeing docs coming in from incidents over the past week?
posted by mwhybark at 2:39 PM on March 19, 2011


Never mind, got it.

Hoo boy.
posted by mwhybark at 2:41 PM on March 19, 2011


mwhybark: 1-2 days ago someone here reported that one of 2 pumps failed and one of three (?) generators failed but remaining pumps / generators were enough to keep cooling Daini.
posted by rainy at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2011


Article 62-3 doesn't give us more to go on. One trigger is the possibility for harm.

On NHK World when I was watching, they reported that it was only that day they found it necessary to expose some workers to more than 100mSv total, up to 150, before sending them home. Previously that they had asked to be allowed to exceed that 100mSv limit, but it was said that they didn't actually do so until then.
posted by sfenders at 3:03 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


This new problem is at Tokai Dai-ni, not Fukushima Dai-ni. Last I heard, all Fukushima Dai-ni reactors were safely in cold shutdown.

I don't think we've heard of any problems from Tokai Dai-ni apart from nickyskye's link above. Now NISA has confirmed there is a generator failure.
posted by problemspace at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2011


So just to clarify: the new problem is at a plant that we mostly haven't heard from before. The Tokai Dai-ni plant is run by a different company (JAPCO), not by TEPCO.
posted by problemspace at 3:12 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahh, ok. Dammit, that can't be good.. At least now they're well aware of hydrogen buildup issue.
posted by rainy at 3:15 PM on March 19, 2011


So just to clarify: the new problem is at a plant that we mostly haven't heard from before. The Tokai Dai-ni plant is run by a different company (JAPCO)

Yes, JAPCO is different than TEPCO and operates the Tokai facility.

It appears this is a new problem. The article they cited requires prompt reporting. They reported "Failure of the seawater pump motor of the emergency diesel generator 2C" on Mar 18.
posted by zippy at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The old (Mar 14th) incidents at the same Tokai station:

Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami the number 2 reactor was one of eleven nuclear reactors nation wide to be shut down automatically.[2] It was reported on 14 March that a cooling system pump for the number 2 reactor had stopped working.[3] Japan Atomic Power Company stated that there was a second operational pump and cooling was working, but that two of three diesel generators used to power the cooling system were out of order.[4]

(from wikipedia)
posted by rainy at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


A second operational pump... well, hope there is a third.

Is this in Tokai, south-west of Tokyo according to Google map?
posted by sfenders at 3:26 PM on March 19, 2011


I fed JAPCO's Mar 18 Tokai annoucement (pdf, Japanese) into Google translate. Excerpts (with some attempts at simplifying the English):

The current status of the plant is as follows.
1. Status of nuclear facilities - [Cold shutdown, stable temperature.]
2. Effects of radiation on the surrounding environment

... We have shown slightly higher than normal directions, through the exhaust stack radiation monitor readings [are] within the range of normal variation ...

4. Power system
- External emergency power (275kV) ... secured.

- External redundant power supply (154kV) and emergency diesel generators (two) are waiting ... [on standby?]

[5. Tsunami effects]

Sea water pump for ... one emergency diesel generator is stopped by the tsunami impact

posted by zippy at 3:27 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Tokai is much closer to Tokyo...
posted by rainy at 3:27 PM on March 19, 2011


Has this been posted yet?

Criticality accident at Tokai nuclear fuel plant: "On September 30, 1999, a criticality accident occured at the Tokai nuclear fuel plant, Tokai-mura, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. The plant, operated by JCO Co. Ltd., a 100% subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. external link, converts enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to uranium dioxide (UO2) for use in nuclear fuel. Criticality accidents involve a self-sustaining chain reaction caused from handling of too large amounts of enriched uranium. The chain reaction continued for around 20 hours, before it could be stopped."

Loq mentioned it in the context of excerpting nickyskye's link.
posted by mwhybark at 3:28 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, apparently there are a lot of places called Tokai. It'd presumably be this one.
posted by sfenders at 3:35 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK has posted something that's pretty interesting considering our discussion about whether they should have been able to prepare for a stronger earthquake.

(Partially abridged)

Quake exceeds the design parameters of reactor 3.
According to TEPCO, data on the strength of the quake was recorded at reactor 6, and measurements from reactors 3 and 4 were reported by workers.
TEPCO said on March 19th that at reactor 3, the quake caused 507 Gal horizontal acceleration, exceeding the 441 Gal that the design had planned for.
[1000 Gal = 1 G. Wolfram Alpha says that 507 Gal = 16.63 m/s^2. Hopefully someone who knows the physics can put this into better context.]
At reactor 6, a horizontal acceleration of 431 Gal was recorded, approaching the 448 Gal that the design had planned for. Five years ago, the government revised its standards for earthquake resistance, and work was planned to make Fukushima Daiichi able to resist a horizontal acceleration of 600 Gal and a vertical acceleration of 400 Gal. However, this work had not yet been completed.
TEPCO said, "While the tsunami caused most of the damage that the plant received, the earthquake also exceeded what we had planned for, so we would like to further analyze the damage that the facility took from the quake."
posted by Jeanne at 3:45 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


So do you take the robot from the R&D lab or a pallet from the warehouse of iRobot?

From the articles (and NECN News video) it has been reported that iRobot was contacted by the Japanese military after the country finally made it official later this past week that they were looking for help from other nations. A team at iRobot worked around the clock to modify 4 robots (e.g. to be able to handle fire hoses, etc.). The robots, along with the 6 company volunteers' time, travel and expenses, are being donated to the effort in Japan.
posted by ericb at 3:47 PM on March 19, 2011


Robots to lend Japan a hand
Bedford [Massachusetts] robotics company iRobot is donating its military robots — as well as its employees — to recovery efforts at earthquake-damaged nuclear power plants in Japan.

The company, known for its Roomba vacuum for the consumer market, shipped a pair of 60-pound, haz-mat sensor-equipped PackBot scouting robots, two heavier-duty, 350-pound Warrior robots, and six employee volunteers yesterday to aid the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

That adds up to about $500,000 to $1 million worth of machine and manpower dedicated to the humanitarian mission, according to Tim Trainer, iRobot’s vice president of operations.

The company hasn’t been told exactly how the robots will be used, but its engineers worked through the night to customize a firehose-holding rig for the Warrior’s arm, which could be used for fighting fires or for cooling purposes, Trainer said. The robots are expected to be operated from a shielded vehicle nearby.

“The focus of this mission appears to be on the nuclear mitigation issue,” Trainer said.

The PackBot and Warrior robots are all about doing jobs too dangerous for humans, but the nightmarish conditions in Japan may be too dangerous even for the machines. Robots entering hazardous zones near the nuclear sites will likely not be coming out, Trainer said. The company is looking into decontamination methods for the robots, but doesn’t think they’ll be recoverable.

“That’s not our going-in expectation,” Trainer said.

The iRobot employees will be making on-site adjustments to the robots and training Japanese military personnel to control them. The company doesn’t know how long the robots and employees would be in Japan, Trainer said, but expects it would be at least a couple of weeks.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces requested the use of the robots through iRobot’s Japanese distributor after trying them out at a trade show in Singapore earlier this week, Trainer said.

“They got about 75 minutes of driving them around,” he said.

IRobot employees on both coasts — in Bedford and San Luis-Obispo, Calif. — worked from about 3 p.m. Thursday to mid-morning yesterday getting the robots and personnel ready to ship out. They customized the robots, procured spare parts and prepared U.S. Customs paperwork.

“The pizza boxes were piling up on the desks down there,” Trainer said.
posted by ericb at 3:50 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks sfenders. (I love the Google Maps reviews - "It's a pretty good power plant!")

I found this distance calculator which says it's 130km from Hitachi, Ibaraki to Tokyo. Tokai-2 looks like it's about 12km south of Hitachi, so I'm thinking 115-120km from Tokyo.
posted by problemspace at 3:52 PM on March 19, 2011


I can't help but imagine it as a swarm of hundreds of Roombas.
posted by mwhybark at 3:52 PM on March 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


problemspace: Tokai is 120km from tokyo, according to wikipedia.

By the way, does anyone know if Tokai's BWR/5, mk2 containment have a core catcher or not?
posted by rainy at 3:53 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The State of Washington is monitoring radiation levels and posting daily updates here:

http://www.doh.wa.gov/Topics/japan/monitor.htm?mi_email=Tri-City%20Herald_PM+%26+Breaking+News

Richland has the radioactive rabbits running around nearby.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2011


It appears this is a new problem. The article they cited requires prompt reporting. They reported "Failure of the seawater pump motor of the emergency diesel generator 2C" on Mar 18.

So does this mean they are or were pumping in seawater at Tokai-2? If so, that seems like a pretty big unreported story in and of itself, as my understanding is that seawater effectively ruins the plant, requiring that it be either scrapped or undergo massive refurbishment to ever get it going again. If they were doing this, it was a fairly critical situation to begin with.

Clearly, something is wrong at Tokai (obviously, a much smaller problem than in Fukushima) and the radiation measurements seem to be showing an abnormality that doesn't appear to be explained by radiation coming from Fukushima.
posted by zachlipton at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2011


Slide 3 here indicates the plant has been slated for decommissioning since 1998.

o/t, but here's a deck on visual inspection of on-site dry-cask storage at Tokai.
posted by mwhybark at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My initial read of this is that it's just a governmentally required heads-up: "Hey, we're safely in cold shutdown mode, water levels are fine, pressure is fine, temperature is fine. Radiation levels are a little bit high but it's not a dangerous level. It's just that we have an emergency seawater pump that was damaged by the tsunami, and the rules say we have to report it."

However, it's also kind of plausible that if something serious had happened, JAPCO would want to keep it quiet, considering both the earlier incident at Tokai and the Fukushima crisis.
posted by Jeanne at 4:41 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Radiation reaches Russia and US west coast Meteorologists predict the wind direction will change today, taking dangerous emissions across Tokyo, 250 kilometres to the south...

Experts in the Philippines have also expressed concern that the radiation will reach their country.


The level of radiation registered in Sacramento, California, was about ''one-millionth of the dose'' a person gets from rocks, bricks, the sun and natural background sources, and ''poses no concern'', the US Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department said.
posted by nickyskye at 4:44 PM on March 19, 2011


This apparent draft chapter on BWR design calls Tokai-2 a BWR/5:

"The BWR/5 design (Tokai 2) introduced constant speed recirculation pumps and flow control valves used to control the reactor core flow and improved ECCS. The change from variable speed recirculation pumps to constant speed pumps with valve control allowed the plants to follow more rapid load variations and reduced the capital cost of the overall control system."
posted by mwhybark at 4:47 PM on March 19, 2011


Alexandra Harney: In Japan, “stark difference” in reactions to radiation [video] | Asian Correspondent
posted by gen at 4:47 PM on March 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Slide 3 here indicates the plant has been slated for decommissioning since 1998.

According to that slide, the Tokai plant is under decommissioning, but Tokai-2 is active. These events have been at Tokai-2.

I certainly hope Jeanne is right, but if everything is so fine, why the higher radiation levels?
posted by zachlipton at 4:48 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weather conditions re the radiation plume from a German weather site with animated loop (scroll down).
posted by nickyskye at 4:49 PM on March 19, 2011


Jeanne: "My initial read of this is that it's just a governmentally required heads-up: "Hey, we're safely in cold shutdown mode, water levels are fine, pressure is fine, temperature is fine. Radiation levels are a little bit high but it's not a dangerous level. It's just that we have an emergency seawater pump that was damaged by the tsunami, and the rules say we have to report it.""

The concern here is that they previously reported only having one pump in operation. So the situation now may be that there are now no pumps operational.
posted by mwhybark at 4:50 PM on March 19, 2011


I think Jeanne's interpretation of the Tokai announcement is correct.

We haven't seen any of the articles that compelled TEPCO to report serious problems triggered with Tokai.
posted by zippy at 4:51 PM on March 19, 2011


mwhybark: wikipedia says tokai-2 is indeed a BWR/5, with mark 2 containment.

Unit 1 was decommissioned in '98. Unit 2 is the one having problems now.
posted by rainy at 4:59 PM on March 19, 2011


zippy: Tokai is not Tepco, by the way, it's JAPCO.
posted by rainy at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2011


Gen, that's an excellent, insightful video about this complex situation. Thanks so much!

More of her thoughts and about Alexandra Harney.
posted by nickyskye at 5:04 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


zippy: "I fed JAPCO's Mar 18 Tokai annoucement (pdf, Japanese) into Google translate. Excerpts (with some attempts at simplifying the English):
...
[5. Tsunami effects]

Sea water pump for ... one emergency diesel generator is stopped by the tsunami impact.
"

So the thought is that the March 18 thing is reiterating the March 13 report after all? I'm confused.
posted by mwhybark at 5:07 PM on March 19, 2011


Oh, wait, also we don't have reports that they were ever using seawater, so maybe the affected pump hadn't been used directly in this incident? If it wasn't in use, how would it break?
posted by mwhybark at 5:10 PM on March 19, 2011


Some interesting thoughts on initial stages of the accident here:
http://www.debito.org/?p=8692

For your information the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued what they call a “generic letter” in 1988. In this generic letter, which I have sent to Debito-san, the NRC basically addressed this identical event (not tsunami, but total loss of grid power, station service, onsite generation, backup generation, and batteries) and recommended plants using GE Mark 1 reactors address this issue. This was 23 years ago and most or all plants in the U.S. have addressed this issue. It is obvious TEPCO did not with these units. The conclusions in the NRC letter are based on severe accident PRA analyses, which identified two critical areas for the older GE Mark 1 containments that should be improved.

• Alternate water supply to drywell spray & injection
• Better PRV depressurization capability

It is ironic that these were the 2 technical problems that were preventing the plants from reestablishing control in the initial stages of this incident. Had they been able to spray down the torus and drywell, thereby rapidly decreasing RPV and torus pressure, the low head pumps would likely have been available to cover the core. If this would have occurred, they probably would not have needed to resort to seawater injection.

posted by rainy at 5:14 PM on March 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


nickyskye: Thanks! I should have disclosed that I know Alex personally (and can vouch that her Japanese is close-to-native level.)
posted by gen at 5:15 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the pump broke because it was flooded with seawater from the tsunami?

I really hope that I am not taking an overly rosy view of the situation. The Japanese wikipedia page on Tokai Daini says:
Because of the March 3, 2011 earthquake, the reactor shut off automatically. Normal electricity was also cut off, and 3 emergency diesel motors were turned on to maintain necessary electricity, but because the tsunami damage a seawater pump, the two remaining diesel motors maintained necessary electricity for cooling. Later, external power lines were restored, and on the 15th it was confirmed that the reactor was in cold shutdown at under 100 degrees.
The latest news report I can find on Tokai Daini, in Mainichi Shinbun, says that nothing was wrong with it. (This was about 11 hours ago, after an aftershock in the area.)

The radiation levels being reported at the Tokai monitoring post are under 1 µSv/hr. We're still getting readings of over 10 µSv/hr from cities ~50 km away from Fukushima Daiichi, so depending on wind patterns it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that (much of) this radiation could be from Daiichi.

After the last week I'm not going to say "trust that they'd tell us if something was wrong." But I'm also not finding any reason to assume that they're covering something serious up.
posted by Jeanne at 5:17 PM on March 19, 2011


...Obviously that should be March *11* earthquake. My mistake, not Wikipedia's.
posted by Jeanne at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2011


A possible interpretation of the above information is that the seawater was used to cool the diesel generators, not pumped into the reactors themselves?
posted by zachlipton at 5:30 PM on March 19, 2011


Here's the corrected link for the Washington State Department of Health monitoring site.
posted by warbaby at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2011


I think many of these reactors use seawater in their secondary cooling systems. So purified water circulates through the core and steam turbines but then passes through another heat exchanger to cool it fully before it returns to the core. That heat exchanger uses seawater.

If it's just that heat exchanger that is offline, the situation is not so bad. This is equipment that is outside the reactor containment and shouldn't have any radiation issues involved in repairing it.
posted by joegester at 5:36 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tokai is not Tepco, by the way, it's JAPCO

Yes, I mentioned this earlier. I brought up TEPCO in the context of Tokai because the severe incidents at Fukushima-1 triggered different articles than the incident(s) at JAPCO's Tokai-2 facility. My assumption is that this means the equipment failures and incidents at Tokai are not as serious as those at Fukushima.
posted by zippy at 5:37 PM on March 19, 2011


This diagram implies that these pumps are inside the secondary containment. Maybe they would be hard to get to but it definitely doesn't mean they were pumping sea water into the reactors at Tokai.
posted by joegester at 5:41 PM on March 19, 2011


zippy: oh, ok. Yes, I agree, presumably it'd be all over nhk if it was going down the same path as fukushima.
posted by rainy at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2011


The seawater pump seems to be an emergency diesel-generator-powered seawater pump. So, if outside electricity is back on, it shouldn't be an issue for the emergency seawater pump to be out of service.
posted by Jeanne at 5:52 PM on March 19, 2011


>

People on that Ustream thread are freaking out, even as they see the minuscule amount of radiation right before their eyes.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:45 PM on March 19, 2011


Yeah, every time there's a random jump, it's "SOMEBODY TELL ME HOW BAD IS 47.4 CPM??????????"

I've been stressed out about this in spite of the fact that I know it's irrational, and somehow there's something about watching people completely lose their minds over this is oddly comforting to me.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:52 PM on March 19, 2011


Yeah, the Santa Monica ustream makes YouTube look like the works of Sophocles. Standing around a 100cpm source is equivalent to 1 microsievert/h; those people can calm down. ;)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:26 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I correct in thinking that Tokai is able to perform normally right now (i.e., the electrical and water systems they use day-to-day are up and running), but that one of their backup generators was damaged? In that case, isn't it mostly a matter of getting the backup generator repaired (or replaced) for future use?

(And presumably taking part in future inquiries into why the generators failed.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:35 PM on March 19, 2011


> Here's the corrected link for the Washington State Department of Health monitoring site.

I notice that the Richland chart doesn't have their historical data up yet. I'm guessing it may be a bit more than other folks realize, considering the town is located south of Hanford.
posted by mrzarquon at 7:36 PM on March 19, 2011


Doctors Without Borders is looking for Japan residents to volunteer for disaster relief.
posted by nickyskye at 9:35 PM on March 19, 2011


The Japan Relief Fund has been set up by the ANS to support the workers at the plant and their families. (via @arclight)
posted by birdsquared at 9:52 PM on March 19, 2011


NKH World update: They're reporting that power has been restored to reactors 5 and 6 (they were working off a single backup generator, which was providing insufficient energy). Power has been used to restore cooling pumps in the spent-fuel pools. The temperature in reactor 5's spent-fuel pool dropped from 68.8° C to 43.1° C between 5 a.m. Saturday and 3 a.m. Sunday. Reactor 6's pool dropped from 67.5° C to 52.0° C from 11 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday. Woot.

The electrical folks are currently working on restoring monitoring equipment. They'll be working on extending the hookup to reactors 1 and 2 once spraying takes a break.

Earlier Sunday, firefighters dropped 80 metric tons of water onto reactor 4—about twice the capacity of it's spent-fuel pool, which is supposed to be full. The discrepancy in water sprayed versus pool size is probably from water landing, well, elsewhere. (That said, I'm not sure if it's clear whether the pool is retaining water or not? Seems like it is?)

Pressure is rising in reactor 3's container vessel, so they are going to vent it. If you see a minor spike in radiation, this would be why. They're going to switch back to spraying water on reactor 3 at 6 p.m. Eleven fire trucks are on site. One is American, and may or may not be a robot, or some kind of Transformer. (A girl can dream.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:54 PM on March 19, 2011 [13 favorites]


one is American

Daily Yomiuri reports that it is a pumper: "They were joined by a chemical pumper on loan from the U.S. Yokosuka naval base, operated by two employees of a TEPCO subsidiary."
posted by woodblock100 at 10:01 PM on March 19, 2011


Woohoo! It sounds like things are well in hand at reactors 5 and 6, and I'm glad they got to those before they became major problems too. There's still plenty of tricky problems left, but at least two imminent emergencies won't be staring them in the face as they work on the other reactors.

Do we know how exactly they determined that the reactor 4 storage pool is full? This would be the storage pool that the NRC believed to be breached.
posted by zachlipton at 10:15 PM on March 19, 2011


From birdsquared's link: "Questions about the fund may be directed to the ANS Controller, Christian Krapp." That guy must have had a hell of a time in elementary school.

woodblock100- Aww. I was hoping for something that's capable of high-fiving.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:11 PM on March 19, 2011


Scientists looking at the earthquake/volcano connection. A lot of recent volcanic eruptions in the Ring of Fire.

Another eruption today in Indonesia.
posted by nickyskye at 11:23 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


mwhybark, that was a compelling article about the old accident at the Tokai reprocessing plant. Here's an excerpt:

Based on the results from analyzing the sample solution taken form the precipitation basin on October 20, 1999, the STA assumes that ... the weight of uranium-235 that underwent fission was about 1 mg. Nearly half of the total fissions ... occured during the first 25 minutes of the criticality. The total energy generated during the criticality event was estimated to have been about 22.5 kWh.

Two plant workers killed by one-thousandth of a gram of uranium going critical.
posted by zippy at 12:14 AM on March 20, 2011


Is this video of firemen pouring water into the nuclear plant at Fukushima?
posted by nickyskye at 12:50 AM on March 20, 2011


Yes, Nicky. The title says something about cooling efforts at Unit 3.

Joi Ito just tweeted that the pressure in Unit 3 has stabilized (per NHK) and they're calling off the venting of gas.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:10 AM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is all very good news... it seems that the right people are making the smart decisions at this point. The situation is going from critical to stabilized.

So many brave people have worked damn hard to get here.

They all deserve medals... and long term medical care.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:43 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


NHK is reporting that an 80+ year-old woman and her 16 year-old grandson have been found alive, from the rubble, in Ishinomaki, 10 days after the quake.
posted by gen at 2:02 AM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ishinomaki is home to Badass of the Week Hideaki Akaiwa, so, no shock there. The good folk of Ishinomaki seem... pretty damn determined to save the entire town.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:35 AM on March 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


The ministry of defence is sending in tanks equipped with bulldozer blades to help clear out the rubble.

If you've seen the footage of the fire trucks spraying reactor 3, you can get an idea of how bad it is on the ground and how difficult it must be to work under those conditions, so this can only help.
posted by Jeanne at 3:34 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do we know how exactly they determined that the reactor 4 storage pool is full? This would be the storage pool that the NRC believed to be breached.

It's still a puzzle, but World Nuclear News (which I found via John DeArmond, linked earlier) reports that "the pond contained at least some water, based on helicopter observations."

Neon John believes some of the spent fuel assemblies were damaged, so if he's right maybe the water level was below the top of them. WNN also points out that at the temperatures reached, "cooling by natural convection begins to be markedly less effective." Cooling of the fuel rods that is; heat loss from the water itself by air convection, thermal radiation, and conduction to the concrete would obviously get higher as the water temperature rises higher than the surrounding environment. If the water did start boiling, it'd do so right at the heat source, so hydrogen could have been produced while there was still water covering the spent fuel.
posted by sfenders at 3:35 AM on March 20, 2011


Holy crap, Hideaki Akaiwa is my new hero.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:36 AM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Via The Oil Drum's March 19 roundup: Japan’s Once-Powerful Nuclear Industry is Under Siege. It's a detailed discussion from Environment 360, a site by Yale's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, focusing on planned construction by the Chugoku Electric Power Company of the Kaminoseki nuclear power plant, with one reactor to be built on reclaimed land:

One in particular has exposed a deep public divide. The proposed Kaminoseki nuclear plant is to be built on landfill in a national park in the country’s well-known Inland Sea, hailed as Japan’s Galapagos. For three decades, local residents, fishermen, and environmental activists have opposed the plant, saying it should not be built in the picturesque sea, with its rich marine life and fishing culture dating back millennia. The Inland Sea has also been the site of intense seismic activity, including the epicenter of the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed 6,400 people....

Last year, the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency began issuing ratings of the country’s commercial reactors on a five-point scale. Chugoku operates many hydroelectric plants but only one nuclear facility: two reactors in Shimane Prefecture, on the west coast of Honshu. Shimane earned the lowest possible grade, and the agency found 511 inspection failures at the site. It chided the company for causing “greatly ruined trust in nuclear power generation.”

[...] In 2009, Chugoku began clearing forests on Nagashima and attempted to start reclaiming land offshore. Progress was repeatedly blocked by protesters....The protests became more desperate, again stalling work. Videos online show protestors linking arms on beaches, security forces shoving against them. Thirty fishing boats joined the protest, and kayakers fouled lines anchoring a crane ship at the site. In January, five young men parked themselves outside government offices in Yamaguchi City, launching a ten-day sit-in and hunger-strike. But after obtaining a court order outlawing interference, Chugoku resumed landfill operations on February 25, announcing its intention to begin plant construction in June 2012 and power production in 2018.


The links in the quote are from January and February 2011.
posted by mediareport at 8:29 AM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Current reactor states for all 6 reactors, pressure, water level, reactor water temp, etc:

http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110320-2.pdf
posted by rainy at 9:29 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has someone already linked the Greenpeace blog? They have a US nuclear sites and seismic activity map for example.
posted by serazin at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2011


It's still a puzzle, but World Nuclear News (which I found via John DeArmond, linked earlier) reports that "the pond contained at least some water, based on helicopter observations."

Neon John believes some of the spent fuel assemblies were damaged, so if he's right maybe the water level was below the top of them.

In all my reading, a partially-covered-by-water scenario was described as the least effective cooling situation, as the water-covered portion would not be cooled effectively by water and the amount of air-based convection was not as great as it would be in a fully-uncovered situation. This was cited in at last Alvarez and the followup study.

I don't recall if there was a quantified statement like "partial coverage would be xx% as effective as [other method]"
posted by mwhybark at 11:25 AM on March 20, 2011


oops, somehow the quoting, above, didn't take.
posted by mwhybark at 11:26 AM on March 20, 2011


I'm sure there are many Hideaki Akaiwas, but hearing about just the one has put a massive grin on my face: not many good news stories in these threads. Bad-ass indeed.
posted by reynir at 11:49 AM on March 20, 2011


From NHK: A JSDF helicopter used infrared imaging to measure the surface temperatures at each of the reactors, about 1 p.m. on the 20th.

All temps in Celsius.

Reactor 1: 58 degrees
Reactor 2: 35 degrees
Reactor 3: 62 degrees
Reactor 4: 42 degrees
Reactor 5: 24 degrees
Reactor 6: 25 degrees.

I heard earlier that 5 and 6 were now considered to be in cold shutdown, so I'll take that as evidence for it. Both the temperature and imaging of 1, 3, and 4 confirm that there is water in the storage pools.
posted by Jeanne at 11:55 AM on March 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


well, huzzah!
posted by mwhybark at 12:15 PM on March 20, 2011


Things are starting to improve, even though we're now seeing more signs the fallout is entering the food chain.

Interesting we're still not seeing it in Japanese seafood.
posted by dw at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2011


Hah! They did it!

Huzzah!

Finally... bold action and leadership pay off big.

Heroes, each and every one of them that made this possible.



Now, for the post-mortem... and a purge of the ineffectual management of TEPCO that put profit and the preservation of these reactors ahead of the safely and well being of the people of Japan.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It'll take a while for it to start showing up in seafood; I think the things that have tested positive are things like plants that had particles settle on them, and milk from cows that have eaten grass contaminated with particles. Down the line, I'm guessing we'll see it in plants rather than on them as they take radioactive particles up through the soil, as well as positive tests in seafood as the particles work their way through the food chain (consumed by surface plankton, eaten and excreted by fish, filtered by molluscs, etc.).
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:31 PM on March 20, 2011


Things are starting to improve, even though we're now seeing more signs the fallout is entering the food chain.

Interesting we're still not seeing it in Japanese seafood.


I imagine much of the the seafood most likely to be contaminated would be caught by the local fishing industry, which is probably suffering heavily in the wake of the tsunami.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:26 PM on March 20, 2011


> Interesting we're still not seeing it in Japanese seafood.

The fish that are higher up the food chain - those that eat smaller fish - are probably going to show it, but it'll take longer.
posted by ardgedee at 1:37 PM on March 20, 2011


According to Asahi, a TEPCO representative has said that, considering the radiation levels, the amount of damage sustained, and the feelings of people in the surrounding area, it is unavoidable that all six of the reactors at Daiichi be abandoned. No word on if they'll try to start up Daini again -- it didn't take as much damage, and it's newer, but I can only think that it would be difficult from a PR standpoint.
posted by Jeanne at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2011


A bit surprising they're already decided to abandon 5 and 6. These things aren't cheap and have very little damage, and are some distance away..

NHK clarified the temp numbers measured from helicopters. They're all under 100C except for #3. The temps are for the rubble / remains of roofs, it leads them to think there's water in SFPs because if there wasn't, they would heat up the rubble above them to a higher temp; they did not measure pool temperatures directly yet because they're hidden from view.

Since they were able to spot #4 pool before, I wonder if they tried measuring temp from the same angle.
posted by rainy at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2011


Wait -- #3 is above 100C? Are you sure of that number?
posted by maudlin at 2:38 PM on March 20, 2011


maudlin: yeah, nhk english reported it, but it's above the reactor itself so it's to be expected. Although the in-reactor temps posted in NISA report are lower.. hmm. Anyway, they say it's not the pool's temp.
posted by rainy at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2011


To be precise, the temp was 128C, above #3 containment vessel.
posted by rainy at 2:52 PM on March 20, 2011


Ah. I saw the numbers for the pools above and got confused.
posted by maudlin at 2:56 PM on March 20, 2011


There are no precise numbers for pools, yet. It sounds like reactor 3 had a problem with pressure buildup, they were going to vent it but then pressure dropped to acceptable levels but temperature rose. This is a good tradeoff because they don't have to vent radioactive steam now.
posted by rainy at 2:59 PM on March 20, 2011


To be precise, the temp was 128C, above #3 containment vessel.

At the last reported pressure for #3 that I remember seeing (can't find it now), ~400kPa, boiling point of water is somewhere up around 140 degrees. So that sounds about right and maybe gives some idea of the relationship of roof temperature to what's inside.
posted by sfenders at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2011


Also, so much for fallout in Los Angeles-- it's raining like mad here, almost as bad as I've seen it in the seven years I've been here. Hopefully we don't get any mudslides or roof collapses or people driving into the wash.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2011


YouTube vid uploaded today, interview with scientist from Russia regarding earthquake in Japan and seismic prediction for the area and how the 7.2 earthquake two days before the Mega-Earthquake on March 11th was thought to be the fulfillment of a seismic prediction.

Huh. Today I learned about induced seismicity. Induced earthquakes caused to create geothermal energy. Could this possibly be connected to the Japan crisis at the moment?
posted by nickyskye at 3:23 PM on March 20, 2011


and a purge of the ineffectual management of TEPCO that put profit and the preservation of these reactors ahead of the safely and well being of the people of Japan.

I think METI and NISA need to be re-evaluated in light of enabling TEPCO and the loose regulatory nature that created this situation.
posted by gen at 4:24 PM on March 20, 2011



A bit surprising they're already decided to abandon 5 and 6. These things aren't cheap and have very little damage, and are some distance away.


Iirc, Fukushima was scheduled for decommission in 2012.
posted by gen at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2011


"scheduled for decommission in 2012."

Scheduled to start being decommissioned. End date would be 2032 (give or take).
posted by panaceanot at 4:52 PM on March 20, 2011


After learning of the resolution of this meltdown, Charlie Sheen has requested help from the JDSF
posted by humanfont at 4:55 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


From Jeanne's post above:

"From NHK: A JSDF helicopter used infrared imaging to measure the surface temperatures at each of the reactors, about 1 p.m. on the 20th.

All temps in Celsius.

Reactor 1: 58 degrees
Reactor 2: 35 degrees
Reactor 3: 62 degrees
Reactor 4: 42 degrees
Reactor 5: 24 degrees
Reactor 6: 25 degrees.

I heard earlier that 5 and 6 were now considered to be in cold shutdown, so I'll take that as evidence for it. Both the temperature and imaging of 1, 3, and 4 confirm that there is water in the storage pools."

For those of us hooked on Fahrenheit: posted by WinstonJulia at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2011


I don't think we'll have any idea of what long-term accumulation in fish and seafood looks like until we have a better idea of exactly what radioactive material was released, and in what amounts, and how much radioactive material with longer half-lives, like Cesium, has been released.

The first Radioactive Nuclide Analysis reported by NISA seems like good news. Mostly Iodine-131 with its shorter half-life, and Iodine-132, not so much Cesium-137. A couple orders of magnitude less cesium, measured in Bequerels. This would appear to confirm that the contamination comes from the reactor cores not the spent fuel, if Wikipedia is correct in saying "the short half-life means it is not present in significant quantities in cooled spent nuclear fuel."
posted by sfenders at 5:08 PM on March 20, 2011


Even Japan's Infamous Mafia Groups Are Helping With The Relief Effort
posted by nickyskye at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2011


I dunno, I'm kind of getting sick of Jake Adelstain's efforts to act as a cheerleader for the yakuza, as well as his own blatant self promotion.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:25 PM on March 20, 2011


For a perspective on the radiation exposure here in Tokyo over the past week, I have made a .gif image of the entire week's readings from the geiger counter in Hino City.

It's 7000+ pixels wide, 390 high, and is quite light at 212Kb. There are only two 'significant' events apparent, both early in the week, where the levels rose (very slightly) after the explosions at the plant in Fukushima.

Here it is.
posted by woodblock100 at 6:39 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


A couple orders of magnitude less cesium, measured in Bequerels.

While I didn't know milliSieverts from megaSieverts a week ago, I do now know that you can't compare Bq readings as indications of quantity of material so the statement above is rather misleading.

Bq measures the radioactivity. Since iodine-131 has a half life of 8 days while Cesium-137 has a half life of 11000 days, the radiological dosage of these contaminations is more equivalent.

As for the question of what came from where, the best data-dump source I've found is this PDF, maintained by the office of a JSP member of the lower house, Hattori.

This is in Japanese but I can break down some of the salient factoids.

Pressure of the containment vessel of Reactor 3 is 290kPa, or 42 PSI. This article suggests a design pressure limit of 62 PSI, which explains the recent news story of the possible venting from the reactor (this reading was at 49 PSI yesterday).

Additionally, this chart lists the uncovered fuel rods in the scrammed reactor chambers as:

1.75m, 1.3m, and 2.3m.

This is rather bad news if TEPCO needs to do more venting, since any steam from these reactors is going to pick up more nastiness from these fried fuel rods.

One of the more enlightening factoids on this chart is the number of 本 in the 燃料プール entries.

燃料プール means fuel pool, and 本 refers to the number of fuel assemblies (each assembly has 64 fuel rods).

Unit 1 has 292 spent fuel assemblies, plus 100 new.
Unit 2 has 587/28.
Unit 3 has 514/52.
Unit 4 has 1331/204.

Of special interest here is 3 & 4, since Unit 3 was fueled with MOX fuel, the 52 new assemblies in the Unit 3 SFP are assumedly 6-10% plutonium, amounting to ~750kg of plutonium.

With last week's explosion of Unit 3, it's somewhat surprising there's even a SFP still there, but one must assume the authorities aren't engaging in all this dramatic disaster response just as a diversion.

Unit 4's SFP is of course the one everyone is watching, ever since the Chairman of the NRC said last week that this pool had no coolant at all.

Wikipedia says this pool is emitting energy at a 2MW rate, which is inline with the report that pool temperature was 85° a week ago.

It's my rough estimate that 2MW is about the heat energy a 3000HP diesel engine outputs. Feel free to find a better estimate.

The issues as I see it going forward is what damage has been done to the 3 active reactors with all the seawater injections, whether they have to do more venting eventually, and what is happening with Unit 4's 276 tonnes of fuel in what remains of its fueling level.

I'd also like to know where all this seawater they're injecting into units 1,2,3 is going. If it is evaporating, one would think the salt left behind would be totally fouling the reactor core, and if it is being vented out as water one would like to know where exactly.

TEPCO has been reasonably diligent about informing us of the radiation at the West Gate monitoring point and the north side of the main office, but hasn't said a word about water contamination yet, nor have any of the アホ press asked about it either.

One other thing I read that was interesting about this is that the US Global Hawk was on-station about a week ago. There should be excellent quality footage of the Hyper Rescue mission, instead of the fuzzy NHK footage taken from 30km away.
posted by =td= at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


If it is evaporating, one would think the salt left behind would be totally fouling the reactor core, and if it is being vented out as water one would like to know where exactly.

I believe there is a coolant intake/exhaust that goes right into the bay
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


o/t: Minecraft Fukushima. (via pyna in #mefi)

=td= are you a sim trainer? I see those equals signs used to denote that status here and there in MMO flightsims.
posted by mwhybark at 7:49 PM on March 20, 2011


One other thing I read that was interesting about this is that the US Global Hawk was on-station about a week ago. There should be excellent quality footage of the Hyper Rescue mission, instead of the fuzzy NHK footage taken from 30km away.

We may never see full resolution stuff from the Global Hawk. It's top of the line Air Force surveillance hardware.
posted by Procloeon at 7:53 PM on March 20, 2011


Also, =td=, those numbers are quite different for Unit 4 from the assembly figures we found earlier:
UNIT	ASSEMBLIES
1	292 - same
2	587 - same
3	514 - same
4	783 - VERY DIFFERENT, =td='s source says 1331
5	946 - not shown above
6	876 - not shown above
I don't recall if we ;aid hands on the new/old figs previously. I did not take new/old into account in developing my back-of-the-metafilter-post conversions for Alvarez' estimated potential fuel load for dispersal figures.
posted by mwhybark at 8:01 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


4 783 - VERY DIFFERENT, =td='s source says 1331

The difference is 548, which the pdf lists in an note as 548本 使用途中 which basically implies 'pulled while in the middle of use'. I believe 548 is a typical # of assemblies a reactor core has, so the Mainichi listing appears to be not counting the core assemblies that were put into the pool hot late last year.
posted by =td= at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


ooh for god's sake, I screwed up that minecraft link, sorry, like I AM SO SORRY.

Here's the right one. I hope.

I grabbed the wrong link-shortened URL from the chat. GOD.
posted by mwhybark at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I didn't know milliSieverts from megaSieverts a week ago, I do now know that you can't compare Bq readings as indications of quantity of material so the statement above is rather misleading.

Yeah, sorry, I somehow missed the obvious connection between Bequerels and half-life there. That's still more iodine than cesium by mass though.
posted by sfenders at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2011


That makes perfect sense and generally would mean the figs I developed represent an IANANE dispersal potential of the spent fuel only.
posted by mwhybark at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2011


Mods, I flagged the accidental rick, uh, bicep roll.
posted by mwhybark at 8:16 PM on March 20, 2011


If that sample was representative, and those contaminants are responsible for most of the radiation level, then Cesium-137 on the site would represent about 23 microSv/h. It's likely worse though, since this was a sample from the air and the cesium is going to settle to the ground more quickly.
posted by sfenders at 8:20 PM on March 20, 2011


... ack, wrong again, that's actually Cs-134 and Cs-137 together I added up. So about half that, which is not a whole lot.
posted by sfenders at 8:22 PM on March 20, 2011


dispersal potential of the spent fuel only

My nightmare is the fuel puddles into a intermittently critical mass (as per the various missives from Union of Concerned Scientists warn), emitting a constant plume of aerosolized contaminants.

I find the various scientific opinions that this would be 'no big deal' to be rather suspect.

From the readings we're getting and intermittent NHK live video of the site, this isn't happening yet, so it may not happen. I really wonder if there's any Zircaloy material left to burn in Unit 4's SFP.

The place looks like it was burned out pretty well.

What I also want to know is where the heck is Asimo.
posted by =td= at 8:23 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


[fixed the link, carry on]
posted by jessamyn at 8:33 PM on March 20, 2011


Well, his cousin Monirobo is supposed to be there or on the way.

I actually read several papers about the spent-fuel thing this past week, and what I got from it was:

- no, or partial, water on the spent fuel means a real danger of fuel-cladding fire
- even what seems like an absurdly small amount of water sprayed on exposed fuel may be able help significantly (this was sort of an aside in the lit)
- simple exposure of the fuel would be enough to significantly complicate hands-on operations in the areas of the plants, especially after the explosions

So my read on it is that it's actually kind of unlikely that the spent fuel did get exposed, although it may have come very close to it or one or more of the pools may have actually exposed some of the fuel for a portion of time. But it also seems likely that exposure was avoided by essentially luck, at first.

As things stand right now, I think, and hope, the fire was NOT fuel cladding.
posted by mwhybark at 8:35 PM on March 20, 2011


thank you, jessamyn.
posted by mwhybark at 8:36 PM on March 20, 2011


So my read on it is that it's actually kind of unlikely that the spent fuel did get exposed

What was the fuel that burned up Unit 4?

At this point it wouldn't surprise me they stored diesel inside the containment building, but I haven't heard that.

It looks like it got hit by a cruise missile or ten.

AFAIK Zircaloy can only autocatalyze upon exposure to air.

In other news, the twitter stream to nhk_mirror says:

コンクリートポンプ車の放水は16時以降試験を行う

Concrete pump truck test spraying will happen after 16:00.
posted by =td= at 8:46 PM on March 20, 2011


Just happened across this NRC critique from August, 2003 of Alvarez, et al., 2003, which is interesting in its implications vis-à-vis what if anything will be done about spent fuel pools here in the States.
The paper suffers from excessive conservatisms throughout its cost benefit evaluation. Therefore, the recommendation for an accelerated program of complex and costly measures does not have a sound technical basis. In the United States, spent fuel, in both wet and dry
configurations, is safe and measures are in place to adequately protect the public.
Still looking for more recent NRC opinions on this matter.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:48 PM on March 20, 2011


TEPCO’s Apology Commercial
posted by nickyskye at 9:04 PM on March 20, 2011


from Alverez: "In addition, the ACRS points out that nitrogen reacts exothermically with zirconium, “[this] may well explain the well-known tendency of zirconium to undergo breakaway oxidation in air whereas no such tendency is encountered in either steam or in pure oxygen"

It seems zirconium is quite a "special" metal to use as cladding for spent fuel rods and assembly frames.

The older assemblies may not be as radiologically "hot" as the new, but they certainly provide more fuel.

This site says each assembly has ~100kg of Zircaloy, giving us 150 tonnes of the stuff in 4's SFP.
posted by =td= at 9:05 PM on March 20, 2011


I'd be very interested in reading the conclusions from Failure behavior of Zircaloy-4 cladding after oxidation and water quench by Kim, et al. from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute published in the Journal of Nuclear Materials, Volume 362, Issue 1, p. 36-45, but not US$42 interested. The abstract indicates it would answer some of our questions about the performance of the zircaloy cladding under similar conditions as have been seen at Fukushima Daiichi.
The results showed that Zircaloy-4 cladding failed during thermal shock when the ECR (equivalent cladding reacted) value exceeded 20%. Lower boundary of brittle failure at thermal shock corresponds to 20% of ECR line calculated by the Baker–Just equation regardless of test temperature.
cf. Status of studies on high-temperature oxidation and quench behaviour of Zircaloy-4 and E110 cladding alloys, Steinbrück, et al., Progress in Nuclear Energy, Volume 52, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 19-36.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:10 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=, there was speculation that the fire was some diesel fuel (or oil?), and the videos and such from that day showed thin black smoke from the top-floor area after the explosion. At the time, iirc, the concern was the heat from the waste fuel had ignited the diesel.
posted by mwhybark at 9:11 PM on March 20, 2011


ob1quixote, I think the followup the the NRC rebuttal is the paper I refer to here.

I would also be interested in reading the papers you cite.
posted by mwhybark at 9:15 PM on March 20, 2011


Japan crisis: 'There’s no food, tell people there is no food’
posted by nickyskye at 9:18 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So. Chernobyl had ~200 tonnes of rather fresh (3 months in use?) fuel and 2000 tonnes of graphite.

Unit 3's SFP has 556 assemblies, or 100 tonnes of U/byproducts plus ~900kg of Pu and 55 tonnes of Zircaloy.

Unit 4's SFP has 1535 assemblies, 276 tonnes of U/byproducts and 153 tonnes of Zircaloy.

The spent fuel is apparently much more loaded with radioactive nasties than the Chernobyl reactor 3 fuel rods were.
posted by =td= at 9:21 PM on March 20, 2011


This article explores an issue I've been wondering about for days: Why do Japanese politicians dress up like workmen after natural disasters? As the commentator put it: "Why are lawmakers dressing up like they are going to do manual labor? If they dress up like that, shouldn’t they be out in Tohoku helping clean up?"

Includes a photo of Renho bravely venturing out into a Tokyo convenience store in her blue "we've had a disaster" jacket to see just how much food is on the shelves. Is it me or does Minister for Administrative Reform sound a bit too much like the Minister for Administrative Affairs?

And despite the work clothes, "Kan was scheduled to visit the disaster-struck areas today, but concerns about “bad weather” made him cancel the trip. I guess those work clothes aren’t durable enough to withstand a little bit of rain.
posted by zachlipton at 9:23 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


there was speculation that the fire was some diesel fuel (or oil?)

Where did the smoke go?
posted by =td= at 9:23 PM on March 20, 2011


I guess those work clothes aren’t durable enough to withstand a little bit of rain.

Safety issue with helicopter landing.
posted by =td= at 9:24 PM on March 20, 2011


For the record, mwhybark, the Steinbrück link above is a link to a PDF of the full article.

What I'm actually scrounging for as I come across these links is what I believe is a French study on oxidation of zircaloy cladding I saw referenced on—I guess it must have been the Rachel Maddow Show, but I don't see a link for it on the show's blog and have struck out so far on The Google. I'm remembering pictures of "burnt up" fuel assemblies.

I did surf up one more interesting article, Spent Fuel Sabotage Test Program, Surrogate and Fission Product Aerosol Results [PDF], by Molecke, et al. in 2006.
We summarize some of the significant findings on aerosol results and observations from the recently completed Phase 2 surrogate material tests using cerium oxide ceramic pellets in test rodlets plus non-radioactive fission product dopants.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:32 PM on March 20, 2011


I really wonder if there's any Zircaloy material left to burn in Unit 4's SFP.

So you're suggesting that it did catch fire some days before the first time they sprayed water at it, and that if this happened we'd get some kind of Chernobyl-like disaster? How do you reconcile that with the fact we didn't?
posted by sfenders at 9:35 PM on March 20, 2011


Where Fukushima meets Stuxnet: The growing threat of cyber war

(Stuxnet)

US cyber war defences 'very thin', Pentagon warns
posted by nickyskye at 9:49 PM on March 20, 2011


Renho's suit on that photo looks exactly like TEPCO chief's suit.. I bet they just have one workman's suit for the lot of them and borrow it from each other as needed.
posted by rainy at 9:51 PM on March 20, 2011


So you're suggesting that it did catch fire some days before the first time they sprayed water at it

the last scientific data we have on 4's SFP is that it rose from a cooled ~30deg at the time of the accident to 84deg at 04:00 on the 14th. We also have a completely dodgy expert opinion that a brief flash of light inside building 4 seen on the fly-by video is evidence of water in the pool, and some really evasive answers from the Safety Institute guy about whether there is water in the pool.

Thing is, we don't know how much water was in the pool on the 14th. The loss of power may have caused a failure of the fuel transfer gate, causing the pool water to drop significantly as water leaked into the reactor.

How do you reconcile that with the fact we didn't? [get a Chernobyl-like disaster]

This picture of building 4 says we might already have.

Note that the destruction of 4 is on the scale of 3, and we already know how 3 got that way. Something really did a number on that building. Truthers might argue the Pentagon flew a 737 into it, but I just don't see that as a result of an oil fire.

Hydrogen fire, sure, but where did the hydrogen come from?

And if the cladding is all gone up in smoke now, it may or may not have taken much radioactive crap with it. Maybe Alvarez is wrong about how much fuel rod stuffing went along for the ride.

This is just conjecture of course, yet I do find it puzzling that the response focused so much on building 3 and absolutely nothing on building 4.

The lack of information we are working with is appalling. I don't know which is worse, that TEPCO knows stuff it isn't releasing, or TEPCO doesn't know either.
posted by =td= at 9:52 PM on March 20, 2011


This picture of building 4 says we might already have.

The radiation readings all over Japan say we haven't.
posted by KathrynT at 9:58 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=: good point about damage of #4. #3's explosion was very violent, though, it seems like a lot of its roof and walls could have hit #4, setting parts of crane on fire, for example. Another possibility is that pieces of roof fell into SFP and an assembly or two were splashed out, and burned. Since it's just 1 (+?) assembly, it would be a short fire and little in terms of radiation levels. That would explain that jump to 400 mSv.

How damaged was #4 right after #3 explosion?
posted by rainy at 9:59 PM on March 20, 2011


Sorry, hit post too soon.

Hydrogen fire, sure, but where did the hydrogen come from?

The zircaloy cladding reacts with steam to form hydrogen. (also, while I'm sure that well-known reaction is the source of the majority of H2, remember that this form of radiation is called ionizing radiation for a reason. . .)
posted by KathrynT at 10:01 PM on March 20, 2011


Kathryn: was wind ever blowing into Japan, though? I don't think all assemblies burned.. but a few might have. Nowhere close to Chernobyl, they wouldn't be able to hide it, or I'll never dis-believe another conspiracy theory ever again..
posted by rainy at 10:01 PM on March 20, 2011


The radiation readings all over Japan say we haven't.

Hydrogen fire smoke would drift with the wind, which has been largely out to sea. And like I said its unclear how much stuff would actually accompany the up to ~150 tonnes of Zircaloy burning up.

How damaged was #4 right after #3 explosion?

無事そう
posted by =td= at 10:04 PM on March 20, 2011


Those radiation monitors showed slight increases that I believe corresponded with the known releases of radioactive material. I don't know if any spent fuel rods burned; I'm not well enough informed or educated to make a guess on that. But I do know that hydrogen by itself can cause a hell of a bang.
posted by KathrynT at 10:04 PM on March 20, 2011


All right, =td=, what's your evidence that we DID get a "chernobyl-style disaster"?
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=: eek.. yes, they aren't telling us something. In the NISA press release, the one that has outline of all events separated by each reactor, they mention 'sound of explosion in unit 2', but not even a single word about any explosions in #4. That's crazy.
posted by rainy at 10:07 PM on March 20, 2011


KathrynT: but where did hydrogen come from in #4? It's got no fuel in reactor.. Their story is that SFP has assemblies covered with water and never had them uncovered.. There doesn't seem to be any possible source for hydrogen.
posted by rainy at 10:09 PM on March 20, 2011


The zircaloy cladding reacts with steam to form hydrogen.

Is there water in the pool or not? It's the position of the Japanese response that the pool is full and has a nice shiny surface and is currently a balmy 42 degrees, with no applied cooling, even though it was well over 80 a week ago.

The chairman of the NRC said that his information and advisors said the pool was empty.

This is a 謎 (puzzle).
posted by =td= at 10:10 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=: well I think their version is that the water they dumped into #4 lowered pool temp to 42?
posted by rainy at 10:12 PM on March 20, 2011


Rainy, you realize that water is H2O, right? There's your source of hydrogen. Again: I don't know if that's plausible, but it's certainly chemically possible.

=td=, international organizations are on site with their own thermometers. Do you think that the whole world is conspiring to lie about the temperatures? I don't trust TEPCO any further than I can throw them, but "what temperature is this water" is pretty damn easy to verify.
posted by KathrynT at 10:13 PM on March 20, 2011


IRSN, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, is the national public expert in nuclear and radiological risks.

Their projection animation of the Fukushima accident plume.
posted by nickyskye at 10:16 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


KathrynT: yes but hydrogen in #1 and #3 was produced when exposed rods were oxydized. That's the vector of steam producing hydrogen. Water in the pool isn't supposed to just create hydrogen when assemblies are covered with water. Otherwise we'd hear about some dangerous level of temperature (below 100) that can't be reached without the danger of explosion.

The danger from SFPs we've heard so far is that assemblies get exposed to air and start oxydizing after that.
posted by rainy at 10:17 PM on March 20, 2011


what's your evidence that we DID get a "chernobyl-style disaster"?

The pictures?

Unit 3 blew up pretty impressively yet the contamination has been rather minimal.

Unit 4 shows a similar level of damage, perhaps the cladding did in fact 'autocatalyze', releasing a lot of Zirconium Oxide, but maybe not much radioactive particles for whatever reason.

Like maybe the steel pool lining failed and everything went up at say 90 degrees and not 900 degrees.

Just throwing stuff out there now. Something is funky here and I just don't understand it. Why the race to save #3 while ignoring #4 for a week now?
posted by =td= at 10:17 PM on March 20, 2011


well I think their version is that the water they dumped into #4 lowered pool temp to 42?

LOL. Are we talking about the Chinook drop that sorta watered the general area with 5 tons of water or the crash response trucks that do a good job of watering the side of the buildings?
posted by =td= at 10:18 PM on March 20, 2011


international organizations are on site with their own thermometers

You have a cite for this?
posted by =td= at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=: because reactor breach is potentially a greater risk of meltthrough/explosion. With a pool they can just spray water from above, so they figured a reactor with potential leak can blow the pool upwards, and that's not good at all.
posted by rainy at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2011


It was my understanding that the assemblies were partially uncovered, that the pool was not empty but was also not full.

Yeah, I've seen the pictures. I've also seen what a refrigerator full of the fumes from 20cc of ether can do to a reinforced concrete wall when a spark touches off an explosion, and I find it perfectly plausible that a hydrogen bang could have caused that damage. Do you have evidence that it couldn't?
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2011


=td=: I have no idea and I don't trust them but depending on location of pool and debris in that area, and the "water" they spotted from helicopter might have given them enough of an idea where to point the water spray. I think at worst they're hiding that radiation levels are 5-10 times higher than reported, not hundreds of times higher.

The biggest puzzle, as you say, is lack of explanation for #4 explosion/fire.
posted by rainy at 10:23 PM on March 20, 2011


KathrynT: possible, I assumed that once assemblies are exposed the water is lost much faster because there's more heat and much less water because much of volume is taken by assemblies. In other words, most of the water in pool is in the upper half, above assemblies. I thought once they start to get exposed it's to some degree a runaway, accelerating process. We haven't seen any signs of that. I think if that was the case we'd see increasing fire, smoke and gradually rising radiation levels, until they would have started spraying water (which they'd be in much more of a hurry to do in that case).

I could be wrong though.. Does Alvarez say anything about acceleration of process after tops of assemblies are exposed?
posted by rainy at 10:27 PM on March 20, 2011


Incidentally, why haven't they put detectors downwind from units 3/4? That's the interesting spot for detectors.
posted by rainy at 10:30 PM on March 20, 2011


And how about near the "seawater coolant system exhaust port" out in the bay?
posted by Windopaene at 10:33 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was my understanding that the assemblies were partially uncovered,

Then where did the "flash" come from if there was no surface of water over the assemblies?

Remember, unit 4's pool is 95% FULL to capacity in RE-RACKED assemblies.

, and I find it perfectly plausible that a hydrogen bang could have caused that damage. Do you have evidence that it couldn't?

Yeah. If the water were down that low to burn up building 4 there'd be no water left now.

At 18:00 on the 15th the AP reported unit 4 SFP was boiling.

JAIF's report for the 15th says:

"It is estimated that spent fuels stored in the spent fuel pit heated and hydrogen was generated from these fuels, resulting in explosion."

But since then AFAIK Unit 4 has been rather quiescent, not smoking like the others. Maybe the SFP is happy now all the bad Zirconium has departed. If it is outputting 2MW of heat, maybe air convection is good enough to cool it now.

I don't know. There was a spike of local radiation that prompted the evacuation of the plant on the 15th: "400mSv beside Unit-3, 100mSv beside Unit-4"

AFAIK this is the last time TEPCO has released any readings that large, except for the 1Sv that IIRC was released, talking about gamma radiation from the exposed fuel pool IIRC.
posted by =td= at 10:36 PM on March 20, 2011


because reactor breach is potentially a greater risk of meltthrough/explosion

But they sprayed 2000t of water into building 3's SFP allegedly. The reactors are being cooled via direct seawater injection into the pressure vessel.
posted by =td= at 10:38 PM on March 20, 2011


Then where did the "flash" come from if there was no surface of water over the assemblies?

Light coming in through the building? or reflecting off of other debris? I have not seen it said that that flash was definitively a surface reflection.

OK, you tell me. What do you think is going on? What's the narrative you've constructed here?
posted by KathrynT at 10:40 PM on March 20, 2011


why haven't they put detectors downwind from units 3/4? That's the interesting spot for detectors.

TEPCO's reporting of radiation has been the biggest joke of all here. I've been pulling their pdf reports for a week now, and they were ONLY releasing the west gate reading when the wind was blowing from the west. How convenient.

And now their focusing on the reading on the protected side of the main office building, a good distance to the north of unit 1. Useless.

I haven't heard any reporter ask TEPCO what's the exposure to the Hyper Rescue Force or the crash response sprayers, and nobody is volunteering this information, other than the Tokyo firefighters had a budget of 30 mSv.
posted by =td= at 10:41 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of radiation monitors, the latest readings show another spike happened about 9 hours ago:

Here's a reading from Momiyama, Ibaraki.

Haven't seen any mention of this, I thought things were under control now?
posted by formless at 10:46 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw that too, formless. I'd love to know whether that was reading alpha/beta or gamma radiation.
posted by KathrynT at 10:48 PM on March 20, 2011


I have not seen it said that that flash was definitively a surface reflection.

This is the SOLE evidence that the Safety Institute people running this disaster response are relying on that there is water in 4's SFP, in direct contradiction to the chairman of the NRC that 4 was empty.

I've already given you my narrative. Building 4 looks stable now. The contents of the 4's SFP are giving off 2MW of heat, not that big a deal in the scheme of things perhaps, plus a rather large dosage of direct radiation due to the loss of water cover, but that is a worry for a later day.

If 4's SFP lost water integrity and drained, the cladding may have 'rapidly oxidized' at 90 degrees in the presence of atmospheric nitrogen and not the higher oxidation temperature that is required in the reactor core.

Everything burnable went foom in a flash and the resulting cloud of ZrO2 happily departed into the Pacific. It has certainly seen worse.
posted by =td= at 10:48 PM on March 20, 2011


I don't think they know what happened at #4 and they aren't going to talk until they have their story somewhat straight. I do think that whatever has happened there is likely to be the most significant event of this story.

My suspicion has been that the hotter fuel in the #4 SFP eventually caused the water to boil-off to a point where the cladding caused the release of hydrogen, leading to an explosion and elevated radiation readings. Fire fighting efforts covered the fuel enough that more serious cooling efforts could be planned. I have read that US military was involved in putting out the fire at #4 but that information is unclear.

Just speculation. Hard to say without the real data (a lot of which they seem to be keeping secret).
posted by polyhedron at 10:49 PM on March 20, 2011


TEPCO really wants you to know how their main office at the plant is doing, radiation-wise.

Everything else, not so much.
posted by =td= at 10:50 PM on March 20, 2011


I have read that US military was involved in putting out the fire at #4 but that information is unclear.

I read that too, but . . . WHERE DID THEY GO???

Did they take the 270 tons of fissile product with them???
posted by =td= at 10:51 PM on March 20, 2011


I'm not into huge conspiracy theories, but I agree the radiation readings have been fairly useless from TEPCO, as they seem to be picking and choosing where to report from based on what monitor makes them look best. As far as radiation monitoring goes, TEPCO may be pulling this nonsense, but the IAEA has teams setting up monitors in the surrounding areas, which should provide more reliable figures from stable locations.

Reactor #4 concerns me a lot more than has been discussed. They've gotten some water in the general direction of the storage pool, but that building actually has a roof, so targeting is a lot more difficult. If the NRC is correct and the walls of the pool really are cracked, I don't know if anyone has a game plan to deal with that scenario.

formless: "under control" is the narrative the Japanese government has been pushing, which has really been to take advantage of getting power back to the site to tell us how well things are going. Certainly they have improved portions of the situation and we're all glad to see that, but the plant is nowhere near "under control" at this time. The IAEA says: "There have been some positive developments in the last 24 hours, but the overall situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious."
posted by zachlipton at 10:57 PM on March 20, 2011


If the NRC is correct and the walls of the pool really are cracked, I don't know if anyone has a game plan to deal with that scenario.

I agree that this fact is the most disturbing thing to come out of looking into this - there are tons and tons of this spent fuel being kept in storage pools, and no plan for what to do if the pool is badly enough cracked that it's hard to refill. Now, maybe there is a plan but it's classified as part of the "what if terrorists attack spent fuel pools" studies in the US in the last 5 years or so. Boy would I like to see some evidence that we've had crack teams working according to a classified plan.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:01 PM on March 20, 2011


which has really been to take advantage of getting power back to the site to tell us how well things are going

yes, I've been following the story on NHK and also TBS (before they pulled the streaming plug on Friday) rather intensely and the story you get from NHK is one of things going "juncho".

Maybe the risk of recriticality of 4's SFP is overblown. Maybe the US military's contribution was to make that so.
posted by =td= at 11:01 PM on March 20, 2011


But they sprayed 2000t of water into building 3's SFP allegedly. The reactors are being cooled via direct seawater injection into the pressure vessel.

I can think of 2 possibilities.. they know #3 SFP is leaking or has a bigger leak than #4. OR their sea water cooling of reactor is unreliable and they're using all that water to both cool the reactor externally (better than nothing?) and refill the pool.

If #4 pool is dry, it's supposed to be 100+ Sv on the edges of pool and 1+ Sv near the building. If we are to believe them, radiation levels aren't that bad.

By the way, I haven't heard about 1 Sv levels at any point at all. The highest I've seen was 400mSv spike, and then soon afterward they evacuated for 45 minutes, and that was the only evacuation.
posted by rainy at 11:02 PM on March 20, 2011


Ahh, I remembered, there was a mistake at one point where government official said 1000 mSv, but really meant micro. It was soon corrected. Other than that, 400mSv was the max level.
posted by rainy at 11:07 PM on March 20, 2011


As to Number 4, the IAEA had this to say in their Japan Earthquake Update (20 March, 21:00 UTC) (new information from 20 March in bold):
Unit 4

All fuel from Unit 4 had been removed from the reactor core for routine maintenance before the earthquake and placed into the spent fuel pool. The building’s outer shell was damaged on 14 March, and there have been two reported fires - possibly including one in the area of the spent fuel pool on 15 March — that were extinguished spontaneously.

Authorities remain concerned about the condition of the spent fuel pool, and Japanese Self Defence Forces began spraying water into the building on 20 March.

On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 3 to this site.
For an extensively documented summary of available information, please see the relevant Wikipedia article on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accidents.

As an aside, I realize that this post, the previous one, and the original comprise some 7,300 comments now, but a great deal of factual reporting on this matter has been linked by our fellow MeFites over the course of the last week. Please let's try and keep the speculation to a minimum.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:14 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


From my perspective as a scholar of Japan at a major American university―one who was also in Japan when the quake hit (I left one day later than scheduled on the 13th)―I must say that the coverage was, with some exceptions, largely substandard: full of factual errors, misconceptions, and bent towards sensationalism and alarmism. It is very unfortunate that this poor coverage will probably result in many Americans having false conceptions of Japan for years to come.

TPM: Taking Stock

posted by gen at 11:15 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


If the NRC is correct and the walls of the pool really are cracked, I don't know if anyone has a game plan to deal with that scenario.

One thing I found odd was that 4 was smoking from the south side, away from the SFP. The SFP area itself took a beating, but the whole building got worked too.

But THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE REACTOR so the main danger was in the SFP AFAIK.

Again, puzzling.

They've gotten some water in the general direction of the storage pool, but that building actually has a roof, so targeting is a lot more difficult.

They're bringing in the concrete tower crane in about 40 minutes . . . THAT will get water where they want it.
posted by =td= at 11:20 PM on March 20, 2011


Japanese Self Defence Forces began spraying water into the building on 20 March.

This is the same crash response truck that can only hit the side of the building, barely.

This was just as useless as the helicopter drops. If it was doing any good they wouldn't have needed the Hyper Rescue guys to go in with their stuff.
posted by =td= at 11:23 PM on March 20, 2011


Japan crisis: 'There’s no food, tell people there is no food’

Thankfully this issue is getting covered in the Japanese press. The NHK morning program today (Asaichi) said that there are supplies, and these supplies are already in the region. The problem is there is no coordination at a local level - there's a disconnect between the evacuation centers and the warehouses. Nobody is saying where the food should go. I think one problem is that on the coast, municipal governments have essentially been washed out to sea. It also seems likely that the needed coordination - at least at this scale - has not been part of the emergency plan. From my point of view, things should start to get better in the next couple of days, although that's cold comfort to people who have been living on two cups of rice a day for more than the past week.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree that this fact is the most disturbing thing to come out of looking into this - there are tons and tons of this spent fuel being kept in storage pools, and no plan for what to do if the pool is badly enough cracked that it's hard to refill.

The real problem is that we, in the US, have essentially no plan what to do with the spent fuel once it's cooled down. Right now, these pools are filling up with waste, but that's where most of our spent fuel still sits. Eventually, some of the fuel gets dry casked and sent to a hodgepodge of interim sites around the country because we're running out of storage pool space. This stuff has to sit around for hundreds of thousands of years, and we've given little consideration as to where to put it. Yucca Mountain was supposed to be the end all solution, but that's off the table now, so it's all either in pools by the power plants that are rapidly approaching capacity or in random above-ground facilities that all have to be secured and maintained forever.

All this stuff has to go somewhere, and it has to be stored such that no one decides to drill or dig into it for farther into the future than human history has ever transmitted a message.
posted by zachlipton at 11:28 PM on March 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


From gen's link above, critical of foreign press coverage of the crisis:

They are perpetually late, continuing to report things the Japanese media had shown to be wrong or different the day before.

I've noticed that CNN and even the NYT (who have Japanese-speaking reporters) are usually at least 12 hours behind the news cycle, reporting yesterday's news. Hiroko Tabuchi has defended herself via Twitter saying they needed to check sources etc before reporting on new developments. I've resorted to reading 福島民報 newspaper to get the latest updates.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:28 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks to a kindly benefactor I shall leave unnamed to protect the innocent, I've had a look at that Kim, et al. paper I linked the abstract for above. There are technical aspects I want to run past my nuc friend, but my initial reading of the conclusions is that if the rods have been heated above about 1100°C for more than an hour or so, their strength is compromised enough that brittle failures can occur upon cold water injection.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:53 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that going online to watch videos from NHK, BBC and Al Jazeera English was far and away the best option for Americans.
Japan disaster shows U.S. journalists unprepared
posted by gen at 11:54 PM on March 20, 2011


rainy: " Does Alvarez say anything about acceleration of process after tops of assemblies are exposed."

Not exactly. Alvarez and the later report, the one that cites classified reports, both mention a scenario in which partially-exposed fuel would heat up faster than fully exposed fuel. But the exposure scenario was something like 25% coverage, and the increased heating mechanism was due to decreased air-current convection.

=td=, you are correct that there is a physically larger amount of fuel onsite in the storage pools than at Chernobyl. However from our discussions earlier, the primary reason even a fuel-pool cladding fire would not create Chernobyl-style distribution is that the zirconium is present in much smaller amounts than the graphite at Chernobyl and would not burn as hot thereby creating less opportunity for high atmospheric lofting.

See here for calculated fuel loads expressed as seen here (which features an error based on the rods/assemblies terminology issue that crops up every now and then), not including your hot-fuel figure for #4.


With regard to the fuel-pool 'flash' seen in the helicopter video, it is not known by us what the source is. However, speculation in thread identified likely sources as a reflection of the sky, implying water or another reflective surface, or a bright infrared lightsource which might possibly be associated with Cherenkov radiation (in this case my speculation), which again implies water. Reflectivity seemed to be the likeliest source of the image.

I do think that lack of superelevated radiation seems to be the best evidence for successful management of the spent-fuel issue. I think there were some attempts to calculate predicted local-area doses should the fuel become partially or completely uncovered, but do not recall what the estimates were or where or in which thread they were.

I also suspect that the pools may well have been an unexpected source of hydrogen contributing to the explosions, which implies partial uncovering.
posted by mwhybark at 12:03 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


zachlipton writes "The real problem is that we, in the US, have essentially no plan what to do with the spent fuel once it's cooled down."

The plan seems to be to wait until there is a crisis of full storage pools and then begin reprocessing because there is no choice.

zachlipton writes "This stuff has to sit around for hundreds of thousands of years, and we've given little consideration as to where to put it."

It's highly likely that the fuel will be reprocessed in the future and at an interval much less than hundreds of thousands of years. The whole reason we need the storage pools is because the fuel is still doing work, it just isn't high grade enough at the moment to exploit.
posted by Mitheral at 12:18 AM on March 21, 2011


Reflectivity seemed to be the likeliest source of the image.

Right. That's what the Genshiryoku Anzen Hoanin guy (he's the dude in the cool white/blue jacket) was saying, that after everything blew up in Unit 4 the flash in inside the building indicates there e was actually enough water to form a reflective surface and there is no problem.

This is clearly bullshit and his later answers to press questions had him dodging and weaving on this issue.

OTOH, we have the chairman of the NSC saying his information was that there was no water in that pool. The evidence certainly backs the NSC.

which implies partial uncovering.

So the story goes both ways. Unit 4 had a major event that blew out most of its panels and left it a wreck, especially on the side of the SFP, but then it "spontaneously extinguished" itself.

Then the SFP magically had enough water to be a reflection pool when the helicopter flew by to inspect the site soon after.

There is a missing element to this story.

The JIAF summary says Unit 4 "hydrogen from pool exploded".

Either the assemblies were exposed to air (chairman of US NRC) or they were not (dude in the white jacket's theory).

"Once the water has dropped low enough to expose several feet of the length of the fuel rods, they can become hot enough that the zirconium cladding of the rods will react with the steam and release hydrogen." -- [cite]

THIS was clearly a "Chernobyl-esque" event -- an uncontained fire that quickly went out, and that we oddly have no video coverage on, unlike unit 3's rather impressive event.

Like Unit 3's event, the wind was blowing out to sea, so we would not expect dosage to hit TEPCO's sensors, or even to find much contamination of Japan at all.

and would not burn as hot thereby creating less opportunity for high atmospheric lofting.

I don't care about "lofting". This is just BS to stop 40 million people from panicking. Given the right atmospheric conditions any unchecked fire can send a plume of radioactive smoke into Tokyo given enough time and wind power. Sure, most of the particulates would fall out in Fukushima and Ibaragi prefectures. But enough would still make it into Tokyo to be one helluva disaster.

But Unit 4 is cooperating quite well now an we apparently don't have that worry any more. It's just sitting there, all blowed up, like it's blown its wad already.
posted by =td= at 12:35 AM on March 21, 2011


=td=: "The evidence certainly backs the NSC."

I see. I do appreciate your bringing the census data for the hot fuel to the thread.
posted by mwhybark at 12:43 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not just the "NSC". Even the Japan Nuclear and Safety Agency guy:

"Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said yesterday there is a possibility there’s no water at the cooling pool. If exposed to air, the fuel rods could decay, catch fire and spew radioactive materials into the air."[cite]

But the JSDF has said all buildings are under 100 deg now "1~4号機の表面温度100℃以下~防衛相" cite

Global Hawk could give us a nice thermal image of the facility, but instead JSDF tells us everything's OK with this vague announcement.

The JSDF's crash response vehicle doesn't have the throw to have filled the SFP, and they wouldn't be messing with a concrete tower pump truck if they had pumps working in that building. Yet a 2MW energy source with no cooling on the top floor is under 100 degrees.

Nothing makes sense about Unit 4, except for the fact that the largest radiation figure -- 400mSv/hr -- was announced when it blew itself up.

I'm not saying the Response Team is necessarily concealing a massive radiation leak or that there is still great risk, only that the current situation doesn't make any sense to me.

Unit 4 should be a lot hotter than it apparently is now.
posted by =td= at 1:11 AM on March 21, 2011


I got curious about hydrogen production in the fuel pools and it appears there is a means to produce it underwater, called radiolysis. I just have a super basic cite, the Wikipedia entry on spent fuel pools but that could get us to hydrogen explosions without oxidizing the cladding, I think.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spent_fuel_pool
posted by mwhybark at 1:15 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


TEPCO twitter stream attached to the TEPCO press conference:

午後3:00過ぎ?、3号機南東側、灰色の煙がでた、作業員一旦退避、3号機ってプルサーマルだよね

3PM (after?) Unit 3 south east side, gray smoke coming out, workers withdraw at once. With #3, there's plutonium, eh

and:

記者だって誰もプルサーマルに触れない
With reporters, nobody is going to touch the plutonium issue. . .
posted by =td= at 1:20 AM on March 21, 2011


My god the "reporters" occupying the TEPCO briefing room now are real rabble.

There's a live feed you can get:

http://live.wiwit.jp/official/iwakamiyasumi3/index.html
posted by =td= at 1:43 AM on March 21, 2011


=td=: I'm very droopy-lidded at the moment, so apologies in advance if this is less than coherent.

While I agree with you that there is a dearth of information regarding reactor 4 (and reactor 2 for that matter—there's suspicion that the containment vessel has been breached, but no detail on what sort of breach, or where it might have occurred), several of your statements seem a bit overly certain, given the lack of information.

You refer to the (admittedly kinda useless) flash of light from the helicopter video as "the SOLE evidence that the Safety Institute people running this disaster response are relying on that there is water in 4's SFP, in direct contradiction to the chairman of the NRC that 4 was empty." However, as you acknowledge, they are also working from thermal imaging results, which have been provided to the public. Unlike the NRC's source, which afaik, has never been revealed.

You also say that "This is just conjecture of course, yet I do find it puzzling that the response focused so much on building 3 and absolutely nothing on building 4." If I recall, NHK World, among other sources, reported that 80 metric tons of water was dropped on building 4 on Sunday, about twice as much water as would normally fill the pool (because clearly, roof and all, not all of it reached the pool). That may not be ideal, but it's not absolutely nothing.

As goes the explosion at reactor 4, given the extent of the explosion, and the color of the smoke released, it does seem to me that there was a hydrogen explosion, although of a different nature of that in buildings 1 and 3, where the blasts ejected upward with greater force, decimating the rooftops. That said, I think it is possible for the zicrconium cladding to have become oxidized without the pool having to be wholly empty. First, there's the possibility that the rods were simply partially uncovered. Second, there's the possibility that, due to the lack of circulation, the water in the pool was heated to boiling, while the rods were still covered. I am not an engineer, but I would imagine that the water closest to the rods would heat first, creating underwater pockets of steam that would travel upwards along the assemblies (i.e., right along the cladding), enabling oxidation and hydrogen release without the rods actually being uncovered. Meanwhile, even if the rods were partially exposed, the steam coming off of the water continues to provide a cooling effect (I think this was discussed in Alvarez).

At any rate, given the lack of information regarding reactor 4, there are numerous explanations for what might have caused the explosion, for how uncovered the rods may have been at any given time, exactly what kind of fire happened on site, etc. I appreciate the insight and citations you provided above, but would like to ask that you keep in mind that, given the lack of information, "fully drained pool, chock full of burning and melting fuel assemblies, coupled with imperfect radiation readings that are hiding the truth" is not the only explanation.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:45 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's suspicion that the containment vessel has been breached

Unit 2's suppression pool torus has been breached. TEPCO announced it was at atmospheric pressure early last week (and thus useless as a containment vessel).

However, as you acknowledge, they are also working from thermal imaging results, which have been provided to the public

"All under 100 degrees!" was pretty pathetic level of detail.

reported that 80 metric tons of water was dropped on building 4 on Sunday, about twice as much water as would normally fill the pool

No, the ground aircrash trucks can't really reach the pools, and the pools hold 1400 tonnes of water.

"fully drained pool, chock full of burning and melting fuel assemblies, coupled with imperfect radiation readings that are hiding the truth" is not the only explanation.

I do not know if the assemblies would be melting now. 2MW is hot, but spread over 1000 assemblies is only 2KW per. The 500-odd assemblies pulled out of the reactor late last year would be hotter, but I don't know the materials to say what form that would be.

Clearly nothing is burning in building 4 now. It's just sitting there.
posted by =td= at 1:57 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Edano's out again.

Still no present threat to health for now but milk, spinach, and kakina export banned from several prefectures.

Saying smoke from #3 is no radiation risk now.
posted by =td= at 2:10 AM on March 21, 2011


This stuff has to sit around for hundreds of thousands of years,

Well, we definitely need to figure out what to do with the spent fuel, but I'm going to place my bet on this not ending up being the case. I gotta imagine it's much more likely we'll end up reprocessing the stuff or moving to fancy traveling-wave reactors (or other) that can burn this stuff this century.
posted by floam at 4:45 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


The evidence certainly backs the NSC.

I think not, but I'm still curious as to why they believed that with such confidence. Theories so far:

1. Their spies inside the plant heard someone say that loads of water was coming out of the containment pool, and if it was leaking at that rate it'd be empty in three minutes. Possibly it was water sloshed out by the earthquake and no leak, but this possibility didn't make it up the chain of chinese whispers to the top of their organizational heirarchy.

2. They have spy photos from some mysterious secret source that show significant damage to the concrete of the pool. They incorrectly inferred either that it was bad enough it couldn't possibly hold water, or that the steel liner would certainly be broken too.

3. They're getting all their info from metafilter.
posted by sfenders at 4:56 AM on March 21, 2011


Japan nuclear plant cited for missed inspections

Japan's nuclear safety agency says the operator of the country's troubled nuclear complex at Fukushima repeatedly failed to make crucial inspections of equipment in the weeks before it was crippled in the earthquake and tsunami.

In a report released nine days before the disasters, the agency criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co. for not inspecting 33 pieces of equipment.

Among the machinery the utility missed were backup generators, pumps and other parts of cooling systems that the tsunami later swamped, leading to the plant's overheating and the release of radioactive gas.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:12 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Saying smoke from #3 is no radiation risk now.

Do they know what it's from, then?
posted by mediareport at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2011


=td= wrote: "TEPCO announced it was at atmospheric pressure early last week (and thus useless as a containment vessel)"

Either that or it means the water contained within is at or below 100C. (or whatever the boiling point of the bastard amalgamation of seawater, purified water, and boron is actually in there)

There seems to be a Def Leppard song playing in my head this morning..you might be able to guess which one!
posted by wierdo at 7:37 AM on March 21, 2011


I haven't seen or read anything saying #2's suppression chamber wasn't damaged all week. =td= may seem a bit worked up but I think your insinuation of hysteria is more than a little unfair.
posted by polyhedron at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2011


=td= may seem a bit worked up

worked up? How so? I don't think I've asserted anything that isn't supported by what I've seen over the past week.

I've been following this rather closely over the past week. I don't have TV so 99% of my knowledge comes from watching the various press conferences and NHK analysts.
posted by =td= at 7:57 AM on March 21, 2011


I'm with you on this one, =td=.

It's worth noting that the JIAF summary linked above has a chart that identifies building #4 as having been severely damaged by hydrogen explosion.
posted by polyhedron at 8:03 AM on March 21, 2011


(the NHK analyst just last night was saying the same thing about the suppresssion pool, that since it was compromised it couldn't filter out radioactive particles as per design)

From Hattori's PDF:

Unit 2's notes:

格納容器破損(15日圧力抑制室付近異音起因)

Containment vessel damage (3/15 Strange sound near Pressure Suppression Chamber)
posted by =td= at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2011


Latest pictures from nhk

The caption says "all staff evacuated"

The Safety Commission said electrical work was temporarily stopped and water work and electrical work is being investigated as to when they can be restarted.
posted by =td= at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2011


(or whatever the boiling point of the bastard amalgamation of seawater, purified water, and boron is actually in there)

You're missing a few elements in that pool.
posted by =td= at 8:17 AM on March 21, 2011


桑田佳祐のTSUNAMIはしばらくオンエア自粛でしょう

From NHK-G stream tweet

Kuwata's "TSUNAMI" song is probably not going to be played much for a while

This song happens to be the #1 selling J-POP song, and will remain so given the collapse of CD sales and demographics.
posted by =td= at 8:28 AM on March 21, 2011


Smoked for about 2 hours.

Wind was from the west, West Gate peaked at 1.9 mSv/hr at 6:30, 9:00PM at 400µSv last reading

http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/monitoring/11032113.pdf

West Gate is 1km from the reactors
posted by =td= at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2011


If there has been a "Chernobylesque" incident at Daiichi, any reason why the IAEA hasn't blown the whistle? Why has the American NRC toned down its rhetoric? Or are we supposed to be reading between the lines?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2011


I fully believe they will admit as much radiation contamination as they have to and not a drop more.

Same MO as some of the people in these comments.

IAEA is a de-facto industry trade group; the phrase "regulatory capture" comes to mind.
posted by =td= at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2011


Correction to above; at peak reading wind was from the southeast, with the wind from the west the West Gate readings are somewhat useless.
posted by =td= at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2011


I noticed that they never took readings near the reactors, or at least readings that they shared with the public, after that rather frightening 400mSV reading early on. Those firemen are a heck of a lot closer than 1km -- I really hope they all have dosimeters and aren't just being vaguely told what the readings are. The video I saw just had them in the disposable paper type suits, which is good for getting rid of fallout but no protection again direct radiation. And now that I think of it, weren't they mostly not wearing respirators? I seem to recall some bare faces. Don't have the link to check.
posted by tavella at 9:21 AM on March 21, 2011


at peak reading wind was from the southeast

That'd be blowing stuff directly towards the "main office" primary monitoring site, where radiation has generally continued to slowly decline. From NHK World: "Radiation levels at a spot about 500 meters northwest of the reactor were 2,015 microsieverts per hour, almost unchanged from the figure measured before the smoke was seen."
posted by sfenders at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2011


#3 SFP is in the southeast of the building, why were they spraying northeast? Is that why they sprayed so much water - they think they might be getting in only very small fraction of total volume?
posted by rainy at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2011


That'd be blowing stuff directly towards the "main office" primary monitoring site, where radiation has generally continued to slowly decline

Conveniently, the last reading from the main office location in the TEPCO PDF is 午後4時30分, just before this latest incident.
posted by =td= at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2011


#3 SFP is in the southeast of the building

It is my understanding that SFPs are located on the N side of the fueling deck.

People are getting confused by the the nice GE-commissioned painting from the 1970s, but the SFPs are above the steam tunnel on the right, and the steam tunnel lead to the east to the turbine hall, putting the SFPs on the north side.

TEPCO press conference going on now about 'kaisui' seawater contamination I think.
posted by =td= at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2011


=td=:

from NHK:

The smoke was apparently coming from the south edge of the reactor structure.

The storage pool for spent nuclear fuel is located in the southeast part of the structure.

posted by rainy at 9:49 AM on March 21, 2011


Conveniently, the last reading from the main office location in the TEPCO PDF is 午後4時30分, just before this latest incident.

Actually, 35 minutes after this latest smoke was sighted, according to what they reported to NISA.
posted by sfenders at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2011


NHK is wrong here, or the efforts to fill the SFP have been shooting at the wrong place.

Actually, 35 minutes after this latest smoke was sighted, according to what they reported to NISA.
The TEPCO PR:

本日午後3時55分頃、3号機原子炉建屋屋上南東側からやや灰色がかった煙が発
生していることを、当社社員が確認し、午後4時21分頃、消防へ情報提供しました

The first smoke emerged at 3:55PM, and they notified the Fire Response team at 4:21PM.

They say they couldn't see a large change in the environment.

The smoke continued for 2 hours after the 3:55PM report but the main office report stops at 4:30, which is a pretty strange place to stop given they've given the previous 100 hours or so of readings from that site.
posted by =td= at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2011


TEPCO people are getting attacked in the press conference now;

"Answer the question!"
posted by =td= at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2011


Looking here: the radiation level in Tokyo has been climbing steadily for the last 12 hours or so. Can anyone explain if this is a function of a change in wind direction or rather a serious deterioration in the situation or something else altogether?

Also, is there any media covering this change in the Tokyo situation?

ps. My questions assume that the data on the site I linked to is solid. I assume it is, but I don't really know.
posted by limitedpie at 10:16 AM on March 21, 2011


Ooops, it looks like my link didn't make it in the post above. Here it is: http://fleep.com/earthquake/
posted by limitedpie at 10:17 AM on March 21, 2011


limitedpie, I'm seeing climbing radiation levels from a couple of different sources, including here and here. Levels are still far below their post-earthquake peaks, but I agree, it's troubling.
posted by KathrynT at 10:21 AM on March 21, 2011


limitedpie: that seems to coincide with this detector in Hino City as well, which has accurately tracked the peaks from earlier radiation releases. I wonder if any of the recent slight increase can be attributed to a change in the winds? It's looking like there is a slight breeze to the South/Southwest, so perhaps that's what going on here.

On the other hand, it does look like the radiation levels spiked yesterday for some reason. Looking at the fleep.com charts, the Iwaki City Council readings were up to 6 microsieverts/hour sometime before noon on the 21st and then tapered off. Some of that might be explained by the change in the winds, but the winds don't seem to have shifted, so perhaps there was a release of some kind?
posted by zachlipton at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2011


If you are really worried about radiation levels in Tokyo, the best thing to do is to check in with Mutant Frog Travelogue. Roy and Adam, as well as the other posters, are providing sober, fact-based updates.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2011


worked up? How so? I don't think I've asserted anything that isn't supported by what I've seen over the past week.

You just created your MeFi account yesterday. The high frequency of your posts combined with your statement that you "didn't know milliSieverts from megaSieverts a week ago" yet have all these authoritative sounding suspicions makes you seem very worked up. I think your concerns are real and legitimate, but your tone and frequency can seem frantic at times.

When all your posts are read sequentially, you seem a lot more calm and collected. Taken individually (and with frequency taken into consideration), you seem somewhat closer to the ragged edge. Maybe fewer posts in the absence of breaking news would make sense?

You might also put something in your profile about who you are and your domain knowledge.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hello, "=td=" here. I've been asked to stick to one account so this is me now.

One element that the press apparently isn't touching is the ~900kg of plutonium that is apparently in #3's spent fuel pool (in the 'unused' fuel assemblies).

Plus of course there's all the plutonium in spent fuel rods, but there was, I gather, quite a bit of protest about Japan's move to MOX fuel, eg:

Scientists request to freeze plutonium-thermal power generation

posted by mokuba at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2011


that was directed at =td=
posted by b1tr0t at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2011


=td=: I think you've provided some useful information, but there's also a cultural thing to keep in mind that you might not be aware of yet: posting repeatedly in a thread is generally frowned upon here, especially if there's nothing major to report. If the discussion isn't moving as fast as you'd like, that pretty much means there isn't much to talk about at the moment or we're all asleep or busy. Posting 5 comments in a row probably makes you look a lot more "worked up" than you intend to convey.

On preview, you were using two accounts?
posted by zachlipton at 11:09 AM on March 21, 2011


You just created your MeFi account yesterday

yeah, I've rage quit many times in the past and it stayed out of these threads as long as I could. I've been allowed to reactivate this one.

but your tone and frequency can seem frantic at times.

I had the NHK-G stream on last week and Kan's most recent speech about the seriousness of this woke me out of a sound sleep.

Um. I really can't snark about this. But yes, I am rather 'concerned' about this event, as I believe it has the potential for dumping a hazardous amounts of radioactive cesium and other long-lived byproducts like plutonium over a large part of Japan, plus some degree of contamination of Japan's fisheries, and perhaps an increase in health risk in North America should a plume form and the winds carry it.

Much of the nuclear industry's (or their hangers-on) attempts to minimize this event has been totally deceptive or utterly laughable.

eg Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors and
Six Ways Fukushima is Not Chernobyl and Let me now talk about what would be a reasonable worst case scenario and Fukushima one week on: Situation 'stable', says IAEA all have glaring factual misstatements and are full of industry spin.

If anyone wants my point-by-point rebuttals on these four, message me and I will send you links to blog comments I have made.
posted by mokuba at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


that you might not be aware of yet: posting repeatedly in a thread is generally frowned upon here,

yeah, well, I have a week's worth of opinions and commentary to "share" here.

you were using two accounts?

no, I've left metafilter several times in the past, cortex estimated it at 11 IIRC. You may know me as Heywood Mogroot, tachikaze, panamax, troy, yort, and others.
posted by mokuba at 11:29 AM on March 21, 2011


well hi there, mokuba. I think I remember Heywood.

NYT: Nuclear Official Sees No Urgent Changes Needed for American Plants:

A top official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday that the nuclear crisis in Japan did not warrant any immediate changes in American nuclear plants. The commission's inspectors at each nuclear site have been told to double-check that emergency precautions mandated years ago were still in place, including temporary hoses and fittings and other last-ditch backup equipment, said the official, William Borchardt, the executive director for operations. They are also to verify that plant operators know where the equipment and materials are, he said, "to make sure they haven't fallen into disuse because they haven't been used."

The 'no water in the pool' guy is not this fellow. That was Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko.
posted by mwhybark at 11:41 AM on March 21, 2011


I think that if you started a blog that incorporated the your various comments in this thread, it would be pretty cool (I'd read it). You could also get a wider readership, and even interact with various folks on Twitter including VOA and NYT. I'm assuming you speak, read Japanese etc (I don't have time to do the amount of media monitoring you're doing). A lot of the foreign-but-Japanese-speaking blogo/Twitto-sphere is taking Daniel Kahl's position that things are no worse than TMI. While promoting hysteria is not good, there ought to be a little more discussion about what is actually happening at Daiichi, which is why a blog may be a powerful thing. From my point of view, I tend to trust that IAEA, WHO and the American State Department are going to provide clear, concise and accurate info, but if you have other views it's interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2011


Possessing an average-American level of Japanese comprehension and in light of the drop-off in English language coverage (and particularly what feels like whitewashing to me) I appreciate your presence in the thread, mokuba.

I do think talking about Chernobyl poisons the discussion. It's kind of the nuclear equivalent of Godwin's Law.

To be clear, I think we got a glimpse into a somewhat cavalier attitude of the nuclear industry and it feels like coverage since has been controlled to preserve the impression of stoic safety-mindedness. I am skeptical that a significant release of radioactive material wasn't caused by the SFP at #4. I was paying attention and the fire seemed to take everyone off-guard. It seems to me that the storage of hot fuel in the spent fuel pools is a manifestly unsafe practice and we shouldn't allow this event to be swept under the rug without being fully addressed.
posted by polyhedron at 11:55 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, kokuryu, my views don't differ from the State Department's -- with the current multiple losses of contamination the effects will be localized to the current 20-30km evacuation zone, and 80km is the current evac zone.

My general understanding of the situation is that the situation is neither "under control" or "out of control". It is uncontrolled, and will remain so until everything is back under cold stop conditions.

I lack the knowledge to know if the spent fuel pools present a danger via low-level radioactive-burning / intermittent criticality, or even if Unit 4's 1535 fuel assemblies will in fact heat themselves sufficiently to form a pool of slag in the Unit 4.

My "worst case scenario" since the first explosion was seeing the site evacuated and 4 reactors allowed to become smoking piles of burning rubble.

This is half-happening now.
posted by mokuba at 12:00 PM on March 21, 2011


=td= wrote: "You're missing a few elements in that pool."

I don't believe Uranium Oxide or Zircaloy are water soluble.
posted by wierdo at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2011


I think Japan has resisted creating an 80km evacuation zone because the risks outweigh the benefits. There's 1M+ people residing within 80 kilometers of Daiichi... Where would they go? How could assisting quake and tsunami-struck areas even continue? I've seen Japanese-language reports on quake-related logistics that say Koriyama (south of Fukushima City, and within the 80km evacuation zone) is become the de facto logistics center for Tohoku.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree polyhedron. Chernobyl was Chernobyl, and this is its own event with its own similarities and differences to Chernobyl. There's this weird fascination with trying to compare this to Chernobyl, probably because Chernobyl is the only truly disastrous point of reference we all have for a nuclear power plant emergency, but it's like comparing every terrorist attack to 9/11 or every airplane crash to Tenerife, and it's not that helpful.

To be clear, I think we got a glimpse into a somewhat cavalier attitude of the nuclear industry and it feels like coverage since has been controlled to preserve the impression of stoic safety-mindedness.

This is a huge point that is getting lost in the more recent coverage describing the situation as "stabilized." Nine days before the earthquake, the regular critized TEPCO for repeatedly failing to inspect 33 piece of equipment at Fukushima-1, including backup generators, pumps, and other parts of the cooling system. The industry cannot credibly say they are so concerned with safety and this was a rare freak accident where the forces vastly exceeded the plant's design when the emergency equipment wasn't being maintained before the quake. It's entirely possible the tsunami would still have destroyed all this equipment anyway, but come on: the very equipment that failed here included the safety equipment that TEPCO failed to inspect.
posted by zachlipton at 12:12 PM on March 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


or even if Unit 4's 1535 fuel assemblies will in fact heat themselves sufficiently to form a pool of slag in the Unit 4.

well, on that front:

Thermal Images From Fukushima

Unit 4 is looking pretty good from this, but 3 has a 128deg hotspot apparently.
posted by mokuba at 12:13 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ten days after Japan's tsunami disaster, towns far from the impact zone are still experiencing shortages that have thrown the...lives of local residents completely out of gear. Gas station queues stretching for several kilometres, long waits at supermarkets, empty store shelves and shuttered businesses have become a part of the landscape in post-tsunami Japan. Tsunami disruption spreads deep into Japan
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 12:14 PM on March 21, 2011


Reuters: Special Report: Fuel storage, safety issues vexed Japan plant
Critics, including the lawmaker Kono, said the hire [of former METI Director General Toru Ishida by TEPCO] illustrates the deep-seated problems in a system that has made METI both nuclear power's biggest backer and home to the safety agency in charge of its regulation.

METI has guided Tokyo Electric's investment in nuclear power and provided an implicit backstop and financing. At the same time, the utility has provided jobs for some senior METI officials like Ishida and a network of sympathetic politicians, Kono said.

"If this is a national policy, then the government has to be responsible entirely," he said. "If this is private enterprise, then we have to think about how to de-cartel this industry."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:17 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can I just point out that you can't hide Chernobyl scale amounts of radiation. There's a huge amount of independent monitoring going on. In fact we actually have someone from Metafilter over there monitoring radiation. You can't cover up radiation plumes.

A cover up of lax maintenance policy is basicly expected at this point. Can we please focus on that instead of implying that there is some sort of New World Order mass cover up of radiation dispersal.
posted by Procloeon at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Procloeon,

I apologize if you misunderstand me, but a "significant release of radioactive material" falls far below the threshold of Chernobyl. This is why mentioning Chernobyl is bad.
posted by polyhedron at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2011


Tsunami disruption spreads deep into Japan

Morioka is in the heart of the region affected by the earthquake. It's also located along the Tohoku expressway, which has only recently been reopened (still closed in parts) due to severe earthquake damage, and I have to think the same conditions exist on Route 4, the main trunk road (typically a two-lane road with a max speed of 50km/hr) that, if not damaged, is probably clogged with traffic. The article doesn't mention that.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:31 PM on March 21, 2011


gen linked to it this morning, but I think it got lost in the shuffle, so I'd like to re-recommend the article Taking Stock by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.
There are results to this irresponsible journalism. Many foreigners in Japan who do not have the language capabilities to access Japanese media or who are used to foreign media are in a state of panic, when around them Japanese are largely calm. People in California start searching for iodide pills on the internet and there are already people voicing worries about whether Japanese cars are now all going to be radioactive. But worst of all, the inordinate and sensationalist attention given to the reactors by American and other media has taken attention away from where it should be: on the likely nearly 20,000 people who died in the quake and tsunamis, on the nearly 400,000 homeless people, and on the immense suffering this has caused for Japan as a whole. I cannot but think that the low amounts of donations given by Americans to relief efforts is not at least partially the result of this warped coverage.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:39 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can we please focus on that instead of implying that there is some sort of New World Order mass cover up of radiation dispersal.

If you are referring to my above, I have not asserted that at all, but I do assert that TEPCO is being very selective about what information they release.

They only tested radiation from their seawater emissions this morning, after a full week of pumping saltwater into the reactors?

Whatever was in the clouds that departed buildings 3 and 4 in their catastrophic events went out over the Pacific (passing through the USS Reagan's area of operations, actually).

This is far, far from TMI now, and far, far from Chernobyl still. I am very encouraged that Unit 4 looks to be in cold stop conditions now, somehow.

There may need to be more venting from Unit 3, given the higher pressure it is at. Units 1-3 have been run for hours without reactor coolant and days with only partial coolant.

I lack the technical knowledge to know the current state of these reactors' fuel rods, how damaged they are. I also have not seen any accurate picture of what pressure the sea water is being injected into these reactor vessels, or where this water is going, either as steam or being expelled from the plant, but the NHK expert has said that if TEPCO has to to a dry vent of Unit 3 the contamination will be 100X greater than having the venting going through the suppression torus.
posted by mokuba at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2011


Unit Four is in cold stop because it didn't have any fuel in the reactor at the time of the earthquake and tsunami. The fact that all 548 assemblies were in the pool is arguably worse than it being in the reactor, but it's not a mystery why the reactor is shut down: They shut it down and unloaded it in November of last year.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2011


I meant cold stop conditions in the pools, water under 100 degrees and under active recirculation.
posted by mokuba at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2011


NHK analyst just said the two-hour fire in #3 might have been an air filter catching fire.

That would explain the reported location of the fire, on the south side, when the fuel pools are on the north side.

I can think of better things to inhale than the smoke from a burning air filter in a nuke plant, but at least it wasn't the start of 92 tons of spent fuel rods somehow igniting.
posted by mokuba at 2:27 PM on March 21, 2011


NHK's report of pool being on southeast side is consistent with thermal map posted here recently. In cast of #4 it even looks almost like outlines of a pool (assuming #4 pool location is the same as #3's). At the same time, it makes sense that they'd spray from north because they can't approach from the east..
posted by rainy at 2:50 PM on March 21, 2011


Polyhedron's Corollary, draft submission: "As an online discussion of nuclear energy grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Chernobyl approaches 1."

This can certainly stand revision.
posted by mwhybark at 3:00 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah but based on my observation on this, the over/under is only about 10 posts before it happens anyway.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:20 PM on March 21, 2011


So, ranking in invocation density, Godwin would be the corollary. Except I think it's order of publication / promulgation.

I wonder if the yellow book has some C-placename entries already? I would sort of expect it to.

New rule: (except not, it's a bad idea) replace 'Chernobyl' with 'Cthulhu,' reread thread.
posted by mwhybark at 4:43 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


A: yes.

Chernobyl chicken.

Chernobyl packet.
posted by mwhybark at 4:47 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, via @gen on Twitter:

Reuters: Special Report: Fuel storage, safety issues vexed Japan plant.

IIRC Reuters was a big source of various Kyodo scoops or first reports or whatever they were. I may not recall, due to old age and confusion.
posted by mwhybark at 4:54 PM on March 21, 2011


one-page version.

So far, I'm not seeing any egregious misstatements of officially-reported or multi-sourced info. Promising.
posted by mwhybark at 4:59 PM on March 21, 2011


Has anyone mentioned George Bush yet?
posted by panaceanot at 4:59 PM on March 21, 2011


About the "state of panic" in the US that I've heard various US media refer to - has anyone heard/read any of the media actually give a source? Links? Besides the nebulous "stores are running out of iodine tablets" or "people are asking for the tablets" - without any numbers given. I can completely understand the anxiety of people living in Japan, but have noticed there seems to be a lot of radiation panic claims without backing that up - in the US anyway. I know that in CA they set up a hotline, so that's a tangible fact that someone assumed there would be questions - but haven't seen any actual numbers for how many people have called in yet.
posted by batgrlHG at 4:59 PM on March 21, 2011


Has anyone mentioned George Bush yet?

You just did. Congratulations!
posted by ericb at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


NHK:

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the smoke could be steam from the spent fuel rod pool and that some spent rods may be broken, causing radioactive substances to leak into the pool.

The agency said the wind was blowing westward when the higher level was detected.


(referring to unit 2)

Interesting, this is the first time they speculated about the steam and condition of the pool.
posted by rainy at 6:13 PM on March 21, 2011


Probabilistic, Possibilistic And Deterministic Safety Analysis, Chap. 8, Decay Heat Generation in Fission Reactors, Ragheb, 2009.

Prof. Ragheb's book for his Safety Analysis of Nuclear Reactor Systems course at UIUC has been updated with a chapter specifically addressing the Fukushima accident, Fukushima Earthquake and Tsunami Station Blackout Accident, which contains the plum quote, The probabilistic and possibilistic consideration of earthquakes and tsunami events as common mode failure events may have been underestimated by their consideration as independent events.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Radiation plume now halfway across the USA (scroll down and wait for animation to work), mapped by an Austrian meteorological site (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics) ZAMG. Video of the animation by DutchSinse.
posted by nickyskye at 7:21 PM on March 21, 2011


Since the quake, [independent journalist] Uesugi had been demanding that the government provide more information on the threat of radiation and allow reporters from a wider group of news organizations to attend official press conferences and pose more probing questions, instead of restricting attendance to representatives of the largest Japanese media. In an early television interview, he raised the prospect of a meltdown, an unwelcome subject, and was told he wouldn’t be invited back on the air. When I spoke with him, he said the public was “brainwashed.” “They can’t judge for themselves,” he said. “Everyone thinks that what the government says is right. Everyone thinks that what the government officials say is the truth. But they don’t believe independent journalists, or what’s on the Internet, or what’s on Twitter.” I mentioned that the Web is hardly a filter for the truth, which might be volatile during a nuclear crisis. “It’s not about staying calm,” he said. “The Japanese public has become accustomed to receiving no information.”
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/03/28/110328fa_fact_osnos#ixzz1HI86L7dW
posted by gen at 7:28 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have high expectations for that New Yorker piece; the magazine must be aware that it will be compared to a certain prior work concerning catastrophe in Japan.
posted by mwhybark at 7:33 PM on March 21, 2011


Gen, I found that Osnos piece contained several errors - the Emperor spoke in plain speech, rather than an archaic language most Japanese people don't understand - and a variety of stereotypes. The interview with Okamoto rubbed me the wrong way, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:40 PM on March 21, 2011


KokuRyu- I will contact Evan and try to get him to change that fact.
posted by gen at 7:43 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let 'em know, KokuRyu!
posted by mwhybark at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2011


or not, I guess. I would like to read a thoughtful critique, personally, and would guess the author would as well. I'm still reading it.
posted by mwhybark at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2011


... by which I mean I am *in the middle* of reading it, sorry for the unclarity.
posted by mwhybark at 7:50 PM on March 21, 2011


Since the quake, [independent journalist] Uesugi had been demanding that the government provide more information on the threat of radiation and allow reporters from a wider group of news organizations to attend official press conferences and pose more probing questions, instead of restricting attendance to representatives of the largest Japanese media. In an early television interview, he raised the prospect of a meltdown, an unwelcome subject, and was told he wouldn’t be invited back on the air.

Interesting. I don't know very much about how journalism is traditionally conducted in Japan, but I am familiar with the "press club" system, described by some Western observers as information cartels and "a de facto competitive hindrance to foreign media organisations." I'm curious if any of you have more knowledge of how this system works in practice and how it has shaped the coverage here.

It's been interesting to watch the press' attitude shift throughout this crisis. Generally, the press has been rather orderly and calm, not really pushing tough questions. One striking turning point for me was the March 14th (15th?) TEPCO press conference after the blast and evacuation at the #2 reactor. Here's the NHK World tape (English). Maybe the press could speak out more since it was a non-government press conference, but they seemed to come on quite strong here amid the total lack of answers. See around 2:15 and 8:00 in the above linked video. This would be the press conference in which a reporter asked "Can anyone explain the situation?" and the TEPCO official's only response is "I'm sorry." I saw a bit more of this adversarial tone from the Japanese press in some of the following press conferences, especially with regard to the initial rolling blackout chaos.

Lately, the Japanese press has gone back to a much more calm tone and seems more eager to scoop up whatever they are being fed. In the US after Katrina, the media really tried to take on much more of an advocacy role as it became apparent that the government wasn't acting. For example, Anderson Cooper completely went off on Senator Landrieu (video). I imagine that the Japanese media doesn't really have a tradition of this kind of journalism, but it seemed like we were on the verge of seeing it for a few brief moments, only to revert back to the press club mentality once some minimal answers started to come out.

When I spoke with him, he said the public was “brainwashed.” “They can’t judge for themselves,” he said. “Everyone thinks that what the government says is right. Everyone thinks that what the government officials say is the truth. But they don’t believe independent journalists, or what’s on the Internet, or what’s on Twitter.”

I'm curious how to reconcile this with the frequent reports in the English language press that there is massive distrust of TEPCO and the government's handling of the crisis and the information they are providing. How can the public be brainwashed and distrust TEPCO and/or the government at the same time? Or is everyone just running scared and choosing to trust the government out of habit?
posted by zachlipton at 9:00 PM on March 21, 2011


I found Japan Nuclear Crisis: The Experts Weigh In from The Awl darkly humorous.
Upon inquiring about a core meltdown of Reactor 3, which uses uranium and plutonium and therefore produces more toxic radioactivity, two of our five remaining experts asked if maybe they could leave and go to the bar down the block for an hour or two before resuming. One expert asked to be reminded exactly how much he would be compensated for his time, and another expert retreated to the corner of the room and began rocking back and forth, quietly mumbling, "It's all over. We're toast."
posted by ob1quixote at 9:02 PM on March 21, 2011


...And if they don't believe what's on twitter, why are so many people in Japan tweeting about it? All day today Twitter has been full of grumbling about why the heck don't they know what caused the smoke from reactors 2/3 and if they don't know what caused it why are they insisting everything's okay? "People don't believe what's on Twitter" is strange to say when people ARE what's on Twitter.
posted by Jeanne at 9:06 PM on March 21, 2011


Well, there's a big difference between your average man on the street and someone tweeting regularly about the crisis. Is there a generational difference here? Or some other demographic gap? I'm merely guessing widely because I'm thousands of miles away, but it seems there's an interesting sociological question here.
posted by zachlipton at 9:17 PM on March 21, 2011


"People don't believe what's on Twitter" is strange to say when people ARE what's on Twitter.

While Twitter is popular in Japan, only a fraction of Japanese are on twitter, so I think Osnos is talking about average people vs. Japanese people on twitter.

Japanese people are, on the whole, 'majime' (no easy translation but 'earnest' is one?) and I think the critic's comment (that Japanese do not often second-guess statements from the govt.) is very true.
posted by gen at 9:22 PM on March 21, 2011


My wife is an average Japanese person, fairly conservative in her political views, and is pretty cynical about what the government is saying. Like most Japanese folks, she admires Edano.

I just find comments that Japanese people are "brainwashed" and "can't think for themselves" to be arrogant and condescending, at about the level of "wake up sheeple!"

On the other hand, there is no counterculture tradition in Japan (which is kind of refreshing), no automatic knee-jerk anti-establishment movements.

If there is a major nuclear accident that affects the Kanto region, what are people going to do, anyway? Thirty million people are not just going to suddenly hop on a train and get out there. To a certain extent I think folks in Japan are calm but also fatalistic, to the degree that they are doing what they can to get through this situation.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:24 PM on March 21, 2011


NYT: Japan Extended Reactor’s Life, Despite Warning

Looks like we may be seeing the beginnings of a full-court press (RIMSHOT) just in time for the paywall. Wonder if we'll see other papers (or what have you) start adding resources.

In fairness I would have expected increased pickup from the Times on the story. Before now, really. But hey.
posted by mwhybark at 9:32 PM on March 21, 2011


Oh look! A fuel-pool interactive.
posted by mwhybark at 9:33 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regarding Japanese public's relation to news, I think generation gap is a part of it at least. My wife's mother for example will hear my wife criticize the government and not really believe her until a few weeks later when it is mentioned by TV personalities and she says "Oh, you were right."

And also from my own anecdotal observations, twitter is getting more popular among middle-aged and younger, and especially since the quake. I was teaching a conversational English class last night, and a few students in their 20s and 30s were telling me that in the aftermath of the quake, they're just now getting hooked on twitter and that following the news is their new hobby.

I think young people are just more savvy at recognizing which indie/alternative sources are credible and/or why. If you don't know how to quality-control or filter new media, the stream of info is way too much to deal with.
posted by p3t3 at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2011


Tokyo Electric Power will be made to compensate farmers near its radiation-leaking nuclear power station for losses related to a widening ban on the sale of agricultural products from the area, Japan’s government has said.

In the first direct reference by a high-ranking government official to reparations by Tepco for victims of the world’s worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, said the state would “have Tepco take responsibility”.

But he added that if the company is unable to compensate people adequately, “then by law the government will step in and guarantee the claims”.

Tepco to pay Japanese farmers for losses - FT.com


If you want to read the article, put the title of the article into google news and click the result in the News results and it should get you past the paywall.
posted by gen at 9:46 PM on March 21, 2011


The World's Reactors, via boing boing. Wow.
posted by mwhybark at 9:49 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the first direct reference by a high-ranking government official to reparations by Tepco for victims of the world’s worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, said the state would “have Tepco take responsibility”.

Certainly these farmers deserve to be compensated for their radioactive crops, but I'm curious where this is going to lead to and how compensation issues will be sorted out in the end. How will they handle compensation for people who had to evacuate? How do they separate out the people who had to evacuate because of the quake and tsunami from those who only had to leave because of the power plant? What about people who evacuated but were outside of the 20 or 30km zone? Will they compensate businesses and factories who had to shut down in rolling blackouts? The government for various parts of the emergency response? Add that to the billions of dollars in writeoffs TEPCO will have to take for the destroyed reactors and for the environmental cleanup costs, and you're talking some serious cash.

Of course, TEPCO stock was up 15.8% in the morning session and their credit default swaps are down 20% (it's cheaper to insure their debt), so maybe the market is betting on TEPCO sliding out of this one, or at least not being as destroyed as previously predicted.
posted by zachlipton at 10:10 PM on March 21, 2011


Media institutions here in Japan are controlled by a media law that requires balance in the way reporting is done. It’s defined by bureaucrats and the government, and if you say something that the government doesn't like it can affect your ability to continue to do reporting. So they are deferential not as a cultural matter but because there is a - a legal requirement.
On The Media: Transcript of "Japan's Information Crisis" (March 18, 2011)
posted by gen at 10:12 PM on March 21, 2011


New Status Report from Hattori議員.

Still says 1.75m, 1.35M, and 2.0M of reactors 1,2,3 fuel rods are not getting water. Each fuel rod is outputting ~60KW still so that can't feel good.

Pressure in unit 3 is WAY down. 110kPa = 16 PSI. No more need to vent (maybe they already did?)

#2 spent fuel pool is at 50° as of yesterday. #2 is the one that hasn't blown itself up, making it harder to refill the pool, so it's good that there's plenty of leeway here still.

Fire people put 130t of water into the common fuel pool.

I daresay the risk of the situation getting any worse is over.

There will probably be continuous radioactive emissions on the order of TMI daily for several weeks, but I don't think TEPCO can just stop cooling the reactors now.
posted by mokuba at 10:14 PM on March 21, 2011


and if you say something that the government doesn't like it can affect your ability to continue to do reporting

This didn't apply to the TEPCO press conferences. Did you see the ustream of those? The poor TEPCO people were being interrogated by what appeared to be bloggers.

gen, can you explain the deal with 海江田?

Was this about the Hyper Rescue Force gransstanding?
posted by mokuba at 10:17 PM on March 21, 2011


Ah, reading the article I see that Kaeda大臣 said 「やらなければ処分する」"If they don't [finish the job] we will get rid of them" about the Hyper Rescue Force.

If this were a movie the concrete pump trucks wouldn't be necessary, the Hyper Rescue Force would have saved the day.
posted by mokuba at 10:35 PM on March 21, 2011


The cover of this week's New Yorker magazine certainly fits the current mood here - although such a thing could not have been published here in Japan, I think!
posted by woodblock100 at 10:48 PM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Kaieda really screwed up. He basically told the Hyper Rescue Force that they had no choice but to help with the rescue... _while_ they (the HRF) was in the middle of setting up at the reactor site! He/JP govt. also told the HRF that they had to run the pumps for 7 hours when the pumps are only made to go for 4 hrs./day. The pumps then broke. So Kaieda is on my f'n shit list forever more. He has no business setting rescue strategy when he is NOT there (not to mention that Kaieda has no experience in fighting a reactor collapse.)
posted by gen at 12:04 AM on March 22, 2011


Seesh. I haven't seen that story about Kaieda get much play in the Western press, but it's possible I've missed it. I'm mostly just seeing this Kyodo report when I search for it. Do we actually know what equipment broke down and how replaceable it is? That Kyodo story just cites Ishihara on that fact, who I figure is about as reliable for useful information as Dan Quayle might be right now.
posted by zachlipton at 12:19 AM on March 22, 2011


A Journal analysis of Japanese regulatory documents shows that the Daiichi plant was already one of Japan's most troubled nuclear facilities, even before it was severely damaged by this month's quake and tsunami. In the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, the latest data available, Daiichi had the highest accident rate of any big Japanese nuclear plant, according to data collected by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization, a mostly government-funded group that monitors safety and conducts inspections. Daiichi's workers were exposed to more radiation than their peers at most other plants, the data show.
WSJ - Japan Plant Had Troubled History
posted by gen at 12:32 AM on March 22, 2011


To clarify, are they are using the "cement injector" (Edano just discussed it) to only squirt water into the #4 reactor? Or are they somehow trying to pour cement or some kind of sealant too?
posted by zachlipton at 12:41 AM on March 22, 2011


For those following along at home, the PM's office has setup an English language Facebook page where they are posting fairly brief outlines from the press conferences and presumably other government information. Not sure why this has to be done on Facebook instead of a plain old ordinary webpage, but I suppose Kan's office wants to look all authy with a social media initiative now.
posted by zachlipton at 1:37 AM on March 22, 2011


Japan nuclear plant's spent fuel pool heating up -- "Official says temperatures are rising near the boiling point; if water in the pool bubbles away and exposes fuel rods, more radiation would be released."
posted by ericb at 3:07 AM on March 22, 2011


From NHK:

On the 21st, measuring at a point 330 m south of Fukushima Daiichi, it was found that levels of radiation in seawater were:
Iodine-131 -- 126.7 times the standard value
Cesium-134 -- 24.8 times
Cesium-137 -- 16.5 times

At the same point at 6 a.m. on the 22nd, they measured:
Iodine-131 -- 29.8 times
Cesium-134 -- 2.5 times
Cesium-137 -- 1.7 times

8 km south, around midnight on the 21st, they measured:
Iodine-131 -- 80.3 times
Cesium-134 -- 1.3 times

10 km south, they measured 27.1 times the standard value of Iodine-131.
16 km south, they measured 16.4 times the standard value of Iodine-131.

I can't find figures on what they exact 'standard value' is, but it's set at a level where if you drank an average amount of water for a year, you would be exposed to 1 mSv total.

A guy from the Japanese Chemical Analysis Center said that the iodine would go away soon because its half-life was short, but shellfish should be monitored for accumulation of cesium.
posted by Jeanne at 4:52 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And lights have come back on at the reactor 3 control room! I am suitably impressed by everyone who got back to work so quickly after black smoke with uncertain causes coming from the reactor.
posted by Jeanne at 7:35 AM on March 22, 2011


Doing searches for 'plutonium Fukushima' does bring up speculative articles about contamination.

One thing NHK hasn't done, and AFAIK the gov't not volunteered, nor has the press asked, is giving an estimation of what's happened to the reactor cores inside the reactor vessels.

TMI was run in similar conditions (fuel rods out of coolant) and they found half the core as slag at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel.

I really wonder how much all this seawater injection is washing the contents of the fuel rods into the Pacific.

If reactor 3 has behaved like TMI, there is ~5 tonnes of plutonium melted out of the fuel rods now -- it has been sitting with 2m of its reactor core out of water for a week now. This does not count whatever fission products are also being washed out, though this reactor was only put into service late last year so perhaps there is not so much of that.

I suspect all the reactor experts so confident of things being contained 10 days ago now can only sit in silent contemplation of the ecological disaster that is still unfolding.

Said experts are welcome to lift my ignorance by detailing the flow rate through the fire suppression system (Hattori's PDF shows 1 or 2 pumps being operative), condition of the fuel rods, how much of the cooling water has been evaporating in the reactor vessel vs. how much is sent through, and what is happening to this seawater after it leaves the 3 cores.

That TEPCO only got around to testing the sea contamination yesterday is highly disturbing.
posted by mokuba at 8:15 AM on March 22, 2011


TMI was a little different, though. It lost coolant at full power, while Fukushima-3 had been shut down for nearly an hour when the tsunami hit, and I don't think they really lost control of the cooling situation for some hours more. The decay heat curve falls off really fast in the first minutes and hours of a shutdown. It wouldn't necessarily be in the same half-slagged state as TMI. Still, wouldn't care to take a bath in the water around Fukushima right now.
posted by tavella at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2011


I'd say no bathing just yet,

On March 21st and 22nd, we detected cobalt, iodine and cesium from
the seawater around discharge canal of Unit 1, 2, 3 and 4.

posted by nomisxid at 8:40 AM on March 22, 2011


Gov't, Tokyo Electric start to gauge nuke crisis' impact on seawater, The Manichi Daily News, March 22nd, 2011.
The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. faced the additional challenge of seawater contamination Tuesday as abnormally high levels of radioactive materials have been detected in the sea near the crisis-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

The radiation levels in seawater do not pose an immediate risk to human health, government officials said. But they are well above normal levels, fanning concern over the effects on fishery products as radioactive substances have also been detected in some vegetables grown in the vicinity of the plant.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:50 AM on March 22, 2011


Interactions Of Radionuclides In Water, Particulates, And Oysters In The Discharge Canal Of A Nuclear Power Plant [PDF], Harrison, et al., 1976
posted by ob1quixote at 9:16 AM on March 22, 2011


Can anybody say for sure whether or not Fukushima Daiichi uses closed-cycle cooling? The automated search vampires are jamming me on The Google.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2011


It doesn't. It's condensers use seawater.
posted by joegester at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2011


However, even if it was designed to use closed-cycle cooling, it's certainly not improbable that the earthquake and/or tsunami would have destroyed that system or that emergency systems would rely on once-through cooling as a backup. How much worse would this crisis be if the plant wasn't right next to a large body of water?

They have pumped hundreds of tons of water into pools that don't hold that much water. A lot has evaporated, but it's more than conceivable that some of that water has entered the groundwater or made its way to the ocean.

Reuters liveblog recently posted this handy update: "A senior IAEA official: concerned does not know exact status of unit 1 at Fukushima plant." Seems like they have the situation well in hand as usual...
posted by zachlipton at 9:50 AM on March 22, 2011


Can anybody say for sure whether or not Fukushima Daiichi uses closed-cycle cooling? The automated search vampires are jamming me on The Google.

Um... I think you mean to be asking if Fukushima operates like this (heat exchange with the ocean), or like this (cooling tower design). Under normal operation reactor water is never directly cycled out to the environment. It is too radioactive for that, but I think it is also treated to interact nicely with the equipment (maybe that just means distilled, but they might also put additives or who knows...). In Fukushima's case... Well, I don't see any cooling towers, so I'm pretty sure they use the ocean for that.

If you mean what has been going on for the last week, then no, not closed at all. They started pumping sea water in directly, and that water has been getting right back out to the environment. Exactly how the water is getting back out isn't well described. Initially they were claiming containment was intact and the only exit was as steam. Certainly a lot is coming out as steam. However, containment has been breached at some reactors for a long time now, so some water is draining straight back out into the buildings. Hopefully they aren't cycling water right back out into the ocean, hopefully..
posted by Chuckles at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2011


Good clarification, Chuckles. That's the question I was responding to. The absence of cooling towers makes it pretty certain that these reactors are doing their secondary cooling with seawater. Also, there's no good reason for them to be built where they were unless they were using the ocean.
posted by joegester at 10:33 AM on March 22, 2011


Maybe I misapprehended exactly what closed-cycle versus once-through cooling means. (q.v. California’s Coastal Power Plants: Alternative Cooling System Analysis, Chap. 4, Closed-Cycle Cooling Systems [PDF].)

What I was really asking is, They're not running seawater through the reactor core and then back out into the ocean, right? They've put seawater into the inner, closed system to try and increase coolant levels inside the reactor core, but that's separate from any seawater used to cool the heat-exchanger that must be the way they draw the heat back out of the core coolant, right? Right?!

Which is seperate from the question of whether or not they've washed radioactive contaminates into the sea by pumping thousands of tons of water onto the spent fuel pools.

On preview, yes, precisely, Chuckles.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:36 AM on March 22, 2011


NHK news mentions the progress on getting the power back on, concrete pump truck to refill Unit 4, and the iodine and cesium in the sea story.

4700 Bq (/m3???) of Cesium 137 at 40km from the plant.

The concrete truck is in fact filling the south side of the building, so I was wrong and NHK was right about that, unless the plants are build in differing orientations for some reason.
posted by mokuba at 12:24 PM on March 22, 2011


The IAEA has a nice new overview of the spent fuel pools, though it's clear the IAEA isn't getting a lot of the information they would like to know.

Also, as far as I know, the concrete pump truck is pumping water, not concrete or another sealant.
posted by zachlipton at 12:38 PM on March 22, 2011


This PDF is from METI and is their "plant parameter" data dump to the press.

It can be seen that the water level in fuel cores of 1-3 are still 1 to 2m below the top of the rods.

I wonder why they can't pump more, I'd guess it's a steam pressure issue, maybe they can't bleed off any more steam because the suppression torus is full (or leaking in the case of #2, or done blowed up in the case of #3).

#1 seems to be running hot, that's a "Nozzle temp" of 383 to 394 degrees, compared to 105-109 for #2 and 'unknown data' for 3.

For the D/W•S/C 圧力 (I assume this is drywell/suppression chamber)

Ah, I finally learn what "downscale" meant in the press conferences. That's the suppression chamber readings for 2 & 3, and must mean atmospheric pressure. Reactor 1 has 0.155Mpa (abs) torus pressure, that's 22.5 PSI, drywell is at 25.4PSI. Design limit of the drywell is 50-60PSI AFAIK.
posted by mokuba at 1:03 PM on March 22, 2011


Becquerels are a raw count of radiation events/second so there's no volume or anything involved. It's just sort of "at this point in space there are this many counts/second."
posted by joegester at 2:10 PM on March 22, 2011


What I was really asking is, "They're not running seawater through the reactor core and then back out into the ocean, right? "

As far as I understand it, that's exactly what they're doing. The seawater they're pumping directly into the reactors is either coming out as steam or flowing back out into the ocean. There's no heat exchange going on with primary/secondary coolant loops or anything, it's just seawater being injected into or dumped on/in the reactor buildings and left to fend for itself and find it's own way home, so to speak.
posted by loquacious at 3:46 PM on March 22, 2011


Firefighters spraying water at reactor #4. Gosh they are close. The random silver Prius really looks out of place too.
posted by zachlipton at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


zachlipton: "The random silver Prius really looks out of place too."

Nonsense. They were closely following the electric cars derail in nukethread v.1.0 and wanted to give a shoutout.
posted by mwhybark at 4:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seawater radioactivity high / Sample shows large iodine concentrations near nuclear plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday seawater near an outlet at the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant had a concentration of radioactive iodine-131 that was 127 times higher than can be safely ingested by a person continuously for one year, according to government standards.

In a phenomenon called biological concentration, radioactive materials in seawater will become more concentrated in fish and marine plants.



How much radiation is too much radiation?


After the earthquake: A long, hot summer
"With some 30,000-50,000 dead, half a million evacuees, and the gravest nuclear crisis in decades (albeit one that Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government, Sir John Beddington, has I think rightly characterized as a “sideshow”), the events of 3/11 are in many ways an order of magnitude greater than the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and in all probability the worst natural catastrophe ever to strike a developed nation."
posted by nickyskye at 7:03 PM on March 22, 2011


from the press conference ustream twitter feed:

魚も燃料プールに入っている可能性もあるなw

Latest "plant parameters" are more interesting. All comparisons are to the PDF from yesterday.

注水 -- water injection = 300 liters/min for #1, the other 2 are using Fire Extinguishing line at a rate previously stated to to be 180 l/min.

NISA guy is saying not enough water into Unit #1

Reactor pressure is going up in #1, up from 0.22Mpa to 0.3Mpa. The other two have negative pressure readings, I guess that means the reactor pressure vessels are compromised?

Containment temperature for #1 at "above" 400deg. Not good for NISA to be vague here!

#2 is at 100deg, #3 at 250-280deg.

Drywell pressure for #1 up from 0.175MPa to 0.26MPa (37 PSI). Torus up from 0.155Mpa to 0.24MPa. Other 2 plants drywell pressure unchanged at 0.10MPa.

CAMS has interesting information that I missed last time -- radiation!

Drywell is at 46 Sv, 52 Sv, 65 Sv/hr for 1,2,3.
Torus is at 36 Sv, 1.8 Sv, 1.8 Sv/hr.

Largely unchanged from yesterday. Lots of interesting stuff mixed in the cooling water, obviously.

Next two lines are apparently Drywell design pressure and maximum pressure, at 0.384Mpa and 0.427Mpa. So #1's drywell pressure is at 67% of the design limit and 60% of the max limit.
posted by mokuba at 7:12 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sir John Beddington, has I think rightly characterized as a “sideshow”

yeah, Fukushima Prefecture, who needed it.
posted by mokuba at 7:13 PM on March 22, 2011


^ ooops, that's the Spike Japan guy??? I'll have to read that . . .
posted by mokuba at 7:34 PM on March 22, 2011


Wow, 36 Sv/hr for the torus in #1? No wonder they are so certain containment has been breached in #1, when you compare it with the wetwell for the other two.
posted by tavella at 9:39 PM on March 22, 2011


Actually, #1 still has reactor pressure vessel pressure. It's #2 & #3 that are giving negative readings for some reason.

But the fuel rods in #1 are most certainly shot to hell. It was the first building to explode, on Saturday, probably due to the exposed Zirconium -> hydrogen thing.

According to wikipedia: NISA stated 70% of the fuel rods were damaged in news reports the morning of 16 March.[115]
posted by mokuba at 10:20 PM on March 22, 2011


FWIW, the lessons learned in this disaster are already being applied, it seems. Chubu Electic (neighbour utility of TEPCO to the west) said Tuesday "it will place an emergency diesel generator on high ground at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, in case of power loss due to tsunami."
posted by woodblock100 at 11:15 PM on March 22, 2011


BBC reporting that Tokyo authorities are urging parents not to give tap water to babies (say, in formula) due to radioactivity. Long list of vegetables from Fukushima area banned, too.
posted by msalt at 12:47 AM on March 23, 2011


Atomic Cleanup Cost Goes to Japan's Taxpayers, May Spur Liability Shift

Tokyo Electric Power Co., in its 13th day fighting to avert a meltdown at its Fukushima plant 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Tokyo, at most is required to cover third-party damages of 120 billion yen ($2.1 billion) under Japanese law. Should the government declare the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that flooded its reactors an “exceptional” act of God, the utility may be off the hook in paying compensation that may be demanded by injured workers, farmers and shareholders.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:56 AM on March 23, 2011


And Reuters says black smoke from the #3 reactor, all workers ordered to evacuate the site again. This is after workers had to withdraw from their work connecting power at the #2 reactor earlier today when radioactivity levels spiked to 500 mSv/hr. NHK World confirms that smoke is rising starting around 4:20pm. "We do not know the cause of the smoke" says the TEPCO spokesmen.

Also, Fukushima turnips are now off limits along with the leafy vegetables and milk apparently, so, um, don't eat that.

Every time someone is talking up how much the situation is becoming "under control," something else goes wrong. Pro tip: when your reactors are belching lethal amounts of radiation and you observe random smoke of various colors that comes and goes for no identifiable reason, you simply cannot say anything is "under control."

Edano to do a press conference on tap water and smoke situations any minute now.
posted by zachlipton at 1:08 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edano presser: There was a question this morning about speedi and exposure to radiation. NISA made a report this afternoon about atmospheric radiation exposure and they will release that themselves. Trying to better estimate how the radiation effects the thyroid and human health based on atmospheric simulations and the measured microsievert levels. Unfortunately, we are not able to measure the amount of radioactive materials from the plant itself, so we are trying to calculate back an estimate by measuring nuclide amounts in the atmosphere.

Results of the simulation: after the accident, assuming you stay outdoors all day, 100 milisieverts/h or above would be the expected exposure in certain areas, it could even have gone beyond 100 even outside the 30km range at that time. No need for people to evacuate any larger area at this moment. 100 milisieverts can cause health hazards. We will take action to ensure it does not exceed this level. Depends on wind direction. If you are downstream [ed: downwind presumably] from the plant, we advise you to close the windows.

Tokyo tap water: Collaborating with relevant parties to monitor and measure dose levels. Rainfall and wind changes are a factor. Detected level reached 219 Bq/kg, above 100 Bq/kg limit for infants. No hazard if you consumed them a couple of times. This is a very stringent safety standard that is set for long term consumption. This situation is expected to continue for some time, so we have been asking people not to add tap water to powered milk for infants. Also, for adults and other children, it is ok for people to continue to use tap water for your daily life. Government currently working with the Tokyo Waterworks Bureau to develop countermeasures. Working to establish monitoring in other areas.
posted by zachlipton at 1:18 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Edano press conference continued: Government contacting other nuclear experts besides NISA and evaluating all evidence. Any specific measures we take with regard to water should be announced from Tokyo Metro Government. With regard to hoarding of bottled water, we have to consider other disaster hit areas where there is a severe shortage of drinking water and we need to ensure that they get the water they need, so I'd like to urge consumers not to purchase more bottled water than they need.

Cannot predict at this point in time what if anything we can do to suppress the amount of radioactive substances released from the plant, but we are "quickly moving" to do so.

[NHK World just cut away, not sure if they'll discuss the smoke or when we'll see the report from NISA's exposure modeling]
posted by zachlipton at 1:24 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the updates, zachlipton.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 AM on March 23, 2011


Just to make sure... that's 100 mSv/hr not 100 µSv/hr, yes?
posted by ob1quixote at 1:47 AM on March 23, 2011


I'm pretty sure that's what he said. Twitter seems to confirm other people heard 100 mSv and not µSv, but he wasn't exactly clear on what that measurement is exactly. What I heard him say through NHK's translator is that the initial radiation exposure shortly after the blast was estimated to have been as high as 100 mSv/hr in some areas. Presumably the level decreased from there as we've been seeing. It's also possible that he was really trying to say is that the new model shows that some areas, including some outside the 30km radius, have received a total outdoor exposure that exceeded 100 mSv since the blast.

Waiting for the actual NISA report or some press coverage to clarify. Has anyone seen anything that better explains what he was talking about?
posted by zachlipton at 2:02 AM on March 23, 2011


Crazy fancy Japan-wide dashboard of tap water radiation monitoring. Select English from the language popup at the top.
posted by zachlipton at 2:06 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can see radiation readings outside 20km here. The highest reading in the most recent data is 103 microSv/h.
posted by sfenders at 6:02 AM on March 23, 2011


... assuming you stay outdoors all day, 100 milisieverts/h or above would be the expected exposure in certain areas, it could even have gone beyond 100 even outside the 30km range at that time. No need for people to evacuate any larger area at this moment. 100 milisieverts can cause health hazards

This doesn't make sense, because 100mSv/h is something that doesn't depend on whether you stay outdoors all day or not. 100mSv/h means if you stay outside for one hour, you get 100mSv, which is the yearly limit they had set for plant workers before they raised it. Before, they talked about up to 100microSv or less in the 20km area, even during spikes, so I really doubt they are now saying it was / can be 3 orders of magnitude more without more evacuations, surely?

I think spikes near the plant got confused with spikes in the 20km area..
posted by rainy at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2011


NISA situation chart as of 3/23 6PM

Reactor 1 & 3 pressure vessel temps at 300deg, right at design limit.

2 is doing good at ~100deg at least.

Reactor 1 drywell pressure right at 94% of design limit. I think they're going to need to vent but the drywell radiation level of 48 Sv/h seems pretty high. . .

Reactor 3 does not have a pressure problem, apparently because it's containment vessel is compromised (100 kPa (abs) is another way of saying atmospheric pressure). Drywell radiation for unit 3 is 60 Sv/h.
posted by mokuba at 9:09 AM on March 23, 2011


Here's a deshaked slow-mo version of the helicopter footage of the plant. Much easier to see than the earlier attempts. Also, a slideshow of photos from inside the plant, compiled by Reuters.

I'm still trying to figure out what Edano was trying to say about the radiation levels. Reuters is reporting that the earlier report of 500 mSv/h measured at the #2 reactor on Wednesday was wrong; the agency corrected the figure to 500 µSv/hr measured on the 18th. Not sure how NISA mixed that up, but in any event...

Ah, here we go. The official English notes from the press conference (Facebook link, but it's the PM's official Facebook:
I’ve been reported from the Nuclear Safety Commission about the results of thyroid dose from intake of radioactive iodine estimated based on radiation levels in the air and the past weather conditions.
・Based on the results, we see that some places of the areas outside 30 kilometers range from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plants exceed the legal radiation dose level of 100 mSv/h. However, this does not indicate that those who live in those areas are forced to evacuate or stay indoors immediately.
・We recommend that those who live in the leeway side of the nuclear power stations in Fukushima should stay inside and close windows as a precautionary measure.
・The results submitted by the Nuclear Safety Commission are one of the reference data estimated under the assumption that a person stays outside for an entire day. The relevant authorities will further collect and analyze actual data of radioactive substances in the air. We will continue to disclose relevant information properly.
So that still doesn't make much sense. This confirms that the reported figure was mSv/h, not µSv/hr (unless the government screwed this one up too), but he talks about a dose and then cites a rate, which aren't the same thing. My best guess is that he is trying to say that the radiation level may have spiked up to this level immediately after the quake, but I'm still trying to find the actual Nuclear Safety Commission report.
posted by zachlipton at 10:04 AM on March 23, 2011


Ok, here is the Nuclear Safety Commission's report (Japanese pdf). Sadly, I've forgotten most of my limited Japanese besides hello, goodbye, thank you, I'm sorry, where is the bathroom, and I'm sorry I am a stupid foreigner (these are really the only phrases you need to navigate Japan anyway), and Google Translate isn't a ton of help. Can someone interpret this?
posted by zachlipton at 10:16 AM on March 23, 2011


Since he's talking about dose level, it sounds like in some places total over the last ~10 days may have been 100 mSv, if you stayed outside 24/7. So the '/h' part is probably wrong. That makes sense and sort of inline with levels we've seen at the plant. Depends very much on wind conditions.

By the way this completely refutes what British chief scientist has been saying all this time: that even if all reactors explode, there will be absolutely no problem beyond 30km area. Unless by 'absolutely no problem' he meant 'no lethal levels'.
posted by rainy at 10:18 AM on March 23, 2011


Can someone interpret this?

It's explaining their SPEEDI contamination simulation.

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/16_16.html

After the winds shifted to onshore on the 20th it was able to process data and make forecasts in a limited way.

The calibration for the map is done for Iodine hazard to an infant's thyroid.

The mSv are for a full day's exposure outside, but being inside can reduce this by 1/4 to 1/10.
posted by mokuba at 10:50 AM on March 23, 2011



On the map of the NSC pdf, the areas represented by the colored lines are labeled by the approximate total radiation dose that you would have received if you were in the area continually from 3/12 to 3/24. (from 100 mSv inside the yellow area to 10,000 mSv inside the bright red area).
posted by Jeanne at 10:52 AM on March 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


ah, yes, I missed the "連続して", continuosly
posted by mokuba at 10:55 AM on March 23, 2011


Thanks guys. That's what I initially thought Edano was trying to say, but between the translation and the government's tendency to mix up its units, it was rather unclear.

The tl/dr version: estimated total radiation dose (to the thyroid) if you hung out outdoors since the earthquake exceeds 100 mSv (10 rem if you prefer), even in some areas outside the 30km zone (see the map). This is a level that has been associated with increased long-term cancer risks. Actual exposure to individuals would be less since people weren't in the area continually and they haven't been sitting outside for days either.
posted by zachlipton at 11:05 AM on March 23, 2011


http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/23/us-japan-quake-radiation-chernobyl-idUSTRE72M6OV20110323

(Reuters) - The release of two types of radioactive particles in the first 3-4 days of Japan's nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 percent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days, an Austrian expert said Wednesday.
posted by rainy at 12:03 PM on March 23, 2011


rainy, I presume that waste is also spread over a smaller area, since it isn't burning quickly like the graphite rods? Plus, a good percentage went to the ocean because of its proximity to the shore?
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2011


mccarty: yes, plume is much smaller than Chernobyl's (which reached Helsinki, for instance). Most of the release went to the ocean.. they're not very clear on this point, whether this estimate is based on what was measured on land only or if they included estimated release over the ocean. They also quote french experts giving a lower figure of about 10% of Chernobyl release.

Either of these estimates seem to be much higher than reports from Tepco and Nisa suggest. I hope they comment on that. This contradiction reminds of the issue with "#4 pool has water or dry?" differing accounts from NRC / Tepco.
posted by rainy at 12:28 PM on March 23, 2011


For that matter, if that pool was dry for a time, that would explain this high level of release. Perhaps they were able to refill it after a day or two? It could also be that these estimates are too high.
posted by rainy at 12:32 PM on March 23, 2011


(Reuters) - The release of two types of radioactive particles in the first 3-4 days of Japan's nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 percent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days, an Austrian expert said Wednesday.

It's pretty clear that the estimate made by Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics is based on extrapolation, rather than actual data collected in Fukushima and Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Reuters) - The release of two types of radioactive particles in the first 3-4 days of Japan's nuclear crisis is estimated to have reached 20-50 percent of the amounts from Chernobyl in 10 days, an Austrian expert said Wednesday.

What did Malcolm Tucker say? Something like, "You have spoken to the wrong expert. You need to speak to the right expert. I'll get you another expert."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:08 PM on March 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Even if the release of radioactive particles is nowhere near the "10-20 percent of Chernobyl" estimate, even if the current estimates are remain true, it's still a fucking disaster. People can't return to their homes, food safety is compromised, Fukushima's economy as a whole is going to take a hit, there will certainly be people getting sick... It's heartbreaking.

I guess one way to look at things though is to realize that Japan, for much of the 20th century, was an industrial dump. Many rivers were polluted with heavy metals and there was a lot of industrial blight. Much of it has been cleaned up.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:39 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jeanne - that is a very interesting document. The pdf shows a very large dose over a surprisingly large area. 1Sv over two weeks is very dangerous and we know that the evacuation area is still populated. 5Sv in the inner red area is especially worrying..
posted by estuardo at 6:25 PM on March 23, 2011


I guess one way to look at things though is to realize that Japan, for much of the 20th century, was an industrial dump.

yup, the industrialists were essentially running things for the Meiji through Showa eras.

Similar dynamic we see now in China.
posted by mokuba at 6:30 PM on March 23, 2011


Better news from NISA: 地震被害情報(第47報)(3月24日8時00分現在)

Pressure Vessel temperature back under 300 degrees for 1, under 200 degrees for 3.

They've got #1 right on the design limit, pressure-wise. Max is still 10% more.

They're admitting #3 drywell container pressure is "downscale" now too.
posted by mokuba at 6:59 PM on March 23, 2011


This has become more and more of a nightmare every day. Everytime we get a glimmer of hope that things are now coming under control we have some new revalation and expansion of the crisis. Don't drink the water in Tokyo or I guess just don't feed it to your infants. The sea water is much more radioactive than expected. And on and on.
posted by humanfont at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2011


Google translate does a good job here on what I see is the current story at the moment, the rising pressure of Unit 1. Japanese original here.

There is 50-odd Sv/hr radiation reading in #1's Dry Well. They really don't want to vent that, but the wet well has lost all ability to serve its design purpose of steam suppression AFAICT so a "dry vent" may be coming. If it goes out over the ocean it'll just be more of the same I guess, though in isolation this alone would put it past TMI in incident severity.
posted by mokuba at 7:51 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it goes out over the ocean it'll just be more of the same I guess, though in isolation this alone would put it past TMI in incident severity.

This is why I find it galling that various Internet commentators (here and elsewhere) have consistently said "nothing to see here folks, move along, not even at the TMI level of danger... yet."
posted by KokuRyu at 7:54 PM on March 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry for taking over the thread like this, it's just that I used to live in a nuclear town in Japan, and can very easily understand the amount of chaos and disruption a 20km exclusion zone would cause. Basically, an entire city of 70,000 would be gone, no going back. It's chilling to think about it.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:34 PM on March 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think anyone saying this was no worse than TMI hasn't had a leg to stand on since at least Sunday.
posted by dw at 9:16 PM on March 23, 2011


Hattori's PDF summary has been saying for a while that #1's core is 70% melted -- (7割損傷?)

Press is apparently finally picking this up:

「1号機は 核燃料の3分の2以上が溶融している可能性もある。2、3号機に比べて、
最も危険な状態が続いている」と指摘した。

NISA announced the possibility of greater than 2/3 meltdown in #1. Compared to #2, #3, more dangerous condition continues

福島第一原発1号機、核燃料溶融の可能性も
posted by mokuba at 9:51 PM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edano press conference: [ed: I love the bowing to the podium at the beginning of these]. No special announcements, here to take questions.

At reactor #3, workers were laying cables in the turbine building. Atmospheric radiation levels are measured constantly, but they stepped into water and that water apparently had higher levels of radiation, so the workers were exposed to more than 170 mSv. "This is a very regrettable situation." Workers taken to hospitals for treatment. Details will be reported in due course.

Q: Gov of Auromori prefecture requested a special government disbursement for disaster restoration. Can you comment? A: Japan gov. planning how to use remaining funds through the end of this fiscal year and planning for supplementary budgets for next year, but we need to maintain fiscal discipline as well. We cannot ignore fiscal discipline. Finance Minister considering the issue.

We are considering compensation for all of the prefectures that are under the agricultural restrictions. One way is to buy up the produce, but we are considering how to do it to best help farmers.

Based on expert advice, we had increased the emergency radiation exposure limits for workers to 250 mSv. Lower is better, but based on empirical data, workers can fend off the negative impact of the higher dose in the emergency zone. No plans to lower that level at this time. Usual exposure is atmospheric, but here it was their legs or feet into the contaminated water, so this is an unprecedented/unpredictable situation. Will help other workers avoid the same error.

Direct measurement of reactor #3 fuel storage pool is impossible. Being done from the air by SDF. Margin of error is larger than normal and the measurements depend on the timing of the water spraying operation, but we're trying to measure as much as possible. We have received no report of a temperature spike.

Re tap water, in the afternoon, Tokyo Metro. Govt. announced that radiation level is now lower than the legal limit. What do you think of this situation? Measurement depends on various conditions including weather, so we will encourage local governments to continue to monitor as frequently as possible and we'll collect that data in the Ministry of Health. Necessary actions should then be decided based on advice from experts. We expect that these values will fluctuate, but we should look to experts to evaluate all the data.

Q: This is a "very haphazard" system where the levels go up and you institute restrictions and then they go down and you lift the restrictions. A: It's the prefecture government that does this, not us. It takes time to judge whether something is a temporary phenomenal. Experts need to evaluate all the data.

Government working with prefecture governments to help evacuees find temporary housing that is available elsewhere in the country.

Q: After workers hit 250 mSv level, what will you do with them? Will they be compensated? A: That 250 mSv level is per year. Everyone working hard to not exceed that. But if they do exceed that, they are prohibited from further nuclear related works for a year. We have to deal with that on a case-by-case basis if it happens. Safety agency and labor laws come into play.

Q: What about the people in the 20-30km area? They have been advised to stay indoors, but are there any plans?
[NHK World cuts off the conference here, but I'd like to know the answer!]

tl/dr summary: no real news besides filling in some details on the three exposed workers of a TEPCO affiliated company.
posted by zachlipton at 12:29 AM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Japan: Squandering the Chance for Orderly Evacuation
posted by dougiedd at 12:56 AM on March 24, 2011


I thought Edano was bowing to the national flag, not to the lectern.
posted by kram175 at 1:45 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Direct measurement of reactor #3 fuel storage pool is impossible. Being done from the air by SDF. Margin of error is larger than normal and the measurements depend on the timing of the water spraying operation, but we're trying to measure as much as possible

That's what I suspected because they were so inconsistent with the language, "pool temp", "infrared imaging", "reactor temp". Are any of the pool temps direct measurements or all guesstimates based on rubble/roof temp above?
posted by rainy at 7:40 AM on March 24, 2011


I think anyone saying this was no worse than TMI hasn't had a leg to stand on since at least Sunday.

This. Worth repeating. Also the whole ocean will take care of it thing seems to totally miss the problem of floating debris in the water. All that irradiated garbage will be floating around for a long time. It will be washing up on US pacific beaches, rolling around the arctic and making a big mess of everything.
posted by humanfont at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2011


I thought Edano was bowing to the national flag, not to the lectern.

yeah. Lot more meaningful than a lapel pin.

Are any of the pool temps direct measurements or all guesstimates based on rubble/roof temp above?

Rubble is a good enough proxy maybe.

#4's SFP was 100deg at 3/24 02:40, but later reports have it as '指示不良', 'indicator malfunction'.
posted by mokuba at 7:57 AM on March 24, 2011


I think anyone saying this was no worse than TMI hasn't had a leg to stand on since at least Sunday.

Um, who here has been saying anything like that since it was called INES 5? I am one of the very few who said anything even remotely resembling that, and it was more than a week ago and only that I hoped the guy claiming it wouldn't be worse than TMI would turn out to be right; obviously he wasn't.

Today the best reasonable hope is that it doesn't end up rendering uninhabitable for more than a few weeks any significant area of land outside the site itself.
posted by sfenders at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2011


Today the best reasonable hope is that it doesn't end up rendering uninhabitable for more than a few weeks any significant area of land outside the site itself.

Actually it is probably going to be much much longer than a few weeks. Watching NHK news right now and they were talking about how to prepare cabbage to reduce contamination.

They also mentioned the evacuated areas and the time span possibly being a year or more before people could return - they do not know.

This is so heartbreaking. :(
posted by yertledaturtle at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you are looking at a timespan of months at the very least. I have trouble believing that they'll be able to remove the rods from the most damaged building in any safe manner, as opposed to burying them and building a sarcophagus. Even if they manage it, it's not exactly going to be fast. And as long as the site is prone to puffing out radiation and has the threat of fire sending heavy duty radiation over the area, you can't let people back.
posted by tavella at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2011


It'll be a year or more simply because they have to replace a vast amount of infrastructure before they can begin thinking about rebuilding homes.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 AM on March 24, 2011


And as long as the site is prone to puffing out radiation and has the threat of fire sending heavy duty radiation over the area, you can't let people back.

The reactor cores are cooling off now and hopefully they'll have the spent fuel pools under active cooling next week, meaning the situation will be stabilized and only time will be required to let the cooling-down continue.

The actual ongoing threat is cesium/strontium/plutonium contamination of Fukushima Prefecture (and the Japanese Pacific coast to an unknown extent). All the contamination due to radioactive iodine will be gone in a matter of weeks or months as it decays into xenon.

Fallout moves with the air, and it does appear that the air was mainly moving East during the worst of this event.

Had the fallout been blown more towards Tokyo, contamination would be much, much worse.

I don't know what the explosion of #3 released, but my guess that building 4's burn-out was probably worse.

Odd that we don't have any video of that. We had the Global Hawk on-station no doubt.

Nothing to worry about I guess.
posted by mokuba at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2011


RDTN.org
posted by KokuRyu at 12:30 PM on March 24, 2011


It'll be a year or more simply because they have to replace a vast amount of infrastructure before they can begin thinking about rebuilding homes.

I listened to some prefecture governor (not Fukushima) flat out tell everyone in the area that they shouldn't expect there to be temporary housing for at least a year, and so everyone should just move elsewhere for the time being. And he was just talking about direct earthquake/tsunami damage.
posted by nomisxid at 1:48 PM on March 24, 2011


That was the governor of Miyagi, where at least 15,000 people have died.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2011


Neutron beam observed 13 times at crippled Fukushima

Does that mean a meltdown has been/is occuring?

Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels

Japan's damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.

Tohoku Tsunami Hitting Shizugawa, Minami Sanriku

The tsunami hitting the city of Kamaishi
posted by nickyskye at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does that mean a meltdown has been/is occuring?

It's another indication that a "partial meltdown" was occurring then (March 13-15th), but that was already known I think. It means something went critical at the time, which I suppose puts a lower limit on how much melting went on, though the reporter there seems to think there is some other possibility.
posted by sfenders at 3:21 PM on March 24, 2011


> Thanks sfenders. It would seem that the Fukushima crisis is more like Chernobyl than many thought it would be.

When the tsunami ebbed from Kamaishi.

Inside a single municipal building in Kamaichi, after the tsunami ebbed.

Imagining all the destroyed paperwork, local records of business transactions, legal cases, real estate, computers, municipal histories of the goings on of just that small city. Then multiplying it "along a 1300-mile stretch of the eastern coastline."

>The quake was the fifth-largest in the world since 1900 and nearly 8,000 times stronger than the one which devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, said scientists.
posted by nickyskye at 3:29 PM on March 24, 2011


60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.

The article doesn't make any sense, as it follows this statement up with:

The difference between this accident and Chernobyl, they say, is that at Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many radioactive materials, including fuel particles, in smoke. At Fukushima Daiichi, only the volatile elements, such as iodine and caesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. But these substances could nevertheless pose a significant health risk outside the plant.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2011


KokuRyu: when they say 50%, 60%, they only meant volatile elements, iodine 131 and caesium 137, not the total release of all elements.
posted by rainy at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2011


This clarifies it pretty well, I think (from the same article):

The Chernobyl accident emitted much more radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima Daiichi has so far, but it was iodine and caesium that caused most of the health risk – especially outside the immediate area of the Chernobyl plant, says Malcolm Crick, secretary of a United Nations body that has just reviewed the health effects of Chernobyl. Unlike other elements, he says, they were carried far and wide by the wind.
posted by rainy at 3:38 PM on March 24, 2011


Wait, I suppose by "neutron beam" they probably mean 13 individual neutrons detected. I was for some reason thinking of something larger. That could be lonely individual atoms of U-235 or whatever decaying somewhere, so not necessarily enough radiation to say something hit critical mass. It still means fuel rod damage of course. But that is the other possibility alluded to: Either it did happen in the reactor and produced a lot of neutrons, enough for their detector to pick it up from some distance, or the damaged fuel rods released something fissile into the air and individual decay events from them happened close to the detector.
posted by sfenders at 3:38 PM on March 24, 2011


KokuRyu: when they say 50%, 60%, they only meant volatile elements, iodine 131 and caesium 137, not the total release of all elements.

The average person (like me) is going to read the headline and see "50-60% of Chernobyl" and disregard the other stuff. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of the disaster here, but this is just needlessly confusing.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:23 PM on March 24, 2011


Oh, I misunderstood you then. I agree. On the other hand, it would be hard for them to go into all the details of volatile/non-volatile in the headline and keep it readable.. can't win.
posted by rainy at 4:37 PM on March 24, 2011


rainy wrote: "can't win."

Sure they can. They can, say, not put specific numbers in the headline. "XXX releases new estimates of radiation released from stricken plant" would not be sufficiently attention grabbing, however.
posted by wierdo at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2011


"All that irradiated garbage will be floating around for a long time. It will be washing up on ... beaches"

So you're saying there's a nascent market for a dual metal-detector/geiger-counter gadget for the early-adopter beach-comber market?
posted by panaceanot at 4:57 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend was just laid off because his company can no longer get parts from Japan for certain (well known) cars and whole sections of this huge multinational company now have to shut down.
posted by nickyskye at 5:02 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting film from the 90s about contract manual labourers at the Kansai Electric Power Company plant in the 1970s.

This is in Mihama, one of three nuclear facilities within 10-15 km of Tsuruga, a town of now more than 70,000 people, where I used to live (and still go back to as much as I possibly can).
posted by KokuRyu at 5:13 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


KokuRyu, that is pretty interesting. Can you dig up some imbd-style info on the filmmaker and the film? I wonder if this film or related reporting was a vector for the German-press report of shady manual-laborer hiring practices in one of these threads.
posted by mwhybark at 5:20 PM on March 24, 2011


It actually seems to be a BBC Channel 4 Production.

I've read scholarly articles about the phenomenon back in the 90s, but what they're talking about in this movie - deliberately using workers as cannon fodder - versus what actually goes on today at plants is quite different. The workers being sent in to clean up Daiichi, for example, have some basic training, and there is at least some oversight into radiation exposure. However, back in the 70s you would bus in entire shifts of unemployed labourers from places like Sanda or wherever to do dirty, dangerous work. This still happens, but it seems like there is a little more concern placed on worker safety.

The movie here is talking about a practice that occurred in the past.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:33 PM on March 24, 2011


Lack of data from Japan distresses nuclear experts

At the same time, they say, the depth of the crisis has clearly been growing, judging by releases of radioactivity that by some measures have reached half the level of those released in the Chernobyl accident of 1986, according to new analysis by European and American scientists.
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: "...I guess one way to look at things though is to realize that Japan, for much of the 20th century, was an industrial dump. Many rivers were polluted with heavy metals and there was a lot of industrial blight. Much of it has been cleaned up."

I haven't posted this yet because it wasn't really related, but I'd read a few weeks ago about mercury poisoning in Japan (companies poisoning the water via waste chemical dumping) and how the government treated the companies involved. Here's a really short version, with links to longer explanations: Four pollution diseases of Japan - note that the first in that table, Minamata disease, years 1932 - 1968. Because it took until 1968 for legal action and for more of the story to be reported. It's also interesting to note some of the people who were ill who were harassed because people feared for the company that was their area's main employer. (There are similar cases in the US, but I'm not sure they lasted this long or involved so many health issues, defects, etc.)

So with that in the country's history and the immediate nature of the news media (and fact checking) - this will probably get more public scrutiny. I hope. But I'm thinking that part won't be clear until many months from now.

Also - anyone see any recent info from the many (nameless?) "nuclear experts" that the US and other countries, the UN, etc. who were supposed to be offering their services or monitoring the situation? Only articles I could find were all "they're going in" and then no more, though of course they're probably too busy for press conferences. Though I never could tell if the experts were literally going into the effected area or only going to Tokyo.
posted by batgrlHG at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The information is out there.

The US Department of Energy is monitoring radiation levels in Fukushima (and neighbouring prefectures) right now (there's a link to a great slideshow that details specific radiation levels in Fukushima). The DoE info is gathered via drone (Global Hawk), and American Ambassador Roos to Japan is also doing a great job letting people (presumably Americans) know about radiation risks.

Where information is lacking is the specific conditions on the ground in terms of soil contamination.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:45 PM on March 24, 2011


Steve Herman at VOA has a great Twitter feed. He's just sent out an update about detection of radioactive materials coming from a drain pipe 300 yards from Daiichi, with the implication that it came from cladding from rods stored in the spent fuel pools.

The problem with verified English-language sources is that there is too much information, and by the time they get to press it is stale.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:11 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


with the implication that it came from cladding from rods stored in the spent fuel pools.

People really haven't internalized what may have actually have happened at Unit 4.

Conveniently, there is no video of what happened. It exists if the Global Hawk was on-station, but that's not exactly what the PTB want to add to the narrative right now I guess.

When it gets hot enough, Zircaloy 'rapidly oxidized' exothermically -- ie adding heat -- into ZrO2, conveniently fueling a hydrogen fire too. Not a great thing to have wrapped around spent fuel rods in retrospect.

I'm just guessing here and maybe the fire in #4 wasn't as bad as it looks. Maybe all 1500 assemblies and their 96,000 fuel rods are sill relatively intact.

NISA's latest doesn't have any good or bad news.

Reactor #1 is still over 200deg. The experts were telling us 1-3 would all be put to bed by now, so something strange is going on here.

The "D/W - S/C 圧力" numbers are simply saying to anyone who understands physics and reactors that #2 and #3 drywells -- ie the primary containment vessel are both at 1 ATM pressure or close to it (#2 is a bit higher now).

A vessel that is meant to be holding in steam should not be at 1 ATM! The clear inference is that both 2 and 3 are compromised and venting.

Curiously, #3's wetwell now has pressure of nearly 2 ATM. Maybe it wasn't compromised in the explosion after all.

It's really odd that #3's reactor pressure is very low yet they can't get the rods fully under water. This implies a compromised reactor pressure vessel somehow I guess.

The NISA guy was apparently finally saying they need to stop injecting seawater into these units since the salt buildup is bad or something.
posted by mokuba at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm reading the evacuation zone is increasing.

I don't think they're close to getting a handle on things. If last week's reports had been true, things would not now be getting worse. The tide would have turned and we'd see real improvement by now.

I am rapidly losing hope that they'll be able to prevent this from become a Very Big nuclear disaster. Chances seem likely to me that there will be a large exclusion zone.

I hope they can integrate a tsunami memorial on the perimeter. There are a lot of missing people that need to be remembered.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:14 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, they are not officially expanding the evacuation zone, but they are asking people to voluntarily evacuate from the 20-30km radius since they have been cooped up indoors for weeks and people aren't getting supplies. See the English press conference notes on the Prime Minister's official Facebook page (I feel dirty just linking to a facebook note as an official source of information about a nuclear crisis, but that's what we've come to apparently). They are claiming that "the government has decided to take these measures not because the radiation levels in the region have changed but because the residents under in-house evacuation are facing various difficulties," as "it is difficult for them to maintain normal life for a long time under the current situation as the distribution of basic needs has been halted" On the other hand, Reuters is citing the science ministry as saying that "daily radiation at a point 30 km (19 miles) northwest of Japan's quake-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday exceeded the annual limit on natural doses." These two statements do seem rather at odds with each other, but that's really been par for the course here.

The press conference notes also contain a comment that a "wide gap between demand and supply of power may occur during this summer...The government will come up with a fundamental countermeasure against the power demand for summer. Under a new plan, the industrial and commercial operations as well as people’s lifestyles may have to undergo drastic changes." Well that's certainly ominous...
posted by zachlipton at 10:32 PM on March 24, 2011


I don't think they're close to getting a handle on things. If last week's reports had been true, things would not now be getting worse. The tide would have turned and we'd see real improvement by now.

They're expanding the evacuation zone because it's becoming more apparent how much radioactive contamination there is. In terms of things getting worse, you'll want to keep an eye on radiation readings in Fukushima City, Koriyama City, Iwaki City, and Hitachi City in Ibaraki (I lived near there for a time in the 90s in Tokai-mura, the third nuclear town I've lived in, in Japan), all just outside the 30km zone. There's well over a million people in that band.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 PM on March 24, 2011


Where information is lacking is the specific conditions on the ground in terms of soil contamination.

I don't have any information about conditions on the ground, but I was just reading up on soil radionuclides (and to give proper context to the semi-educated guesses that will follow, I'm an undergrad environmental science major, soil science minor, and all info in this post is from my textbook). I couldn't find a detailed English-language soil survey map of Japan, but it looks like most of the soil in the affected region is some kind of andisol (because of the volcanic parent material and wet climate). Andisols can be great agricultural soils because they are very fertile (high cation exchange capacity) and have great moisture retention, factors that probably helped this region become agriculturally important.

Anyway, the three important radionuclides in soils are Cesium 137, Strontium 90, and Iodine 131. Apparently Iodine 131 has such a short half-life that it doesn't affect the soil much in the long run, and isn't around long enough to be taken up by plants in any significant quantities. Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are more worrisome because of their longer half-lives.

Cesium 137 is adsorbed and firmly fixed by vermiculite clay, so it's generally not available to plants if the soil has a decent amount of clay in it. An andisol in this wet climate would have lots of vermiculite clay, so Cesium 137 contamination would probably be mitigated somewhat because the Cs-137 would be basically immobilized as long as it was at generally low concentrations – it wouldn't be available to plants and it wouldn't leach out into the groundwater. Contamination would be more destructive in sandy or highly weathered soils because they have lower amounts of vermiculite clay, so the Cesium 137 would be more mobile in the soil.

Strontium 90 is adsorbed by clays in largely the same manner, but it adsorbs to a different part of the clay crystal. As a result, its behavior in the soil largely depends on whether the soil has been limed (because cation exchange on the edges of the clay crystal, where Sr-90 adsorbs, is pH-dependent). Japan's soil would likely be fairly acidic due to high precipitation, and so I would be surprised if agricultural fields weren't limed in some way. In a limed soil, the high concentration of calcium would cause calcium ions to replace the Strontium 90 in these cation exchange complexes, and so the Sr-90 would be more available to plants and more easily leached into the groundwater.

I haven't heard anybody mention Strontium 90 being found in the area yet, only Cesium 137 and Iodine 131, but I could easily have missed it. Because of the underlying soil conditions and the info above, my semi-educated guess is that localized high concentrations of Cesium 137 could still prove to be a problem near the reactors, but that the destructive effects won't be widespread as long as they can get the situation under control before high concentrations accumulate farther from the site. If it's being emitted, Strontium 90 would be the biggest contamination concern for these soils, not least because Sr-90 is especially toxic to human health (gets taken up and stored in bones). The situation certainly hasn't finished unfolding yet, and a worst-case, uncontained "core on the floor" situation would introduce a lot more contaminants to worry about (to understate it quite a bit). I'm sure some work was done on soil conditions after Chernobyl, if I get a chance I will look into the literature and report back (especially about what concentrations of Cs-137 would be hazardous).

Beyond that, the nuclear accident's effects on agriculture in this region will likely depend on the condition of the groundwater. I am not familiar with the way radioactive contamination moves through complex hydrologic systems, and I'd love to hear any information anyone has to offer on that element of Fukushima's recovery.
posted by dialetheia at 10:51 PM on March 24, 2011 [11 favorites]


KokuRyu, you don't list Twitter in your profile, but I feel like I'm following you; one of my post-quake Twitter people pointed me at @W7VOA recently.

mokuba, I have been on break from trying to get source links for every little thing I hear, but the gist of the saltwater thing is that as mineral crusts build up from saltwater (salt, primarily) after a time it creates a heat-insulation barrier so the in-core assemblies are not cooled as effectively. The remedy random science dude on the radio proposed as expected was to switch back to non-saltwater cooling, which would presumably dissolve the salt crust after a while.

nickyskye mentioned parts-supply car layoffs for North American employees of an unnamed company; there were interviews with a Nissan exec about parts supply challenges on (iirc) the BBC tonight.

Also, KokuRyu observes, "The problem with verified English-language sources is that there is too much information, and by the time they get to press it is stale."

This is much amplified by the apparent continuing confusion between milli and micro, which seems to occur both in Japanese and in translation.

In other news, my dad has promised to send me our family manual-flipper mid-seventies retired pachinko machine, which makes me very happy. Or maybe I have to drive cross-country both ways. At any rate, no ebay.
posted by mwhybark at 10:55 PM on March 24, 2011


Twitter is now in a panic about #3 being breeched. Which is strange, because I could swear we knew this at least ten days ago. Or was it #2 last week, and now we have a second leaker?

As far as we know the workers haven't been dropping like flies. This is, I hope, an indication that the plant isn't glowing yet.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:45 PM on March 24, 2011


More fun with Edano-san today. Marks two weeks since the quake. PM Kan will be making an address and taking questions around 7:30 Japan time. That's the only announcement. I took some random notes below, but there's basically no news except for a touch of inside baseball about access for foreign and freelance journalists. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother reading: just a lot of statements that "experts are looking into it."

Q: I'm a freelance journalist. Lots of freelance journalists have requested participation in these conferences, which hasn't really been achieved. Gov. not providing information, especially to freelance and foreign journalists. We've been asking the cabinet office to open the doors to foreign media for 10 days. A: We've faced a great emergency situation and have had to manage the disaster. Against this backdrop, tried to provide as much information as possible. That's why we've now decided to welcome internet media to our press conferences and upload video clips to the web pages and offer simultaneous interpretation. We've been trying to respond as promptly as possible.

Q: TEPCO has disclosed the conditions of the exposed workers and we've learned that the radiation alarm was going off and this might suggest a problem with the work protocol. A: Workers working under very hard conditions. My utmost respect and gratitude for their hard work. Their safety needs to be properly managed, this is of utmost importance. NISA has instructed TEPCO on that point once again.

Q: Once you have these safety breaches, it gives us concern that the power plant itself may not be following safety measures. A: This accident was a regrettable accident, but people at TEPCO and all the other power plants are measuring the radiation. Safety management should be h