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Fukushima 'Full Meltdown' Made Official
May 12, 2011 5:52 PM   Subscribe

TEPCO officials confirmed that the Reactor No. 1 at Fukushima suffered a full meltdown What has been alluded to for weeks has been confirmed today. High levels of cesium has been found in the water and soil of japan and reports that from 60 to 70 percent of the radiation the Chernobyl disaster have been released. The Australian Broadcasting Company news service is reporting that reactor number three continues to leak dangerous levels of radioactivity in to surrounding seawater.
posted by Poet_Lariat (177 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously
posted by KokuRyu at 5:54 PM on May 12, 2011


you forgot the 'facepalm' tag.
posted by mwhybark at 5:57 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The narrative of this whole thing has played out EXACTLY like the Atomkraft? Nein Danke! people said it would when I went to one of their rallies 25 years ago in the wake of Chernobyl. I wasn't too convinced by them at the time. The whole "the core will melt down and then we won't be able to get close enough to it to do anything about it" thing just seemed so histrionic. Funny how things change.
posted by hippybear at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Soviets managed to keep the scale of the Chernobyl disaster under wraps for, what, a few days? A week or two?

But now Western society has managed to hide Chernobyl Jr. in plain sight for almost two months.

Those poor Russian serfs ... living in the dark under their tyrannical regime...
posted by Avenger at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


As you'd expect, the Naturalnews link contributes nothing of any value to the news coverage and is filled with overbroad declarations from people that don't understand science.

But the things that are really dangerous for your health -- ionizing radiation, vaccines, GMOs, chemotherapy and pesticides -- are all promoted as the solutions for our world.

Oh, Mike Adams, if you could somehow get genetically modified ionizing vaccine pesticide chemotherapy dick cancer, the problems of the world would be a lot closer to solved.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:01 PM on May 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


And when did it turn from "Kernkraft? Nein Danke!" to "Atomkraft? Nein Danke!"? My stickers from 25 years ago seem so quaint and outdated now.
posted by hippybear at 6:03 PM on May 12, 2011


Humans are just so dumb. When a simple, obviously wrong but never corrected decision like "hey let's put the diesel generators in a ditch" leads to this, I just shake my head. How the hell are we going to survive? As we become more powerful with yet more leveraging technology, the penalties of an "oops" mistake just get higher and higher. I reckon any alien life form able to get off its own planet and live sustainably has got to have a completely different system of thought, because this evolution-driven monkey business stuff is just pathetic.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:03 PM on May 12, 2011 [27 favorites]


No shit.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:04 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


As you'd expect, the Naturalnews link contributes nothing of any value to the news coverage

Except for the direct links to the recent New York times, Wall Street Journal and Kyodo News articles. In retrospect perhaps I should have included the inks directly into the post (my first post - yeah! ) but I felt that they did a decent job of linking to all the articles in that one post.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:05 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, he actually does call out vaccines as being "dangerous".
posted by KokuRyu at 6:10 PM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


seanmpuckett; The answer is, by and large, we don't survive, by a very wide margin.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:12 PM on May 12, 2011


USA? Nah, it couldn't happen here......
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:14 PM on May 12, 2011


Oh dear this might make me watch the news for hours again.
posted by vrakatar at 6:16 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


How long have they known and what could have been done differently to mitigate the effects?
posted by tommasz at 6:17 PM on May 12, 2011


Definitely time to go back to burning oil, incidentally funding tyrannical regimes, until there's no oil left.

Definitely time to go back to burning coal, it only destroys entire ecosystems, kills miners and old people with cardiac disease and lung problems, while releasing dispersing into the atmosphere radioactive uranium that naturally occurs in coal.

Or maybe we could burn wood, until the global warming it brings about floods our coasts.
posted by orthogonality at 6:28 PM on May 12, 2011 [15 favorites]


As I understand it there are a few items here to reduce your alarm:
-Unlike Cherynobyl the radioactive materials are mostly short lived except for the cesium. The big ugly of Chernobyl was the long lived radioactive carbon from the enourmous fire.
-The core has melted, but it is no longer melting down. It has begun to cool. So it is mostly pooled into a big slag heap on the concrete pad and it cooling off.

So while this is locally bad, it isn't end of the world bad, or even end of Japan bad. It is a big ugly mess and a reminder that when nuclear engineerif goes wrong, it goes really wrong. While it is theoretically possibly to improve failsafety of plants, no one has yet done so.

Thus we should conclude from this that
nuclear technology is best suited for a few small scale plants necessary for nuclear medicine and research, but as a means of electrical utility load generation, we need to realize that it is a pipedream.
posted by humanfont at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


How long have they known and what could have been done differently to mitigate the effects?

Actually, engineers etc can't actually see inside the reactor vessel. It's just that, according to news reports, workers inside No 1 discovered actual holes in the containment vessel caused by molten fuel pellets. Until now, Tepco et al has been relying on extrapolating rad readings etc to try to figure out what's been going on.

The only thing that could have been done differently would have been to flood the reactors with seawater immediately after power was lost on March 11. Following that, perhaps they could have vented hydrogen gas a couple of hours earlier than they did.

However, the fundamental fact of the matter is that, once the tsunami took out the grid power supply to Daiichi, the plant was doomed, by its very design (notably diesel gen sets in the basement) to suffer a cascading series of failures that resulted in a full meltdown.

The implications of the meltdown are that there is going to be a lot of highly radioactive material in No 1 (and probably 2 other reactor buildings).

This will make it difficult or even impossible for workers to shut down No 1. Plus, it's just a big pile of highly radioactive slag leaking directly into the Pacific Ocean at this point. How do you get it out?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


all that to boil water
posted by edgeways at 6:31 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Definitely time to go back to burning oil, incidentally funding tyrannical regimes, until there's no oil left.

You know, it's really, really irritating to read these comments when talking about a nuclear accident. Fine, we all agree we live in a civilization that requires massive amounts of energy. However, can we all just agree that nuclear accidents are dirty and dangerous?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:31 PM on May 12, 2011 [29 favorites]


Everything sucks.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:33 PM on May 12, 2011


But now Western society has managed to hide Chernobyl Jr. in plain sight for almost two months.

Not really. We've been seeing a lot of reports about the probability of just this. This just adds a layer of certainty.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Will this actually have a noticable effect on ocean life?
posted by Nixy at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2011


I actually believe in nuclear power :) Who knew?
But the kind of nuclear power plants I believe in are ones where the economics of profit (i.e. evil effing capitalists) do not impede proper safety precautions and as such, my belief at this point is only a dream.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 6:36 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I really should say here, after a comment a page or so above mine, that I'm really not against nuclear energy at all. I went to the rally because I was young and in a new country and culture and was experiencing as much as I could while I was there.

But yeah, it's a big mess that we have no clear solution for at the moment.
posted by hippybear at 6:37 PM on May 12, 2011


Will this actually have a noticable effect on ocean life?

Some of the leakage near the plant is highly radioactive - it's water that has come into contact with core elements. Other than that, marine life that remains stationary, such as shellfish and kelp, will be particularly affected. Fish are already showing up with significantly raised levels of cesium. The fisheries of Ibaraki (2nd largest fishing industry in Japan, after Miyagi) and Chiba are being hard hit.

Miyagi and Iwate were all seaweed kelp-harvesting centers, as is the Pacific coast of Hokkaido. The harvest is used in everything from sushi rolls to food additives.

I am not eager to eat *any* seaweed products from Japan. It is one of the reasons we are reconsidering relocating to Japan - for the sake of our children.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:39 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


can we all just agree that nuclear accidents are dirty and dangerous?

Sure, we can agree it's dirty and dangerous.

So are cars, and airplanes, and farms, and power generation in general.

But we can't remove risk, not without losing our ability to grow crops, which are heavily fertilized with petro-chemicals and harvested with powered machinery, and our ability to transport crops to hungry mouths, which relies on petro-chemicals and power generation for refrigeration.

Without power technologies, we can't support a world population of six billion growing to nine billion "real soon now".

It's either power generation, or massive a human die-off followed by serfdom, tied to a farm, for the 90% of the survivors. At best; at worst, the die-off triggerrs wars that leave no survivors.

This is going to cause massive environmental damage and far too many Japanese will die earlier of cancers. But that's better than starvation and its attendant civil chaos.
posted by orthogonality at 6:42 PM on May 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Will this actually have a noticable effect on ocean life?

Providing we're careful to not look, then no. I think we should be quite capable of not noticing it.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:43 PM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Many of us were worried when the news first broke about the Fukushima plant. We nuclear skeptics were warning that things would probably get worse. A large and vocal group fought that, tooth and nail.

We argued that solar and other green technologies were better choices for the future. But so many people came out arguing that was magical thinking.

Since the disaster first struck Japan we've gotten news that Google has invested in the world's largest solar tower and that renewable energies are enough to power the world.

While the nuclear crisis at Fukushima has only gotten worse.
posted by formless at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2011 [13 favorites]



The Soviets managed to keep the scale of the Chernobyl disaster under wraps for, what, a few days? A week or two?

But now Western society has managed to hide Chernobyl Jr. in plain sight for almost two months.

Those poor Russian serfs ... living in the dark under their tyrannical regime...


Chernobyl is in the Ukraine. Many Ukrainians were, shall we say, not entirely loyal to their Soviet oppressors.

Also, nuclear plant in an SSR? The West probably had some eyes on that.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:50 PM on May 12, 2011


marine life that remains stationary, such as shellfish and kelp, will be particularly affected. Fish are already showing up with significantly raised levels of cesium. The fisheries of Ibaraki (2nd largest fishing industry in Japan, after Miyagi) and Chiba are being hard hit.

Wow, that's worse than I thought.

This is going to cause massive environmental damage and far too many Japanese will die earlier of cancers. But that's better than starvation and its attendant civil chaos.

But one leads to the other, really.
posted by Nixy at 6:55 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unlike Cherynobyl the radioactive materials are mostly short lived except for the cesium. The big ugly of Chernobyl was the long lived radioactive carbon from the enourmous fire.

"That guy" here ... It's true that carbon in the form of graphite was burning, but the carbon itself wasn't a danger, it was the vaporized radioactive cesium and strontium that it released.

Carbon-14 is radioactive, and does have a long half-life, but it emits low energy and trace amounts are in your body right now. It was included in that Sting song probably because it's hard to rhyme anything with "strontium 90".
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:55 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was included in that Sting song probably because it's hard to rhyme anything with "strontium 90".

Carbon-14 is enmeshed in my body
Not so with Strontium-90
A meltdown I fear
Made seawater too dear
No more sushi for me on this fine day.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:03 PM on May 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Plus, it's just a big pile of highly radioactive slag leaking directly into the Pacific Ocean at this point. How do you get it out?

This is what worries me. It seems like the damage would be mostly localized otherwise, but the dispersion from ocean access could be huge. And I'm guessing that nothing's going to happen to change that access anytime soon.

Also, I am tickled by the politeness of the German anti-nuclear protestors. Nein Danke!
posted by polymath at 7:07 PM on May 12, 2011


This is going to cause massive environmental damage and far too many Japanese will die earlier of cancers. But that's better than starvation and its attendant civil chaos.

Well, the first half of your statement is correct, probably because it is supported by facts, unlike the second half of the statement. Too bad that you claim to believe in science.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:18 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is making the round in the interwebs, allegedly the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (Nilo) has run some models, some of which are predicting high evels of radiation hitting the West in May. Again let me underline it's uncertain information.
posted by elpapacito at 7:23 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know, it's really, really irritating to read these comments when talking about a nuclear accident. Fine, we all agree we live in a civilization that requires massive amounts of energy. However, can we all just agree that nuclear accidents are dirty and dangerous?
I don't know what the deal is. There was a post a bit down the page about a new report saying renewable energy could supply all our power needs and people were just SURE they were TOTALLY LYING!

It's like people are totally impervious to facts and just want to believe we should keep burning oil and coal forever, that it won't run out, and that it won't cause global warming. Or maybe they and then they say, oh, it's to hard we'll never accomplish it. But if you think that, why don't you just shut the fuck up? I don't get the point of just saying trying to fix the problem won't work if we're fucked anyway it's not like it's going to hurt anything to fix the problem.
Chernobyl is in the Ukraine. Many Ukrainians were, shall we say, not entirely loyal to their Soviet oppressors.
It's actually about 50/50, and the current government is pro-Russian.

---

Also, while Chernobyl released a ton of radiation into the air, this accident is going to release a ton into the ocean. Most likely, it won't have too much of an effect on fish life but you could have a situation where fish and other sea life are too contaminated for human consumption near fukushima. In addition to the areas that won't be able to be farmed on that's going to have a big impact going forward.
posted by delmoi at 7:28 PM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, the first half of your statement is correct, probably because it is supported by facts, unlike the second half of the statement. Too bad that you claim to believe in science.
Well, both statements are technically true. The problem comes in with the idea that somehow the lack of nuke plants will result in starvation, which makes no sense at all.
posted by delmoi at 7:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hell this bickering is pointless right now. We have a good several trillion dollars of investment in renewables we can make before possibly having to consider "then what?" Then what might have to be nuclear. Or maybe humans will have advanced enough as a society that we can actually handle the attendant trouble with running society on intermittent power sources. Or maybe some energy storage technology will be developed that's safe and cheap enough for every home to have a say long back-up battery. Who knows?

The immediate path is clear - more solar, more wind, tidal if we can swing it. After that we may have some hard choices, but we are so far from "after that" right now...
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:38 PM on May 12, 2011


The big ugly of Chernobyl was the long lived radioactive carbon from the enourmous fire.

So one of my coworkers is Ukrainian, and through him I learned there is still a lingering problem from Chernobyl: Rains washed a lot of radioactive material into a man-made lake just upriver from Kiev. If the dams fail, it could be problematic. (Of course, it's hard to picture this exact situation repeating in Japan, but I'd be afraid to see the ocean bottom there.)
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:59 PM on May 12, 2011


Meh. This isn't over yet, either.

I'm standing by my earlier analysis that all said and done this is going to be "worse" than Chernobyl. Not in immediate or dramatic, news-friendly loss of life - but worse by way of total financial impact, total amount of radiation released, number of people displaced and long term scope of the catastrophe and total damage done.

Not to mention damage to the commercial nuclear power generation industry's rep.

We should know most of the actually story - well, as best as we can know it - in approximately 5 to 10 years. Maybe 15-20. There will be a nice PBS or BBC documentary about it, and it will be filled with disbelief, outrage and way too much "What the fuck!? Why did they do that!? Why didn't they do this!? Why didn't they tell us that when it mattered!?"
posted by loquacious at 8:03 PM on May 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


actually = actual
posted by loquacious at 8:04 PM on May 12, 2011


Meltdown |= China Syndrome
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


That Datsun B-210 I used to drive didn't have airbags. Coulda killed somebody. People are probably still driving them and dying in them.

Therefore, nobody should drive a Prius.
posted by Camofrog at 8:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Imagine if all this technical expertise had gone into engineering a solution for the world's homeless!
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:34 PM on May 12, 2011


There's a coal-fired power plant a few miles from my home. It used to have a big, ugly, red brick smokestack that constantly pumped black filth into the sky. Then a new, bigger and uglier plain concrete smokestack seemed to grow out of the ground over a few months next to the old one. It pumps white clouds of "scrubbed" filth into the sky 24 hours a day in place of the old one.

Every night, a train passes by my neighborhood with around 40 coal cars loaded full. Within 24 hours, all of the carbon, mercury and other unhealthy crap in that coal will be in the air that my children and I breathe. Each car holds about 110 tons. Each ton makes ~2.9 tons of CO2

10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, 500 tons of small particles, 220 tons of hydrocarbons, 720 tons of carbon monoxide125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and many other toxic heavy metals and trace elements of uranium. is created by the average coal-fired power plant.

There are about 700 such plants in the US alone.

I see it like this: coal is like smoking and nuclear power is like suicide by handgun. A lot of people freak out about nuclear power and most of us would try to stop someone from shooting themselves. Coal and smoking have both killed a hell of a lot more people than their respective counterparts but I have yet to see anyone chain themselves to a coal train or try to stop someone from smoking a cigarette outside a building with much more than a dirty look.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:36 PM on May 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


That Datsun B-210 I used to drive didn't have airbags. Coulda killed somebody. People are probably still driving them and dying in them.

Therefore, nobody should drive a Prius.
People die in Priuses all the time.
posted by delmoi at 8:43 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine if all this technical expertise had gone into engineering a solution for the world's homeless!

Is there a technical solution for the world's homeless? If you have solid blueprints for how to construct that, I bet we could get it funded through Kickstarter.
posted by hippybear at 8:43 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


double block, there has been a movement locking themselves down against coal in the US since 2005 at least
posted by eustatic at 8:44 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a coal-fired power plant

What's your point? There's been a nuclear accident that has displaced 100,000 people, and has destroyed the economy of a prefecture of 2M people. As for this post, Tepco finally admitted that fuel in one of reactors melted down.

This is big news.

Yes, coal is bad, but does that have to do with this thread? Or do you just want everyone to shut up?

I lived within 1 kilometer of a coal plant (and within 10 km of three nuke plants) for ten years, so I guess my opinion cancels yours out anyway.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is some important missing points from this article that I find confusing. From what I can gather, what happened today is that TEPCO installed a new level meter on the unit 1 pressure vessel and found the level to be much lower than expected, so they think the vessel has holes in it. OK, that's bad, but no one has *seen holes* in the vessel as the FPP suggests (that would be a very radioactive place to be).

What I don't grasp is why contaminated water is apparently leaking from the containment vessels that surround the pressure vessels in (at least) units 1 and 3. These are supposed to contain contamination when shit like this happens.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:49 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Therefore, nobody should drive a Prius.

People die in Priuses all the time.

If it ain't 100% perfect, its terrible!
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:50 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I tried to look up car accident statistics by car model and couldn't find any, but I did find an article about someone dying in a Prius.

The point isn't to ding the Prius, but rather to point out that while modern cars are much safer then old cars, they still aren't safe. But unlike a car, where you're only putting yourself at risk (plus a couple other drivers) with a nuke plant you're putting entire regions at risk. That's the problem with nuclear power.
If it ain't 100% perfect, its terrible!
What are you talking about?
posted by delmoi at 8:54 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sniffer man has been telling porkies.
posted by unliteral at 8:55 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I don't grasp is why contaminated water is apparently leaking from the containment vessels that surround the pressure vessels in (at least) units 1 and 3. These are supposed to contain contamination when shit like this happens.

From what I've read, the whole thing suffers from leaky plumbing. The steam feeds for the turbine are highly radioactive, so their is a chance they are leaking, as well as the condenser and the return.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 PM on May 12, 2011


What I don't grasp is why contaminated water is apparently leaking from the containment vessels that surround the pressure vessels in (at least) units 1 and 3. These are supposed to contain contamination when shit like this happens.

I think the hydrogen explosions coupled with the corrosive nature of hot sea water may have contributed to the leaking problems.
posted by hippybear at 9:00 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a technical solution for the world's homeless? If you have solid blueprints for how to construct that, I bet we could get it funded through Kickstarter.

A large homeless-bearing structure, with struts!
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:12 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I don't grasp is why contaminated water is apparently leaking from the containment vessels that surround the pressure vessels in (at least) units 1 and 3. These are supposed to contain contamination when shit like this happens.

As I posted earlier, the design of the reactor was known to be inherently faulty 35 years ago. Engineers resigned from GE due to the faulty design. The primary concern was the integrity of the containment vessel in the event of a pressure release - which 35 years later is exactly what happened.

The reason this happened is because General Electric/Westinghouse and TEPCO were more concerned with profit margin than the public's safety . It's the same reason Bhopal happened and it's the same reason the mortgage industry collapsed twice in 25 years.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:42 PM on May 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


Large quake + tsunami + hydrogen explosions + seawater + aftershocks -> containment in name only. I think the word was bandied around too much before Fukushima in arguments about nuclear, like it's some magic incantation that makes all problems go away, or, rather, stay in one compact localized location.
posted by rainy at 9:44 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


When a simple, obviously wrong but never corrected decision like "hey let's put the diesel generators in a ditch" leads to this, I just shake my head.

That is the result of a basic law of physics as expressed by Gell-Mann, "Everything not forbidden is compulsory." If you don't forbid them from putting the generator in a ditch, it has to go there.

I reckon any alien life form able to get off its own planet and live sustainably has got to have a completely different system of thought, because this evolution-driven monkey business stuff is just pathetic.

"..they all know a rocket test of theirs will destroy the entire universe and don't much care. They don't care because they see no point in caring.. It will happen. It is happening. It will always happen. It can not be stopped because it has always happened."
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:56 PM on May 12, 2011


KokuRyu : From what I've read, the whole thing suffers from leaky plumbing. The steam feeds for the turbine are highly radioactive, so their is a chance they are leaking, as well as the condenser and the return.

There are obviously flaws with the Mark I containment design, but they weren't complete idiots. Every penetration from containment, especially the main steam lines, are supposed to be isolated with fail closed valves (called MSIVs in one case). The fact that this outer containment vessel is leaking is far more damning to me than the fact the inner pressure vessel has (apparently) melted. The containment system is supposed to *contain* a meltdown.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:11 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


People die in Priuses all the time.

It happens sometimes. Priuses just explode. Natural causes.
posted by codswallop at 10:21 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there a technical solution for the world's homeless? If you have solid blueprints for how to construct that, I bet we could get it funded through Kickstarter.

Health care. Mental health care. Decriminalize addiction and treat it like a disease with actual science instead of dogma. Long term housing and stability programs. Education.

Fund it by pulling a small fraction of the funds earmarked for military spending and/or a fraction of prison spending - which you would need less of anyway for nonviolent offenders, since you decriminalized addiction.
posted by loquacious at 10:25 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Coal is a known problem - and a big one. Worse than nuclear power, really, just because of the scale and quantity of the operations.

This doesn't mean that nuclear power isn't also a big problem, nor does it make it a rational solution to the problem of coal.

I'm not sure if it's wise or realistic to solve a problem with a problem.
posted by loquacious at 10:29 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think it is realistic to solve a problem that causes more deaths with a problem that causes less deaths. Maybe eventually we can have fusion power. But for now, nuclear is safer than coal.

By the way, I've yet to see any evidence that anyone in Japan received a dose of radiation that would cause cancer.
posted by shii at 10:31 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why anyone thinks that problems with this 40-year old reactor design (which was sited exceptionally badly) has anything definitive to say about whether nuclear power is safe. Steam-powered ships used to ply our waters and blow up regularly, actually KILLING hundreds of people, yet we continued on and developed better and safer combustion-based means of propulsion.
posted by twsf at 10:36 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, I've yet to see any evidence that anyone in Japan received a dose of radiation that would cause cancer.

We won't know for 20 years. Besides, it seems likely that children in Fukushima are being exposed to high radiation levels, and the Japanese government's chief nuclear advisor has resigned over the matter:

Kosako disagreed with the maximum annual radiation exposure of 20 millisieverts allowed by the government in elementary schools, according to Edano.

There are actually "hot spots" of contaminated, highly radioactive soil in various areas outside of the exclusion zone in the major cities of Koriyama and Fukusima. The government's response has been to truck the radioactive soil away.

Not sure if you have kids, but there is no way I would want my children attending school there. Residents have been instructed to wash their hands and "gargle" after visiting playgrounds.

But I guess we'll find out in 20 years if there will be birth defects or rising cancer rates with this cohort, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have yet to see anyone chain themselves to a coal train

Happens almost yearly at Newcastle, Australia's biggest coal terminal. And the local Rising Tide group is planning on doing the protests more frequently now they've got more members.
posted by harriet vane at 11:00 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Personally, I think it's a shame that events like this result in everyone wanting to stop new development of plants (forcing even more reliance on older plants just like Fukushima I), rather than bringing about the political will for the radical modernization of the nuclear infrastructure with much safer designs (i.e. Thorium reactors) with far better containment and passive cooling.
posted by chimaera at 11:05 PM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem is not just the design but manufacturing standards (see story about coverup of manufacturing defect of Fukushima #4 containment), maintenance and training.

What is the percentage of world GDP that's being invested in renewables and conservation?
posted by rainy at 11:14 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


rather than bringing about the political will for the radical modernization of the nuclear infrastructure with much safer designs

How many more "accidents" do we need before we stop buying this line? Nuclear isn't safe in anyone's hands.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 PM on May 12, 2011


Nuclear isn't safe in anyone's hands.

I think NASA has done a pretty fine job. Then again their idea of nuclear power doesn't require fission.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:34 PM on May 12, 2011


This kind of makes me wonder why they need diesel generators for a nuclear plant, when they could be producing energy from the inherent heat of the radioactive material anyway.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:43 PM on May 12, 2011


Personally, I think it's a shame that events like this result in everyone wanting to stop new development of plants (forcing even more reliance on older plants just like Fukushima I), rather than bringing about the political will for the radical modernization of the nuclear infrastructure with much safer designs (i.e. Thorium reactors) with far better containment and passive cooling.

Because the industry and government operations that gave us Sellafield will give us better reactors any day now, right?
posted by rodgerd at 11:48 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


psycho-alchemy: I'm guessing the main turbine is designed for a much higher power throughput than needed by pumps, and it's safer to have multiple backup generators than an additional smaller turbine that may also be damaged in an accident.
posted by rainy at 11:51 PM on May 12, 2011


More importantly, the emergency cooling pumps have to keep working even when the place isn't filled with superheated steam.
posted by ryanrs at 1:12 AM on May 13, 2011


By the way, I've yet to see any evidence that anyone in Japan received a dose of radiation that would cause cancer.

As mentioned, it will take years. We don't know, and can't know with any clarity what has happened because it's covering such a massive area, and the effects will linger for a long, long damn time. And it's not just what's popped out now, it's the food that will get through checks (because it will, because Japan has too many labelling scandals in recent years to believe it won't), it's the land that will be tainted.

Part of me wants to know what has really happened, now, and not a month, or two months later. Another part of me doesn't want to know anymore, because I'm here, my life is here, and I'm going to have to deal with the repercussions of this for the rest of my life.

At the same time, I'll admit, one reason I chose to live here was that, when it came down to it, this wasn't just a first world country, this was the goddamn future. It's not like I'm at home grinding my stone tools for the hunt for sustenance tonight after work, but things have changed, significantly, in terms of daily life here in Kanto (note, I'm not dumb, I realize things are millions of times worse up north. The thing is, I don't live there. I can be sympathetic to those worse off than myself and still not be thrilled with the state of affairs around me), and it's not going to suddenly return to normal anytime soon. I linked in an earlier thread to a NYT article about how Japan is needing to discuss the 'new normal' and what it will look like. Kan went from his campaign promise last year of bringing power generation from nuclear plants to meet 50% of Japan's needs to yesterday saying that Japan is done with nuclear power, will build no more plants, and will work to decommission the ones in place, and we'll make do with alternative/renewable resources.

The thing is, the path from here to there is long. And a lot of this is speculative anyway, since there's no way to be sure that Kan or the DPJ will be in power much longer, in part due to the crisis. There's no way to be sure that any of the post-quake policies will last any longer than Kan does, especially with the LDP fighting any idea that comes from the DPJ just because the Dems thought of it (sound familiar?).

What we do know is that a good amount of Japan's power supply just went away. A sizeable chunk of Japan's farmland is unusable, and a major fishery is potentially irradiated. Four weeks ago, I would have said KokuRyu was being alarmist by rethinking coming back to Japan. When a good friend left suddenly, texting from the airport that he and his family were moving back to Canada a couple weeks ago, I understood exactly what he meant, and why he was doing it. My wife has asked me a couple times if I want to move back home, and I really don't (see the dual Paul/Huckabee threads for reasons why), but at the same time, I'm more unsure of the future here than I've ever been.

I'm rambling now, but I guess the point is, no, no one has cancer just yet.
Two months later, no one has died of cancer. That's not to mean it won't happen.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:12 AM on May 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ghidorah: this statement -

"Kan went from his campaign promise last year of bringing power generation from nuclear plants to meet 50% of Japan's needs to yesterday saying that Japan is done with nuclear power, will build no more plants, and will work to decommission the ones in place, and we'll make do with alternative/renewable resources."

seems like the most positive outcome we can get from this whole awful affair. We've got to imagine that if the Japanese have to *really* focus on sustainable energy to safeguard their future, then they'll spend and work like no-one else on this planet to get it done. Which could be great news for us all?
posted by Duug at 1:35 AM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


@orthogonality;

Definitely time to go back to burning oil ... Definitely time to go back to burning coal ...Or maybe we could burn wood


Way to frame the options. Fortunately: there are plenty of renewables options that CAN handle our needs, they are cheaper than nuclear (despite decades of efforts to keep that from happening or becoming known), and already in widespread installation around the world, with over $200B invested worldwide in one recent year alone.

Japan has seen the light and is backing off its nuclear plan, as is China. The US, with huge renewables resources waiting to be tapped (after decades of stalling), gets to choose whether to wise up or to march ignorantly into its own, next, inevitable, disaster.
posted by Twang at 1:40 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kan went from his campaign promise last year of bringing power generation from nuclear plants to meet 50% of Japan's needs to yesterday saying that Japan is done with nuclear power, will build no more plants, and will work to decommission the ones in place, and we'll make do with alternative/renewable resources.

Actually, that's not what the PM said. He said that he intends to scrap the policy already in place to increase the share of nuclear power and renewables and have new discussions about the future of Japan's energy policy. That may include reducing the balance of nuclear; it may, on the other hand, mean increasing it. Given Japan's space and resource limitations nuclear is the most efficient method of baseline power generation, provided plants are safely designed. Renewables should definitely fulfill a much larger percentage of Japan's power needs, but nuclear will always be a key part of its long-term energy strategy. Japanese also tend to support this position when asked.
posted by armage at 1:43 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


That being said, I would certainly welcome an energy policy that weaned Japan totally off of nuclear power. Perhaps covering Tokyo in solar panels would be a start -- the widespread installation of which may be one of the few good trends the power shortage this summer may cause.
posted by armage at 1:46 AM on May 13, 2011


While it is theoretically possibly to improve failsafety of plants, no one has yet done so.

It's a bit better than theoretical. Light water reactor have obvious issues, with the need for forced cooling at all times, being an obvious one.

Various different types of reactors have been proposed, designed and even built that can passively cool themselves in the case of a disaster, like LFTR Designs like LFTR have of course one fatal shortcoming: It's real hard to use them to make nuclear weapons. That and the fact that they tend to use much less and much cheaper fuel to generate the same amount of energy, robbing the nuclear industry of their well-deserved profits.

It's a real WTF that we keep building and operating these idiotic 1950s designs.
posted by Djinh at 2:05 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why anyone thinks that problems with this 40-year old reactor design (which was sited exceptionally badly) has anything definitive to say about whether nuclear power is safe.

I think it goes to the trustworthiness of all the people promoting nuclear power with the line that another Chernobyl wasn't possible, because western designed plants were much safer, all sorts of checks and balances... tough regulation... everyting though of ...no possibility of anything like that ever happening again. I can't recall anyone saying 'except for some plants in Japan, those are quite ropey'. All of a sudden we have more unsafe plants, and all of them categorised as being totally different from all of the other existing western plants and having no implications for the risk attaching to other plants.

The nuclear sector has spent 25 years promoting all western designed plants as safe. Fukushima makes that a lie.
posted by biffa at 2:09 AM on May 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


The nuclear sector has spent 25 years promoting all western designed plants as safe. Fukushima makes that a lie.

If more people would actually care about the world they live in, and spend some time reading things like their local nuclear regulator's incident reports, they would have known it's a lie for a long time already.

With climate change and peak oil/gas around the corner, nuclear doesn't seem to be going away soon. We do need to be a bit careful with it though, so maybe it's time to take it out of the hands of the children that have been playing with it for the past sixty or seventy years.
posted by Djinh at 2:51 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


armage-- if that's the case, then maybe I misheard the translators on NHK. It seemed to be what he was saying, though, again, I know your Japanese is a hell of a lot better than mine.

duug, I see what you mean, but in between the time from now (Kan's speech) to the time when these new technologies are fully viable/reliable/working, I, and about 123 million other people need to live here, roughly 30 million of them in the greater Tokyo area, and while I too look forward to the innovation that might possibly come from this, I'm also looking, not without a bit of dread, at the months and years it will take to get there. Change, of any kind, is going to be a long time coming, especially any kind of societal change that adapts to how things actually are.

For a random anecdote, today, it was hot. Roughly 27 degrees C, and stupidly humid. At my school, I saw a student getted screamed at by their teacher for wearing a short sleeve shirt under their blazer. See, it's not time for summer uniforms yet, and although we talked at the morning meeting about discussions being underway to move up the adoption of summer uniforms from the traditional date of June 1st, no date has been decided as of yet.

There might be blackouts, there might be reduced hours, but the culture will take years to catch up to any of these realities.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:49 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is almost as if some people are happy this happened.
posted by gjc at 5:58 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


reports that from 60 to 70 percent of the radiation the Chernobyl disaster have been released.

Weren't there clouds of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl covering most of Europe? Is the radiation here much more contained? Does it make sense to even compare them like this?
posted by smackfu at 6:11 AM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu: "There's a coal-fired power plant

Yes, coal is bad, but does that have to do with this thread?

I was trying to make a comparison between the nuclear disaster that is happening in Japan and the coal disaster that has been happening all around the world for well over a century.

The former is, as you correctly say, a big deal. I feel terrible for the people of Japan and I wish this hadn't happened.

However, the second is, unfortunately, a bigger deal. Coal is cheap, deadly, insidious and omnipresent.

Or do you just want everyone to shut up?

I'm not sure why you are accusing me of this. How is offering an allegory equivalent to wanting everyone to shut up? I like reading and occasionally contributing to Metafilter. When you people annoy me, I go to one of the other billions of sites on the web.

posted by double block and bleed at 6:27 AM on May 13, 2011


I hate it when I forget to close a tag.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:27 AM on May 13, 2011


We argued that solar and other green technologies were better choices for the future. But so many people came out arguing that was magical thinking.

If we could expand the renewable share of energy by 59% YoY constantly it would take over a decade to get to 2009's worldwide levels of power generation and I wouldn't want to take a guess at what percentage of total 2021 power generation that would end up being. The same growth rate has nuclear at the same 2009 absolute value in five years.

That's five years of the current mix of coal/oil/gas production difference between the two approaches. Add up the deaths from five years of air pollution and compare it to the aggregate adverse effects of pollution from nuclear disasters over the plants' lifetimes and go with whatever kills fewer people. Add in x-death-equivalent metrics for things like exclusion zones/fly ash pollution if you like, just be explicit about your assumptions. My guess based on per-TWh estimates I've seen will put nuclear probably an order of magnitude ahead if not two.

Any other method of reaching a decision on which direction to go with is magical thinking.
posted by Skorgu at 6:28 AM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


@smackfu:

Re: comparing the number like this.

Doesn't make much sense due to the fact that things are really complicated when it comes to the radiation exposure/longevity/radius of effect in this context. Dropping simple numbers into a discussion like this for media purposes is what it boils down to.

Don't get me wrong, things are bad but yet another Chernobyl comparison is only muddying the waters. I guess it's inevitable to have these sorts of generalizations when you're trying to explain something this complex to the public though.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:37 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The nuclear sector has spent 25 years promoting all western designed plants as safe. Fukushima makes that a lie.

If more people would actually care about the world they live in, and spend some time reading things like their local nuclear regulator's incident reports, they would have known it's a lie for a long time already.


Well, see.... this is a failure of SOMETHING. In the world that exists in my mind, lies like this aren't allowed to be glossed over by promotion and marketing. Regulatory agencies which are appointed to serve the public by making sure that things like nuclear plants are safe don't just publish little reports which are lost in the tide of information. They work diligently to counter-act all the machinery that those with a financial interest in burying those reports.

I mean, we hear it shouted from the mountaintops when a factory in China produces necklaces with a bit of lead in the paint. Everyone gets all "ooo, think of the childrens". But we can't have the same amount of volume and warning when it comes to the problems found by regulators in industrial settings such as these?

Something is seriously fucked up, and it all has to do with large amounts of money having more power than the agencies which we've put in place to keep those with large amounts of money in check. (This applies to a great many things, actually, not just the nuclear industry.)

How we fix this, I have no idea. But we really should try to fix it, system-wide. It may end up being one of the more important things we ever do.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 AM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that we're likely to continue having problems with reactor melt-downs as long as reactors are designed to require a steady supply of water to avoid meltdowns.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:48 AM on May 13, 2011


Deaths per Terrawatthour (TWH) by energy source:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html
Energy Source              Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal – world average               161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China                       278
Coal – USA                         15
Oil                                36  (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas                         4  (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass                    12
Peat                               12
Solar (rooftop)                     0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind                                0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro                               0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro - world including Banqiao)    1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear                             0.04 (5.9% of world energy)
In "infographic" form.
posted by de void at 7:18 AM on May 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Neglected to include in above: those figures are as of March 13, including the one known death due to Fukushima at that time.
posted by de void at 7:19 AM on May 13, 2011


KJS: It seems to me that we're likely to continue having problems with reactor melt-downs as long as reactors are designed to require a steady supply of water to avoid meltdowns.

Unfortunately that's not something that can be changed. Piles of radioactive elements generate heat, so they require cooling. The trick is to engineer a system where cooling is 100% available. Of course that's impossible, but you can get the number high enough (through multiple, redundant, passive, testable safety systems) so that a loss of cooling is extremely unlikely to happen. Except when it does.

Fukushima has been a real test case of the ethical assumptions with safety analyses. At some point, you have to draw the line where you stop adding safety systems. The same is true of all technologies (Cars don't have parachutes. Windmills don't have blade tethers) of course, but it gets really difficult to disposition when the consequences of being wrong are devastating. If you had asked the Fukushima designers whether they should have prepared for a 10m tsunami, they might have said "If a Tsunami of that magnitude hits, Japan will have far graver problems". And to a certain extent, they would have been right. However we may decide after this that we can't afford the additional consequences of a nuclear accident, even after such an (arguably) extremely rare event. That will completely change the economics of Nuclear Power, forcing us to either switch to more reliably poisonous technologies, or to raise the price of electricity several fold (with all of its attendant social costs) so that we can rely on renewables.

OTOH, I'm risk averse. Japan has profited mightily from the presence of these reactors for 30 years. If you asked me whether I'd like a gold fountain installed in my backyard, with the risk that maybe, just maybe, it might one day start spewing toxins and force me to abandon my house, I'd probably say "no". Others would say "absolutely yes", and would most likely live a longer, healthier life for it. Except those that don't.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:32 AM on May 13, 2011


Deaths per Terrawatthour (TWH) by energy source

Good info de void, but if I've learned one thing from the last few years of natural disasters it's this: The value of human lives appears to be less than the value of ruined land. We seem to be willing to accept that thousands of people get killed in disasters, but we can't except something that will prevent the survivors from recovering.
(/half formed thought. I'm still processing it.)
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:39 AM on May 13, 2011


So one of my coworkers is Ukrainian, and through him I learned there is still a lingering problem from Chernobyl: Rains washed a lot of radioactive material into a man-made lake just upriver from Kiev. If the dams fail, it could be problematic.

Problematic would be an understatement:

"The most dangerous among those sites are the radioactive dumps in the riverbank city of Dniprodzerzhynsk. The now-defunct Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant (PHZ) has been enriching uranium ores for Soviet nuclear program from 1948 till 1991, preparing the so-called Yellowcake substance. Its processing wastes are now stored in 9 open-air dumping grounds containing about 36 million tones of sand-like low-radioactive material, occupying area of 2,5 million square meters. The sites, improperly constructed from the very beginning, have been abandoned by industry long ago and remain in very poor condition."

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant would also potentially be flooded out if the dams failed.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:48 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


...We seem to be willing to accept that thousands of people get killed in disasters, but we can't except something that will prevent the survivors from recovering.

A valid point. I bet that if you compared "acres of land despoiled per TWH" and put it into a table as above that nuclear power wouldn't be such an outlier.
posted by de void at 8:15 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The value of human lives appears to be less than the value of ruined land.

I think that plus dread and the highly-visible-disaster effect is a big part of it. I wonder how people would prioritize a 19-mile radius exclusion zone against possible deaths if it weren't excluded because of radioactivity. I don't have a great single alternate narrative but for comparison: Again this isn't to in any way state or imply that nuclear energy isn't dangerous or that oil spills are comparable to radioactive exclusion zones. Obviously a 100+ year exclusion zone is objectively worse than anything from Valdez or Banqiao for example; the question is how much worse and on what basis can we agree to make that comparison.
posted by Skorgu at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The value of human lives appears to be less than the value of ruined land.

He disagrees, the right answer is that neither appear to have significant value
posted by Blasdelb at 8:28 AM on May 13, 2011


I think people also take into account that vast majority of radiation at Fukushima was released on 15/16 when wind was blowing to the ocean. We can't rely on wind always conveniently blowing away from a major city when there is an accident. How do you evacuate something the size of Tokyo in a matter of hours?
posted by rainy at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2011


Neglected to include in above: those figures are as of March 13, including the one known death due to Fukushima at that time.

And completely excluding any deaths attributable to the downstream effects of nuclear energy technology, which taking just Chernobyl into account, have been estimated to be minimally 4,000 deaths although the Union of Concerned Scientists puts the figure at closer to 25,000.

We very casually dismiss any evidence of death or negative health effects from nuclear tech because it's easier to ignore and hide and to rationalize away due to its relatively longer-term nature. It's easier to sell the unproven claims about low numbers of death/injury due to nuclear because most of those deaths and injuries aren't highly visible.

This is a tendency in all our public discourse. It's exactly the same pattern of obfuscation we've seen from the tobacco industry and the AGW deniers.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


If we could expand the renewable share of energy by 59% YoY constantly it would take over a decade to get to 2009's worldwide levels of power generation and I wouldn't want to take a guess at what percentage of total 2021 power generation that would end up being. The same growth rate has nuclear at the same 2009 absolute value in five years.

Alright, so lets expand it by more than 59% YoY constantly. The wonderful thing about solar power is that it's a relatively distributed technology that's easy for individual people to install. We can make huge advances in the first few years by providing incentives for home owners to install solar panels on their houses. Even in relatively northern climates this makes sense.

For example, this post by Kirth Gerson yesterday talks about how he installed solar panels on his house in MA and reduced his electricity bill to $0.

We would see immediate returns for this kind of investment. A new nuclear plant would take years or decades to build.

While we work on outfitting individual houses in the first few years, we can put resources into distributed electricity storage research and development.

You know what. Enough of this. I just applied to a startup in the renewable energy market. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and start working on the future instead of arguing on the internet whether it can be done or not. I'm willing to bet it can.
posted by formless at 9:56 AM on May 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Union of Concerned Scientists cite.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 AM on May 13, 2011


well. this isn't good. it's terrible. i still believe it would be unfair to indict all nuclear power on the basis of this engineering "failure." part of me is nevertheless impressed that a 9.0 quake + tsunami didn't cause an already worse outcome. nobody, at this point, can fully predict the long term harm with any finite precision -- we can say it will be very bad though. we also can look at the situation and genuinely see that it might have been much much worse. consider that an earthquake that was 1000x weaker basically killed a quarter of a million people in Haiti. at some level i have to hand it to japanese infrastructure that they/we aren't even worse off. hence my quotes on the term "failure." while it's counterintuitive to hear it, fukushima could have been designed to say, 7.0, specs with no seawall and then where would we be? apologies for the relativistic argument here but some perspective might be appropriate? also, not defending the mollycoddling spin control out of tepco to date.
posted by lomcovak at 10:14 AM on May 13, 2011


formless: I would love nothing more than to be proven comprehensively and thoroughly wrong.
posted by Skorgu at 10:22 AM on May 13, 2011


fwiw This post (and resulting comments) is confirmation that my decision to resign from the nuclear industry, four days after the tsunami, was the right one.
posted by wensink at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe in nuclear power, I really do. There's an almost limitless supply of it, and we don't have to carpet the world in solar cells or windmills to grab it. Aside from the land/ocean use issue, remember those solar cells and windmills are going to use a metric shitload of rare earth elements that are right now the gating factor in almost every facet of "new energy." We already don't have enough of that shit, where are we going to find 2^10 more of it? No, as much as I hate to say it, nukes are a critical part of the answer.

But these 40 year old plants and their placement in likely areas of natural disaster is just fecking stupid. Each plant of that era is, literally, a bomb waiting to go off. They're all UXBs, and they need to be shut down right the hell now.

Nuke reactors need to be fail *much* safer (some of the 3.5 and 4g designs are really quite clever for this) and need to be isolated from generally inhabitable regions. Who cares if the weather is shitty or if some big-ass Sikorsky copters are needed to fly stuff in? It's a reactor. Put it somewhere remote. Like all those cold war era missile silos, right?

Nukes are not the answer to our energy problems, because there's never just one easy answer, but it's a key component of a heterogenous generation grid that doesn't rely too much on any one thing and thus is redundant and reliable. Eggs, meet my various and diverse baskets.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:49 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to add that I am pretty sure that energy generation shouldn't be privatized because the profit motive is a certain guarantee that dangerous shortcuts will always be taken both in development and operation. I do know that's not a real popular thought on MeFi though.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:52 AM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The old address for tracking the clouds of radiation:
http://transport.nilu.no/products/fukushima
Thank you for your interest in the FLEXPART products for Fukushima. The Forecast system is no longer running.

We have discontinued our Flexpart forecast of the atmospheric dispersal of radionucleides from Fukushima. This due to the fact that we do not have access to reliable release rates reflecting the current situation at the plant to be used as input to our simulations. It is likely that the release of radioactive material is significantly reduced compared to the initial period, and that levels no longer pose a health risk at distance from the plant.

We thank you for your interest in our FLEXPART products.


Ok meanwhile it still was running here:
http://zardoz.nilu.no/~flexpart/fpinteractive/plots/?C=M;O=D

Zardoz. The movie where man faces extinction because of advanced technology.

The "upside" to the people who are trying to tell you how reactors are safe and are needed to keep the "must grow the economy at all costs"* system working - when the system blows up - the destroyed biosphere wipes out their kids also so their mistake won't be repeated and no one will be around to say "turns out you were wrong".

*Know what else grows at all cost? Cancer.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:53 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was checking the math in the first article from new scientist and it doesn't match the headline here on metafilter or in the article. They seem to be comparing total release with daily release and they don't seem to understand what 'order of magnitude' means. The total radiation released appears to be much lower than chernobyl, and maybe the cesium is somewhat comparable? really hard to tell with how they are throwing around different numbers and comparing release rates with total releases and not really giving a firm time line for what the total release is.

I am definetaly calling shenanigans on their math. Appears to be fear mongering and playing on peoples inummeracy.

That being said, this is bad and the damage is real and appears to be mostly the fault of inadequate safety design and maintenance by TEPCO. There are several other reactors in Japan that went into shutdown following the earthquake and did NOT melt down.

Looks like the cost of building better protection for the diesel generators wasn't so high after all...
posted by bartonlong at 11:27 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry I should have been more specific-the new scientist article has the questionable math in it, and the natural news sounds like something I would hear on Glenn Beck-slightly incoherent with wild extrapolations from preliminary findings. I think the situation is quite bad enough without throwing hystrerics into it.
posted by bartonlong at 11:33 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


loquacious: "Not to mention damage to the commercial nuclear power generation industry's rep"

Following up seanmpuckett's comments above, this is one of the central issues here. I remember reading the argument 35 years ago that Big Energy companies, and Capitalism in general, would support the nuclear energy option above most others BECAUSE it allows a commercial enterprise to control a power plant, and subsequently profit. This is exactly the opposite of diversifying either energy sources or the risks of failure.

I'd also like to point out that the word CONSERVATION appears twice in this thread, and twice in yesterday's delightful thread about Renewable Energy.
posted by sneebler at 11:40 AM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The real implications of the meltdown announcement (and yes, before anyone jumps on me for presuming to say anything remotely negative about nuclear power: coal, oil, sugary sweets, and sharks are far, far worse for the planet than nuclear power) is that there is no end-game for containing the disaster:

Accurate data destroys optimistic TEPCO assessment, hampers cooling plan

TEPCO officials have also not denied the possibility that melted fuel has leaked out of the pressure container. That would mean the volume of contaminated water will likely increase, making work in the reactor buildings much more difficult.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alright, so lets expand it by more than 59% YoY constantly. The wonderful thing about solar power is that it's a relatively distributed technology that's easy for individual people to install. We can make huge advances in the first few years by providing incentives for home owners to install solar panels on their houses. Even in relatively northern climates this makes sense.

I agree there should be subsidies and that these are important in incentivising uptake but that may not be the rate determining step in the early stages of technology uptake. I am just finishing up a project looking at what is realistic in terms of of expansion of renewable heat technologies and we think its likely to be rooted in how rapidly you can scale up things like awareness, manufacturing capacity and education of installers.
posted by biffa at 12:26 PM on May 13, 2011


Also interesting about solar power is, not everything it's applied to has to be all about making electricity. There have been designs around for decades which use solar energy to do a lot of things, like heating water either to go into one's hot water tank (thus reducing the need to use electricity or other fuel to get that water hot -- only for keeping it hot), or in passive heat walls, where houses can make use of solar-heated water containers to actually radiate heat into the living space during the wintertime (again, reducing the need to use electricity or other fuel for heating).

The Sun really gives us a lot when it comes to energy, and we basically ignore it as a potential way to help with our energy needs because, again, if it's not a panacea it's not worth implementing.

If every household in the US were using solar to even a tiny extent (something which Jimmy Carter tried to raise awareness over 30 years ago), we'd all be a lot better off now than we currently are. And it doesn't all have to be photovoltaic for it to make a large impact when applied across the population of the US.
posted by hippybear at 12:52 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am just finishing up a project looking at what is realistic in terms of of expansion of renewable heat technologies and we think its likely to be rooted in how rapidly you can scale up things like awareness, manufacturing capacity and education of installers.

Renewables may still have the deck stacked to scale faster than nuclear.
After this disaster, light water reactors are going to be a hard sell. People saying that nuclear can scale are talking about building more of the old, unsafe, but well-trod-path designs. That's not going to wash any more, and once you take th traditional designs off the table... nuclear is gutted. There are better reactor designs, but they're so theoretical at this stage that I'd guess at a another 10 years of intensive expensive R&D just to sort out problems and figure out how to turn those cool concepts into commercially feasible designs.

tl;dr - I think it will take ten years just to get nuclear technology up to the same level of commercial feasibility where renewables like solar are already at today.

And awareness and acceptance of renewables is currently on the upswing. As this disaster continues to unfold, acceptance of nuclear is still heading down, it hasn't bottomed out yet.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:59 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately that's not something that can be changed. Piles of radioactive elements generate heat, so they require cooling. The trick is to engineer a system where cooling is 100% available. Of course that's impossible, but you can get the number high enough (through multiple, redundant, passive, testable safety systems) so that a loss of cooling is extremely unlikely to happen. Except when it does.

There are a great many reactor concepts, quite a few designs and there have been a number of prototypes that can passively cool themselves in the case of a station blackout.

The AP1000 is a good step in the right direction. Pebble bed reactors look promising as well, although there clearly are some kinks to be worked out still. Then there's LFTR of course, that's been pretty much quietly sitting in its spot for the last fourty years or so since the last guy to leave turned off the lights.
posted by Djinh at 1:03 PM on May 13, 2011


There's also thorium reactors which are said to be safe. Assuming you can deal with the waste and make them safe, the issue with nuclear technology is that it is an expensive, centralized solution to energy needs.

When we talk about the need to cut C02 emissions, the only real solution is to get people to consume less energy. Nuclear just doesn't fit into that paradigm.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:17 PM on May 13, 2011


djinh - Even those designs require carefully controlled conditions to maintain long term cooling of the core. Some don't use water, granted, but they have other worries:

The AP1000 is embroiled in a certification crisis over the effectiveness of its containment building (sound familiar?)

Pebble Bed Reactor fuel may (or may not, not enough testing has been done) be able to withstand the high temperatures caused by a loss of cooling, but that assumes the core geometry is maintained, and the fuel pellets are not mechanically damaged (which they often were in the only PBR to ever run) Moreover these designs often call for *no* containment building. They also produce much more radioactive waste / megawatt because you have to throw out a bunch of moderator with the fuel.

LFTR concepts have the same graphite because we can't figure out how to make the molten Uranium salt piping so it won't have to be completely rebuilt every 4 years. They suffers the same graphite fire risk as gas cooled reactors, and introduce a new containment risk because they have to pump the fuel around a second building for online refining!

The only reactors I trust as being "passively safe" are tiny research reactors at the bottom of a large enough pool of water to remove the heat to atmosphere using natural circulation. These are barely big enough to heat an apartment, let alone power a city. Even these types must have guarantees that the pool doesn't drain.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:29 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


LFTR concepts have the same graphite haven't been built commercially because we can't figure out...

That's what I get for editing my posts too much.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:31 PM on May 13, 2011


> I'd also like to point out that the word CONSERVATION appears twice in this thread, and twice in yesterday's delightful thread about Renewable Energy.

To be fair, many people support conservation without specifically spelling it out in their comments.
posted by Bangaioh at 8:01 PM on May 13, 2011


In 1951, C. G. Suits was General Electric's Director of Research and was in charge of operating the Hanford reactors when he said: "At present, atomic power presents an exceptionally costly and inconvenient means of obtaining energy which can be extracted much more economically from conventional fuels.... This is expensive power, not cheap power as the public has been led to believe."

Nothing's changed.
posted by Twang at 11:07 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also thorium reactors which are said to be safe.

If you check into thorium reactors, you'll see that they require the thorium to be mixed with weapons-grade uranium. Vis-a-vis proliferation - does that sound safe?

Also, unless there's a new design, they outcost today's $10billion water boilers by a factor of several.
posted by Twang at 11:10 AM on May 14, 2011


If you check into thorium reactors,

Fuck, I don't know, I'm not a nuclear engineer. The only thing I can do is ride my bike everywhere, buy locally grown organic produce, and also be kind to animals.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:27 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand why anyone thinks that problems with this 40-year old reactor design
40 years from now, current designs will be 40 years old. If all nuclear 40 year old reactor designs are unsafe, then all nuclear reactors will be unsafe at some point. 40 years ago, everyone said these designs were safe.

So the question is, are today's designs safe? Are the same corners being cut? Well we have no way of knowing! So why would anyone want one in their back years, with the potential to make their neighborhood unlivable for thousands of years.
Steam-powered ships used to ply our waters and blow up regularly, actually KILLING hundreds of people
Well, people had a choice of getting on a steam ship, just like they have a choice about getting on a space shuttle today. With a nuke plant, you don't really get a choice unless you want to move away. There is a big difference between risk you choose to take and risk you don't have a say in.
If we could expand the renewable share of energy by 59% YoY constantly it would take over a decade to get to 2009's worldwide levels of power generation and I wouldn't want to take a guess at what percentage of total 2021 power generation that would end up being. The same growth rate has nuclear at the same 2009 absolute value in five years.
If it was actually increasing at 59% it wouldn't take very long to reach 2021 from 2009 levels at all. It's more then doubling in two years so I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem.

Secondly 59% annual growth rate in nuclear power is just insane. It probably takes a decade from planning to operation for a nuclear power plant as it is. On the other hand, adding a solar panel to your house takes maybe a day or two. That's the thing about solar: You don't need an enormous buy in, years of planning, bla bla bla to set it up. Small scale nuclear might be technically possible but in reality, it will never be legal.

Arguments that wind and solar aren't capable of supplying the worlds power needs are never backed up with any kind of sound math.
A valid point. I bet that if you compared "acres of land despoiled per TWH" and put it into a table as above that nuclear power wouldn't be such an outlier.
It's not a question of 'despoiling' it's a question of land too dangerous for people to enter for thousands of years. Land that gets damaged by coal mining, for example, can be reclaimed and used again. And coal is by far the worst offender.
posted by delmoi at 12:53 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Japan widens evacuation zone around Fukushima nuclear plant
posted by jeffburdges at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2011


TEPCO: Two other reactors have serious core damage — Indicates there are holes in bottom of vessels at No. 2 and 3

Nuclear fuel at Fukushima No. 1 unit melted after full exposure, Kyodo, May 13, 2011

No.1 reactor is in a “meltdown” state, NHK, May 13, 2011
posted by nickyskye at 11:52 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arguments that wind and solar aren't capable of supplying the worlds power needs are never backed up with any kind of sound math.

Here ya go:

My electricity usage: ~ 5000 kWh/y
Solar power in my country: ~1000 kWh/y
Solar panel efficiency: 13%

Gives:

5000/1000*0.13 = 38 square meters of solar panel

I don't have that much roof. And there are two other appartments under me. And what shall we do at night? Burn candles?

Can I have my nuke now?
posted by Djinh at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Disaster Plan Problems Found at US Nuclear Plants by NYT

Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry
posted by nickyskye at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cherenkov radiation is pretty : Penn State, McMaster, Imperial, Ohio State, Austin, Texas A&M, Uni. Michigan, Irvine Gosgen, Browns Ferry and elsewhere
posted by jeffburdges at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2011


I'm not sure you understand what solar panel efficiency means, and I'm not sure where your "solar power in my country" figure comes from, but it sounds specious to me. Also, you can feed off the grid to make up any production gap (in most cases, you'll have already fed enough back in to the grid to make your total grid consumption net zero).
posted by saulgoodman at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2011


400 tons of seawater were found to be mixed in the coolant water at Hamaoka plant, due to duct damage - reported by NHK.
posted by rainy at 3:57 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]



I don't have that much roof. And there are two other appartments under me. And what shall we do at night? Burn candles?

Can I have my nuke now?


I gather you are in NL, where I accept roof space is limited compared to many other places, but commenting about night time blackouts and candles just makes you look a bit ignorant. I have heard there might even be scope for wind power in NL.
And as you probably know, solar, hydro and wind are growing substantially throughout the EU, so that regions where it isn't windy or sunny can be linked via the power transmission network to areas where it is. And there are various strategies to store renewable power including hydro potential energy and fuel cells amongst others (although most have some drawbacks).
Of course, the real issue is that somebody has convinced you that if you buy a nuclear plant you can have inexpensive, safe power - and despite nobody being able to deliver this power cheaply to date (c.f. massive gov subsidies and unfunded externalities like waste disposal) or particularly safely (c.f. Chernobyl and Fukushima), you remain convinced.
I'm not particularly against nuclear, but because when it goes wrong it can go very wrong, I would rather not have a plant located anywhere near me, while I am quite happy to have solar panels on my roof (produced about 12.5kWh today).
So why not put some panels on your small roof top, and everyone else's, and some wind turbines, and some hydro and *then* build a nuke if you still need more power?
Why jump to using unproven (assuming you don't want to use older flawed designs) nuclear technology as the only avenue you will explore for power?
posted by bystander at 11:06 PM on May 15, 2011


Wow, where to start...

Hydro doesn't expand much anymore in most places. Certainly not in Europe. And besides, the environmental impact and people killed in accidents is many times higher for hydro than for nuclear. I'd rather live near a nuke than downstream from a major dam.

While wind is expanding rapidly, which is a good thing, it's never going to be the answer to everything. Certainly not when a significant portion of our transport moves from burning fossil fuels to electricity.

Some more numbers for you:

Total electricity use in .nl: ~118 TWh/y
Total renewables production: ~9 TWh/y

We're just not going to increase the amount of renewables here by 13x, there's just no space for that.

Now, let's look at the future and see what that might bring:

Total energy used by traffic: ~140 TWh/y
Total fossil fuels used to heat homes: ~110 TWh/y

Those are going to have to be replaced, for a large part, in the future with something else as well.

With what? Solar? Wind? Hydro? Don't make me laugh.
posted by Djinh at 3:14 AM on May 16, 2011


There is an underlying political issue here that politicians everywhere favor whatever business interests consolidate power inside their own country. Those nations that, like Germany, actually wish to maintain some manufacturing base, are generally quite happy to embrace wind power as quickly as practical. Conversely, those nations who's politicians favor outsourcing all their manufacturing, like the U.S., favor the centralized power generation offered by nuclear power, or even seek to prolong our dependence on fossil fuels.

We should obviously expand solar & wind massively while ending all state subsidies for nuclear power. Any unavoidable subsidies covering waste disposal and accidents should be handled as transparently as possible. In other word, each nation should maintain a very public running tally of radioactive wastes, half lives, and release risks, and all nations statistics are very publicly compared to GDP and population.

We should also move towards fast-neutron reactor and other breeder reactor which can produce fuel from existing nuclear waste, depleted uranium, and thorium. For this, we need the new experimental reprocessing procedures that produce fuel without producing weapons grade plutonium. If that fails, we should probably abandon private ownership of nuclear reactors, replacing them by government projects operated with a significant degree of military involvement.

Several points :

* There were very good reasons for investing in hydro-electric power, namely control over flooding and improved irrigation. There are obviously many poorly developed nations that should embrace hydro-electric power first for exactly these reasons. And the world currently gets more power from hydro-electric than from nuclear.

* Only about 19% of the U.S.'s electrical power comming form nuclear currently, that could surely be replaced by wind alone. Yes, we'll need significantly more if we move towards electric cars based on ground-level power supply, but the U.S. has an awful lot of empty land.

* Nuclear plants cost shockingly more than power companies like to admit to their investors and taxpayers, making them the perfect corporate investment for executives who's goal is becoming "too big to fail". Conversely, wind & solar provide far more honest pricing accountability.

posted by jeffburdges at 5:24 AM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Understanding the complete meltdown at Fukushima unit 1 (from Nature News blog, May 13, 2011)

Some have theorized that with all the fuel at the bottom of the vessel, unit 1 may have actually restarted its nuclear reactions. If that had happened, the fuel would be pumping out some portion of its normal 1380 megawatts of thermal power—probably enough to melt through the thick steal reactor pressure vessel. It would have dropped onto a concrete slab below (the basemat), where it would have hopefully been spread out, effectively diffusing the chain reaction.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really have no idea whether nuclear power is a better or worse choice than fossil fuels, nor do I know whether it's feasible to replace it with clean energy sources. I vary between being 1) surprised that everyone here knows so much about the topic as to have a hard-seated opinion on the matter, 2) thinking, "oh, maybe it's just that people like me, who aren't energy experts and therefore don't really know enough to take a firm position, just don't comment", and 3) thinking "goddamn people on the internet will take absolute and rigid stances on anything, despite knowing almost nothing". My mind just continually rotates through those three thoughts.

That said, knowing little myself, the one strong opinion I have is "Well, nuclear is probably not a good choice for a highly earthquake-prone area." Unfortunately, this strong opinion then clashes against the fact that I don't know what would be better for this particular earthquake-prone region, lacking in both fossil fuels and land area.
posted by Bugbread at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2011


Bugbread: read this if you haven't yet. From the 10 page synopsis pdf:
We often hear that Britain’s renewables are “huge.” But it’s not sufficient to know that a source of energy is “huge.” We need to know how it compares with another “huge,” namely our huge consumption. To make such comparisons, we need numbers, not adjectives.

This book isn’t intended to be a definitive store of super-accurate numbers. Rather, it’s intended to illustrate how to use approximate numbers as a part of constructive consensual conversations. This book doesn’t advocate any particular energy plan or technology; rather, it tells you how many bricks are in the lego box, and how big each brick is, so the reader can figure out for himself how to make a plan that adds up.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:50 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


My electricity usage: ~ 5000 kWh/y
Solar power in my country: ~1000 kWh/y
Solar panel efficiency: 13%
Well, you don't say what country you're in, but you would only need 6x6 meter square of solar panels to provide all the electricity you need in a year. How is that impractical?

The Netherlands has a population density of about 400 people per square kilometer, or 2,500 square meters per person. Of course a 6x6 square per person doesn't compare well to other areas with more insolation , but you don't have to put the panels there, they can be setup somewhere else and you can have the electricity pumped too you. And wind power might be a better choice for a lot of the energy generation needs. But really, using solar power exclusively would be well within the realm of possibility, when you actually do the calculations.

All you're doing is pointing out some numbers, doing nothing with them, and saying "don't make me laugh"
And what shall we do at night? Burn candles?
Use a battery?
posted by delmoi at 3:26 PM on May 17, 2011


In Japan Reactor Failings, Danger Signs for the U.S.
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 PM on May 17, 2011


nickyskye posted this in the now archived previous Fukushima thread, but I think it bears reposting:

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been trying to restrict shipments of tea leaves from the prefecture about 300 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to health concerns.

There have been no reports of drinks exceeding the 200-becquerel limit made from radiation-contaminated tea leaves. But fresh tea leaves harvested May 9-12 in six municipalities in the prefecture were found to have been contaminated with more than 500 becquerels of radioactive material.

Radiation levels for dried tea leaves that have been minimally processed (ara cha) are said to be five times higher than in just-harvested leaves. Dried tea leaves originally harvested in Minami-Ashigara, Kanagawa Prefecture, were found to contain 3,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium.


It should be said that this part of Kanagawa is to the southeast of Tokyo (even farther from Daiichi than Tokyo is), and this sort of fallout and contamination indicates that other regions of Japan, notably Nagano, also received significant doses.

Plus, it really makes you wonder about food safety in Japan going forward.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 PM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fukushima No. 1 meltdown occurred before the tsunami because the earthquake itself cracked the containment vessel, suggesting the Fukushima should be considered more likely for all reactors located in earthquake zones.

Was a criticality in Fukushima No. 1's fuel pool responsible for the radioactive fallout being detected in Seattle?
posted by jeffburdges at 4:25 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


TV Program: What is Happening at Fukushima Schools? — The Wavering “Radiation Safety Standard”

Pretty sobering report from Fuji TV morning show "Toku Da Ne" that illustrates the problem of radioactive contamination in areas outside of the exclusion zone.

Here's a transcript.

Apparently the show producers were reprimanded by Fuji TV for showing the segment, so the YouTube video will undoubtedly be taken down shortly.

Toku Da Ne is a program that appears on Fuji TV at 9am every weekday, and is aimed at homemakers.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:30 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Atmosphere Above Japan Heated Rapidly Before M9 Earthquake

Fresh footage inside Fukushima nuke disaster zone, workers inside buildings

A look at the post-earthquake and tsunami volunteer effort in Miyagi Prefecture | Last Word Tohoku. Part I: Devastation | Part II

Disaster tip in Nikkei Woman magazine: use a scarf to secure ankles if you're caught in quake/tsunami in heels

Fresh Tales of Chaos Emerge From Early in Nuclear Crisis

Wind is Japan's strongest alternative to nuclear
posted by nickyskye at 6:55 AM on May 18, 2011


"Toku Da Ne is a program that appears on Fuji TV at 9am every weekday, and is aimed at homemakers."

8am every weekday, and I'm not so sure about the "aimed at homemakers" bit. I watch it regularly, and it doesn't give off that housewife feeling like Sukkiri or Hanamaru or the like, nor the "angry, bitter retiree" feeling of Asazuba.
posted by Bugbread at 1:20 PM on May 18, 2011


I love the show (where else can you learn about illegal golfing along the Sumida River) and watch it when I'm in Japan, but who else is going to watch a show airing at that time?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:12 PM on May 18, 2011


The daily info gleaned off Twitter:

Reactor No. 6 now has over 6 feet of contaminated water in turbine building — Water in reactor building may cause cooling system to fail

TEPCO is misleading public over nuclear crisis says Japanese nuclear expert: Tokyo Electric Power Co. has made misleading statements about when it will stabilize its nuclear reactors crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, said Tetsuo Ito, head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute at Kinki University in western Japan.

Another Fukushima reactor plant video

Is this really saying the Japanese government wants to move out of Tokyo to Kansai because it's afraid of the radiation from Fukushima? (Anyone who speaks Japanese, pls help, thanks)

Not sure what this means: The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says workers may have manually shut down the No.1 reactor's emergency cooling system in order to prevent damage to the reactor.


Winds Threaten to Steer More Radiation Toward Tokyo, AccuWeather, March 20, 2011

Rapid meltdown happened at Reactors No. 2 and 3 — Indicated by black smoke at No. 3
May 17th, 2011 at 11:16 PM


Melted fuel in Reactor No. 3 appears to have burned through pressure vessel — Loaded with rods containing plutonium May 18th, 2011 at 01:58 AM

Molten fuel made it outside of Containment Vessel at Reactor No. 1– Pressure Vessel is “completely broken” says Kyoto U. nuclear professor May 17th, 2011 at 08:18 PM (in Japanese)

Interview with Akira Tokuhiro, Nuclear Engineer: Fukushima and the Mass Media: Contamination numbers are “disturbingly higher than we have been lead to believe” | "Only the mass media can put the kind of pressure on TEPCO and the Japanese government to bring about major change. This will cost at least 10 billion dollars if not 20-30 billion to clean up. It will take at least 10 years if not 20 and roughly 10,000 people working on the cleanup. The nuclear business is global. This needs an international effort to clean up Fukushima." -- Nuclear Engineer Akira Tokuhiro

Fukushima differs from other nuclear reactors in that it uses a dirty fuel or MOX which is banned in many of the countries where nuclear power is a major energy source. My Swedish-Russian nuclear physicist friend is sending me links for reliable radioactivity readings and weather/wind patterns. We must remember some of what is posted on the internet are simulations, not actual readings. But he did add this:

The most terrifying fact is that the Japanese power plants are using ‘dirty’ fuel, which most countries have rejected and banned. Needless to say that the Americans built them. Since the Earth is moving Counterclockwise most of the fall-out will drop on U.S., unless very strong winds take it somewhere else.

posted by nickyskye at 7:57 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Is this really saying the Japanese government wants to move out of Tokyo to Kansai because it's afraid of the radiation from Fukushima? (Anyone who speaks Japanese, pls help, thanks)"

No, it's saying that the government wants to make its backup location somewhere in Kansai. Its current backup location is in the Tokyo area as well, so while it can handle a minor disaster, a major disaster (earthquake, tsunami, radiation, godzilla, whatever) would take out both primary and secondary locations. Moving the backup site is eminently logical, and, honestly, I'm pretty surprised it wasn't already in the Kansai area. I had just assumed Osaka was set up to be Tokyo's backup.
posted by Bugbread at 8:51 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks Bugbread. :)
posted by nickyskye at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2011


Everybody knows that the government should be moved to Kani, Gifu, the geographic centre of Japan ;)
posted by KokuRyu at 9:04 PM on May 18, 2011


it really makes you wonder about food safety in Japan going forward.

Yeah, I've pretty much entered full on fatalism at this point. Not in a cheerful yet resigned way. More like, well, shit, I'm likely fucked, and so is everyone I care about. The cattle grazing feed is high in cesium? What about the mizuna I've been eating since the government assured me it was just dandy? And how much, how far away, have they really been checking? Not feeling particularly good about anything right now. Aside, of course, from the relative explosion of foreign and local microbrewed beers that's occured because of the general shortage due to the big three's breweries being damaged. Awash in Bass Pale Ale, I shall fear little. Or at least be too drunk to care.

As for the moving the government to the lee side of the stone, there's been a movement for years to move it to Niigata (because there's a very large block of LDP lawmakers from there, and they have stupid amounts of power in their backwater), and just recently, one Diet member (who was probably shunned immediately after) who said they should all move to Fukushima to show support, and to allay fears of radioactivity. Somehow, they didn't jump all over that suggestion.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:45 AM on May 19, 2011


Today's info collection:

Just another typical day in Dai-ichi - Head-scratching, uncertainty predominate

And no wonder they've been putting cows down outside the exclusion zone. It's in the grass - 1,530 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram were found in a sample collected last Wednesday from a farm in southern town of Marumori in Miyagi Prefecture. That is 5 times the legal limit of 300 becquerels.

350 becquerels of cesium were also detected in a sample from a prefectural farm in the northern city of Osaki.


“Recriticality? Possibility of recriticality?! IAEA report: a meltdown at Fukushima unit 3?” (JAPAN TV)

“Water dropping down from above” in Reactor No. 2 — Steaming spent fuel pool blamed

Fukushima worker’s told his internal radiation level is 30,000 cpm — “That’s never happened before” May 19th, 2011 at 05:11 AM

TEPCO says it’s “difficult” to start injecting nitrogen needed to prevent blast at Reactor No. 3 May 19th, 2011 at 12:56 AM

Sharp rise in radioactive material near Reactor No. 3 – Seawater concentration triples in a day (VIDEO)

Facts from Fukushima: TEPCO confirms meltdown fears (infographic included)

TEPCO's rolling blackouts calendar

Color-corrected webcam image shows strange glow/light near Fukushima reactors (PHOTOS)

More great news for nuclear safety: valves designed to prevent explosions failed at Fukushima. Many US plants use them.
posted by nickyskye at 12:21 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


>Just another typical day in Dai-ichi - Head-scratching, uncertainty predominate

Interesting blog, but there are no sources cited.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:09 PM on May 19, 2011


Last info gleanings of the day:

Fukushima may release more radiation than Chernobyl: TEPCO

The early radiation alarm has implications for other reactors in Japan, one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world, because safety upgrades ordered by the government since March 11 have focused on the threat from tsunamis.

The station, which has experienced hundreds of aftershocks since March 11, may release more radiation than Chernobyl before the crisis is contained, Tepco officials have said.

Trace of radioactive materials detected in Osaka, NHK, May 19, 2011
posted by nickyskye at 7:26 PM on May 19, 2011


Photographs show moment tsunami struck Fukushima also post tsunami videos

BBC Adam Curtis video "A is for Atom" chillingly prescient of Fukushima

Not Fukushima related but radiation related with some of the similar Tepco cover-up issues: Texas politicians knew agency hid the amount of radiation in drinking water

HOUSTON— Newly-released e-mails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show the agency’s top commissioners directed staff to continue lowering radiation test results, in defiance of federal EPA rules.

(Not knowing what Japanese sources are legit and what's bs) Katsushika Toukyou radiation dose experts remeasured five times the government announced, Yahoo Japan (Zasshi News), May 20, 2011

(Not knowing what Japanese sources are legit and what's bs) Korean TV news director exposed to 148 milliSieverts — Chromosome analysis shows 7 cells out of 1,000 damaged May 19th, 2011 at 11:46 PM

Not exactly Rapture party silly but close: U.S. officials turn to zombie 'apocalypse' to promote emergency preparedness
posted by nickyskye at 7:44 PM on May 20, 2011


"(Not knowing what Japanese sources are legit and what's bs) Katsushika Toukyou radiation dose experts remeasured five times the government announced, Yahoo Japan (Zasshi News), May 20, 2011"

The original article says something worrying, but not scandalous (i.e. it doesn't imply coverup or anything), and the logic is sound, so I find it pretty believable. It comes from "Women's Seven", which is a tabloid, but not in the "aliens kidnapped Elvis" sense, but in the "Grainy snapshots of married celebrities having an affair" sense. In case it's hard to figure out what the machine translation is saying, its that radiation measuring equipment is installed in all kinds of places, and some of it is pretty high above the ground (not as a coverup - this is equipment that has been installed long before this accident). The researcher and other volunteers measured various locations at 100cm above the ground surface, and found higher figures than those taken with these existing measurement devices, the highest measurements being in Katsushika-ku, 5x the measurements taken by the Ku's official measurement equipment.

As for the other article...well, I believe what it literally says: "The Korean Broadcasting System labor union announced that...". I'm sure that they did indeed announce that. But I don't believe the content of the announcement for a second. Living within spitting distance of Tokyo (2 train stops, or jogging distance), I had my eyes pegged on various geiger counters during the post-quake period. The background radiation level in Tokyo pre-quake was 0.00015 millisieverts/hr. That means in 3 days, pre-quake, he would have been exposed to 0.0108 millisieverts. They're saying he was exposed to 103. That is, they're saying that the radiation level in Tokyo post-quake was 9,537 times higher than background. I don't remember exactly what kind of a spike the geiger counters showed. Maybe double, triple. Let's be generous and say they rose to 10 times the background levels. That still means that KBS is reporting levels 9,527 times higher. Bullshit.
posted by Bugbread at 8:26 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a bit of cognitive dissonance:

20 terabecquerels of radioactive materials flowed out to Pacific earlier in May

and

Miyako seaweed harvest resumes

Miyako is less than 100 kilometers to the north of Daiichi in Fukushima; seaweed harvested here will be used in everything from milkshakes to convenience-store sushi rolls. Seaweed also tends to absorb radioactive isotopes more readily than other organisms.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:26 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a bit of cognitive dissonance

Oh noooo.

Today's links/info:

Report: Reactor No. 1 “exploded” after full meltdown — Similar pattern of disaster befell Reactors No. 2 and 3 May 21st, 2011 at 01:58 PM

Prime Minister ordered halt to cooling after he was advised seawater could cause a “chain reaction” or “recriticality” May 21st, 2011 at 01:01 PM

> Japan bans the sale of some produce from areas affected by the nuclear accident, but produce from many parts of Fukushima Prefecture has been deemed safe by a government testing program.

(Not knowing what Japanese sources are legit and what's bs) Kyoto U. nuclear professor: Much more serious than I envisioned — We’re in uncharted territory for first time ever since humans started using nuclear power (VIDEO)

Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University: "No One Knows How Fukushima Could Be Wound Down" As the Corium May Be Melting Through the Foundation

The water circulation system using water in the building proposed by TEPCO is tantamount to admitting that the Containment Vessel is broken. It is a much more serious situation than I envisioned

However, if the corium goes into the concrete, no point in talking about circulating water to cool. There will be nothing you can do. The only way may be to entomb the whole building in a concrete coffin. [...]

There is a possibility of further hydrogen explosion, and it is still possible that Fukushima exceeds Chernobyl in terms of magnitude of the disaster.


Merkel's Bavarian allies opt for complete nuclear shutdown by 2022

THE 40-YEAR-OLD Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth is unsafe, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should reject its request to renew its license to continue operations for another 20 years
posted by nickyskye at 2:01 PM on May 21, 2011


Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University: "No One Knows How Fukushima Could Be Wound Down" As the Corium May Be Melting Through the Foundation

Kyoto University is often frozen out of funding programs because of their critical nukes stance.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:32 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now that's an interesting piece of info KokuRyu. Thanks. An example how powerful the nuke industry is/has been in shaping public opinion by silencing criticism, presumably via the government as the vehicle for withholding funds as punishment.
posted by nickyskye at 5:30 AM on May 22, 2011


Today's info:

Arnie Gundersen's latest video: The Implications of the Fukushima Accident on the World's Operating Reactors

Dairy cattle in Fukushima sent to slaughterhouse over radiation fears

Radiation at Reactor No. 1 skyrockets — Now over 200 Sieverts per hour May 23rd, 2011 at 02:35 PM

5/23 @ 201 Sv/hr
5/22 @ 196 Sv/hr
5/21 @ 36.2 Sv/hr
5/20 @ 46.5 Sv/hr
5/19 @ 36.3 Sv/hr
5/18 @ 45.4 Sv/hr


Over one thousand nuclear workers have internal radiation of 10,000+ cpm after visiting Fukushima May 23rd, 2011 at 04:23 PM

The government has discovered thousands of cases of workers at nuclear power plants outside Fukushima Prefecture suffering from internal exposure to radiation after they visited the prefecture, the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Most of the workers who had internal exposure to radiation visited Fukushima after the nuclear crisis broke out following the March 11 quake and tsunami, and apparently inhaled radioactive substances scattered by hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. [...]

In 1,193 cases, workers had internal exposure to radiation of more than 10,000 cpm. Those workers had apparently returned to their homes near the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant or had moved to other nuclear power plants from the Fukushima No. 1 and 2 nuclear power plants. [...]


Fukushima plant “seems to be going through a limited version of the China syndrome” May 23rd, 2011 at 08:49 AM

Several decades ago, an American with an active imagination and a twisted sense of geography coined the term “China syndrome” to denote the worst-case scenario for an accident in a nuclear power plant.

The phrase, popularized by a 1979 movie with the same name, refers to the possibility that nuclear fuel turned into red-hot lava could melt its way through the reactor bottom and the Earth’s crust, “all the way down to China”. [...]

[T]he nuclear installation seems to be going through a limited version of the China syndrome since it was damaged in an the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11. [...]

posted by nickyskye at 4:06 PM on May 23, 2011


Slightly sensationalist, heh. Japan nuclear radiation leak gives birth to earless bunny? (VIDEO)
posted by nickyskye at 5:08 PM on May 23, 2011


Radiation at Reactor No. 1 skyrockets — Now over 200 Sieverts per hour May 23rd, 2011 at 02:35 PM

Yeah, my wife has been noticing this on a couple of Mixi Japanese-language forums (I haven't had time to research to follow Twitter etc). It's really weird that this hasn't been covered in the media, or that there has not been an any explanation as to why rad levels are so high.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 PM on May 23, 2011


Fukushima update: TEPCO admits more meltdowns

Owners of the nuclear plant at Fukushima crippled by the earthquake and tsunami admitted today that two more of the six reactor units at the facility probably underwent meltdowns soon after the disaster on 11 March.

TEPCO acknowledged last week that fuel rods in reactor unit 1 probably melted down within as little as 16 hours of the quake.

Today, the company said that there were probably meltdowns in reactor units 2 and 3 as well, after the tsunami destroyed cooling systems needed to prevent meltdown through overheating of fuel rods.


Fuel rods in reactors 2 and 3 had almost complete meltdowns, spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters in Tokyo today.

It was only May 15 when Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) admitted for the first time that a meltdown had occurred at the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

This is such an outrage that this corporation, Tepco, lied, lied, lied and lied more, withheld or delayed telling critical information, hid information. Then, when the media is no longer reporting anything and there is a general public disinterest in the topic outside Japan, now the truth starts to come out in dribs and drabs. What a dangerous scam!
posted by nickyskye at 8:09 AM on May 24, 2011


"It was only May 15 when Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) admitted for the first time that a meltdown had occurred at the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant."

I'm starting to get annoyed at the media's freewheeling use of the word "admitted". It has two uses: one is to release information that one has had in the past ("he admitted that he had had an affair"), and the other is to reach a conclusion that one has not had in the past ("John always thought he was a great artist, but when he got rejected from art school by an interviewer actually laughing in his face, he finally admitted that he wasn't very good"). Some of these "TEPCO admits" articles are about things that TEPCO has known about but covered up, but the vast majority is of the "TEPCO finally was able to install new sensors, and realized that there had been a meltdown" school of "admitted".
posted by Bugbread at 3:21 PM on May 24, 2011


Not one but three nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the days following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in north-east Japan.

But Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) conveniently left that part of the story out, until now


70,000 more should evacuate after Fukushima

Guardian: Japan's shift towards renewable energy, meanwhile, is expected to gather momentum later this week.

The prime minister, Naoto Kan, will unveil plans at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, to require all new buildings to be fitted with solar panels by 2030, the Nikkei business newspaper said.


Silvio Berlusconi had planned to build new nuclear plants. He decided to scrap the plans following rising public concern after the disaster at Fukushima.
posted by nickyskye at 9:27 PM on May 24, 2011


Man, that one is totally egregious. How can you "leave out" something you don't know, conveniently or otherwise?
posted by Bugbread at 9:37 PM on May 24, 2011


CNN: Reactors may be “riddled with holes” — Experts suspect full meltdown at No. 1, 2 and 3 May 25th, 2011 at 03:04 PM

Chunks of nuclear fuel appear to have entered drywell, causing damage: AP — Related to recent 192 Sievert/hour measurement in Reactor No. 1 ? May 25th, 2011 at 04:06 AM

Japan gov’t expert: 1,300 sq. kilometers in Japan above Chernobyl level for forced migrations May 25th, 2011 at 01:36 AM

Highest radiation dose yet at Reactor No. 1 — 204 Sieverts per hour in drywell

5/25 @ 204 Sv/hr
5/24 @ 192 Sv/hr
5/23 @ 201 Sv/hr
5/22 @ 196 Sv/hr
5/21 @ 36.2 Sv/hr
5/20 @ 46.5 Sv/hr
5/19 @ 36.3 Sv/hr
5/18 @ 45.4 Sv/hr

Hawaii milk producers fight radiation by feeding boron to cows, goats
posted by nickyskye at 7:10 PM on May 25, 2011


Angry Parents in Japan Confront Government Over Radiation Levels By HIROKO TABUCHI Published: May 25, 2011
posted by nickyskye at 7:14 PM on May 25, 2011


Highest radiation dose yet at Reactor No. 1 — 204 Sieverts per hour in drywell

5/25 @ 204 Sv/hr
5/24 @ 192 Sv/hr
5/23 @ 201 Sv/hr
5/22 @ 196 Sv/hr
5/21 @ 36.2 Sv/hr
5/20 @ 46.5 Sv/hr
5/19 @ 36.3 Sv/hr
5/18 @ 45.4 Sv/hr


Under the "condition status", it says "Gauge faulty". I'd still worry (perhaps the gauge isn't faulty, perhaps it's really that high!), but as a few Japanese folks on Twitter have pointed out, neither the pressure nor the temperature have changed. If the radiation was spiking that suddenly, pressure and/or temperature would have to change, so it does indeed seem that the rad gauge is malfunctioning.
posted by Bugbread at 7:29 PM on May 25, 2011


"Angry Parents in Japan Confront Government Over Radiation Levels By HIROKO TABUCHI Published: May 25, 2011"

Good article, so what I'm saying is not a rebuff against it, just a little nit-pick. It says "The issue has prompted unusually direct confrontations in this conflict-averse society", but that certainly hasn't been my observation. Sure, in Japan people are generally averse to individual confrontation (single neighbors getting up in other single neighbors' faces), but when it comes to scandals, or any "government or company versus community" issue, Japan is just as likely to engage in direct confrontation as America. The "town hall full of angry adults" imagery isn't really a rare occurrence.
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 PM on May 25, 2011


Japanese nuclear safety specialists say TEPCO has been covering up extent of radiation problem at Fukushima

TEPCO's Fukushima Tsunami Plan Was One Page Long

The problem was that TEPCO and regulators didn't look at risk factors more carefully.

Nuclear Super Typhoon? Massive storm may approach Fukushima this weekend — Current gusts of 195 mph May 26th, 2011 at 04:58 PM

Iodine-131 found at nuke plant on Japan’s west coast — Cobalt-58 found at nuke plant in southeast Japan May 26th, 2011 at 03:59 PM
posted by nickyskye at 8:25 AM on May 27, 2011


Coming back to this post after several months of this is like waking up in the morning and realizing it was not just a nightmare.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2011


Ozawa [Japan senior political figure Ichiro Ozawa]: We may not be able to live in Japan someday — Radiation is going to be flowing out for a long period of time May 27th, 2011 at 08:14 PM

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa

... Some day we may not be able to live in Japan. There is the possibility that the power plant can reach the state of criticality again. If it explodes, it’s a huge matter. Radiation is being leaked in order to keep the reactors from exploding. So, in this sense, it’s even worse than letting the power plant explode. Radiation is going to be flowing out for a long period of time. This is not a matter of money, but of life and death for the Japanese. If Japan cannot be saved, then the people of Japan are done for. We can always print money. Ultimately the people will have to bear the burden. Government must be determined to put a stop to radioactive pollution no matter what it takes, money or otherwise. The Japanese people must understand the situation.


...Anxiety and frustration are growing. People cannot live in the contaminated areas. These areas are becoming uninhabitable. Japan has lost its territory by that much. If we do nothing, even Tokyo could become off limits. There is a huge amount of uranium fuels in the plants, much more than in Chernobyl. This is a terrible situation. The government doesn’t tell the truth and people live in a happy-go-lucky…
posted by nickyskye at 6:41 PM on May 27, 2011


Ozawa: Some day we may not be able to live in Japan

Asking Ichiro Ozawa for his opinion on the government response to Fukushima is akin to asking John Boehner for his opinion on the privatization of Medicare. Ozawa has a stated interest in getting Kan out of power and becoming PM -- not to mention he's on trial for alleged campaign finance violations.
posted by armage at 9:16 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


armage is dead on here. Ozawa is currently in a power struggle with the PM. He's on the verge of being kicked out of the party (which he created, one of several he's created, then bolted when things didn't go his way) over several things, one of them being an outright embarrassment to the party. He's a throwback to times when open corruption was pretty much ignored, and while he might skate through the current troubles he's facing, he's dragging the DPJ down with him.

At the beginning of this, when even the Liberal Democratic Party was being supportive of Kan as a show of national unity, Ozawa was criticizing Kan pretty much from the start, mostly because he believes he should be PM. So, yeah, when Ozawa makes any comment, it's generally worth looking at it through the "what's in it for Ozawa" lens.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:19 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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