you gotta keep the devil way down in the hole
January 20, 2012 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Fukushima: Inside the Reactor 2 Containment Vessel, 1/19/2012. Here are Mainichi Daily News and Japan Times reports.
posted by flapjax at midnite (69 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Somewhere on the Internet there is going to be a claim that the missing fuel is due to:

1) Aliens taking it.
2) A super secret government transporter program.

Now, who has links to the sites claiming the above? Cuz daddy needs a laugh over clean, safe, too cheap to meter reliable Fission power.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:05 AM on January 20, 2012


Wow, you can see the gamma rays hitting the sensor.
posted by delmoi at 4:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm glad it's not me inside the reactor 2 containment vessel again.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 4:22 AM on January 20, 2012


Wow, you can see the gamma rays hitting the sensor.

Maybe you can see where the sensor has been hit by gamma rays.
posted by biffa at 4:24 AM on January 20, 2012


you can see the gamma rays hitting the sensor.

For the makerspace type people:

1) Get a DRSL style camera.
2) Dope some zinc sulfide with copper.
3) coat a DRSL lens on the outside of the lens.

Ta da! now you should be able to count the flashes of light and get a radiation count.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:26 AM on January 20, 2012


I'm glad it's not me inside the reactor 2 containment vessel again.

When you were in there the 1st time - what was it like?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:28 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Betcha that camera's still there, in the bottom of the vessel, nestled under a coil of wire and tether from where they chopped it off after it stopped working. What would the point be of removing it once it's gone in there? Yay, you've got a non-working, startlingly radioactive bit of kit! snip and vooooooop as the cable runs away into the building.

Shudder.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:33 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe you can see where the sensor has been hit by gamma rays.

The purplish-green bursts of static are feedback caused by the radiation affecting the camera's imaging sensor; here's a video demonstration of the effect on an entry-level CCD camera.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:39 AM on January 20, 2012


Maybe this is a stupid question, but what are we seeing here? Does this camera see light that would be visible to our eyes? What, of all this, would be invisible to humans? What's the red-orange moon-looking stuff?
posted by The Potate at 4:52 AM on January 20, 2012


I'm looking forward to the edited versions of this video that will include scary monsters creeping around in the gloomy distance.
posted by crunchland at 5:00 AM on January 20, 2012


Maybe this is a stupid question, but what are we seeing here?

I don't think it's a stupid question! Heck, part of the reason I posted this here was in the hope that some of the science-minded folks here might chime in and help us understand more about what we're seeing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:02 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dear God. What hath man wrought?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't understand what I'm looking at.

Those news reports are useless... 'We looked down the hole and didn't see what we hoped to see, but we didn't really expect to see what we hoped to see, so everything is fine'?
posted by panaceanot at 5:17 AM on January 20, 2012


Yeah, with the amount of radiation noise, I don't see how anyone could get anything useful out of that video. Well, apart from the "Radiation fucking everywhere" part.
posted by ymgve at 5:25 AM on January 20, 2012


The camera brings its own light source with it.... behold, the Olympus IPLEX Long.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:29 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The useful part of the video was that they were expecting to see water. They didn't, which means there's less water cooling the radioactive slag than they thought there was. Also, more acid damage than they had thought - probably determined by looking at how rusty stuff was.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:31 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meh. Whatever happening now, honestly, doesn't worry me half as much as the effects of what's already happened, and how it will affect me, mine, and the rest of Japan until well after I'm dead and gone.

I don't have the link handy, but there was a report on how the annual kafun (cedar pollen, to which most of the country is horribly allergic) season will be later than usual, and weaker, yet there was worry about how dangerous the pollen would be, as the tail ends of the pollen, post-quake, were evidently laden with cesium and other things best kept in containment. But not to worry, the government came out to say that the contaminated pollen shouldn't be a problem, nothing to see here.

I'd love to be more positive, but in continuing a trend since last march, I'm drinking a bit more, and I'm less willing to put up with しょうがない crap.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:32 AM on January 20, 2012


The purplish-green bursts of static are feedback caused by the radiation affecting the camera's imaging sensor;

Exactly and this gives the appearance of an amateur attempt. They already know there are high levels of gamma radiation, what they are trying to do is to see the extent of the physical damage and this blurry, noisy video feed isn't impressive.

more acid damage than they had thought - probably determined by looking at how rusty stuff was.

Less actually, considering that they were pumping salt water into it for weeks.

However, like the TMI accident, the real extent of the damage will probably never be revealed to the public and I can't help but think that everything - like this - that is released to the public is part of the fiction.
posted by three blind mice at 5:40 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


How many times has TEPCO claimed to be in control of the situation now? How can they say this is a controlled cooldown, if the whole thing just.. went wrong beyond any kind of plan they could've had?

Either they know quite well how bad it is and choose not to tell. Or they don't have a clue what's going on in there. I'm not sure what's worse.
posted by Harry at 5:49 AM on January 20, 2012


I'm less willing to put up with しょうがない crap.

Not sure exactly what this means, Ghidorah. You mean it's crap to post something like this, here to Mefi, because it's しょうがない ? Or it's crap for news organizations to report on any of this any further, because it's しょうがない ?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:52 AM on January 20, 2012


The useful part of the video was that they were expecting to see water. They didn't, which means there's less water cooling the radioactive slag than they thought there was.

"Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto downplayed the coolant water level, saying that even the utility had doubts over its initial projections and that the finding is therefore not necessarily surprising. This doesn't mean that the situation at the plant is drastically different (from that forecast) even though the water level was not confirmed at the 4-meter level, he said."

I can't help but think that everything - like this - that is released to the public is part of the fiction.

"Obtaining a clearer picture inside the containment vessels of the three crippled reactors is critically important"

C'mon! So this is the first time they've sent down an Olympus camera? We're supposed to swallow the idea they just got around to using some obscure little companies tech?
posted by panaceanot at 5:55 AM on January 20, 2012


rough ashlar: "you can see the gamma rays hitting the sensor.

For the makerspace type people:

1) Get a DRSL style camera.
2) Dope some zinc sulfide with copper.
3) coat a DRSL lens on the outside of the lens.

Ta da! now you should be able to count the flashes of light and get a radiation count.
"

DSLR. Digital Single Lens Reflex.
posted by Splunge at 6:01 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ta da! now you should be able to count the flashes of light and get a radiation count."

Also helps reduce red-eye
posted by hal9k at 6:21 AM on January 20, 2012


Uh, since I don't speak Japanese, is that a form of this word: しょうがい ?
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 AM on January 20, 2012


I kept waiting for slenderman to show up.
posted by condour75 at 6:40 AM on January 20, 2012


The flashes of light are actually due to the gamma rays directly hitting the camera sensor; unlike light, they aren't stopped by the camera case or focused by the lens, but they do look like light to the sensor.
posted by localroger at 6:41 AM on January 20, 2012


Actually there's nothing in the news report that suggests it's the first time they've used an Olympus endoscope... Excuse my knee-jerk reaction.
posted by panaceanot at 6:44 AM on January 20, 2012


Or maybe "helpless" as in this?
posted by XMLicious at 6:46 AM on January 20, 2012


Uh, since I don't speak Japanese, is that a form of this word: しょうがい ?

Sorry, XMLicious. But no, the term we're using is "shō ga nai", which basically means "it can't be helped", or "there's nothing we can do about it". So Ghidorah was saying he wasn't "willing" to "put up with" things that are "shō ga nai". Like, say, the current situation with the reactors, or maybe he meant an unwillingness to put up with people referring to the ongoing crisis, or posting about it, whatever. I'm not sure.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Flapjax, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have posted that, as I have been drinking. More news is never bad, and the more that comes out, the better, especially since the government and tepco only want to downplay risks that are being brought to light.

The しょうがない (shouganai, it can't be helped) thing is just that, good lord, I'm tired in being I. A situation where so much of my life, future and health is tied up in a situation that no one has any control over, that there seems to be very little, if at all, that can be done now. The radioactive cat is out of the bag now, and all we have is ineffective oyaji (old men) telling us not to worry, it probably won't be that bad. That's what I'm tired of, not, in any way, this post, or the one before, both of which I'd be fine if a mod deleted because I'm being stupid.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Ghidorah. No sweat, man.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:51 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


3) coat a DSLR lens on the outside of the lens.

Well, coat a cheap UV filter anyway. No need to more-or-less ruin a perfectly good lens. Also, you'll be trying to focus on the filter itself, so probably best to combine it with a macro lens. Focus isn't super-important for counting flashes, but it would help.
posted by jedicus at 7:09 AM on January 20, 2012


Today's Japanese lesson brought to by the letter U and the number 239.
posted by mrbill at 7:15 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nuclear containment is like spinning plates. Earthquakes and tsunamis don't help.
posted by jet_manifesto at 7:17 AM on January 20, 2012


TEPCO's spokesman Matsumoto said in the press conference that the white specs in the video is from gamma rays.

And yet a lifetime of comics has taught me that gamma radiation always comes out green. I smell a cover-up!
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:18 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


scaryblackdeath (eponysterical??), your comics lied. Cherenkov radiation is closer to blue than green.
posted by jet_manifesto at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2012


three blind mice: "However, like the TMI accident, the real extent of the damage will probably never be revealed to the public and I can't help but think that everything - like this - that is released to the public is part of the fiction."

What are you insinuating here?

There are a whole lot of people with very deep pockets and powerful connections to the government who have an incredibly strong vested interest in proving that TMI was much worse than we currently believe.

Although I'll concede that there very well could have been a coverup relating to the causes of the accident, I find it virtually impossible to believe that the accident had effects that we currently don't know about.
posted by schmod at 7:38 AM on January 20, 2012


1) Get a DSLR style camera.
2) Dope some zinc sulfide with copper.
3) coat a DSLR lens on the outside of the lens.

Ta da! now you should be able to count the flashes of light and get a radiation count.


rough ashlar, I had guesssed that the zinc sulfide was supposed to have a high enough index of refraction to bend the gamma rays, but essentially you're creating a super-thin meniscus lens. So, I couldn't understand how it focused the radiation: it would need a freakishly-large index to have much focusing power.

Short answer: it doesn't. ZnS is a scintillator. You might as well paint it on the inside of a camera cap (the kind you protect your camera with when there's no lens present), and avoid damaging any lens at all. Or on the inside of duct tape. Or saran wrap... You get the idea.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:56 AM on January 20, 2012


>: What are you insinuating here?

From the document I linked to:

"In May, 1983, my father-in-law, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, told me that at the time of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident, a full report was commissioned by President Jimmy Carter. He [my father-in-law] said that the report, if published in its entirety, would have destroyed the civilian nuclear power industry because the accident at Three Mile Island was infinitely more dangerous than was ever made public. He told me that he had used his enormous personal influence with President Carter to persuade him to publish the report only in a highly "diluted" form. The President himself had originally wished the full report to be made public.

In November, 1985, my father-in-law told me that he had come to deeply regret his action in persuading President Carter to suppress the most alarming aspects of that report."

I am insinuating that cover-ups are part and parcel of the nuclear industry. It has never been anything like transparent and releasing some blurry videos on the internet changes nothing.
posted by three blind mice at 7:58 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


There was a major earthquake just south of Tokyo earlier in January which shook the whole region. After the earthquake, there were elevated readings of iodine and cesium isotopes, but there has been no explanation as to why.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could have told me this was video from inside a 300 pound beehive found in an abandoned factory in Minsk and I probably would have believed you.
posted by nanojath at 8:42 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


No real specifics. Hyperbolic adjectives, e.g., "infinitely". I call bullshit.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:09 AM on January 20, 2012


A lot of the details about TMI did dribble out in the late 80's. The reactor was in the final stages of fully melting down, and there was already a crater in the center of the assembly with molten oxide beginning to collect and run down, when by a complete coincidence cooling was finally restored. Had it taken even a few more minutes to reintroduce cooling you would have had a full-on Chernobyl / Fukushima situation, with a steam explosion blowing the containment building apart and a plume of radioactive steam spreading out over a large area.

This is why it took so long to defuel the reactor; they had to send in human sponges to work a few hours each absorbing their lifetime permissible radiation dose while they chipped away at the core with picks and pliers.

The Rickover quote is accurate. I suspect Hyman Rickover knew more about nuclear power than you do, and if he used the word "infinitely" it's probably because he had a damn good reason.
posted by localroger at 9:14 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


C'mon! So this is the first time they've sent down an Olympus camera? We're supposed to swallow the idea they just got around to using some obscure little companies tech?

Of course none of us can be sure. Maybe they are hiding very damning video. More likely they haven't been able to get close enough to the containment vessel to introduce a camera until now.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:16 AM on January 20, 2012


C'mon! So this is the first time they've sent down an Olympus camera?

The reactor buildings (there are four of them) are really hard to get into, except with robotic devices. The interiors are a mess because of the hydrogen explosions, are highly radioactive, and are also filled with highly radioactive water that has been in contact, in most cases, with core elements.

What blows my mind is that this isn't "just" one nuclear reactor, it is three nuclear reactors, plus an additional 4 spent-fuel ponds.

But I guess Tepco and the government know what they're doing: they're raising rates on industrial customers (the folks who actually "power" the Japanese economy) by 17% next fiscal.

The arrogance of Tepco is astounding.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:24 AM on January 20, 2012


I'd certainly defer to Admiral Rickover on any issue regarding nuclear power. Based on what I've seen here, it's not clear to me that the "infinitely" remark even is a quotation, or that it is an accurate quotation.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:28 AM on January 20, 2012


This is probably the incident that got Hyman Rickover so upset:
The first “Quick Look” video examination, July 21, 1982, is recalled as a dramatic event by those present, and by many who only heard others tell of it. “There were many exclamations of surprise, disbelief, and confirmation,” as the video camera was lowered below the level of the top of the core without anything at all coming into view (ref. 12, ch. 5, p.13). The camera was able to see only 3 inches (8 cm) ahead, due to its small size, incorporating lens and light in one unit, and the turbidity of the water in the reactor vessel. Not until five more feet (1.5 m) of cable had been paid out did the operator call out, “Got something!”—rubble lying at the bottom of the cavity in the core (ref. 18, p.40).
Courtesy of those dirty anti-nuke hippies at the Smithsonian.
posted by localroger at 9:30 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Courtesy of those dirty anti-nuke hippies at the Smithsonian.

Great googly moogly, that report is impressive -- both for the scale of the accident and the ingenuity of the ways to bring pictures to officials who were reluctant to believe the scope of the damage without seeing it.
posted by Gelatin at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just google the "infinitely" quote, in Google Books for example.

Ah, found an original copy of the affidavit in this document on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission web site. The letter ends with this:
JANE RICKOVER appeared before me and swore as to the truth of the above statement.

Dated at Toronto this 18th day of July 1986
William F. Lamson Q.C.
Notary Public for the Province of Ontario
posted by XMLicious at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2012


I'm not disputing the authenticity of the affidavit.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Crabby, like all those other people in July 1982 Rickover had gone from confidently asserting that there was nothing to see here, move along, just a bad day at the plant and the safety systems worked as theywere supposed to, to realizing that they were five to ten minutes away from killing thousands of people and rendering a big chunk of the eastern seabord uninhabitable for thousands of years.

Now one can quibble that the difference in scale isn't infinity but it is big enough to strain the imagination, and Rickover wasn't speaking in his capacity as a nuclear engineer; he was trying to impress upon his son-in-law the seriousness of the situation. In such a situation the colloquial use of the phrase "infinitely worse" is fairly common and easily understood.

Incidentally, that Smithsonian article I googled up really is good. I thought I was pretty familiar with TMI (my own father was a nuclear physicist, and I design industrial controls, so I keep an ear to the ground). But I was unaware of the sonar scan done in 1984 which contained plenty of data revealing the true extent of the damage, but which nobody was willing to believe until they were forced to admit the harsh truth from a video feed years later.
posted by localroger at 4:34 PM on January 20, 2012


Russ Baker: Fukushima Update: Why We Should (Still) Be Worried
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:52 AM on January 21, 2012


rough ashlar: Getting an accurate radiation count is actually a LOT harder then that. You see, the chance of a gamma ray interacting with matter is proportional to its energy. So if you have a lot of high energy gamma rays they are much, much more likely to pass through the camera then if you have a lot of low energy gamma rays. However at really low energy the chances of it being detected drop again (I'm not sure why though, I just saw a graph of the function last summer)

Your best chance would be to set up some kind of silicon detector and lower that in, as it can detect the spectrum of energy you are seeing. However as the percentage of gamma rays you detect is also a function of where the source is in relation to your detector, this still isn't perfect.
posted by Canageek at 10:47 AM on January 21, 2012


localroger: I think you are overestimating what Three Mile Island would have done, at least based on my amateur understanding of the issue. Chernobyl is, by my understanding, the absolutely worst case scenario for this type of thing in terms of technical damage-- The only way it could have been worse would have been if it had been closer to a larger population center instead of the middle of nowhere (Which is, in my opinion, where nuclear reactors SHOULD be: Specifically tectonically stable, non-coastal middles of nowhere). Anyway, the entire core caught fire, blew the lid off the reactor, blew through the building (Since there was no containment building) and spread the contents of the reactor core over most of Europe (Which is rather densely populated)

From this a few hundred direct deaths are attributed (Almost all people at the reactor or involved in the cleanup), and most modern estimates are for a few thousand cases of cancer

So no, I don't think you'd have huge civilian casualties. Would it have been very, very bad? Yes, yes it would have been. Would it have crippled the US as a nation? No, no it would not have. It killed the US nuclear industry anyway. My one fear would be that the US wouldn't be as willing to sacrifice soldiers to protect the civilians as the USSR was.

However I am far more scare of the consequences of burning coal for power then of a nuclear reactor killing me.

The other big problem is that since no one is willing to build NEW reactors we have antiques still running. Fukushima Daini Was built in 1986. Think about that. The reactor is older then *I* am. Think about how much more we know about nuclear physics, engineering, etc these days. Think about how much tighter safety and environmental standards are now then in freaking 86!

There are several good documentaries on Chernobyl. My favorite is Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus which details the clean up efforts, but with a focus on the scientists risking death to investigate what was going on inside the reactor, and how many of them died (All of heart attacks, which I'm suspicious of, unless someone knows of a reason radiation would trigger heart disease. On the other hand, I'd be stressed all the time if I was running into stupidly high radiation fields every day)
posted by Canageek at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2012


I thought that although the reactor containment vessel was breached in the case of Chernobyl most of the fuel is still within the sarcophagus or in the ground underneath the sarcophagus. If that's true and what we see are the effects of only a small fraction of the fuel being released then it definitely could have been way, way worse.

Also, I'm not sure why you think that safety and environmental standards are so much tighter now compared to 1986. Here in the U.S., at that point Republicans had only really been in political resurgence for a few years. By now various political and industrial forces have been chipping away at regulations, agency budgets and staffing, and the actual statutes for decades.
posted by XMLicious at 11:56 AM on January 21, 2012


Canageek: In 1979 nobody had ever seen a meltdown, but the theory was that one would be very, very bad. The pull quote one article I read from the 1982 quick look was "Why wasn't there core on the floor?" The engineers seriously didn't believe there had been melting, partly because they believed that once started melting couldn't be stopped and everyone for miles around would be dead. Since that didn't happen, there couldn't have been melting. Except there was quite a bit of melting.

What has emerged via Chernobyl and Fukushima is that a full meltdown is a lot more complicated than those engineers knew. Rickover made that statement shortly after the 1982 quick look into TMI. He hadn't seen Chernobyl and Fukushima, but he knew that melting was a very bad thing, a thing you never wanted to see in a nuclear reactor.

I don't think TMI could have been as bad as Chernobyl, or as bad as Fukushima will be, simply because the inventory of fuel wasn't there. But it would have been very bad had cooling not been restored; it's certain you would have had a steam explosion, bits of the containment building scattered for miles, huge amounts of radioactives everywhere, and there was no evacuation so it would have hit the nearby population hard.

And other than the news from Chernobyl and Fukushima, our understanding of nuclear engineering hasn't realy changed much since 1979. We have more reliable industrial controls, but the basic processes are the same. There are some ideas on the table for things that would survive a catastrophe better, but the sensible reluctance to build anything so potentially dangerous has slowed their development.

Even if you build a reactor that can't screw up so badly, it will create the same kinds of waste, and we haven't figured out what to do with that either. One reason there was so much crap at Fukushima is that spent fuel rods have been sitting in those pools waiting for us to figure out what to do with them since roughly 1945.
posted by localroger at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2012


@XMLicious Yes, most of the fuel melted, fused with sand, and poured into the rooms under the reactor as magma. However a small amount of it was blasted out into the surrounding environment where it was detectable. This is very much unlike Fukushima where pretty much only light isotopes such as I131 and Cs137 were released, of which the first is long, long gone and the second will be gone within human memory (Half-life: ~30 years, so just a few generations. Heck, most of it will be gone within people who are alive today's lifetimes. Which is good as the US spread that stuff all over the freaking place in the 60s and 70s with nuclear tests)

@localroger: However since then we have a lot more experience with nuclear reactors and what can go wrong. Part of the problem with Fukushima occurred with a part that was designed to avoid what happened at Three Mile Island and reduce the amount of radiation that would be released to the air. You will note that none of the newer power plants in that region (of which there are several) had any problems. I know that they completely redesigned nuclear reactor control rooms after Three Mile Island, based on the human interface problems uncovered in the investigation.

Also: I don't know about 1986, but I've talked to some Canadian nuclear industry guys and they can't believe what they were allowed to get away with in the 1970s. Burying reactor cores in pits, running random chemicals through the reactor, running GOLF BALLS through the reactor (How do you think we learned that irradiated golf balls undergo a polymer reaction that makes them go further?) I mean, back then regulations were basically 'Do you think it is safe? Go for it!'
posted by Canageek at 12:16 PM on January 21, 2012


Dude, the fact that it's things like running golf balls through a reactor that impress you with their riskiness makes me wonder if your perception of the possible dangers here really has enough perspective.

As far as Rickover being familiar with meltdowns they've actually been pretty common as have other nuclear accidents, a notable one for me being the criticality accident at a fuel processing facility in Japan in 1999.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 PM on January 21, 2012


XMLicious: They also ran various chemicals through the reactor without doing safety tests about whether that would damage the reactor first, buried a reactor core in a dirt pit (still trying to clean that one up. Actually they did that twice, once with the world's first reactor core to undergo a meltdown, once because they wanted to put a new one in), dumped radioactive fuel on the ground far too close to the Ottawa river for comfort and various other things. A huge amount of their funding went into tracking down all the stuff they did back in the 70s and keeping it from coming back to haunt us.
posted by Canageek at 1:26 PM on January 21, 2012


Stupidly disposing of waste is bad, certainly (though I don't think we should be like "Whew! That'll never happen again!" when large-scale waste facilities like Yucca Mountain never get built and organized crime gets involved in dumping waste) but the components inside a reactor are constantly being irradiated and so are continuously becoming brittle and decayed anyways. It's good that they aren't running random chemicals through reactors but I don't think that means that everything to do with nuclear technology is dramatically safer.
posted by XMLicious at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2012


@XMLicious All I know is the people I was working with, and my friend who worked for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission both talked about how much more regulation there is today. One (retired) engineer made a comment about 'back then if you wanted to build a high-vacuum particle accelerator you didn't have to do any safety assessments and stuff, you just went and built a particle accelerator. You could get stuff done in way less time.'

It isn't that we don't do stuff anymore, but now you have to put a lot more work, have a lot more people look over things, do a lot more studies before you can do anything. You build a computer model, then you build 3 physical models, then you have an external team look over the designs kind of thing. It drives the costs through the roof, but it should result in safer reactors. Back in the day if your engineers said it was safe you just went and built the damn thing.

I don't know when this cultural shift happened: The oldest (now retiring or retired) employees remember those days, but they were around in the 60s. The people I met at work knew second hand stories of those days, wished they could go back to them (since everyone hates the safety people at every place I've ever been), but admits a lot of the stuff done back then was somewhere between stupid and dangerous by today's standards.
posted by Canageek at 2:06 PM on January 21, 2012


Sorry, that should be 'idly wishes' as in 'wishes they didn't have to do so much paper work'
posted by Canageek at 2:07 PM on January 21, 2012


Certainly, all of those things are improvements over the practices of the sixties, and they do make a measurable degree of difference in safety, but I think you're majorly overestimating the impact they have on the real risks involved; especially when you make the statement that Chernobyl is the worst possible outcome of a serious nuclear accident. A year ago I would have expected statements like the ones you're making to be followed by a prediction that an event like Fukushima will never happen.
posted by XMLicious at 2:31 PM on January 21, 2012


Canageek, it's very easy to place the marker where the culture shifted. It changed on 03/28/1979. Before that nobody really believed a bad thing would happen. They thought they had it all under control. After, they knew they had to be a lot more diligent.
posted by localroger at 2:41 PM on January 21, 2012


@XMLicious: I've yet to see a 'worse then Chernobyl' situation described. You had a full meltdown in a reactor with 0 shielding to contain it and the wind took it over most of Europe. Sure, it could have been worse if the wind had blown west on day 1 instead of north, but I fail to see what is worse then a full meltdown leading to a steam explosion, followed by the core catching fire, releasing several percent of its mass as dust and leading to contaminated land of miles around.

Oh wait, true, if someone was stupid and built the reactor in the middle of a city you'd kill more people, or if they hadn't built a containment structure of any type, or had worried about workers safety instead of containing the radiation, yes, it could have been worse. But in terms of the physics? I am not sure it can be. That was a big reactor, with all the safety features turned off, built below code and with the cooling system turned off.

What would you describe the worst case as?
posted by Canageek at 3:14 PM on January 21, 2012


As I said above, there's still a great deal of fuel that didn't escape into the environment at Chernobyl. That to me makes it obvious that something considerably worse could happen.

Even days into Fukushima there were people insisting that nothing serious could go wrong.
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2012


Even days into Fukushima there were people insisting that nothing serious could go wrong.

Yeah. Quite a few here at Metafilter, too, and depressingly, several of them were very condescending to and dismissive of those of us who were rightly concerned. Some poor showings from some of those folks, gotta say.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Getting an accurate radiation count is actually a LOT harder then that.

I'm not expecting accuracy. Doing such a project is to give you and idea that there IS radiation. All one can do is compare samples. And by an outside coating on a lens, it is possible one could detect Alpha radiation.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:43 AM on January 22, 2012


XMLicous: Excellent point. Next time I see the friend of mine with a B.Sc(Nuclear Engineering) I'll bug him about how much fuel we think could go up. I was thinking you thought that you could turn a nuclear reactor into a nuclear bomb, which can't happen; making a nuclear bomb is very, very hard to do, you can't just through a bunch of uranium or plutonium into a pile.

Actually I did think up a worse-case scenario: Put the reactor on a river that feeds some major cities, then dump a bunch of fuel into it. You don't need to get it into the air (Which isn't easy, as Chernobyl shows: Uranium is heavy and doesn't like to fly all that much) and there isn't enough volume to dilute the radioactivity (As in the pacific ocean).

That said: I am still FAR more scared of coal. It release all sorts of toxic chemicals into the environment, including uranium, causes global warming, and DOESN'T have a bunch of hyperparanoid people looking over every move they make.

@RoughAshlar: If you want a rough count of radiation there are easier ways to do it. Drop a dosimeter down there then haul it back up for one. Drop a giger-muller tube on a long cable down. Heck: Just drop an old film camara with high-iso film down and you can see some gamma radiation.
posted by Canageek at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2012


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