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"That will be the end"
April 14, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

A month ago, the Japanese TV show "Morning Bird" discussed the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and specifically Unit 4, which is in terrible condition. During an interview with Dr. Hiroaki Koide, Research Associate at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University, who explains the immense difficulty in moving the radioactive fuel rods - a process that will not even start until 2013 - the presenter asks what would happen if even a moderate earthquake struck near the plant before the fuel rods can be moved. Koide replies:
That will be the end.
posted by crayz (107 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow.

Thanks for posting, this is chilling.
posted by chapps at 9:06 AM on April 14, 2012


The end of what? That town? That part of Japan? All of Japan? The Asia Pacific region? The Eastern hemisphere? The world? WHAT DOES IT MEAN
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:07 AM on April 14, 2012 [31 favorites]


Got a subtitled link handy on that yt video? My Japanese is a tad rusty.
posted by quadog at 9:07 AM on April 14, 2012


おしまいです。
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:07 AM on April 14, 2012


Try clicking 'CC' or 'interactive transcript' on youtube for subtitles
posted by crayz at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2012


You can click cc to see the subtitles.

If you watch to the end "the end" means the surrounding area including as far away as Tokyo.

At a later point one of the news commentators suggests it will affect neighbouring countries, but the guests don't confirm that.
posted by chapps at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2012


Japanese nuclear engineer Yukitero Naka was interviewed on German TV recently and said pretty much the same thing: if #4 goes, the effects could be worldwide. Video, some transcription of the video, and interesting comments on the video here.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:15 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


From Asparagirl's link:

Question: Is the nuclear power plant safe now?

Yukitero Naka, Nuclear Engineer: Well, that’s what TEPCO and the government says, but the people in there don’t believe it.

There is still a great danger.

My personal concern is the fourth reactor block.

The building has been strongly damaged by the earthquake.

There are approximately 1300 spent fuel rods in the cooling pond on level four. In the level above newer rods are stored as well as a lot of heavy machinery. This is all very, very heavy.

If another earthquake occurs then the building could collapse and another chain reaction could very likely occur.

Narrator: So, a meltdown under the free sky which would be the end of Japan as we know it today.

The radiation would be direct deadly.

The work on the ground would be totally impossible.

The most likely consequence is that reactors 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 get out of control.

Armageddon!

posted by Bort at 9:31 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]




The end of what? That town? That part of Japan? All of Japan? The Asia Pacific region? The Eastern hemisphere? The world? WHAT DOES IT MEAN

The guy giving the presentation later clarifies that Dr. Koide meant: "the end for a wide area including Tokyo". Grim.
posted by tracert at 9:33 AM on April 14, 2012


Anyone see the video by Dr. Helen Caldicott? She says the same thing as Dr. Kolde...
only, she says it's the end of life....look it up.
posted by eggtooth at 9:35 AM on April 14, 2012


Also, this has become sickeningly apparent in the past year, and thus needs to be stated and restated often: the Japanese press is censoring information about Fukushima to a ridiculous degree. The more you read about the situation there, now a year after the earthquake and tsunami and initial meltdowns, the more your jaw drops. The cover-up and the attempts to discredit and/or intimidate those few brave scientists and reporters and professors and doctors who speak up is something like out of the Soviet era. I'm posting this on an iPhone right now, so it's hard to provide a link-dump, but I'll try to do that later. You would not believe how bad the cover-up is. I feel really bad for people stuck living in the Fukushima area, especially those with young kids.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hint: It's an energy source that is not nuclear power.

Fortunately new EPA rules will make it impossible to build any new coal fired plants, so progress is being made on that front, too. Coal won't disappear overnight but it will fade (at least in some countries) as cleaner sources of energy take its place.
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for what can only be interpreted as hyperbole, Dr. Koide.

It's not hyperbole to say that the current status of Fukushima is not stable and the potential exists for things to get much worse. It's not just reactor #4 that has problems, either.
posted by ambrosia at 9:41 AM on April 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


The odds of the world ending Dec 21, 2012 just got better.
posted by eggtooth at 9:45 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just Japanese media that are soft-pedaling the seriousness of the situation. I have seen two American documentaries on the disaster within the last couple of days. The Frontline report was well-balanced and fairly grim, but the other one, on (I think) the "Green" channel, was an incredible whitewash. All of the interviews were with nuclear-industry figures, and the emphasis was on the heroic plant workers struggling to contain the damage. No mention was made of the continuing series of misrepresentations and outright lies by TEPCO.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, this has become sickeningly apparent in the past year, and thus needs to be stated and restated often: the Japanese press is censoring information about Fukushima to a ridiculous degree.

Sorry, this is just not true. Different news outlets report different things, just like anywhere else. The Asahi (traditionally described as left-wing) does a great job of reporting on Fukushima and its aftermath, and many of the tabloids and weekly magazines are also doing some great work. After that there are blogs, Twitter...

The challenge the major broadcasters face is that there is a firehouse of information, but they have little technical ability to decipher and analyze that data.

Different factions have emerged (or have been exposed) within the scientific community. Academics from University of Tokyo, for example either, depending on your point of view, downplay the risks, or provide a reality check into nightmare scenarios. It's said this is because researchers from Tokyo University are funded by the nuclear industry.

Kyoto University has always expressed a "minority opinion" in regards to the nuclear industry. As a result, their nuclear engineering-related programs and research don't get any funding.

So, if you want a nightmare scenario, phone up Kyoto University.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


The dangers of coal power are, like the dangers of smoking, chronic and predictable. The dangers of nuclear power are, like the dangers of making high explosives in your kitchen, acute, random, and potentially catastrophic.

Smoking and making nitro in your sink are both bad ideas, and if you are a properly careful chemist smoking might even be the more dangerous, but most people find the potential consequence of getting blown up far more terrifying than the remote chance of getting cancer one distant day.

The possible mathematical superiority of nuclear energy is scant comfort to the residents of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the unpredictable and unknowable but history advises inevitable disasters of the future.
posted by localroger at 9:53 AM on April 14, 2012 [33 favorites]


The situation at Daiichi is pretty damn serious, IMHO. One big quake, and potentially there is going to be a huge catastrophe.

On the other hand, I really hope the Oi reactors go back online. Fukui Prefecture's economy is hurting.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on April 14, 2012


Maybe this is a dumb question, but why not just entomb the whole thing in concrete like Chernobyl? It's mind-blowing that these rods are still not adequately covered by water or concrete or something to dampen the radiation.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2012


Japan’s former Ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata was invited to speak at the Public Hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012: Ambassador Murata strongly stated that if the crippled building of reactor unit 4—with 1,535 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground—collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6,375 fuel rods, located some 50 meters from reactor 4. In both cases the radioactive rods are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air.

Mr. Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Energy, offering an explanation of the potential impact of the 11,421 rods:

"Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,138 spent fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137 — roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP). The total spent reactor fuel inventory at the Fukushima-Daichi site contains nearly half of the total amount of Cs-137 estimated by the NCRP to have been released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Chernobyl, and world-wide reprocessing plants (~270 million curies or ~9.9 E+18 Becquerel)."

Don't forget the radioactive fallout from the original indicent is still being felt on the US west coast, The Journal Environmental Science and Technology reports in a new study that the Fukushima radiation plume contacted North America at California “with greatest exposure in central and southern California”, and that Southern California’s seaweed tested over 500% higher for radioactive iodine-131 than anywhere else in the U.S. and Canada.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's mind-blowing that these rods are still not adequately covered by water or concrete or something to dampen the radiation.

Well they are covered now. It's a question of whether an earthquake could shake the building just enough to crack the containment pool open and knock down a wall or two, draining it and exposing the fuel rods to the air.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:18 AM on April 14, 2012


Spent-fuel storage seems to be the most immediate and scary problem facing Japan - there's just no easy and immediate way to safely dispose of spent fuel (this is something that pro-nuke folks always conveniently ignore).

From what I gather, the remainder of Japan's 50+ reactors store spent fuel on-site, within an actual containment structure (Daiichi - as does Daini stores/stored spent fuel in basically a warehouse-like structure with no reinforcement).

I have no idea how much of a hydrogen explosion a containment structure can actually contain, but think about it: 50+ pools of spent fuel scattered around Japan, with the fuel itself contained basically by a pool of water.

And there is no solution to this problem.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:18 AM on April 14, 2012


>It's mind-blowing that these rods are still not adequately covered by water or concrete or something to dampen the radiation.

Well they are covered now.


No, one of the spent-fuel pools (I can't recall the exact reactor building) is essentially open to the elements.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 AM on April 14, 2012


How bad is it going to get if all those 11,000+ rods become permanently exposed and/or begin to react (slow reactions I guess) with each other and the tons of crap already around? Are we talking, what, 50x worse cancer incidence worldwide? Everything living in the Northern Hemisphere earning a nice glow in the dark pallor? The Pacific becoming a water desert? Or would that be just the nightmare scenarios that the official factions are deriding? Honest questions from my technical ignorance of the nuclear physics involved, really.
posted by Iosephus at 10:28 AM on April 14, 2012


    "The end of what? That town? That part of Japan? All of Japan? The Asia Pacific region? The Eastern hemisphere? The world? WHAT DOES IT MEAN"
What is particularly dangerously radioactive about nuclear reactors is not so much the fuel itself but the products of the fuel as when U-235 splits it forms all sorts of radioactive intermediates that are profoundly bad for the environment to be exposed to, things like radioactive Iodine and Cesium. Those fuel rods being stored in that pool are filled with fucking terrifying isotopes in relatively high concentration that, if the uranium they're still embedded in heats up, melts, and catches their jackets on fire would aerosolize into the atmosphere.

There are 1,535 fuel rods, or 460 tons of the stuff sitting there in the building with the big hole and if it catches fire then at least most of the ~134 million curies of radioactive cesium-137 contained in it would enter the air. That is close to two orders of magnitude greater than what was released in Chernobyl, and Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, it would not go away. Neither humans nor robots would be able to ever return to the site for centuries and it would just keep on leaking.

The likely scenarios locally are profoundly epically bad. If the wind happens to be pointed anywhere not away from Tokyo that is a metropolis of 35 million people that could suddenly be uninhabitable along with half of Japan. That is a threat to, among other things, Japanese national sovereignty, where would those millions of sick refugees go?

Globally, if that kind of mass got into the atmosphere just wrong, it would cover the northern hemisphere in a concentration just high enough to have measurable effects on human health, and more importantly freak the fuck out of everyone.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:30 AM on April 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Smoking and making nitro in your sink are both bad ideas, and if you are a properly careful chemist smoking might even be the more dangerous, but most people find the potential consequence of getting blown up far more terrifying than the remote chance of getting cancer one distant day.

The people of Roane and Martin counties would beg to differ.
posted by narcoleptic at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everything living in the Northern Hemisphere earning a nice glow in the dark pallor?

Not unless everything in the northern hemisphere smears itself with a thin coating of radioluminescent paint.
posted by Talez at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2012


So most people live in Roane and Martin counties?
posted by localroger at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So most people live in Roane and Martin counties?

You bet your bippy.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:40 AM on April 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


In 2008 the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations calculated that ████ ████████████ ████████ causes approximately one million deaths annually across the world,[4]
Hint: It's an energy source that is not nuclear power.
Thanks for what can only be interpreted as hyperbole, Dr. Koide.


Yes, and thank you for a sterling ███-████████ there, jepler. (Hint: "non-sequitur.")
posted by JHarris at 10:41 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yucca mountain and other storage sites have their problems, but onsite storage seems like the worst possible non-plan. All spent rods not stored in a long-term underground facility should be stored in the garages of politicians.
posted by benzenedream at 10:44 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't forget the radioactive fallout from the original indicent is still being felt on the US west coast,

That link has a lot of good info. Thanks, T.D. Strange.
posted by salvia at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2012


Dammit, I watched The China Syndrome last night, and woke up to this thread. I'm going back to bed.
posted by oulipian at 11:22 AM on April 14, 2012


This is incredibly depressing. Are there campaigns to speed up the process of moving the fuel rods, and safely? Which organisations are calling for support that are having the most impact in supporting Fukushima residents a year on?
posted by wingless_angel at 11:22 AM on April 14, 2012


I have probably said this before in some Fukoshima thread, but it strikes me constantly how this is playing out nearly exactly as the anti-nuke people have said it would for decades.

"We can't have nuclear power, because if anything goes wrong and there's a meltdown and breach of containment, nobody will be able to get close enough to the reactor to do anything to solve the problem. Meanwhile, radiation will continue to leak out and affect the surrounding area. Plus, there is the problem of nuclear waste, especially spent fuel rods, and we don't have a good solution about what to do with those so they, too, will end up being a potential hazard in the case of any catastrophe."

I swear I've heard nearly exactly those words since the late 1970s. And now, here we are.

With all the seismic activity taking place around the pacific rim right now, the possibility of there being a serious earthquake before the problems at this particular plant are solved (which is going to take YEARS) seem to be much much higher than zero.

Hubris combined with propaganda got us all to this point, and there are no real solutions for the situation. It's truly terrible and makes me want to drink heavily and listen to nothing but Polyphonic Spree for a while.
posted by hippybear at 11:26 AM on April 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


The guy giving the presentation later clarifies that Dr. Koide meant: "the end for a wide area including Tokyo". Grim.

Fine, but what does "the end!!!!" mean? Instant glowing crater? 5-year evacuation? Giant monsters crossing the sea to knock down capital cities? Nuclear winter?

And how likely is it? That an earthquake of some strength might crack the containment pool is as specific as I'm seeing here.

I mean, this is all a very big problem, but this TV show looks exactly like Fox style fear-mongering to me with the dire prediction/no details/head shaking format.
posted by cmoj at 11:36 AM on April 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I mean, this is all a very big problem, but this TV show looks exactly like Fox style fear-mongering to me

I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops
posted by crayz at 11:39 AM on April 14, 2012 [20 favorites]




This is incredibly depressing. Are there campaigns to speed up the process of moving the fuel rods, and safely?

It's going to take at least 5 years. The spent-fuel elements are highly radioactive and the equipment for safely transferring them offsite (or at least to the shared spent fuel depository at the Daiichi site) was destroyed in the hydrogen explosions. It's an expensive, dangerous and highly technical operation.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:46 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops

This is what I'm talking about. No one is saying what exactly will happen, what it will entail, or how likely it is to happen. Just that it (whatever "it" is) COULD happen and if it does it's gonna be real bad.
posted by cmoj at 11:49 AM on April 14, 2012


Spent-fuel storage seems to be the most immediate and scary problem facing Japan - there's just no easy and immediate way to safely dispose of spent fuel (this is something that pro-nuke folks always conveniently ignore).

The anti-nuke folks do a terrible job of explaining the issue too. The short term (first 20 years?) handling is the problem. Once you can dry-cask the stuff it is no big deal. In the first 20 odd years it is crazy dangerous, and we are learning how logistically impossible it is to handle in the kind of quantities that large scale operation of nuclear power implies. Reprocessing may yet be a reasonable way to keep nuclear power, but then you have to start thinking about proliferation and safety in the reprocessing plants.

No, one of the spent-fuel pools (I can't recall the exact reactor building) is essentially open to the elements.

Covered by water, at least, and that's what really matters. None of the spent fuel storage buildings, with functioning roofs or without, offer containment in any useful way if active cooling stops for more than a week (or two?).
(active cooling meaning circulating water to take heat away from spent fuel rods)
posted by Chuckles at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's going to take at least 5 years. The spent-fuel elements are highly radioactive and the equipment for safely transferring them offsite (or at least to the shared spent fuel depository at the Daiichi site) was destroyed in the hydrogen explosions. It's an expensive, dangerous and highly technical operation.

Right, but surely the scale of this emergency is such that they need to ask for all assistance possible from the outside world. The only thing holding back progress should be worldwide availability of equipment and the logistical limitations of packing that amount of work into that small a physical area. Hard to know for certain, but it doesn't seem to be happening that way.
posted by Chuckles at 12:37 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Japan is kind of hooped because they don't really have a plan for storage or reprocessing. One test storage facility, Rokkasho-mura is already full, and it went way over budget.

I suppose the solution is to build more storage facilities in Japan, but at the moment even communities that host nuclear power plants are opposed to nuclear power, let along a nuclear waste dump.

Reprocessing may yet be a reasonable way to keep nuclear power, but then you have to start thinking about proliferation and safety in the reprocessing plants.

Japan was already heavily committed to reprocessing (ie, using MOX in its reactors), partly in an effort to reduce the cost of storing its plutonium overseas, and partly in an effort to create a self-sustaining nuclear fuel cycle that would give the country energy independence, ultimately through fast breeder reactors.

The fast breeder reactor program is now effectively dead, and there is a lot of waste to be stored or recycled.

Interesting article here.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:39 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


benzenedream: Yucca mountain and other storage sites have their problems, but onsite storage seems like the worst possible non-plan. All spent rods not stored in a long-term underground facility should be stored in the garages of politicians.

See, this is what I mean about the anti-nuke people doing a terrible job. Yucca mountain is nothing but a side show. It is the hot waste, the stuff that has just come out of the reactor in the last few years, that is a concern. Once the fuel has cooled to the point that you can box it up and drive it down the highway the details are just politics.
posted by Chuckles at 12:43 PM on April 14, 2012


cmoj, the consequences of a large-scale contamination event are pretty well known. They weren't widely believed until Chernobyl, but that kind of showed us what it looks like.

A large area of land, possibly including Tokyo, will become essentially uninhabitable. You won't drop dead just because you drove through, but to live there permanently will be essentially to be wedded to cancer. For the same reason that area won't be arable; nobody in their right mind would dare eat produce or animals that fed on the produce of such a region. Ironically, nature will probably reclaim the area pretty thoroughly; short-lived animals aren't as bothered by cancer as humans. They've found rodents in the Chernobyl exclusion zone which are hot enough to make a geiger counter sing, but they thrive because they reproduce before they are old enough to get sick.

Chernobyl was in a relatively sparsely settled region; the one large city they had to evacuate was a suburb by Tokyo standards. While we know what the contamination does what we don't know is how Japan or the world will deal with 40 to 80 million refugees.

Further afield contamination may be spotty and will result in more chronic problems. Sub-symptomatic radiation exposure is a stressor that can kick old people, infants, and sick people who would otherwise live over the edge. (Incidentally, this is also what pollution from coal does, and is the basis for jepler's note about coal above.) There was a worldwide uptick in infant mortality and flu deaths the year Chernobyl occurred, especially in Europe but noticeable almost everywhere. (Some of the statistics fir the area of Pennsylvania around Three Mile Island simply weren't published the year of the meltdown, which would be an awful convenient coincidence if it's not a coverup.)

Even within Japan not a lot of people would be able to claim "Fukushima killed me," but the statistics will reveal a wave of extra death and sickness. And of course the refugees will have to be housed, the crop production replaced, and so on. If people refuse to leave (in Russia they were not given a choice) their death rate will be much more noticeably higher. Given the magnitude of the situation and some of the responses so far, I suspect Japan might invite elderly people to move into the hot zone to make room elsewhere for the young and fertile.

Otherwise, life will go on. The world will not end. But it will just be that much more miserable.
posted by localroger at 12:44 PM on April 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


Once the fuel has cooled to the point that you can box it up and drive it down the highway the details are just politics.

Except nuclear fuel doesn't become that safe for tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of years.

As blasdelb noted above, the really nasty thing about spent nuclear fuel is that it is a chemical witch's brew of mid-periodic-table elements, many of which will be long-lived isotopes of elements that bioaccumulate, and many others of which are just plain chemically toxic. Some are gaseous and many are liquid or water soluble. So while such spent fuel is no longer dangerous to make geiger counters sing halfway around the world, it is quite capable of contaminating an aquifier or fishery should containment be breached. And there will be an awful lot of such waste, and humans have never built anything that lasted even a tenth that long without either falling apart or being breached by future humans.
posted by localroger at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The technology needed to dispose of nuclear waste has to last longer than human history to date.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    "Once the fuel has cooled to the point that you can box it up and drive it down the highway the details are just politics."
      "Except nuclear fuel doesn't become that safe for tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of years. As blasdelb noted above, the really nasty thing about spent nuclear fuel is that it is a chemical witch's brew of mid-periodic-table elements, many of which will be long-lived isotopes of elements that bioaccumulate, and many others of which are just plain chemically toxic. Some are gaseous and many are liquid or water soluble. So while such spent fuel is no longer dangerous to make geiger counters sing halfway around the world, it is quite capable of contaminating an aquifier or fishery should containment be breached. And there will be an awful lot of such waste, and humans have never built anything that lasted even a tenth that long without either falling apart or being breached by future humans."
There are two separate issues here that are very easy to confuse. Spent fuel rods do not need to remain in a pool forever, once they cool down they can be placed in what is known as dry-cask storage where they are very carefully shut in a very solid shielded container. Once they've gone through this process the fuel rods themselves will remain very radioactive, and thus dangerous, for eons but they do not require active cooling to remain safe. This means that Chuckles is right, once they get to that point, they can be boxed up and where they go from there is just politics. I know the procedures modern reactors use in the US require fuel rods to only spend a year in the pool, but I don't know how long these will need.

The situation the fuel rods are in now is so dangerous because they are still generating their own heat (notice the bubbles in this video) and the zirconium cladding they are jacketed in can exothermically oxidize, or catch fire, at the kinds of insane temperatures that active fuel rods will reach without cooling. With a fire not only does containment get breached but all of the terrifying elements that the fission produced get thrown up into the air. Once they rods cool down to the point where they can be stored dry, and then are stored dry, this becomes a non-issue and storage becomes dramatically safer.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


localroger writes "There was a worldwide uptick in infant mortality and flu deaths the year Chernobyl occurred, especially in Europe but noticeable almost everywhere."

How often do world wide up ticks in infant morality happen? Or has it trended downwards every year but that one? How about the flu? Were there any world wide down ticks that year? Maybe cholera or pneumonia? Is there any evidence at all showing the uptick was caused by Sub-symptomatic radiation exposure and not say stress related to media coverage of the event? Or is the uptick simple correlation (possibly because of a relatively dangerous flu variant)?

KokuRyu writes "The technology needed to dispose of nuclear waste has to last longer than human history to date."

This isn't difficult on the face of it. Long term storage doesn't require anything in the way of active machinery and we routinely crank out materials that will last for 10s of thousands of years (ceramics for example) if those materials are protected from weathering and erosion.
posted by Mitheral at 1:38 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, the long term storage problem is something that requires thought and resources, certainly, but the scale is different. I think events have demonstrated quite clearly that it was a failure of imagination to get caught up on the "OMG 10,000 years!!!" thing.

I know the procedures modern reactors use in the US require fuel rods to only spend a year in the pool,

How does that work?
posted by Chuckles at 1:46 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironically, nature will probably reclaim the area pretty thoroughly; short-lived animals aren't as bothered by cancer as humans. They've found rodents in the Chernobyl exclusion zone which are hot enough to make a geiger counter sing, but they thrive because they reproduce before they are old enough to get sick.


This is interesting (in a clinically detached sense). Even if the individual's lifespan is shorter, wouldn't the risk of mutation per cell division be higher? Fewer somatic cell divisions would mean fewer cancers, but wouldn't mutations in germ-line cells across the generations have some unusual effects? I suppose I'm imagining something like a tumor metastasizing from parents to offspring, which is a very weird and discomforting thought.

Also what kind of capability do complex species like vertebrates have to adapt to higher background radiation? Over the course of several generations can DNA-repair mechanisms become more robust? I suppose bacteria would be able to isolate and excrete bits or radioactive isotopes, but could they incorporate heavy stable metals as a kind of internal shielding?
posted by eurypteris at 2:02 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm and I'm letting my amateurism show here... but is it theoretically possible for a cell to use isotopic radiation as an energy source? I'm imagining something like a mutation producing a pigment molecule containing a lead ion at it's center.

I'll keep the rest of my speculative evolution musings to myself and hope to god the people of Japan don't have to go through yet another massive trauma.
posted by eurypteris at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2012


Eurypteris: in fact it seems possible. (Discussion)
posted by en forme de poire at 2:19 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one is saying what exactly will happen, what it will entail, or how likely it is to happen.

How could they? We're pretty far off the rails at this point, and there is no way to predict in advance except very approximately.

We've got tons of hot fuel stored in the air above more tons of hot fuel. In an earthquake they lose their water shielding and collapse into a smaller space, possible causing some, or a lot, of criticality. How much? it will vary depending on things like, this chunk of fuel falls on top of a big piece or concrete, so separated from another chunk of fuel; or no, it falls under the chunk and thus more sustained fission.
posted by msalt at 2:22 PM on April 14, 2012


    Chuckles: "How does that work?"
I'm not a nuclear physicist, though these folks seem to confirm my memory.
    eurypteris: "Hmm and I'm letting my amateurism show here... but is it theoretically possible for a cell to use isotopic radiation as an energy source? I'm imagining something like a mutation producing a pigment molecule containing a lead ion at it's center."
There likely are Radiotrophic Fungi, though they don't appear to need heavy elements like lead to do it. It looks like melanin can be modified to pump radioactive energy straight into the electron transport chain through NADH.

Dadachova E, Bryan RA, Huang X, Moadel T, Schweitzer AD, Aisen P, Nosanchuk JD, Casadevall A. (2007). Rutherford, Julian. ed. "Ionizing radiation changes the electronic properties of melanin and enhances the growth of melanized fungi". PLoS ONE 2 (5): e457.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:27 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have probably said this before in some Fukoshima thread, but it strikes me constantly how this is playing out nearly exactly as the anti-nuke people have said it would for decades.

Sadly, there is no pleasure in being right on one of these predictions.

On long term storage ...

My archivist friend was telling me that there actually was a group of archivists somehow responsible for figuring out how to post warnings on the storage that would make sense in a zillion (est.) years.

I thought that was the most hilarious project ever at the time...
posted by chapps at 2:44 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


How often do world wide up ticks in infant morality happen?

Global and large regional health statistics tend to be pretty consistent. We have been doing epidemiology for long enough to know when a change in one of these statistics suggests an underlying cause. When a large number of otherwise unrelated health problems spike in the same year as an event like Chernobyl, it is not exactly stretching things to make the radiation event suspect #1.

As for the flu, if there's a new strain of flu that was a known thing even in the 1980's.

Anyway, have a book on the subject. From the conclusions:
Even though the lack of large-scale independent long-term studies does not permit a complete picture to be made of the current situation, a number of trends can be shown: a high mortality rate and an almost 100% morbidity rate can be observed among people, such as liquidators, who were exposed to high radiation levels. 25 years after the reactor catastrophe cancer and other diseases have emerged on a scale that, owing to the long latency period, might have appeared inconceivable immediately following the catastrophe.

The number of non-cancerous diseases is far more dramatic than had ever before been imagined. “New” symptoms, such as the premature aging of liquidators, raise questions that research is still unable to answer.

By 2050 thousands more cases of illnesses will be diagnosed that will have been caused by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe. The delay between cause and noticeable physical reaction is insidious. Chernobyl is far from over.

Particularly tragic is the fate of the thousands of children who were born dead or died in infancy, who were born with malformations and hereditary diseases, or who are forced to live with diseases they would not have developed under normal circumstances.

The genetic defects caused by Chernobyl will continue to trouble the world for a long time to come – most of the effects will not become apparent until the second or third generation.

Even if the extent of the health effects is not yet clear, it can still be predicted that the suffering brought about by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima is, and will be, of a similar magnitude.

posted by localroger at 3:40 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


From what I was reading a couple of weeks ago, they can't even get robots in there until they invent robots that can withstand that level of radiation.

Reactor 2 radiation too high for access, The Japan Times Online, Thursday, March 29, 2012
Radiation inside the reactor 2 containment vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 [a.k.a. Dai-ichi] nuclear plant has reached a lethal 73 sieverts per hour and any attempt to send robots in to accurately gauge the situation will require them to have greater resistance than currently available, experts said Wednesday.
Emphasis added.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:54 PM on April 14, 2012


I live about 100 miles south of the Fukushima reactor. I've been so busy with life and work over the last six months that I admittedly haven't kept up on the situation at the reactor site. I watched the YouTube clip in the OP's last link first and, mildly irked by what I saw as an important mistranslation, was going to write this in reaction:

Let's tone down the level of hyperbole here, shall we? Starting with this clarification: The presenter didn't say "moderate earthquake," he said "earthquake strong enough to bring down the building [at Unit 4]." That's a pretty damned important distinction.

Then I looked at the picture of Unit 4 in the OP's other link. My reaction:


Oh jesus f*ck.


It's a beautiful Sunday here right now. April is the busiest time of year in my industry, so I had been planning to work from home for most of today to get a head start on next week's work. Instead, after I spend a few hours catching up by reading the many links posted throughout this thread, I'm going to call up a few friends and head down to the cherry blossom viewing festival at the local park. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and will be gone by the end of the week. I can't think of anything more important right now than to go and enjoy them with people I care about.
posted by Kevtaro at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2012 [28 favorites]


Wow, I think I have an original sapphire-on-silicon radiation hardened 1802 around here somewhere. Maybe I should put it on eBay.
posted by localroger at 4:12 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is a dumb question, but why not just entomb the whole thing in concrete like Chernobyl?

Chernobyl is far inland and far above sea level. It was necessary to tunnel under the reactor and pump in boron-laced concrete to catch anything trying to do a China Syndrome melt-through; there are no solid materials that can remain solid at the temperatures a refissioning core can produce.

Fukushima is on a beach. Tunneling under isn't possible, and if the hot stuff reaches groundwater, which is only a few feet below the surface, it really doesn't matter what you've piled on top; the steam explosion will find a way out.
posted by localroger at 4:18 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there any sort of trustworthy estimate as to what magnitude of quake would be sufficient to trigger this doomsday scenario? What sort of depth or proximity are we talking about? There were some large aftershocks, were they not enough, or did we luck out on their timing?

What happens to Japan if their sovereignty is threatened by a large-scale evacuation? They hold as much of the US debt as China does, what does this mean for that?
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:31 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


feloniousmonk, if you look at the OP picture of unit 4 which freaked kevtaro out so effectively, it's obvious that the only possible answer is "nobody knows." That's a reinforced concrete structure that's survived a massive explosion. It's unknown how fractured the concrete is, how much of the rebar is damaged or exposed, and whether corrosion is affecting the rebar in ways it might not if the concrete weren't fractured. It's supporting a very, very heavy load about 100 feet in the air. It could be much more solid than it looks in that scary photo or it could be pushed over by the next stiff breeze. It's really impossible to know.
posted by localroger at 4:55 PM on April 14, 2012


That's a reinforced concrete structure that's survived a massive explosion

Actually, that's not correct. What has been blown all to hell is the "secondary containment", which was actually designed to easily blow out in the event of a hydrogen explosion. If you look at the diagram in this Forbes article, you'll see that the top of the building was little more than sheet metal and steel girders.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:10 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


localrodger I don't see anything in your link related to a world wide uptick in illness caused correlated with by Sub-symptomatic radiation exposure; it seems to deal exclusively with countries immediately around Chernobyl that experienced significant radiation fall out.

Also the site your link points to takes a bit of a respectability hit by endorsing practices like Reiki and Cranio Sacral Therapy.
posted by Mitheral at 5:22 PM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually, that's not correct. What has been blown all to hell is the "secondary containment", which was actually designed to easily blow out in the event of a hydrogen explosion.

This is only true in case of unit 1. Units 3 & 4 had much stronger explosions. If you look at this image of unit 4, it shows a very significant amount of damage to concrete structure:

unit 4

Unit 3 damage is even more severe.
posted by rainy at 6:15 PM on April 14, 2012


I'm just weirded out because they're talking about all this in front of cartoons.
posted by fungible at 6:25 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is a dumb question, but why not just entomb the whole thing in concrete like Chernobyl?

The situation with Chernobyl was completely different. The primary containment there exploded, fuel melted and poured down into basement, a lot of fuel was spread out and about by the explosion, and boron was dumped on top of it. In total there was about 24 times less fuel than at Fukushima, and it was younger fuel (less dangerous fission products per ton).

Chernobyl was entombed to limit the amount of leaking.

In Fukushima, all of the primary containments are mostly intact, and fuel is concentrated in the containments and spent fuel pools. This means they have to be cooled with water or they will potentially start another fission reaction and melt through their containments and/or cause steam explosions. So, "entombing" them would be an enormously larger task than Chernobyl, because here you have 4 large buildings whereas in the latter you had more or less just a hole in the ground to cover up, and even if it could be done, it would just add another layer that would blow apart if there was a steam explosion.

What I'm curious about is why there is still no reinforcing structure to prop up unit 4 building. The SFP of unit 4 is the one thing that's most vulnerable to an earthquake at the plant.
posted by rainy at 6:34 PM on April 14, 2012


Unit 4 looks like it's being left as a honeytrap for ill-informed urban spelunkers.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:51 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I'm curious about is why there is still no reinforcing structure to prop up unit 4 building.

Probably has to do with the radiation exposure for the workers who would have to erect such a structure.
posted by localroger at 7:05 PM on April 14, 2012


It still kills me that the energy future being most aggressively pushed here in the US recently relies a) On relatively new fossil fuel extraction methods we now definitively know can actually cause earthquakes, and b) on nuclear energy tech that turns out to be potentially catastrophically dangerous in the event of earthquakes. And both of these techs--despite the tremendous engineering challenges associated with just minimizing the non-zero risks they carry of causing mass extinction events--are popularly considered to be the most practical alternatives available. "Only in America!"
posted by saulgoodman at 7:27 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Folks that missed our original epically depressing and stressful Fukushima threads are encouraged to dig in. Frustratingly, they are realllllly long, but chock full of links to info on the situation as it developed.

The scenario we became most concerned about at the time was that the variuos storage pools would lose water, causing the spent rod cladding to ignite, creating a situation which could lead to lofting of radioactive materials into the stratosphere, as also mentioned upthread.

The new concern in this thread is the possibility of both the upper-floor spent fuel rods and the ground-level fuel storage area becoming commingled in the event of a quake leading to a fire in either set of rods.

I don't recall having heard that as a worst case scenario a year ago; I certainly never got far enough into thinking about where the various caches of fuel were in physical proximity to one another.

As I recall, however, concerns about radiation reaching the US in meaningful quanities due to the specific events of last year are essentially minimal, as there was insufficient heat available to place much of the radioactive material into the upper atmosphere. Thus, even though radiatin reached the US in higher quantities than desirable or predicatbel in the absence of the Fukushima failures, the actual amounts remained pretty minimal and not enough to be a legitimate cause for concern.

The other issue that I recall taking away from the threads was TEPCO's history as, essentially, an untrustworthy information source. In the week or so that there was little meaningful international coverage of the events, we were not able to find clear evidence of TEPCO actually lying about anything, but I seem to recall plenty of evidence of delay, minimization, and obfuscation in the information which was being released. That, I think, was mostly put down to demoralization and the fog of events, but taken in context with a corporate culture that had a hard time with accountability it gives plenty of reason to be mistrustful of the company.

Those threads were the most stressful and rewarding internet experience of my twenty or so years online. I am in no hurry to do that again.
posted by mwhybark at 8:17 PM on April 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


The long threads are at the bottom of the "Fukushima" tag page.
posted by mwhybark at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


ugh, sorry about typos. tablet entry leaves much to be desired.
posted by mwhybark at 8:23 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"It is the hot waste, the stuff that has just come out of the reactor in the last few years, that is a concern. Once the fuel has cooled to the point that you can box it up and drive it down the highway the details are just politics."
posted by Chuckles at 12:43 PM on April 14 [+]


See, isn't that just exactly the same thought pattern that got us into such a situation?

People said the V.I. Lenin was a modern and save facility. Until it was not. People said Chernobyl was an exception, we in our highly industrialized countries have superior knowledge and technologies, our nuclear facilities are safe. Fukushima taught us that even an industrialized country is not capable of managing such an event.

People tend to think the tiny little problems that they can grasp only need to be solved and then everything else will be of no concern anymore. "Once the fuel has cooled [...]" the man created radioactivity will still be there!

"Spent fuel rods do not need to remain in a pool forever, once they cool down they can be placed in what is known as dry-cask storage where they are very carefully shut in a very solid shielded container. Once they've gone through this process the fuel rods themselves will remain very radioactive, and thus dangerous, for eons but they do not require active cooling to remain safe. This means that Chuckles is right, once they get to that point, they can be boxed up and where they go from there is just politics."
posted by Blasdelb at 1:36 PM on April 14 [2 favorites +]


People thought that storing nuclear waste in barrels would suffice, as we know now it does not. Barrels brake, corrode, disintegrate and the radioactivity is still there.
We may be storing the fuel rods in dry casks now, and those may be up to the highest of standards, or even knowledge, yet the radioactivity will still be present when those casks start to fall apart. Anyone visited a storage facility? I did. It looked a lot like a high school gymnasium with huge yellow casks inside. There was a 6 ft high fence around and a security guard checked my ID. Not very promising that this could withstand all kinds of dangers [of time]. No one knows how a permanent storage facility should look like and how to make sure it remains safe.

They hold as much of the US debt as China does, what does this mean for that?
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:31 PM on April 14 [+]


Seriously, this is what worries you? I would laugh if I wasn't sad for you.

disclaimer: needed to ramble
____________________________________________________________________

The only thing that is safe to assume is that our knowledge and capacity to deal with nuclear technology are insufficient.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:07 PM on April 14, 2012


I live in (actually just outside of) Tokyo and have been trying to think of a silver lining to the worst-case scenario.
All I can come up with is "at least we won't have to worry about more Ministers Prime being dickholes and going to visit Yasukuni."
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:30 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's something that doesn't make sense to me; I'd be very grateful if one of you knowledgable people could explain it:

If these spent fuel rods are too radioactive/physically hot for people, or even robots, to approach them, then how did they get them from the reactor to the containment pool in the first place? Were they somehow less dangerous when they came out of the reactor? Was there another movement system that can't be implemented here for some reason?
posted by Dreadnought at 10:58 PM on April 14, 2012


"If these spent fuel rods are too radioactive/physically hot for people, or even robots, to approach them, then how did they get them from the reactor to the containment pool in the first place? Were they somehow less dangerous when they came out of the reactor? Was there another movement system that can't be implemented here for some reason?"

So long as they stay submerged, they're largely fine. The water acts as both a shield and a coolant keeping the fuel rods at a reasonable temperature.

Part of how they are moved, and why it cannot be used now is explained in the first link of the FPP
posted by Blasdelb at 11:05 PM on April 14, 2012


Ethically questionable solution: Couldn't we store spent rods on the moon? It would get our space programs going; benefit to everyone...it would get the rods off the planet; benefit to everyone.

Yes, I realize the inherent ethical considerations about mucking up another bit of the solar system with our waste, but in all seriousness, wouldn't be safer off the planet, than on it?
posted by dejah420 at 12:11 AM on April 15, 2012


Sorry, to clarify, I mean the rods which are already safe to move, not the hot rods. I have no ideas for solving that dilemma.
posted by dejah420 at 12:12 AM on April 15, 2012


"If these spent fuel rods are too radioactive/physically hot for people, or even robots, to approach them, then how did they get them from the reactor to the containment pool in the first place? Were they somehow less dangerous when they came out of the reactor? Was there another movement system that can't be implemented here for some reason?""
posted by Dreadnought at 10:58 PM on April 14 [+]



First: What fuel rods are
Uranium is pressed into pellets. Those pellets are stacked into those metal fuel rods (12ft). Those fuel rods are bundled, sometimes hundreds of them, and they form a fuel assembly. There are many such assemblies in a reactor core. Those assemblies contain control rods (made of neutron-absorbing material) which prevent the chain reaction to start. Hence transporting and placing the assemblies (fuel rods) is possible.

Second: Chain reaction
Take a neutron and an atom, they react and the reaction (fission) gives you a larger number of neutrons (atom was split into elements) than the single one that was consumed in the initial reaction. This process continues, every single neutron creates more neutrons. This is the, simply put, nuclear chain reaction for neutron induced nuclear fission. While the neutrons are released energy is set free. It gets hot!

Third: How to start a chain reaction
Once the fuel assemblies are placed in the moderator which is there to slow down the neutrons (often water, which is cooled & circulates all the time) the control rods can be removed. Neutrons start to move and fission begins. It takes some time for the whole fuel assembly to get going. It is a chain reaction, once set in motion it sets off more reactions. It is set in water to keep it at a certain temperature so it does not explode. People call it a controlled chain reaction. The control rods can be inserted or withdrawn from the fuel rods assembly to control the rate of reaction or even to stop it. Stopping it takes a long time, mainly because it needs to cool down.

Fourth: Nuclear power plants
A nuclear power reactor uses the released energy released to heat water and produce steam. The steam powers turbines and generates electricity.

(There are different kinds of NCPs, but it explains it in its core.)

So, this whole process is hot and radioactive. It is a complex system. In an event like the earthquake in Fukushima, there was a power outage. No electricity to cool down the fuel rods or keep the water circulating. No electricity to insert (mechanically) the control rods = chain reaction out of control!?

There usually are back-up power circuits but the quake disabled all emergency systems.


Okay, think that was kid friendly.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:17 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


dejah420 writes "Couldn't we store spent rods on the moon? It would get our space programs going; benefit to everyone...it would get the rods off the planet; benefit to everyone. "

Problem is you have to get them there which is both crazy expensive and also really dangerous. Rockets blow up a lot and payload that has its rocket explode under it is going to spread radioactivity over a large area.
posted by Mitheral at 12:25 AM on April 15, 2012


dejah420, the issue with offplanet disposal scenarios (which, hey, why not shoot it into the sun instead of attempting to store it at all) is the cost and potential for failure at launch. Imagine the political (completely aside from the environmental) fallout if a launch failed at high altitude and generated a very large debris field. Remember the concern about the Russian sattellite that had a small reactor on board when it came back down?

Beyond that, there's the current difficulty in simply transporting and storing waste at a locale other than where it was generated. The density of the waste storage in the pools at Fukushima (and at plants in the US) is much higher than originally envisioned, primarily because solving the political problem of establishing a permanent waste storage location has proven resistant to solution.

I rather imagine current launch facilities and communities around the US might not be wildy enthusiastic at the prospect of recieving and storing the material.

I don't recall exactly what we learned about waste transport in Japan last spring, but I do recall learning that all of Fukushima's waste remains on-site, which implies at least a lack of a central long-term storage facility for the country and possibly political resistance to transport of the materials.

There may also be some treaties governing the placement of radioactive materials in orbit which would also make offplanet a less-desireable option.

Hope that helps.
posted by mwhybark at 12:35 AM on April 15, 2012


Yeah, that makes sense, I hadn't really thought about launch or low orbit failure.
posted by dejah420 at 12:44 AM on April 15, 2012


Sorry just realized that I missed a part which is necessary to address the question.

How spent fuel rods are moved
Spent fuel rods still generate heat and radiation which needs to be contained. Fuel rods are usually cooled down / contained with control rods before they can even be moved to a spent fuel pool. The assemblies are shielded and are usually transported by automatic mechanic handling systems. They still emit radiation though in 'tanks'.


And I meant to say there are different kinds of NPPs, not cs.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:57 AM on April 15, 2012


Then I looked at the picture of Unit 4 in the OP's other link. My reaction:


Oh jesus f*ck.


For the record the concrete exterior of the building was designed to blow up like that as a safety measure. Essentially, that happened to release pressure and protect the more important interior structure from damage. It is the inside structure that you need to worry about but which is built to a much higher standard. You can see some of the relatively unscathed interior through the frightening looking gaps in the concrete shell.
posted by srboisvert at 2:19 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record the concrete exterior of the building was designed to blow up like that as a safety measure.

This does not explain why the lower levels of these buildings are littered with chunks of steel and busted concrete, one of the primary obstacles to early robotic exploration, or why at least one of the fuel pools is suspected of having a major leak.

The fact is we don't know how intact any of these structures are. The outer appearance of Unit 4 could be misleading -- or not. We just don't know.
posted by localroger at 6:01 AM on April 15, 2012




Ethically questionable solution: Couldn't we store spent rods on the moon? It would get our space programs going; benefit to everyone...it would get the rods off the planet; benefit to everyone.
a) It's incredibly expensive to send things into space.
b) There's enormous resistance to moving nuclear materials by rail. Imagine the protests that will result from a nation deciding to put uranium on a rocket to the moon.
c) What happens when the rocket explodes, or something else goes wrong and it burns up in the atmosphere, or a flock of geese gets hit by the rocket, or any other scenario where the rocket might be structurally damaged? Now you have showers of nuclear material raining down on the planet.

It's too risky to put nuclear materials on rockets, IMO. The stakes get raised from "maybe Tokyo will be uninhabitable" to "maybe all of east asia will be uninhabitable".
posted by deathpanels at 9:38 AM on April 15, 2012


A Visual Tour of the Fuel Pools of Fukushima

Wow. How can they have a credible plan for how they're going to clean this up, when it's a year later and it looks like have barely any grasp on the state of the plant, and they're in need of tools that have yet to be invented

In terms of misleading the public, this sort of article seems typical:
TEPCO reported the finding after placing a camera inside the water-filled pool the same day to prepare for removing, as part of the decommissioning process, the nuclear fuel stored there.
Finding out that the 35 ton crane used to move nuclear fuel in and out of the fuel pool has in fact fallen into the pool and is now itself sitting on top of the nuclear fuel storage racks ... that seems like a rather more than moderate setback

The way the media is reporting this issue, outside a few left-wing/activist outfits, seems irresponsibly stenographic
posted by crayz at 9:53 AM on April 15, 2012


The way the media is reporting this issue, outside a few left-wing/activist outfits, seems irresponsibly stenographic

That's how the media is supposed to report things.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:01 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's how the media is supposed to report things.

In a Manufacturing Consent sort of way?
posted by crayz at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2012


In a factual way. Alarming facts are alarming. Putting them in bold caps with exclamation marks accomplishes nothing other than making you look like an untrustworthy propagandist.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 AM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


As I mentioned up-thread, if you read the Japanese-language press, you'll discover that there is actually quite comprehensive coverage of the aftermath of the Fukushima disasters.

As a case in point, the video clip in this FPP appeared on Japanese television. What more do you want?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unit 4 looks like it's being left as a honeytrap for ill-informed urban spelunkers.

In a few hundred years after civilization falls, the mutant monsters lurking within will draw in adventurers from miles around, and the dread disease they all contract will be considered the curse of an ancient wizard.
posted by JHarris at 10:34 AM on April 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has the Japanese press reported yet on the allegations that Fukushima was not just creating electricity, but also material for Japan's supposedly non-existent nuclear arsenal? Hence all the MOX fuel? And the US has known about it and encouraged it over the years so Japan would buy from US manufacturers like GE? (Not trying to be snarky; honestly curious.)

Long article on the topic:
United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium


The United States deliberately allowed Japan access to the United States’ most secret nuclear weapons facilities while it transferred tens of billions of dollars worth of American tax paid research that has allowed Japan to amass 70 tons of weapons grade plutonium since the 1980s, a National Security News Service investigation reveals. These activities repeatedly violated U.S. laws regarding controls of sensitive nuclear materials that could be diverted to weapons programs in Japan. The NSNS investigation found that the United States has known about a secret nuclear weapons program in Japan since the 1960s, according to CIA reports...

While Japan has refrained from deploying nuclear weapons and remains under an umbrella of U.S. nuclear protection, NSNS has learned that the country has used its electrical utility companies as a cover to allow the country to amass enough nuclear weapons materials to build a nuclear arsenal larger than China, India and Pakistan combined.

This deliberate proliferation by the United States fuels arguments by countries like Iran that the original nuclear powers engage in proliferation despite treaty and internal legal obligations. Russia, France, Great Britain as well as the United States created civilian nuclear power industries around the world from their weapons complexes that amount to government-owned or subsidized industries. Israel, like Japan, has been a major beneficiary and, like Japan, has had nuclear weapons capabilities since the 1960s...

How Japan ended up in this nuclear nightmare is a subject the National Security News Service has been investigating since 1991. We learned that Japan had a dual use nuclear program. The public program was to develop and provide unlimited energy for the country. But there was also a secret component, an undeclared nuclear weapons program that would allow Japan to amass enough nuclear material and technology to become a major nuclear power on short notice.

That secret effort was hidden in a nuclear power program that by March 11, 2011– the day the earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant – had amassed 70 metric tons of plutonium. Like its use of civilian nuclear power to hide a secret bomb program, Japan used peaceful space exploration as a cover for developing sophisticated nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Political leaders in Japan understood that the only way the Japanese people could be convinced to allow nuclear power into their lives was if a long line of governments and industry hid any military application. For that reason, a succession of Japanese governments colluded on a bomb program disguised as innocent energy and civil space programs. The irony, of course, is that Japan had gone to war in 1941 to secure its energy future only to become the sole nation attacked with nuclear weapons...
posted by Asparagirl at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2012


That's just a bizarre article without any substantiation whatsoever.

A contact of mine has refuted it point by point... I'll see if he'll let me republish his points here on MetaFilter.

The reason why Japan has so much plutonium (far more than it would ever need should the country decide to go nuclear) is because of a) the sheer size of its nuclear industry and the amount of spent fuel (which, when recycled, produces plutonium) and b) the country's desire to achieve an independent nuclear fuel cycle by 2050, based on plutonium.

Sure, 50 tonnes of stockpiled plutonium sounds scary, but you know what is scarier? 500 American nuclear-armed missiles.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:13 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, KokoRyu, I would appreciate that.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:53 PM on April 15, 2012


also, if another interpretation of your question might be "has the Japanese press reported on the use of MOX fuel," putting aside the interpretive context of the intended or potential use of the plutonium which results, the answer is very clearly yes, absolutely.
posted by mwhybark at 3:57 PM on April 15, 2012


The way the media is reporting this issue, outside a few left-wing/activist outfits, seems irresponsibly stenographic

That's how the media is supposed to report things.


Sys req: I think the point here with "stenographic" was that the press seems to be reprinting Tepco's press releases unexamined/scrutinized for sense, not that they're reporting the straight facts.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:32 PM on April 15, 2012


Fukushima was not just creating electricity, but also material for Japan's supposedly non-existent nuclear arsenal?

Fukushima being involved wouldn't make any sense at all. Which is not to comment on whether Japan is a "virtual" nuclear weapons state. They certainly aren't anything like Israel, but if you dig you'll find talk about Japan having weapons in a ready to assemble state. The talk is probably just that, but it is something worth considering.

Of the 30 nuclear power countries, the vast majority are intimately linked with weapons programs. I think you'll find that every nation got into nuclear power either because one of the cold war super powers pushed them, or because they at some point had an interest in making weapons. I'll hedge again though.. Japan might be an exception, because Japan does have a strong case for Nuclear as mechanism for energy independence.
posted by Chuckles at 7:43 PM on April 15, 2012


Here's my contact's rebuttal to Trento's article (my contact's first language is not English); you'll have to take my word for it that s/he's knowledgeable about the state of the Japanese nuclear industry, past and present. In any event, it doesn't take an expert opinion to notice that that Trento gets many key facts plainly wrong, while the main arguments of the article are pure, uninformed conjecture.

Anyway, here's a quick, high-level critique of the article:

"The NSNS investigation found that the United States has known about a secret nuclear weapon program"

First of all,post-war nuclear program in Japan isn't a secret.Secondly,there's no mention of concrete evidence of Japanese program of weaponizing nuclear material in post war era.

"NSNS has learned that the country has used its electrical utility companies as cover to a
materials to build arsenal larger than China,India and Pakistan convined".

If Japan isn't weaponizing nuclear material,it can't have any arsenal of any size.

Page 2.
"Like its use of civilian nuclear power to hide a secret bomb program, Japan used peaceful space exploration as a cover for developing sophisticated nuclear weapons delivery systems"

Again,no clear evidence of either secret bomb proogram or secret nuclear weapons delivery systems shown in the article.

Page 3
"The less than thorough International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s proliferation safeguard agency, also turned a blind eye."

No such claim ever arised from IAEA committee,despite IAEA insepection teams had spent more time on Japan than anywhere in the world.

"After two years of preliminary research, the atom bomb program called F-Go began in Kyoto in 1942. "

I think either you or the source you quoted mixed the project "2-Go"(No 2)program started by Prof Nisina in 1943 and Imperial Navy's"F kenkyu"(F studies)program started in 1941.
They had joint committee later,but was never called as "F Go"and both never had any enriched uranium to start with.

Page 4
."Historians such as Robert Wilcox and Atlanta Journal Constitution writer David Snell believe that they succeeded."

Do you also believe in flying saucers?

Page 5
"Sato allowed the secret nuclear weapons program to go on. "

While Sato and member of Ministry of Foreign Affairs had debated over the possible nuclear weapon program in the future.it was never implemented.Neither your article provide any substantial evidence of secret nuclear weapons program,let alone it's continuation.

Page 6
"China was already known to have sold nuclear technology to five international nuclear outlaws: Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina."

While I can't comment on other four.clearly it's impossible to sell nuclear technology to South Africa under apartheid especially Pretoria had former diplomatic relation with Taiwan.Beijing and Pretoria ties were formalized only after in 1997.

Page 11
"While the civilian bureaucrats viewed Japan as a vibrant and able partner in world affairs, and particularly in the field of nuclear energy, the warriors in the Pentagon held a far darker view"

Pentagon was seen as the defender of the US-Japan relationship during Reagan administration,while state department and USTR had much more tougher line over trade surplus.

Page 12

."Many of the top-ranking officers came from old-line military families and had fathers and uncles who had fought against the Japanese in World War II"

Source?Yoshida Shigeru,the post-war prime minister who was in charge at the foundation of the police reservation,the former body of the self defense forces,had rejected many request coming from former imperial military ranking officers whom he considered associated with militarism.(there were few exceptions).

Page 13
". It provided no Japanese guarantee that nuclear material would not be transferred to other countries without American consent, nor any assurance that Japan would not reprocess American reactor fuel into plutonium without prior U.S. approval. In short, the United States abdicated all control of U.S.- origin nuclear material in Japan for the next 30 years,"

I think you never heard of US-Japan agreement for cooperation of civic use of atomic energy.Nonetheless it does explain the entire argument of yours.

Page 14
"For James Auer, the Navy captain who had helped Kennedy get the agreement past the Pentagon, it was a great career boost. Auer,, traded in his Navy Blue for the tweed jacket of a tenured professor at Vanderbilt University in a new position at a think tank fully funded by Japanese industry"

While you portray Jim Auer as a somekind of traitor,you are aware that he is one of the key figure who pushed Japanese government to burden host nation support for the US forces in Japan that pays roughly pays more than 230000USD per one American GI.

Page 15.
"Perhaps the most telling statement was uttered by cabinet minister Hatsumo Hada to then U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale at an embassy dinner party. Hada, who later became ambassador to China, told Mondale that Japan would have to go nuclear if North Korea obtained the bomb or the regional security situation worsened. "

No record of caibnet minister by the name of Hatusmo Hada in the history of Japanese cabinet.It's not even a Japanese name.I do know Tsutomu Hata,who was a cabinet minister for only a hew hours before he organize his cabinet as prime minsiter who was only in his office for two months.But he was never become an ambassador to Chine either.

"In the early 1980s, when her bubble economy burst"

The "bubble economy" bursted in 1992.

"]In the 1990s, the governor of Tokyo prefecture –essentially Tokyo’s mayor and one of Japan’s most powerful politicians, Shintaro Ishihara, first openly advocated the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal"

Ishihara Shintaro,the governor of Tokyo "Metropolis",has been advocating acquisition of nuclear arsenal since the 70's.He,however,is far from being the most powerful politician in Japan.

Page16
" The biggest of these customers is Japan, which, despite its confidence in its ability to build a breeder reactor, had turned to purchasing plutonium from the British and French."

Suppose Japan does have a secret nuclear weapon program,why wouldn't she produce plutonium in her own facilities like Iran and North Korea?You give no explanations.

Page 15

"Ambassador Kennedy’s agreement required the ships transporting the materials to be escorted by government ships dedicated to protecting the plutonium from possible terrorist attack. The intent of this language was to require warships to escort the shipments, but, in response to domestic Japanese pressure, the shipping company persuaded the American, British and Japanese governments to allow two transport ships to escort each other"

Pacific pintail,aka Akatsuki Maru was on board with special tactical unit of Japanese coastal cuards and escourted with 7175 ton gunship Shikishima.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikishima_(PLH_31)

posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 PM on April 15, 2012


It was... with some relief that we read a report from researchers of the respected Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, an entity well outside the reach of influence by the Japanese bureaucracy, which gives fish from a zone of 600km to 30km around Fukushima a relatively clean bill of health.

What they found after taking dozens of samples of plankton and small fish is that certainly radiation levels are elevated (in some locations up to 1,000 times) compared to tests done before the accident, but that these levels were still only 1/6 that of naturally occurring radionuclides such as Potassium-40. They found that any samples containing cesium-134 and -137 were well below levels considered safe for human consumption.

What they did find, however, is that the level of cesium-134 appears to still be high and is being refreshed, indicating that the ground water around the Fukushima Daiichi plant is leaking the isotope. This might correlate with fears that there has been a melt-through in Reactor 2 and that the ground water is being actively contaminated.


Find the report here:
http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=50242&tid=3622&cid=133509
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 PM on April 16, 2012


It would get our space programs going...

There's only one good reason to put significant quantities of plutonium on a rocket: Orion.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:12 AM on April 17, 2012


Orion

So we can boldy go where no man has gone before, seek out new life and new civilizations, and contaminate them with radioactivity too?
posted by localroger at 4:53 AM on April 17, 2012


Fukushima and Chernobyl: Myth versus Reality. That's the title of the video. However, could the form of this "tomato" have resulted from the radiation released at Fukushima? What's the likelihood that this supposed tomato supposedly having been harvested in Saitama prefecture, two prefectures away from Fukushima prefecture, is the result of mutation caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident?
posted by millardsarpy at 8:13 AM on April 19, 2012


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