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Ever wonder what happened to Fukushima Storage Unit #4?
October 23, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe


 
Well given TEPCO's record here, a link to their report doesn't deserve a click. Easily understandable BS is still BS. And given the record of the nuclear industry as a whole, I am confident that the situation is far, far worse than any agency will admit.

But I am comforted by the fact that the biggest immediate nuclear problem in the world is definitely not Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
posted by three blind mice at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Incidentally, if you are not bored by the many pictures of the Unit 4 Reactor and Storage Pool in the report, here is an archive of many more.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:43 AM on October 23, 2012


the biggest immediate nuclear problem in the world is definitely not Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
I got 99 problems and at least one, possibly even two of them is not this.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:44 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I knew it was all way the Hell worse than they were letting on. I know the drill. Lie, don't scare people...
Maybe the Maya were onto something....
*walks away in search of Maraskino.... Or balché....
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:58 AM on October 23, 2012


In 100 years, when the fuel rods can be safely removed from the reactor, we'll all look back on this and laugh.

Seriously...I love nuclear power, but I prefer to keep my reactor about 93,000,000 miles away, safely at the center of the solar system.
posted by fzx101 at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


fzx101, just a shame that the transmission mechanism is so inefficient.
posted by phl at 9:02 AM on October 23, 2012


I know the drill. Lie, don't scare people

Or release a report about one fuel storage pool that seems to be in okay shape — one which will itself only begin to have its fuel rods relocated a very optimistic minimum of two years from now, so hope they're right and it really can hold up to an earthquake! — and hope that everyone is relieved enough that they forget to ask about Reactor 3.
posted by RogerB at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In 100 years, when the fuel rods can be safely removed from the reactor, we'll all look back on this and laugh."

The current plan for the fuel rods is for all of them to be totally removed from the site by 2013, in preperation for decommissioning the plant.

Also, there are two separate issues with nuclear waste 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 -functionally indefinately- but they do not require active cooling to remain safe. This means that, once they get to that point, they can be boxed up and where they go from there is just politics. My understanding is that the fuel rods from this type of plant become ready for this process after twenty years in the pool, and that the rods currently in the pool were at various stages of that twenty years from the Dai-Ichi plant's long life. 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 type of worry becomes largely a non-issue and storage becomes dramatically safer.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:12 AM on October 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


fzx101: "In 100 years, when the fuel rods can be safely removed from the reactor, we'll all look back on this and laugh. "

There were no fuel rods in Unit 4 at the time of the disaster -- it was offline for maintenance. As far as I can tell from the report, portions of that reactor have actually already been removed to reduce the load on the building.

All things considered, Pool 4 should be in the best shape, given that the damage to that reactor was largely a byproduct of the hydrogen explosion from Unit 3.

We should be a lot more worried about the state of the cooling pool in Unit 3. We already know that it's significantly more damaged, slightly leaking, and contains a much more dangerous kind of fuel that is potentially combustible (as far as I'm aware, the article summary is incorrect -- the fuel in Unit 4 is not combustible). Burning nuclear fuel is a really bad thing. The wide extent of the Chernobyl disaster can largely be attributed to the fact that its fuel caught fire.

Given these facts, I don't have a huge reason to doubt TEPCO here -- if they say that their least-damaged reactor is in poor-but-stable condition, I'd be inclined to believe them, whilst casting a huge skeptical glance to the much more damaged reactor next-door.
posted by schmod at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


prefer to keep my reactor about 93,000,000 miles away, safely at the center of the solar system.

fzx101, just a shame that the transmission mechanism is so inefficient.


Gee phl, I don't know where your from, but that ol' inefficient transmission mechanism has been keeping my planet Earth putzing merrily along for eons.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:59 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I prefer to keep my reactor about 93,000,000 miles away, safely at the center of the solar system

Let's talk about the Sun's safety record in another five billion years.
posted by localroger at 10:27 AM on October 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


Question the transmission mechanism as you will, but I would suggest we scrutinize our reception apparatus.

where you're from must be a place where they actually use the edit window

*sigh*

posted by BlueHorse at 10:35 AM on October 23, 2012


What still gets me is how someone during the design phase didn't glance at the drawing with a swimming pool of highly dangerous spent fuel rods sitting on top of a nuclear reactor and say "Hey guys, this seems like a really bad idea..."

Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but seriously.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:11 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


gourd of ashes.
posted by eggtooth at 11:45 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


shmod: All things considered, Pool 4 should be in the best shape, given that the damage to that reactor was largely a byproduct of the hydrogen explosion from Unit 3.

There was actually a separate hydrogen explosion in Unit 4 on March 15, after the explosion in (on March 14) in Unit 3. The hydrogen was produced in the Unit 3 reactor and infiltrated the Unit 4 building through shared ductwork (see the blue lines on the reactor floor diagram in the TEPCO pdf).

We should be a lot more worried about the state of the cooling pool in Unit 3. We already know that it's significantly more damaged, slightly leaking, and contains a much more dangerous kind of fuel that is potentially combustible (as far as I'm aware, the article summary is incorrect -- the fuel in Unit 4 is not combustible). Burning nuclear fuel is a really bad thing. The wide extent of the Chernobyl disaster can largely be attributed to the fact that its fuel caught fire.

MOX fuel rods are constructed in the same way as regular LEU fuel rods. As Blasdelb points out, it is the Zirconium alloy cladding of these rods that is at risk of burning. Which would be a really bad thing (even if it just ruptured without burning), as the cladding is what holds in the volatile fission products produced over the life of the fuel. The fuel (whether U or Pu) is already an oxide, and will not burn.

In the Chernobyl disaster, it is the fire in the graphite moderator that is usually credited with dispersing the fission products far and wide.
posted by Thalience at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb, I think you might be mistaken about the fuel rods being completely removed by 2013. According to the linked report, the removal will be started in 2013, but I didn't see a completion date there. According to this report in the Wall Street Journal, there is a ten-year timetable to remove all spent fuel rods.

I hope this does not mean that TEPCO is just crossing their fingers and hoping that there won't be a magnitude 6+ earthquake in the next decade.
posted by compartment at 12:52 PM on October 23, 2012


I prefer to keep my reactor about 93,000,000 miles away, safely at the center of the solar system

Skin Cancer.

Everything has risks. Everything.

The best we can do is to try and navigate them with mitigation and trade offs as best we can.
posted by srboisvert at 1:16 PM on October 23, 2012


We should be a lot more worried about the state of the cooling pool in Unit 3.

Unless the reporting about Building 4 sinking is true, because then the rods in #4 are at risk for being in a building collapse.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:25 PM on October 23, 2012


Everything has risks. Everything.

Some are just a hella lot more acceptable than others, though, as I'm sure most folks would agree.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:42 PM on October 23, 2012


Zalzidrax: I'm just guessing here, but I'd say the logic was something along the lines of 'the further you move them the more chance of something bad happening en route'. Which is pretty solid logic, as far as it goes. Spent fuel, properly contained and cared for isn't very dangerous. The problem comes when something (you, nature, animals, water seepage, etc) starts messing with it.

Obviously in this case the chance of 'bad thing happening to the reactor' won out over the 'bad thing happening while moving the rods'.

BlueHorse, phl: Solar is great. Lovely. Sadly our currently solar panels are only about 30% efficient, though we have lots and lots of smart people working on it. (Someone told me that one scientific journal [Advanced Materials I think] gets 1000 papers on improved solar panels submitted to it *a month*)
Anyway, I'm all in favour of California totally switching over to solar. Perfect place for it, lots of open space, lots of sun. But can you really see it working for Japan? They don't exactly have a ton of extra space around. I wonder if you could set up some sort of floating solar farm?

But what about places like Canada? We don't exactly get a ton of sun in the winter, none in the northern parts of the country, and there is a maximum distance you can transmit power. We are building wind like crazy, and my understanding is that we've damned up most of the power-generating rivers years ago, so what are we supposed to do? The Ontario goverment promised to stop burning freaking COAL years ago, and had made almost 0 progress, as all the giant wind farms aren't giving enough power to replace coal. The plan was nuclear, but that turned out to be really unpopular with voters, who went 'nuclear scary, coal sounds safer'.

Frankely, if you don't want nuclear, and you don't want to burn fossil fuels, the only way I can see is energy rationing. Now, truth be told, that is probably the best idea, but good luck getting China to agree to it, or the USA for that matter. It also means no more instant google searches, as data centres eat power, having to watch how much the TV is on, how much laundry you do, etc. On the plus side, we might actually be able to see the stars again, and no more giant spotlights stabbing the sky.
I would love for us as a society to decide we are going to use less power, and not just do empty gestures like earth hour, but frankly I don't see it happening.
posted by Canageek at 4:33 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's an important side story in this report. Remember the dire video posted by that con-man Arnie Gunderson in the days after the hydrogen explosions? You know, the one where he was *absolutely sure* that the Unit 4 pool had boiled dry and all the zirc cladding had burned. The fact that no one else (except US NRC chair Gregory Jazco, who later retracted) would make the same claim was taken as proof of TEPCo's coverup by Gundersen and others here on Metafilter.

Gundersen was wrong. This report, and others released over the past two years prove it. A mistake is fine, but that's not what it was. Instead of admitting he didn't know any more than the rest of us, he used fear mongering to elevate his professional profile as an anti-nuclear consultant. Disgusting. He doesn't deserve to be cited here ever again.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fish Off Fukushima, Japan, Show Elevated Levels of Cesium

Elevated levels of cesium still detected in fish off the Fukushima coast of Japan suggest that radioactive particles from last year’s nuclear disaster have accumulated on the seafloor and could contaminate sea life for decades, according to new research...

Because cesium tends not to stay in the tissues of saltwater fish very long, and because high radiation levels have been detected — particularly in bottom-feeding fish — it is likely that fish are being newly contaminated by cesium on the seabed, Mr. Buesseler wrote in the Science article.

“The fact that many fish are just as contaminated today with cesium 134 and cesium 137 as they were more than one year ago implies that cesium is still being released into the food chain,” Mr. Buesseler wrote. This kind of cesium has a half-life of 30 years, meaning that it falls off by half in radioactive intensity every 30 years. Given that, he said, “sediments would remain contaminated for decades to come.”


Tough to unring that bell. Not for a long, long time, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 PM on October 25, 2012


Canageek: Wrong, Japan and Canada have plenty of open spaces, right where they're needed--On top of every warehouse, big box store, school, office building and every house. Any place the sun shines there is power that could be generated. Even at 30 percent efficiency, if you figure two hours worth of power in less sunny areas, and 10 hours of power in areas like CA, AZ, ID, NM, TX, etc, how much less power would be required from coal generated plants and other polluting sources?

The whole issue of cost in solar power vs other sources is bullshit. Dollar for dollar, the hidden costs in health and pollution make nuclear, coal, and fossil fuels untenable. What is the real cost of the power generated when you add in a Gulf blowout, an Exxon-Valdez, a Chernobyl, or a Fukushima accident? How does efficiency play into that?

You want efficiency? The let 20% of the money the US government uses to subsidize the fossil fuel industry go into R&D for solar and wind. Had these sources been supported in the '70s, you'd have seen major changes in technology for generation and storage. Instead, corporate status quo was maintained. If there were a $1000 rebate for every homeowner in the US who was willing to install solar, and if power companies were required to even give .$02/k to buy excess generated from home owners, there would be a massive net savings.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2012


"You want efficiency? The let 20% of the money the US government uses to subsidize the fossil fuel industry go into R&D for solar and wind. Had these sources been supported in the '70s, you'd have seen major changes in technology for generation and storage. Instead, corporate status quo was maintained. If there were a $1000 rebate for every homeowner in the US who was willing to install solar, and if power companies were required to even give .$02/k to buy excess generated from home owners, there would be a massive net savings."

That 20% was met and exceeded a long time ago, Obama's stimulus plan set aside $90 billion for research into renewable energy while the total annual subsidy for fossil fuels is somewhere between $10 and $50 billion depending on the year and how you count it. Also, many states already have plans to rebate solar purchases by homeowners that are much more generous.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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