Fukushima Nuclear Accident – 15 March summary of situation

The situation surrounding the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, triggered by Japan’s largest recorded earthquake and the resulting 10 m high tsunami, continues to develop rapidly. This post is intended to be a concise update of the situation as of 12pm Japan Standard Time, 15 March 2011. For a summary of the situation prior to today, read these posts:

Japanese nuclear reactors and the 11 March 2011 earthquake

Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation (with further updates at MIT here: http://mitnse.com/)

Japan Nuclear Situation – 14 March updates

Further technical information on Fukushima reactors

TEPCO reactor by reactor status report at Fukushima

This is also a useful summary, from William Tucker (published in the Wall Street Journal): Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl. See also:  Nuclear Overreactions: Modern life requires learning from disasters, not fleeing all risk.


Attention has centred on units #1, 2 and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant (all Boiling Water Reactors built in the 1970s). Current concern is focused on unit #2 (more below). Units 4, 5 and 6 at the site were not in service at the time of the earthquake and their situation is stable.

At a nearby plant, Fukushima Daiini, the situation is now under control, and units are in, or approaching, cold shutdown. I do not expect any further significant developments at that site. To quote WNN:

In the last 48 hours, Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has carried out repairs to the emergency core coolant systems of units 1, 2 and 4 and one by one these have come back into action. Unit 1 announced cold shutdown at 1.24 am today and unit 2 followed at 3.52 am. Repairs at unit 4 are now complete and Tepco said that gradual temperature reduction started at 3.42pm. An evacuation zone extends to ten kilometres around the plant, but this is expected to be rescinded when all four units are verified as stable in cold shutdown conditions.

Fukushima Daini Unit 1 reactor

o As of 1:24AM on March 14, TEPCO commenced the cooling process after the pumping system was restored.

o At 10:15AM on March 14, TEPCO confirmed that the average water temperature held constant below 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fukushima Daini Unit 2 reactor

o At 7:13AM on March 14, TEPCO commenced the cooling process.

o As of 3:52PM on March 14, the cooling function was restored and the core temperature was stabilized below 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Fukushima Daini Unit 3 reactor

o As of 12:15PM on March 13, reactor has been cooled down and stabilized.

• Fukushima Daini Unit 4 reactor

o At 3:42PM on March 14, cooling of the reactor commenced, with TEPCO engineers working to achieve cold shutdown.

The rest of this post will focus on the ongoing crisis situation at Fukushim Daiichi. Let me underscore the fact that accurate information is sparse, uncertain and rapidly changing.

During March 12 and 13, there were serious issues with providing sufficient cooling to units 1 and 3 after the tsunami had caused damage to the diesel backup generators and compromised the emergency cooling water supply. This resulted in a decision to use sea water injection to keep the reactors cool — a process that is ongoing. Steam was regularly vented as part of the effort to relieve steam pressure within the reactor vessels, but this also led to an accumulation of hydrogen gas within the secondary buildings that house the reactor units. Possible sources for the hydrogen are discussed here. Unfortunately, this hydrogen could not be vented sufficiently quickly, resulting in chemical explosions (hydrogen-oxygen interactions) within the two reactor housing buildings of both unit 1 and unit 2 during March 12-13.

The roof and part of the side walls of both buildings were severely damaged as a result. After the first hydrogen explosion there is no longer a roof on the building, so there is little chance of any large buildup of hydrogen or further explosions at these units. [In restrospect, the designers (40 years ago) perhaps should have more carefully considered the implications of the decision to vent the pressure suppression torus to the reactor building space]. Although hydrogen recombiners are a standard feature of that design, they unfortunately lost all AC power, and then the batteries were run down. Containment (the robust concrete shell and 18 inch thick steel reactor vessel within it), however, remained intact. This was verified by monitoring levels of radiation surrounding the units — if there had been any containment breach, levels would have jumped.

This cutaway diagram shows the central reactor vessel, thick concrete containment and lower torus structure in a typical boiling water reactor of the same era as Fukushima Daiichi 2

This is an overview of the current status of units 1 to 3:

Radiation Levels

o At 9:37AM (JST) on March 14, a radiation level of 3130 micro sievert was recorded at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

o At 10:35AM on March 14, a radiation level of 326 micro sievert was recorded at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

o Most recently, at 2:30PM on March 15, a radiation level of 231 micro sievert was recorded at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor

o As of 12:00AM on March 15, the injection of seawater continues into the primary containment vessel.

Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor

o At 12:00PM on March 14, in response to lower water levels, TEPCO began preparations for injecting seawater into the reactor core.

o At 5:16PM on March 14, the water level in the reactor core covered the top of the fuel rods.

o At 6:20PM on March 14, TEPCO began to inject seawater into the reactor core.

o For a short time around 6:22PM on March 14, the water level inside the reactor core fell below the lower measuring range of the gauge. As a result, TEPCO believes that the fuel rods in the reactor core might have been fully exposed.

o At 7:54PM on March 14, engineers confirmed that the gauge recorded the injection of seawater into the reactor core.

o At 8:37PM on March 14, in order to alleviate the buildup of pressure, slightly radioactive vapor, that posed no health threat, was passed through a filtration system and emitted outside via a ventilation stack from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor vessel.

Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 reactor

o At 11:01AM on March 14, an explosion occurred at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 reactor damaging the roof of the secondary containment building. Caused by the interaction of hydrogen and oxygen vapor, in a fashion to Unit 1 reactor, the explosion did not damage the primary containment vessel or the reactor core.

o As of 12:38AM (JST) on March 15, the injection of seawater has been suspended.

What is of most current concern?

Units 1 and 3: the situation now seems fairly stable. There is some concern that holding pools for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) may have been damaged by the hydrogen explosions, but nothing is confirmed. Provided the pool walls remain unbreached and the SNF is covered with water, the situation should not escalate. Note: Although still ‘hot’, the SNF decay heat is many orders of magnitude lower than the fuel assemblies within reactors 1 to 3.

Unit 4: A fire has started at the building of Unit #4. Note that the reactor of this unit is stable and was not operating at the time of the earthquake.

Kan also confirmed a fire burning at unit 4, which, according to all official sources, had never been a safety concern since the earthquake. This reactor was closed for periodic inspections when the earthquake and tsunami hit, therefore did not undergo a rapid and sudden shutdown. It was of course violently shaken and subject to the tsunami.

Shikata said that there had been “a sign of leakage” while firefighters were at work, “but we have found out the fuel is not causing the fire.” The fire is now reported extinguished.

Unit 2: This is now of most concern, and the situation continues to change quickly. Here is the key information to hand (I will update as new data emerges).

Loud noises were heard at Fukushima Daiichi 2 at 6.10am this morning. A major component beneath the reactor is confirmed to be damaged. Evacuation to 20 kilometres is being completed, while a fire on site has now been put out.

Confirmation of loud sounds at unit 2 this morning came from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). It noted that “the suppression chamber may be damaged.” It is not clear that the sounds were explosions.

The pressure in the pool was seen to decrease from three atmospheres to one atmosphere after the noise, suggesting possible damage. Radiation levels on the edge of the plant compound briefly spiked at 8217 microsieverts per hour but later fell to about a third that.

A close watch is being kept on the radiation levels to ascertain the status of containment. As a precaution Tokyo Electric Power Company has evacuated all non-essential personnel from the unit. The company’s engineers continue to pump seawater into the reactor pressure vessel in an effort to cool it.

Evacuation ordered

Prime minister Naoto Kan has requested that evacuation from 20 kilometer radius is completed and those between 20-30 kilometers should stay indoors. He said his advice related to the overall picture of safety developments at Fukushima Daiichi, rather than those at any individual reactor unit.

Shortly afterwards Noriyuki Shikata said radiation levels near the reactors had reached levels that would affect human health. It is thought that the fire had been the major source of radiation.

Prime minister Naoto Kan has requested that everyone withdraw from a 30 kilometer evacuation zone around the nuclear power plant and that people that stay within remain indoors. He said his advice related to the overall picture of safety developments at Fukushima Daiichi, rather than those at any individual reactor unit.

Regarding radiation levels: It is very important to distinguish between doses from the venting of noble-gas fission products, which rapidly dissipate and cause no long-term contamination or ingestion hazard, and aerosols of other fission products including cesium and iodine.

From NEI:

Yukio Edano, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, during a live press conference at 10 p.m. EDT, said there is a fire at Fukushima Daiichi 4 that is accompanied by high levels of radiation between Units 3 and 4 at the site. The fire began burning at Unit 4 at around 6 a.m. Japan time on March 14 and is still burning. Fire fighters are responding to the fire. The reactor does not have fuel in the reactor, but there is spent fuel in the reactor (pool) and Edano said that he assumes radioactive substances are being released. “The substances are coming out from the No. 4 reactor and we are making the utmost effort to put out the first and also cool down the No. 4 reactor (pool).”

Edano said that a blast was heard this morning at Unit 2 at about 6:30 a.m. A hole was observed in the number 2 reactor and he said there is very little possibility that an explosion will occur at Unit 2.

“The part of the suppression chamber seems to have caused the blast,” Edano said. A small amount of radioactive substance seems to have been released to the outside.

TEPCO workers continue to pump sea water at 1, 2 and 3 reactors. “The biggest problem is how to maintain the cooling and how to contain the fire at No. 4.” At 10:22 a.m. Japan time, the radiation level between units 2 and 3 were as high as 40 rem per hour. “We are talking about levels that can impact human health.” Edano said.

Of the 800 staff that remained at the power plant, all but 50 who are directly involved in pumping water into the reactor have been evacuated.

More updates to the above as the fog of uncertainty begins to clear…


Finally, a telling comment from a friend of mine in the US nuclear research community:

The lesson so far: Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented proportion that has caused unbelievable damage to every part of their infrastructure, and death of very large numbers of people. The media have chosen to report the damage to a nuclear plant which was, and still is, unlikely to harm anyone. We won’t know for sure, of course, until the last measure to assure cooling is put in place, but that’s the likely outcome. You’d never know it from the parade of interested anti-nuclear activists identified as “nuclear experts” on TV.

From the early morning Saturday nuclear activists were on TV labelling this ‘the third worst nuclear accident ever’. This was no accident, this was damage caused by truly one of the worst of earthquakes and tsunamis ever. (The reported sweeping away of four entire trains, including a bullet train which apparently disappeared without a trace, was not labelled “the third worst train accident ever.”) An example of the reporting: A fellow from one of the universities, and I didn’t note which one, obviously an engineer and a knowlegable one, was asked a question and began to explain quite sensibly what was likely. He was cut off after about a minute, maybe less, and an anti-nuke, very glib, and very poorly informed, was brought on. With ponderous solemnity, he then made one outrageous and incorrect statement after another. He was so good at it they held him over for another segment

The second lesson is to the engineers: We all know that the water reactor has one principal characteristic when it shuts down that has to be looked after. It must have water to flow around the fuel rods and be able to inject it into the reactor if some is lost by a sticking relief valve or from any other cause – for this, it must have backup power to power the pumps and injection systems.

The designers apparently could not imagine a tsunami of these proportions and the backup power — remember, the plants themselves produce power, power is brought in by multiple outside power lines, there are banks of diesels to produce backup power, and finally, banks of batteries to back that up, all were disabled. There’s still a lot the operators can do, did and are doing. But reactors were damaged and may not have needed to be even by this unthinkable earthquake if they had designed the backup power systems to be impregnable, not an impossible thing for an engineer to do. So we have damage that probably could have been avoided, and reporting of almost stunning inaccuracy and ignorance.Still, the odds are that no one will be hurt from radioactivity — a few workers from falling or in the hydrogen explosions, but tiny on the scale of the damage and killing around it.

It seems pathetic that Russia should be the only reported adult in this — they’re quoted as saying “Of course our nuclear program is not going to be affected by an earthquake in Japan.” Japan has earthquakes. But perhaps it will be, if the noise is loud enough.

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  1. This is probably the worst way a reactor incident could occur for those that hope to leverage one to stop the development of nuclear energy, and each time they try to whip up fear over it, they dig the grave they are going to fall into when the dust settles a bit deeper.

    This is such an insignificant part of such a large event that it is going to be impossible for the media to keep it fresh and as the depth of the horrors that have occurred in Japan start to come to the fore, just how insignificant this is will be glaringly obvious.

  2. One thing that can be said at this point is that we are witnessing the worst case scenario. To the perfect storm of old reactor (design), magnitude 9 quake and 10 metre tsunami can apparently be added incompetence in at least one aspect, if the ABC is to be believed:

    “Mr Edano said the figures that have been released to date measuring the level of radiation around the plant have been misquoted as micro sieverts. He said the unit attached to the figures should have been milli sieverts…”

    The rest here (1:13pm)

    It cannot get any worse than this – which means that if human health impact remains low and rationality rules, the case for nuclear safety should be strengthened.

  3. There are reports that the government accidentally was using microsieverts when they meant millisieverts! If true, the complexion has totally changed. Any updates?

    Is this believable?

  4. “It cannot get any worse than this – which means that if human health impact remains low and rationality rules, the case for nuclear safety should be strengthened.”


    I’m not sure I understand your statement. What do you mean by it cannot get any worse? I am so confused. One minute, it seems like things are under control and the next minute it’s a totally different story.

  5. seriously, does anyone have direct info? The japanese government has now reported 400mSv outside reactor 2. That is bad, very bad.

    I cant find anywhere if it is just gasses or caesium/iodine. Anyone got any inside information?

  6. The so-called “Lesson so far” is one dimensional and extraordinarily unlearned.

    The current catastrophe is not the worst case scenario. A full meltdown through the containment and concrete housing into a water-table is the worst case scenario. Current signs only point more to a typical risk that is inherent in nuclear technology.

    So how many American plants are within several hundred kilometers of subduction zones and active fault lines?

    How many American plants are within Tsunami-strike distance from the ocean?

    So the real lesson for me is:

    What are the risks for the future?

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  8. Huh?

    “Mr Edano said the figures that have been released to date measuring the level of radiation around the plant have been misquoted as micro sieverts. He said the unit attached to the figures should have been milli sieverts…”

    Surely they can at least get this right. One measurement is 1000 times bigger than the other.

  9. Regarding radiation levels: It is very important to distinguish between doses from the venting of noble-gas fission products, which rapidly dissipate and cause no long-term contamination or ingestion hazard, and aerosols of other fission products including cesium and iodine.

    How can you tell which is being released and what does that mean? Seems like it’s mostly radiation levels that are reported… (which is itself problematic)

  10. Mr Sum – I am a bit of a student of these things, and I form my opinions from the lessons of history. Manipulation of public opinion, while possible, is not permanent, and although it takes time, collective understanding of risk eventually settles at a point very near what it should be, That is why we still drive cars, and get into airplanes, despite the very real risk we are taking every time we do.

    In both of those cases, great public fears came and went, and the same will hold true of nuclear energy.
    It is my feeling that the tipping point has been reached here, simply because these events at the reactors in question are not occurring in a vacuum, and a ready made comparison is available in the state of rest of Japan, in a way it has never been for a nuclear incident in the past.

  11. There are three things that still bothers me. I hope to get some more insight into these:

    1. What is the cause of the rising/jumpy Geiger counter readings occurring around the nearby prefectures at the moment?

    2. The spent nuclear fuel (SNF) pool could have been damaged by the hydrogen explosion, because it is located above the reactor. What is the consequence of running out of cooling water, or the spent rods moving into contact with one another?

    3. What is the consequence on the overall site integrity if any one of the reactors cause high enough radiation leakage (or fire) that all the crews must evacuate from the site?

    All the safety assurances seem to rely on the fact that a team of engineers can stay at the site to continue with the cooling operation, which seems too optimistic.

  12. My mind is a bit scrambled at this point, as I’ve been reading these reports all day and scaring myself silly (perhaps what the media wants me to do), so forgive me if I am not making sense. I am wondering about the cooling-down process. I read somewhere (on here, I think) that it may take weeks or months for things to be fully in control or stabilized. Something about the periodic venting needing to be done for that length. Does that mean we will have continuing concerns or does the danger drop off dramatically at some point despite there still being a need for venting?

    Also, do those of us in the USA need to be concerned at this point or will this be more of a concern only in Japan? I keep hearing things about the jet stream and such carrying the contaminants over, which does frighten me a little.

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  14. @Chris Warren: The 400 mSv figure does seem reliable. For example, there is this quote:

    “As of 10.22am local time, 400 millisieverts of radiation were detected at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.”


    My Google translation of http://www.jiji.com/jc/c?g=soc_30&k=2011031500479 says:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio 枝野 morning at a press conference April 15 and announced 400 mSv radiation was found near a nuclear power plant Unit No. 3 Hukuzima Electric Power Company.

  15. I stumbled upon this site not long after the Japanese plants began experiencing troubles and first want to say thank you to the host for same. It’s been very informative and has provided a good bit of clarity that seems almost utterly absent in the major media.

    I would also say I very much respect the obvious knowledge that the host has as well as that of many of the commentators here, as well as their sobriety.

    With all that said however I have to add that my overall sense from the start of my reading here is that it might rather easily be perceived that there has been and perhaps still is an overly sanguine tone about the dangers that exist in this situation on this site.

    That is, when I first started reading here I was relieved given that the most knowledgeable and sober writers pretty clearly seemed to be essentially saying “no no, it’s just not really possible that this could really cause big significant harm,” and that “hey, the Japanese are pros at this, they are no doubt getting the upper hand on the situation.”

    The problem however is that every time I read something like this and got relieved, some further bad thing at the nuke plant then seemed to develop or happen, which possibility even was never mentioned in the earlier more sanguine comments. And this started to raise my eyebrows after it seemed to happen over and over again.

    Forgive my utterly amateur and lay understanding, but hey, we’ve now got a fire at #4 which no-one seems to have expected and I’ve seen absolutely no explanation for, and then we have talk of damage to the underside of one of the reactors which, to me, would possibly implicate a melting through of the containment vessel, with molten fuel then pooling at the bottom, with lots of water sloshing around, meaning to me the possibility of some kind of steam explosion throwing lots of radioactivity into the air or perhaps some other terrible consequence; I just don’t know. But something definitely not good, for sure.

    I don’t know; maybe this is totally wrong-headed of me, but again I just seem to keep seeing these sanguine perspectives here, which seem perfectly sound, but then later—in tone at least, and by “later” I mean by only a matter of an hour or so even—can seem to have been way way too sunshiny given some new bad development. Or at the perspective at least seemed way too confident in assuming that all the possibilities have been considered.

    (And I recognize that our host here has noted the paucity of info and what this means, although I still can’t shake the feeling that the tone here is just a bit too … certain.)

    But, anyway, for what it’s worth that’s just been my take on things, although again I stress I’m just an absolute no-nothing about this subject, this is just my own uninformed take, and regardless I once again mean no disrespect to the obviously knowledgeable people here who I might just simply have been misunderstanding. Not only do I mean no disrespect, I also very much appreciate their knowledge and the time they are taking to post here and will keep reading them, especially our host, so thanks to all and I hope my above comments are taken in the respectful spirit in which I intend them.

  16. Thank you for your input, Mr. Sum. Having watched my mother lose her life to brain cancer, I am obviously quite paranoid about these things. I am hopeful for the people of Japan that things will turn around and this situation can be fully brought under control.

  17. bks,

    Check timestamp, #4 only recently caught fire, that status report doesn’t mention it because it hadn’t happened yet.


    Thats a misunderstanding of what a worst-case scenario is.

    A full meltdown yadda yadda is a potential consequence, not a scenario. And finding a scenario that could lead to such a consequence would be very challenging indeed. And if a 9.0 earthquake mated with a 10m tsunami didn’t do the trick, then whatever would be required would probably be more dangerous than the nuclear consequences anyway.

  18. @American – the situation in Japan is likely to get worse before it gets better.

    They are having trouble cooling Unit 2 because of the failure of the containment system. If we are lucky, they’ll think of some way to cool it, but if not then it could melt down though the containment system. That’s as bad as it sounds.

    In the best case scenario it won’t melt down, but further leakages of radioactive materials are almost guaranteed. We can only hope they aren’t serious.

  19. Your comment about engineers needing to design an “impregnable” power system pretty much sums up what I’ve been thinking all along. It doesn’t sound that hard, right? All you have to do is create something than can pump water for a couple of weeks.

    The reality is that building a pumping system with such an absolute guarantee is a lot harder in the real world than it looks on paper. But then any practicing engineer, regardless of discipline, who has been on the hook to deliver an actual working system knows that nothing is as ever simple as it looks on paper.

    My hat is off to the guys on the ground at Fukushima, they are undoubtedly working with incomplete information and making decisions as best they can.

  20. I’d like to see a discussion of how a modern nuclear reactor would have performed in the Fukushima scenario. Would there basically have been no concern whatsoever?

  21. Thank you for the very in-depth and accurate explanation.
    I have not seen any in–depth explanations in Japan so far.

    By the way, the trains disappeared were not bullet train but small local trains. And, according to media reports, eventually all the people in the train were rescued.

    Thank you again for the works.

  22. Nathan, everything was fine and then it suddenly caught fire and released radiation? How did that happen? According to the chart, all lights were green.


  23. “An example of the reporting: A fellow from one of the universities, and I didn’t note which one, obviously an engineer and a knowlegable one, was asked a question and began to explain quite sensibly what was likely. He was cut off after about a minute, maybe less, and an anti-nuke, very glib, and very poorly informed, was brought on. With ponderous solemnity, he then made one outrageous and incorrect statement after another.”

    Not sure if it was the same segment or not, but last night CNN had on Glenn Sjoden, a nuclear engineer from the Georgia Institute of Technology. The host was clearly irritated that Sjoden wasn’t promoting a nuclear apocalypse and cut him off numerous times, once to ask how he could know the Japanese government wasn’t just making up radiation levels. Eventually the host cut Sjoden off for good, saying, “Let’s go to someone who can really answer questions about nuclear questions: Bill Nye “The Science Guy.”

    For those outside the US, Nye is a science populist, who holds a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell. After declaring a need for increased public science literacy he asserted that Cesium was an element used in control rods.

    At least 10,000 dead and millions without homes and all we hear is this…

  24. > Mr Edano said the figures …have been
    > misquoted as micro sieverts.

    That’s wrong, it’s a mistake in transcribing the speech or its translation, mistake made by the staff posting in that blog at ABC-Australia apparently.

    The speaker (or the translator) was making clear, for this specific event, that the numbers being given were in the different unit and were far larger — ‘milli’ not ‘micro’ — than had been observed previously.

  25. Nathan, I thought Edano said that the Unit 4 problem started with a hydrogen explosion (caused by falling debris?) and that it happened before the explosion at Unit 2. So what falling debris are we talking about? I think skepticism towards the TEPCO chart is warranted.


  26. bks,

    Not sure, will have to look up.

    What I’ve seen so far was that #4 had not had any explosion, but falling debris from the explosion at #2 had sparked a fire. Will see if I can find any reports of a separate explosion

  27. As with real estate, nuclear radiation is highly dependent on LOCATION owing to the effect of distance on dose rates.

    On the one hand we have TEPCO publishing a level of 15 micro-Sieverts/hour at the boundary of the Daiichi facility.

    At the same time we have SoulmanZ, Chris Warren and others are talking about 400 milli-Sieverts/hour. Exposure to such a level for 12 hours can be expected to cause 50% mortality among humans within 4 weeks.

    So where was this lethal radiation level found? Here is what Mr Sum says:
    “Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio 枝野 morning at a press conference April 15 and announced 400 mSv radiation was found near a nuclear power plant Unit No. 3 Hukuzima Electric Power Company.”

    Assuming Yukio means 400 mSV/hour, he needs to get a little more specific unless he is trying to cause a panic.

  28. @gallopingcamel – I suspect the 400 milli-Sieverts/hour was only measured for a short period of time. The reports about it occured at almost the same time as the news about the unit 4 fire, so it’s possible there is some link there (Note: a link between the two is my speculation only – I don’t have anything to confirm that)

  29. I’m definitely not versed about these things. It’s what brought me here. An effort to understand. I would be much more comforted, though, if this case was presented by a more neutral source and not one with a clearly pro-nuclear power position.

  30. I’ve read that they are having trouble keeping reactor 2 full of water and there may be a potential leak in the containment vessel. What type of information would confirm that? And if so, what could they do to prevent a meltdown if those reports are accurate?

  31. I whole heartedly agree with the sentiment that nothing is “impregnable” or 100% safe.

    Given the engineering challenges of building LWR plants… and the inherent vulnerability to power-outages… maybe we shouldn’t be building plants on the coast, at sea level in active earth-quake zones.

    The debate often gets cast as Pro-Nuke vs Anti-Nuke… what about responsible nuclear power? Scientists have been howling about nuke plants being placed in active quake zones since the late 60′s. This “accident” was far from “unthinkable”.

    We can marvel at how Fukushima has withstood the 9.0 tsunami scenario but it begs the question of why it was placed in the path of godzilla’s rage to begin with.

    I’m praying for the best-case scenarios for cooling the reactors … none of us wants to find out what what the worst case could cause.

  32. I’m really appreciating the detailed information here. I’m hoping you, or anyone, can provide more, accurate information about the status of the spent rod pools on top of the reactors. By other reports (which could very well be sensational and inaccurate) there is potential for those pools to catch fire and spread radiation, with pretty severe health results.
    I haven’t hear anything about their status here or anywhere, yet. Does anyone have accurate information about this? It would be greatly appreciated.

  33. Nathan, just listened to a rebroadcast of the English translation of Edano’s press conference. The translator said that he said that there was a build up in heat of the spent fuel at unit 4 which resulted in hydrogen which caused the fire. The translators are not the best so take with grain of salt.


  34. @ Alex Smith

    At least you could get your units right, if your going to fear-monger along in this blog. The readings at the plant gate and general area are uSv (micro-sieverts) not mSv. And in general scientific use M is “mega” for millions, whereas m is for milli, as in 1/1000.

    A reading of 8,217 millisieverts/hr would kill you with 40 min. of exposure to that level. A reading of 8,217 uSv/hr, or 821 mrem/hr is considered a high-radiation area and should be evacuated, but it is not immediately deadly. I am not minimizing the seriousness of these levels, and that they require evacuation (if indeed they are accurate, we have seen how NHK and TEPCO themselves are confusing mSv and uSv), however they will likely be primarily composed of the very short-lived decay products caused by seawater injection neutrjon activation (Na-24, Cl-36, I-125,129,131, N-16, O-14, etc.) and much smaller quantities of fission products such as Cs-127 and Sr-89,90.

    Radio Ecoshock? I am a health physicist MS degree, care to interview me on nuclear safety?

  35. @Alex555 – If my math is correct. 400 millisieverts is a bit more than 10,000,000 bananas worth. That’s in an hour, not a year.

    (I suspect having to eat 10 million bananas in an hour will kill you in ways other than radiation, though).

    Even 8000 microsieverts/hour (note the units) is 228250 bananas worth.

  36. Alex Smith,
    I concur with “Peter’s” comments. You sound like a nuclear “hysteric” and I could help you with that given my many years of experience overseeing radiation safety oversight at a US university.

  37. The New York Times reported that tepco workers were “suffering full-on radiation sickness” yesterday – quoting “Japanese media”, but it wasn’t confirmed anywhere and quietly disappeared from subsequent reporting.

    Up till a few hours ago, the highest reported exposure to anyone from TEPCO was “over 100 millisieverts” (I think the exact number was 103, according to the company). 10 Rems.

    However, if the 400 millisievert number is accurate, it wouldn’t be surprising if somebody at the plant has been exposed to more in the past few hours.

  38. MsPerps:
    Things are moving fast and your article is way out of date. We’re already way past TMI.

    Nice article: “Radiation exceeds healthy levels” At 400mS/hr = 40R/hr, I guess so. Or do you even know what that means?
    But keep up the spin.

    How about if you try eating 400000/36 = 11111 bananas in an hour and get back to me on how it feels. Really it’s not scary.

  39. I am not surprised that there is a bit of confusion around whether it is milliSieverts or microSieverts. They are difficult units to keep straight for lay people who haven’t much of a background in nuclear engineering or science. The Japanese Prime Minister is such a lay person and on top of that he is under the stress of trying to show leadership under an unprecedented natural disaster. I think we need to cut him a little slack and wait till the technical people give out the actually numbers and units. Nobody as of yet is calling for people in the affected zone to take potassium iodide tablets yet.

    Alex Smith’s (quite vitriolic) post was a case in point of how lay people can get confused with these radiation units. He used the term MSv, which means MegaSieverts and “Mega” means a million; whereas “milli” means a thousandth and micro means a millionth.)

  40. With the failure of three reactors at Fukushima, this makes at least six or seven serious nuclear reactor accidents. How many reactors are there?

    What is the failure rate (so far) and what will the failure rate be by the end of life for the current reactors? It appears the failure rate is over 1% and could approach 2% by end of life.

  41. Pingback: Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Incident – UPDATE « PA Pundits – International

  42. I get the feeling there is a certain amount of handwaving going on by advocates of nuclear power to dismiss safety concerns. I understand it is difficult to get accurate and timely information about events. However, events in the real world always seem to be getting a little bit worse than what is described on this blog.

  43. Alex Smith up there thinks Barry Brooks doesn’t understand what is going on as well as he does. Here’s a sample from Alex’s website:

    “Japan Atomic Emergency Bulletin #2″

    “Japanese news says six reactors are in danger of melting down. One has already blown up. The government covers up while hundreds of thousands evacuate. The world economy could blow up as well.”

    You be the judge.

  44. bks,

    The 1300 JAIF chart corroborates what you’re saying.

    “Fire broke on the 4th floor of the Unit-4 Reactor Building around 6AM and the radiation monitor readings increased outside of the building:
    30mSv between Unit-2 and Unit-3, 400mSv beside Unit-3, 100mSv beside Unit-4 at 10:22.
    It is estimated that the spent fuels stored in the spent fuel pit heated and hydrogen was generated from these fuels, resulting in the explosion.
    TEPCO later announced the fire had been extinguished.
    Other staff and workers than 50 TEPCO employees, who are engaged in water injection operation, have been evacuated.”

    Thats taken an ugly turn.

  45. [Deleted for accusations of censoring, deliberate misinformation etc. In doing this, Paul K2 has repeatedly broken the commenting rules and is now banned. He can now go elsewhere and complain about this if that makes him feel better.]

  46. @ Steve Gardner

    Al-anon is correct in his/her post. I won’t respond directly to al-anon, as I am a little afraid of them, being a friend of Bill.


    Good post and points. I so sadly admit that this horrible disaster will do more to educate the public to dose units than my 30 years of work.

    Again I stress, while this accident is causing unprecedented radiation fields outisde of the reactor and at site boundaries, there is both exponential decay of very short-lived (seconds to minutes) radionuclides, and exponential diffusion of the radiation fields with distance from the source.
    Plume modeling is a very complex science, but suffice it to say that any populated areas will be experiencing 4-8 orders of magnitude less exposure, and I could be wrong by several orders of magnitude in a conservative direction. And that, only if the winds shift to out of the north or west. As of now I understand mostly the winds are directing out to sea. Any particulates that fall to the ocean will diffuse and be too low to measure.

  47. There is a lot of confused information out there regarding the used fuel that really doesn’t make sense. Does anyone have a credible source of information that is consistent and makes sense?

    Here’s my present understanding – of course, I could be wrong, but I would need to see a better source of credible, consistent information on the subject that makes sense, and that is hard to find.

    There is a small temporary fuel transfer pool in the reactor building, near the top of the reactor pressure vessel, that is used for temporary transfer of used nuclear fuel during refueling, but the longer-term storage of the used nuclear fuel is done in a pool elsewhere on the site.

    Those storage pools, outside the reactor building, are seismically hardened and defended in-depth, just like the reactors themselves, and there are no indications of any problems with them.

    Since there was no refueling going on at the damaged reactors at the time of the earthquake, there is no fuel stored in the temporary fuel transfer pool.

    The concrete roof of the reactor building proper – which is not where the hydrogen explosion occurred – is built over the top of the temporary fuel transfer pool; it’s completely within the concrete reactor building. And it doesn’t have any used fuel in it anyway.

    “Steve Gardner,
    Let’s put it his way. If you and your buddies had to work a ten hour shift in a rad field of 400mS/hr, we would expect half of you to be dead within one month.
    But If you are one of the crazies around here, it’s not much.”

    400 mSv/h * 10 h = 4 Sv. 4 Sv is certainly going to give you detectable symptoms of acute radiation sickness, but it’s not likely to be lethal.

  48. Alex Smith isn’t a “troll”. He is a sincere guy who seems quite dedicated to educating people about climate science. Every once in a while, when he does an extended interview with a scientist, one of his “Radio Ecoshock” podcasts turns out to be a gem.

    That said, I’ve found his views on nuclear power to be incomprehensible. He’s interviewed Helen Caldicott sympathetically, as if what she says is so important it should be heard by everyone in the world.

    The wastes of fossil fuels that have already been added to the atmosphere are probably enough to end civilization as we know it, it seems Alex believes, yet nuclear waste is such a great problem no one should use nuclear power. Joe Romm is one authority Alex cites on nuclear. Etc.

    In this respect, i.e, complete irrationality when it comes to nuclear issues, Alex is like a lot of climate activists. The fact is, so many hold views similar to Alex’s I think it can be said that his is the majority view among non scientists who want something done about climate, at least here in North America.

    I think this is why this civilization is going to die. How can people call out to civilization that they should heed the warnings of scientists on climate, as they call out that people should ignore what scientists think about nuclear issues such as the danger of radiation, or the safety of reactor designs?

    I attempted to debate Alex about nuclear power, once, on his “Radio Ecoshock” blog, but he ended the exchange by telling me I would be “moderated” from then on. I never engaged him in debate again.

    Funny, Alex won’t allow opinion he disagrees with to appear on his own blog, yet he expects to come to BraveNewClimate to attack the integrity of Barry Brook. Alex tells us Barry is arrogant. It doesn’t look that way to me.

  49. It looks like I have to retract my earlier statement about the plume being carried out to sea. The latest info from NHK : http://live.nicovideo.jp/watch/lv43296023
    indicate that measurable radiation levels are being found in Tokyo and other near by cities. Levels in the single uSv range or lower are being measured, and isotopes of cesium and iodine are being found. Everyone should consider taking iodine pills at this point (or some other SAFE method to get a few mg of stable iodine in them), just in case these levels increase. They are not at a level currently to impact human health, but measures should be taken to minimize ingestion and inhalation of iodine, which concentrates in the thyroid.
    I would recommend people stay indoors, wash hands before eating, wash all foods and items from outdoors, and follow the government directions as they promulgate.

    I guess the wind changed. This is not helpful to the situation.

    I should state for those who are worried, that in 1963 I was exposed to Chinese/US/Russian fallout that was nearly at this level (in Connecticut US no less…) with no lasting effects.

  50. Bob the Builder
    What has Barry said was impossible which has now occurred? Where did he say it?
    I have found what Barry has said to be accurate so far and checking with what nuclear experts around the World are saying Barry seems to be in unison with them and not out on a limb. In fact he is meticulous in reporting the facts on the situation as he accesses them
    As to the anti-nuclear advocates from the Green groups – their spin on the situation is breathtaking in its gleeful opportunism and hysterical whipping up of fear.
    Surely it is better to speak positively about the situation while things are still not the nuclear catastrophe others like to make out.

  51. Bob Brown ripping into anti-nuclear-energy rhetoric is hypocritical given that he thought immigration policy discussion was inappropriate immediately after the Christmas island shipwreck.

  52. @Chris Warren: 4 Sv could well be lethal. 7 Sv almost certainly is (http://twitpic.com/49mm4l), so I don’t think saying that there is a 50% chance of 4 Sv killing you is inaccurate.

    It’s estimated that Daghlian received 5.1 Sv when he halted the “demon core” reaction, and he died 25 days later (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_K._Daghlian,_Jr.)

    Slotin recieved 21 Sv when he handled the same core after it went critical, and he died in 9 days (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Slotin#The_criticality_accident)

  53. Bob the Builder, Steve Mckenzie, dk.au, et. al. All you need to know is that this is a private site, maintained and paid for by Barry Brook. He owes no one an explanation of his past, or his position on anything. Demanding such is way out of line.

  54. I have never received a single cent (i.e. $0.00) — personally or to my university — from the nuclear power or uranium industries. Indeed, I pay to run this website out of my own pocketbook. I am doing this because I think it matters. I care deeply about environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and providing abundant low-carbon energy to current and future society, whilst minimising our global environmental footprint.

    Please stop questioning my integrity, and calling me a shill. Not only is this false, it is also grossly unacceptable behaviour.

  55. @Luke Weston

    I beg to differ. 4 Sievert = 400 rem. This is close to the LD-50 value if it is an acute dose absorbed in a short period of time. The currently accepted LD50 for penetrating whole-body radiation exposure is ~450-500 rem. LD-50 is the lethal to human dose that will cause death to 50% of people exposed to this quantity within 30-45 days.

    I understand there is spent fuel in the empty unit 4 of Fukoshima Plant #1, where the fire occurred, in the temporary spent fuel pool. If the water all drained, and it is ‘fresh’ spent fuel, it could be causing these radiation levels. The pool is not within the containment, it is only protected by the reactor building roof (the roofs which no long exist at units 1 and 3.) I doubt it caused the fire however, as it broke out after the explosion of unit 3, and it has been reported that the fire was debris from the explosion. If spent fuel were burning uncontrolled, air sampling would be finding high levels of uranium or Pu (jif MOX) and this is not been reported.

  56. The thing about spent fuel pools is they aren’t contained like the reactor core is.

    If you look at the diagram entitled “Figure 20 Mark 1 General Electric GE BWR Containment” which is a little ways down one of Barry’s other pages i.e. http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/
    you’ll see. This diagram isn’t the three dimensional cutaway drawing, its the next drawing down the page.

    If you look at the “Fuel Storage Pool” you’ll see there isn’t a very thick roof. This is a typical design, and it came under fire as a design, after the terrorist attack in the US.

    Reactor spent fuel pools were not designed to withstand air attack. They aren’t obvious targets, it would be extremely hard, especially with an inexperienced pilot/jihadist blundering around with a commercial jetliner, to hit one, and it would be improbable for radiation to enter the surrounding environment as a result, but the high level panel that examined the issue in the US did not rule it out as incredible. They recommended, for instance, simple measures to reduce risk such as moving rods around and trying to reduce the amount of rods in the pools.

    As to whether it will prove to have been necessary to have built reactor spent fuel pools inside more secure containments, like the reactors themselves, in case of earthquake followed by tsunami, followed by fire caused by an explosion in a reactor next door or whatever, we’ll have to see.

  57. This is what Barry is saying which as I pointed out is in line with other nuclear experts. They have not been shown to be wrong thus far.

    “Chernobyl, in Ukraine, was the site of the world’s worse civilian nuclear power plant accident in 1986. Graphite – combustible at higher temperatures – was used to cool the fuel rods and there was no container structure around the reactor. When the rods failed to control the nuclear fission chain reaction, explosions occurred, releasing radioactive plumes that blew across Europe.

    The General Electric-designed reactors at Fukushima Daiichi plant use water rather than graphite, so a similar explosion is not possible.

    Experts also stress that a nuclear explosion is impossible, even if there were no container structures or if they all failed, as the fuel in the rods are not sufficiently enriched.

    “The suggestions of a possible nuclear explosion are ill-founded and not based on scientific fact,” Professor Richard Wakeford of Manchester University’s Dalton Nuclear Institute told the Financial Times.”

  58. MsPerps:

    Alex Smith is all wrong, eh?
    The NY Times says:
    “Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor…”
    “Tokyo Electric Power said Tuesday that after the explosion at the No. 2 reactor, pressure had dropped in the ‘suppression pool’ …’We are now facing the worst-case scenario,’ said Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University. ‘We can assume that the containment vessel at Reactor No. 2 is already breeched.’”

    So there was an explosion. Or are you trying to quibble over the possible confusion/ambiguity in the reporting between the reactor pressure vessel and the containment vessel?

    And how can you be so sure cancer rates won’t increase? This thing hasn’t finished playing out yet.

    You do know there is a difference between an explosion and a nuclear explosion. Who was talking about a nuclear explosion? I missed that

    Thank you for the comment about LD50—now I can delete the explanation I had just finished writing. But I must note that you jumped all over Alex Smith for missing the distinction between “m” and “M”.

  59. RI unfazed by Japan nuclear crisis
    “Concerns over a possible nuclear disaster in Japan should not deter Indonesia from its ambition to build a nuclear power plant in the future, an official at the country’s atomic agency said.”

    Nuclear energy still an option for Philippines
    “The nuclear energy option will continue to be considered by the government, officials yesterday said, with lessons from a disaster in Japan to be incorporated into any policy decision.”

    Govt to be transparent on nuke plant project(Malaysia)
    “Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Kui said yesterday there was still time to study everything as the first nuclear plant would not be built for at least 10 years.”

  60. Terrific work Barry. We are just interested in knowing the situation, whether it be good or bad for our nuclear hopes. Doesn’t matter, so long as we get the good information.

    Fellas. This is not the time to go for pro or anti-nuclear arguments. Lets see how this thing pans out and lets find the “lessons-learned.”

    Whatever they may be.

  61. No argument that Chernobyl was a riskier design. The major risk in this case would be widespread contamination, which does not need an explosion to occur; loss of containment under adverse conditions will do it.

  62. “Possible sources for the hydrogen are discussed here. ”

    We must never rule out sabotage. Nuclear power is in some ways quite simple. Its really just about producing heat, in order to produce steam, so as to create movement through a magnetic field, in order to create an electric current.

    Hydrogen, is not part of this scheme.

    So its not to be assumed that a POSSIBLE source of hydrogen is the ACTUAL source of hydrogen.

    No god-of-gaps arguments need be taken under consideration.

  63. al-anon,

    Well, there are explosions and then there are explosions. We’ve seen terms for containment used so incomprehensibly in newspaper reports it is nearly impossible to be sure what is breached.

    However, with pressure loss in the wetwell, its safe to assume Hiroaki Koide is correct, and the containment vessel is breached. If the 400mSv around #3 is sustained and #2 doesn’t have some good fortune come its way… Yeah, its pretty bad.

  64. @al-anon
    Thanks for the note. I had my disagreement with Barry in the other forum about the non-existent risk for explosion. I feel he and Dr Oehman have done a service to the community (much needed at this juncture) in trying to allay fears with facts.

    Unfortunately, not all the facts or categorical statements turn out to be correct, but I give large benefit of the doubt in these extreme times in Japan right now. I feel bad for him that he has been trashed, but the site is a good effort and I hope he continues to participate – perhaps he will learn more too. I know I have, and between this and NHK I am learning the correct information on this accident – I was appalled at how mainstream media are reporting this, and MORE appalled at the ‘expert’ opinions they were serving that were utter nonsense. I’m at Hanford. We’ve made alot of messes here in the last 50 years, and still cleaning it up.

  65. Girls,Girls,Girls.
    Very few of the commenters on this and previous threads would know their front side from their backside on any nuclear related issue. But that doesn’t stop you from mouthing off does it?

    I wonder what the reaction from this cohort would be to any sort of emergency situation in THEIR immediate vicinity. Panic and running around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off,no doubt.

    Get a grip on yourselves and WAIT for reliable information. Failing that,you know those socks you threw in the dirty laundy bin the other day? Well,take one and stuff it in your mouth and have a good chew.Does wonders for the motor mouth syndrome I believe.

  66. Peter;

    Thanks for the background. I know I’m harsh, but I’ve been in the business 30+ years, trying to make these beasts run safely and efficiently.The NY Times says:
    “But the plant contains spent fuel rods that were removed from the reactor [Note: that would be whenever they last refueled the reactor], and experts guessed that the pool containing those rods had run dry, allowing the rods to overheat and catch fire.”
    Well, I know the experts are said to be “guessing”, but. of course, they don’t have the information to know for sure.
    But for your information, just like in the core, if the water level in the spent fuel pool starts dropping, the fuel assemblies will heat up as they become uncovered. If the temperature gets to about 2200F (1200C) the reaction between the zirconium metal cladding of the fuel rod and any water/steam accelerates dramatically, and the reaction releases hydrogen. Which, in the presence of oxygen, has been known on occasion to burn.
    Of course, there could be other things going on too—we just don’t have a lot of information.

  67. I think I was not very clear in my previous comments.

    First, with regard to Prof Brooks integrity or motivations. I was not accusing him of being a shill, or lacking integrity, or in the pocket of industry. What I wrote was: “If I didn’t know better, I would think Brooks was a paid PR person for the nuclear power industry. (yes, the spin is that bad).” Notice the “if I didn’t know better” preface. I do know better – he’s a professor, not a PR flak for the industry. I apologize to Prof Brooks if this came off as an accusation. That was not my intent.

    My point was that to me, as a reader, his efforts to present specific and useful facts are counterbalanced and weakened by mixing them with opinions about how this highly-volatile situation is going to play out.

    This stems from all of the opinions presented taking only one side…the side thinking that things are going to have the best possible outcome at each point along the way. Which just so happens to be an outcome that supports nuclear power as a safe and reliable power source. That comes off as spin in my book when it is repeated in a series of posts about a deteriorating situation at a nuclear power plant.

    Upon review, I realized these opinions were not Prof Brook’s direct quotes, but rather the many anonymous ones he has included from ‘experts’ (like the MIT Professor or the friend in the US nuclear research community), who seem to uniformly posit the best possible outcome for the situation.

    Again, as a reader, this makes me hesitant and wary that there is a singular bias in the information presented on the site.

    I think this is unfortunate (what I was trying to indicate earlier), as the rest of the site is very solid. Filled with facts rather than hyperbole. That part is refreshing, especially on this difficult and complex topic.

    So, perhaps this is a better way to state my concern to Prof Brooks:

    First, Sir, thank you for the site and all of your hard work on it. I have learned a great deal here in a very short time. It is a great resource for anyone interested in the basic facts about nuclear systems and the current incidents in Japan.

    Second, perhaps you could format your future blog posts into two sections…one for ‘just-the-facts’, and another for opinions about the ongoing event, either yours or your anonymous contacts?

    Third, perhaps you can point your readers to a FAQ page or something similar that indicates this divide. That you are both providing facts on the situation as it unfolds, along with opinion regarding the wider implications of this event on nuclear power policy and climate change prevention?


  68. My current feelings, summed up:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:.
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
    And never breathe a word about your loss:
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much:
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

    Rudyard Kipling, “If”

  69. Pingback: AGU Blogosphere | Dan's Wild Wild Science Journal | False Radiation Rumors Run Rampant

  70. you cant have “molten fuel” and “water sloshing around” at the same place.

    After seconds, its either molten fuel and very hot water vapour, or it is solidified waste and hot water. Depending on how much of each is present.

  71. Does anybody know the fuel load of these reactors? Somebody over on the Guardian is claiming that they contain “90 tonnes of fissionable material” which is clearly not so, and it’s about to go critical in a core melt. I think it’s worthwhile trying to set the facts straight.

  72. Al-anon quote:
    “You do know there is a difference between an explosion and a nuclear explosion. Who was talking about a nuclear explosion”
    Yes, I know the difference but many in the general public don’t and that is what you are counting on in your histrionics.
    BTW according to the updated report on the state of the reactors a containment breech is SUSPECTED but not yet CONFIRMED. Stick to the facts don’t pre-empt them.

  73. Was is the most accurate peak radiation level as of NOW, that has been measured? What is thought to be the source? Did or not an explosion occur in the torus? What I find maddening is that apparently people are confusing milli- and micro. Either the torus is blown up, or not – which is it? Would not that produce a great deal of steam?

  74. thanx @ Peter for the info on radiation levels. Perhaps you can give us some real world examples of radiation that is ingested / absorbed ? by humans doing regular things like taking a12 hour international flight , or receiving x-rays etc.

  75. Pingback: Japan in the Philippines | Newsbreak | Independent Journalism

  76. I am a physicist, working for myself. To me, nature is beautiful on the smallest levels – inside the nucleus. Nuclear power has no fear for me. But I realize that is does for people who do not understand it, and only think of bombs and mutations.

    I realized in the 1980s that global warming would destroy our civilization, if not our species. I tried to get people interested in nuclear power as an alternative to coal. I completely failed.

    Now we will never have a chance to get this done. We will burn coal until we burn down our civilization, and that will be that. Airy-fairy alternative energy sources do not have the density needed for our modern civilization. It’s either nukes, or coal, period.

    So we’re essentially doomed. It’s almost like the Earth doesn’t want us on it any more.


  77. PaulK2 quote:
    “Here is a nice picture of a mother and her son being tested for radiation by a properly clad test technician”

    Now you really are scraping the bottom of your barrel of mud.
    You KNOW that no civilian in the Fukushima has been tested as having been exposed to harmful radiation.

  78. I’d appreciate if Barry Brooks could reply to Alex Smith despite the possible errors in that post.

    It doesn’t matter so much who was right,
    but rather that we get it correctly, right ?

    And whom we can trust in future, yes.
    I.e. how credible Tepco and the Japanese
    government are.

  79. Dr. Brooks wrote: “The designers apparently could not imagine a tsunami of these proportions”

    Really? Why not?

    The 1960 Chilean quake was a 9.5 and produced a 25 meter tsunami on the Chilean coast. (7 years before construction started on this plant ).

    This plant is basically at sea level. You can spit in the ocean from here. Seems like a pretty spectacular failure in planning to me to not harden the backup generators against being swamped by a tidal wave or three.

  80. The NHK news 10 minutes ago gave more information regarding the radiation levels.
    Because people were complaining that they are getting confused with the different values being given, all radiation levels from now on will be given in micro sievert. The measurement outside #2 is 400,000 micro seivert / hour (i.e. 400 mSv/h).

  81. Hello Dr Brook

    I like the clarity of your writing and I’m grateful for your well-informed commentary. I am generally a nuclear power supporter and also deplore the hysterical and disproportionate response anything nuclear receives.

    But in the interests of plausibility, I would like to see some acknowledgment / explanation of the discrepancy between your original post (headline: no risk of significant radiation risk) to the situation 2 days on where you seem to be taking a less strong position.


  82. Pingback: Katastrophe am Pazifik [Erdbeben vom 11.03.2011 in Japan] - Seite 20 - SciFi-Forum

  83. Thanks to @Tokyo for providing the Geiger-Meuller readings in East Tokyo! They are somewhat reassuring – here is my interpretation: A very sensitive GM instrument showed a single spike of 4X background, and immediately subsided back to bkgd and has stayed there. This is GOOD news folks. Now if it will just stay there………
    The scale is in CPM (counts/min) so I cannot tell what dose rate this might be, but it is very small. No concern for health or environment at this level.

    We’re a little past the point of comparing ‘banana dose or airline flight dose” here now, however.

    My field of expertise is internal dosimetry and in- vivo radiobioassay – so here is one of my oft-used anecdotes that might be interesting: For the past 50 years people around the world have been ingesting kilobecquerel quantities of Cs-137 every time they shoot and eat venison, caribou, or other game that eat lichen. Weapons fallout has been concentrating in lichen (they love potassium, and cesium is a chemical analogue) in mountainous regions with rainfall, and is concentrated in deer, etc. No one seems very concerned, even though this intake is typically the largest measured quantity found in nuclear workers – and invariably they are ‘game eaters’.
    The 5-10 nCi typically found causes a minuscule dose to the body, and is of no concern – except to the nuclear industry that worries to explain how a worker with no history of occupational exposure got Cs-137 in his body.

    As one earlier poster said – we need to wait until more information is out before making any conclusions. But that graph was the first piece of good news in 3 days.

  84. @Peter

    My thoughts exactly, because it happed to be outside the exact same time. There are a few more sites giving info nut most links seem not to be functioning. Probably too many people trying to acces them.

    I will keep a close eye on that meter, for any permanent increase comparing to the background level. Even if it doubles, that still would be low, its a sign to get really worried.

  85. Wow…My first visit here and I just spent half an hour on the comments alone! Good grief, it’s like arguing politics or religion.

    Just looking for something reliable to combat the hysteria I’m hearing from the media and elsewhere. I live in central CA and had a friend in MI tell me he’s read several articles saying that “dangerous levels” of radiation could reach here! (Over the Pacific and High Sierras.) Wouldn’t that have to be something akin to Chernobyl or Hiroshima?

    All I know is it’s tanking the US stock market futures (also silly; what does a reactor in Japan have to do with selling potash, shoes, cereal or hamburgers in the States?). Any unbiased, reasonable and cogent info would be appreciated.

    Best of success with the blog, and using reason to combat extremism, ignorance, fear and prejudice.

  86. If I am correct that spike measured an equivalent dose of 4-5 uSv/hr (uhh … like, 10-20 times less than a chest XRay per hour for the laypeople)

    nothing to concern the health of folks currently, just concerning that cesium has got out at all

  87. Have Iodine and Caesium contamination actually been detected in the local atmosphere? If so, whats the internet link?
    The internet certainly lets me find out a lot more than not, but validation is tiresome.

  88. Aaaaaaannnnnddd the bad news……
    @Tokyo reported TEPCO says 400 mSv outside unit #2. This is very catastrophic, and workers cannot remain in an area this high for more than an hour or two without high risk of immediate (prompt) radiation effects. As DR Lunsford stated, only a significant melting of fuel, or complete core failure would release this amount of radiation. God help the workers at this site, they are very brave to be still working on stopping this. That said, it still is a local event however, and the world does not need to be in fear of world-wide plume effects. It is NOT a Chernobyl.

  89. That has to be an erroneous – as in, off by 1000 – report – no one could be anywhere near the plant if that were an accurate reading. We’re talking a Louis Slotin type exposure in two days. That would require widespread dispersal of direct core elements in the open air. Unless the containment vessel itself split open explosively and upward, that cannot be.

  90. I would request for people to just STFU with political and policy talk and discussion of conspiracies and other nonsense. I want to know the accurate radiation figures coming from these plants. That’s not too much to ask.

  91. This site is very informative. I would suggest, however, that the belligerent tone towards the media is unhelpful. Although it is great that information like that provided on this site is available, the average TV viewer wants to know the likelihood that radiation will leak and cause harm to human health and is less interested in the intricacies of a nuclear reactor. Journalists are accustomed to interviewing politicians and for this reason too much detail and background information is perceived to be evasive answering. Many of the nuclear experts who appeared on tv seemed unaware of the imperative to be concise and get to the kernel issues of public concern. On the day after the tsunami, for example, an expert on BBC World News was asked about the situation in Fukishima and in his reply began to defend the plans to build new nuclear power stations in Britain on the grounds that the designs were more modern than those in Japan. He wasn’t asked that question and the journalist would be within his rights to interject. The media do not have some calculus that dictates that they report on the issues which have caused the most fatalities (and the death toll from the tsunami will take weeks to ascertain in any case). The Libyan situation, for example, got more media coverage than the situation in Côte d’Ivoire despite the fact that there were a greater number of fatalities in the latter conflict. This disparity is because there was judged to be a greater public interest in the Libyan situation for economic, diplomatic and historical reasons and not because there is a media conspiracy against the Gaddafi regime. The amount of coverage chiefly depends on the level of public interest and the amount of information available. It is supply and demand and this is the reason why the nuclear situation is playing so big at the moment – not the unlikely conspiracy between anti-nuclear activists and media organs that is implied here (what possible motivation would the media have?). For the record, I am not involved in journalism.

  92. NHK is still reporting it as 400 milisieverts…
    Seems crazy to have jumped 50~100 times but if thats what they’re reading, then something very very bad may have just happened.

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  94. Mr Sam
    Belligerentese is the language we speak here.
    Until expelled. I just snuck in the back door for a quick smoke and a stir.
    However I agree the quality and morality of current journalism is absolutely appalling. But is hasnt got much to do with nuke, so please move along, sir.

  95. @Tokyo

    Actually, I would not be worried until that GM reading surpassed 10X background (200 cpm). And stayed there for a bit. What is concerning me is the reports that it is all cesium and strontium isotopes, not iodine and other activation products from prompt decay. Perhaps they are not sophisticated enough to be capturing iodine in charcoal, etc. in order to analyze it. I would give anything to see a germanium spectrum of the plume….!

    But the fact remains if your seeing any increase in radiation in Tokyo 140 km from the accident, the levels onsite must be very high. I don’t know whether or not to believe the 400 mSv number or not…….

  96. Well, according to Steve Gardner’s SomethingAwful link, the 400 mSv was a spike and it went back down to apprx 1.2 mSv shortly thereafter, however, I haven’t seen what he lists as a source for that.

  97. @Steve Gardner, thanks for that excellent link. So now we understand – the fire in 4 was probably hydrogen related and involved some spent fuel. It was short-lived. There is not a 0.4 S/hr continuous source of radiation. ARGH we should do a better job of teaching science!!

  98. Further to Steve Gardner”s link – a quote from it below:

    “Is this a meltdown?

    Technically, yes, but not in the way that most people think.

    The term “meltdown” is not used within the nuclear industry, because it is insufficiently specific. The popular image of a meltdown is when a nuclear reactor’s fuel core goes out of control and melts its way out of the containment facility. This has not happened, although the likelihood of his happening in the future is difficult to determine at this time.

    What has happened in reactor #1 and #3 is a “partial fuel melt”. This means that the fuel core has suffered damage from heat but the containment vessels are intact and no fuel has escaped containment. Core #2 is suspected to have experienced minor damage. Confinement on reactor #2 is holding but still at risk, although water levels are rising and pumping is continuing.”
    This is what Barry has been telling us here. I do suggest people read all of the link to re-inforce the information given on BNC,

  99. @Steve Mckenzie

    Journalists, unlike academics, work within economic and time constraints. The quality of the information that results from this process is far from perfect but not part of a conspiracy. It is presumably difficult to independently verify information with regard to the current situation when many of the experts in the field are also employed in the nuclear sector.
    I do not know what you are talking about when you refer to “morality”. What morality should journalists follow in your view? Aristotelean, Kantian utilitarian? Or did you mean ethics?

  100. One thing I have not heard mentioned in any media or technical sites so far is the fact that BWRs have a positive void coefficient? I have heard this from two nuclear engineers, one who designed commercial nukes in the 60′s.
    I keep hearing it stressed that because these plants are LWRs they cannot go critical with a LOCA event. However my understanding is that like Chernobyls’ reactor, a positive void coefficient means the neutron chain reaction does not slow with the coolant removed, but increases. Anyone provide clarification?

  101. @MrSam, journalists do not use constraint, they produce the necessary level of fear-mongering BS from the hottest news bimbo that will generate the greatest level of prurient interest in the lurid and sensational, which translates into ad revenues. All sides are equally guilty. Fox News and Huffington Post are equally culpable.

    If there is one thing this horrible catastrophe has finally drilled into my old brain, it is that we are without a rational voice in the media on any side. From the rolling blubber of Rushbo to the simpering whelps of Salon.com, we have no-one to give us the facts we need to run our Republic like thinking adults.

  102. Here is another relevant quote from the above link – again it re-inforces what we are being told by Barry on BNC.

    “Containment on the live reactors has not, at this time, been breached. There is, as far as we know, no leaks of live reactor fuel or anything similar. This does not mean that there is not high-than-normal raditation levels around Fukushima site one, for several reasons.

    One reason that the radiation levels immediately outside the plant are higher than usual was due to the deliberate release of radioactive steam. These levels go up during venting, into the 700 to 1500 microSv per hour range and then very quickly decrease to almost normal background levels, as the radioactive material in this steam has a very short half-life. This venting is done to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessels.

    There have also been very minor releases of radioactive reactor byproducts like iodine and cesium along with the steam. This material is less radioactive than the typical output of coal power plants and has very short half-lives. It is significant mainly as an indicator of the state of the reactor cores, as radioactive iodine and cesium are a sign that there there has been core damage.

    However, roughly simultaneously with the suppression pool event at reactor #2 and the fire at reactor #4′s building, an alarming spike in radiation measurements occurred. This has since decreased, but for a short period of time the radiation levels at site one were dangerously high, in the 400 milli-seivert per hour range close to the reactor #4 building.

    These levels did not last for more than a few minutes, and they have since dropped down to less dangerous levels, although still around 1.2 mSv (mili-, not micro-) per hour at the front gate. It is not currently known precisely what caused this spike, although the fire at the spent fuel rod pool at reactor #4′s building is a strong suspect.”

  103. Steve G
    The author of the post says:
    “Containment on the live reactors has not, at this time, been breached”
    Let’s wait and see if it is shall we.
    I believe Barry still thinks it is an impossibility as do many other nuclear power specialists I have heard speak during this crisis.

  104. “Steve G
    It seems the author of the post does agree with Barry but is less confident to categorically state this:

    “The containment vessel at Fukushima should be strong enough to resist breaching even during a decay heat meltdown. The amount of energy that could be produced by decay heat is easily calculated, and it is possible to design a container that will resist it. If it is not, and the core melts its way through the bottom of the vessel, it will end up in a large concrete barrier below the reactor. It is nearly impossible that a fuel melt caused by decay heat would penetrate this barrier. A containment vessel failure like this would result in a massive cleanup job but no leakage of nuclear material into the outside environment.

    A worst case scenario regarding the cores is a containment vessel failure combined with an uncontrolled release of radioactive steam. This would cause a localized and temporary increase in radioactivity similar to what is already present (see below) but would not result in actual nuclear fuel leakage or widespread contamination. It is this possibility that lead to the evacuations.”

  105. Ms Perps, we agree that containment has not been breached. But to state categorically that it is impossible that it will be breached is to both get way out in front of the facts, and to put the best possible gloss on the situation. In short, it is spin.

    Even if — as we all hope — containment is not breached, that will not show that it is impossible that it could have been. We may just be lucky. There’s so much we don’t know. For example, these plants are 40 years old and at the end of their operating lives. Have they been properly maintained, or has some corrosion of the metal been allowed to go unrepaired? It’s not as if TEPCO has a spotless maintenance record — far from it. But this kind of issue is never discussed by Prof. Brook, or acknowledged by you.

    Or take another point raised by the SA blog that Prof. Brook has not discussed: the fire in reactor. Why were the spent rods still in the reactor building instead of being removed to a safe place?

  106. Let’s assume, and of course hope, that there really are no severe health consequences from the events at Fukushima 1, to anyone apart from the brave workers injured in the explosions. The people here are still missing the main point: at a time of utmost national crisis, the Japanese government has been obliged to devote much of its time and considerable resources to dealing specifically with those events. It has obliged perhaps 200,000 people to leave their homes, and asked many others to stay indoors. The quake and tsunami would have been terrible in any event, but Fukushima has made dealing with it considerably more difficult. Fukushima will change government attitudes to nuclear power because the message is: nuclear power can make your disaster even worse.

  107. KG, shit happens. The choice is between a world without abundant electricity or one with no agriculture and possibly no people. It’s a simple choice to a rational person. There is no alternative energy source of sufficient density to replace coal, other than atoms. That’s just how it is. We learned to deal with fire and chemistry, we can learn to deal with this.

  108. @D R Lunsford
    I am not an expert on the US media landscape (I am Irish) but I take your point with regard to the outlets you mentioned. I have watched some of the coverage on the BBC and Al Jazeera and it is not without factual inaccuracies but I think neither station are attempting to sensationalise the situation or exacerbate concerns. I also do not necessarily think they are wrong to give the situation disproportionate coverage at the moment. That is the nature of TV- there is limited time and certain stories need to be prioritised. It was the volume of coverage on aggregate that I was addressing. Obviously, as you have stated, some outlets are more sensationalist than others on a micro level. I think that blanket criticism of the media in general in unlikely to help disseminate the (quality) information on this website, however. The posters here deal with the science in a nuanced fashion but do not exhibit the same ability to differentiate in criticising the media reaction.

  109. 20,000 perhaps 30,000 innocents have died in a natural disaster of serious propositions.

    At this stage no one has died from the accident, so shouldn’t you be counting those eggs after the dust has settled…? no pun intended.

    and KG

    “Fukushima will change government attitudes to nuclear power because the message is: nuclear power can make your disaster even worse.”

    Oh really?

    “In a posturing that may help shore up the stock of nuclear companies and relax the run in other energy related names, the Obama administration has come out in support of nuclear energy as having an important place in all future policies.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said nuclear power, “remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan. When he talks about reaching a clean energy standards it’s a vital part of that. And as we get more information from Japan and what happened there, that can be incorporated, but right now we remain committed to the clean energy standards and the other aspects of the president’s energy plan.”


  110. Is there an engineering reason why the Fukushima plant needed to be built right down at sea level?

    After looking at the aerial photos of the unit 3 aftermath, it appears the land directly behind (and ~20 meters above) the reactors was untouched by the tsunami.

    Perhaps building the plant a few hundred meters back (and ~20meters up) would have averted this whole crisis?

  111. Is this statement still factually correct?

    “The only reactor that has a small probability of being ‘finished’ is FD unit 1. And I doubt that, but it may be offline for a year or more.”

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  113. Hello from Tokyo, Japan.
    Firstly, I’d like to thank you for putting together such an informative site. I’ve been looking for some in-depth analysis, and I’ve been learning a lot from the facts and analysis on this site. The information here, including your opinions and discussions among readers, is helping me form my own opinion in a level-headed manner.
    My current concern is the possible crack in the suppression pool of the unit 2 of Fukushima Daiichi, and what it means. Does that mean the concrete reactor building may be the only sealed container outside the crack? What is likely to happen if there is a crack in the containment structure and there is no roof on the concrete reactor building? The concrete building for the unit 2 is still intact, but given that the concrete buildings for the units 1 and 3 blew up, I’m concerned about its future durability.
    Another concern is with the increasing water temperature in stopped units (4, 5 and 6). What does that mean and what could be the consequences?
    If you can touch on these questions in your subsequent writings, it would be so much helpful. Best wishes for your site.
    I’m praying for the people suffered from tsunami in the northern area, and the people working so close to the defective units trying very hard to stop further damages.

  114. “White House spokesman Jay Carney said nuclear power, “remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan. When he talks about reaching a clean energy standards it’s a vital part of that. And as we get more information from Japan and what happened there, that can be incorporated, but right now we remain committed to the clean energy standards and the other aspects of the president’s energy plan.”

    They are still committed to Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan and other follies so why not pronuke, too.

  115. Ms Perps

    A little correction to your statement about Chernobyl style RBMK reactor.
    The graphite is used as moderator, not as coolant as you state. Ordinary water (light water you drink) is used as coolant in that reactor just like it is used in General Electric BWR (Boiling Water Reactor) in Japan. Also, BWR uses water as moderator, hence it serves two functions as coolant/moderator.
    Since graphite is better moderator than light water, the disappearance of water coolant will increase reactivity because the light water is neutron absorber, so when water goes away there is more neutrons to increase nuclear reactivity. This is called “positive void coefficient” and it was the primary cause for the accident in Chernobyl.

  116. Frank Kandrnal, I believe you have misunderstood the function of a moderator in a reactor. The goal of a moderator is to slow down fast neutrons. Uranium fission works better with slower moving neutrons. Thus, removing the water moderator has the opposite effect to that which you state. There are more fast moving neutrons, and fewer slow ones, but this results in less fission.

  117. Peter

    LWRs have negative void coefficient. When water is flashed to steam that forms a bubble or water expand due to high temperature the moderation by light water is less effective and reaction is slowed.
    It is correct the LWRs cannot go critical without water moderator, so when water is lost no nuclear chain reaction can occur.

  118. Thank you very much for the very informative articles about the current situation I live about 180 miles south Fukushima. I just have two current points of concern.

    1. Damage to the “containment” of unit 2.
    2. The spent “nuke fuel” boiling at unit 4 (i think).

    Could you please elaborate on these two issues and how they affect the situation.

  119. Amadeus

    In RBMK reactor (chernobyl) it is graphite that is slowing the neutrons. Water in that type of reactor is actually neutron absorber, therefore, if water disappear, there is more slow neutrons available from graphite moderation, hence the reactivity increases.
    I am very well aware of moderator function.
    Of course, in LWRs water is moderator and it functions as you state.

  120. Frank Kandrnal,

    Apologies. I misunderstood the context of your post (which was Chernobyl and not Fukushima) … I should have read the beginning of your post more carefully.

    Well, the main thing is that we now agree …

  121. Everyday i wake up and follow the standard newssites (CNN, Aljazeera, nyt, and so on) and it seems that everything is getting worse and worse – but then i read this blog and it seems to be just some media fearmongering.
    Thanks for this blog and thank god that everything looks quite stable and far from being a disaster.

  122. In the german online-newspapersite (i am german) i read that ALL workers – the remaining 50 workers too – (750 were removed earlier due to radiation) are being removed right now.
    I guess this “news” can only be false.

  123. About 50 drive-by snipers and other random nobodies have been put on moderation and had their off topic or comment-rules-violating inputs deleted — I frankly don’t have time to deal with slander, insinuation, soapbox opining, ad homs and the like. Stick to serious, factually supported comments, or rack off and go play on a PHP forum somewhere to your heart’s content.

  124. I’m with D R Lunsford. The planet doesn’t need us, it will been just fine without us. That which creates also destroys, Gods, Nature and even Mans own ingenuity. I don’t undertand anything about science, is there potentially going to be mushrooms clouds or multiple ones?

  125. Removing the control room teams? That would be a strange development, NHK World has the radiation levels falling, JAIF has the readings at ~500 uSv, if they didn’t haul them out at 400 mSv, why now?

    Swapping shifts maybe?

  126. “@MrSam, journalists do not use constraint, they produce the necessary level of fear-mongering BS from the hottest news bimbo that will generate the greatest level of prurient interest in the lurid and sensational, which translates into ad revenues. All sides are equally guilty. Fox News and Huffington Post are equally culpable.”

    I concur with DR Lunsford on this. My mother was classmates with a gentleman who has been a longtime on-air correspondent for ABC News’ 20/20 program here in the States. After my mother’s death from brain cancer, I wrote to him asking if he might do a feature on 20/20 about the wonderful researchers at Duke University who are trying to find better treatments/cures for my mother’s illness. His reply was that yes, he personally believed it was an important story to tell and one that should be told, but it likely would never make the airwaves. He said Britney Spears’ next mental breakdown/head-shaving incident would take priority over something of more value such as lifesaving research. Why? Ratings. The more sensational the headline/story, the more viewers it will draw in and the more ad revenue it will generate. Those are not my words, but those of a longtime reporter for a major network.

    So yes, I do believe the media is guilty of what DR Lunsford has described here.

  127. “I care deeply about environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and providing abundant low-carbon energy to current and future society, whilst minimising our global environmental footprint.”

    You’re on the wrong side Barry, of history too I believe. We need your skills to solve problems with a real future, not the economic dead-end and engineer’s wet-dream of nuclear. Unfortunately, the problems are mostly political.

  128. Interesting update on Unit #4 fire:

    At Unit 4 on March 14 at approximately 8:38 p.m. EDT, a fire was reported in the reactor building. It is believed to have been from a lube oil leak in a system that drives recirculation water pumps. Fire fighting efforts extinguished the fire. The roof of the reactor building was damaged.

  129. Ignorance is bliss but it’s still ignorance. The media can be fear mongering but whats worse is not showing harsh realities. The guilty ones are the ones one switch the TV off because they just don’t want to see the truth.

  130. From my understanding, one of the concerns with a ‘meltdown’ in nuclear reactors such as Fukushima-1 is the radioactive material melting through the containment areas. From the diagrams which I’ve seen so far, the containment areas consist of a concrete container and a thick steel container. I haven’t been able to find numbers that indicate what temperatures are achieved within the core of the reactor once the fuels begin melting, but wouldn’t it make sense to coat the reactor core with a metal with an extremely high melting point as an additional precaution (a quick google search seemed to indicate tungsten as such a metal)?

    Additionally, how much work is done to retrofit current nuclear facilities with additional safety options as technology and knowledge of potential weak-points advances?

  131. Mariah Carey has a solid gold couch worth over $1m do you think shes sitting on it now watching any of this, i doubt it. Disaster or not people are already suffering right now everywhere around the due to wars, disease, poverty, subjegation etc there is a lot of bad stuff going on this planet and we don’t even see it all. It is almost unfathomable to think about it all at once. Greed is a big factor as to why there still contiunes to be terrible misery all over the world. And the worst thing is there is not many places for people left to flee to in times of extreme need cos all the good spots are already taken and nobody wants to share. I have no qualifications just my own personal opinons.

  132. I understand damage to the used fuel pool in Reactor 2 was the first incidence after the earthquake, but it’s difficult to understand why it was not reported earlier. TEPCO already has a sketchy history of inadequate transparency and whether or not the nuclear plant can be secured without further important levels of radioactive emissions, it will be very difficult for the people to have confidence in nuclear safety.

    If the motivation was to prevent panic during the crisis, it comes at the loss of credibility for perhaps ever.

    I do have a question: After Chernobyl, miners built a concrete slab to prevent dispersion. Even if the containment was breached after a complete fuel meltdown, couldn’t the risk of corium reaching a waterbed be prevented by a similar measure?

  133. Barry, You mention the designers should have considered hydrogen being vented into the exterior containment building. It is my understanding that venting to atmosphere was the design, but it was diverted to the containment building to allow decay prior to venting to atmosphere, That is not a good idea, hence the explosion. Could you look into how the venting could have been diverted?

  134. Thanks Barry. I have been invoved with the engineering and construction of 3 Nuclear plants here in the USA. One as Manager. It distubs me that we appear to have global dumbing down as well as here.
    There needs to be understanding of what happens . In Chernoble the main cause of the radiation spread was the lack of the containment.
    The cause of the accident has been sited above, basically lack of backup Quenchers.
    3 mile suffered from NRC fears of rapid shutdown and went into a controlled meltdown. The damage to both reactors was complete. But in the case of 3 mile there was no leak of radiation or damage to any property outside of the plant. Indeed there were no deaths or sickness to anyone. In fact there was an oddity with less cancer in the surrounding area in the next 20 years. The reporting of events is mostly by those who have been dumbed down to others who are like them. please kep all of us informed with correct info and not politcal fear.

  135. Peter T,

    The spent fuel storage pool is an odd speculation. Spent fuel is stored in water/water-boron to moderate neutrons. There is a small amount of decay (heat) in the spent fuel rods, but not enough to require elaborate cooling systems. Loss of the moderator (water and or boron) allows some fast neutrons create a statistically small amount additional reaction. The probability decrease with distance between the spent fuel rods. It is very unlikely, but still a chance, that the earthquake/tsunami may have altered the spacing of the spent rods to allow for some degree of reaction that could produce enough hydrogen to flare. It would be interesting to know exactly what happened.

  136. @ZombieMN

    I understand that, and a breach is perhaps not possible at all, but that is the greatest fear getting raised in the news, so it’s worth discussing. I still read statements that this can go beyond Chernobyl in supposedly respectable media. If this is a feasible solution, it should allay some fears, along with reminding that there wouldn’t be fuel ejected into atmosphere as in Chernobyl.

  137. > not enough to require elaborate cooling systems.

    “elaborate” might be a weasel word there, because active powered cooling systems are required. What’s an “elaborate” system mean to you? What source are you relying on for the statement? and why do you trust your source?

    Here’s what I got from reading through yesterday, and I”m not seeing anything new overnight:

    The cooling pools do require active powered cooling systems; those cooling systems stopped working when the power failed; the Prime Minister’s report on TV last night said that debris falling from the explosions onto Unit 4 preceded the fire that was burning, then put out, in the Unit 4 fuel cooling area, and that steam rising from Unit 3 could be “correlated” with the Unit 3 cooling pool.

    There have been various statements about how long it would take for the water in the cooling pools to boil and evaporate; there were reports, uncited, that borate was being added to the water in the cooling pools. There was very little information with cites.

    What does “elaborate” mean to you?
    Can you cite that to sources we can look at?


  138. I heard a Russian scientist of some kind talking on CNN Tue who has actually been to that reactor and was offering to go in and help, not sure if they took him up on that offer and i”m sorry i forgot his name but he seemed to have a good knowledge of that actual place, maybe he can answer some of your questions. No need to post just trying to be helpful. xD

  139. BBC:

    “What transpired in the suppression chamber of reactor two – a large doughnut-shaped structure below the reactor housing – is not entirely clear. Reports suggest it cracked, allowing steam, containing radioactive substances, to escape.

    That initial escape is consistent with the idea of a spike in radioactivity levels, which would fall after the initial pressure was released in the chamber – but it doesn’t prove that a crack here was the source.

    Further confusion surrounds events in number four reactor building where a fire was reported in or around a pool used to store fuel rods that had been removed from the reactor.

    Reports from Japan indicate technicians are unable to pump water into the pool, and it may now be dry.

    In the meantime, the key task for workers at the plant remains to get enough water into the reactors – and, now, into the spent fuel pools – with the poor resources at their disposal. …”

    AND the scrolling news banner says TEPCO is considering using a helicopter to drop water on the reactor buildings — and that there is a ban on aircraft flying in the 30-km radius to prevent aircraft picking up radioactive contamination.

    This seems consistent with overheating fuel in the rooftop pools being a serious concern–perhaps serious enough they can’t simply carry hoses up the building and pump water to the spent fuel pools.

    It will be a very regrettable picture if they need to use helicopters to try to put out a fire burning on the reactor buildings including burning reactor fuel.

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  142. I read in Sunday’s Mainichi English that temperatures in the control rooms at Fukushima were reaching 100C. Excuse my ignorance, but is there a suit that would allow workers to enter and work at those temperatures?

  143. Hank, regrettable or not, if that’s what they need to do, I hope they’ll send in the helicopters. But I don’t understand why the navy wouldn’t do that – they have huge pumps on ships that could easily throw a continuous stream of water at those reactors. I have already seen pictures of them doing just that for other shoreline earthquake-induced fires.

  144. I was wondering if there is a reliable info on isotopes and their levels being released. We all know that detection of Cesium and Iodine is a sign of fuel rod damage. What exact levels and where were detected? Why would not they be in the vented steam? And one more detail. Is that really true that all the noble radioactive gas elements have such short half-life as Prof. Brooks claimed – milliseconds? What about Krypton-85? It has a half-life of 10 years. It is not very much but still more than a millisecond. We know that this isotope was released TMI (Three Mile Island) nuclear plant in the US and the plant and it was determined to be illegal by the court. Could we have a similar situation here?

  145. Joffan, think about how much damage you can do with a high pressure stream from a fire hose. The spent fuel rods are on stainless steel racks, designed to keep separation between the rods to allow circulation of cooling water.

    It sounds like the fire at Unit 4, as Barry quotes from leaking oil, had something to do with disabling the cooling water system (or was coincidental with that).

    Typing as I listen, from the live stream NKH video
    (any errors are mine, I’m looking for a better description or a transcript):

    “Unit 4 fire damaged cooling for spent fuel pool on roof
    temperature in the cooling pool is 84 celsius, more than twice normal
    lack of cooling
    700-something fuel rods in the pool
    fuel rods exposed
    steel racks separate the fuel rods
    unlikely a critical chain reaction will begin
    planning to spray water from helicopter
    planning to spraywater from the ground from fire engines through an opening of 8 square meters

  146. “understand the absurdity of an hydrogen explosion in a uranium reactor.”

    If I tell you that Tepco is known to have introduced high levels of dihydrogen monoxide into the reactor, will that help explain the presence of hydrogen?

    If I tell you that we know that a hydrogen explosion happened at the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, will that help explain the presence of hydrogen?

  147. Barry, when you wake up, thanks for moderating and cleaning up, and I would encourage you to also delete stuff that becomes outdated (I do hope the Internet Archive is capturing this material for historical purposes).

  148. As an engineer – I disagree with your assessment of this situation. This is clearly an engineering/operational failure that should never happen. I will wait to see the damage and loss of life – but if you go back and look at the loss of life assessments by the World Health Organisation following Chernobyl – they were wildly low – on the order of a few hundred. More recent studies have shown that number to be orders of magnitude low.

    Nuclear Engineers and Operators are paid to deal with exactly these situations. A failure to foresee this scenario is a systemic error. (Who could have foreseen people flying planes into buildings?)

  149. Clarifying as NHK replays:

    783 nuclear fuel rods stored in the pool
    Tokyo Electric says it appears a lack of cooling caused the fuel rods to be exposed
    Operators … not directly involved in cooling … are being ordered to be relocated

    New York Times has much more detail now:


    “By late Tuesday, the water meant to cool spent fuel rods in the No. 4 reactor was boiling, Japan’s nuclear watchdog said. If the water evaporates and the rods run dry, they could overheat and catch fire, potentially spreading radioactive materials in dangerous clouds.

    Shigekatsu Oomukai, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the substantial capacity of the pool meant that the water in it was unlikely to evaporate soon. But he said workers were having difficulty reaching the pool to cool it, because of the high temperature of the water.

    Temperatures appeared to be rising in the spent fuel pools at two other reactors at the plant, No. 5 and No. 6, said Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary.”

    I wish they’d put timestamps on their quotes.

  150. Barry,
    While I frequently disagree with you, I can’t thank you enough for this web site and the classy way that you run it.

    It must be very discouraging to have your integrity attacked even though most of the attackers come across as dishonest or deranged.

    Please hang in there! That Rudyard Kipling quote is appropriate when people are playing the blame game.

    Steve Gardner,
    Thanks for that excellent “SomethingAwful” link but finding another good site is no reason to disparage this one.

  151. As I have been browsing around this appears to be the best place to get accurate and complete information, including some healthy debate about how safe the situation is. I must admit that firsthand Pr Brook’s comments seemed optimistic.
    However as the situation unfolds, he seems to be correct and his explanations are consistent with the facts as we discover them (radioactivity around the plant rising, then dropping rapidly, suggesting quick decaying isotopes). Only problem is that reality has many ways of surprizing us and the worst sin is to be too self confident.

  152. Academic paper on heat transfer from a partially exposed fuel rod:
    ©2009 American Society of Mechanical Engineers
    doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.3090816
    “A portion of the rod is immersed in a coolant reservoir that is maintained at constant temperature, and the exposed portion of the rod is cooled by convective heat transfer. Because thermal conductivity of the rod is temperature dependent, the governing partial differential equation is nonlinear. The analytical techniques utilized in solving the problem could be applied to analyzing the cooling of spent nuclear fuel rods.”

  153. Len P said:
    “The cause of the accident has been sited above, basically lack of backup Quenchers.
    3 mile suffered from NRC fears of rapid shutdown and went into a controlled meltdown.”

    I am sure that the NRC would be surprised to know that 1) they designed the defect into the TMI plant that caused a valve to remain stuck open, and 2) that the NRC was operating and responsible for operating TMI when the accident happened.

    I enjoyed your revisionist history quite a bit.

  154. Something pretty significant happened to cause the boundary monitor at the Daiichi facility to reverse its slow decline and shoot up to 489.8 micro-Sieverts/hour.

    The Daini boundary monitors are no longer showing background (13.7 micro-Sv/hour).

    Did the fire at the #4 reactor cause either or both of these spikes?

  155. http://inderscience.metapress.com/link.asp?id=r708m13065725707

    International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology
    Issue: Volume 1, Number 3 / 2007
    This is a “what if, worst case” study:

    Environmental impact resulting from a fire at a spent nuclear fuel storage facility
    (full text PDF available at the linked page)


    “Nuclear power reactors have created a significant quantity of used or spent nuclear fuel elements that contain some remaining nuclear fuel and by products of the fission process that are highly radioactive. Lack of a secure central repository or other permanent disposal process for spent nuclear fuel elements has resulted in long term storage of these elements in spent fuel pools at operating nuclear power plants. A recent review of the safety and security of commercial spent nuclear fuel expressed concern that terrorist activity at a spent nuclear fuel storage pool could result in a zirconium cladding fire that could create widespread radioactive contamination with dramatic impact on both the public and the environment. A scenario based on such an event is presented to demonstrate the potential impact resulting from the release and dispersion of spent fuel products.”

    Again – that’s a worst case study, but it suggests why this is being taken seriously.

  156. Quoting from the study I just linked above, details:

    “The fission products in the spent fuel create very high radiation levels in the area surrounding the fuel. This is particularly true during the first year after the fuel is removed from a reactor, but even ten years after removal of spent fuel from a reactor, the radiation dose 1 metre away from a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 200 Sv per hour (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2002). Energy produced by the radioactive decay within the fuel elements results in heat. If heat is not removed, the assemblies can reach temperatures that can result in the rupture of the zirconium alloy cladding or even a zirconium cladding fire that can release very high concentrations of the radioactive contents. For this reason, spent fuel elements are typically stored under water in spent fuel pools. Water in the pools serves as a shield to reduce radiation to acceptable levels and as a heat transfer medium to cool the fuel (World Nuclear Association).”

  157. Updated NYT:

    “Tokyo Electric Power Company officials announced on Tuesday evening that they would consider using helicopters in an attempt to douse with cold water a boiling rooftop storage pond for spent uranium fuel rods. The rods are still radioactive and potentially as hot and dangerous as the fuel rods inside the reactors if not kept submerged in water.

    “The only ideas we have right now are using a helicopter to spray water from above, or inject water from below,” a power company official said at a news conference. “We believe action must be taken by tomorrow or the day after.”

    With hydrogen gas bubbling up from chemical reactions set off by the hot fuel rods, the storage pond produced a fire and powerful explosion on Tuesday morning that blew a 26-foot-wide hole in the side of reactor No. 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. There were also concerns about the storage ponds at reactors 5 and 6.”

    [that "26-foot-wide" hole might be the "8 square meters" hole mentioned above for fire hoses to use. And I'd bet it's in that sheet metal top level -- hr]
    [has anyone seen recent pictures of Unit 4?]

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  159. Those new to the site should look back at earlier topics–Barry Brook started this to discuss Generation 4 nuclear plant designs, which don’t build up large piles of dangerous used fuel and which can actually reprocess used fuel onsite. He was urging the industry (which was reluctant to listen) to switch immediately to finishing the design and testing and start building the best available Generation 4 designs — rather than continuing to build new copies of antique and less safe designs.

    Maybe they’ll listen now.

    UPDATE 6: 1.52pm GMT Radiation data from IAEA, status of fuel ponds

    Fire at unit 4, concern for fuel ponds

    Kan’s spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said that there had been “a sign of leakage” while firefighters were at work, “but we have found out the fuel is not causing the fire.” The fire is now reported extinguished.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency did confirm that the fire had taken place in the used fuel storage pool. The Japan Atomic Industry Forum’s status report said the water was being supplied to make up for low levels.

    Similar to the need to cool fuel in the reactor core, used fuel assemblies in cooling ponds require a covering of water to remove decay heat. The main differences being the amount of decay heat to be removed decreases exponentially with time and that fuel ponds are much less of an enclosed space than a reactor vessel. At the same time, ponds may contain several years of fuel.

    JAIF reported that temperatures in the cooling ponds at units 5 and 6 are increasing, but the reason for this is not yet available.”

    Researched and written by World Nuclear News

  160. http://www.aolnews.com/2011/03/15/japan-nuclear-reactor-storage-pool-may-be-boiling/
    Eric Talmadge and Shino Yuasa

    “Japanese officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency that the reactor fire was in a fuel storage pond — an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool — and that “radioactivity is being released directly into the atmosphere.” Long after the fire was extinguished, a Japanese official said the pool might still be boiling, though the reported levels of radiation had dropped dramatically by the end of the day.

    Late Tuesday, officials at the plant said they were considering asking for help from the U.S. and Japanese militaries to spray water from helicopters into the pool.

    That reactor, Unit 4, had been shut down before the quake for maintenance.

    If the water boils, it could evaporate, exposing the rods. The fuel rods are encased in safety containers meant to prevent them from resuming nuclear reactions, nuclear officials said. But they acknowledged that there could have been damage to the containers. They also confirmed that the walls of the storage pool building were damaged….”

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  162. Thanks to Hank Roberts for the additional info.

    As for energy, I disagree with DR Lunsford–natural gas has shown to be a safer, more efficient and more inexpensive form than coal or nuclear. We have a surfeit of it and could/should export. The main impediments to its widespread adoption are the powerful coal lobby, the weak natural gas lobby, and the current Administration’s lack of sophistication and education regarding the subject.

  163. Apparently, this type of reactor has been criticized for precisely this type of potential problem for more than 40 years:

    “The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a Mark 1 nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.”

    This design is in place in 23 US reactors (16 different plants).

  164. Let me be clear about explosion dynamics. Things don’t just crack and go hiss. A steam explosion is inevitably an enormously violent affair for the same reason in any bursting pressure vessel, the fluid hammer effect. That is why a small hole in a pressurized airplane can lead to its destruction – it’s not the air escaping, its the traffic jam behind the hole. So there have been no pressure vessel ruptures or we’d know about it with large clouds of radioactivity and spectacular steam clouds.

    I see that the cable news channels are spouting the same hysteria as yesterday, without any regard for facts. They search for some random nellie to give them a “we’re all gonna die!” sound bite. I’ve come to despise the very sight of any of the countless female news bimbos that pollute the airwaves!!!


  165. Another idea regarding the noise is – when water vapor cools enough to condense to steam droplets it does it very rapidly. Condensing gas can for example crush a rail tanker car like a soda can. If there were a sudden decrease in water vapor pressure in the torus due to condensation, it would make a very loud groaning noise that would be nothing like an explosion but would be very alarming I’m sure. That would also explain the sudden pressure drop.

  166. Barry has to sleep sometime. It’s early morning there.

    I’m grateful for the time he spends throwing out the trash that accumulates here in his absence. I’ll be grateful if he deletes anything I posted that he knows is mistaken or has become outdated, to keep these threads useful for new readers — so new readers can go to the top, read the whole thread, and get good info and see the answers to frequently repeated questions.

  167. Mike P – is that the same natural gas that killed a couple of dozen people in the US last year? Like at Kleen Energy? That’s what you’re calling the safer alternative?

    Don’t get me wrong here – methane is a very useful substance, but it requires cultivated ignorance to call it safe.

  168. Is there any reliable curent information about sustained dose levels at the site boudary. I have seen peak dose information, but I am not sure where the dose is measured and how good of a daily average it is. Thanks

  169. Natural gas is a fossil fuel like any other – burning it produces CO2, and widespread production would leak pure methane into the atmosphere, which is 20 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The only chance of halting global warming in the next 50 years is to get off carbon fuels now, now, and now.

  170. “The only chance of halting global warming in the next 50 years is to get off carbon fuels now, now, and now.”

    Solar. :)

    [begin soapbox] Fossil fuels and nuclear have received over hundreds of years (in the case of oil, and 70 years in the case of nuclear) HUGE support from world governments in R&D (just the military budget alone), subsidies, land use breaks, tax breaks, political help, and on and on. Oil and nuclear cost a lot more than the upfront ledger because of this (and the health and environmental costs/prevention). Solar has received a tiny fraction of the support of these technologies. Yet the sun literally bathes the earth in radiation every day. We can put people on the moon and make nuclear power plants but can’t harness solar power effectively? That’s just hogwash. The WILL to do so has not been there. Solar should be able to provide all our energy needs.[/end soapbox]

  171. Thanks Barry for keeping patience. I will weigh in after I finish poking around for information.

    Hank, I want to take you back to the fact that keeping the water level in the Spent Fuel Pool is all you have to do. Boiling isn’t good of course when you lose active cooling systems, but uncovering the fuel due to loss of makeup is far worse due to loss of radioactive shielding. Making access to the refuel floor dangerous to add makeup water.

    Also refer back to the dry fuel storage post, after about 5 years bundles can be safely stored dry. The decay heat is such that natural convection is more than enough. Bundles are put in a sealed inerted shielded canister and then stored in concrete vaults that allow natural convective air flow around the canisters. Temperature rise is surveilled and monitored for airflow blockages.

  172. So here is an interesting piece of information that appeared in Japanese bulletin boards. Not sure about the veracity of it but this one at least seems plausible to me. Apparently one of the workers at the Daiichi plant posted that the reason they were hesitant to cool off the plant with sea water is that their monitoring instrumentation would fail if exposed to sea water. So now they actually have to physically go into the damaged plant to take measurements and observe. Furthermore the person who claims to be a worker at the plant said that the valve that got stuck did so due to salt accumulation from the seawater. He went on to say that workers go in now in 20 second rotations to minimize radiation exposure. A fact that makes this post more credible is that he posted that they were able to open the valve a short time before they actually announced it officially. He also commented on the fact that many of the workers left behind do not know the fate of their families who live in the immediate vicinity of the plant but given the circumstances they need to keep managing the situation at the plant. Anyone care to comment?

  173. That NYTimes report Hank linked to, i.e. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/asia/16nuclear.html?hp

    also reports that “a separate explosion ruptured the inner containment building at reactor No. 2 “.

    Does this seem to be a valid description of what is known?

    The report appears to define what is labelled in the containment building diagram as the “reactor building” to be an “outer containment” which would allow a description of a rupture in the concrete “light bulb torus” or the pressure suppression chamber to be defined as an “inner containment”.

    The NYTImes is running another story that appears to say the GE Mark 1 containment would fail in a light breeze of some kind. Well, not quite that bad, but if I was to take what it says as gospel, along with what they’ve reported has happened to some of the reactors, all the containments must have failed by now. Its probably like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff but not falling until he realizes he isn’t standing on the ground anymore. The containments have failed and the consequences won’t happen until we realize that they’ve failed.

    Eg: “Harold Denton, an official with the N.R.C., asserted that Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident. A follow-up report from a study group convened by the commission concluded that “Mark 1 failure within the first few hours following core melt would appear rather likely.” In an extreme accident, that analysis held, the containment could fail in as little as 40 minutes.”

    Read all about it: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/asia/16contain.html?hp

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  175. “What is likely to happen if there is a crack in the containment structure and there is no roof on the concrete reactor building? The concrete building for the unit 2 is still intact, but given that the concrete buildings for the units 1 and 3 blew up, I’m concerned about its future durability.”

    The reactor building roof did not blow up at Unit 1 or Unit 3. The thin steel shed which is built over the top of the concrete walls and concrete roof of the reactor building proper, where the refueling crane is kept, on top of the reactor building, is where the hydrogen accumulated and blew up.

  176. Heres is some facts I believe to be true and looking for someone to dispute or confirm.

    Unit 1 is a BWR 3, Unit 2 and 3 are BWR 4′s.

    All 3 Units of concern have Mark 1 Contaiments with a Torus as the “Suppression Chamber”.

    All three units have experienced challenges with Hydrogen generation and venting of the primary containments.

    Units 1 and 3 have had hydrogen explosions inside the secondary containment (Reactor Building). There seems to be some existing concern for hydrogen buildup in Unit 2 too.

    Barring someone proving these believed facts as reported wrong, I have to conclude that the vent path for the Torus at least units 1 & 3 resulted in hydrogen buildup in the secondary containment (reactor building).

    Possibly the hard piped modification for torus venting to the stack was not implemented or implemented to the existing reactor building ventilation system. Without power for fan dilution, this would collect on the refuel floor and result in the explosions seen on units 1 & 3.

    This Mark 1 Containment modification was designed due to the limited volume size and heat removal capability. I am not sure the effects of a complete station blackout, loss of ventilation were considered if not done directly to the stack.

    Only now we are seeing the effects of minor fuel damage on Units 1 & 3 generation of hydrogen and inability to direct vent it to save both containments. I say minor as in I believe the reported doses associated with venting from unit 1 & 3 only indicate clad damage, not significant fuel damage.

    Unit 2 fuel damage is more significant due to extended dryout conditions. I have seen a reputable estimate of 5 % damage. That damage is fuel and beyond clad damage leakage.

    There is no real win scenario at this point and people need to understand that. It’s all about limiting the fuel damage and releases. All 3 of these Units are now defunct.

    I commend those that are there battling this right now. Remember even if they leave they likely lived in the immediate area which is wiped out by the tsunami. They may not even know the status of their loved ones. Going home is not an option. Pray for them to have strength to continue on.

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  178. Thanks em1ss. Do you have any references on how clean the water around the wet fuel storage should be, do they clean it? I saw a reference to a “crud removal” accident somewhere else, and some speculation that salt water would increase corrosion problems. Same would apply to the common spent fuel pool that’s somewhere else on the site at ground level, and to the warehouse for the dry canister storage — is sea water from the tsunami going to be a problem? I’d think it likely the temperature sensors are out throughout the area, and I haven’t seen anyone report on the longer-term fuel storage locations yet.

  179. “… fuel assemblies that have been removed from the reactor are stored under water in the Spent Fuel Pool. Good water quality is important to prevent degradation and to help maintain the integrity of the spent fuel assemblies.
    A key function of Fuel Pool Cleanup is removal of soluble and insoluble radioactive species. This is important for controlling dose rates on the refuel floor and work areas/platforms during a refueling outage. For BWRs, a RWCU system outage is normally required for system maintenance. Fuel Pool Cleanup is relied upon to remove impurities from the refuleing cavity water….”

    That’s about routine operation, but I’d expect there are studies done on corrosion rates and impurity levels (and that the results of flooding with ocean water will be, eventually, well documented).

  180. I rambled a bit there to clarify, I am not sure the hydrogen generation element was fully known or that units 1, 2 and 3 actually implemented a direct vent to the stack which would have prevented a secondary containment hydrogen buildup like we are seeing play out.

  181. Here’s a different link to that powerpoint:

    Related (found by searching on the title of the ‘Integrity Inspection’ powerpoint, when I realized the above link is to a copy at a second-hand source — it’s been copied around, but we ought to aim for primary sources at original sites I think).

    Operating Experience in an On-Site Interim Storage Facility ….Storage Status of Spent Fuel at Fukushima-Daiichi NPS. …. Modified the license in 1994 / dry cask storage since 1995 … Outline of Integrity Inspections. Time Series.


  182. Gerald, I would tend to believe your post to be entirely true. Once you get beyond injecting pure water sources, things go wrong. I also recognize the efforts and personal conflicts that have to be going on for those that are combating the issue. This is likely the least played media story in my opinion. The human aspect of those that remain to fight the fight against decay heat.

  183. Hank, you are saturating the post with stuff people can’t understand beyond dry fuel storage is safe… relax. We need to know the status of Radiation levels and reflooding reactor 2. I am not ready to make a call based on my poking around the reports yet.

  184. em1ss, yes, agreed, cleanup is longterm (and I realize the whole area of the disaster is in need of clean drinking water supply, so usihg sea water for the power plant and fuel storage basins is the right shortterm answer). I’m curious whether anyone has seen info on the condition of the longterm common fuel storage pool and dry cask storage building — which presumably got the same impact from the tsunami (remembering that the diesel storage tanks were reported to have washed away). I don’t know the location of either storage site on the site map so the pictures don’t tell me anything and I haven’t seen it discussed anywhere.

    According to the “Operating Experience in an On-Site Interim Storage Facility ….Storage Status of Spent Fuel” (10-b Powerpoint), at June 2010, the storage for Daiichi was at 84 percent of capacity, and for Daini at 78 percent. Quantities are given for the spent fuel pools (one at each reactor), a common fuel pool for the whole plant site, and a dry cask storage for each plant site.

  185. > em1ss
    > stuff folks can’t understand

    It’s being written about many places (major newspapers/websites, a lot of “anti” websites and political websites, radio broadcasts) — most of that so far elsewhere fails to cite any sources and much of it is just scared-and-ignorant.

    That’s why I brought it up here — the info available that I’ve found is mostly _very_reassuring_ and I think worth pointing to, in hopes knowledgeable people like you will help people understand it.

    Yes, it’s hard. But there are people contributing to misunderstanding out there many places. Push back where you can, at least point to good info if you know where to look at it.

  186. Last measurement of pool temperature: 84 deg C.

    Now unable to measure pool temperature due to non-functioning instrumentation.

    Water delivery by helicopter (through the roof) deemed impractical for a several reasons (small amount of water able to be delivered, distance between hole in roof and pool itself).

    “High” levels (numbers not documented) of radiation in the pool area are preventing closer access to the pool. They are considering other options, such as delivering water by fire truck.


  187. This for example, I hope the worst part of it is wrong. They don’t cite sources for the bad news statements:
    so I won’t repeat them.

    The more reassuring info in that story–a paragraph dropped in between alarming claims–is cited to the usually cautionary U.C.S.:
    “All they need to do with the spent fuel pools is make up for the amount of water evaporating or boiling away,” said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said at a press conference Tuesday. “They should be able to do that, which should give them time to get cooling restored.”

  188. Ok, it’s playing out much like I had conjectured. Read this IAEA report.


    They are considering pulling panels off the reactor building on units 5 and 6 and contribute the torus issue/leak on unit 2 to a hydrogen buildup or possible pressure spike.

    Weak link, direct path vent from the torus for units 1,2 and 3 to the stack in my opinion.

    For the shutdown units 4, 5 & 6 a direct vent path from the refuel foor.

    This could be a concern that will sweep the entire BWR industry.

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  190. Hank, don’t confuse ground water cleanup with site cleanup. Until we have proof the ground water has been affected it only raises concerns that are not yet proven. Facts, just the facts. If you want to post conjecture, preface it.

    The situation is not good or stable, but the facts are most of the area is likely desolate post tsunami, there is nothing left there. Total destruction due to the tsunami and we should respect those that have already died first.

  191. I had not mentioned anything about groundwater or even thought about it. Why do you bring that up?
    If you saw any mention of that, please cite a source.

    I’ve asked about the condition of the common spent fuel storage pool and the dry cask storage building.

    Those are both described in the Powerpoint files.

    I ask here _because_ there is a lot of speculation elsewhere. Saying not to ask is not helpful.

    So I’ll quit asking, because arguing about it is worse.
    Someone will know and we’ll hear when we hear.

  192. Hank,

    This document from TEPCO’s site contains lots of facts and figures about their nuclear facilities and specifically details the spent fuel storage at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini. (Amount of spent fuel storage, storage capacity, specific dimensions, types of equipment and accessories.)


    This one describes their safety procedures.

    This one describes the specific structures in use at TEPCO’s plants.


  193. I was just listening to the news, and heard both Donald Trump and Rudy Guliani give their thoughts on this matter. Rudy actually said that not only do they not know what’s happening at these reactors, but that nonone really knows what happens in nuclear reactions, and that they are not 100% predictable in reactors… Why are these uninformed pundits given the opportunity to spread misinformation, especially with such profoundly incorrect opinions; and moreover, why are the news channels not correcting them or challenging their opinions? Sadly, truth and prudence do not sell advertising dollars, but future presidential candidates who spout nonsense do.

    Thanks for keeping this updated. Everyone out there should seek all sources of information on the subject and make their own informed decisions based on all available information. The link above from cnbc further drives this point home in their concluding comment about the Japanese government “throwing in the towel” as if it were just evacuating everyone and letting these reactors melt completely and giving up. Such conjecture is absurd, and blatantly spreading fear with little foundation. The media is shameful.

  194. the roof of reactor 4 has collapse, is reported by some german media. possibly another explosion. 2 workers are missing.

    the all of this is only a delay action.

  195. Sorry, my above post referred to reactor #4 at the Daiichi plant.

    Also, on the link I posted above I just noticed the associated NHK TV news story showing a cartoonish map of the building interior (around 01:22).

    On the lower left, one can see the destroyed portion of the building. In the middle is the reactor (circle), and directly next to that (square) is the fuel storage pool. The distance between the pool and the hole in the building is reported as “several tens of meters”.

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  197. BBC radio just said the company has now said there have been four explosions when earlier they had only said three — no detail, followed by a comment that contradictory information was being given and the situation is confused.

  198. Hat tip on that 1982 article, I read about it here:

    “The problem of containment over-pressurization and the potential need to vent has been a long-term issue in the nuclear reactor safety community. In 1977, a group of nuclear engineers at the University of California suggested that a robust filtration system be installed in reactors to remove the radioactivity from the vented gases. Some countries picked up the idea. Sweden installed a filtered vent system at the Barseback reactors (subsequently shutdown) across the strait from Copenhagen and France installed filtered vent systems at all of its reactors, which interested both Germany and Japan.

    In 1982, after the accident at Three Mile Island, Jan Beyea and I wrote an article on filtered vents in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1982 (page 52). As we reported in that article, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was negative about the idea. They had a number of arguments but none of them seemed very strong to us. Those interested can read our summary of the arguments pro and con in the 1982 article….”

  199. 3 units with Mark 1 Containments suffer beyond design basis accidents concurrently, at least with in one hour as the tsunami happened.

    Units 1 and 3 seem to be stable based on operator action as prescribed.

    Unit 2 has suffered real fuel damage due to uncovery of the fuel, estimated to be IEA at 5% and is recovering cooling. I have to believe that estimate as it requires certain values of measured exposure and airborne release.

    Primary containment remains questionable based on rapid pressure change and points to a Torus loss of containment. This doesn’t imply a complete loss of the suppression fuction, just the containment function.

    Success, keep flooding unit 2…. enough said.

  200. A closer to “worst case” would be a full SCRAM failure or equivalent – terrorism a potential cause. A run-away fission reaction is a nightmare scenario, much more “worst case” and something that rolls around in most peoples minds. Fear almost never correlates with probabilities.

  201. might be that the press got that one mixed up, though one of the reports said, that they were last seen close to reactor 4.

    BBC is also reporting the new fire.

    the simple truth is: reactors 1 to 3 are lost. and reactors 5 and 6 will follow reactor 4.

    this is not good news.

  202. Questions re: core fuel rods melting – If the rods melt (ceramic?) what are the thoughts of both control and fuel rods – which melt first and likely outcome visa vi effect on negative absorption of neutrons? I expect there has been lots of modeling done but this could be the first event involving this type of core/cooling design?

  203. This is from before the recent explosion and roof collapse at Unit 4, after the first fire there was put out:

    “Initial reports attributed the fire to hydrogen gas generated by reaction of the zirconium sheathing on the fuel rods with water, which would suggest a fairly high degree of danger. On Tuesday morning, however, Anthony R. Pietrangelo, chief nuclear officer of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, said the fire was actually a lubricating oil fire, which would be much less serious.

    Reports from the scene indicate the water in the cooling pond is boiling vigorously and engineers fear it will soon boil away, exposing the fuel rods, which would allow them to melt. That could have even more disastrous consequences than a meltdown inside the reactor because the fuel rods in the pond are not enclosed in a reactor containment vessel.”

  204. And from NPR:

    “New Fire Hits Japan Nuclear Plant
    A new fire broke out Wednesday in an already fire-damaged reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Concerns are growing about the state of overheated spent fuel rods in the reactor. Radiation levels are far too high to permit workers to bring hoses anywhere near the pool’s edge to re-flood it manually.”

  205. NPR:

    “… According to NHK television, officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co. decided a hole in the roof of the reactor was “dozens of meters” from the swimming-pool-like chamber where the spent fuel rods are overheating. So a helicopter dump, similar to putting out a forest fire, probably wouldn’t reach the pool.

    Moreover, officials say helicopters can’t carry enough water to do the job. And Japanese defense ministry officials are worried about the safety of military personnel on the helicopters, according to Kyodo News.

    TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima power plant, is still considering the use of high-pressure fire hoses to spray cooling water into the spent-fuel pool.

    Radiation levels are far too high to permit workers to bring hoses anywhere near the pool’s edge to re-flood it manually.

    U.S. nuclear safety experts agreed. David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says a study done for Connecticut nuclear power plants concluded that in a situation such as this one, radiation would be so intense that a worker at the pool’s edge “would receive a lethal dose in something like 16 seconds.”

    The spent-fuel problem is a new wild card in the potentially catastrophic failure of the Fukushima power plant. Since last Friday’s 9.0 earthquake, the plant has been wracked by repeated explosions in three different reactors.

    Some experts are now concerned that spent fuel rods may overheat in two other reactors, even though they were not in service at the time of the earthquake. Those two units, Nos. 5 and 6, have not yet reported problems.

    “There are accounts that they’re having difficulties cooling those three spent fuel pools and they need to regain control of that,” says Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer by training. “Or as a minimum, need to be able to replace the water that may be evaporating or boiling away to prevent the water from dropping below the level of irradiated fuel in the bottom of those spent fuel pools to prevent their damage from overheating as well.”

    Radiation Concerns From Spent Fuel Rods

    The problem at reactor No. 4 was apparently brewing for some time before Tuesday’s fire. The company says the temperature of the spent fuel pool reached 183 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday – twice the normal level. It apparently went higher, but a “technical failure” prevented later readings…..”

  206. the spent fuel pools can be seen on the structure graph of the reactor, which Barry has posted a couple of times.

    it is an open pool, just protected by the roofs, whioch got blown away by now.

    Debris falling back after the explosion could have fallen into the pool, removing water, throwing rods out, blocking circulation systems.

    people here are taking those explosions not serious enough.

  207. The radiation levels on site determine if the spent fuel is uncovered… Reliable indications of those levels, not airborne radiation levels which could be affected by release rates from the various reactor containments right now determine if the pool level has gone below shielding levels…. That is worst case for any spent fuel pool on site….

  208. Is there a source to explain the news story about Unit 4 roof pool quoted above? that said

    “Radiation levels are far too high to permit workers to bring hoses anywhere near the pool’s edge to re-flood it manually.”

    It seems the information is not made public — that’s what the news reporters all seem to be saying. Then they give statements but not sources for them.

  209. Pingback: Japan’s Nuclear Reactors No Threat to Seattle | The SunBreak

  210. Hank, this doesn t take any more than common sense. the roof pool contains fuel rods. it is open and burning.

    the only thing i would move close to it, is a fireengine tank combination. and such a vehicle would need to bring a water (or whatever) pipe AND cross the debris of 4 big explosions.

    i expect them to have good firefighting equipment on site, but i am having doubts against this one.

    and reactor 5 and 6 will follow. and that is something that the owners are worrying about!

  211. Much earlier I wrote regarding my (entirely lay) perception that there seemed to be a plethora of comments on this site saying essentially that everything is really okay and the Japanese have things in hand, with such comments then seeming to be made not just wrong but indeed perhaps even foolish within hours given new developments.

    For what it’s worth then it seems to me that with one prominent exception what I am seeing now is people smartly not being so sanguine given that with each new bit of information that has emerged it seems that all is just worse and worse and worse.

    I see now for instance that there’s a new fire at #4. That it’s felt that helicopters probably can’t be used to dump water. That high levels of radioactivity are seriously degrading the ability for workers to do their thing at the plant.

    Just my lay opinion, but it seems to me that the people to be most respected on this issue right now are saying that they just simply flat don’t know what the real fundamental situation is, nor know all of what might further happen, nor how (further) bad it might get, period. And that any confident forecast, regardless of same being either optimistic or pessimistic, is just smoke, pure and simple.

  212. Although I am not pro-nuclear I have to thank you for the clear and precise information you have posted during these days.
    Please keep doing it since people like me, not very familiar with the matter, are very scared watching the news, especially those blinking “breaking news” announcing something catastrophic. I am not saying that this is not, but I notice the big difference on my reaction in reading your posted information and those given by CNN with such a stir.
    Thank you

  213. Without being alarmist:

    1) what guarantees can be made about the continued integrity of the Fukushima plants if all workers were forced to evacuate the plant in its current state?

    2) what guarantees can be made that all workers will not need to be evacuated from the plant?

  214. > sod
    > this doesn t take any more than common sense.

    Speculation isn’t helpful. Common sense isn’t enough to know what’s going on. NHK television right now, typing as I listen:

    “the workers could not enter the building … after half an hour the fire extinguished on its own … there is an urgent need for water … a storage pool … temperature was 84 degrees C on Monday … more recent temperatures are not available due to a technical failure .. it appears a lack of coolant caused the fire … [not clear but suggesting] fuel rods exposed … could melt down … urgent measures should be taken … using the generator of the No. 6 reactor”

    Not clear — “generator of the No. 6 reactor” –?

  215. If humans can’t lay hose to the spent fuel pools, can a remote?
    This is a great opportunity to make a sales video for iRobot’s packbot.
    Are remotes too delicate to handle the radiation environment too?

  216. Barry on the 12th you wrote: “1. There is no credible risk of a serious accident.” Currently all experts rate the event as a INES 6 event, that is “a serious accident” by official definition.

    How could this happen, if there was “no credible risk” of this happening? I was intrigued by your seemingly well informed blog and I’m not a fan of fear mongering. On the other hand I’m not a fan of downplaying risks either and it seems to me that you downplayed the risks.

  217. NHK has shown Tokyo Electric interviews with scrolling text below in English more or less matching what the translators are saying, and has pictures from overhead showing what appears to be the same two white steam plumes from the No. 3 reactor that have been present for a day or more, and smoke apparently from the No. 4 building

    ACTUAL measurement given:

    NISA interview being shown on NHK with a closeup of a very large wall size drawing of the cooling pool showing the location of the fuel rods in the racks.

    Then they switch to a NHK reporter showing a cross-section, pointing to the cooling pool and talking about the hole in the roof and need to get water into the cooling pool

    My typing, as I hear the translation:

    “the radiation was very high and the area was inaccessible … since yesterday … 300 to 400 millisieverts, that is very radioactive and if people are exposed to this level … workers cannot access the area.

    Q: how are they going to extinguish the fire?
    [ I think meaning when the hydrogen builds up again]
    A: TEPCO is saying … yesterday’s fire went out naturally, and I guess they are trying to observe what will happen …

    Q: what is the danger level?
    A: … could be helicopters … could be fire engine … hole on the wall, water could be injected from the side but it is not decided for sure because of the difficulties …

    But NHK is now back to something they played yesterday — it is very hard to tell what’s new and what’s old here.

  218. @mattb – you could have the pool at ground level… (in fact Fukushima Daiichi plant does have such a pool) … and then you get a tsunami…

    I believe that the in-building spent fuel pool is level with the top of the reactor vessel to facilitate underwater fuel rod transfers, but I could be mixing it up with another design.

  219. “ISIS assesses that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has worsened considerably. The explosion in the Unit 2 reactor, the third so far, and the fire in the spent fuel pond in the reactor building for Unit 41 means that this accident can no longer be viewed as a level 4 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Events (INES) scale that ranks events from 1 to 7. A level 4 incident involves only local radiological consequences. This event is now closer to a level 6, and it may unfortunately reach a level 7.”

    Source: http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/isis-statement-on-events-at-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-site-in-japan/

    “The emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station, 150 miles north of Tokyo, could now be classed as a six on an international scale of one to seven, the head of France’s Nuclear Safety Authority said at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday.”

    Source: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/latest-updates-on-japans-nuclear-crisis-and-earthquake-aftermath-2/#crisis-in-japan-worse-than-three-mile-island-expert-says

    “Victor Gilinsky, who was the senior commissioner on duty at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Three Mile Island disaster, told Channel 4 News the situation in each unit at Fukushima is more serious than the whole of the Three Mile Island incident.

    He said: “At Three Mile Island, there wasn’t any loss of power and the equipment functioned. The mistake was that people turned off the emergency cooling, thinking that that was the right thing to do, and fortunately two hours later there was a change in shift and and the operators turned the cooling back on. And that pretty much ended the accident. … As it is, in the first two hours, half the fuel melted.

    “If it (Fukushima) does get worse, you can have all the fuel melting. I expect a substantial fraction of the fuel melted in each of these reactors and slumped down.

    “As far as they know, the water level is about halfway up. If it gets worse than that and they lose all the water, then the melted fuel – and there are tens of tons, nearly a hundred tons of fuel in a large reactor – that could melt right through the bottom of the pressure vessel.

    “The surrounding building … is not designed to hold that. And it’s just unclear what happens at that point. And it becomes much more accessible to the environment.”
    Source: http://www.channel4.com/news/nuclear-crisis-at-fukushima-in-japan-as-radiation-rises

    “Two workers are missing after Tuesday’s explosion at one of the reactors at a crippled Japanese nuclear plant, the country’s nuclear safety agency said.”

    Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/15/us-japan-quake-roof-idUSTRE72E8H920110315

  220. > Mike Jones

    The PDF you cited does not say that. It has a revision date 3/15/11.

    It describes cooling failure causing a slow boiling away of water, which matches the course of events so far.

    If one of the pools had cracked open someone would have noticed a huge flood of mildly radioactive water pouring down through the building. That hasn’t been mentioned.

    It does look like their estimate of how long it would take to boil the water off, and how easily a cooling system failure could be coped with, was far too optimistic. Is there more or hotter fuel stored in the pools than planned for in the design spec? That’s a guess — all such plants have been for years storing used fuel in what was meant to be a brief temporary holding tank.

    ” The rate at which the pool water level would decrease (due to evaporation or mild boiling) in the absence of cooling system function would not be expected to lower water levels by more than a few percent per day. Given that there is approximately 16 feet or more of water above the used fuel assemblies, operators would have ample time (days to weeks) to find another way to add water to the pools before the fuel would become exposed. For example, water could easily be added using a fire hose.”

    Well, no, that didn’t work. And they in that document neglected to consider that radiation levels above the pools would be high even before fuel rods were actually exposed, as 16 feet of water makes pretty good shielding but less water, less shielding.

  221.  東京電力によると、16日午前5時45分ごろ、福島第1原発4号機の中央制御室にバッテリーを運んでいた社員が戻る際に、原子炉建屋北西付近から炎が上がっているのを確認、消防署や地元自治体に通報した。4号機は15日にも火災が起きていた。燃えている場所は原子炉建屋4階の北西角で、15日の火災場所とほぼ同じ。再循環ポンプなどが置かれているという。爆発音は確認されていない。15日の火災が消えたと判断して以後、消火活動をしていなかったという。

    This is the latest kyodo report
    Fire broke out in the number 4 reactor building this morning at 5:45. It is in the same location as yesterday, the forth floor north west corner. There has been no reports of any explosion. The fire was discovered by a worker returning a battery

    Sorry if my translation isn’t so good

    It doesn’t say anything about radiation or the status of the spent fuel… If anyone has some real info, I’d like to know so I can get my arse out of japan if need be

  222. Alvarez calculated in 2003 that the dose rate from half exposed rods in a typical spent fuel pool would be 140 Sv/h at the pool edge, or in other words a fatal dose in about 2 minutes.

    That kind of explains why it will be difficult to get a fire hose in there to refill the pool. Even at 400 mSv/h measured outside the reactor buildings, you couldn’t work for more than two hours without risking radiation sickness (and only a few minutes if wanting to respect maximum regulatory dose rates that give ample protection against cancer risk increases).

  223. Yomiuri is rePorting the fire is out as of 6:15 and they are still unable to confirm what burnt because radiation levels are/were to high


    The report then goes on to say that they are still deciding on how they are going to deliver water to the spent fuel pools

  224. There is a deep trench right off shore. A reasonable idea is to grapple the rods and dump them in the ocean over the trench.

    If the roof is in the way, the a couple of well-placed smart bombs could take care of that.

    It’s supremely ironic that the one real, intractable problem that has arisen involves the nuclear waste, the thing nobody ever wants to deal with :(


  225. Timestamps showing up now on the NHK stories:

    Fire breaks out again at No.2 reactor

    Tokyo Electric Power says the building of the No.4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is on fire again. Nobody was injured.

    The company said at a press conference that the fire was confirmed at 5:45 AM on Wednesday. It says the northwestern corner of the 4th floor, which was on fire on Tuesday, has caught fire again. This is where the pump used to put water into the reactor is located.

    TEPCO has requested firefighters. It said workers cannot reach the fire due to the high level of radioactivity at the site.

    The No.4 reactor caught fire at 9 AM on Tuesday. TEPCO said the first fire extinguished itself.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 07:46 +0900 (JST)
    That’s recent news. At the moment I’m writing this, it’s Wednesday 9:55 am in Tokyo:

  226. “URGENT: Spraying boracic acid eyed to prevent recriticality at No. 4 reactor

    TOKYO, March 16, Kyodo

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it is considering spraying boracic acid by helicopter to prevent spent nuclear fuel rods from reaching criticality again, restarting a chain reaction, at the troubled No. 4 reactor of its quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    ”The possibility of recriticality is not zero,” TEPCO said as it announced the envisaged step against a possible fall in water levels in a pool storing the rods that would leave them exposed. ”

  227. When they are talking about the possibility of “recriticality” of spent fuel, it doesn’t sound at all good.

    Spent fuel is already stored in borated steel boxes to prevent a rise in activity, so if they are considering adding of boracic acid to the pool water, the only logical conclusion is that they suspect physical damage to the rods at such extent, that the normal protection against restarting of fission is compromised.

  228. @American “Just my lay opinion, but it seems to me that the people to be most respected on this issue right now are saying that they just simply flat don’t know what the real fundamental situation is, nor know all of what might further happen, nor how (further) bad it might get, period. And that any confident forecast, regardless of same being either optimistic or pessimistic, is just smoke, pure and simple.”
    A bit of perspective is required here. There has been a massive earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 10,000 people, injured tens of thousands of others and displaced hundreds of thousands if not millions as well massively destroyed infrastructure.

    At the same time we have the nuclear reactor damage where not a single person has been killed or injured by radiation.

    The situation is bad at the reactor and we all hope environmental contamination is kept to the absolute minimum. But let’s keep perspective. Not a single human killed or injured by radiation is a success considering the circumstances.

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  230. > Red_Blue
    > recriticality … borated steel boxes … boracic acid …
    > only logical …

    That’s not the only logical conclusion, and we don’t know yet. You’re not using facts; where are you getting your information, why do you consider it a reliable source? Someone posted much the same notion yesterday or the day before and it was debunked then.

    Fission isn’t “on” or “off” — it’s happening, and more will happen if the fuel gets too close together. But it sounds like you’re–just like the guy earlier, in fact–confusing “criticality” with a chain reaction or “prompt critical” event. This is not that. Look it up.

    See the Powerpoint files linked earlier for accurate descriptions of how the fuel is stored to keep the rods separate at specified distances suitable for active cooling. If the supporting racks fail, the rods fall closer together and heat up, both from increased fission and decay heat, and the metal can burn and fuel melt.

    NHK: White smoke billowing, “a constant stream of smoke” — video from a long lens on a helicopter 30 km away from the plant

  231. >> Red_Blue
    >> recriticality … borated steel boxes … boracic acid …
    >> only logical …

    >That’s not the only logical conclusion, and we don’t know yet.
    > You’re yot using facts; where are you getting your information

    Oh, good grief, I finally got that page to open and I apologize, you really are quoting from http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/78393.html tagged “Urgent”

    It’s garbled.
    – There’s no such thing as “boracic acid”
    – the helicopter idea was talked about and dismissed hours ago.
    – I haven’t yet down the “recriticality” term — it has to be someone mangling a translation from the Japanese to English.

    They’re confusing people. It’s a real, big worry. Mangling the info isn’t helping.

    Anyone know where the TEPCO original source for that is?

    Once someone gets a sample of that smoke, we’ll know what’s burning.

    Ugly, and there are no good possibilities for this.

  232. “Not a single human killed or injured by radiation is a success considering the circumstances.”

    This is still evolving. And a major radiological accident could leave more than 10,000 with life long problems.

  233. “Not a single human killed or injured by radiation is a success considering the circumstances.”

    That’s a pretty dim view on what could be considered “injury by radiation”. I don’t think you would want to make that argument for example in an insurance court against a claimant who has received a 100 mSv dose, for which there is solid evidence of (rather small ofcourse) cancer risk increase. There are now at least two such cases of plant operators known, but many more could be unreported due to other injuries.

  234. Smoke shown from the helicopter was “about 10am Japan time” — it’s now a bit after 11am Japan time, and the later report on line says there are no more flames. So NHK is running behind the news and they are continuing to replay old tapes. It’s hard to tell what’s current and what’s old on their screen , as their replays have the same “breaking news” tag.

  235. Jeff in Dallas wrote,
    “At the same time we have the nuclear reactor damage where not a single person has been killed or injured by radiation.

    The situation is bad at the reactor and we all hope environmental contamination is kept to the absolute minimum. But let’s keep perspective. Not a single human killed or injured by radiation is a success considering the circumstances.”

    Oh come now, this statement borders on the absurd. The mechanisms of injury and death are completely separate in each case, with the consequences of earthquake and tsunami damage obvious and immediate, and the consequences of radiation damage usually chronic, cumulative, and slow to develop. Yours is an apples-to-spacecraft comparison.

    I’m all for a rational, measured, fact-based approach, and I’m absolutely opposed to “fear-mongering”…But comparing earthquake and tsunami death tolls to deaths as a result of this situation is an inadequate metric, to say the least.

  236. Jeff in Dallas, neither you nor anybody can say that there have been no radiation injuries from the reactors. Radiation has been released. People have been exposed. That is all we know.

    That said, you are correct that the known casualties are perhaps two workers who are missing, certainly less than the casualties we see from coal mining operations. But the timeline for nuclear casualties is a helluva lot longer than the one for any other energy production process. It is measured in generations, not days.

  237. I recommend putting a “world clock” window up for anyone quoting comments and checking when what you see or read actually happened. NHK TV’s “live stream” right now shows both 05:00 and 06:11 at different places, and the actual Tokyo time is 11:11AM. Be wary, it’s easy to be fooled by all the “live” banners.

  238. @Mike and Red_Blue, goodrich4bk

    Three Mile Island accident in the US, worst Nuclear plant accident on US soil, similar in some ways to the current event. In that case, no deaths, no increased cancer incidence in the vicinity even after 30 years of monitoring. Yes, we’ll have to wait and see, but so far only two deaths (reported missing) attributed to the tsunami, not radiation.

    I’m just saying that before anyone can call this a disaster considereing the grand scope of things in that area now, there has to at least be an injury. So far, there has not. And TMI incident tells us there very well may not be, even 30 years down the road.

  239. “Anyone know where the TEPCO original source for that is?”
    TEPCO no longer releases any data about the Daiichi reactors in its own site, the latest data is about the shut down Daini reactors and almost a day old. The same applies to NISA. JAIF has released updates every few hours, but the latest is 16 hours old. FEPC Washington office puts out a release couple times a day, latest being 12 hours old.

    “Fission isn’t “on” or “off” — it’s happening, and more will happen if the fuel gets too close together.”

    There is no significant fission going on in the spent fuel rods of an intact storage pool, most of the decay reactions (as beta decay and low energy alpha decay) are incapable of causing fission in the irradiated fuel. The other rare exception is spontaneous fission, but this is also irrelevant. In any case, the insignificant fraction that happens, happens in the same rod. The spacing and the racks make sure of that.

    The reason why a reactor works in the first place, is that it has a large amount of that fuel in close proximity with moderator instead of neutron absorber (as there is in the spent fuel rod pool) between the rods.

  240. Sorry those who objected, your info on nat gas and your interpretation (or reinterpretation, I should say) of my suggestions are incorrect. My apologies if my sentence formulation was at fault.

    Nat gas is better *than coal*. And *oil.* It’s safer *than coal* and safer *than nukes.* (Note the word “than.”)

    Solar and wind are fine long-term but they are not cost-effective nor as ubiquitous as NG for *now*, nor can we export it. Not as much use from solar as NG in Detroit or Seattle where they average 180-220 cloudy days per year. (For *now*.)

    We just made the largest oil and NG find in US history. Why not use it? Thinking real-world for the next five to ten years, not Tomorrowland nor Fantasyland.

    Use NG *WHILE* WEANING OFF OIL and WHILE making the transition to other alternatives. (Whether it’s solar, wind or cat urine. But not corn. Burning food for fuel is D-U-M.)

    People have died falling off of windmills, being clobbered by solar panels too, and have become sick and had industrial accidents making them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t support them as alternatives. Heck, cars have killed MANY more people than nat gas, nuclear energy, coal mining, solar and wind put together, but it doesn’t affect the argument about what to use to power them. If you wanna go that route, let’s just shoot all the cars into space and go back to sandals.

    I’d rather be civil, reasonable and realistic. Hopefully you do too. Thanks!

  241. Short reports from the most recent new conference (via Kyodo, times JST):
    # NEWS ADVISORY: Seawater injection into No.4 reactor via helicopter too risky: Edano (11:39)
    # BREAKING NEWS: Water injection into No.4 reactor has yet to begin: Edano (11:34)
    # BREAKING NEWS: Containment vessels of No.1, No.3 reactors may be damaged: Edano (11:30)
    # BREAKING NEWS: Radiation levels at Fukushima plant rose after 10 a.m.: Edano (11:23)
    # NEWS ADVISORY: TEPCO can’t check smoke at Fukushima plant as radiation is too high (11:16)

  242. About my accused “dim” view, I have studied nuclear engineering and radiological health engineering at Texas A&M (although my degree is in chemistry). I understand radiation effects, the Q value for different types of radiation, ALARA principle, units of radiation Curies/rems/rads/Sieverts. I understand reactor physics and geometry, eigenvalues solutions and neutron flux as it relates to reactor criticality. A lot of that doesn’t apply in a situation like this because you can’t possibly know the neutron flux or moderation or lethargy that may lead to U-235 fission reactions. My perspective may be different than others, but I’m not “dim” or a layperson on this subject.

  243. Rats; unfortunately there’s no “edit” button for posts. I meant to type “possibly” the largest oil & ng find.

    Also, if you’re that worried about CO2 and methane emissions into the atmosphere, we should also get rid of all the people and animals who do all that darn exhaling and farting. ;-)

  244. If I read the recent IAEA March 15 18:00 GMT update correctly, the reactor fuel for units 5 and 6 remain inside the reactors, not in the spent fuel pool. Only unit 4′s fuel is in the spent fuel pool. Maybe a little break.

  245. R4 was shut down when the quake hit and, as I understand it, ‘the main reactor was not fueled.’ Do they exchange ALL the fuel at once? (I though they staggered refueling.) Did the spent fuel on the roof just recently come out of the reactor? If so, it’s about as hot as it comes. This might explain the apparently rapid boil-off of the cooling pool.

  246. a correction to my 2:44 PM post above: Oyster Pt is a BWR/2 design with 5 recirculation loops on the reactor. Its 619 MWe. Fukushima 1 is a BWR/3 460 MWe design with 2 recirculation pumps (with internal jet pumps for more eff), instead of 5. Otherwise, I think the two plants are very close in design, only 2 years apart, so the drawing should be good.

  247. Pingback: 言語管理研究会 Society of Language Management » 外国人のための地震情報3:Some Earthquake Information for Foreign Residents in Japan

  248. Its not the probability or even the possibility of a nuclear reactor disaster that drives a “lay” person’s opinion of the use of nuclear power, we know there is risk in everything in life. The problem is geographic SCALE.

    When a nuclear power plant that some politician and his bureaucrats put on an earthquake fault proves that their statistician’s “probability report” was wrong, the SCALE of a resulting disaster is what is considered.

    Why is that? Its because of human nature. The widespread area and magnitude of such a disaster is too much for a human soul to manage and so we want to avoid it. Sure, more people die in auto accidents etc, than will ever die in a nuclear power plant disaster, that is a fact… but those tragedies happen in a way that is manageable to human beings on whole. The scale is different.

    In Japan, at this moment, a human being is trying to survive a cold dark night, limited food, shelter, the the loss of loved ones and many friends. All around them is disaster as far and wide as they can see. In their realization of having survived is the realization that all around them hundreds if not thousands of others lie buried where they did not.

    Hopefully they are finding within themselves and others around them, that resilience that pulls human beings through such events…but the SCALE of such a tragedy is something any sane person will always want to avoid.

    Thus, even though it was a natural event, an earthquake and tsunami that created this nightmare, we have no control over these things and so we see the nuclear power plants as similar in their ability to cause something of this scale, but something that we can control…and thus the focus on them and the worst case scenario.

  249. The situation seems to be getting worse than what could reasonably have been expected on Sunday. Could it not be that TEPCO was less than forthcoming with information?

    According to the NYTimes article below, a Japanese nuclear power executive (not with TEPCO) claimes anonymously that there was damage to the spent fuel pool in unit 2.


    While the veracity is hard to confirm, it seems very difficult to understand how they could not have been more vigilant on problems with the pool in unit 4.

    Shouldn’t they also have removed some of the side walls before they blew off in explosions, since they couldn’t evacuate hydrogen through pumps?

    I understand that it’s a very trying task (though can’t image how much so), but some poor choices seem to have deteriorated conditions. In hindsight, perhaps given total blackout, operators should have accepted certain, manageable actions to risking structural integrity.

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  251. Thank you for providing a clear overview on this. As an engineer myself it does depress me that the failures here have been with the simple parts of the system, that many of us could have got right. As for not imagining a tsunami of those proportions, was this reviewed after Indonesia (etc) 2004? It just seems a shame – this could have been a showcase for nuclear power at its best.

  252. Question on the Fukushima #2 site, apologies if I’ve missed the obvious answer. In the march 14th statement
    (http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news/2011/110314fukushima_event-status-1.pdf ) the reactors #2&4 at the second site were said to have increasing containment pressure and a failure of “Core coolabilit-1 (ECCS/RHR)”, containment venting was flagged as “to be decided”. Subsequent reports say “No Info” for the pressure increase, the previously reported failure has vanished as a reporting category and the “environmental affect” is now given as 8.99uS/h and colour coded as a high category.

    Has there been any other reporting of the problems that were developing but seem to have disappeared as the radiation increases?

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  254. “Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified dramatically on Wednesday after the authorities announced that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam. The break, at the No. 3 reactor unit, worsened the already perilous conditions at the plant, a day after officials said the containment vessel in the No. 2 reactor had also cracked. Such is the growing international alarm about the nuclear crisis that France announced it was urging its citizens living in Tokyo to head to safer areas or to leave the country — apparently the most urgent instruction offered by foreign countries that so far had largely limited their advisories to simply avoid non-essential travel.”
    Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/world/asia/17nuclear.html

    “Tests Wednesday revealed traces of radiation in tap water in Fukushima city, located 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Daiichi nuclear plant, the local government said. The Fukushima Prefecture’s nuclear department said amounts of radioactive cesium and iodine that are not harmful to the human body were found in water samples taken at 8 a.m. Wednesday (7 p.m. ET Tuesday). Government officials said the traces found are connected with the nuclear plant. A measurement of the tap water supply taken later in the day found no traces of iodine or cesium.”
    Source: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/16/japan.nuclear.reactors/index.html

  255. Russia offered Japan a team of nuclear experts who are Chernobyl-experts, but Japan rejected. They probably don’t want to give too much insights in how bad the situation is. I think if something is developing like this, one should put the cards on the table. It’s about time. But then there is this old tradition in Japan where people have to save one’s face. It’s tragic…

  256. Sophia: Sorry, but that is an ignorant statement. While admittedly the transparency of some statements has not been perfect, there is nothing going on here about saving face. The problem is that people love to be scared and the mass media makes money from scaring them. You can’t scare people in the USA nd Europe with stories of an earthquake in Japan, and unfortunately the tsunami threat, as small as it really was, was a one-time event and is over. What’s left but the bogeyman of invisible radiation?

    The people hosting and constributing to this site have done a remarkable job putting together a reasoned and responsible explanation of what has happened and what is likely to happen. You don’t have to believe it, but assigning blame to a people that are doing their best in the face of a truly horrible series of events is just wrong. And ignorant, but I mentioned ignorant before.

  257. It could be that the multiple failures now evident at all six of the Fukushima reactors within a few days of one another have one common initiator. The tsunami is the obvious candidate. Not so much the flooding, (the reactor complex appears to have come through the inundation relatively unscathed) but what happened after the initial rush of water, …when the water receded to far below its normal level. Tsunami water levels are alternately excessively high and, perhaps more damaging to the reactors, excessively low. It could be that all the secondary cooling water intakes were left high and dry for some minutes. This would have played havoc with the heat exchangers and other plumbing, setting the scene for the subsequent primary cooling circuit and spent fuel pool problems. The loss of circulation may have tripped the back-up system which would in turn experience problems due to the absence of coolant (seawater).
    A few minutes with no water before the next wave thundered in may have set off the unfortunate and tragic chain of events that we are witnessing. The problems reported at the Onagawa nuclear complex may indicate that it also experienced temporary secondary coolant (seawater) loss.
    My thoughts and prayers are with the brave workers who are currently risking their lives to minimize the damage.

  258. I agree with moonkoon and Peter to a degree: At this stage it’s less about withholding info to “save face” and more about doing the best they can with what they have (and saving everyone’s ass).

    If you’ve ever been in a crisis situation, you’ll notice you tend to act and behave differently than if you’re calm and leisurely going over your options logically tick by tick. Have you ever said to yourself, “I should have—” or “Why didn’t I—”?

    Much like martial arts, which tries to instill defense so it becomes instinctive and you don’t have to think about what to do; I don’t think the plant workers have been trained to the degree that they can just automatically do the perfect thing for every situation automatically; they have to react, give and take orders and go with whatever information they have at the time.

    Unlike what was said by “its [sic] aboutSCALE.” It’s more about the timing and unknown.

    All I know, the Japanese workers and gov’t are STILL doing better than FEMA did with Katrina and Rita. Thank goodness there weren’t any reactors in New Orleans! ;-)

  259. @Opdahl:

    what do you mean with ‘here’? are you japanese?
    i was talking about a cultural fact, where japanese people just hardly involve people from outside in their business and get almost kind of embarrassed of stuff you cannot really blame them for. for example: there was staff at the airport saying: “excuse me for the tsunami..” and stuff like that to foreigners flying home.

    that was what i was talking about. i cannot see where this is ignorant. i’m sorry. to me it seems more ignorant to NOT see those slight differences in culture, cause those – for sure – affect a lot. how people deal with stuff in general.

    before you stigmatise someone with a word like ‘ignorance’, think about your own a bit. i never with one word doubted that people are trying to do their best. i just was saying, that they should just accept all the help they can get and forget about traditions in that case.

  260. The Director of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Mr. Jukka Laaksonen, has sharply criticized Japan for poor handling of the accident.

    According to him, the Japanese learned nothing from 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, their hierarchical work culture is hampering their efforts etc.

    One of his Group Leaders, Mr.Keijo Valtonen, has given a rather different assessment of the Japanese efforts: they are doing what they can and have still things under control.

    The French are losing their patience vis-a-vis the Japanese:

    But are the critics right? Well, Wikileaks tells this story:


  261. @sophia:

    Sorry , but I find your statement to be ignorant as well as Peter – considering it was announced in the news that the team of Russian nuclear experts have arrived to Japan already. Besides the fact that Russia had sent the largest rescue team there as well.

  262. @MikeP

    The proof that to the lay person this is truly is about the scale of a potential nuclear disaster is evident in the media and even in this blog.

    What is everyone’s real worry here? It is that an out of control reactor “melts” down in a manner that breaches these “unbreachable” containments and spews radiation into the atmosphere/contaminates the ground water table and so forth. A release of radiation is likely going to cause hysteria in a city of 9 million people 170 miles to the south (though to the credit of the Japanese people, their ability to stay relatively calm in these situation is admirable).

    As to world media’s hype… It does not matter how many hacks they put on who are ridiculously ignorant and an obvious hype, its entertainment. But no one would watch or care if there wasn’t a certain truth behind it all. That truth is that in our gut we know “experts” always have there say, but in the end fate plays its hand. IF one or two of these plants go seriously wrong…the disaster will be on a scale that we will all then say should have never been allowed to happen by our own hand (technology).

    The real problem is not nuclear energy…its the irresponsible use of nuclear energy.

    Common sense tells most of us that you don’t build a power plant that uses technology that can lead to massive destruction and locate it in an earthquake fault zone close to population centers But social leaders, politicians, experts and scientists all convince themselves its doable and go right on ahead and do it.

    Then when the plan goes south, and the outcome is uncontrolled and the possibility of a devastating tragedy looms on such a large scale…they tap dance for us about how it should not happen, how we can learn from this and so on..

    Here is a thought…go find a mountain, drill a shaft a mile (or something reasonable) into it, carve out a home for a nuclear plant, create the infrastructure (coolant storage, etc) and set it up so that if it goes south you collapse the shaft and the news media reports, “power company writes off 2 billion dollar nuclear plant, no injuries reported, no radiation leaked, no threat to anyone”.

  263. Um, to “Its[sic]aboutSCALE” (wonder if that’s your first or last name, lol), I’m not sure what the disagreement is.

    My only point was that even if it’s low-level (“small scale” in my definition, not necessarily yours) nuclear radiation “leaking”, people still get freaked out even if it’s not harmful because of the timing (sudden and unexpected), ignorance, lack of education and fear–fear of the *unknown.* Since they don’t know/understand what’s really going on and what the consequences are, it ups the fear factor. In contrast, the layfolk know that someone dies from cancer every minute and that millions die in car accidents per year; but they understand and know more about them and have a certain level of control. We knew thousands of people died in Katrina and Rita (huge scale), but knew it was confined to the South. That’s all. No argument, only clarification.

    I don’t disagree with your other points.

  264. Pingback: Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Incident – UPDATE 2 « PA Pundits – International

  265. This kind of thing demands an ‘answer factory’. Regardless of opinion, the systematic distribution of answers and catalisation of questions is non existant. This requires funding and round the clock maintenance. One single link that clearly shows the way to any level of information from actual minute to minute situation update to subject related panic and soap blogs. Does anyone know who can organize anything like this?

  266. The major problem is that cooling the nuclear products requires functioning of the designed cooling system, especially for the waste ponds.The jerry-rigged cooling system can never be as effective. The window for fixing the problem closes as radiation makes it less safe for workers to be in site. Luckily, Japan has a Kamikaze culture and they will try to fix it. Time will tell if this turns into the worst nuclear disaster in human history. An ABC interview with a European nuclear consultant lat night said the handling of this accident was a reflection of the nuclear safety culture – ie the amount of money that can be spent to manage uncommon risks. Nuclear energy can only be made more expensive if it is to be made safer. Go carbon tax.

  267. Pingback: Social Media in Times of Crisis – How you can help Japan, from our Whrrl friend @LindaSherman : Pelago, Inc.

  268. Pingback: Going nuclear on facebook | naturewide

  269. Pingback: Searching for Accurate Maps - Fukushima Nuclear Accident – 16 March update « BraveNewClimate

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