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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:

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 An evacuation zone extends to ten kilometres around the plant, but this is expected to be rescinded when all four units are verified as stable in cold shutdown conditions.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.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

378 replies on “Fukushima Nuclear Accident – 15 March summary of situation”

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.


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.


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?


“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.


Mark means that circumstances are throwing a battery of disasters at the containment and core, the worst series of events imaginable, and still it seems to be okay.


According to the “Official Story” from TEPCO
republished in this blog:

Unit 4 is perfectly fine, no problem.

What’s up with that?



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?


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?



“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.


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)


SoulmanZ, on 15 March 2011 at 2:02 PM said:

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




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.


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.


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.


@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 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.


Hi Dr Brook, I have the same concern as SoulmanZ. The area is highly agricultural and I would like to know the long term effects towards livestock and crops.
Japan’s government run television broadcast nhk has reported 400mSV.

Below is a link to a English broadcast of NHK.


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.


nhk just said that they detected radioactive iodine and cessium in trace amounts in Tokyo and Saitama, which are way south than 30 km.


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.



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.


@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.


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.


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?


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.


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.



The fire at #4 is believed to be the result of falling debris. Worth remembering the reactor is totally cold, wasn’t on even before the earthquake.


“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…


> 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.


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.




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


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.


“We are on the brink. 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 breached. If there is heavy melting inside the reactor, large amounts of radiation will most definitely be released.”


@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)


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.



@ 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?


Alex Smith, on 15 March 2011 at 3:27 PM said:
“It looks like several Tepco workers are already dead or dying.”

Is this from a credible source or did you make it up?


I’m surprised NISA has not issued any releases today on their website. Has anybosy seen any radiation reading from them today?


@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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.



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.


[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.]


@ 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.


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.


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.


It looks like I have to retract my earlier statement about the plume being carried out to sea. The latest info from NHK :
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.


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.


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.


@Chris Warren: 4 Sv could well be lethal. 7 Sv almost certainly is (, 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 (,_Jr.)

Slotin recieved 21 Sv when he handled the same core after it went critical, and he died in 9 days (


Bob the Builder, Steve Mckenzie,, 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.


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.


@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.


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.
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.


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.”



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”.


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.”


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.


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.


“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.



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.


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.


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.


We must never rule out sabotage.

Graeme – seems highly unlikely given the timing, circumstances and likely motivators.



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.


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?



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”


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.


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