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Fukushima Nuclear Accident – Monday 21 March update

It’s not yet time for the period of reflection and introspection on the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, but we’re getting there. Even the U.S. says the worst seems to be over. The IAEA and World Nuclear News have both released new updates on the situation (the IAEA report being particularly comprehensive this time, unlike some of their earlier sparse prose). Steve Darden at Seeker Blog has done an excellent job at extracting the key snippets of information, and so I reproduce his efforts below:

Offsite grid power has been brought to the Daiichi site, and is in the process of connection to each reactors equipment.

Restoration of Grid

Progress has been achieved in restoring external power to the nuclear power plant, although it remains uncertain when full power will be available to all reactors. Off-site electrical power has been connected to an auxiliary transformer and distribution panels at Unit 2. Work continues toward energizing specific equipment within Unit 2.

Here’s an excerpt on radiation measurements:

Radiation levels near Fukushima Daiichi and beyond have elevated since the reactor damage began. However, dose rates in Tokyo and other areas outside the 30-kilometre zone remain below levels which would require any protective action. In other words they are not dangerous to human health.

At the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering site, the 20 March status update is encouraging. Included in the report was a note on the actual tsunami heights at the reactor sites:

The Fukushima power plants were required by regulators to withstand a certain height of tsunami. At the Daiichi plant the design basis was 5.7 metres and at Daini this was 5.2 metres.

Tepco has now released tentative assessments of the scale of the tsunami putting it at over 10 metres at Daiichi and over 12 metres at Dainii.

In the associated WNN report, is the following IAEA graph of unit 5, 6 fuel pond temperatures.

At units 1 and 2, external power has been restored. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it would restore functions in the central control room shared by the units so that accurate readings could again be taken from the reactor system. Next, workers will check the condition of the water supply systems to the reactor and the used fuel pond. With luck these will be able to go back into operation as they had been immediately after the earthquake on 11 March.

External power for units 3 and 4 should be in place ‘in a few days’ time’, said Tepco.

(…) Despite contradictory comments by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to US politicians and media, most observers in nuclear industry and regulation consider the measures taken by Japanese authorities to be prudent and appropriate.

Some other points, from NHK news reports:

・TEPCO planned an operation to release air containing radioactive nuclidesinside the containment vessel at unit-3, give a situation of pressure increaseinside the containment in this morning . However, TEPCO decided not to releaseit since the pressure becomes stable later.

・Ministry of Defense performed activity of measuring surface temperature ateach of unit 1,2,3 and 4 from the sky using Helicopter to evaluate the effect ofthe operation of filling the pool with water from the ground today and yesterday.Ministry of Defense expressed the opinion that surface temperature of each unitseems to be 100 degree Celsius or below.

Some other interesting reads from the last day or two:

1. Dan Yurman from Idaho Samizdat reviews the last weeks’ events, and asks some pointed questions about NRC Head Jaczko’s sources of information:

What remains to be known is how much distrust and incomplete information played a role in what has turned out to look like a decision that didn’t have to be made in time for a congressional hearing. Yes, that’s hindsight, but these questions deserve answers and soon.

2. Rod Adams from Atomic Insights has a lot more details on the possibility (or lack thereof) of a zirconium fire in the spent fuel ponds. His bottom line:

Despite all previous word, a fire in any used fuel pool is a fantasy that will only occur in a simplified model. It is not a concern in the real world of water, metal and ceramics. (Note: I struggled with whether or not I should waffle and couch that statement with “in my opinion”, but decided against it. Please feel free to conduct experiments that would prove me wrong.)

3. Charles Barton from Nuclear Green looks at some lessons from Daiichi:

If the Dai-ichi crisis fails to teach us the importance of moving forward on the implementation of a more advanced and safer nuclear technology, it would be a tragedy.

In the coming weeks, I will also be dissecting this new lesson of history on BraveNewClimate. But I want to wait a little longer yet — at least until all those units are in cold shutdown and the spent fuel pools are lukewarm once again!

The the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum has provided their 19th reactor-by-reactor status update (10:00 March 21):


Finally, here is the latest FEPC status report:


  • Radiation Levels
    • At 07:00PM (JST) on March 20, radiation level outside main office building (approximately 1,640 feet from Unit 2 reactor building) of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: 2,623 micro Sv/hour.
    • Measurement results of ambient dose rate around Fukushima Nuclear Power Station announced at 4:00PM and 7:00PM on March 20 are shown in the attached two PDF files respectively.
    • For comparison, a human receives 2,400 micro Sv per year from natural radiation in the form of sunlight, radon, and other sources. One chest CT scan generates 6,900 micro Sv per scan.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the reactor core: 0.187MPa.
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, water level inside the reactor core: 1.7 meters below the top of the fuel rods.
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the primary containment vessel: 0.17MPaabs.
    • As of 6:00PM on March 20, the injection of seawater continues into the reactor core.
    • As of 7:00PM on March 20, activities for recovering the external power supply are underway.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the reactor core: -0.016MPa.
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, water level inside the reactor core: 1.4 meters below the top of the fuel rods.
    • At 3:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the primary containment vessel: 0.125MPaabs.
    • At 3:05PM on March 20, injection of seawater into the spent fuel storage pool has begun, until 5:20PM (total about 40 tons)
    • As of 3:46PM on March 20, the distribution board began to receive the external power.
    • As of 6:00PM on March 20, the injection of seawater continues into the reactor core.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 reactor
    • At 4:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the reactor core: 0.119MPa.
    • At 4:00PM on March 20, water level inside the reactor core: 1.65 meters below the top of the fuel rods.
    • At 4:00PM on March 20, pressure inside the primary containment vessel: 0.290MPaabs.
    • As of 6:00PM on March 20, the injection of seawater continues into the reactor core.
    • As of 7:00PM on March 20, about 2,605 tons of water in total has been shot to the spent fuel storage pool.
    • As of 7:00PM on March 20, activities for recovering the external power supply are underway.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 reactor
    • At 8:20AM on March 20, 10 Self Defense Force vehicles began to shoot water aimed at the spent fuel pool, until 9:29AM.
    • As of 7:00PM on March 20, about 83 tons of water in total has been shot to the spent fuel storage pool.
    • As of 7:00PM on March 20, activities for recovering the external power supply are underway.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 5 reactor
    • At 2:30PM on March 20: cold shutdown
    • At 4:00PM on March 20, the temperature of the spent fuel pool was measured at   95.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Unit 6 reactor
    • At 10:14PM on March 19, ump for Residual Heat Removal (RHR) started up and cooling of spent fuel storage pool has started.
    • At 4:00PM on March 20, the temperature of the spent fuel pool was measured at   82.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fukushima Daiichi Common Spent Fuel Pool
    • At 09:00AM on March 19, the temperature of the spent fuel pool was measured at 134.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our official sources are:

  • Office of The Prime Minister of Japan
  • Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA)
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Press Releases
  • Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)

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.

213 replies on “Fukushima Nuclear Accident – Monday 21 March update”

At this point, I would like to make the following predictions as to what the ‘environists’ will say, when things have calmed down a bit:

1) First, they will say that the accident ‘could have been much worse’. That consequences far worse that were experienced *could* have happened, if only things had gone differently, if we had been less lucky etc.

2) After the WHO and other health officials have come to a conclusion on the radiological fatalities as a result of the release (this may be zero), the anti-nukes will all come out and say there was some kind of ‘conspiracy’ or ‘cover-up’. They will say that the true scale off the accident was covered up, not to give their supposed nuclear pay masters a bad name.

Just thought I’d put it out there now.


And a third point to add to Huw’s list:

3) Despite the lack of immediate casualties the number of long term deaths from cancer won’t be known for decades and could number in the [insert large number category here].


Professor Brook,

Thank you for putting the Bloomberg article at the start of your update (and thanks for weblog, too!). I have been trying to find a direct quote from Steven Chu –not a reporter’s paraphrase– that supports the headline. Perhaps with the combined search powers of your contributors we can turn one up.


p.s. Also, thanks for not booting me. I am not good at tact.


Thanks Barry.
Real information from you again.
To quote the ad ” I feel better now”
I feel I can now get back to everyday activities – while still checking on your blog for updates now and then.


Huw Jones & John Morgan beat me to it. This is exactly what we are going to face, but I think this time we can deal with it. We are much more organized now that we where in the past and we can meet these sorts of statements better than we ever could.

They won’t get a free ride this time.


As a pro nuke advocate the introspection I would like to see most relates to design parameters such as maximum design earthquake and maximum design tsunami. One way that I can see for netizens to help this along is to update wikipedia with these design parameters for all existing operational nuclear plants.

It would also be useful for pro-nuke netizens to use this information to disown certain nuclear power plants. Not to suggest they should be closed but rather to suggest that there ongoing operation should deserve greater skepticism. Not just in terms of their threat to human life but also in terms of their threat to industry credibility.


JAIF update:

Ministry of Defense announced that the Self-Defense Force helicopter
measured the surface temperatures of Fukushima Daiichi from the air and
found that the temperature of each units are below 100 degrees C. Unit 1:58
degrees C; Unit 2: 35 degrees C; Unit 3: 62 degrees C; Unit 4: 42 degrees C;
Unit 5: 24 degrees C; Unit 6: 25 degrees C. (as of the afternoon on March 20)


DV82XL, I remembered what you said the other day, about the first air crashes in the 50’s and 60’s, and peoples sensational reactions. At first, I wanted to agree with you, but didn’t.

Today however, I actually saw some things to validate your argument. People I spoke to or over heard at university were saying things along the line of ‘the titanic sank, but we didn’t abandon sea travel’. I even spoke to a fund raiser for FoE, who when I mentioned I supported the use of nuclear power, said he personally disagreed with the stance of his organization on the matter!

I think we need to and can spin this to our advantage.


“If the Dai-ichi crisis fails to teach us the importance of moving forward on the implementation of a more advanced and safer nuclear technology, it would be a tragedy”.

Indeed. If safer Gen 4 technology can’t be pushed forward now, it would be a tragedy.

Unfortunately, anti-Environs are sounding more and more like BP apologists during the gulf drilling “spill”.


This is good…

“However, dose rates in Tokyo and other areas outside the 30-kilometre zone remain below levels which would require any protective action. In other words they are not dangerous to human health”

but I am curious about how quickly dose rates decline with distance from the plant (I think I read “exponentially” somewhere?). Would dose rates 1, 5, or 10 km from the plant be “dangerous to human health”? That is, is the exclusion zone purely “precautionary” or would people who stayed within it (and were “unprotected”) be at risk of adverse health effects?

thanks (and apols if already answered somewhere)


Will former residents of the Fukushima exclusion zone ever be allowed to return to their homes? If not, what is the cost of this? Wouldn’t this fact alone make nuclear uncompetitive amongst competing energy-generation technologies?


I am not sure if this was discussed before, but I am wondering about the meaning of the pressure readings of reactor 2.

Does the lack of pressure within the reactor pressure vessel not imply that there is a leak or at least a hung vent? The huge amount of steam being produced by the underwater parts of the rods should cause some pressure as it does in reactor 1+3.
I don’t want to exaggerate, but could it also mean that a little melted fuel burned through the vessel?
What is the likely reason for the total lack of pressure?

On the other hand, the low pressure of the containment indeed could mean that there is a small leak in the containment. The given 0,13MPa (just 0,3 bar above atmosphere) might be solely due to the sea water injection (water supply being slightly higher than the drain).
The constant drain of steam out of the building also implies that there must be some leak caused by the explosion near the wetwell. Any further comments/insights on that?


This past week’s side track on nuclear drama has been at the expense of real people with real problems.

Perhaps now the journalists will return their attention to the real dead, damaged and needy in the Japanese community and help us to find ways to help.

After the communities recover a semblance of normal life and after the emotional outbursts have subsided, the value of continually updated advice and hard data might just be recognised by a few more people. My hope is that public opinion will turn away from some who have cried wolf and towards those who can be trusted.

Thanks, Barry, for a truly superhuman effort with this blog. Just reading through it daily is a task. Actually compiling it is a huge credit to you.

2.2M hits! It seems to be only yesterday that we counted down the first million.


I don’t think we need to move all nuclear plants to design basis disaster “Godzilla”, but “design for failure” in the sub-systems and backups would be nice. I.e. start with the assumption that a disaster has exceeded deign basis and figure out what inexpensive changes can be made to minimize or localize damage, and allow damaged parts to be bypassed quickly.

This is a philosophy I’ve developed while building combat robots (battlebots) and it resulted in some bloody tough machines.


Maybe someone on this board can clear up some confusion I have regarding radiation. Japan recently stated that spinach and milk have been contaminated with radiation.

Is the radiation from the nuclear reactor different than ever-present naturally-occurring background radiation? Does the ‘contaminated’ food now just have more radiation?

[deleted hearsay. Please supply references/links and re-submit]
The impression I get from reading various articles is that it is only the radiation from the reactor that can fool your body into storing it whereas natural background radiation is not stored by the body. True or false?


Huw Jones – Yes I’m seeing it too. I can’t claim any deep insight into human behavior, but I have studied this phenomena as it occurred in several other domains, and I could not see how it would be much different with nuclear energy.

After all, we learned to live with the Bomb, a bit of nuclear technology designed to kill us.


Jeff Bullard, on 21 March 2011 at 11:53 AM — The entire portion of Japan using 50 Hz electrical power is in a serious power shortage with rolling blackouts. This means that industrial operations in the region have to have come to a halt, but I’ve only actually seen sporatic reports.

The electric power situation will slowly begin to improve due to various efforts that Tepco is surely undertaking. However, I’ve seen a responsible indication that this will take ‘one month’.


I’m very puzzled by the “white smoke” reports and wonder if someone who reads Japanese can confirm the translation. The latest IAEA update says:

“Unit 2 … As of 19 March, 11:30 UTC, officials could no longer confirm seeing white smoke coming from the building. Smoke had been observed emerging from the reactor earlier.”

Unit 3 … White smoke has been seen emerging from the reactor, but on 19 March it appeared to be less intense ….”

Looking at the photographs it looks to me more like water vapor (condensing moist air) than like smoke (particles from combustion/rapid oxidation). Water vapor disappears fairly close to the source; smoke gets carried along until the wind dissipates it; the two can be distinguished with a variety of instruments. Visually, only the earliest cloud from Unit 3 looked yellowish (more like smoke and dust); since then both have looked white in the photos I’ve seen.


Hank, I think it’s very likely to be water vapour — cold air hitting those very warm pools is going to create a lot of mist. We must remember that it was snowing around there the other day.


Marco, on 21 March 2011 at 12:14 PM — Yes, they mostly will be able to return as soon as the radiological survey is completed. The buildings within about 2 km of Fukushima Dai-ichi Generating Station that survived the tsunami may require some further delay and potentially some easily accomplished decontamination [called soap & water].


DV82XL, on 21 March 2011 at 12:35 PM said:

@shelby – Care to elaborate, or is this just a drive-by shooting?


Well, if you insist :-)

I think it’s far to early [ad hom deleted] to post an update that more or less says the worst is over and pats your industry on the back. For a minute I’ll play along and say the worst is over. The real issue to the public is not the “safe” release of radiation. It’s not the fact that disaster was adverted (which still remains to be seen). What is the issue in public’s eye is how close did they in fact come to losing total control of this nuclear power plant. I’m willing to bet from what I know so far that it was too close for comfort. That it was a last minute perhaps even lucky save. That it could easily have gone out of control. That only the last ditch, unconventional, unplanned for, relief efforts of brave technicians and firefighters, two of whom died, [deleted personal opinion presented as fact]
As with 3 Mile Island, how close this came to a total disaster, the fact that this one was barely brought back from the brink, will mean far more to the public than the implied message that the public was spared any serious exposure to radiation. That is assuming that this is in fact winding down with no serious meltdown or release of radiation.


@ Shelby:

OK, now at least we understand where you are coming from, which is an amalgum of facts, hearsay and guesswork.

I hope that the quality of reporting improves, now that the immediate threats have been reduced. Even with asuch an improvement, before we can reliably make the kind of statement that you have (one way or the other), we may have to wait months while hidden facts are prized out, analysis done and arguments resolved. The next two or three months will be extrmely interesting.


Hi John

My passion is communication. My angle is more or less examining reality, and how we communicate ideas and opinions. I don’t really have an axe to grind or a dog in this fight, other than the relentless pursuit of truth.


learning to live with the bomb is hardly relevant is it? People learn to live with hemorrhoids (and much worse), but nobody asks for them!
Or are you actually saying that people accept that the benefits of nuclear weapons outweigh their risks?


@bks, Not sure what inconsistency you are talking about. Secretary Chu was addressing whether there is a possibility of containment breach. And from radiation reading, it was possible, though we cannot know for sure, that unit 2 might be breached. The current worry about unit 3 is with regards to its spend fuel pool, which he did not address.


Some time ago I read that ‘they’ are laying so many Klms of lines to bring power into the plant or ‘this will be the longed electrical lead’ etc.
My query is that, as a power station it must have lines supplying the grid, why those existing lines could not be used to draw power from the grid. May be the grid lines suffered extensive damage due to earth quake!


Well, worse must be long over if the comments are going to stray that far off topic.

Think I’ll leave until tomorrow…


[deleted personal opinion presented as fact. Please supply references.]

Why then do we have all these partial meltdowns and dysfunctoinal pumps?

What does this say about the claiims from engineers that design can prevent problems.


@jim – The point is that the fears of the past that had folks building bomb shelters in their back yards, and kids shaking in terror in their beds at night, each time an aircraft went overhead have passed and we have collectively learned to live with the risk.

Poor form, though, trying to drag a red herring into the discussion – you knew damned well what I meant when I wrote it.


EssGee, on 21 March 2011 at 1:58 PM — They had to lay 1.5 km of temporary power cable from the closest tap point on a working transmission line.

The regular transmission lines ended in switchyards deestroyed by the tsunamis. It is possible that debris swept along by the tsunami downed some of those big transmission line towers; that happened from the storm surge of Hurrican Katrina in Mississippi.


Andy, on 21 March 2011 at 1:44 PM said:

.The body stores radioactive isotopes rather than radiation.

Could you expand on this a bit more.

I assume that if, and only if, a body stores radioactive isotopes, then it stores radiation.

Also, if and only if, a body is storiing radiation, then it is storing radio active isotopes.

So what is your point?


First, thanks to Barry for generating each day a thoughtfully reviewed digest of news from Fukushima, and thanks to commenters for the civil and informative discussion. It has been most useful in putting a scale to what worst outcomes might plausibly unfold.

OK, couple of points:
1. In the plots of “Spent Fuel Temps […] Daiichi Units 5 and 6” — anybody have a theory as to why the temps sat rather stably at around 66C in both units for three or more days? That’s a higher-than-usual temp, right, but why exactly that temp? Maybe it’s totally explicable, but as a data analyst, data that’s that stable in the middle of disorder jumps out as at risk of being an artifact of some kind.

2. Regarding laments that people will say it could have been much worse: When engineers and technicians volunteer to put their lives or health on the line to try to fix it, their assessment is conspicuously that it could have been much worse, and that’s a pretty persuasive assessment.

Does that by itself mean abandoning nuclear power? No. But it does mean that belittling the “could have been much worse” opinion might not be the best way to deal with it. I think one needs an argument which accepts that it *could* have been much worse, and actually addresses it — like how much worse could it have been, and why that’s acceptable.


“The impression I get from reading various articles is that it is only the radiation from the reactor that can fool your body into storing it whereas natural background radiation is not stored by the body. True or false?”

First, radiation is not stored, it’s emitted. So I think what you mean to say is radionuclides, or radioactive isotopes. In this case, the answer is false.

Let’s take potassium for example. You need potassium to live. Your body takes up the radioactive isotope of potassium (potassium-40) just like it takes up the stable form of potassium (potassium-39). It doesn’t matter if the potassium-40 was created naturally in a supernova explosion 5 billion years ago, or artificially 3 weeks ago in a laboratory. It’s taken up by your body and eliminated just like any other form of potassium.

Detailed information: Potassium-40


@jim – People learn to like with risk, and their perception of risk is inversely proportional to the novelty of the risk, not the facts, and not the probability. Like in everything: familiarity breeds contempt.

The funny thing is that during the Fifties and early Sixties when the fear of nuclear war was at an apex, no nuclear armed state had arsenals large enough, or reliable enough to successfully prosecute a nuclear war. However, in the Seventies, when military strategists were openly discussing preemptive strikes as legitimate elements of nuclear doctrine, and the number of deployed warheads, and their reliability was at a peek, nobody was panicking, and the conversation became rational.

I suspect that we have reached that juncture with nuclear energy with this event.


@shelby – the moderators here are quite good, actually – I’m surprised at the kind of stuff Prof Brook allows to be posted on his blog.

The problem is one of facts vs. supposition and assumption. If you are passionate about communication, then you must be aware that effective communication must be founded on facts.

Ineffective communication often contains true-but-misleading information, such as your comment about the two technicians that died at Fukushima Dai-ichi, which implied that they were killed by radiation (even if you didn’t state it outright) – the only reports I’ve seen about that stated that they went missing during the tsunami (and, honestly, a 10m tsunami and only 2 people missing out of the entire workforce? that’s remarkable!). If you have a factual report that states otherwise, then provide a link to it, and your post wont be edited by the moderators.

Your point about seeking the truth is very appropriate, though – much of the mainstream media reporting on this crisis has had scant regard for the truth – even now a quick search of news articles reveals some that are talking about having the bury the reactors under sand and concrete, and making direct comparisons with Chernobyl, when the latest, most factual information (as reported by Barry here) suggests things are very much getting under control.

And to your statement to the effect of “it would have been worse, but we got lucky”, I’d say this: no, we got extremely *unlucky*, for a nuclear plant to be hit by a 9.0 earthquake followed by a wall of water the height of a four-storey building. What saved the day, as it were, was good engineering that resulted in a reactor design that survived all that.

Are there safety improvements that could, nay should, be implemented, after seeing what happened at Fukushima? You betcha! After all, if a 40-year-old reactor design *nearly* comes through unscathed after such an event, then things are looking good for newer plants, which generally have much more robust designs (including getting rid of the requirement for external electric power during the cooldown period).


@gwideman, on 21 March 2011 at 2:13 PM:

Don’t forget that it’s winter there, with outdoor temperatures around (or below) freezing. It could be that 66ºC was about the equilibrium point, between heat generation by the spent fuel in those pools, and heat loss to the environment.


Huw Jones says “we need to and can spin this to our advantage”. One thing the pro-nuclear energy lobby has not been good at in the past has been PR. I’ve been reading this blog for a year or so, on and off, and have seen people like Finrod be scathing to and about people genuinely wanting to know more. I wrote: “I’m the kind of bloke you need to convince if you are to succeed politically.”
He replied: “No, you are not … You and your hard-core anti-nuclear cohort are a small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause.” With that, and some childish remarks from others, I lost interest in pursuing this issue.

Finrod: are you still arguing for fewer safety precautions in order to make nuclear energy more competitive cost-wise? Seems to me that after Fukushima that will be an even harder call than it was before.

While I’m here, let me mention that I’ve read “Prescription for the Planet” by Tom Blees. He seems to me to make a good case for the use of Integral Fast Reactors. Amongst other advantages, these solve what many people see as a problem: the treatment and storage of spent fuel rods. Are IFRs still on the drawing board?

Please note that active moderation has only recently been instituted at this blog (Prof Brook was going it alone in his own time)
Threads before the Fukushima incident may not have been moderated but all future threads will be – Assuming the mods can keep this up :-)


@DV82XL: OK thanks, I see where you are coming from re living with risk, but there is still a fundamental difference I think b/w risks we choose to live with because of other benefits (e.g. nuclear energy…) and risks we have to live with because they just exist (nuclear weapons….once created).
BTW I thought that the threat of nuclear attack (if not “war”) was actually pretty real in the 50 & 60s – esp Cuban missile crisis?
Anyway, apologies for the “red herring”, I was genuinely confused by your comment, but on reflection it was not important.


is a troll who has contributed nothing to the factual discussion at hand, other than trying to introuduce FUD as much as possible. I have tried to point this out to shelby, but this person has tried to post here as if it were a typical web dicsussion board. Please shelby, read the parameters for posting on this board.


Are you ready yet for some sharp criticism of failure to grasp that when the authorities that actually know the situation decide that a 20km evacuation of about 200,000 people is necessary under the worst possible circumstances following a major natural disaster then there IS a “serious” problem and there IS a “credible risk” of it getting much worse?

Terje’s proposal to update wikipedia with earthquake and tsunami design limits of existing reactors and “disown” some is the only constructive response I’ve seen so far.

Its remarkably close to recognizing that the nuclear industry at least in Japan is seriously under regulated and needs greater public scrutiny, especially from people supportive of nuclear power.


Here in the USA, CBS featured the Fukishima situation on their “60 Minutes” program this evening, somewhat delayed owing to the more pressing issue of college basketball (March madness).

I was expecting “Chicken Little” alarmism but the program was well balanced and sensible except for the US state department official in Japan [ad hom deleted] She was advocating expanding the 10 km evacuation radius to 50 km without any logical explanation.


As I mentioned here in the past a while ago well before this crisis evolved, Rod Adams has a history of asserting that he knows, and all others don’t know. Once he blogged that the Nobel Committee that awarded the only Nobel prize ever awarded to scientists studying the atmosphere, i.e. Crutzen, Rowland, and Molina, awarded the prize in error.

So now Rod argues, admitting his view is a minority in his profession, that the whole concern at Fukushima was a load of hokum, due to there was no possibility of a zirconium cladding fire.

This isn’t the type of argument that is going to pay off for nuclear advocacy.

I would have thought that a scientist, such as Barry, a distinguished scientist like Barry especially, could understand something about the way understanding is established in a scientific discipline.

If Rod is correct about what he thinks about the scientific case on ozone depletion, it also applies to climate change, because many of the same scientists are involved, and the same gases are involved. If science cannot be said to understand what the properties of a major driver of climate change is, i.e. ozone depleting gases are an important driver of climate change, they really can’t be said to understand climate change. The whole thing is liable to be bogus if it is this far off base.

I warned Barry that Rod was taking this position some time ago, and that views such as Rod’s were prevalent in the nuclear industry in the US, especially over climate.

By featuring Rod here telling us most of his industry and nuclear scientists don’t have a clue about what they are talking about, it is the same thing as having someone like Lord Monckton up there, let’s all pretend he isn’t going around telling everyone climate scientists don’t know anything, he’s saying something we want to believe about nuclear power that is so far off base even nuclear power people don’t generally believe it, why he says everyone in authority at Fukushima didn’t have a clue what to be concerned about, there was no problem if a spent fuel pool went dry.

It doesn’t matter if the authorities or Rod is correct about this one at this point.

Obviously, nuclear power is not understood enough to be fooling around with. If the industry doesn’t understand what it is fooling with enough to be able to tell us whether there is a problem or not while the crisis is on, THIS IS ROD’s POSITION, what are they doing scaring people with their preposterous blundering around declaring evacuation zones etc.

On the other hand, if Rod is mistaken, what is he doing up there being quoted by Barry? If Barry is right to quote Rod, then the whole “crisis” was a load of bull and Barry is wrong to have ever gone back on his position that there wasn’t much of a problem to when he said there was a threat.

What is going on here. This is turning into a madhouse.


That removal of my post was quite something to see you do.

Your post has been moved to Pending. Prof Brook is not on the blog right now and I would prefer he checked/edited it.


@David Lewis, on 21 March 2011 at 4:14 PM

Rod Adams wrote in that post “Please feel free to conduct experiments that would prove me wrong.”

Nothing I read in your comment addresses that. Do you know of any experiments that do so?

In my opinion your position seems to be based on fear though maybe I didn’t read it as thoroughly as I should have (it’s a little long, short on time). Can you please provide something more concrete.


Ms. Perps, on 21 March 2011 at 4:02 PM said:
I don’t see that the Japanese government is trying to hide information on radiation levels, as previous commenters have suggested. See link here

Please indicate who said the Japanese are trying to hide information?

The information is good for 20 March 2011, but the earthquake occurred on 11 March.

The link you provided, for Fukushima, is excellent for this 20 March date. Are you able to indicate the early reports.

I am interested in the previous weeks data for Fukushima monitoring stations;


The data for Iwaki (ie from Mito) seems a long way south. Is there a more northern Iwaki monitoring point? surely?

I am surprised that the weather column only addresses rain, why not wind direction and speed?


2jim – We will have to leave it at that, as were are drifting off topic, but you might want to take a closer look at new information that has come to light in the last decade about the Cold War, if you are interested to learn the differences between reality, and what was being assumed, by all of the players at that time.


The body stores radioactive isotopes rather than radiation.

Could you expand on this a bit more.
I assume that if, and only if, a body stores radioactive isotopes, then it stores radiation.
Also, if and only if, a body is storiing radiation, then it is storing radio active isotopes.
So what is your point?

“radiation” as used in the nuclear sense is beta, alpha or gamma radiation… “stuff” that gets emitted when radioactive atoms break down. This radiation in various forms can hurt you because that radiation can mess with your body. Radiation isn’t “stored” by the body. As a first order approximation think of it as a very bright light or heat: the light can burn you, but it doesn’t get stored in you in any manner. Nor can radiation travel in the wind, water or food.

What CAN travel are the radioactive isotopes that, when they decay, produce radiation. Your body can’t tell the difference between normal Iodine and radioactive Iodine. They’re the same for all purposes except that the atoms of radioactive Iodine undergo “radioactive decay”, that is, they self destruct and in doing so they emit the above described radiation which, in turn MAY cause damage to other nearby molecules.. like DNA.

Why is this relevant ? Well, the workers at the nuclear plant, which is coming from e.g. the possibly uncovered fuel rods and from radioactive chemicals that have escaped in the steam releases, possible fires etc and have been deposited around the site because its intensity drops off very quickly. That’s why at times of high radiation the workers had to “clear out” for a while.

People away from the site don’t generally have to worry about any of that radiation that’s being emitted at the site itself. Instead, they have to worry about radioactive atoms (iodine, cesium and possibly many others) that get into the air or water etc. If you get the radioactive stuff ON you, you can just wash it off and generally you’ll be fine (that’s what “decontamination” often means: wash the radioactive stuff off). If the radioactive stuff gets IN you, then it’s potentially more of a problem because it’s harder to wash people on the inside than on the outside.

(incidentally, i’ve been pretty surprised just how much “radiation” and “radioactive material” have been used interchangeably in the MSM coverage. In fact i don’t know that i heard the distinction clearly drawn in a single CNN, NYTimes or even NHK article )


Please feel free to conduct experiments to prove me wrong is Rod’s idea of a joke. No one has ever filled a spent fuel pool up with spent fuel rods from several nuclear reactors then drained the water out to see what would happen. The only people who ever would do that have billions of dollars at their disposal.

Computer simulation done in US national labs means nothing to Rod. A computer simulation done by a US national lab is the best assessment we’ve got and they say what can happen if a pool doesn’t have water in it and even if it is only partially full, is a propagating zirconium fire.


I’ve been reading this blog for a year or so, on and off, and have seen people like Finrod be scathing to and about people genuinely wanting to know more. I wrote: “I’m the kind of bloke you need to convince if you are to succeed politically.”
He replied: “No, you are not … You and your hard-core anti-nuclear cohort are a small and increasingly marginalised minority whose chief value lies in remaining what you are so as to provide an easy target for criticism and ridicule in service to the pro-nuclear cause.”

Correct. The optimal strategy for anti-nukes at the moment is to present themselves (in the guise of the environmental movement) as the key demographic to bring on board for the pro-nuclear cause. If they can convince us of this, they can control the pace of progress towards (or away from) the goal. They have occasionally had some success with this strategy. They must not be permitted to enjoy any more of that.

Finrod: are you still arguing for fewer safety precautions in order to make nuclear energy more competitive cost-wise? Seems to me that after Fukushima that will be an even harder call than it was before.

You have me mixed up with Peter Lang. My position is that the modern Gen III+ designs are sufficiently safe and are so far through the design and regulatory approval process that it would actually cost more to impliment the ‘savings’ Peter believed could be achieved.


The body stores radioactive isotopes rather than radiation.
The body stores glucose & fat rather than energy.

It might be regarded as semantics to some, but the distinction needs to be understood.



I did see a recent clip from a US news show (some local San Francisco TV station) that was interviewing some grad students from UC Berkeley where they applied an acetylene blow torch to a zirconium fuel rod (sans nuclear material, one presumes). This did seem to show that the cladding itself would not catch fire under these circumstances.

Is there a reason why this cannot be extrapolated to the fuel pond case?



Now that BNC is returning to more normal loads the moderators intend to return to more normal lives.
As a result, please be warned that, any comment violating any of the Commenting Rules will be immediately removed to Pending for review and will not be edited. Most notably please keep to the relevance of the post and do not wander off into personal opinions philosophies. Open Threads where this can be done are instituted from time to time by the host of the blog.
A reminder of the Commenting Rulles:

BNC Commenting Rules
Comments Policy — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned, and then disemvowelled.
Civility – Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.
Relevance – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
Disclaimer — The views expressed on this website are my own or my contributors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Adelaide or the Government of South Australia.


These update threads are going down the toilet in terms of utility. Early on in the crisis, they were a great source of info and knowledge ( posts from em1ss, Luke Hanson, and Seamus and a few others), but now they are deteriorating into political debate and sniping by people who clearly don’t know as much as they think they do. I wish the mods would limit the update threads to informational and on point posts only, the other stuff I can get at about a million different sites.
I have just returned and discovered the hens loose in the henhouse:-)
I have removed many comments violating commenting rules, particularly about the RELEVANCE of the thread. Prof Brook will decide what to do with them.


This whole discussion of Gen III+ design features is off topic to this post. Please take it over to the most recent ‘Open Thread’. This is my one and only ‘suggestion’ on this matter.


All workers have now been pulled out due to steam rising from reactor 3. The BBC is reporting that no increase in radiation has been detected.


Grayish smoke was seen billowing from a building that houses the No. 3 reactor of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station on Monday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

After the smoke was spotted at the southeast of the building around 3:55 p.m., TEPCO said it had temporarily evacuated its workers from the site as it assessed the situation.


Barry sorry about the off topic replies. Won’t continue that since people are on this thread to get updates about the situation in Japan.


Sorry for the accidental spam, but I just realized I have a Gravatar account so I will post using it instead. Here’s what I meant to ask:

Barry (or any others who might know):
I have a couple of questions.

1) Why was Daini OK? Looks like all its reactors are in cold shutdown and yet it got an even bigger tsunami; why didn’t its backup systems get trashed too?
2) How long until they will be able to move the nuclear material away from Daiichi to a safer location, once it is stabilized? If I were the Japanese, I would be worried about another earthquake/tsunami coming along and trashing Daiichi again.


sorry, JM, but this is complete BS:

“Fukushima is the heart of ancient Japan and the source of pretty much all of their culture – from their diet to their arts and crafts. It is also the center of their agriculture and if it becomes impossible to source rice, fish and other staples from it then the impact will be great.”

I am unwilling to provide a point by point rebuke, because it can be easily falsified by a wikipedia-search.


PS: Barry, it’s getting harder and harder to read here. This site was a great news source but lately the signal to noise ration has massively worsened.

Could you please filter out all this crap? I think in these status threads absolutely ONLY status of the plants should be discussed and anything Japan, nuclear general be put somewhere else. i want info – not discussion.
It looks like I can’t take a break without chaos setting in!
Barry and I are working on the problems now. I have sent severasl off topic posts to Barry for action.



A question

If the people within the 30km zone who have been told to stay indoors have now been told not to drink tap water, how are they to get access to water? Can they pop out to the shops quickly? Would bottled water from the shops be safe? Are the shops even operating at this time or are there people delivering them supplies? Also, how long is it likely that they will be advised not to drink the water ?

“Japan’s health ministry has urged some residents near the plant to stop drinking tap water after high levels of radioactive iodine were detected.”


BBC: Smoke emitted by No3 for about 2 hours. Staff withdrawn as precautionary measure. No increase in radiation detected.
Another plume of smoke from No2 later. Radiation not yet assessed.
Causes unknown.


“If the people within the 30km zone who have been told to stay indoors have now been told not to drink tap water, how are they to get access to water?”

They have been (from the very start) instructed to follow standard radiation safety guidelines when venturing outside can’t be avoided. This is, wearing a mask or a scarf to protect their airways, not eating or drinking anything that has been exposed to the air outside, brushing their clothes before entering a building, and washing their hands and face every time they have been outside.

These simple guidelines can easily limit the exposure to one tenth or less compared with not following them. Having a better protective mask will further reduce the exposure dramatically. I suspect (and hope) that protective masks have been distributed to the inhabitants


Would that help the situation? In a water pool the heat is removed effectively by convection but if encased in concrete which is a pretty good insulator you’d generate much higher local temperatures. Isn’t that why these rods go to the water pool in the first instance before going to dry cask storage?


@ EssGee, on 21 March 2011 at 1:58 PM said:

“My query is that, as a power station it must have lines supplying the grid, why those existing lines could not be used to draw power from the grid. May be the grid lines suffered extensive damage due to earth quake!”

The earthquake may have demolished the transformer yard, which I guess would commonly supply power to the grid at 300kV or above. The station auxilaries would be fed from much lower voltage supplies, typically 11kV in power stations I have worked in. My guess is that the new power lines – the long extension lead, if you wish, is at a much lower voltage than the HV grid.

I also guess that damage to transformers and switchgear would make recommissioning of the HV switchyards a very difficult proposition, or at least much more difficult than, say, working with 11kV and a few much smaller step down transformers, right down to 110VAC, or whatever the lowest voltage supplies to battery chargers, etc, require.

In summary – What is needed is auxiliary supply at and below about 11kV, not main HV transmission voltages of 300kV or thereabouts. Chalk and cheese.


Does anyone know if this claim is true? If so why haven’t the media highlighted this? Shows problems with all kinds of power sources when subjected to catastrophic natural disasters.

“When the magnitude-9 earthquake hit Japan last Friday week, a dam used for hydroelectric power in the Fukushima district collapsed, obliterating, according to some reports, 1800 homes. It is not known how many people were killed in the torrent, but it is likely to be hundreds at least”


Sir, would you please be so kind as to tell me what you did with the comment? I’m not deleted, not not deleted, not rerouted, i feel like i’m hangin in mid air. Not withstanding the value of any other opinion, its dead serious to me and i put in quite some effort to put it together. I can provide argument for my statements.

[ED: I can’t find it in the trash can, I guess it got mulched – sorry! I do appreciate that it must have taken you some time to compose.]


@John Morgan, on 21 March 2011 at 10:36 PM:
I’d have thought that water can act in two ways to reduce heat buildup in spent fuel storage tanks.
1. Convection, including to a point where pumps can circulate the water through coolers.
2. Interception of the nutron flux emanating from individual fuel rods, thus reducing subcritical reactions and thus speeding the overall reduction of radioactive processes within the rod bundles.
Concrete can act only in the second way, but has a bulk density of about 2.3 times that of water. There is much more mass between the rods.

Perhaps someone better informed than I am can set me straight if I have erred in the above – I’m no expert.


Funny how the mainstream news only focuses on the negative. Let’s not forget about all that went right. Automatic shut down of the active units, EDG’s ran until the Tsunami hit, the battery backup systems worked for its designed life expectancy, remote monitoring, containment integrity and Etc. Towns were literally swept away leaving the utility worked the problem with almost zero resources. I think a lot can be learned from this event. Not just con but pro as well.


I have a copy and its a response on response on earlier comments i made. What do you suggest i do? I dread not post it in the first place, but i do ow explanation.
Please re-post on the Fukushima Open Thread


Ms Perps, we are heading off topic with this talk about hydro, but I will try for relevance. Russia, 2009 – 75 die due to hydro dam failure. China, as noted by you, 20,000 plus due to hydro dam failure.

Japan, as noted by SMH this weekend, somewhere between zero and a handful – perhaps more – but all deaths were to workers on site and not to local residents. At this stage, not even one confirmed death at Fukushima due to radiation.

I will be watching Barry’s posts, and others’, closely, for final analysis of fatalities, if any, due to radiation at Fukushima. Bravo SMH!


@John Bennetts

While there may be a few subcritical fissions happening to the fuel in the pool, the heat from these reactions is many orders of magnitude lower than the decay heat from the fission products.


Many thanks, nkinnear. We can forget about either water or concrete to slow down the remaining few reactions. Concrete must be all about shielding and locking in radioactive dusts, etc. Or am I still muddle headed? Water, it seems to me, is much to be preferred, provided that the bath has not been cracked.


Whether it ultimately is proven that a propagating zirconium cladding fire was the threat the 2006 US national laboratory simulations indicated it was, or this possibility is eventually proven to be not credible, the fact is that after Fukushima, more data than applying a torch to some zirconium will be demanded by many.

I think it will have to be supplied if the nuclear industry wants some kind of future.

Here is an exerpt from a Stephen Chu speech:

“Just as advanced computer modeling has revolutionized aircraft design-predicting how any slight adjustment to a wing design will affect the overall performance of the airplane, for example-we are working to apply modeling and simulation technologies to accelerate nuclear R&D. Scientists and engineers will be able to stand in the center of a virtual reactor, observing coolant flow, nuclear fuel performance, and even the reactor’s response to changes in operating conditions. To achieve this potential, we are bringing together some of our nation’s brightest minds to work under one roof in a new research center called the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Hub”

One reason the US felt it was possible to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, and although it did not ratify, what allows it to continue to live up to its terms, is because computer simulation based on the known properties of materials makes it possible to certify the safety and effectiveness of its current stock of nuclear weapons. The last US bomb test was in 1992.

That 2006 report on spent fuel pool risk of zirconium cladding fire also cited ongoing studies that were not completed by the time the report had to be finalized, as well as the studies that were available.

It is a bit hard for me to understand how it could possibly be that the best assessment of the latest work was not conveyed to the senior authorities during the worst of the Fukushima uncertainty.

Everything will come out in the investigation that will be forthcoming.

What this industry needs is a better idea of what can happen in these unlikely scenarios. If they can simulate atomic bombs with computers they can simulate reactor meltdowns and loss of pool coolant events, if not in 2006, and even if not now, its got to be soon, re read the exerpt from Chu.

And if people are really going to insist that simulation is not the real world of water, zirconium, and ceramic, therefore we should listen to them when they tell us nothing can happen, there are going to have to be underground testing of fuel pools and reactor meltdowns at sufficient scale to be convincing or this industry will not have much of a future. Just predicting.


Grey smoke? Grey is not good. White may be just water vapour, but grey implies something more dire.

Why is it grey?



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