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nuclear energy

Fukushima: Willy Wonka and the Radiation Factory

One would be forgiven for feeling a weight on one’s soul with each sporadic, slowly unfolding fragment of unfortunate news from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor crisis.  While not newsworthy in an “info-entertainment” sense it is probably inevitable that we continue to follow the sombre narrative as if a friend or acquaintance was declining slowly:


The government expects that several months may be required before radioactive particles stop being released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, its top spokesman said Sunday.

”If we apply methods considered to be normal, I believe that it will be something like that,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference, when asked whether at least several months would be required before the plant crippled by the devastating March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami is brought under control.

Several months needed to stop radiation from Fukushima plant: gov’t Kyodo 3 Apr 11

NYT caption: In an image provided by Tokyo Electric Power Company, contaminated water from the crippled No. 2 reactor is seen leaking through a crack and draining into the ocean at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northern Japan on Saturday.

But several months of what?:


Experts estimate that about seven tons an hour of radioactive water is escaping the pit. Safety officials have said that the water, which appears to be coming from the damaged No. 2 reactor, contains one million becquerels per liter of iodine 131, or about 10,000 times the levels normally found in water at a nuclear plant.

Hiroko Tabuchi and Ken Belson – Efforts to Plug Japanese Reactor Leak Seem to Fail NYT 3 Apr 11

OK, we are surely getting a crash course on nuclear physics and public safety as the ramifications of the continuing radiation impacts are quantified locally and in the world at large.

Fukushima Open Thread: "Creeping Disaster"

Unlike most incidents which threaten lives or public safety the Fukushima Daiichi crisis is unfolding slowly but seems headed towards an unpleasant range of potential outcomes:


“We are experiencing an ongoing, massive release of radioactivity,” says Wolfram K├Ânig, head of Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection. “And everyone should know by now that this isn’t over by a long shot.” Nuclear expert Helmut Hirsch says: “All I hear is that people are wondering whether this will turn into a meltdown. But the thing is, it already is a partial meltdown.” The difference, in this case, is that Fukushima is a creeping disaster.

How Dangerous Is Japan’s Creeping Nuclear Disaster? Der Spiegel 28 Mar 11

Work on restoring the stricken site, despite heroic efforts, has been virtually halted by unexpected obstacles and prohibitive radiation levels in and around the plant, especially near Unit No 2:


Tokyo Electric Power Company announced on Monday that a puddle of water was found in a [service] trench outside the No. 2 reactor turbine building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Sunday afternoon. It said the radiation reading on the puddle’s surface indicated more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour.

Radioactive water in external tunnels NHK 29 Mar 11

TEPCO has no specific explanation for these levels; at 1000 mSv/hr a fifteen-minute exposure would consume even the higher radiation limits set for workers during this incident.

Known Unknowns: The Ongoing Crisis at Fukushima

As the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant recedes from mainstream media coverage the situation is presumed to be stabilising, largely because TEPCO and the Japanese government have confined themselves to positive news regarding cooling operations and the restoration of mains electricity power to the site.

Recently we have had reports of some food and water contamination in Fukushima Prefecture and reassurances that the situation is not worsening at the four crippled reactors and that radiation levels are remaining low.  The story, as far as the media is concerned, has largely become one of human interest regarding the clearly heroic efforts of staff and volunteers at the site.  But serious questions remain unanswered and largely unmentioned, specifically regarding the most threatening risks at the plant:

Edward Morse, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, added that it will take huge amounts of water to compensate for the cracks in the containment pools that were uncovered by U.S. surveillance aircraft on Friday.

“The best thing to do is use as much of the Pacific Ocean as possible,” he said.

Ralph Vartabedian, W J Hennigan and Thomas H Maugh II What are the options for containing Fukushima’s radioactive emissions? LAT via Bellingham Herald 18 Mar 11

Say what?  “Cracks in the containment pools that were uncovered by U.S. surveillance aircraft on Friday?”

Containment Breach Suspected at Fukushima

Along with the report of an internal explosion at the Fukushima No 2 reactor reports of what seems to be at least a partial reactor containment breach have been made:


Part of the container of a troubled nuclear reactor appears to be damaged, the Japanese government said today, a development that could indicate the possibility of serious radiation leaks.

Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told reporters “damage appears on the suppression pool” – the bottom part of the container that contains water used to cool the reactor and control air pressure inside.

“But we have not recorded any sudden jump in radiation indicators,” Mr Edano said, without elaborating.

Japan fears damage to reactor container AFP via ABC 14 Mar 11

TEPCO reports the partial evacuation of operators from the facility.  Previously there was a report of an explosion at Fukushima No 2:


TOKYO – Japan’s nuclear safety agency says an explosion has been heard at Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. An agency spokesman speaking Tuesday on national television said the explosion was heard at 6:10 a.m.

Japanese agency: Explosion heard at nuclear plant AP via Yahoo News 14 Mar 11

In the TEPCO news conference recently the translator mentioned that the explosion was heard “…in the vicinity of the reactor.”