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spent fuel

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.