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Friday, May 13, 2011

Reading the Pictures: Unit 4 in Danger of Collapse? (And Then, Don't Tell Me There's Nothing To See at Fukushima)

Michael Shaw Huffingtonpost.com 5-13-11

Beyond the novelty that Fukushima was back in the news at all, two things characterize Thursday's BBC update. One is how shockingly brief it is, like a dashed of summary. The other is the almost casual tone it takes in listing through the nightmarish situations throughout the plant, especially the acknowledged meltdown in Unit 1.

It is often noted that the Fukushima story remains invisible because radiation is invisible, and/or the plant photos and video being released by TEPCO are also too abstract or technical. That begs the question, then, just how much is the danger hard to visualize as opposed to how much does the world (especially traditional media) have its eyes closed?
One piece of visible information that has floating to the surface in the past few days, by way of indy media and the blogosphere, regards the structural integrity of Unit 4.  Dr. Robert Jacobs, a Nuclear Historian at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, offered the diagram above in an interview on Tuesday with Russia Today. According to Jacobs (which he says has been confirmed by the Japanese Government) , Unit 4 is starting to lean, a collapse certain to expose the fuel rod pools at the top of the building.
(It's not like there isn't a trail of additional images in the 'sphere, as well, by the way -- all available for vetting by a more curious media. Following the de-evolution of Unit 4, for example, blogger Andrew Higgins offers screen shots of the building reduced to a shell over the first week in May. Higgins, using screen shots purportedly from Japanese television, also reports a fire at the plant on May 8th associated with a radiation spike, both of which, he claims, went unreported on the same day big media cited a Government-touted drop in radiation levels.)
Certainly, TEPCO did not neglect Unit 4 as a visual subject, at least in the early weeks after the disaster.
Since April 11 th, however, the only pictures TEPCO has released of Unit 4 have been video downloads, taken underwater of the fuel rod pools, one released on April 29th and the other on May 8th.
So, I guess -- and Dr. Jacob's fuzzy and disturbing illustration drives this home -- what we're sadly lacking from Fukushima (the vagaries of science and radiation as much an excuse as a reason) is a bigger and much better picture of this still-boiling disaster.

NRC Changes Tune On Plant Safety

Tom Zeller, Jr. Huffingtonpost.com 5-13-11

Crtics of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission received fresh ammunition on Thursday when the agency revealed that many of the nation's aging nuclear power plants would be ill-equipped to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The revelation stood in direct contrast to repeated statements made by the agency -- and by the nuclear power industry -- in the days and weeks following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It suffered a partial meltdown, resulting in a massive release of radiation that is still not under control.
"U.S. nuclear power plants are built to withstand environmental hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis," the agency asserted in an official statement published on March 12. "Even those plants that are located outside of areas with extensive seismic activity are designed for safety in the event of such a natural disaster. The N.R.C. requires that safety-significant structures, systems, and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically estimated for the site and surrounding area."
This assertion was greeted with skepticism by residents near some nuclear power plants -- particularly those in areas prone to earthquakes, like San Luis Obispo, Calif., which sits in the shadow of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility. Local activists have long tussled with both the plant's operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the NRC over what they see as woefully inadequate plans to deal with a temblor arising from one of several nearby faults.
But after being briefed by a task force charged with reviewing the vulnerability of the nation's plants to natural disasters like those that struck Japan, the NRC appeared less certain that all 104 nuclear facilities were prepared for the worst. According to the New York Times:
[T]he staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged that the agency’s current regulations and disaster plans did not give enough consideration to two factors that had greatly contributed to the continuing Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan: simultaneous problems at more than one reactor and a natural disaster that disrupts roads, electricity and other infrastructure surrounding a plant.
The revelations come on the heels of two lengthy investigations published this week by ProPublicaand the Center for Public Integrity into the long-standing risk of fire at nuclear power plants. That threat is among the many problems that have come under increased scrutiny at the nation's power plants -- and at the commission itself -- in the wake of the disaster in Japan.
Now, despite the agency's early assurances that nuclear facilities in the U.S. were better prepared for challenges like those that devastated Fukushima, NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said Thursday that the disaster was instructive.
“Because of those lessons, we’ll be changing the way we do business, and the way the industry does business, in this country," Jaczko said.

From Washingtonsblog.com 

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2011

THREE Nuclear Containment Vessels Leaking in Japan ... But U.S. Law Is Based on Assumption that It Is Impossible for Containment Vessels to Leak

It is newsworthy that the operator of Japan's stricken nuclear plants is finally admittingthat Fukushima reactor number 1 has melted down.

But nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that the containment vessels for reactors 1, 2 and 3 are all leaking.

However, Gundersen points out, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission assumes that containment vessels cannot leak and there is a "zero probability of containment leakage". U.S.. nuclear laws are based around that obviously false assumption.

Fukushima - One Step Forward and Four Steps Back as Each Unit Challenged by New Problems from Fairewinds Associates on Vimeo.
As I've previously demonstrated, the NRC is wholly captured by the nuclear industry.

Similarly, Reuters points out :
"TEPCO seems to be going backwards in getting the situation under control and things may well be slowly eroding with all the units having problems," said Tom Clements with Friends of the Earth, a U.S.-based environmental group.

"At this point, TEPCO still finds itself in unchartered waters and is not able to carry out any plan to get the situation under control," he said.
As I discussed yesterday, Tepco has grossly mismanaged its response to the nuclear accident. The whole "douse the reactors" approach has failed miserably.

Indeed, as the Guardian notes, flooding the reactors could cause new explosions:

Greenpeace has urged Tepco to abandon plans to flood the container with water, given the likelihood that melted fuel has damaged it. Shaun Burnie, nuclear adviser to Greenpeace Germany, said: "Flooding a reactor that has fuel [that has fallen] through the pressure vessel is not a good idea."
Outlining a worst-case scenario, Burnie said very large amounts of cold water hitting the melted fuel could cause an explosion, trigger substantial damage to the reactor and create a "high risk of atmospheric release running for days, if not weeks." He added: "I think [the flooding option] will now be scrapped."
"It seems to be poorly thought through," he said, adding that the firm had not demonstrated that the strategy could work.

There are various proposals for solving the Japanese nuclear crisis. As physicist Michio Kaku said only days after the accident:
What they are doing is basically using squirt guns against a raging forest fire.


Do what Gorbachev did, call out the Japanese air force, get the army to bring a fleet of helicopters armed with sand, boric acid and concrete, entomb it, bury it in concrete.
As Reuters reports:
U.S. nuclear experts said that the company may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years.

"If it is assumed the fuel did melt through the reactor, then the most likely solution is to encapsulate the entire unit. This may include constructing a concrete wall around the unit and building a protective cover over it," W. Gene Corley, senior vice president of CTL Group in Skokie, Illinois, said on Thursday.

"Because of the high radiation that would be present if this has happened, the construction will take many months and may stretch into years," Corley said.
But since Fukushima is right on the Pacific Ocean, burying it in concrete would not necessarily stop leakage into the ocean.

As Reuters reports, Gundersen might have a better - although technically difficult - approach:
TEPCO should consider digging a trench around reactors 1-3 all the way down to the bedrock, which is about 50 feet below the surface, said Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates Inc of Burlington, Vermont, who once worked on reactors of similar design to the Fukushima plant.

He said this should be filled with zeolite, which can absorb radioactive cesium to stop more poisons from leaking into the groundwater around the plant.


THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2011

Operator of Japan's Stricken Nuclear Plant Has Been "Going Round and Round in Circles" Using the Wrong Approach

Reactor 1

Tepco says that the fuel rods at Fukushima reactor 1 are exposed. As Bloomberg notes:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said fuel rods are fully exposed in the No. 1 reactor at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.
The water level is 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said. The company doesn’t know how long the rods have been exposed, he said.
It’s unlikely the situation has worsened with the discovery the rods are exposed because they’ve probably been out of the water since shortly after the crisis started, Narabayashi said.
Indian Express notes:
TEPCO today said new measurements taken this week, after workers in protective suits fixed gauges in the badly-hit reactor one building, indicated that water pumped into the pressure vessel had quickly leaked out.
The Telegraph points out:
One of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant did suffer a nuclear meltdown, Japanese officials admitted for the first time today, describing a pool of molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel.


The company is worried that the molten pool of radioactive fuel may have burned a hole through the bottom of the containment vessel, causing water to leak.
Bloomberg quotes a top nuclear expert as saying that Tepco has been going about it all wrong:
“I’ve been saying from the beginning the water tomb plan won’t work,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of nuclear engineering at Hokkaido University. “Tepco must work on a water circulation cooling system as soon as possible. They’ve been going round and round in circles and now realize this is what they need to do.”
Even Tepco is admitting they must change course:
“The plan needs to be revised,” Matsumoto said. “We can’t deny the possibility that a hole in the pressure vessel caused water to leak.”
Reactor 2As discussed below, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has repeatedly said that nuclear reactions likely occurred long after the tsunami hit.
Now, as MIT's Technology Review notes:
Tetsuo Matsui at the University of Tokyo, says the limited data from Fukushima indicates that nuclear chain reactions must have reignited at Fuksuhima up to 12 days after the accident.

He says the ratios from drains at reactors 1 and 3 at Fukushima are consistent with the nuclear reactions having terminated at the time of the earthquake.
However, the data from the drain near reactor 2 and from the cooling pond at reactor 4, where spent fuel rods are stored, indicate that the reactions must have been burning much later.
So things in reactor 2 must have been extremely dangerous right up to the end of March.
Reactor 3
Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen suspects that the huge explosion at reactor number 3 was a nuclear explosion, where the initial hydrogen explosion triggered a "prompt criticality" which spewed radiation high into the air:

Gundersen Postulates Unit 3 Explosion May Have Been Prompt Criticality in Fuel Poolfrom Fairewinds Associates on Vimeo.
As WSWS notes:
Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, who has spent 39 years working in the nuclear industry and now acts as an expert witness, has suggested that the explosion in Number 3 building at Fukushima on March 14 may have been more serious than has so far been admitted.
Gundersen argues that an initial hydrogen explosion caused a prompt criticality in the spent-fuel rod pool at the top of the Number 3 reactor building. Prompt criticality is the term used in the nuclear industry for an exponential increase in the number of fission events. That is to say a runaway nuclear chain reaction may have taken place in the spent fuel rods.
Gundersen postulates that the upward vector, the upward thrust, from the explosion in Building 3 may have been sufficient to carry radioactive isotopes from the fuel rods into the atmosphere and to disperse them over many thousands of miles. He points out that uranium has been found on Hawaii, americium has been found in New England and plutonium dust has been found on the Fukushima site. These latter elements are transuranic, i.e. heavier than uranium, and indicate that nuclear fuel was volatilized at Fukushima.
Reactor 4
The building housing reactor 4 is leaning, and Tepco is attempting to shore it up so it doesn't fall over:

As I noted last month, very high radiation levels were showing up in the containment vessel of reactor 4, even though that reactor was supposedly shut down before the earthquake. Since I posted that article, the Japan's nuclear agency has removed all readings for reactor 4. 

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