Japan Nuke Plant Explosion

This is going to be a ‘rough’ posting. I’m just tossing here some things that don’t need to be buried in the comments of the Quake posting (and you don’t need to sit through 20 graphics loading either).

The diagram of the GE Mark I reactor in Japan:

BWR Mark I Containment cutaway

BWR Mark I Containment cutaway

Original Full Sized Image

First off, an explosion happened at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant.

UPDATE: We’re up to two explosions, and a third reactor may be having issues.

To me, it looks looked like it was a pump building behind the “big cubes” that I think contains the nuclear core and containment dome. Both CNN and Fox have had video of the explosion and they clearly show that the “tall towers” are between the camera and the “Cubes” and something behind that blows up. (UPDATE: Clearly now with better video we can see that the top of the outside building, the ‘weather shell’, of the reactor building itself, has blown off in what was most likely a hydrogen explosion. Not a very big deal really, but dramatic.)

Some video (all that’s available at the moment):

From RT, at about 1:40 you can see the layout of the site fairly well:

Here, you can see the explosion at about 47 seconds:

In comments on the Japan Quake thread:


Now I am a graduate of the Naval Nuclear Power Program and from everything I have heard on the news this is a meltdown in progress. Yes I know they still couch it as “possible” but that is the same thing they did for TMI and that was a meltdown in progress and was able to be stopped partially thru.

Now on to the video, the roof didn’t collapse from what I saw: it blew off. You can see the pressure wave lifting it off IMHO, then you get the dust cloud from the walls collapsing inward.

Now on that whole “the US is bringing in emergency coolant” reports from earlier was total PR. The problem was you need to circulate the coolant through the core and since the emergency generators were all DEAD that means the pumps don’t run. When the pumps don’t run, you can’t cool the reactor (unless it has an emergency passive system, but even that is short term see TMI). The problem wasn’t the lack of coolant, it was that the coolant was heating up past the flash point to steam and when that happens the pressure increases, thus starting to expose the core, thus generating more heat and the cycle continues. So that increased pressure could cause the explosion.



Ralph B

I believe those plants are BWR’s (boiling water reactors). It’s not necessary to circulate water (which is the coolant) just necessary to get some in the core. For them to not be able to do that implies severe damage inside the plant. I have been an operator at both PWR’s and BWR’s. Typically you have steam, diesel and electric driven feed pumps (at least in the US, Japan may not have the same requirements). As long as you have water and a way to get it in then keeping the core cool is easy…just vent the steam. BWR’s have a large ring called the torus filled partially with water and the steam from the reactor will get vented and quenched there.
It appears the steam line may be sheared so the steam driven auxFW pump isn’t working and maybe the quake threw the diesel off its mounts. The electric of course still needs electricity. Worst case scenario was we could always tie fire engines in and fill the drywell (containment which houses the core)
NNPS class 8304…

In this picture, the part to the right with all the pumps and turbines is what I think blew up.

BWR Layout

BWR Layout

Original and Larger image

a) This is going to be a major mess.

b) Nukes are going to have a very hard time for a couple of years.

c) Companies in the nuclear business are going to ‘have issues’ for a while.

d) It’s a good idea to have an emergency kit that includes iodine tablets and gas masks. Mine does.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Political Current Events. Bookmark the permalink.

346 Responses to Japan Nuke Plant Explosion

  1. boballab says:

    Copied from old quake thread:


    This Reactor is a BWR style reactor not a PWR and they are susceptible to steam explosions from ta complete ECCS failure especially in older versions of the design such as Fukushima I:

    Fukushima I-1 Futaba, Fukushima BWR 439 Operational March 1971 東京電力 – TEPCO


    Though the present fleet of BWRs are less likely to suffer core damage from the 1 in 100,000 reactor-year limiting fault than the present fleet of PWRs are (due to increased ECCS robustness and redundancy) there have been concerns raised about the pressure containment ability of the as-built, unmodified Mark I containment – that such may be insufficient to contain pressures generated by a limiting fault combined with complete ECCS failure that results in extremely severe core damage. In this double worst-case, 1 in 100,000,000 reactor-year scenario, an unmodified Mark I containment is speculated to allow some degree of radioactive release to occur. However, this is mitigated by the modification of the Mark I containment; namely, the addition of an outgas stack system that, if containment pressure exceeds critical setpoints, will allow the orderly discharge of pressurizing gasses after the gasses pass through activated carbon filters designed to trap radionuclides.


    Now before I get into the steam release part and what “I think” happened there is one more thing to show:

    The reactor vessel and associated components operate at a substantially lower pressure (about 75 times atmospheric pressure) compared to a PWR (about 158 times atmospheric pressure).


    Ok notice that this reactor is supposed to operate at a much lower pressure then a PWR. I was trained on a PWR and that brings up a HUGE problem. Before I had to get some sleep it was stated on the news that pressure inside the reactor had reached 2000psi, that is higher then the operating pressure of the PWR reactor I was trained on. So for a reactor that was suppose to operate at less then half the pressure of a PWR and it ends up with a higher pressure then a PWR, that is a big problem.

    This brings up the next point, there is suppose to be a pressure relief valve as shown in the one blurb I shown. Matter of fact it was a pressure relief valve that got stuck open that started the TMI disaster, however if the pressure in this BWR got this high and it didn’t open automatically like it was suppose to that shows a problem. This is further supported from News reports that they were attempting to release “steam” manually. They did that once and was reported, however the pressure would start building up again.

    Now here is what I think happened (remember this is only speculation on my part based on news reports and my training). The pressure started building up again and they wanted to relieve the pressure. This time unlike the first time something went wrong and the what happened was an explosive release of the Steam Pressure which resulted in what we saw. Side not as I was writing this CNN just reported that building did have it’s roof blown off, however didn’t catch which (if named) building it was.

  2. boballab says:

    Ralph the smoke from the explosion looks to be from the concrete walls when they blew out. Think of the dust when the Twin Towers collapsed in NYC or when a demoltion company does a controlled collapse of a building with explosives: They have large lingering concrete dust clouds.

    NNPS Class 8602…

  3. boballab says:

    Ack forgot to put this up there is a nice Internal component layout of a BWR on the Wiki page:


  4. boballab says:

    NHK is reporting that before the explosion the core was exposed 90 centimeters and they are expanding the evac range to 20km. Also the #2 plant has lost all cooling as well.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like a pretty good writeup to me on the situtation leading up to the ‘kaboom’… looks like 10 or so shutdown (hope more of them not having cooling issues…)

    and describes the rector types.

  6. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

  7. boballab says:

    According to the Japanese Government the Pressure Vessel is intact

  8. j ferguson says:

    E.M., Boballab & co,
    thanks much for providing this forum for intelligent, informed, speculation and discussion and having the insight and experience to share with us. Maybe we can get past the 10 days of nonsense about these events which are usually the delay before the media finally “get it.”

    btw, E.M. thanks much for your earlier remarks re:pots. I’ve been tied up discovering that you don’t simply move a hard disk from a Toshiba to a new HP notebook and expect it to work. Linux did, but not XP.

    seems like using steam to drive the emergency pumps is a good idea since there would be plenty of steam assuming it is where it can be piped to the pumps.

  9. John Silver says:

    You have posted too early.
    A hydrogen explosion blew off the siding from the weather roofing that covers the reactor. The steel frame is intact.

    The rector is not damaged.
    The increase in radiation is not correlated to the explosion, it was normal venting when the pressure increased. After that the level went back to normal.

    This of course this does not mean the ecofascists will not use it to full extent.

  10. M. Goad says:

    This is bad, if accurate.

    If the explosion was caused by hydrogen, there are a couple of possible sources.

    One of those would non-related to the reactor and that would be as a result of a leak of the gas coolant that is used in the electrical generators. Generator hydrogen fires and explosions have occurred in a number of plants around the world, most of them at plants powered by coal or other fossil fuels.

    Another possible source would H2 generated from a damaged core. If there has been core damage to the point that hydrogen is being released, then this is a “severe accident.”

    Wikipedia is saying that they will be using sea water to cool the core and adding boric acid to prevent criticality.

    These are “severe accident” mitigation strategies and are likely preplanned.

    United States nuclear power plants are mandated to have Severe Accident Management Guidelines (SAMG). These guidelines call for an “ad hoc” approach to dealing with the events that have damaged the core — use the best resources available to cool and cover the core and keep it subcritical, even if those resources are not the safety systems designed to do that. The drastic actions of using seawater and boron are likely to be just that and would probably be options identified in a Japanese version of SAMG, if they have taken that approach. (Boiling water reactors do not use boron.)

    The hydrogen explosion in SAMG parlance would have actually been a deflagration — a burn — rather than an explosion. The resulting pressures of the deflagration, though, could conceivably have put enough pressure on the building to produce the images seen on the video.

    (NNPS Class 7301; developer of unit specific SAMG training; retired Senior Reactor Operator and ops instructor.)

  11. GBorba says:

    Worked at BWRs and like others here have some speculative ideas. Need to remember the reliability of information right now is probably not good, but should get better with time. I am actually more impressed with the generally sober information being broadcast by the mainstream media.

    When I first saw the explosion I thought it was a steam explosion which would have been very bad (as it would have indicated the possibility water was injected into a hot exposed fuel. Although a hydrogen explosion is bad given the damage it did the BWR reactor and the primary containment appears intact based on radiation levels.

    It appears the reactor shut down as designed and the emergency diesels started up and provided power as design. My guess is the tsunami water (salty sea water) got into the diesels and damaged the electrical distribution part shutting down the diesels and making them unable to further provide emergency electrical power. There is some confusion about the batteries – they are there for essential electrical distribution switchgear and essential instrument monitoring and do not run motor driven pumps.

    With no normal and emergency electrical power these BWRs still have a turbine driven emergency core cooling system called the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling System (RCIC) and the turbine used is designed to use degraded steam (steam with high liquid water content) but I believe there is only one (I am going from memory from 20 years ago!). This should have provided essential water into the reactor.

    That there was significant hydrogen buildup and detonate may be due to either fuel damage or hydrogen leaking from the main turbine generator exciter (used to cool it while it is running); I am not aware of any other significant sources of hydrogen at those plants.

    Also the radiation release (heard 600 mREM/hr and decreasing) appears to be due either fuel damage or one of several other sources; given the relatively small release and it decreasing suggests the event is still under control. While this level of radiation release is is way, way above normal nuclear reactor releases it is also way below the levels that would be harmful or even detectable via physiological changes in the body. As the radioactive plume goes out it disperses and the radiation levels get less and less.

    As time continues we will get more accurate information what did happen and what is happening. There will be some that will try to fear monger (I am hearing this as we speak) and some will try to be Polyanish. Some initial thoughts I have are:

    1. Clear, honest, accurate information needs to get out quickly and with periodic updates by the owner of the affected units, the countries regulator. People are very scared of radioactivity and need factual, timely accurate information. Restricting the information arrogantly thinking “we know best and will tell the public what we want them to know” is harmful. Tell what you know, tell what you don’t know, promise to keep the public informed as information becomes available.

    2. The failure of the emergency electrical systems on several units is very disturbing and indicates a general vulnerability that needs to be quickly assessed and addressed at other units that could be similarly affected. Also likely affected are other assumptions that need to be rethought.

    3. I am a strong proponent of continued nuclear development and the earthquake reinforces my belief the units are amazingly tough and resilient. Having said this, there always needs to be healthy skepticism and reevaluation of assumptions, beliefs and safety. Like airlines where flying is fabulously safe, incidents and accidents do happen and there remains the need to continually advance the state of art, challenge assumptions and beliefs and to be dissatisfied with the current state.

    4. So far I am somewhat positively surprised the cable news stations I am watching are not fanning the flames of panic. I have heard things clearly wrong but there does appear to be an effort at getting accurate information.

    5. How long will it take for someone to blame the earthquake on global warming!


  12. GBorba says:

    Fox News site is showing a close up photo of the damage. Looks like it may be of the turbine building or some auxiliary building and a ruptured tank with what appears to be oil (turbine lubricating oil or diesel fuel but darkness suggests it is not diesel fuel??).


  13. doyle says:

    J ferguson: that’s by design. When you have a revenue stream based on a “per computer” rate, you do NOT let that revenue generator move from place to place easily. Win 98 was the last that you could do that with, a fact that MS knew and made sure was not continued after that. *Linux is a system that by design WANTS to work in as many situations as possible, *MSOS is designed to fail unless certain strict conditions related to certifiability are met

  14. Interesting Connections says:

    So, do Pebble Bed Reactor designs suffer from these problems?

  15. Ian W says:

    Thorium pebble bed reactors do not melt down they fail safe.

    Rather than explain it – Google (or Bing):

    thorium fail safe “pebble bed”

    You will find many descriptions of their operation.

    Thorium reactors can also be much smaller and mass produced. It makes no sense that the world is not going this way. Thorium would provide abundant cheap energy worldwide.

  16. boballab says:

    Interesting Connections
    So, do Pebble Bed Reactor designs suffer from these problems?

    The answer is a theoretical No. There has only been a few prototypes that have been built and only one still operating as far as I know of. The Design of a PBMR is an entire passive cooling system. However I haven’t read anything in depth on how those Prototypes have been tested to see if the system works as advertised. Keep in mind that waayyy back in the days of the 1950’s the US Government (usually done by the USN) built prototypes out in a remote place in Idaho. They then deliberately started causing things to go wrong in them to see what they did and how to fix the problem. However that program has been severely curtailed since the 70’s.

  17. RK says:

    No Pebble bed Reactor has design that in case of no cooling it raises temp to certain level and then by design it finds equilibrium. I thing working temp is 800 degrees C and equilibrium around 1100-1200 deg C

  18. Jason Calley says:

    @ Ian “It makes no sense that the world is not going this way. Thorium would provide abundant cheap energy worldwide.”

    I know exactly what you mean, but a cynical reader would alter one word. “It makes perfect sense that the world is not going this way. Thorium would provide abundant cheap energy worldwide.” Geez…that might be bad for profits!

    You are right though, in my opinion. We do indeed have available the technology for global energy abundance and security. What we do not have, is a cultural mechanism by which that technology can presently be implemented.

  19. Gary P Smith says:

    I’ve been hoping we could get a National Energy Policy that recognizes the safety design benefits of the thorium reactor get the research underway to get them into production.

    This incident should be an opportunity for everyone (government, media, environmentalist, and “skeptic”) to rally around and get momentum behind the thorium reactor design.

    Unfortunately, I fear that the all but the critically thinking “skeptic” will leverage the “nuclear” component of this disaster to spread unnecessary fear of all nuclear reactor types in the broad population.

  20. Jason Calley says:

    @ Ian
    One more quick thought, and you probably already realize this. The whole reason why we are currently seeing this reactor problem in Japan is that the most popular reactor designs are based on much older reactor designs done primarily for military shipboard use. Those designs were modified, then marketed worldwide for civilian use. As the modified designs became accepted, the rules and legislation were written around the needs and characteristics of those designs, effectively blocking the economical development of any new style reactors which varied too far from the old standards. “Hmmmm… the rule says that you must have a pump here. You say you don’t need a pump, that there is nothing to pump here? Doesn’t matter. You have to have a pump, or no permit!” Kind of like building codes which inadvertently (or purposely — I do not know) prevent new but more efficient material usage. Fail safe designs have been around a long time. The problem is bureaucratic, not technological.

  21. pouncer says:

    Bear in mind:
    On 9/11 the news reported 50,000 to 100,000 people “worked in the Twin Towers” and were presumed dead.

    During Katrina the new reported refugees with rifles were shooting at relief helecopters, and a freezer in the “dome” was stuffed with corpses …

    The new out of Japan today will be on a par for quality…

    In a generating plant, lots of things channel lots of power. The turbines could fly apart under no load conditions. Steam pipes could burst. The boilers, fed by reactor coolant, could explode. And yes the pressure vessel around the reactor –inside containment, could blow. We don’t know what happened yet. But if any of the lesser possible explosions has happened, the media will report China Syndrome.

  22. Interesting Connections says:

    “The problem is bureaucratic, not technological.”

    I think the problem is regulatory capture and big corporations cosying up to government and regulators.

    Think who was building building reactors back then, and who has been pushing wind turbines and who has been pushing gas-based generators …

  23. j ferguson says:

    doyle, you’re right re/ms stuff, but i did prevail. more stuff learned that I’m ever likely to use again. cheers.

  24. Gary P Smith says:

    @Interesting Connections

    GEe, I just don’t know who you could be talking about. ;-)

    The corollary: Our elected leaders have become very good at shaking down companies that have deep pockets. You need some protection from those environmentalists? You need some protection from those lawsuits? You need some protection from your competitors? I think I can help you. Let me think. How can I help you. Why should I help you (hint, hint).

    Big Government is starting to take on the same characteristics as the MOB.

    Sorry for getting off topic here…I’ll shut up now.

  25. boballab says:


    According to the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary the explosion was caused by the wall falling down to the containment building but the Pressure Vessel was not damaged. This was reported by NHK (actually the english language translation from the press conference) over an hour ago.

    This is why I keep the NHK World Service live streaming and not relying in third hand reports from US stations.

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    @Interesting Connections:

    AND curly bulbs AND the “colored” Reveal lightbulb that just HAPPENS to be the only “more or less whilte” incandescent 100 W bulb you can still buy in California as “colored” bulbs are exempt….

    PBR have the interesting property that the little ceramic pellets:

    1) Swell in size as they get hot, moving all the atoms further apart and dropping below the ‘criticality’ point.

    2) Don’t melt for quite a long ways after that point. Think pyrex… or maybe basalt…

    between those two, as it heats too much it shuts off and just sits there. Metal rod designs oxidize and melt and get way hotter than the water that is needed to maintain proper nucleonics and thermal state.


    My bet would be on turbine or heat exchanger blew under extreme pressure (i.e. they didn’t vent enough and pushed it too far, so ‘biggest weakest thing’ blew.

    Alternative would be ‘core exposed some, hydrogen formation started, turbine room steam proof not hydrogen proof and as hydrogen built undetected reached a spark…”


    I think you can make ceramic PBR with either Thorium or Uranium (or even Plutonium). It’s the oxide / carbide that character that makes it special. No?


    (orginal has hot links embedded in text for details)

    The pebble bed reactor (PBR) is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled, nuclear reactor. It is a type of very high temperature reactor (VHTR–formally known as the high temperature gas reactor (HTGR)), one of the six classes of nuclear reactors in the Generation IV initiative. Like other VHTR designs, the PBR uses TRISO fuel particles, which allows for high outlet temperatures and passive safety.

    The base of the PBR’s unique design is the spherical fuel elements called “pebbles”. These tennis ball-sized pebbles are made of pyrolytic graphite (which acts as the moderator), and they contain thousands of micro fuel particles called TRISO particles. These TRISO fuel particles consist of a fissile material (such as U235) surrounded by a coated ceramic layer of SiC for structural integrity and fission product containment. In the PBR, 360,000 pebbles are amassed to create a reactor core, and are cooled by an inert or semi-inert gas such as helium, nitrogen or carbon dioxide.
    A number of prototypes have been built. Active development continued in South Africa until 2010 as the PBMR design, and in China whose HTR-10 is the only prototype currently operating.

    The technology was first developed in Germany but political and economic decisions were made to abandon the technology. In various forms, it is currently under development by MIT, the South African company PBMR, General Atomics (U.S.), the Dutch company Romawa B.V., Adams Atomic Engines http://www.atomicengines.com/, Idaho National Laboratory, and the Chinese company Huaneng. In June 2004, it was announced that a new PBMR would be built at Koeberg, South Africa by Eskom, the government-owned electrical utility. There is opposition to the PBMR from groups such as Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, the latter of which has sued Eskom to stop development of the project. In September 2009 the demonstration power plant was postponed indefinitely. In February 2010 the South African government stopped funding of the PBMR because of a lack of customers and investors. PBMR Ltd started retrenchment procedures and stated the company intends to reduce staff by 75%. In September 2010, it was announced that South Africa will no longer continue its development of this reactor type.

    Notice how the design is built in China, regulated and protested to death in the “west”…

    The uranium, thorium or plutonium nuclear fuels are in the form of a ceramic (usually oxides or carbides) contained within spherical pebbles a little smaller than the size of a tennis ball and made of pyrolytic graphite, which acts as the primary neutron moderator. The pebble design is relatively simple, with each sphere consisting of the nuclear fuel, fission product barrier, and moderator (which in a traditional water reactor would all be different parts). Simply piling enough pebbles together in a critical geometry will allow for criticality.

    Yup, all three…

    BTW, as we hear all the talk of “Radioactive for tens of thousands of years” remember that is “to reach background”. My attitude toward nuclear power changed a LOT when I found out that is yet another “polite lie”…

    If you accept “as radioactive as the original ore” (i.e. as found laying around the world in the dirt, unmanaged…) the time to reach that state is a “couple of hundred years”… a length of time we have clearly had civilization manage things…

    And yes, “regulatory capture” is dominant and “regulatory sloth” its evil twin is helping freeze things too….

    Just like trying to build an Earthship and they say “What do you mean your studs are not on 16 inch centers?”… The words “No studs, rammed earth in used tires” gets you shown the door…. Slowly, one bureacrat at a time, they have had codes ADDED for rammed earth structures. But…

    You can see the same thing today where it costs a few $Million to certify a new aircraft design / material so we keep building 1950’s personal aircraft… and all the really interesting stuff are only licenced as “experimental” even after demonstrated to be great designs. (so they can only be flown away from cities) Heck, folks will buy the licence number / plate of a pile of scrap metal so they can make a plane out of it that is under that era of licencing… ( a friend had an old Cesna with car-gas placard… the placard alone was worth some bucks…)

    There is even a large body of economic theory that asserts it is inevitable that regulatory agencies end up captured by their industries and stagnating…

  27. Level_Head says:

    I’m trying to reconcile “90 cm of core exposed” and “pressure vessel not damaged.”

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  28. boballab says:

    Why do you think I gave the official “cause” of the explosion such a dead pan posting. I mean lets reconcile that video that shows a Pressure Wave flying up and parts of the walls flying off in every direction with: “The Explosion was caused when the walls of the containment building fell down”.

  29. Historically, the first reactor was the “Pile reactor”, where:
    The controls consisted of cadmium-coated rods that absorbed neutrons. Withdrawing the rods would increase neutron activity in the pile, leading to a self-sustaining chain reaction. Re-inserting the rods would dampen the reaction.
    Why is it has never considered a redundant neutron absorption by cadmium metal?

  30. E.M.Smith says:

    @Scarlet Pumpernickle:

    Thorium is nice stuff (I’m all for it) but don’t get too carried away. It’s not exactly a panacea…

    For example, the “can’t make a bomb” part isn’t quite true:


    Teapot MET used U233, as in made from Thorium.

    The Indians have done that too.

    But generally, yes, our present reactor choices are largely driven by three things.

    1) The miliary wanted to make lots of Pu for bombs.

    2) The military wanted reactors for ships.

    3) The USA didn’t want OTHER countries to have a quick path to Special Nuclear Materials so they promoted designs not well suited to easy use and easy “cooking” fuel for short times such that chemical separatoin can make bomb stuff…

    Note that “cheap easy efficient nukes” is not on the list…

    So the bomb guys got “production” reactors, the subs got highly enriched fuel reactors and everyone else got “proliferation resistant” reactors with a complex fuel cycle…

    As most of the “bad guys” now have, or know how to make, nukes, we ought to go to one of the easier cycles (and not Nag Canada about the CANDU…) but we don’t. Now it’s entrenched…

  31. Verity Jones says:


    KevinUK (an ex nuclear physicist involved in reactor design) isn’t buying it either

  32. Gary P Smith says:


    1. I am NOT by any stretch of the imagination a nuclear physicist, so everything I say here has to be taken with a ‘grain of salt’. I have to decide to trust who and what I read as I try to educate myself on the topic.
    2. I’ve not read up on the PBR design.
    3. In spite of this unfortunate incident, I have never had any real problem with the existing designs, and have a high degree of respect for the current safety record of the world wide nuclear industry (TMI, Chernobly, and now Japan, notwithstanding). But, all designs can benefit from continuous improvement.


    From what I understand, I like the passive design elements I see in both the Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), the PBR design, and both are better than current.

    I would give advantage to the LFTR and Thorium, in that Tritium and other high energy fissile products can be bled off rather than being aborbed by the base fuel. Due to this, 97% of the fuel can be consumed whereas todays designs can only use about 5%, ‘wasting’ the other 95% unless it goes through an expensive reprocessing cycle. Being too expensive to recycle, it becomes ‘thousands of years of waste (or more accurately as you pointed out a couple hundred years).

    I would like to know more about how the PBR design can remove these materials so that they don’t contaminate the fuel and make it too highly critical to be consumed.

    LFTR supposedly leaves you with a great deal less ‘waste’ product.

  33. boballab says:

    @ Verity

    In the other thread I put up the fact that I graduated from the US Navy’s Naval Nuclear Power School (The world’s longest and safest operators of Nuclear Power Plants) and the only thing I can think of that could cause what was seen in that video was a Steam or Hydrogen Explosion. That was way to energetic to be “Walls Falling Down”.

  34. Verity Jones says:

    Yes, I’d noted your tech background (from a while back actually). Kevin’s just put up the post here:

    The initial video has a close up of the explosion and you can see the dissipation of something like a ‘flame’ to the left of the smoke.

  35. pyromancer76 says:

    E.M., Boballub, and others, Thanks for the careful and knowledgeable information. My son is in Japan on business; he left Tokyo for southern areas the day before the quake struck. I watch everything with keen interest. Who knows if there will be larger aftershocks and exactly where the plates might need to continue to release pressure or to finally settle. I have been looking for a recent article on Japanese plate tectonic configurations because I remember reading that new imaging showed a plate fragment (of what?) stuck between the Pacific and the North American on which the area north of Tokyo sits. Can’t find it. My imagination wonders if the plate fragment just busted loose.

    My heart goes out to the Japanese. A recent death of a 97-year-old Uncle provides a special opportunity for sending charitable contributions to the Japanese. Our Aunt enthusiastically approves.

  36. boballab says:

    @ pyromancer

    I was stationed at Sasebo, Japan for two years (May, 87-May, 89) Then spent about 4 to 5 months in Yokosuka in 1990 so I have an appreciation of what the people are like and what they are going through.

  37. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, after finally getting some sleep, I found we have a few new posters who where stuck in the moderation queue for a while…

    Please take just a moment to look back “up thread” for comments that will have ‘just appeared’… they make some good points and / or have interesting questions.

  38. boballab says:


    How could you! Sleep? Bah you don’t need it :)

    On another note this is starting to turn into an Navy Nuke Party:

    M. Goad NNPS 7301
    Ralph B NNPS 8304
    and Myself NNPS 8602

    For those that wonder what those number mean, the first two numbers (73, 83, 86) stands for the fiscal year the class was formed in and the last two numbers (01, 04, 02) is the number of the class formed in that year. So using myself I was in the second class of fiscal year 1986.

  39. pyromancer76 says:

    E.M., there are many fascinating ideas re nuclear energy on this thread that are touched on. Do you want to do one of your more thorough “dig heres”, especially in view of the nutty negative ideas that will be (already are) flowing freely? I want us (also US) to develop every reasonable and efficient (ditch wind, corn ethanol, I think) energy resource available. From the current evaluations the U.S. has more than anyone else. Let’s get to it and, at the same time, I want nuclear to have an equal hearing.

  40. E.M.Smith says:


    Kind of the whole idea is for folks who can talk shop to have a place they can talk shop and not have a lot of flack from carpers….


    So, looking for a short summary of nuclear power?

    It’s pretty straight forward;


    Three main types (from which a lot of other ‘mixes’ can be made).

    Uranium: Found in nature. Used “straight” in CANDU type (heavy water) reactors. Main feature is you don’t need to “upgrade” the amount of “bomb stuff” in it to make it go. For US light water reactors, you need to have some amount of “enrichment” (that done enough times gives you bomb grade stuff… but it’s only needed ‘a little bit’) where the CANDU type you can just “burn” some rods to Plutonium pretty quick to cook some easy to get “great bomb stuff” via chemical separation of Pu instead of isotopic enrichment. (Why the USA “talked dirt” about the CANDU in the early years; and why India bought a CANDU – and rapidly made nuke bombs…)

    Plutonium: Absolutely great fuel. Mostly not found in nature (only in “natural” accidental reactors formed in the dirt, or as residuals from bombs / nuclear waste). Also the best stuff for making bombs….

    Thorium: Won’t “go” on it’s own, so you need to get it started with something else providing the seed neutrons. Then becomes self sustaining. Makes U233 (a rarely talked about isotope… from which both the USA and India have made bombs… it’s about as good as Pu at making bombs… I.e. Really Really Good… most Th designs overcook the fuel so the U233 has too much of highly radioactive stuff in it to make a decent bomb. Most likely the reason the USA pushed to suppress Th reactors so much, IMHO.

    MOX is Mixed Oxide fuel and is usually a mix of Pu and U with the Pu often coming from recycled bombs…

    You can mix Th and U fuel bundles in regular reactors if you like. Lightbridge does this.

    Have to stop for now, more on fuel form and reactor type shortly

  41. R. de Haan says:

    Thanks for all the insight’s

    I still think nuclear power generation has a big future.
    The Chinese will not stop their program and neither will any other program in progress world wide.
    There will be problems in the US and Europe but they these problems will be caused by the biased strongholds that are behind the AGW doctrine.
    But we are in the process of breaking them down.

    I found two articles about the Japanese emergency:




    Also read Lubos Motl’s blog about the disaster starting with the followinf comment:
    “Remotely related: Holy cow, the president of an official EU’s EESC body has declared that the earthquake was a sign from Mother Nature that we need to combat global warming. I want these crooks to be outlawed!”:

  42. George says:

    Looks like a hydrogen explosion to me:

    Ventilation system not running, hydrogen accumulates at the top of the building, eventually … kaboom.

  43. George says:

    The Chinese are installing the AP1000 plants that would not have this problem. The Japanese are installing a plant design that uses 100% passive cooling and wouldn’t have this problem.

  44. R. de Haan says:

    For who’s interested and for what it’s worth two more articles about the Japanese Nuclear crises here:

  45. George says:

    E.M. Smith:

    Read “Smarter Use for Nuclear Waste”


    All 6 pages.

    You can use isotopes of plutonium for reactor fuel that are not good for making bombs.

  46. boballab says:

    Crosspatch over on WUWT has posted up a link to a still picture of what is left of the building:

    Now look at the video and then this picture and see if that fits with the “The Explosion was caused by the walls falling down” excuse from the Japanese Government. I think that is just a bit of BS to keep people from panicking over it and causing more problems ie: Clogging roads that are need to get relief supplies and workers in and the mandatory evac area cleared.

  47. George says:

    It is seems like the most logical explanation of the explosion is hydrogen buildup and the building ventilation system not running. They vented the containment vessel, some hydrogen vented with it, accumulated in the top of the building, and kaboom!

  48. George says:

    Yeah, pumping seawater in there is a bad idea in my opinion. All sorts of crap in that water. How do you get all the little jellyfish and other assorted flotsam and jetsam out of it?

  49. R. de Haan says:

    “It is seems like the most logical explanation of the explosion is hydrogen buildup and the building ventilation system not running. They vented the containment vessel, some hydrogen vented with it, accumulated in the top of the building, and kaboom!”

    You’re not the only one who supports this theory.

    crosspatch, posting at WUWT says:
    March 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm
    I find the reports out so misleading and so contradictory that it is impossible to say what is going on. The news media has become like watching Twitter. One outlet reports something and all the other “re-tweet” it and soon it becomes “fact”.

    The shed surrounding the containment vessel experienced either a steam explosion or a hydrogen explosion. My money is on hydrogen as the ventilation system in that shed probably wasn’t working correctly.

    Picture of the shed is here:

    Hydrogen is lighter than air, it would have accumulated at the roof of the building. It appears the explosion as at the roof of the building.

    Reports are also misleading in reporting the death of an employee. That employee died at a different plant (Daini). At Daiichi, it is reported that four employees received non life-threatening injuries from the explosion. Probably hit by debris.

    Be careful, the media are “spring loaded” to create a disaster here.

    The reactor is a boiling water design. Relief of steam pressure would release radioactive steam. Presence of iodine and cesium could be from a lot of things. A fuel melt would, in my personal opinion, result in a much higher release than what we are seeing. I also note no mention of strontium which I would expect to see in a fuel melt. This is, again in my personal opinion, an indication of possible cladding damage but it might not even be that. At no time did the reactor run completely dry according to the evidence we have so far.

    Worst case from what we have seen actual evidence for so far is clad damage, maybe partial melt of some fuel pellets, no core melt.

  50. boballab says:

    You don’t, but the irony of it all was that this reactor was due to be closed down this month so economically it isn’t a big loss.

  51. George says:

    Crosspatch is my sock-puppet name.

  52. boballab says:

    Well WUWT just updated the post with a link to this:

    Meltdown Caused Nuke Plant Explosion: Safety Body

    TOKYO (Nikkei)–The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Saturday afternoon the explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core.


    Going to turn up the sound on the NHK feed and see if they have this from the Japanese version of the NRC.

  53. George says:

    Yup, that reactor was due to be shut down and (ironically) replaced with a unit that uses 100% passive cooling. No pumps required and would have not had this problem.

  54. boballab says:

    As of 6am Japan time NHK is reporting that there is now 6 reactors with a declared emergency: 2 at Fukushima I and 4 at Fukushima II.

    Also they are reporting that tomorrow our time (Today their time) the USS Ronald Reagan will arrive off the coast of Sendai and start rescue operations. They also announced that as of right now there is no airports in the area that is operational.

  55. George says:


    Allow me to translate:

    Both sites have declared an emergency. There are 4 running reactors at one site and 2 running reactors at the second site so you have 6 reactors. That does not mean they are having trouble with 6 reactors but some english major in a newsroom is sure to interpret it that way.

    The rescue operations would be for tsunami victims, not for anything related to the reactors.

    Currently there are two reactors having problems. Both at Fukushima Daiichi. The other site’s reactors are shut and cool.

  56. boballab says:

    George that is not from a US agency that is from the Japanese version of the BBC, NHK:

    NHK (日本放送協会, Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, Official English name: Japan Broadcasting Corporation) is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization.[1] NHK, which has always identified itself to its audiences by the English pronunciation of its initials,[2] is a publicly owned corporation funded by viewers’ payments of a television license fee.

    NHK operates two terrestrial television services (NHK General TV and NHK Educational TV), three satellite television services (NHK BS-1, NHK BS-2, and NHK Hi-Vision, a High-definition television service), and three radio networks (NHK Radio 1, NHK Radio 2, and NHK FM).

    NHK also provides an international broadcasting service, known as NHK World. NHK World is composed of NHK World TV, NHK World Premium, and the shortwave radio service NHK World Radio Japan. World Radio Japan also makes some of its programs available on the internet.


    I’m listening/watching NHK World not US/UK news sources
    So no it’s not a mis interpretation 6 reactors are now in a state of emergency.

    You can get the news straight from Japan here:

  57. George says:

    All 6 operating reactors have been in a “state of emergency” since the EQ.

    Here is the latest from Daini:


    This from Daiichi


    Since that statement, Daiichi #3 has experienced a problem.

    Please keep in mind that NONE of these are accidents happening to a running reactor. ALL of these reactors had been shut down normally and had undergone standard decay cooling for at least an hour before the tsunami hit.

    In other words, the reactors with each passing hour get cooler.

    They HAVE had problems monitoring water levels but at this time the reactors are not generating new heat. Every BTU drawn out is not replaced. It just takes time for the heat to be drawn off. With each passing hour, it is less likely that there is enough heat in that reactor to melt down even if all cooling water were withdrawn.

    The problem is that these are boiling water reactors. As the water boils, you need to let off steam if you aren’t running the steam through the turbines, which they are not doing.

    It is the venting of this steam that is the cause of the “emergency”.

  58. boballab says:

    Here is the last report (2050 12 March Japan Time) on the NISA (Japanese version of NRC) website:

    Article 10* of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency
    Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ichi)
    (*A heightened alert condition)
    Article 15** of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ichi, Units 1 and 2)
    (** Nuclear emergency situation)


    Article 10* of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency
    Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ni, Unit 1)
    (*A heightened alert condition)
    Article 15** of Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness (Fukushima Dai-ni, Units 1,2 and 4)
    (**Nuclear emergency situation)

    Click to access en20110313-1.pdf

    That was last night Japan time and what I put out earlier was from NISA as of 6 am Japan time 13 March.

    As I was writing this NHK carried a press conference from the Chief Cabinet Secretary and he stated that a Hydrogen explosion is now the “likely” cause of what happened at Fukushima I

  59. boballab says:

    Well AP got the story about 1 hr ago:

    In Japan plant, frantic efforts to avoid meltdown
    (AP) – 56 minutes ago

    TOKYO (AP) — Inside the troubled nuclear power plant, officials knew the risks were high when they decided to vent radioactive steam from a severely overheated reactor vessel. They knew a hydrogen explosion could occur, and it did. The decision still trumped the worst-case alternative — total nuclear meltdown.


    Not bad it’s only about 11 to 12 hours behind what has been speculated about on here and other sites.

  60. E.M.Smith says:


    In https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/japan-nuke-plant-explosion/#comment-14245

    I think you wanted “not have happened”, so I’ve added the “not”… if that is not what you wanted, tell me…

    @Gary P. Smith:

    I’m only somewhat familar with the liquid flouride type reactor (as a specifit type of ‘moulten salt’ fuel form). In general, all the liquid types have better fuel use, better waste removal, and significant “hot salt” corrosion issues. I believe (but have not verified) that you can make a liquid salt version of all the fuel types.

    The PBR advantage, clearly, is the “inert” fuel chemistry.

    The pelets are trivially reprocesses and you can even design the reactor so some percentage get withdrawn and reprocessed as the pebbles are circulated in the core (to keep things like burnup evenly distributed). I think of this as the “pachinkno reactor design” but for some reason the industry doesn’t like the term ;-)

    @John Silver:

    No, I’ve not “posted too early”. Re-read the first line “this is going to be a rough posting” . The whole idea was / is that since we’re getting crappy intel, having multiple eyes on it makes it easier to figure out what happened / is happening. By Definition that kind of process will involve early speculation and with added information rework of ideas and expectations.

    In the early film, the reactor that blew is not easily seen prior to the kaboom. Only later, with the skeleton picture, so we get the info needed to know for sure. Long before that picture was available, other commenters here are pretty much figure out it was that building. (My first speculation had been the reactor building, but later changed due to the video from the other angle).

    There is nothing wrong with a “what do you folks think is going on, here’s my guess” posting.

    Yes, it will be used by the Greens to tar nukes…


    Looks like your call of “hydrogen” was probably right.

    If you watch the explosion video closely, the ‘shockwave’ headed up is very flat. A Steam explosion ought to have been more rounded and with more “big chunks” flying.

    The “largely up and flat” looks more like a layer of explosion under the roof, that then also blows the walls out with pressure, but not so much shock.

    And yes, does look like a generic design “fault”. Probably had generator mounts sized for a 7.x and got broken with an 8.9 … Might have been better off with a standby generator mounted on large tires ;-)

    @M Goad:

    Recent news says they ‘best available’ they are using now is borated sea water. (Pyromancer76: the sea water cools in an emergency, but craps things up. The boron absorbs neutrons very well, so kills the reaction. Between the two, they mean the core is now ‘salvage’ at best… ‘waste product’ at worst).

    So looks like “fire trucks, sea water, and ant poison”… (Boric Acid is a common ant poison… nice to know if you ever need a field expedient Nuke shutdown ;-)

    Many newer designs have a borate dump facility built in.

    Come to think of it, forest fire fighters out to have loads of borate AND fire trucks, some of them tankers…. Maybe a “cross training” needed?

    Fuel Form

    Fuel can be simple metal plates. Often more highly enriched than used in common “power” reactors. These are best suited to things like submarines where you want a lot of power from a very small space and where the increased risk of melting the sucker is more “acceptable” as if you need to run it flat out the alternative is likely that you are about to be nuked with a bomb anyway…. Has the nice feature that you can rapidly modulate power out with simple movements of the plates… Has the “bad thing” that enrichment level is a whole lot closer to “bomb stuff” so folks stealing them could enrich them more to make a bomb with less effort. (Still a lot, though…)

    Most commercial power reactors use pellets of oxide. These are put in tubes of Zirconium. (Why zirconium? It doesn’t screw up the neutron count / speed while it does have the needed strength, temperature tollerance, and corrosion resistance). These are made into “bundles” that go into a fairly large sized reactor. This is the most common form.

    Rods in Carbon. Older (Chernobyl) designs may have rods that are stuck into blocks of carbon (the carbon does the same job as water in the other reactors, in that it changes the neutron speed to make them react better – “moderates” them). Problem is, it burns well (as the Russians demonstrated)…

    Many newer designs use various liquid salts and sometimes liquid metal mixes. This is a topic in itself, but since most of these are not found ‘in the real world’ yet, I’ll leave it for another note (unless one of the nuke guys here wants to whack at it first…) The usual advantage in you can “clean” the fuel and “refuel” while the reactor runs. The typical disadvantage is that liquid fuel can run all over the place, is often corrosive salts, and for some mixes has the potential to take your ‘on line reprocessing’ and divert some material to “bomb stuff” easier than our DOD would like. Most folks don’t think this is valid reason to squash things. This is probably the future of reactors, IMHO. For many of the proposed designs, the fuel is a ‘salt’ so doesn’t burn. Some, though, can be very reactive to water.

    Ceramics. Usually in the form of balls, called “pebbles”. Highly inert fuel, most of the time… Some use “carbide” pellets. This makes for easy ‘reprocessing’ of the pebbles, but see the note above about carbon and burning… Usually a silicon carbide or oxide layer is put on things to stop that kind of air contact with more sensitive inner layers. These are the “pebble bed” reactors. We’ve built them, as have a lot of other folks. Usually “gas cooled” and that’s where they have problems. Best gas is helium IIRM, which takes a heck of a lot to get the heat out, tends to leak like crazy, and is generaly expensive and a pain to pump in high quantities. For problems with high quantities of hydrogen see “Hindenburg”… Most are used for experiments and then shut down when they get tired of trying to seal very hot hydrogen into moving seals…

    You can use things like Carbon Dioxide, but then you have more interaction of neutrons with the gas to deal with. (That carbon ‘moderation’ thing).

    Ceramic fuels can also come in various pins, plates, whathaveyou…. but the balls can be pumped around and act kind of like a fluid so folks like to play with that…

    The biggest advantage of these types of fuels is that they are often “walk away safe”. If you shut off all external power and cooling, the ceramic swells as it heats until the neutron flux is too low and throttles back the energy. The creamic doesn’t melt before it stops heating. Whole thing just sits there, hot, until you decide what to do… (don’t add water at that point ;-)

    Coolant / Moderator

    In all these cases, you need to get the heat out. All sorts of things are used as coolents and can be mixed with each of the various fuel types and forms in various ways. Each brings with it features and problems.

    Major issues are the tendency of the colant to leak out (hydrogen / helium), be expensive (liquid sodium, helium), be flamable (hydrogen, sodium), be corrosive (water, salts), be incompatible with the fuel type (chemical reactions or temperature ranges) and the stuff will interact with neutrons changing the number of them (over absorbing), changing their speed (may be good if it’s a moderator of the degree you want, so “heavy water” makes for nice reactors, but is very expensive…) or be prone to problems like hydrogen explosions and liquid sodium – water explosions….

    OK, take all that and mix in various ways, you get different designs with different “good / bad” sets.

    High power very small fast throttle but a bit ‘touchy’ and with very expensive metal fuel that is 1/2 way to ‘bomb stuff’: Good for nuclear subs, not so good in Denver…

    Ceramic Pachinko design: Fun toy, lots of gizmos to play with, especially gas seals. Walkaway safe, though, and can make very high temperature “process heat” for direct use in things like CTL facilities… VW figured that with Nuclear Process Heat and coal they could make Methanol for bout $.50 / gallon of gasoline equivalent (when gasoline was about $.70 / gallon). Make that about $1 / gallon now, I’d guess.

    Big bundles you change with a crane and only every few years when clearly ‘shut down’ using MOX of oxide pellets and light water moderator? Very hard to divert fuel to “bomb stuff”, so pushed by the USA very hard and the most common power reactor in the world. Prone to coolant failure core meltdown, though….

    Cabon pile ala Russian designs? Makes lots of Plutonium and easy to ‘slightly cook’ a few rods at a time to breed a bit of Pu if you want to make a couple of bombs on the sly. (We used some carbon reactors early on to breed Pu too). Prone to burn, though, and has some ‘quirky’ behaviour as you change power levels (that can heat up and jam to quenching rods out and lead to what happened in Russia…). Mostly only old Ex-USSR and clients run these.

    Candu heavy water reactor: Can make bomb stuff, but sort of 1/2 way from Carbon to Light Water in that way. Biggest feature is you don’t need to enrich natural uranium to make them go… but it’s hard and expensive to get tons of heavy water (ask the Germans during W.W.II and that little Norway operation…) The compromise we reached in arm twisting folks was a Candu design that needs a little enrichment to go, so not just anyone could start making bits of bomb stuff without some help and that enrichment speed bump. Tend to be large, though. Have an interesting way of using heavy water as the moderator but light water as the coolant.

    All the way cool moulten metal / moulten salt / High Temperature Gas Cooled HTGC and such are way cool technically, but usually have “materials issues” in that you are trying to pump something that is very very hot, or very prone to leakage, or does really nasty things in contact with even small amounts of water…. Usually it’s a pumps and seals thing that shuts them down. For liquid metal coolant reactors, if it ever gets cold, well, it tends to freeze into a solid chunk of metal. Pumps don’t pump solid metal well. (Yes, there are ‘ways around’ all those problems – that’s what folks bicker over – which is the best fix for what).

    There are other even more exotic designs, like some where you make the neutrons in a neutron cannon and it only makes energy when the gun is shooting the fuel. Other are able to take some of the ‘nuclear trash’ atoms and make energy from burning them up too. (Gigantic efficiency numbers). Mostly lab scale and exotic things.


    OK, that’s my “thumbnail sketch” of fuels, forms, coolants / moderators and pros/cons.

    At this point, rather than write 100 pages, it would be nice to know what you want to know more about…

    The bundle of stuff that can be added to present light water reactors to make them more passive safe?

    The advantages of creamic pebble beds or moulten salts?

    Enough already?

  61. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Ban Uranium move to Thorium!

    And why is the reactor on the EAST COAST???? It should be on the west coast away from the fault. The Japanese are crazy!

  62. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    Thorium still makes plutonium but less of it.

    The good thing about Thorium is the lower temperature and you can switch it off for the weekend even.

    It’s like a Playstation with U, they sell the reactor cheap then make you pay massive amounts to process the waste. Thorium doesn’t need as much processing and has lower half lives and doesn’t melt down as easily

  63. George says:

    They knew a hydrogen explosion could occur, and it did. The decision still trumped the worst-case alternative — total nuclear meltdown.

    Exactly. Under normal shutdown processes the steam being generated after the reaction stops would still be powering turbines producing electricity until the steam pressure was no longer high enough. In this case the load had tripped off. This boiling water reactor doesn’t have a “cooling tower” like a pressurized unit has. If the steam is not going through the turbine/condenser then it has to be vented.

    This is primary coolant so it is radioactive. When you vent primary coolant, you have to declare an “event”. The fact that no strontium 90 has been reported is a good thing. If nuclear fuel was directly exposed to the cooling water, I would expect to see strontium 90 contamination. Chernobyl, for example, contaminated a huge area with strontium 90. Strontium 90 was found in the radioactive steam emissions from Three Mile Island where there was fuel damage. So far I have seen no reports of strontium 90 from the Fukushima plants.

    All of the radiation reported so far can be accounted for in the steam releases that have taken place in order to keep the pressure in the reactors under control.

    I personally expect the situation to improve considerably over the next 24-48 hours as the reactor cores cool further.

  64. E.M.Smith says:

    @Scarlet Pumpernickel:

    It’s not the Pu, it’s the U233. Almost as good a stuff for making bombs and fairly easy to breed in a Th reactor (especially of the CANDU sort… and a few others)

  65. George says:

    Another thing to note about the Daiichi reactor #1 is that this reactor was due to be decommissioned this month. That means the fuel was at the end of its useful cycle. That means that it is absolutely loaded with fission byproducts. It has a *lot* of iodine, cesium, plutonium, strontium and other stuff. That primary coolant has been in contact with that stuff for a very long time. It has accumulated a lot of contamination.

    Those contaminants are measurable at extremely low concentrations. Again, so far there is nothing to indicate to me from anything I have read that says any fuel melt has occurred. Everything so far is consistent with venting of steam from boiled coolant.

  66. Jason Calley says:

    One additional isotope for nuclear reactions, including weapons, is Neptunium 237. It is comparable to Uranium 235, and is close, but not quite as good. One of those fuels that you could use, but why do so when better fuels are still out there.

  67. E.M.Smith says:

    Scarlet Pumpernickel

    The good thing about Thorium is the lower temperature and you can switch it off for the weekend even.

    Um, you have that “exactly backwards”.

    The moulten salt reactors are very HIGH temperature reactors. See:


    Oak Ridge National Laboratory reactor

    The culmination of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory research during the 1970–76 timeframe resulted in an MSR design which would use LiF-BeF2-ThF4-UF4 (72-16-12-0.4) as fuel, was to be moderated by graphite with a 4 year replacement schedule, use NaF-NaBF4 as the secondary coolant, and have a peak operating temperature of 705 °C.

    That, in fact, is one of my favorite things about them. Means you can use them for process heat for F-T convesion of coal, gas, or trash into methanol or gasoline or Diesel motor fuels.

    If you do that, the cost per “gallon of gasoline equivalent” drops to about $1 per gallon.

    I usually don’t get into that discussion, as it hard enough to get folks to just look at F-T alone with mixing in “NUKE!!!” too… but in fact, it is THE cheapest route to complete energy independence…

    Spend a while pondering why we don’t want $1 / gallon gasoline… Warning: it can drive you nuts…

    The molten salt reactor offers many potential advantages:
    inherently safe design (safety by passive components and the strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity)
    using an abundant supply of thorium to breed uranium-233 fuel.
    much cleaner: the amount of waste fission products is 10 times less (per GWh) and requires containment for 100 times shorter time (300 years vs. tens of thousands of years)
    can “burn” some problematic radioactive waste (with transuranic elements from traditional solid-fuel nuclear reactors)
    possible even in small, even 2-8MW(th) or 1-3MW(electric). Submarine or aircraft size is possible
    can react to load changes in less than 60 seconds (unlike “traditional” solid-fuel nuclear power plants)

    BTW, the CANDU reactor can take “spent” Light Water Reactor fuel in as “new” fuel… so all that “waste” for Yucca can have another round in CANDU before it goes to the dump (or more likely into a MSR). Many of the advantages of a MSR apply to the CANDU (and one of the major problems too as the CANDU can handle Thorium…)

    At any rate, while I appreciate your enthusiasm, you might want to temper it just a bit with some fact checking first…

    BTW, IMHO, the major reason the Th reactor in that video has not been made is that giant tank of U 233 that it makes with a trivial cycle. Look up the neutron cross section of U-233 and capture characteristics. More like Pu than U-235…


    Breeding uranium-233 from thorium feedstock is the long-term strategy of the nuclear power program of India, which has substantial thorium reserves. Breeding can be done in either fast reactors or thermal reactors, unlike uranium-based fuel cycles which require the superior neutron economy of a fast reactor in order to breed, that is to produce more fissile material than is consumed. Outside of India, interest in the thorium-based fuel cycle is not great, although the world’s reserves of thorium are three times those of uranium.

    It is also possible to use uranium-233 as the fission fuel of a nuclear weapon, although this has been done only occasionally. The United States first tested U-233 as part of a bomb core in Operation Teapot in 1955. Uranium-233 compares roughly to plutonium-239: its radioactivity is only one seventh (159,200 years half-life versus 24,100 years), but its bare critical mass is 60% higher (16 kg versus 10 kg), and its spontaneous fission rate is twenty times higher (6×10E−9 versus 3×10E−10) — but since the radioactivity is lower, the neutron density is only three times higher. A nuclear explosive device based on uranium-233 is therefore more of a technical challenge than with plutonium, but the technological level involved is roughly the same. The main difference is the co-presence of uranium-232, that makes uranium-233 very dangerous to work on, and quite easy to detect.

    So, if you would like to equip every nutcase on the planet with a simple and easy path to “special nuclear materials” well suited to making bombs as demonstrated by the USA in the 1950s technology era and India in about the late 1970s? or so; well, it’s a great technology…

    And that, IMHO, is why it wasn’t allowed to go forward.

    ( I first figured this out about 1985? But have sat on it. With it now in the wiki, I don’t see much need to keep quiet…)

    Yes, your SNM is a bit “hot” from the U232, but that can be used to advantage as a kind of built in “nuclear trigger” (no need for beryllium / polonium etc ‘seeds’… and yes, this too is now ‘on the web’… though I’ve not found the phsycal shape / configuration data posted that would make the bomb easy to make, so that I’ll keep to myself… Yes, at one time I wondered “How do you make a nuke bomb? and after some “focus time” was pretty sure I could do it… and with exactly this path as the bypass on enrichment / SNM reprocessing. While “in theory” the “bad guys” don’t know this as they are not doing it; the fact that India basically DID it and they are modeling on India means it’s not that secret any more… An hour on google and a bright kid can figure it out.)

  68. KevinUK says:


    “Cabon pile ala Russian designs? Makes lots of Plutonium and easy to ‘slightly cook’ a few rods at a time to breed a bit of Pu if you want to make a couple of bombs on the sly. (We used some carbon reactors early on to breed Pu too). Prone to burn, though, and has some ‘quirky’ behaviour as you change power levels (that can heat up and jam to quenching rods out and lead to what happened in Russia…). Mostly only old Ex-USSR and clients run these.”

    You’ve completely forgotten the UK’s Magnox and Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs)

    And as with the UK, you owe the initial stages of your nuclear weopons programme to those ‘carbon (actually graphite) piles’ at the Hanford ‘piles’.

    In the UK we got so desperate to ‘keep up with the Jones’ that so that we (Harold MacMillan) could have our own hydrogen bomb we actually put Lithium into cannisters in our ‘piles’ (to breed Tritium) at Windscale and somehow were surprised when one of the piles caught fire. These piles were ‘air-cooled’ by the way and when the fire took hold some bright spark decided that it was a good idea to continue to blow air through the pile. Eventually they plucked up the guts to turn off the blowers and injected water via firehoses into the pile and the fire was quickly extinquished. I’ve worked in the same building that houses the pile that didn’t catch fire and next to the cooling pond that stored the spent cannisters from the ‘burnt pile’ and worked on how to decommision the ‘burnt pile’ and handle/store the waste from it.

    While we are on the subject of nuclear proliferation, a quick question? Where do you think the spent fuel from this Fukushima reactor has been processed. Where do you think the nuclear waste (and plutonium) arising from the reprocessing of this spent fuel is stored? Reactor 2 uses mixed oxide fuel (MOX). Where do you think the MOX fuel is assembled?

  69. George says:

    The other advantage of molten salt (or molten metal … sodium) reactors is that you can build them out in the middle of the desert where nobody lives and don’t need a major source of water.

  70. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley:

    Golly, I didn’t know that! Thanks!

    Almost all of it is synthetic, but once you have a chemically separable product, even if only 5% or so, and it’s “boom stuff”, making a “boom stick” with it is not very hard…

    Interesting that it has 3 pathways to creation of a very stable product …


    Now a team at Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory has measured how much neptunium it would take to make a bomb–the element’s critical mass–with far greater accuracy than ever before. From a preliminary data analysis, the investigators find that neptunium’s critical mass is around 60 kilograms. The critical mass of plutonium-239 is about 10 kg, and for uranium-235, the most widely used nuclear explosive after plutonium, it’s about 50 kg.

    So you could likely make it into a “gun type” device even…

    The new measurement of neptunium-237, the artificial metal’s most common and stable isotope, shows that it “is about as good a bomb material as U-235,” comments Richard L. Garwin of IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

    Commercial nuclear reactors create annually tons of neptunium mixed in with other nuclear waste. Indeed, since 1999, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna has urged monitoring of neptunium. However, according to the agency, the risk of anyone making neptunium bombs from that highly radioactive waste is low because it would be so difficult to extract the isotope.

    But what this ignores is the question of “What if you set out to make this stuff? Is it a backdoor to SNM?”

    Very Iieennterrrresshtink…

  71. E.M.Smith says:


    So the folks who assert I’m too long winded, can they please get together with the folks who keep chiding me that I’ve “forgot” things when I don’t put EVERYTHING in and take a vote and tell me EXACTLY when I ought to edit out …
    1/2 ;-)

    IIRC, Japan has placed the contract with British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. ? something like that. Big reprocessing op.

    BTW, when I say “We” did something, at least most of the time I’m thinking “Western World – USA & UK and sometimes France and…). Mum was English, so I’m used to thinking of We as both of the USA and UK… execpt when I mean only the USA… (OH, and nice of you to let us have your Jet Engine and Computers too… ‘we’ made nice industries out of them ;-)

  72. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and why would you ever burn your Li to Tritium to make a bomb? Much easier if you leave it Li… IIRC Li Deuteride does nicely… though some Li-Tritium makes it go easier, it also decays kindof fast… (No, I’ve not figure out how to make one of these myself… I figured I’d not need one ;-)

  73. pyromancer76 says:

    E.M., your blog sure does cover the territority. Can’t say if it is “enough already”, because I don’t know enough. I simply believe that your experience and knowledge — and that of a numer of commenters — ought to be unusually helpful for anyone “running for president” in terms of knowing the basics. Thanks for your summary of those pros and cons.

    I feel very sorry that so many people (we will soon know how many) were killed or injured by this massive earthquake in Japan. But best if we get a wake up call about the possibilities of the movements of plate tectonics. Wait until those plates move into a position to offer something like large-igneous-province lava flows. Then we might be thankful for an 8.9. Adjustment and planning seem to be our only avenues. The Japanese have taken the leadership here — unless we learn that there were short cuts and cost cutting by the company in charge.

    Well, transparency and accountability are more helpful than anything else and only free market societies offer something of this. We need to do our best knowing that there is much risk in living on Earth. And with all that risk we might as well live well rather tha poor-ly — the free market wins every time.

  74. George says:

    One simple thing that I just can’t seem to shake …

    Why didn’t that reactor design incorporate a small auxiliary turbine at each reactor to provide operating power in case both the grid power and diesel generator power went down. There should be enough decay heat to operate such a small turbine for quite some time. Think of it like the small APU built into the tail of a Boeing 737.

    The only thing I can think of is maybe they considered such an addition to be more of a risk of another place for a failure to occur than any significant benefit. I suppose the figured the idea of both external grid power *and* the generators both failing to be not very likely.

    Well, here we are.

  75. George says:

    Looks like better news in the latest statement from Daiichi #3

    Unit 3(Shut down)
    – Reactor has been shut down. However, High Pressure Core Injection System
    has been automatically shut down and water injection to the reactor is
    currently interrupted. We are examining alternative way to inject water.
    Also, following the instruction by the government and with fully securing
    safety, steps to lowering the pressure of reactor containment vessel has
    been taken. Spraying in order to lower pressure level within the reactor
    containment vessel has been cancelled.
    – Currently, we do not believe there is any reactor coolant leakage inside
    the reactor containment vessel.


  76. George says:

    Cutaway drawing of reactor containment building:

  77. Ralph B says:


    There is a steam driven cooling pump, its driven by what is called a terry turbine and can use steam of very low quality, by quality I mean has a high moisture content. This turbine exhausts to the torus which condenses the steam and no water is lost. Usually this turbine is in the lowest level of the reactor building (the cubes EM has pictured). Maybe the room got flooded during the tsunami. Pure speculation on my part.

    There is an enormous amount of misinformation in the news and hard to sort out what is really happening.

    The containment in a BWR is like a giant steel inverted light bulb. Once the main steam stops are closed and along with other isolations release of fission products other than some noble gasses is unlikely. The hydrogen in the core is produced by 2 methods, 1 is the radiolidic decomposition of water the second is when the cladding (metal that seals the fuel inside the rods) which may be zirconium (could be other alloys depending on the fuel manufacturer and design cycle) has a reaction with water. This occurs at high temperatures when the fuel is uncovered and has little or no cooling flow. Steam is a poor conductor of heat but boiling removes tremendous amounts of energy.

    Wish I was more skilled at writing…

  78. George says:

    “There is a steam driven cooling pump”

    At Diani, the pumps at Daiichi are electric.

  79. George says:

    “There is an enormous amount of misinformation in the news and hard to sort out what is really happening.”

    That is absolutely true. Watching the news on this is about like watching Twitter. One outlet comes out with some piece of half-truth, and the rest pick it up and re-report the same bit.

  80. E.M.Smith says:

    On CNN they showed a closeup before and after of the building from what would be the “backside” of the explosion ( I think it was from the sea and at a quartering angle, but it was brief…)

    It looked like the top three ‘tiers’ of the building were ‘framework’ and the rest on down were intact(!) as the speckle / checkerboard pattern paint…

    That strongly argues for hydrogen explosion just blowing the roof off and the interior machinery ought to be fairly intact.

    All in keeping with the low detected radiation levels and the low number of injured in the blast.

    FWIW at 13:15 UTC 12 Mar 2011 they had a 6.4 quake 52 miles SE of Fukushima. Don’t know how close that was to the site or blast time, but it gives an idea what kind of environment they were working in…


    My opinion of nukes is that the damage the can do is less than done by coal and the alternatives, but it comes in one “whack” when it comes and in one place. Newer designs are so safe I’d be willing to live at one; and designs like the thorium moulten salt (and others) can turn trash and coal into gasoline at about $1 / gallon. That we are not doing it says more about our stupidity than it does about technology or risks.

    I prefere the ceramic fuel types and oxide fuels to carbides and am really not fond of the ‘liquid sodium’ idea (just way too reactive IMHO). And, frankly, I’d rather have a ‘sub type’ metal plate reactor than some of this overcomplicated junk mandated by various regulators.

    At any rate, for now the industry is a stellar example of how to crush inventiveness and productivity while driving costs sky high via stupid regulation.

    (With that said, I’d not live near a TMI style reactor if you paid me…)


    Excellent question (though I’d liken it more to the little windmill that drops down if you lose ALL power. It’s just enough for minimal flying, but if you are moving through the air, you WILL have electricity). Just like with a BWR, if you have steam, you OUGHT to have electricity…

    Though even there, why isn’t there a simple steam driven pump that will move just an emergency cooling level of water? If all power fails, it “dead-man switches-on” perhaps via a valve that ‘fails open’ and is only held closed if you have electricity. All power out, it starts sending steam through that pump (and out a scrubber)…

    Ah well, I’m not on the design review team ….

  81. George says:

    The Diani plant has steam turbine water pumps for cooling. The Daiichi plant is an earlier generation and has electric pumps. Without external power, it can not cool the reactor. There should have been an auxiliary turbine to provide power for those pumps but I am guessing they just installed diesels to do that job and figured no sense in trying to design for dual points of failure as there is nearly no end to that.

    But since power for the cooling pumps is absolutely critical for the health of the surrounding community, a tertiary backup would be prudent (I might even have the steam turbine pumps at Diani backed up with electric).

  82. George says:

    By the way, for one of the very BEST descriptions I have ever seen of the Three Mile Island event, from the perspective of putting it in terms most can understand and doing so in only a few paragraphs, I give you:


  83. George says:

    Note that the hydrogen explosion at TMI happened INSIDE the containment vessel, not outside.

  84. John Silver says:

    Live press conference right now:


  85. John Silver says:

    Could be a similar hydrogen explosion in reactor no. 3.

  86. George says:

    No evidence of a hydrogen explosion in Daiichi #3 that I have seen.

  87. George says:

    Ok. they have now introduced boron into Daiichi #3 so that reactor is a write-off.


  88. John Silver says:

    My bad: there is possibility that there will be an explosion, not that there have been one.

  89. Ralph B says:


    I am not sure I would call that a very good explanation of TMI. Very difficult to explain it in a few paragraphs and you need a couple decent plant diagrams. TMI is a PWR which gets its P (pressure) from a vessel called the (aptly named) pressurizer. The pressurizer has a steam bubble in it and level does vary during start up/shutdown/and power transients. TMI had a leak from a relief valve on the pressurizer. Operator error allowed the level to drop and boiling started in the core which produced a steam bubble there pushing water level up in the pzr the operators saw the level rise and thought they were out of the woods then shut off the safety injection pumps. The core now partially uncovered experienced fuel failure until someone realized what was going on and restarted SI.
    I never worked at TMI but have been through several courses as to what happened and why. I do know some operators that were there during the event.
    Once a reactor is shut down there is no steam generated electricity. if off site power is unavailable then there are emergency diesels which can be up and running at full load in less than 10 seconds (unless swamped by a tsunami). In actuality the gens are online and loaded in about 5 seconds 10 seconds is the regulatory requirement.
    Aux cooling steam driven terry turbines can run on steam less the 80psi, while they are only rated to run on 160psi I have tested them and seen them do much better than rated (kind of like the LEM)

  90. George says:

    What I meant was more of the operational dynamics. What was done and why. Such as … not realizing the vent valve was open, not seeing the alarm lamp because of the maintenance tag, etc.

  91. Ralph B says:

    I wonder why they are injecting boron. That in itself does not “write off the reactor’ PWRs run with boron in their water and adjust boron to control power. Can’t tell you how many batches i have mixed…boron is what is know as a poison in that it absorbs neutrons stopping fission. Maybe they have a stuck rod? Control rod that is. But once all the rods are in there is no chain reaction…there is still small amounts of spontaneous fission but not enough to maintain a continuous reaction.
    If there is a fuel failure you won’t have what is called critical geometry to maintain a reaction. I would guess they have a stuck rod or two…again pure speculation on my part. Maybe there is something else going on or just political pressure to “do something”. The other thing is maybe they are adding it to the spent fuel pool as a precaution because of damage from the quake. One thing for sure the news has no clue

  92. George says:

    It sounds to me like they don’t have the power dissipation capacity to dissipate the normal decay heat so they are injecting boron to further reduce the heat generated. (further moderate any secondary fission that might be going on from neutrons flying around in there).

    I agree that it would appear that they aren’t sure of the state of control rods but since they say all rods are fully in, it would seem to me that they are trying to moderate decay heat. They apparently just don’t have the capacity to dissipate the heat this thing is generating (should be about 2 megawatts at this point) so they are trying to minimize the decay heat by further moderating any neutrons buzzing around in there.

    Speculation on my part but only thing that makes any sense if the rods are fully seated.

  93. Ian W says:

    It looks like the ‘main stream media’ has gone into full ‘swine-flu – the sky is falling!!!’ mode about the nuclear plants in Japan. It looks like these emotions are being fanned deliberately in some instances. (Never let an emergency go to waste?)

    While a radiation escape is not nice – even the Chernobyl melt down has not had anywhere near the effect people were claiming.

  94. Tim Clark says:

    Cooling system problems continue to plague two nuclear plants in earthquake-hit Fukushima Prefecture.

    The level of coolant water in the Number Three reactor at the Fukushima Number One power plant dropped on Sunday, leaving the fuel rods exposed by two meters. The situation continued for at least until 3pm, possibly causing a partial melting of the rods.

    As a result, masses of hydrogen gas have accumulated in the inside top of the reactor building. The gas may cause an explosion similar to that which occurred at the Number One reactor on Saturday.

    Tokyo Electric Power Company, also known as TEPCO, is considering ways to remove the hydrogen from the structure.
    The Number One reactor and its containment structure are being pumped with seawater in an effort to secure cooling.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the amount of seawater should entirely fill the reactor structure, and that the building should be safe as long as the water flow continues.

    At the Number Two reactor, the amount of coolant continues to be lower than usual, and the pressure within the containment vessel is above normal.

    TEPCO attempted to restore the functioning of an electrical pressure-relief device by connecting a generator, but has not succeeded.

    The company is considering other means to relieve the reactor pressure, such as releasing air from the containment vessel.
    Inadequate cooling is also occurring at the Fukushima Number Two power plant, where the pumps to send seawater to cool the Number One, Two and Four reactors have failed due to the tsunami.

    TEPCO says it will try to restore the cooling systems by replacing the pump motors overnight.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011 22:35 +0900 (JST)

    From Nhk japan. if true, this can’t be good.

  95. This is to remember workmen working there under such conditions: Really suicidal. No one in the media has mentioned them.

  96. j ferguson says:

    This being the thoughtful place it is, i’m pondering whether it makes any sense to contribute funds to the recovery and if so through whom.

    i raise this question because Japan is clearly a competent society and although there is an instantaneous need for specialists who must be imported in the numbers needed, what about funds?

    Spouse and I have been puzzled by our own reactions to the succession of disasters seen in recent years starting with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Haiti, Chile, and now Japan. We contributed to Sri Lanka and Indonesia Emergency support; Haiti as well, but not Chile, or more recently Pakistan.

    To be frank, we supposed the Chileans perfectly capable of digging themselves out and our decision not to contribute was more out of respect for them, than being unresponsive to a need we couldn’t appreciate. Pakistan was harder, but no sale for other possibly less admirable bases.

    Now Japan? We’re inclined. Any advice here? How should we see this?

  97. @j ferguson
    That is fair. In fact, in the case of the Chilean earthquake, the government there thanked the cooperations received but said they could manage it. And they really did so.

  98. Jeff Alberts says:

    “This is to remember workmen working there under such conditions: Really suicidal. No one in the media has mentioned them.”

    This conjures up images of Chernobyl. Film of workers and helicopters trying to do something, anything, and paying the ultimate price.

  99. John F. Hultquist says:

    (A) Issues from the Chernobyl explosion are on-going. Search on the phrase “Children of Chernobyl” and read a few reports. In our local community families bring teenagers over and provide 4 to 6 weeks of fun, educational, and serious experiences, including medical, dental, and eye exams.

    (B) As for donations, I would suggest searching for efforts of the Salvation Army (at least in the USA). Otherwise, identify individuals through your local college or university and give directly. For instance, Central Washington University (Ellensburg) has reciprocal programs with a Japanese school and exchange programs. Search using the phrase “English as a Second Language” (ESL) and find a program near you. These young visitors to the USA may need help.

  100. George says:

    Lets not go overboard. The radiation release so far is nowhere near the scale of Chernobyl. It currently appears that all of the reactors are stable though they are venting steam from time to time.

  101. George says:

    Ok this shows something that I don’t believe enough people have full appreciation for. If you go to this link:


    And go down to the sixth picture, you will see the Daiichi power plant. Mouse over the picture from right to left and see the tsunami damage to the plant. The first thing I noticed is now I understand why the generators “failed” … they are gone. They and their fuel tanks … gone.

    Most of the infrastructure built closest to the sea wall was wiped out. What I believe to be the fuel tanks, the two white tanks in the lower right, are just gone.

  102. George says:

    This picture shows the relative location of the two plants on the coast:

  103. oldtimer says:

    I would like to add my thanks for the informed comments on nuclear energy in its various guises and on what is (probably) happening in Japanese nuclear power stations affected by the eartquake.

    As a side note NHK reported earlier this (UK) evening that the quake has been upgraded to a 9.0M, one of the four largest recorded.

  104. George says:

    I also found what I believe is a pretty good explanation of what is going on at the plants.

    This type of reactor normally “leaks” about 1% of its primary coolant into secondary containment each day That is “normal” for this design. Normally, this is filtered and sent “up the stack”. They are now releasing it directly to the air and the iodine and cesium are a normal component of this release. These elements concentrate in the gap between the fuel cladding and the fuel element itself. If there has been damage in the zirconium cladding, these materials can be released into the coolant water. It does NOT mean there has been a fuel melt.

    At the current time it would seem that they are writing off reactors #1 and #3 by cooling them with sea water. Sea water is corrosive and would require complete disassembly of the reactor and cleaning before putting it back in service. As these reactors are very old and were due to be taken out of service soon anyway (#1 this month), it is not likely that units #1 and #3 will ever be put back in service.

    So based on currently available information (and based on the fact that the current news reports are basically useless) it would seem to me that the most likely status is:

    1. Possible cladding damage in unit #1 (most likely) and #3 (less likely/exxtensive)

    2. Reactors are likely to be stable at this point as long as they can continue to dissipate 2 megawatts of heat out of the things for the foreseeable future (actually, a little less than that, with the injection of boron, heat is likely to be closer to 1.5 megawatts).

    3. Barring any huge aftershock/tsunami, they stand a pretty good chance of keeping the situation under control but it is going to be a while before those fuel rods cool down to the point where they can be removed.

    The iodine isotope (131) has a half-life of a little over a week. The cesium (137) is much longer (about 30 years) but is not persistent in the body. It acts like potassium and is excreted from the body.

    So far this looks like a media exercise in trying to inflame the situation to make it appear much worse than it actually is.

  105. George says:

    A link posted in another forum that gives a pretty good layman’s explanation:


  106. John Silver says:

    Here is a somewhat long summary that seems very accurate of what happened and happens at Fukushima:


    “Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.”

  107. Malaga View says:


    Fukushima Daiichi

    Unit 1
    – 439 MWe BWR, 1971
    – Automatically shut down
    – Water level decreasing
    – Pressure release implemented
    – Explosion observed
    – Containment believed intact
    – Seawater injection has started
    – Radiation levels did not rise after

    Unit 2
    – 760 MWe BWR, 1974
    – Automatically shut down
    – Water level lower but steady
    – Preparations for pressure release

    Unit 3
    – 760 MWe BWR, 1976
    – Automatically shut down
    – Preparations for pressure release

    Unit 4
    – 760 MWe BWR, 1978
    – Shut for periodic inspection

    Unit 5
    – 760 MWe BWR, 1978
    – Shut for periodic inspection

    Unit 6
    – 1067 MWe BWR, 1979
    – Shut for periodic inspection

    Fukushima Daini

    Unit 1
    – 1067 MWe BWR, 1982
    – Automatically shut down
    – Offsite power available
    – Water level stable
    – Preparations for pressure release

    Unit 2
    – 1067 MWe BWR, 1984
    – Automatically shut down
    – Offsite power available
    – Water level stable
    – Preparations for pressure release

    Unit 3
    – 1067 MWe BWR, 1985
    – Automatically shut down
    – Offsite power available
    – Water level stable
    – Preparations for pressure release

    Unit 4
    – 1067 MWe BWR, 1987
    – Automatically shut down
    – Offsite power available
    – Water level stable
    – Preparations for pressure release

  108. E.M.Smith says:


    Grunt: “Honorable Manager-san, I can not start generator”.

    Mgr: “Have you checked the fuel level and purity?”

    Grunt: “Honorable Manager-san, I could not”

    Mgr: “Why not! Do it, or I get someone who can!!”

    Grunt: “Honorable Manager-san, fuel tanks gone, so is gauge and testing station…”

    Mgr: “I see. Well, carry on, then”…

    Mgr: “Most Honorable Sr.Mgr-San, we can not start generator… ”

    Yeah, that could be a problem ….



  109. Tim Clark says:

    This is from the TEPCO webpage. Note the last sentence. Something lost in translation?

    A big earthquake occurred in the northern part of Japan at 2:46PM of March 11th 2011.Because TEPCO’s facilities have been seriously damaged, power shortage may occur.TEPCO appreciates customers’ cooperation in reducing electricity usage by avoiding using unnecessary lighting and electrical equipment.
    We are taking all measures to restore power, however, we expect extremely challenging situation in power supply for a while. We kindly ask our customers to cooperate with us in reducing usage of power.
    Please do NOT touch cut-off electric wires, even if you find them.

  110. George says:

    Another possible hydrogen explosion. This time at Daiichi #3

  111. George says:

    Video of Daiichi #3 hydrogen explosion. So far seems to be the same mode as for #1

  112. kuhnkat says:

    Here is a link with what I thought was a very clear explanation of the issues with the Japanese plants:


    I would appreciate feedback from those with experience as to whether these guys really know what they are talking about.

  113. kuhnkat says:

    OOOOPS. I see a couple others found the same link. Still hoping for expert feedback on it!!

  114. Malaga View says:

    @ kuhnkat I would appreciate feedback

    12th March: The plant is safe now and will stay safe

    14th March: Another Fukushima nuclear plant blast injures 11

    Looks like another blog expert bites the dust…

    While I wonder what they are doing with the sea water they are pumping… letting it boil away… making more hydrogen… seeping away into cracks… circulating as normal… pumping into holding tanks… or dumping it back into the sea…. now let me guess.

  115. Ralph B says:


    I read that and it is a good synopsis. 2 items I see that may be not quite right. First is the battery back up…there are several vital systems that use a battery backup system they are for monitoring and controls no pumps are run off them, some motor/solenoid valves are.
    The boron being injected in with the seawater does not help cool anything down. The control rods have so much extra negative reactivity that there is negligible fission and boron will not stop that. Decay heat will only lessen with time as the fission product daughters decay. For a refueling outage we would have the top off the vessel and ready to start moving fuel in 3 days. I have driven the bridge crane and moved fuel. So many interlocks and procedural steps anyone can do it. Great engineering can make complex tasks easy.
    Back to boron…I suspect they are adding it to the seawater to minimize neutron activation of the contaminants in the water. Rather have boron absorb a neutron than iron 59. Again my guess only and i may be talking out my cow pie hole.
    The gent that wrote that up is far smarter and more skilled than me.

  116. Tenuc says:

    Nice clear video here of reactor 3 explosion. Shows a bright orange fire-ball near the top of the building on right – 3 separate detonations – much brownish dust (concrete?).

    Unlike the previous explosion which was flat and to the left-hand side of RI, the R3 explosions resulted in a vertical debris plume and several large blocks of masonry (concrete?) falling down just to the right of the remains of the reactor building.

    Makes me wonder WTF is going on?

  117. E.M.Smith says:

    So, on news tonight, we’ve got 1 and 3 blown, and we’ve got reports that #2 has now stopped active cooling…

    Anyone want to lay odds on when #2 has a hydrogen explosion?

    (You’d think that they would have a window or a pipe they could open to let hydrogen out… wouldn’t want to be cutting a hole right now, though ;-)

  118. Ralph B says:

    The reactor building itself is not much more than a fancy Butler Building. The brown cloud is probably from the insulation and years of dust build up. While you don’t need a lot of hydrogen to get an explosion like that it seems likely that they are having a zirc-water interaction going on in the core. That is from the fuel being uncovered and rapid oxidation of the zirconium cladding in the high heat environment. Lots of hydrogen gets produced during that reaction.

  119. George says:

    I have conflicting information on unit #2 Kyodo says coolant is low but fuel covered, NHK says lost all coolant.

    Better news: The units at the Diani site have been removed from the “Emergency” list. And Tepco reports all 18 hydro stations back on the grid.

  120. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ralph B:

    Yeah, no biggy… It just seems like one of those “little things” they could have thought of; a way to vent hydrogen so it doesn’t build up in the ‘weather cover’ attic…

    Oh, and don’t forget the sea gull droppings on the roof ;-)

    It ought not to take much of a ‘vent’ to get enough hydrogen leakage to remove the (bad PR and hurts some employees) “issue”…

    Then again these guys are working without power and without much else too and with who knows what personal issues ( “is my family alive?”…) so I can’t fault them much…

    In that “good article” link there was this statement:

    This is where things started to go seriously wrong. The external power generators could not be connected to the power plant (the plugs did not fit). So after the batteries ran out, the residual heat could not be carried away any more.

    Now I don’t know what level of tools they had or didn’t have, but with not much more than pliers and a screwdriver I can get the wires out of the plug and just stuff them into the connector. I suspect something more is going on here. Maybe like a 220 single phase vs 408 3 phase or some such…. If it’s just “copper to copper” I can find a way to make it go. “Worse case” is a hack saw and some “car battery welding”…

    At any rate, it sounds like a loose end to me…

  121. E.M.Smith says:


    I’d bet it is “lost all active cooling” not “coolant” and got “lost in translation”…. and that the fuel bundle is covered, but we’re into that ‘lock it down and vent’ that leads to the hydrogen that…

    Surely with the 18? vents they would have at least one of them that went out of the attic….

  122. Ralph B says:

    The reactor building HVAC goes through various filter mechanisms to pull out any potential contamination. No power to the fans though…they planned for lots of things but nothing of this magnitude.
    As for the plugs not fitting I bet its more of the switchgear being wiped out with the tsunami. The gens in the US will run at either 4160 or 6.9kv depending on the plant. Japan running at 50hz they are probably running 11kv. Those voltages need better clearances than 440. Seawater contamination of the switchgear screws everything up. They are probably working to run cables directly to the pump motor controllers assuming they are not damaged. In which case you need to bring in something for to replace that.

    Those vents they keep mentioning are the ones that lead to the torus (the big steel donut under the containment) They are venting the torus to the reactor building HVAC but that isn’t going anywhere without any fans

  123. E.M.Smith says:


    Thanks! That’s something I’d not thought about. If the gen sets are gone, the switch gear is toast too…

    That they are using 6-11kv range is a “Yikes!” moment for me… We ran a 750 kVA transformer into our shop for the large equipment and had 3 motor generators behind it to turn it into 400 hz (so all the power conditioning equipment would be smaller). Somehow I wasn’t picturing the emergency pumps as needing that much power. How big are those things?

    I was sort of picturing something of fire truck / fire hydrant sized for emergencies… maybe 100 kW Diesels… but if you need 6-11 kV, that’s, er, a lot! A 1 Amp feed being 11 kW… and a 10 amp feed 110 kw…

  124. Tenuc says:

    Ralph B said:-
    “The reactor building itself is not much more than a fancy Butler Building. The brown cloud is probably from the insulation and years of dust build up. While you don’t need a lot of hydrogen to get an explosion like that it seems likely that they are having a zirc-water interaction going on in the core. That is from the fuel being uncovered and rapid oxidation of the zirconium cladding in the high heat environment. Lots of hydrogen gets produced during that reaction.”

    Don’t think the brown cloud is from the insulation and years of dust build up, as if you step through the video frame by frame you can see large slabs of concrete falling down to the fight of the ruins of R1, as well as the massive curtain of dust.

    I also think it would need a massive amount of hydrogen to throw stuff up so high and would be surprised if it could detonate in 3 stages, as the video reveals.

    What are the odds on R2 popping it’s clogs sometime soon???

  125. Malaga View says:

    TEPCO:Fuel rods exposed at Fukushima reactor
    Tokyo Electric Power Company is battling to cool a reactor to prevent another explosion at its nuclear power plant in quake-hit Fukushima Prefecture.

    The utility firm said on Monday afternoon that fuel rods are exposed at the Number Two reactor of its Fukushima Number One plant after the level of coolant water dropped. At around 6pm, the power company began pumping in seawater. But it says all fuel rods in the reactor could be exposed. The firm says a core meltdown might have occurred.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says that pumping seawater into the reactor is working now to cool the reactor.

    Earlier in the day, the firm told the government that the reactor had lost all cooling capability due to a failure of the emergency power system.

    Since then, the company has tried to circulate the coolant by steam instead of electricity. But attempts to lower the temperature inside the reactor chamber have not worked well.

    The company is also considering opening a hole in the reactor housing building to release hydrogen generated by the exposed fuel rods.

    Accumulated hydrogen has caused blasts at two other reactors at the plant.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 20:36 +0900 (JST)

  126. shockwave yareach says:

    I’ve long held that half of the fuel rods need to be held in place with a metal that melts slightly before the fuel rods do. Thus even when everything goes wrong and nobody is around to do anything, half the rods will fall via gravity into a retaining grid beneath the core (still in the containment vessel) and the reactor will stop. By physically breaking up the fuel, any disaster like this one will shut down the entire thing, water or no water, electricity or no electricity, people or no people, Mothra or Godzilla…

  127. boballab says:

    Well According to TEPCO after the building surrounding Unit #3’s containment vessel, they are finally thinking of taking preventative step to stop #2 from going boom too:

    In light of the incidents that have occurred at Units 1 and 3, we are considering applying prevention measures to the wall of the reactor building to ventilate the hydrogen gas contained in Unit 2.


    Also MSN has a nice photo on their page which I screencapped and uploaded to tinypic:

    Now is that a House-Boat or a Boat-House?

  128. E.M.Smith says:


    Are you sure it was three explosions and not just three sound paths? I’ve not had time to watch the video on slow (just once fast… last night was ‘entertaining’ night so I’ve been soft of offline with prep, entertainment, and now post party cleanup…).

    In the ‘once through’ I didn’t notice 3 dust pulses (but wasn’t watching that close and it’s hard to see in a mess) but the three sounds were very ‘similar’ (be nice to see them on a screen…) and reminded me of one main, two mountain reflections…

    @boballab & Melaga View:

    But I’ve been trying to figure out how to cut a hole without heat and sparks and comming up with nothing…

    Saw, chisle, thermite, hammers, explosive shaped cutting charge, drill, …. all have spark hazards.

    All I could thinkl of was a very slow wet drill, and I’ve no idea where you will find someone to sit on top of an explosive roof with an electric drill (and no power?) while a firehose of sea water runs over it….

    I’m sure someone has ‘explosive atmosphere’ kit and methods, but lord knows it’s not me ;-)

    Maybe just take a backhoe and knock out a couple of low panels so the air blows through and turbulence does the job? ;-)

    Oh, and I’d call it a ferry… too many windows for a house.

  129. Malaga View says:

    Are you sure it was three explosions and not just three sound paths?

    The other curiosity is the yellow flame… hydrogen should burn blue from what I can read….

  130. boballab says:

    Hydrogen explodes with a yellow orange flame, here is a class demonstration :

  131. Malaga View says:

    @ boballab
    Thank you….

  132. Tenuc says:

    @Tunic: “Are you sure it was three explosions and not just three sound paths?”

    Almost sure – only a 1 second gap between detonations with sea on one side and flat ground on the other (I suspect the cameraman was not too close!)

    No echo from R1 explosion, so why get an echo when R3 blows?

    I’m worried that they because the venting gear seemed to be non-operational they were forced to use demolition cutting charges to take the top off the containment vessel, like a boiled egg. They would then have to flood the open reactor with water to cool the core.

    Interestingly later coverage I watched didn’t have the ‘blast’ sound-track at all – just talk-overs.

  133. Malaga View says:

    @ Tenuc
    I’m worried that they because the venting gear seemed to be non-operational they were forced to use demolition cutting charges to take the top off the containment vessel, like a boiled egg.

    That seems to fit the facts… but not what we are told….

  134. George says:

    Sounds to me like they are simply going to knock out a panel of the roof or upper wall of the #2 refueling deck to allow hydrogen to escape without building up.

    Also, they are now suspecting a faulty coolant level gauge at one of the reactors but I can’t quite make out exactly which one they are talking about.

    The stuck vent has now been “unstuck”, they added more water, got more pressure, need to vent again, add water again, rinse, lather, repeat. That will probably go on for another several days with the time between venting operations increasing as the decay heat dwindles.

  135. George says:

    Reports of explosion now at Daiichi #2 That would make all three of them.

  136. Malaga View says:

    Greg Palast has a few thoughts about TEPCO…

    Tokyo Electric to Build US Nuclear Plants

  137. Malaga View says:

    New blast at Fukushima nuclear plant

    NHK World “On Air” speculating there was a problem in the “suppression pool” and that there may be damage to the “containment vessel” of reactor #2

  138. George says:

    Well, what gets me is people attempting to “frame drag” plants that were built 40 years ago into a standard as if they were built recently. We don’t build plants anything like the Daiichi plants these days and frankly, haven’t since the 1980s.

    There is a reason why the Daini plants (Fukushima II) shut down normally with much less problem. The two plants are on either ends of the same town, experienced the same quake and the same tsunami. Daiichi has problems, Daini doesn’t.

    I have no problems with Tepco building a modern plant. I wouldn’t want to move one that they built in the 1960’s to the US, though.

  139. George says:

    There has been an explosion at the Unit #2 plant. It appears to have been somewhere near the pressure suppression unit. The extent of damage, if any, is not yet known. Water injection is continuing but non-essential personnel are being moved off site until they can determine the status of the site.

    Temperatures and water levels didn’t change. A pressure gauge in the pressure suppressor seems to have dropped but one in the dry well did not change. Other parameters were unchanged giving the possibility that the pressure gauge was damaged in the explosion.

  140. E.M.Smith says:

    Reactor #4 now on fire. From:


    Update 10:04: President Naoto Kan is addressing the nation on the situation at the plant. He’s urging everyone in the 20KM radius of the plant to leave (which is not actually new).

    Via Time Out Tokyo:
    “We are doing everything we can.”
    “I would like to ask the nation to remain calm, even though this is an incident of great concern. And with that, I end my message.”

    Cabinet Chief Yukio Edano: Now Reactor #4 is on fire.

    This is entering that “hard to watch slow decent into complete catastrophe” stage…

  141. boballab says:


    I saw that on NHK and they stated that TEPCO thinks that fire was started by a Hydrogen explosion and that the Hydrogen came from the spent fuel pool. It seems that for some reason they keep the spent fuel pool in the same building as the reactor (at least to one report I saw it was a contributor to the #3 unit blast and the reason it was further down the building and the reason for the amount of steam afterwards).

  142. George says:

    Ok, it looks like in all the excitement they forgot to monitor the spent fuel pool at unit #4. Apparently all the water evaporated off and the fuel has caught fire. That spent fuel pool is on that upper deck where all the hydrogen explosions have been happening in the other units. That fuel can still be quite hot and needs to be kept under water. If they hadn’t been watching it (probably not used to having to watch it because normally the water level is probably automatically controlled).

    What’s next?

  143. George says:

    Apparently #4 was shut down last month so that spent fuel is still pretty “fresh” and hot.

  144. George says:

    Fuel fire in #4 now out.

  145. boballab says:

    From the “shouldn’t surprise you” department my local 11 O’clock news reports on the #2 unit explosion all the while showing a film clip of the #1 unit explosion.

    It probably never dawned on them that where the explosion occurs and the blast pattern can tell you a great deal about what, when, where and why.

  146. George says:

    Now they are saying it wasn’t reactor fuel on fire, it was something else in the building.

  147. David says:

    I hope the people that know what they are doing can get some rest, work in shifts. I have done numerous 24 hour days, and a few 30 to 36. The brain certainly does not function as well long before then.

  148. E.M.Smith says:


    Thanks for that detail. Somewhere along the line I saw a diagram of the actual plant designs and yes, the spent fuel “pond” is about 3 stories up where it’s quick and easy to move fuel from the top load port into it. My guess is that’s why it’s there. Looked like a large concrete box cast into the structure from the get-go.


    Yes, “honesty, fidelity, and forensics” seem to be words they do not know… MSNBC has been running rabid paranoia “experts” predicting things of the order of Chernobyl and the need to completely rethink if humanity is capable fo handling nuclear power. It’s begun…

    Yes, it’s a mess, but a very managable mess so far. Much better than a giant toxic chemical spill that NEVER decays away on it’s own…


    Longest day I ever did was 42 hours with a 3 hour nap in it. Never Again. I can do 24 just fine, but at 36, folks need a mandatory nap. At that point the brain will just rack up the REM sleep way fast and it’s about a 3x gain. So nap 2 and it’s like 6 hours in the sack. Don’t do it, and you are on about 1/2 speed / function. That means that skip the nap, and in 4 hours you have done 2 hours work; which is what you would have gotten done with the 2 hour nap. But you probably also had at least one ‘modest’ screw up’ that will now take 2 hours to fix…

    So yeah, I hope someone in mgt there knows this and tells folks “You are on rotation. 12 on, 2 off.” or something like that… 24 – 4 works for me in real hard times…

  149. George says:

    Latest status is actually looking much better:

    1. Fire out in unit #4 and word is the US military helped put out the fire.

    2. Units 1 and 3 are currently stable.

    3. Unit 2 is being recharged with water but they need to pump some, vent some, pump some, vent some to get it filled back up.

    Radiation levels are currently declining at the site. Radiation levels are higher at the front gate than at the reactor units and that is believe to be due to debris scattered due to the hydrogen explosions (those activated charcoal vent filters full of contaminants that got blasted across the site).

  150. Hugo M says:

    I’m worried that they because the venting gear seemed to be non-operational they were forced to use demolition cutting charges to take the top off the containment vessel, like a boiled egg.

    The other curiosity is the yellow flame… hydrogen should burn blue from what I can read….

    While not having seen the video myself, it appears to me that it could make much sense to open a reactor in an at least somewhat controlled manner, as a last resort before an uncontrolled explosion. I’m asking myself if the yellow flame may be actually an indicator for this, since the yellow flash looks so Natrium-like — with the Natrium possibly stemming from sprayed seawater they had pumped into the reactor vessel (and around it?) before. There was also a considerable column of steam going up in the aftermath of the explosion, which is visible, e.g. here:


    Also, if your only working mean to get fresh water into the pressurized vessel are fire pumps (as the NYT reported yesterday) such a decision would appear to be sensible, pondering the consequences.

  151. BTW: What about radiation for cancer cure?. …Sounds crazy

  152. kuhnkat says:

    Here is an alternate explanation for the hydrogen source for the explosions.


  153. Level_Head says:

    STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasting) tries to be careful in their reporting. This is their alert this morning on the reactor situation:


    They’ve already made one set of corrections — for example, on the size of the “no fly” zone around the reactor complex.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  154. R. de Haan says:

    Interesting picts:
    Digitalglobes satellite imagery anaysis Fukushima

    And a story about the incredible mount of used fuel rods stored at the Fukushima plant location:
    20 years of used fuel representing the number of 600.000 rods?


    The latest news is that the used rods stored at Fukushima 4 reactor (out of service) have caught fire for the second time.

  155. R. de Haan says:

    Reactor Design in Japan Has Long Been Questioned

  156. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve added a cutaway schematic of the GE Mark I to the top of the posting. A full sized image is here:

    You can get a much better idea of what they are up against with that spent fuel pool up at the top just to the right of the reactor top… if you get a crack in that concrete box from the explosion you get to fill the whole building with sea water to keep the rods covered.

  157. George says:

    Looks like some better news today. Looks like they are getting power infrastructure to the Dai-ichi plant:

    “Restoration of electrical power to the site was under way at the Daiichi plant as of 6:00 a.m. EDT Wednesday. A temporary cable was being connected between an off-site power line and Daiichi reactor 3. Off-site power has not been available at the site since the earthquake on March 11.”

    Reactor 3 seems to be the nexus of several power circuits as when unit 3 exploded was when unit 2 lost power and its problems started.

  158. E.M.Smith says:


    That is good news…

    I must admit, though, that the “din” on the MSM is getting to me. I’m finding myself getting a ‘slow burn’ of my own going about a nuclear plant desigh that:

    1) MUST have electricity or it fails.

    2) Consistently blows up without electricity.

    3) Has a spent fuel pool that dries out and catches on fire without electricity.

    4) Has that spent fuel pool where it COULD have a containment around it, but doesn’t; and DOES have it where it’s damn near impossible to keep water in the kettle a few stories up especially when the concrete cracks.

    I know, pissing and moaning about a 50 year old reactor design when all that is fixed in the news ones… so why the hell are we know tearing these suckers down and putting nice new ones that are ‘walkaway safe’ in their place?


    Really gets me P.O.ed…

    At any rate, any ideas on how much of that “4 is burning, it’s stopped, it’s burning again,…” and the “5 and 6 are now overheating” is true and how much is false?

    At this point we’ve got 1-4 “blown or burning” just from lack of electricity, so I can’t see how 5 and 6 can be much better off…

    I suspect in the end we’re going to find out the reactors were fine and all the rest came from the spent fuel pool. Any ideas how much hydrogen it would generate as the water boiled off? I could see a case where it makes the hydrogen, and that blows the roof, and …

  159. Malaga View says:

    I suspect in the end we’re going to find out the reactors were fine and all the rest came from the spent fuel pool.

    That thought crossed my mind…. especially as helicopters were used to drop water.

  160. George says:

    Number 5 and number 6 have generator power. They should be ok.

    There are two reactor complexes withing the Dai-ichi site. There is the 1-4 site and the 5-8 site (units 7 and 8 are still under construction and are advanced units)

    Units 5 and 6, as of this morning, have generator power and the spokesman said the situation there was stable and not likely to worsen. They were also not running.

    It is also important to note that the Japanese radiation exposure limits for their nuclear workers is MUCH lower than the rest of the world. Japanese exposure limits are 20% of the international limits. The government yesterday increased that for Dai-ichi workers to 50% of the international limit.

    The fundamental problem is that unit 1 is a BWR3 and units 2 through 5 are BWR4 units.

    Unit 6 is a BWR6 as are the Dai-ni plants. BWR6 uses a steam bypass turbine to drive the cooling pumps so it can use decay heat to drive the pumps. The real problem is valves and sensors that need power to operate properly. It does not good to have a steam drive capacity if you can’t open a valve to let the steam flow.

    Units 7 and 8 are ABWR and will not need external power to shut down. The newest GE design is:


    and uses completely passive cooling, no pumps.

    and is extremely safe as is the Westinghouse AP1000.

    “It is 11 times more likely for the largest asteroid near the earth to impact the earth over the next 100 years than for an ESBWR operational event to result in the release of fission products to the environment”

    But it is really important to keep in mind that Japanese exposure standards are tiny compared to the rest of the world so their reactions are going to be exaggerated a bit compared to the level of exposure. People are going to see what the Japanese are doing and attempt to relate that to their own country’s response and attempt to infer a severity level and that will result in a distorted picture of what is going on.

    One also must understand that there were four generators on site for the complex 1-4 and any one of them could have powered the entire site. There were two fundamental problems … the tsunami swept away the fuel tanks for the generators and flooded the electrical compartments. So they could not even use mains power as the electrical distribution boxes, vaults, transformers, etc. were flooded with sea water. They designed for a 7 meter tsunami and got a 7.5 meter tsunami.

    This accident is NOT the result of a failure or operational accident, it is a result of a natural disaster far beyond the design capacity of the plant. It is amazing they have managed to control the incident at all. On paper, this plant should have been destroyed.

    And because the tsunami overtopped the wall by 1/2 meter doesn’t mean you only get 1/2 meter of water. It means once you get to >7.0 meters, the water on site is >7.0 meters as it floods over the walls. The turbine rooms were flooded the power infrastructure was flooded. Dai-ni fared better. Its power was not interrupted but that facility is a much newer design (Dai-ni first plant went online in 1982, in contrast to unit 5 at Dai-ichi which went online in 1978).

    Yes, plants that are in areas subject to flooding and tsunami should not run models of reactors that require outside power to operate.

    In fact, we should get rid of all of those plants and replace them with modern units.

  161. George says:

    “I suspect in the end we’re going to find out the reactors were fine and all the rest came from the spent fuel pool. ”

    I went through a little mental exercise when that issue became clear.

    Imagine the pools are being maintained automatically and checking on them is not a routine operation. You have three reactors without power that you are trying to shut down. Nobody is thinking about the spent fuel pool or it is decided that it is a much lower priority than getting the reactors themselves cooled. I would image there was an “oh crap” moment when unit 4 started having problems.

    The fuel in unit 4 spent pool is pretty fresh. It was only removed from the reactor about a month ago so it is still pretty hot. If the quake resulted in some debris falling from the ceiling onto that pool, yes, something could have caught fire. Fuel rods don’t catch fire. Something else must have come into contact with them in order to start one.

    Oh, and you can get a simulator for these reactors here:


  162. j ferguson says:

    Something that would be very useful is a “kept-up-to-now” timeline. the insidious thing about the “news” is that you find yourself reading yesterday’s crisis as though it’s a new catastrophe.

    has anyone seen one?

  163. George says:


    The coolant pump motors 4 megawatts each. There are two per reactor. Three running reactors would require 24 megawatts of electricity. They are 4,160v 60Hz three phase 6,000 horsepower motors.

    The emergency generators trucked in could not supply this load.

  164. George says:

    j ferguson, I find the most accurate information so far here:


    But at this time of day it is mostly repeating stories as it is not even 4am in Tokyo right now. The new cycle of press conferences will start this evening.

  165. Malaga View says:

    @ George
    It is 11 times more likely for the largest asteroid near the earth to impact the earth over the next 100 years than for an ESBWR operational event to result in the release of fission products to the environment

    I not sure that is very reassuring… it gives me a feeling of deja vu… neither am I convinced it is true.

    Asteroids with diameters of 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) enter the Earth’s atmosphere approximately once per year, with as much energy as Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, approximately 15 kilotonnes of TNT. These ordinarily explode in the upper atmosphere, and most or all of the solids are vaporized.

    Objects with diameters over 50 m (164 ft) strike the Earth approximately once every thousand years, producing explosions comparable to the one known to have detonated above Tunguska in 1908.

    At least one known asteroid with a diameter of over 1 km (0.62 mi), (29075) 1950 DA, has a possibility of colliding with Earth on March 16, 2880, but the Torino scale only works for impact possibilities within 100 years, and thus cannot apply to this asteroid.


  166. George says:

    More people were killed and more environmental damage is done each year in the oil and coal industry. I have no understanding of this irrational hysterical fear of radiation. You simply manage it like any other form of contamination.

    How many were killed at Deepwater Horizon? How much environmental damage done?

    So far NOBODY has been killed as a direct result of the events at Dai-ichi. One person died from apparently natural causes (suspected heart attack) and one died from physical injuries sustained in the quake/tsunami.

    There has been no environmental so far. No deaths, no damage, yet it is a HUGE story and has people all over the globe consuming huge amounts of iodine for no reason.

  167. George says:

    How much radiation is released annually from coal seam fires burning globally? How much mercury? If they were put out, it would be the equivalent of removing every single motor vehicle from US in terms of CO2 emission.

    I see no daily hysteria over that.

  168. Level_Head says:

    @Malaga View

    The calculation of “probabilities of failure” is curious. Richard Feynman discussed this issue at length in connection to the Challenger disaster, where he investigated (among other things) the failure rates offered for the very high capacity fuel pumps on the Shuttle. It begins:

    It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?”

    The rest is here:

    It seems relevant to the nuclear engineering chance of failure.

    Nevertheless, the nuclear plants can certainly be said to have performed, in practice, extremely well. The circumstances of these failures is extraordinary, and so far the results are nothing like Chernobyl.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  169. George says:

    The sort of failure we are seeing at Dai-ichi just *can not happen* with modern reactors. It would be just a physical impossibility with a boiling water reactor. There are no cooling pumps so they can’t fail.

  170. Level_Head says:


    Apparently, since coal seam fires are not the same as US industry (as natural oil leaks are not the same as US spills), bringing media attention to such coal fires is … unseamly.

    I don’t know the dismantle/replacement schedule of all of these early Mark I units there. How long would it have been before even this quake and tsunami would not have produced the leaks? A year? Two?

    I’m thinking that they almost got to these old ones in time, even in advance of the extraordinary (and extraordinarily unlikely at that magnitude) circumstances that happened.

    It also appears that there was little damage to the reactors themselves in the quake — the failures all seem related to the loss of electric power, and washing away of backup power capability in the tsunami. Is that right?

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  171. Malaga View says:

    The sort of failure we are seeing at Dai-ichi just *can not happen*

    Just like tsunamis can not happen in Japan….

    Just like hurricanes can not happen in the UK…

  172. George says:

    Correct, the cause of the problems was loss of electrical power. We would not be having this discussion if the generators and fuel tanks were mounted either on the top of the buildings or if they had been installed more than 300 meters inland. If the tsunami mitigation was simply for an 8 meter rather than a 7 meter tsunami, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    If you look at this list:


    there are lots of GE Gen2 reactors with Mk-1 containment in the US just like the Japanese units at Dai-ichi.

    Malaga … if a reactor does not *have* a pump, a pump can not fail.

  173. E.M.Smith says:

    Fuel rods don’t catch fire. Something else must have come into contact with them in order to start one.

    Um, the MSM is saying that the zirconium alloy cladding can get hot enough to ignite when rods are left in air. Is that not correct? ( I could easily see them getting that wrong… and chide myself for actually having accepted that they might have something right from time to time…)

    Wow! 4 MW! Theat explains a lot …

    I have no understanding of this irrational hysterical fear of radiation. You simply manage it like any other form of contamination.

    Thats not true! Heavy metals, like mercury, don’t just go away on their own, while radiation DOES decay! Radioactive contamination is safer than persistent chemical or element contamination… ;-)

    BTW, I’ve seen a proposal to deliberately ignite underground coal and use the gasses in a F-T synthesis… so… why not just go harness some of the present fires? Sure, you can’t put it out, but can you restrict the air and add water enough to be CO + H2 products?…

    Per the US GE Mark-x reactors in the USA:

    I would hope they are putting in place plans to change how they deal with the ‘spent fuel storage’….

  174. George says:

    Oh, no, not that Karl Grossman crap again. No, it won’t ignite. You can get powdered zirconium to ignite, but not the solid metal. Zircaloy, in the presence of oxygen will develop a passivation layer on the surface. But the melting point of Zircaloy is lower than that of the fuel. At about 2000 degrees, the Zircaloy will begin to melt and this can expose the fuel pellet. The fuel pellet requires another 1000 degrees for it to melt so it won’t melt until about 3000.

    The crap about zircaloy clad fuel rods “igniting” can all be traced back to Karl Grossman.

    But other materials will ignite at well below 2000 degrees. If any debris fell into that spent fuel pond during the EQ, it could be ignited as the water level drops and the debris comes into contact with exposed rods.

  175. George says:

    Japan is due to begin reprocessing that spent fuel next year. Actually, they have already started but not expected to get into full industrial scale re-processing until next year.

    And those numbers are nothing compared to the number of spent fuel rods stored on site in the US.

    By the way, there are 387 spent rods in the pool at reactor #4. The numbers being flung around the Internet about 6000 fuel rods and such are bogus.

  176. George says:

    I worry about things where the cure might be worse than the disease. For example:

    Zircaloy absorbs hydrogen. There is hydrogen in a reactor. Hydrogen makes Zircaloy brittle. So imagine cold water being poured on those rods, the cladding cracks, fuel is exposed.

    The fuel pellet itself is encased in a Zircaloy clad. Those pellets are then, in turn, loaded in a steel tube (the “rod”). If the water level drops and exposes the rod, the first thing that will happen is that the steel tube will melt and the pellet will fall into the remaining water in the pool. You would not get fuel exposure to air until the water is nearly completely gone in the pool.

    The last report I got was water levels were low, but there was still water in the pool and that water temperature was in the 80’s C as opposed to the normal 40’s C.

    That report does not indicate a dry pool. This is further confirmed by the clouds of steam. Water in the 80’s C in the presence of air near 0C would be expected to make steam. We are seeing that steam in the video information. That would be another indication that the spent fuel pool is not dry.

  177. George says:

    Click to access 02-2-159_report.pdf

    About halfway down on page 3

    Another possibility discussed regarding nuclear power plants involves the scenario of an aircraft crash somehow igniting the Zirconium cladding on the nuclear fuel elements. Unlike Sodium, which burns on exposure to air, or Magnesium, which ignites at relatively low temperature, solid Zirconium will not burn. Zirconium doesn’t melt until approximately 3,330 degrees Fahrenheit. However, fine Zirconium shavings or dust will burn. In order to cause a Zirconium fire, it would be necessary for a terrorist to fracture the nuclear fuel cladding into small pieces before subjecting it to a source of ignition. Even assuming that the Zirconium was fragmented into chips, the spent fuel elements are either under water (upwards to 50 feet in many cases) or contained in massive shielding systems. This means that it would take an incredibly large quantity of heat to raise the temperature of the Zirconium and the surrounding shielding to the point of ignition.

    Moreover, since aviation gasoline burns at approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it would take an extended period of time to achieve the temperatures needed to ignite Zirconium shavings. A fire that persists for a long time (twenty hours has been mentioned) requires a substantial fuel source. In an open configuration, such as might take place on the ground surrounding a dry storage facility, gasoline will burn at a rate close to 1/3 inch per minute (i.e., a large pan of gasoline burning will reduce the level of the fuel in the pan about 1/3 inch per minute). Given that even the largest light aircraft carries less than 300 gallons of fuel, the possibility of such a condition is practically non-existent.

    Further, to provide an optically opaque fire and transmit as much heat as possible, the flames have to be at least ten feet thick. Thus, to engulf a dry storage cask in flames (one model is about 10 feet in diameter, others are larger) would require a pool at least 30 feet in diameter. At 1/3 inch a minute, this would consume almost 150 gallons a minute even if there were no runoff. At that rate, a 20-hour fire would consume 400 inches of fuel, or slightly over 176,000 gallons (equaling one million pounds). Not even the largest military tanker can transport that much fuel. Using the figure of 20,000 gallons of fuel mentioned in the Markey report, a fire 30 feet in diameter would burn for a maximum of about 2.3 hours. Since light general aviation aircraft carry only a fraction of the cited fuel volume plus, considering runoff, the resulting fire from a small airplane crash would be mere minutes. The possibility of a fuel explosion igniting the Zirconium is refuted by carefully reviewing the dynamics of such an event. The temperature of a fireball is again about 2,000 degrees, but the exposure lasts for only milliseconds. This would produce insufficient heat to raise the temperature of the Zirconium more than a degree or so even if directly exposed to the fireball.

    Now we are only talking about decay heat here, not actual reaction heat. I really don’t see how these rods could possibly get hot enough to ignite the metal. They COULD however easily get hot enough to ignite any debris that fell on that pool (ceiling tiles, cables, whatever).

    In other words, steel wool burns, too, but we still make cars out of steel.

  178. George says:

    Just watched the helicopter dousing of reactor 3. Good news, from my point of view, no cloud of steam when the water hit the roof.

  179. E.M.Smith says:

    Thanks for the tip, just hit that video link above again and got to watch the replay of the drop myself. Nice.

    They said a “water canon” truck was being dispatched too. (I’d have expected them to already be there after the fires…)

    FWIW, I found an interesting MSDS:


    Trade Name: Zirconium
    Chemical Nature: Metallic Element
    Formula: Zr
    CAS Number: 7440-67-7


    Boiling Point: 4377 oC
    Melting Point: 1852 oC
    Specific Gravity: 6.506 g/cc
    Vapor Pressure: N/A
    Vapor Density: N/A
    Solubility in H2O: Insoluble

    Appearance and Odor: Metallic gray or silver-gray, odorless.

    % Volatile: N/A


    Autoignition Temperature: Solid metal will not ignite. High surface area material such as 10 micron powder may autoignite at room temperature. Fine chips, turnings, or grinding dust produced from this metal are flammable. Ignition point for powder varies from 200 oC to above 500 oC depending on particle size.

    Minimum Explosible Concentration (g/m3): Less than 100. Varies with particle size.

    Extinguishing Media: Dry table salt. Type D fire extinguisher. DO NOT USE water, carbon dioxide or halocarbon extinguishing agent.

    Special Firefighting Procedures: If metal fines become ignited it is advisable to allow the material to burnout. Fire can be controlled by smothering with dry table salt or using Type D dry-powder fire extinguisher material. Wear reflective heat-resistant suit.

    Unusual Fire & Explosion Hazard: Do not spray water on burning zirconium. Carbon dioxide is not effective in extinguishing burning zirconium.

    If a fire starts in a mass of wet metal fines, the initial fire may be followed by an explosion. Therefore, when in doubt, personnel should retire and not attempt to extinguish the fire. The explosive characteristic of such material is caused by the steam and hydrogen generated within the burning mass.

    Spontaneously combustible in dry powder form. Flammable and explosive as dust or powder, also in the form of borings and shavings. Zirconium metal is a very dangerous fire hazard in the form of dust when exposed to heat, flame or by chemical reaction with oxidizing agents. May be an explosion hazard in the form of dust by chemical reaction with air, alkali hydroxides, alkali metal chromates, dichromates, molybdates, sulfates, tungstates, borax, CCl4, copper oxide, lead, lead oxide, phosphorous, KClO3, KNO3, nitryl fluoride. May be extremely sensitive to shock, and static electricity may cause spontaneous ignition.

    Interesting stuff. Not flamable when solid, explosive and not to be wetted as powder.

    I can see why a firefighter seeing this and hearing “zirconium cladding” might hold off on dumping water on it until they got guidance from a specialist…

  180. E.M.Smith says:


    I added some bits from the MSDS for zirconium to my prior comment. From your pdf link I found this the most important:

    There has been some speculation that, if the used fuel pool were completely drained, the zirconium cladding might ignite and a “zirconium fire” might occur. Studies performed by the Department of Energy indicate that is virtually impossible to ignite zirconium tubing.

  181. George says:

    It will melt (at about 2000C). Fuel will melt at about 3000C. I really don’t think those rods will get that hot. The problem would be if they melted the steel racks that are holding them and all the rods went crashing to the floor of the pool.

  182. George says:

    “The explosive characteristic of such material is caused by the steam and hydrogen generated within the burning mass.”

    You would treat it pretty much like a magnesium fire.

  183. Malaga View says:

    @ George
    The sort of failure we are seeing at Dai-ichi just *can not happen* with modern reactors. It would be just a physical impossibility with a boiling water reactor. There are no cooling pumps so they can’t fail.

    Well it depends what you think failed… yes the pumps failed…
    but also:
    risk assessment failure… regarding tsunami, earthquakes and just about everything…
    location failure… on the coast… after all tsunami is a Japanese word…
    planning failure… placing the fallback generators so they have a good sea view…
    reactor design failure… too many to list… but putting rod storage above the reactor is something else
    electrical supply failure… switch to batteries, generators or blackout…
    water supply failure…switch to sea water or evaporation or boiling dry…
    water circulation failure… switch to helicopters, water cannon, fire hoses, anything…
    containment failure… explosions… fires… venting…
    contingency failure… lack of on site boron and just about everything…

    From my perspective failure seems to be endemic in the nuclear industry… that we haven’t seem more failures is because the industry is so new and because so much is top secret and not reported… given it a few more years and we will see plenty more 1 in a 1000 years and 1 in a 10000 years risk assessments fall by the wayside… so forgive me if I don’t accept your statement that it just *can not happen*… my perspective is different… perhaps I am just too cynical… but I have heard this times its different too many times before.

  184. David says:

    Malaga, a good bullet point list, and human error can never be ignored. However I do not think it discounts George’s perspective. For instance even California’s San Onofre, which is old technology and is not on a mega thrust fault, would have been OK if subjected to the conditions listed in Japan. http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fsanclemente.patch.com%2Farticles%2Fnuke-plant-chief-san-onofre-could-have-withstood-the-japanese-quake&h=7e1b7

    George, I would apprciate a short post on why your assertion is correct, as well as some far out senarios that could potentially overwhelm it, terrorism, 100′ tusnami, etc.

    …”They said a “water canon” truck was being dispatched too. (I’d have expected them to already be there after the fires…)”

    I feel deeply for what these people are going through, yet in such situations someone has to think ahead; preventive saftey measures are layered, likewise emergency responses need to be layered…what if this fails, start working on a backup plan before finding out, and start the next one also.

  185. Malaga View says:

    preventive saftey measures are layered, likewise emergency responses need to be layered

    Very true… and the big problems are frequently caused because people got complacent… when I start hearing dogmatic terms like: can’t happen, won’t happen that is when I start to worry.

  186. boballab says:

    Malaga Nuclear Power isn’t new, the first power generating plant was in 1951

    Work in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and USSR proceeded over the course of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which initially produced about 100 kW.


    and the technology isn’t Top Secret, matter of fact the classification the USN puts on it’s own training materials is only confidential (the lowest level of classification above unclassified NOFRON). The only reason for that is the operating ranges of the plants the Navy’s used and the precise compounds of the materials, other than that everything else about Nuclear power technology you can find online and in many college campus’s that specialize in engineering.

    To give you an idea of what is taught to USN Naval personnel just look it up on the web:

    While the rigorous training program differs in terms of content for the officers and enlisted ratings, the following topics are provided to all program attendees:

    Nuclear physics
    Electrical power theory and generating equipment
    Nuclear reactor technology
    Materials science and metallurgy
    Health physics
    Reactor principles

    Unlike the enlisted course, the officer course involves extensive post-calculus mathematical examination of reactor dynamics.[1] Officers also cover all topics; enlisted training is specialized for each student’s rating. The officer course also assumes students have undergraduate engineering or science degrees.[2]

    The nuclear program is widely acknowledged as having the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. The school operates at a fast pace, with stringent academic standards in all subjects. Students typically spend 45 hours per week in the classroom, and study an additional 10 to 50 hours per week outside of lecture hours, six days per week. Because the classified materials are restricted from leaving the training building, students cannot study outside of the classroom.

    Students who fail tests and otherwise struggle academically are required to review their performance with instructors. The student may be given remedial homework or other study requirements. Failing scores due to personal negligence, rather than a lack of ability, can result in charges of dereliction of duty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Failing students may be held back to repeat the coursework with a new group of classmates, but failing students are typically released from the Nuclear Power Program and are re-designated or discharged.


    Then again they teach the same stuff in civilian colleges, just in a general way instead of specifics that the USN uses at NNPS, you can see this by looking at the site for Rensselaer University:

    Nuclear Engineering

    Nuclear engineering focuses on methods, devices, and systems required for peaceful use of nuclear technology.


    CurriculumThe curriculum at Rensselaer emphasizes the operation, maintenance, reliability, and safety of the current generation of nuclear power plants and the development of the next generation of nuclear systems, and stresses a general knowledge of the field. In your junior and senior years, you may select one of the following concentrations:

    Reactor Physics: developing expertise in the neutron physics of nuclear power reactor cores.

    Reactor Engineering: understanding nuclear technology, including the reliability and safety of facilities.

    Health Physics: studying radiation safety aspects of nuclear power plant operations and the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Nuclear Thermal-Hydraulics: applying the principles of fluid mechanics and heat transfer in single-phase and multiphase gas/liquid systems to nuclear reactor design.

    Nuclear Power Plant Operations and Management: operating and managing nuclear power plants.

    Fusion Reactor Engineering: analyzing, assessing, and designing fusion reactor power systems.

    Special Features
    Rensselaer students have access to a critical reactor, a 100 MeV electron accelerator, and the latest computer technology.


    That is why you will not see me get very specific about the operating ranges of the plants I was trained on in the Navy, everything else is open source including as shown here diagrams.

  187. David says:

    Malaga this is true. I did production, trade shows, for thirty five years. Things always go wrong, and how they do so is endlessly creative, yet always falls into four broad categories which I call the four Ps of production. Paint, Picture, Paint Brush, and People. If it goes right or wrong, it is in one of those areas. When I planned anything, I divided the details into those four areas and made certain I accounted for all of them to the best of my ability. When something went wrong, it was always in one of those categories. For instance the picture in this emergency is cooling the fuel rods, the paint is water, the paint brush is the watercannon. Not having it already there is a people and paintbrush problem.

  188. Malaga View says:

    @ David
    California’s San Onofre, which is old technology and is not on a mega thrust fault, would have been OK

    Superficially things look better at San Onofre… but the design is still limited… a 7.0 earthquake and/or a 30 foot tidal wave limit in Southern California doesn’t sound over generous… fingers crossed the design doesn’t get tested in a real world situation.

  189. RonB says:

    My understanding on last fri-sat was that there was no quake or tsunami damage to the physical nuclear plants, but they suffered total electrical failure and the generators were destroyed by the tsunami. Ok, no electricity. I thought the problem would be over in 24 hours because we/they have heavy lift choppers that can just fly in some big gens and fuel, hook up and re-power the emergency cooling systems. I know these guys know what they are doing, so what prevented this simple solution early on? Was there real plant damage (pumps and pipes) that we weren’t told about? Or is the power requirements astronomical to operate pumps?

  190. Malaga View says:

    Nuclear Power isn’t new
    That’s a difference of perspective…
    In the context of risk quoted at, say, once in a 1000 years then I would say nuclear is new… in the context on long term effects then I would say the industry is new.

    the technology isn’t Top Secret
    I’m not talking about the technology… I am talking about the industry and its military involvement… the truth is hard to find… like a power station that was wired [in the UK] to take more power from the grid than it contributed… that is some strange power station.

  191. David says:

    Yes I of course hope it does not get tested. I would like passive cooling as back up and also have concern on the earthquake number of 7.0. I would like to better understand lateral movement in earthquakes in relationship to the richter scale. It is apparent that length of movemnt as well as duration affect the richter scale. Horozntal motion can also be very damaging. I think the protections are more then superficial, but I am not convinved they are adequet.
    The nighmare in Japan brings home the case against nuclear energy, yet third and fourth generation plants may answer those concerns. I am hoping to find a decently detailed discussion of this.

  192. peter geany says:

    Malaga, an interesting post of bullet points. Very few informed people would disagree with some or all of your points and I don’t. I come to the musings of the Chiefio because I can usually get excellent informed comment and better information on many subjects, subjects that don’t interest many people most of the time but subjects that they often have opinions on but really know jack all. Now what I would say is in the first instance most people now just want to know what is going on but I guess some of those trying to control the situation probably don’t know and it wouldn’t be good for everyone to know that. And we must not underestimate the overall effect the entire catastrophe could be having on those tasked with making decisions on how to contain the potential nuclear disaster.

    However when it comes to learning the lessons we have to adopt a no blame culture and try and understand dispassionately why the decision on the how & why of these reactors was taken. Easier said than done I know, but if we are to understand the mixture of commercial, political and military reasons we have to adopt this stance. There is no reason to suggest with a little more openness from the establishment and a lot less ill-informed rhetoric from the anti-nuclear and green movement that this disaster cannot be turned to advantage and to the ultimate benefit of everyone. Just as every air crash or rail crash helps with safety, perhaps we need this to be reminded of the dangers of nuclear, our own mortality and tendency to make mistakes and cover them up, and use it to make some real progress. Regulation as it has often been framed today has stifled innovation and destroyed completion. The West is in danger of halting progress and handing over the reins of progress to others to others. If we look to prosecute individuals then very quickly critical information will be destroyed.

    Our fear of Radiation is based on fear of the unknown and misinformation. We know high doses are dangerous, and have ample evidence from Japan in WWII and Chernobyl to back this up. But as has been found in the wake of Chernobyl we don’t understand low does radiation at all, and as a result any radiation sends many people into a spin. This from the BBC should be compulsory viewing, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5173310.stm and a return to real science in school would help.

    Last night the BBC was quoting 4000 victims of Chernobyl in its main news bulletin with tens of thousands still likely to be affected long term. It’s a pity they cannot refer to their own science programs.

  193. j ferguson says:

    I was part of the design team for a wastewater lift station for Springfield Mo. It was an interceptor in the sense that it took in the flow which otherwise would have gone into the river, and pumped it to the new treatment plant. This design had pumps with the electric motors directly connected in a deep well whose top was well above (4 feet) the 100 year flood elevation.

    The project was completed and of course flooded its first two years. they were 100 year floods although in part, the higher water was due to flow constrictions due to development downstream that hadn’t yet been reflected in the flood maps of the day – a hydraulic problem.

    The flooded motors had to be removed, disassembled and cleaned out to restore them to service.

    Had the top of the well been 8 feet above 100 year flood rather than 4, there would have been no flooding.

    People who have never been involved in the design of a complex project with many many cost increasing options seem to be able to assign any decision which turns out to be flawed as chiseling.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all that George could list dozens of other things which could be construed to be compromises between providing higher “protection” from failure and “reasonable” control of construction or operating expense.

    I really do wonder, though, if the very long period of trouble-free operation has anesthetized the operators from appreciating the need to establish a mobile swat team with creative, energetic, guys who are better able to invent and implement fixes on the hoof, than the bureaucrats evolved through years of successful operation.

    George, is there anything to this?

  194. David says:

    peter geany
    “There is no reason to suggest with a little more openness from the establishment and a lot less ill-informed rhetoric from the anti-nuclear and green movement that this disaster cannot be turned to advantage and to the ultimate benefit of everyone.”

    Thanks Peter, Worth repeating.

  195. RonB says:

    interesting solution: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/03/16/ex-rad-militarys-radiation-wonder-drug/#content

    While I don’t believe there is a silver bullet, I absolutely am interested in the concept that low doses “innoculate” people further from cancer. It kind of makes sense. The human immune system is incredibly versatile.

    One problem is that these “monitored groups” receive more healthcare and observation than the general population. This can lead to more investigative and preventive care. Does this skew results, such as post-Chernobyl health data?

    Just for info, I ws a radiologial technician for years, not real concerned, more interested in the public education and public understanding of these issues.

  196. George says:

    “and the technology isn’t Top Secret”

    The Nuclear Engineering Handbook is available on Google Scribe (well a good portion of it).

  197. George says:

    They have something of a mess on the site right now. It appears that water boil off has exposed spent rods on the refueling floor. When the rods become exposed, the shielding provided by the water against gamma radiation goes away.

    The radiation they are seeing on the site is apparently “shine” from gamma rays, not emissions from particle contamination. Until they get those spent rods covered with water, there isn’t a lot they can do on the site as the radiation levels will be high.

  198. George says:

    @ j ferguson

    I see a lot of people posting stuff like that but in this context it doesn’t mean anything.

    This is not an “accident”, this is not the result of shoddy procedures or a faked maintenance report or a failure of a component or any coverup of on site work.

    This is a natural disaster. This absolutely removed all electrical power from the circulation pumps on that site. There is nothing that can be done short of what is already being done. This is not a failure of a component or a process.

    There is no possible way for that site to circulate water until they get power. Period.

    What people are attempting to do here (perhaps some unwittingly) is to attempt to cast “blame” for a natural disaster on the the entity that has suffered the disaster. Please, it is not appropriate in this case.

    In other words, this is a “laws of physics” problem. It would not matter in this case if the maintenance records were 100% perfect or 100% forged. When a tsunami eliminates your external power with three units freshly shut down, you have a problem regardless.

  199. Bernie McCune says:

    Is there a website that gives “real time” radiation levels in the nearby surroundings of the Fukushima disaster? I am particularly interested in Iwate prefecture. I have found a website that shows that Aomori prefecture (north of Iwate) consistently has less than 50 nanoGrays(nanoSieverts)/hr. This is a very benign reading. What are the readings at the EPA monitoring sites in California? Does the US have any kind of “real time” monitoring system that is posted on the web? There seems to be a concerted effort to “shield” us from a truth that, in reality, is a very benign situation if we are at a reasonable distance. In lieu of data there is panic.


  200. boballab says:

    @Ron B

    I thought the problem would be over in 24 hours because we/they have heavy lift choppers that can just fly in some big gens and fuel, hook up and re-power the emergency cooling systems. I know these guys know what they are doing, so what prevented this simple solution early on?

    If I am remembering right there was something like 11 to 12 of the very large diesel generators at the Fukushima I plant. These type of generators start at the size of a Tractor trailer and work their way up to Railway Car size. The Tractor Trailer sized ones cost about $500,000 each. So you ain’t going to find them at the local hardware store. To give you an idea of the size here is the Cummins 2000 W model:

    Length (L) = 6200mm [245in]
    Width (W) = 2540mm [100in]
    Height (H) = 3240mm [130in]
    Dry Weight (inc oil) = 14685kg [32366lb]
    Operating Weight = 15000kg [33070lb]

    Click to access 1274802611.pdf

    Now the Primary lifting copter of the Japanese Self Defense Forces is the CH-47:

    General characteristics
    Crew: 3 (pilot, copilot, flight engineer)
    33-55 troops or
    24 litters and 3 attendants or
    28,000 lb (12,700 kg) cargo


    So a CH-47 is out.

    The JMSDF does operate the MH-53E variant of the CH53E Super Sea Stallion Heavy Lift Helicopter (they have 10)

    Additionally, a number of MH-53E helicopters have been exported to Japan as the S-80-M-1 for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).

    Now I don’t know if the MH-53E variant can lift as much as the CH-53E, however the CH-53E is right on the edge of being able to lift that much weight (on the lower side):

    General characteristics
    Crew: 5: 2 pilots, 1 crew chief/right gunner, 1 left gunner, 1 tail gunner (combat crew)
    Capacity: 37 troops (55 with centerline seats installed)
    Payload: internal: 30,000 lb or 13,600 kg (external: 32,000 lb or 14,500 kg)


    So first you need to find enough of these very large generators that are not in use and hope and pray that a MH-53E can lift as much as a CH-53E and has the external lift setup as a CH-53E and that the “Official External Max Weight” is conservative enough to allow you to exceed it by enough to lift those generators and carry it the distance to the plant.

  201. George says:

    General Electric is shipping some gas turbine generators to the site. Remember EACH main circulation pump requires 4 megawatts of power and there are six of them for 3 plants.

    4160vac 1000 amp (not sure if that is start or run power).

  202. George says:

    I saw a site that had radiation readings across Japan but it was in Japanese and I didn’t bookmark it but yes, there is such a site. It might now be blocked to access outside Japan, though, due to load issues.

  203. boballab says:

    To give a clarification the Cummins diesel Gen is 2000 kW, I missed a key when typing and the one I listed is the bare bones model ie: it sits on skid, has a radiator, a fan, a Diesel Engine and a Generator and that’s it. It is designed to be parked inside of a building, basically it is something you put in when building a site and not move in after an emergency. The ones designed for that are built inside a Tractor Trailer and weight much more and can be seen here:

    SKU 558051
    Model OC2000 PM
    1 Year / 1,000 Hour Limited Warranty (Whichever comes first)
    60 Hertz
    Battery Charging Alternator
    Digital Control Panel
    Factory Loadbank Tested
    Mainline Circuit Breaker
    Sound Attenuated Weatherproof Enclosure Available
    Weight (Pounds): 55000
    Control Panel:
    Stamford Newage Generator End
    GeneratorType: Diesel
    3 Phase
    Battery Rack and Cables (Batteries Not Included)
    Cummins QSK60G6 Power Module
    EPA Compliant
    Stamford Newage Alternator
    Deep Sea 5510 Control Panel
    12 volt DC Interior lighting
    NEMA 1 cabinet with mounted mainline circuit breaker
    Connection lugs
    Mounted and plumbed 1,200 gallon double wall fuel tank
    Mounted mufflers with installed custom heat blankets
    D.O.T. Approved Chassis
    Personnel entrance door with cam lock latch system
    Dual louvered air intake grills
    Standard One Year Warranty


  204. George says:

    Not enough power to run even one pump. Also, it is 480v 3-phase. Needs to supply 4160v 3-phase.

  205. peter geany says:

    The Cummins C2000 is 2MW Class Machine and heavy iron for a High speed Diesel being based on the QSK60 V16. They could use the lesser QSK 50 based gen set which might just be able to be accommodated over a short lift. This would give 1.5 MW of power.

    Helped shipp a load of these from Dubia to Bosnia for KFOR in that little conflict. They all went in the back of an Antonov.

  206. boballab says:

    General Electric is shipping some gas turbine generators to the site. Remember EACH main circulation pump requires 4 megawatts of power and there are six of them for 3 plants.

    4160vac 1000 amp (not sure if that is start or run power).

    Yep and those are the Railway car sized ones. This will give you an idea of how big each one is there is picture of load of them on railroad cars (one per flat bed car) in the GE Brochure:

    Click to access generators.pdf

  207. George says:

    Also note that there is currently not even enough decay heat to sustainably run the pumps even if they had a bypass turbine to generate power. It would need 8 megawatts of power to run the two pumps.

  208. peter geany says:

    George you can string these machine together easy enough. But getting the correct voltage is another issue and perhaps one that needs to be designed in.

    Perhaps they need switching gear and Transformers that allow whatever is available for times of disaster. Something for the future.

  209. George says:

    This is the unit GE is sending:

    Click to access GEA18664_TM250_r2.pdf

    22 megawatt trailer mounted gas turbine.

  210. j ferguson says:

    Re: the messy bookkeeping: You are absolutely right. I apologize.

  211. boballab says:


    No matter how many you string together if at least one doesn’t output the needed voltage then it won’t work. The voltage is not additive, ie you can’t add one Generator that produces 400v to another that produces 400v and get 800v, it doesn’t work that way.

    The point I was making was that even generators which can not operate the pumps at the plant are too heavy to be flown in by helicopter to the site.

  212. George says:

    @ Malaga View

    risk assessment failure… regarding tsunami, earthquakes and just about everything…

    Yes, and that risk assessment was done around 1962 or 1963. There was no scientifically accepted notion of continental drift / plate tectonics. They had no idea what caused that trench right offshore. Japan had never in recorded history experienced a quake as large as this one. It survived the quake, that wasn’t the problem. They designed for a 7 meter tsunami which turned out to be pretty close but no cigar, they got a 7.5 meter tsunami from a quake orders of magnitude larger than anyone could possibly have anticipated in the early 1960’s. Lets not “frame drag” 1960’s decision making into 2010’s knowledge base.

    location failure… on the coast… after all tsunami is a Japanese word…

    And they designed for a tsunami larger than anything seen in recorded history up to that time.

    electrical supply failure… switch to batteries, generators or blackout…

    You still aren’t getting it, apparently. The electrical infrastructure *was submerged* in sea water. That leads it to not working. Everything within 300 meters of the coast was submerged. Even the turbine buildings were submerged several feet deep.

    They WERE able to operate from batteries but could not obtain sufficient power to recharge the batteries. Why is TEPCO having to run NEW mains cables to the site? Because the old mains cables are *gone*.

    planning failure… placing the fallback generators so they have a good sea view…

    Yep. That was a mistake. But the fuel tanks would probably still have been near the fuel dock and the electrical interconnections would still have been submerged. The main switching panel was apparently submerged.

    water supply failure…switch to sea water or evaporation or boiling dry…

    And pump it with what? At least one of the fresh water storage tanks was swept away. They had enough fresh water storage to handle one reactor in some sort of accident condition. They did not have enough water for all three reactors at the same time. Remember, disaster plans are to handle an incident in one reactor, not the entire site when all the backup systems are gone.

    water circulation failure… switch to helicopters, water cannon, fire hoses, anything…

    They are currently using fire trucks in a pump and vent method. Helicopters can not cool the reactor core, it is encased in concrete. You can spray the entire ocean on that place and the water won’t reach the core.

    I will not bother going through the rest of this “blame the victim” exercise.

    I find the arguments presented reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of what is actually going on and also reflect an emotional response to nuclear power in general.

  213. Jason Calley says:

    When I am made Emperor of Japan I will mandate that the cooling pump systems run on the same voltage as a diesel-electric locomotive. In an emergency you could park a locomotive on an adjacent rail spur and hard wire it in.

    Of course there are a few messy details, but that is what engineers think about.

  214. Bernie McCune says:

    This is the site for Japanese readings


    The site is still readily accessible and has been recently updated but discusses the “censoring” of data. Morioka, Iwate shows N/D which may mean that it has no detectors there. But Fukushima has been censored because on the list of detector sites below the map, the value is 0. Most of the other sites shown around Japan at this website are generally at 30-70 nanoGrays/hr.

    Ibaraki prefecture below Fukushima prefecture has been dropping over the past few hours and the last reading was about 850 nanoGrays/hr (from above 2000 yesterday).


  215. j ferguson says:

    What tracks would still be there, Jason?

  216. George says:

    The Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry said at 8.38pm that a cable was being laid to bring external power from transmission lines owned by Tohoku Electric Power Company. This was to be connected when radiation levels had died down after a planned venting operation at unit 2.

    In addition, one of the emergency diesel units can now be operated and will be used to supply unit 5 and 6 alternately to inject water to their used fuel pools. Later, the power will be used to top up water in the reactor vessels.

  217. E.M.Smith says:

    If I may?

    All this stuff about the generators and driving the pumps is looking at the reactor cores, but as I understand it, the problem is lack of water in the spent fuel pools ( er, bins? now…) and that’s simpler.

    We need enough power to run the various monitors and fans and “dinky stuff” and we need to get water into the pools. (Note the “royal we” ;-)

    OK, from that link George posted:

    Click to access Used_Fuel_Pools_Key_Facts.pdf

    What Could Happen During an Accident?
     The systems that cool and maintain water levels in the pools are designed to withstand severe events. If these systems are unable to function, the heat generated by the used fuel would result in a slow increase in the temperature of the spent fuel pool water. The operating temperature of the pools is typically around 40 degrees C or 100 degrees F (the boiling point for water is 100 C or 212 F). This slow increase in temperature would result in an increased evaporation rate. Rapid evaporation of the water will not occur.
     Exact evaporation rates would depend on the amount of used fuel in the pool and how long it has cooled. The rate at which the pool water level would decrease (due to evaporation or mild boiling) in the absence of cooling system function would not be expected to lower water levels by more than a few percent per day. Given that there is approximately 16 feet or more of water above the used fuel assemblies, operators would have ample time (days to weeks) to find another way to add water to the pools before the fuel would become exposed. For example, water could easily be added using a fire hose.

    So I’m looking at this whole thing and seeing valient folks trying to do this “by the book” having been trained that way to no end, embedded in a Japanese “top down” society, and this ain’t in the book.

    So where a couple of us would have hightailed it over to a fire station and bulldozer shop 10 miles outside the flood radius and ploughed back in wth a firetruck, some hoses, and enough generator to run some lights and guages (welded in with scrounged downed powerlines if needed… bypassing the switch gear et al) they are waiting for “approval” from “authority”. (Sadly, since W.W.II the USA has headed down this analysis paralysis path as well…)

    Now I don’t want to toss rocks at those guys. Several are dead and many more injured in a profoundly selfless act of doing their duty; and it’s not like these guys are all nuclear engineers who can go ‘off page’ of the MSDS. But it sure looks to me like someone dropped the ball on “minimal fastest solution”. And I think it was due to remote managment of the problem (just based on the process seen to date).

  218. Jason Calley says:

    @ j ferguson “What tracks would still be there, Jason?”

    Actually, I was wondering about that too… :)

    Seriously, I would assume that most reactors have some sort of rail spur running to them, but whether the tracks would survive an earthquake and a tsunami — well, who knows? Still, I was just thinking, what sort of mechanism has the sort of electrical power sheer wattage that would be needed for such huge pumps, and a locomotive was about the only thing that came to mind. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and all, but something as simple as a few tractor trailer rigs with large generators prepositioned for rapid deployment might be a good thing for future consideration. Maybe a common range of voltages and frequencies for anticipated emergency equipment such as water desalinators, pumps, field hospitals, etc. Setting standardised specifications so that emergency coordinators have greater flexibility in playing mix and match for generators and all the large scale emergency equipment, seems to me to make a lot of sense.

  219. peter geany says:

    @boballab I was thinking in terms of having them in parallel so the total needed output can be achieved. The Voltage is an issue as you say and I understand the point you were making over weight.

    That gas turbine is going to chew through the fuel

  220. E.M.Smith says:

    @Peter Geany:

    Unless designed to “sync” you will have phase issues just bolting two generators together… If they get out of phase (i.e. if turning at slightly different speeds) you can get really big sparks when one is pumping the positive 1/2 wave and the other the negative 1/2 wave.

    Yeah, you can make generators to automatically sync up, but a lot of large “Diesel cranking rotor” have their frequency determined by the Diesel, not the line…

    Interesting to note is that Honda makes a line of home sized units that make DC then invert it. This lets them run a sync line between the inverters so you CAN ‘bolt them together’ for more total power…


    so just remember: “No sync, no joy”…

  221. George says:

    Despite high levels of radiation close to the units, levels detected at the edge of the power plant site have been steadily decreasing.

    17 March, 4.00pm
    0.64 millisieverts per hour

    17 March, 9.00am
    1.47 millisieverts per hour

    16 March, 7.00pm
    1.93 millisieverts per hour

    16 March, 12.30pm
    3.39 millisieverts per hour

    World Nuclear News

  222. cudBwrong says:

    I’d like to draw the group’s attention to some research on the consequences of a partial or total loss of water in a spent fuel pool.

    The possibility of a “cladding fire” resulting from the loss of water in a spent fuel pool has been studied extensively. The issue was reviewed in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences Board on Radioactive Waste Management. The Public Report is available online, Chapter 3 is of interest:


    There is a lot of detail in the report. Here are some excerpts:

    The ability to remove decay heat from the spent fuel also would be reduced as the water level drops, especially when it drops below the tops of the fuel assemblies. This would cause temperatures in the fuel assemblies to rise, accelerating the oxidation of the zirconium alloy (zircaloy) cladding that encases the uranium oxide pellets. This oxidation reaction can occur in the presence of both air and steam and is strongly exothermic—that is, the reaction releases large quantities of heat, which can further raise cladding temperatures. The steam reaction also generates large quantities of hydrogen:

    These oxidation reactions can become locally self-sustaining (i.e., autocatalytic3) at high temperatures (i.e., about a factor of 10 higher than the boiling point of water) if a supply of oxygen and/or steam is available to sustain the reactions. (These reactions will not occur when the spent fuel is under water because heat removal prevents such high temperatures from being reached). The result could be a runaway oxidation reaction—referred to in this report as a zirconium cladding fire—that proceeds as a burn front (e.g., as seen in a forest fire or a fireworks sparkler) along the axis of the fuel rod toward the source of oxidant (i.e., air or steam). The heat released from such fires can be even greater than the decay heat produced in newly discharged spent fuel.

    As fuel rod temperatures increase, the gas pressure inside the fuel rod increases and eventually can cause the cladding to balloon out and rupture. At higher temperatures (around 1800°C [approximately 3300°F]), zirconium cladding reacts with the uranium oxide fuel to form a complex molten phase containing zirconium-uranium oxide. Beginning with the cladding rupture, these events would result in the release of radioactive fission gases and some of the fuel’s radioactive material in the form of aerosols into the building that houses the spent fuel pool and possibly into the environment. If the heat from one burning assembly is not dissipated, the fire could spread to other spent fuel assemblies in the pool, producing a propagating zirconium cladding fire.

    The high-temperature reaction of zirconium and steam has been described quantitatively since at least the early 1960s (e.g., Baker and Just, 1962), The accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor and a set of experiments (e.g., CORA, FPT 1–6, CODEX, ORNL-VI, VERCORS) have provided a basis for understanding the phenomena of zirconium cladding fires and fission-product releases from irradiated fuel in a reactor core accident.

  223. Ruhroh says:

    They seem to be squirting water again;

    or, as the lady seems to say , either dousing or douching, .
    Now she is saying douse more accurately.

    You can see puffs of steam that seem to suggest they are hitting something hot.



  224. Ruhroh says:

    Reminds me of Boy Scout camp, when we were breaking camp and didn’t have any more water to put on the ashes.

    There was a ritual of accurate aiming of biofluids, with similar steam puffs when the stream found its mark…


  225. Ruhroh says:

    The third truck took a while to find the mark, but now they are making steam clouds like #2 did. 7 Trucks, 50 tons to be dispensed, seems more efficacious than that helicopter stuff yesterday.

  226. Ruhroh says:

    Full pool is 1200 tons, but needs 100 tons minimum. Operations planned to be ongoing. Reminds me of my Gamera movie collection…


  227. E.M.Smith says:

    FWIW, when watching the helos the CNN turkeys were gobbling about how they kept “missing” and the water was “drifting away on the wind”.

    What I saw was very well planned, starting high, ending low, “washing” of the air column of particles so the final shots could be made lower and precisely on target…

    Wash, cool, dump. Well done.

    Now, with an innitial wash, cool, dump by air, it’s “scoot up and shoot up”.

    Again, well played.

    I’m sure the MSM folks will find fault somehow…. pMSNBC is almost apoplexic that we are all going to die in a nuclear holocast in NYC and CNN is sure that everything is going to simultaniously burn, steam explode, hydrogen explode, and melt. Sigh…

    BTW, the stored rods don’t have to be fully covered to be cooled by falling water, and a ‘water wash’ of the air over them will tend to reduce particulates. “Full” is needed to screen the gama rays, though…

    Wonder how much boron in the soup would reduce neutron driven fission and gamma rays? Vs how much is from daughter products and it’s just gonna happen anyway… Thoughts?

    In pondering all the “emergency shelters” and how they were hauling stuff in by helicopter on the MSM, I found myself thinking: “Isn’t all this damage in, like, a 6 mile at most band along the coast? How far inland do you have to walk to find the next town with a hotel or school gym?”

    I can make 3 mph easy. Survivors, by definition, are not on the edge closest to the water… so, 3 hours and I’m 9 miles inland. 4 hours, 10 km or so. Are all the cities in the flooded area, and none inland?

  228. E.M.Smith says:

    Finally got time to find out what where these “Sievert” things the news was talking about. (Everything I know is in REM…)


    lets me learn that 1 Sievert is 100 REM.

    I *REALLY* wish those SI folks would stop screwing around with the units… it’s just a waste of time.

    The page also says you can get 1000 mSv (or more simply, 1 Sv) when conductiong life saving ops. So those 1/2 to 2 ish mSv exposures would take about 2000 hrs to 500 hours to hit the max for “emergency work”…

    Somehow I’m not seeing the reason to panic.

    Looking at the page also says a worker inside the building at the Japan site would get that does in 1 hour.

    Not a good idea to try it, but if it takes 30 minutes to haul a water line up and tie it down somewhere, it could be done.

    News is saying the workers have been exposed to ‘several mSv”. And that around the buildings it’s 20 mSv / hr.

    Somehow I get the feeling somebody is being way too cautious.

  229. David says:

    “Not a good idea to try it, but if it takes 30 minutes to haul a water line up and tie it down somewhere, it could be done.”

    About right for a hammer drill, some hilti bolts and some clamps. Getting there though?? how high up is the pool they are trying to fill, how far horozontally would they need to move at that height, all the while with several hundred pound of hose rigged to what ever lift was being used.? Do these guys use standard hazmat suits, or somthing better, and I am curious how effective they are. I would be a damm site more curious if I was the one asked to do this! Is there a severe crack in the pool?

  230. Verity Jones says:

    “With regard to the 250 mSv/hour when the helicopters are flying at 30 meters, in the old units this would have been 25 Rem/hour which would correspond to an LD50 dose in about 2 hours. (50% lethality occurs with an acute dose of 450-500 Rem). When approaching sources at this level one needs trained radiation workers equipped with personal and hand held dosimeters.

    If my memory serves me, the North Carolina “Yellow Book” limits exposure for radiation workers to a deep-dose of 5 Rem/year, or about 12 minutes at 250 mSv/hour.”

    from comment here: http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/fukushima-the-battle-continues/#comment-911

  231. George says:

    Japan’s radiation limits are 1/5 of international and US standards. Japan has the lowest radiation limits of any nuclear power.

  232. George says:

    You know, we can’t keep having these crises that don’t kill or hurt anyone. This is the second major nuclear event in the West that has resulted in no casualties. We have to ban this nuclear thing as it is really killing the casualty management business. Having this massive nuclear disasters that don’t actually hurt anyone is just beyond the pale.

  233. E.M.Smith says:


    That 250 mSv / hr is an order of magnetude higher than the news tonight was saying for ‘near the buldings’.

    Either they’ve knocked it down a lot recently ( which I sorely doubt) or it’s a lot ‘hotter’ in the air over the uncovered spent fuel pool…

    So, does the spent fuel in the dry concrete pool act like a giant gamma ray flashlight with the concrete as beam former?

    (I don’t think I’d want to volunteer to find out ….)

  234. Verity Jones says:


    Ah, I had been watching NHK live yesterday and they explained that 250 mSv/hr was 30m above the reactor (dose to the Chinooks), hence the use of the 90m safer height. I guess that dose will be beta and gamma – alpha mostly stopped by the air at that distance. On the ground (out of line of sight of the source) the I guess the containment shielding would stop the beta and some of the gamma.

  235. George says:

    “So, does the spent fuel in the dry concrete pool act like a giant gamma ray flashlight with the concrete as beam former?”

    If the rods are uncovered, most of the radiation will be gamma ray “shine” Also note that the concrete around one of the spent fuel pools broke off though the steel “bathtub” is intact. That means a lot of shielding out one side of that pool is now missing. If that “shines” on the workers down below, it can make it difficult to work in some areas.

  236. George says:

    A top expert on radiation, doing studies for the World Health Organization, reports that fear of radiation exposure has caused more health problems than the radiation itself. Other experts on psychological effects of radiation agree. In addition to the fear of the effects of the radiation, survivors are stigmatized by their society, increasing stress and feelings of isolation. This stigmatization can interfere with the survivors getting proper health care, jobs, and economic stability. Others turn away from them, fearing that association with those who have been exposed to radiation can be “catching.” Experts who have studied these impacts at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, say that the fear and stigmatization causes so much stress in the people affected that, overall, the stress is more damaging to health than the radiation itself.


  237. RonB says:

    Not to abuse a dead horse…but. Re the earlier discussion of the first 24 to 48 hrs and pumping water. I wouldn’t expect them to operate the Main Coolant Pumps with temporary power. I don’t know the details, but I would assume that they have smaller pump systems for water injection and so forth. If the actual systems were undamaged in the quake and normal plant shutdown occured then water requirements should have been minimal compared with the big pump capacity. The other thing is the spent fuel pools certainly don’t require big water circulation or addition.

    I don’t want to play blame the victim here, they got hit with an enormous casualty, but something isn’t right about that first 24-48 hr response. the casualty should not have spun out of control to this extent. and yes I know the damage will be regional, not national/international.

  238. George says:

    The biggest thing I am worried about with all this spraying is possibly shattering the cladding on the fuel rods and actually releasing more radiation. I noticed they raised the event to a level 5 from a level4 right after they completed spraying.

  239. George says:

    RonB. They reported two days ago that the main cooling pumps have likely been damaged by the seawater. The plan is to obtain temporary pumps designed to pump seawater and try to use those while they replace the existing pumps with units that can tolerate sea water. Probably has to do with seals and bearings and such. There’s a big difference between pumping salt water and fresh water. Particularly salt water that has critters living in it.

    The response in the first 24-48 hours was probably mostly in assessing what damage had been actually done by the tsunami and in relieving pressure in those reactors and dealing with the hydrogen explosions.

    They had two severe injuries on site from the earthquake, one with two broken legs, one so badly injured that he died (on the stack control room for one of the units). You have to asses the damage and care for casualties before you can decide on a course of action. At that point their choices were pretty much limited to … get local fire trucks up here, pump in sea water, let it boil off, and release steam.

    The electrical distribution system was flooded with salt water. Hydrogen explosions were causing additional infrastructure damage. For example the explosion of unit 3 apparently took out power to unit 2 which WAS using a core spray system until that event. But nobody noticed for 2 hours because all of their control systems are down.

    It is like having a “fly by wire” airplane and shutting off all the computers. The stick doesn’t do anything at that point. They are flying these by the seats of their pants using what mechanical gauges remain operating.

  240. RonB says:

    Most recent NISA release on reactor status http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110318-3.pdf

    good stuff

  241. David says:

    Why is Germany taking this step right away? http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C_Billion-euro_nuclear_shutdown_in_Germany_1603111.html

    I trust the expertise of many posters on this blog as well as our host. Any references to good articles on the state of generation three and four Nuclear technology. I do not mind advocacy sites, but prefer a more neutral reference for “just the facts” Here is my own contrbution to a development that may improve the fuel, both saftey and performance wise, for conventional reactors.

  242. David says:

    Fuel rods don’t catch fire. Something else must have come into contact with them in order to start one.

    “Um, the MSM is saying that the zirconium alloy cladding can get hot enough to ignite when rods are left in air. Is that not correct? ( I could easily see them getting that wrong… and chide myself for actually having accepted that they might have something right from time to time…)”

    One thing the MSM severely lacks is the power of introspection. During Katrina they got so many things wrong, but they rarely if ever admonish themselves and love to point at others. I have read and heard so many different things on radiation exposure and its effects that I currently have no idea how dangerous the long term effects are of various nuclear radiation sources.

    Perhaps we will find out in the next ten or so years how various cancer rates change in a first world setting like modern Japan, verses the third world conditions of impoverished Chernobyl, where I again here vastly conflicting stories. Also we may get the chance to see how well nature can cleanse itself as far as land contamination.

    Short term this tragedy may quell the nuclear movement. long term, if the science is done correctly, maybe clarity can be achieved and an unbiased assetment of the risks of radiation achieved which may be beneficial to the nuclear industry.

  243. E.M.Smith says:

    The other thing is the spent fuel pools certainly don’t require big water circulation or addition.

    That horse isn’t dead yet… “He’s getting better…”

    Heard on Fox from a nuclear “expert” (with a thick Eurpean accent of some flavor, so he must be right ;-) that a 1.5 inch hose would be enough to keep the spent fuel cooled if sprayed (so I presume that’s the evap rate at some flow rate).

    IF my assement of what he said is correct, and given the above page / quote about a “Fire hose” being enough to fill the spent fuel pool, that pretty much bounds the size and pressures. About a 4 inch at firehose pressre max and a 1.5 inch at unknown but probably not over a couple hundred psi min. Per spent fuel pool.


    Had not heard there was a steel bathtub. Good to know. Someone was thinking…. but that bit about loss of concrete is a worry (and probably also explains some of the “caution” about water application…)

    Heated concreat will expand, fracture a bit, and eventually even decompose back into portland cement powder (that’ how it was origially made…). BUT very hot intact concrete hit with a load of cold water is going to have a very large thermal shock and will tend to crack and spall chunks.

    Damed if you do, damned if you don’t.

    So now it makes sense to slowly add water, first with some drizzles from height, then straight shots from height, then “on again off again” hosing, then more continuous hosing from the trucks. Trying to maintain the integrity of the ‘side shields’ AS they cool and raise water levels.

    Smart. Very smart. I’d not thought of that when I was first watching the “process” unfold. I was wondering why they didn’t just dump some great big loads on it in a tearing hurry. Maybe because you don’t cool down 3 feet of concrete in a tearing hurry, you just spall it…

    Per the cladding: Is zirconium that brittle to heat shock? Interesting metal… autoignights as a powder, won’t burn as a solid, ductile enough to form pellets, fractures / cracks under thermal shock… Oh God, I can feel the “That’s INTERESTING” question forming… Maybe if I try Real Hard I can avoid becoming an expert on Zirconium ;-)


    My assesment is that Germany is doing a shutdown for no rational reasons, but rather for political ones. Basically, they have a rabid fear of nukes and nuclear ‘risks’ in over 50% of the population at this point.

    FWIW, I’f been pondering lately the difference between ‘reasoning’ and ‘rational’ as in ‘rationalizing’… the ‘early thought’ is that many of the folks wth an “agenda’ like the ‘green agenda’ are driven this way: Agenda -> intrepretation of facts -> rationalizing agenda. While folks not agenda driven run more like: Gather facts -> assess and find likely impacts USING reason -> formulate outcomes and actions (an “agenda”, but not in the same way…) Oddly, English is difficult for this pondering as it uses ‘rational’ to mean the opposite of ‘rationalizing’ in that context… and even ‘reason’ and ‘reasoning’ are oppositely loaded a bit. So I need new tokens to make it clean…

    At any rate, the Germans have by some percentage margin already become convinced “Nuclear = Bad” and that is their agenda. This event just lets them act on it, “reason” be damned.

    The use, abuse, and manipulation of that particular class of thought process comes naturally to politcians (of all sides) and to position advocates (of all sides); though there does seem to be a somewhat higher percentage of it on the “Progressive” side most of the time, so I presume their policies attract more folks prone to that “style”. It is a bit alien to me (that Aspe thing of not being fast on the ‘pickup’ of ‘social cueues’ as it’s a learned art not an innate function). On the plus side, I have a built in “Martian View” for looking at it dispassionatly and from ‘the outside’, so that may help me better see it for what it is.

    In the case of Germany, it’s real simple. The propaganda drove the agenda to a critical mass, and sufficient of the population are agenda driven for this to be done. The news event drove some ‘wobblies’ in the middle over to the anti-nuke agenda side (regardless of how those wobblies thought processes work). Then you “take a vote”… Notice that “reasonable” and “rational” are not used in that description. They are not needed, nor are “evaluation” or “analysis” or any of the non-emotive “thought processes”… That’s how politics “works”…

    Oh, and a side bar on radiation damage:

    Heard (somewhere?) a description of how radiation causes damange… via free radicals. That lead to the speculation that you can minimize your “radiation effects” by the simple expedient of overdosing (well, very high megadose) of Vit C and Vit E and other antioxidant free radical scavengers.

    So I’d expect in well fed populations with high fish diets they would have lower “damage / rad” than malnourished folks with low antioxidant levels.

    It also implies that all the folks rushing out to buy iodine (which only ‘protects’ one organ from one radioactive element) really ought to be stocking up on Vit C and E instead…

  244. E.M.Smith says:


    Interesting fuel.

    I can see two “issues” being thrown at it.

    1) Beryllium is a special matierial used in making bombs and so it’s use is ‘watched’… it will come under a lot of scrutiny especially if you want to have folks ‘over there’ making their own fuels and buying loads of beryllium without it being ‘a bad thing’ flag.

    2) The stuff is REALLY toxic. Especially as dust. Just immagine what the news would be saying now if there were also beryllium dust going into the air too…


    So that’s the hurdle I’d see in front. What I can’t asses is the “push from behind”. Just how much better this mix is as a fuel and how much that makes it ‘worth it’ to deal with #1 and #2 above…

    BTW, beryllium is a ‘key bit’ in how I’d use U233 in a ‘gadget’… I described my ‘gadget layout’ to my cousin (a Ph.D. who was an Army Nuke guy) and he blanched…(it fits in a carry on bag…) so I”m pretty sure that having one, or the other, or both slopping around the commercial fuel cycle will cause all sorts of military guys to have brown underwear…

    “That could be an issue” with adoption…

  245. George says:

    Boron (regular old store-bought borax will work as will that boric acid they sell for killing bugs) is generally used as it is effective and non-toxic to humans.

    Zircaloy isn’t by itself naturally that brittle but exposure to hydrogen in the reactor makes it so over time.

  246. RonB says:

    Interesting NRC paper on spent fuel pool casualty posssibility. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr0933/sec3/082r3.html

    Of particular concern with the non spent fuel in #6(?) pool or other. The other thing is with the earlier explosion or fire in the pool area, How likely would there be to strucural damage to the racks an assemblies? Maybe bringing them closer together.

  247. George says:

    I believe they have raised the level of the incident to 5 for one of two reasons (but note that this is just my own personal speculation):

    1. Dousing operation of the SFPs caused cladding to crack and possibly release fuel to the water in those SFPs (Spent Fuel Pool).

    2. Activating the pumps may result in flushing of some material to the ocean.

  248. j ferguson says:

    This did not seem to me to be the usually rabid msm appraisal of the situation:


  249. George says:

    Ah! Finally some “out of the box” thinking! Have you ever noticed one of those contraptions they use to pump concrete into a construction site? It is a truck with a long articulated boom that can go up and over a road or over a wall to dispense the concrete on the other side of the obstacle. They are going to use one of these today on the unit #3 building at Dai-ichi. It will remain in place connected to a hose running to sea water. Crews will take turns manning it for 7 hours.

  250. George says:

    One of these:

  251. Malaga View says:

    Finally some “out of the box” thinking!

    The BBC reported today:

    0349: The operator of the Fukushima power plant says engineers have bored holes in the roofs of the buildings housing reactors 5 and 6 to avoid a potential gas explosion

  252. peter geany says:

    @EM you ask “I have read and heard so many different things on radiation exposure and its effects that I currently have no idea how dangerous the long term effects are of various nuclear radiation sources. ”

    Try this http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5173310.stm

    The original program is available on you tube. So far only 56 deaths attributable to Chernobyl. Far less than all the hysteria would have you believe. Also they just do not seem to have any hard and fast rule for a low does of radiation.

  253. David says:

    Peter, thanks, and that was me, not E.M. Having a deeper and broader scientific background our host is not as easily confused as I.

    I found this part of your link fasinating, as 30K is currently a no live zone for people, yet if generations of animals are living there, eating the food, drinking the water with no ill effects, what does this mean in regard to the extreme predictions.

    “Professor Ron Chesser, of Texas Tech University, US, has spent 10 years studying animals living within the 30km exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl.

    He has found that, far from the effects of low-level radiation being carcinogenic, it appears to boost those genes that protect us against cancer. “

  254. George says:

    yet if generations of animals are living there, eating the food, drinking the water with no ill effects, what does this mean in regard to the extreme predictions.

    There is some indication that the radiation levels in the area are weeding out the gene lines that are most susceptible to radiation and that some species are becoming much more tolerant of it.

  255. George says:

    Listening to press conference in Japan from the fire department team leader that did the dowsing of the spent fuel pool in unit 3. Some interesting stuff. He said that at some point as the dowsing progressed, the radiation from unit 3 dropped to near 0 indicating that they had been successful in covering the spent fuel rods.

    The largest dose received by a crew member during the operation was 27mSv according to their dosimeter reading.

  256. gallopingcamel says:

    Using helicopters to deliver water to the spent fuel rod storage pools is inefficient and dangerous.

    The 250 mSv/hour quoted by Verity is what was measured during a fly over at 30 meters a few days ago. This is about the dumbest thing you can do because there is very little material shielding you from direct radiation. Radiation at such high levels can easily be detected via back scattering. We call this “sky shine”.

    The spent fuel rods constitute a radioactive source located in pools with concrete sides The concrete is very effective shielding for reducing gamma and neutron radiation. For example, one of the most obnoxious sources of radiation in spent fuel rods is Cs-137 with its lively gammas (0.66 MeV). It takes six inches of concrete to reduce the gamma radiation at this energy by a factor of 10. As you can imagine there will be several “tenth value layers” between you and the source if you approach these pools from the side.

    Thus a source that can deliver a dangerous 250 mSv/hour to a point 30 meters directly overhead will deliver a dose that is insignificant to someone approaching from the side even when sky shine is taken into account.

    Your suggestion of hauling in a hose pipe to deliver make up water to the cooling pools is the most sensible approach as a 2″ pipe can easily deliver 120 gallon per minute. Securing the delivery end of the pipes will take only a few minutes for a couple of workers who will be exposed to direct radiation that is a tiny fraction of the 250 mSv/hour measured overhead.

    For the folks installing the hoses there are two hazards much more dangerous than the direct radiation.

    The most obvious is the danger of a hydrogen explosion which can be eliminated by making several large holes in the walls of the building.

    A more insidious danger is ingestion of Cs-137, I-131, Sr-90 etc. which all have long term toxicity. I would be quite happy to do the installation work as long as I had a breathing apparatus which is standard issue for firemen.

    Of course I would insist on a detergent shower with radiation monitoring before removing the breathing apparatus.

  257. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, thanks for the vote for the idea; though I’ve go to say, I like that mud pump method… makes a lot of sense…

    The one problem I can see with the ‘drag a hose’ idea is that some of the photos make it look like a fair tangle of junk post explosion up top. It might take too long to ‘pick your way through it’ with a hose… especially in a ‘bunny suit’…

  258. gallopingcamel says:

    @ E.M.Smith,
    As you point out there could be problems gaining access and the “boots on the ground” are in the best position to make the appropriate decision. Besides the debris from the hydrogen explosion there will be fragments and dust from burning fuel rods lying on the floor. There will be some “hot spots” to be avoided. That said, the simplest solution is often the best.

    I wonder if any cameras are still functional in the refueling area where the spent fuel rods are initially stored. This would be classified as a high radiation area so the cameras would use Vidicon tubes. Vidicons are quite tolerant of radiation but not so tolerant of explosions. New cameras can be installed in minutes.

    The bunny suit is overkill, the fireman’s breathing apparatus should be sufficient.

  259. George says:

    Judging from the pictures of reactors #1 and #3, it would appear that very little is functional but pictures can be surprising. I have to say, though, that if the explosion was enough to blow the entire roof and walls off the building, I would be surprised if the cameras survived intact. And it looks like there is a considerable amount of debris and cables and such in a mass of tangled mess in that area.

    I heard one report today that the site will not be repaired beyond what is required for dismantling but I take that to mean the site of reactors 1 through 4. That would be no major economic loss as those reactors were scheduled for decommissioning anyway. Reactors 7 and 8 are currently under construction and I have not heard anything about any damage to those construction sites. Those are ABWR units.

    Reactors 5 and 6 seem to have fared better but they were not in operation at the time of the quake.

  260. Malaga View says:

    Extremely high radiation found in soil
    The results announced on Wednesday show that 163,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium-137 per kilogram of soil has been detected in Iitate Village, about 40 kilometers northwest of the plant.

    Gakushuin University Professor Yasuyuki Muramatsu, an expert on radiation in the environment, says that normal levels of radioactive cesium-137 in soil are around 100 becquerels at most. The professor says he was surprised at the extremely high reading, which is 1,630 times higher than normal levels.

    He warns that since radioactive cesium remains in the environment for about 30 years it could affect agricultural products for a long time.


  261. E.M.Smith says:


    While the “reasonable leap” is to assume this is from the reactor accident, I’d wonder why none of the other places has reported high…

    How do they know old contamination from new?…

    I expect they will now do a lot more testing and that will ‘tell the tale’… (and oughtent they be getting REALLY high Cesium levels AT the plant, then? )

  262. peter geany says:

    This is another study suggesting that low does radiation may actually be beneficial. This could all make sense given that we have evolved on a planet that is constantly being blasted with radiation and it just maybe that radiation levels from the cosmos are low at present. Just a thought


  263. Malaga View says:

    Old from new… no idea… my second thought was: is anywhere else leaking…
    Smoke, wind and rain can produce patchy dust patterns…
    Hopefully their model is better than the volcanic ash models…

    Radiation could affect people outside 30km zone
    Edano said at a news conference on Wednesday that a computer forecast system has shown that radiation levels in some areas outside the 30-kilometer zone would exceed 100 millisieverts, which is the level that could affect the human thyroid if a person is exposed to it outdoors for 24 hours.


    High-level radiation in Fukushima water
    Water sampled in Iitate village on Sunday contained 965 becquerels of radioactive iodine-131 per liter, more than 3 times the government safety limit of 300 becquerels per liter.

    Water sampled in Tamura city last Thursday contained 348 becquerels of iodine, but the level was down to 161 becquerels 2 days later.

    Water from 4 other cities in the prefecture had iodine levels above the 100-becquerel per liter safety limit for infants as of Monday.

    Japan’s science ministry has been monitoring radiation levels in all 47 prefectures, and prefectural governments in Niigata, Kanagawa, Ibaraki and Gunma have been taking their own measurements. But none have reported radiation levels above the government safety limit.

    The health ministry ordered all prefectural governments on Sunday to test their tap water.

    The ministry will look into why high levels of iodine were detected in tap water in Tokyo, which is roughly 200 kilometers away from Fukushima Prefecture.


  264. Jeffrey D. Shaffer says:

    Just a quick, but heartfelt, word of thanks, gentlemen. I’ve learned more about the actual situation by reading your posts than I’ve ever found in the news.

    Thanks and blessings from Japan,

  265. E.M.Smith says:

    @Peter Geany:

    Now that is a very interesting reference… “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”… now where have I heard that before ;-)

    @Melaga View:

    Saw a report of radiation in the Tokyo water supply… enough to impact infants.

    Something doesn’t fit…. is the problem “under control” or is it so bad “It is even in Tokyo”… ??

    Sidebar: Grays? Sieverts? Becquerels?

    I’m sorry, this stuff just doesn’t “speak to me”. This SI / Cromag / NT penchant for naming stuff after people is just increadibly bogus. Pascals? How about Kg/cm^2 ? Things that have SELF DEFINING MEANING. Hz? How about CPS Cycles Per Seond? I just thows “discovery” under the bus, and for what? Lauding someone long dead? Do you REALLY think they would like to discourage whole generations of folks from UNDERSTANDING in the name of Self Aggrandizement?

    I really loath the SI penchent for “Person first, reason and understanding in the back of the bus”…

    Maybe I ought to come up with my own set of “easy for the learner” units…

  266. Malaga View says:

    Maybe I ought to come up with my own set of “easy for the learner” units…

    That would help me.
    The Fernald Medical Monitoring Program has come up with:

    SIR – Standard Incidence Ratio where 1.00 is the expected / normal rate of diagnosis for the population.

    Their seven year follow-up report in 2002 found some elevations in cancers:

    Kidney cancer – SIR range 1.81 to 1.95
    Prostate cancer – SIR range 1.37 to 1.79
    Malignant melanoma – SIR range 1.44 to 2.00
    Lung cancer – SIR range 0.85 to 1.15
    Breast Cancer – SIR range 1.10 to 1.22
    Pancreatic cancer – SIR range 1.34 to 1.55

    Fernald Feed Materials Production Center

    Fernald Medical Monitoring Program

    Trying to seperate FACT from FICTION in this story isn’t easy…
    There is so much FUD and SPIN on the net and in the MSM…
    Perhaps this article by Aljazeera explains why…

    Who controls nuclear control agencies?
    There are few independent nuclear experts in the world. Everyone either works in the industry or used to and are now regulators


  267. Pete says:

    EM a little higher you said:
    ” Oh, and a side bar on radiation damage:
    Heard (somewhere?) a description of how radiation causes damange… via free radicals. That lead to the speculation that you can minimize your “radiation effects” by the simple expedient of overdosing (well, very high megadose) of Vit C and Vit E and other antioxidant free radical scavengers. ”

    So what do you think about reduced water as an antioxidant as described in:
    “Electrolyzed-Reduced Water Scavenges Active Oxygen Species and Protects DNA from Oxidative Damage ” (1997)
    pdf at : http://www.sunbowfarm.org/pdfs/electrolyzedH2OprotectsDNA.pdf

    ” Active oxygen species or free radicals are considered to cause extensive oxidative damage to biological mac­romolecules, which brings about a variety of diseases as well as aging. The ideal scavenger for active oxygen should be ‘active hydrogen’. ‘Active hydrogen’ can be produced in reduced water near the cathode during electrolysis of water. Reduced water exhibits high pH, low dissolved oxygen (DO), extremely high dissolved molecular hydrogen (DB), and extremely negative re­dox potential (RP) values. ”



  268. E.M.Smith says:


    “Reduced water” is a new one on me… so at the moment I don’t think anything about it. I’ll need to read a bit…

  269. Level_Head says:


    Here’s a starting point on “reduced water”:


    There are some useful links and abstracts.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  270. Malaga View says:

    Chernobyl Cleanup Survivor’s Message for Japan:
    ‘Run Away as Quickly as Possible’


  271. Malaga View says:

    The True Battle of Chernobyl Uncensored

  272. George says:

    That is hilarious, Malaga View.

    We currently have a fairly stable situation at Fukushima. Radiation levels on the plant grounds continue to fall. The “crack in the containment vessel” story has been retracted as nobody has had an eyeball on that vessel, first of all, and secondly, there is no drop in pressure or loss of coolant inside the reactor vessel that would indicate a leak.

    We had a 10x increase in radioactive iodine in the ocean off the plant. That is likely due to local rains washing contamination into the water. There have been no detected leakage of contaminated water at the site into the ocean.

    We have radioactive water in the basements of all four turbine buildings. The current thinking is this is due to “overflow” from the operations to fill the spent fuel pools. There was likely some cladding damage on those spent fuel rods, particularly in unit 4, and any overflow water from those operations to dowse the pools would likely be highly contaminated if the cladding has been damaged (small cracks in the cladding).

  273. George says:

    Note that total iodine levels in all reactors are currently 25% of what they were immediately after shutdown. Within a month or two, almost all of it will be gone, including all that has leaked into the environment. I-131 has a half-life of only 8 days. It takes active ongoing fission to create more. There is currently no ongoing fission at the site.

  274. Bernie McCune says:

    Here is a Japanese government site with some day to day radiation values throughout Japan.


    I found this site when I wanted to find out what was really happening in Iwate prefecture where my friends and family reside. Iwate is basically at background radiation levels and has been that way for the duration of this whole disaster (as have most prefectures).

    The only sites not being actively updated are in Fukushima prefecture (or at the Fukushima NPS). From the data I am getting from other sources, I cannot see any reason to do this but without this data, it is harder to fight off the silliness of the MSM.

    Dig around on this site and find ocean values:



  275. George says:

    Much of Fukushima prefecture is still without electricity and as the area around the plant has been evacuated, I wouldn’t expect work to be going gangbusters to restore that power to neighborhoods where there are no people. The monitors in a good bit of Fukushima are probably without power.

  276. Level_Head says:

    @Bernie McCune: Nice find!

    Scroll down to the bottom of this PDF to see readings around Fukushima, and a nice chart of relative doses from activities.

    Click to access 1303972_2019.pdf

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  277. Bernie McCune says:


    This is a very nice level of detail for Fukushima if they had only kept it current. This data is still for March 20. Buried in this data is some detail on a 170 mSievert spike that occurred 30 Km NW of the NPS in the first week of the disaster. Apparently some “high” Cesium levels were found in the soil at about that spot.

    From data on the color map graphic at the website you note, it seems that there are active monitors well distributed in Fukushima prefecture but the government does not see fit to give us updated values. Perhaps there are valid reasons?


  278. George says:

    Buried in this data is some detail on a 170 mSievert spike that occurred 30 Km NW of the NPS in the first week of the disaster. Apparently some “high” Cesium levels were found in the soil at about that spot.

    It is quite possible that “hot spot” has nothing to do with the power plant. It could be improperly disposed of medical or industrial equipment or lots of other things. There are a lot of uses for cesium in medicine, science, and industry. The thing is, people are now LOOKING for the stuff all over the place where they weren’t looking for it before.

    It is hard to imagine a hot spot 30-40km away from the plant (5cm deep in the soil, even) and no such contamination between that spot and the plant.

  279. E.M.Smith says:


    Hard to imagine? What sillyness. I can easily imagine it:

    Hard Core Green Reporter, dumps Cesium from medical equipment run by his fellow hard core green, then calls reporters…

    See, easy!

    Oh, you meant “by accident”?…. Well, if you are going to set impossible terms I’m going to go read some other thread ;-)

  280. j ferguson says:

    It’s funny that you should say that, “your chance of finding something has a lot to do with looking for it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of the “finds” turned out to have been there before the plant disruptions or not there at all, or ????

    One of the highlights of this whole thing has been that George Monbiot an apparently unstable CAGW columnist for one of the English newspapers has concluded that because the world didn’t end after the record earthquake, the tsunami, all manner of secondary problems at the nuke plants, maybe they aren’t the hazard he’d been writing about for years.

    It probably is poor form to say this, but i expect that this accident happening in one of the most competent societies on earth and, as i think we can reasonably expect, turning out to be controllable despite the most challenging conditions, people should conclude that these things are not a menace.

    Way OT, I posted a wonderful video of Ray Bolger singing and dancing “Once in Love with Amy” over at Verity’s Digging in the Clay. It includes a short section where he hugs a tree. Everyone talks about tree huggers but how many people have actually been filmed doing it.

  281. George says:

    Actually, I don’t think people fully appreciate how detectable cesium 137 and iodine 131 are. For example, ever since the explosion of the first atomic bomb test, the world has been increasingly contaminated by Cs-137. There was exactly none of it in the environment before nuclear fission was first attained. Now there is a bunch of it. It is impossible to make anything that is not contaminated with it. Any steel, glass, gold, silver, anything … made since the 1940’s is contaminated with it. In fact, that is used to date antiques. If someone claims to have something glass dating from the turn of the century, it is very easy tell if it has really been made since the advent of nuclear fission because it will have minute traces of cesium 137 that can be detected.

    You also have strontium-90 in your bones and teeth. Any skeleton of an animal or person that lived before nuclear fission will have none in their bones. Anyone living after that time will have it. And it can be detected at tiny trace amounts.

    The iodine will be gone in a few weeks. Even if people do absorb some of it in their bodies, it will be gone soon as it has an 8 day half life. Cesium has about a 30 year half life but it has a “biological half life” of 70 days. Which means that if you ingest some cesium, while most of it will pass through you, your body will take up some of it. What your body takes up will be eliminated over time. You will eliminate half of it in about 70 days time.

    The real dangerous one is strontium 90. That one is absorbed in the bones and teeth as it acts chemically like calcium. You don’t eliminate that one over time, it stays in your body and can kill bone marrow if you accumulate enough of it. A study done in the 1950’s and 1960’s collected baby teeth. People basically sent in their kids baby teeth as they lost them for years. Later a study was done on the people whose teeth had been collected. The people who died of cancer before the age of 50 had, on average, twice the strontium 90 in their teeth as the people who did not die of cancer. The strontium 90 came from radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing. The “baby teeth” project was what convinced JFK to engage in an atmospheric test ban.

    The world just got a little more cesium rich this month. In fact, I guess if you studied ice core samples from Antarctica as a reference and compared the ratio of cesium to barium, it would be possible to date the manufacture of just about anything since 1945.

  282. George says:

    Actually, they might have a completely different problem brewing.

    The chlorine atoms in salt water are about 75% chlorine-35 and about 25% chlorine-37. When chlorine-37 is exposed to neutrons such as from nuclear fuel rods, it can absorb a neutron becoming chlorine-38 (which has a pretty short half-life). The chlorine-38 decays to argon which does not bond with sodium. The freed sodium then reacts with water to become sodium hydroxide and releases a hydrogen atom. So they are generating lye and hydrogen gas inside that reactor and that explains the haste to switch to fresh water.

  283. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, chemistry certainly does become much more interesting when you have BOTH regular chemistry and nuclear chemistry happening at the same time!

    I’d have never though of that particular chain of events…

    So, most places near a coast line are built where it’s flat, and that’s usually where a river dumps in. Is there no local creek with enough fresh water nearby? Seems like if you had enough town to need power, you had water too…

    Even untreated contaminanted water would be better than sea water (at least if passed through a trivial bulk matter filter like sand or gravel) as the total dissolved “stuff” would be a lot lower.

  284. George says:

    Also, this problem would be most acute unit number 2 which has the newest fuel and therefore the most neutrons flying around. This stuff can eat through seals.

  285. George says:

    “I’d have never though of that particular chain of events… ”

    This came from a recent report showing chlorine-38 in the water in the basement of the unit 2 turbine building. It has a very short half-life … minutes. So if there was Cl-38 in that water then it came out of the reactor very recently, as in within a couple of hours of when it was sampled. That would indicate an ongoing leak from a reactor (or spent fuel pool).

    So the question was … where the hell is Cl-38 coming from? A little research showed it is not a decay product of anything but is an activation product from neutron bombardment.

    Considering that sea water is 3.5% salt (average Pacific salinity but that varies by location) and they have been pumping in 100 gallons of sea water/minute. That would amount to almost 300 tons of salt according to one fellow’s calculations. 1/4 of that salt would be chloride-37. That means there is a potential to generate somewhere around 75 tons of NaCl inside that reactor. They need to get that salt out of there.

    But the sodium is also subject to activation and can become magnesium. Magnesium hydroxide is also called Phillips Milk of Magnesia. Magnesium can absorb two more neutrons and remain stable.

    Apparently there is no fresh water supply there. They did have a filtration plant on site but lost it and the clean water storage in the tsunami. They use ultra-clean water just to prevent these activation products from building up.

    The US navy is bringing in barges of fresh water.

  286. George says:

    This is a breakdown of the contamination found in the basements of those turbine buildings:


    The chlorine-38 is due to activation of chlorine-37 from sea salt from the sea water being used to cool the reactors. It has a short half-life and will decline as they switch to fresh water. The chlorine will eventually become argon and be vented with the steam. Same eventually with the sodium after passing through several phases of neutron activation.

    The Cs-134 also has a very short half life. The I-131 has a half life of 8 days. That accounts for the majority of the radioactivity of that water. The Cs-137 has a longer half-life but once the other materials decay, there isn’t enough of it by itself to be hazardous.

    There is no strontium-90.

  287. George says:

    oops, wrong blog!

  288. Malaga View says:

    @ George
    That is hilarious, Malaga View.

    I do not find Chernobyl, Fukushima, nuclear power nor nuclear arms hilarious.

  289. Malaga View says:

    Japan nuclear: Workers evacuated as radiation soars
    Radioactivity in water at reactor 2 at the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant has reached 10 million times the usual level, company officials say.

    Workers trying to cool the reactor core to avoid a meltdown have been evacuated.

    Earlier, Japan’s nuclear agency said that levels of radioactive iodine in the sea near the plant had risen to 1,850 times the usual level.

    The UN’s nuclear agency has warned the crisis could go on for months.


  290. j ferguson says:

    keep commenting here. Please.

  291. George says:

    “I do not find Chernobyl, Fukushima, nuclear power nor nuclear arms hilarious.”

    I find any comparison of Fukushima and Chernobyl to be hilarious. Actually, maybe more sad that hilarious as it goes to show you how successful a completely ignorant media has been at scaring an equally ignorant public with scare headlines rather than any actual reporting.

  292. George says:

    Tokyo Electric Power Company has retracted its announcement that 10 million times the normal density of radioactive materials had been detected in water at the Number 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    The utility says it will conduct another test of the leaked water at the reactor’s turbine building.

    The company said on Sunday evening that the data for iodine-134 announced earlier in the day was actually for another substance that has a longer half-life.

    So there is no I-134 (which would indicate ongoing fission someplace). The Cl-38 is due to the sea water they are using for cooling (and has a half-life of something like a half hour). So we sit and we wait for accurate numbers.

  293. George says:

    Ok, the new samples have been looked at. There is no I-134 and there is no Cl-38. The water is 100 times *less* radioactive than earlier reported but still pretty “hot”. It is consistent with a small water leak someplace from a reactor with some fuel damage, which is consistent with what TEPCO has been saying all along.

    They are now going to pump that water out of the basement and store it in the turbine condensate tank and try to find the source of the leak. They expect it will be a pipe, valve, or seal damaged from the earthquake somewhere in the turbine building as there are a lot of pipes that go between the reactor and the turbine building and in a BWR design, the primary coolant is used to drive the turbine.

  294. Bernie McCune says:

    The Japanese government website MEXT (Ministry for Education, Science, etc) finally published the Fukushima prefecture data and it looks relatively harmless. See Fukushima data here:


    The Daiichi NPS is about 60 Km SE of Fukushima city and about half way between them is the only real activity shown (perhaps some bit over 100 uSv at 3 or 4 clustered sites about 30 Km NW of the NPS) and it is now dropping off. The government seems to have been thoroughly monitoring the whole area for some time in spite of this huge natural disaster.

    Still no data from in and around the plant can be found at this site.


  295. Malaga View says:

  296. Malaga View says:

    Soil near the Fukushima plant tested positive for plutonium contamination, Tepco said. The radioactive metal was part of the fuel mix in reactor No. 3 and its presence outside the plant would suggest those fuel rods were also exposed. The amount found shouldn’t be enough to affect human health, Tepco Vice President Sakae Muto said at a press conference shown on a webcast yesterday.


  297. George says:

    Ok, sure, plutonium is detectable in such tiny amounts that smaller than a single grain of sand could be detected even if that amount were spread over the entire area.

    Look, you are doing exactly what a lot of people have been pretty much “conditioned” to do.

    You are exposed to much more dangerous levels of industrial contamination every day. The mercury from Chinese coal plants alone is thousands of times more dangerous.

    Somehow we are convinced that any detectable level of a radioactive isotope is immediate reason to panic. It isn’t.

    First of all *all* reactor fuel contains plutonium. As fission occurs in a reactor, U-238 will sometimes absorb a neutron and become P-239. Reactor #4 had recently had its fuel rods removed from the reactor and placed into the spent fuel pool. The fuel transfer crane has possibly fallen into that pool. That spent fuel pool area and the entire refueling floor were “washed down” with aerial water dumps, fire trucks, water cannon, and finally, a mud pump. If there *wasn’t* some plutonium in that runoff, it would be a miracle. It should be *expected* that there is some plutonium if there has been any damage to that fuel.

    But it is a matter of weighting the risks. NOT applying water could result in a much greater hazard and contamination. Plutonium contamination on the ground can be cleaned up. It is very easy to find. Worst case you scrape up the top couple of centimeters of soil and make a big cement block out of it or something or maybe you process it to extract the plutonium and re-use it.

    This is what I just can not understand. We have industrial accidents every year on this planet that kill people, contaminate neighborhoods, poison rivers, etc. To date in this incident, nobody has been killed, sickened, or even exceeded the international standard for maximum annual radiation dose.

    Three men exposed to high levels of radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have left the hospital with a clean bill of health.

    The 3 workers left the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba Prefecture on Monday.

    They had been receiving special medical treatment after having been exposed to radiation while installing power cables at the Number 3 reactor complex on Thursday.

    Two of the men stood in radioactive water for about 2 hours. They were due to receive treatment for burns, but doctors at the institute found that this was not necessary.

    The institute says the level of their exposure was up to 3,000 millisieverts, less than initially thought.

    The 2 men reportedly show no symptoms of burns, and their internal organs were exposed to very low levels of radiation. — NHK

    So … we have an industrial accident that has killed nobody other than physical injuries from debris, sickened nobody, not even exposed anyone beyond acceptable limits.

    Yes, we need to panic and make sure we don’t have industrial accidents that kill nobody, sicken nobody, nor contaminate anyone beyond acceptable limits here.

    Radioactive contamination is like any other contamination. You can’t smell, taste, or see a lot of other industrial contaminants that can kill you but we seem just fine with living with them.

    Are you aware that 30 days after the Hiroshima bomb, a football game was played at ground zero? Nobody died or even got sick. The area was contaminated orders of magnitude more than would be tolerable today.

    Relax. Breathe. Don’t panic.

  298. RuhRoh says:

    Well, maybe an eensie-weensie breach…

    “Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged for the first time possible damage to core pressure containers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant–the last line of defense in preventing radioactive materials from spewing out.

    TEPCO officials told reporters Monday morning that despite the continuous pumping in of water to cool down the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactor cores, water levels were not rising as expected, meaning the pressure containers may not be completely sealed off.

    The water, which is believed to be mixing with radioactive materials from the fuel rods within, is likely leaking from the pressure containers, they said.

    The tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake knocked out the emergency generators at the three reactors. The systems that circulate water within the pressure containers to cool the fuel rods also stopped working.

    Workers have been pumping in water through pipes to the pressure container to submerge the fuel rods and directly cool the decay heat that continues to be emitted even after the reactors were stopped.

    But the water level meters for the three reactors have not risen as expected.

    TEPCO officials said a possible reason the water levels were not rising sufficiently were breaches in the lower part of the pressure containers. They said they did not know what caused the possible damage.

    A pressure container holds nuclear fuel pellets placed in metal rods that have been bundled together. A containment vessel, located within the building housing the reactor, surrounds the pressure container.

    The pressure containers at the Fukushima plant are made of steel 16 centimeters thick. The lower part of the containers have openings for measuring and other equipment. Water may be leaking from around those parts, the officials said.

    TEPCO has cited the possibility that fuel rods may have been damaged due to overheating after being exposed above the water’s surface in the core. ”

    Also some new (small) pix at

    The crane at #3 fell down, maybe damaged spent fuel pool?


  299. George says:

    Actually, thousands of people are burned every day from radiation from an uncontrolled nuclear nuclear process 93 million miles away.

    (H/T WORM)

  300. RuhRoh says:

    Maybe an eensie-weensie breach;

    (reposted without links), from asahiDOTcom

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged for the first time possible damage to core pressure containers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant–the last line of defense in preventing radioactive materials from spewing out.

    TEPCO officials told reporters Monday morning that despite the continuous pumping in of water to cool down the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactor cores, water levels were not rising as expected, meaning the pressure containers may not be completely sealed off.

    The water, which is believed to be mixing with radioactive materials from the fuel rods within, is likely leaking from the pressure containers, they said.

    The tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake knocked out the emergency generators at the three reactors. The systems that circulate water within the pressure containers to cool the fuel rods also stopped working.

    Workers have been pumping in water through pipes to the pressure container to submerge the fuel rods and directly cool the decay heat that continues to be emitted even after the reactors were stopped.

    But the water level meters for the three reactors have not risen as expected.

    TEPCO officials said a possible reason the water levels were not rising sufficiently were breaches in the lower part of the pressure containers. They said they did not know what caused the possible damage.

    A pressure container holds nuclear fuel pellets placed in metal rods that have been bundled together. A containment vessel, located within the building housing the reactor, surrounds the pressure container.

    The pressure containers at the Fukushima plant are made of steel 16 centimeters thick. The lower part of the containers have openings for measuring and other equipment. Water may be leaking from around those parts, the officials said.

    TEPCO has cited the possibility that fuel rods may have been damaged due to overheating after being exposed above the water’s surface in the core.

  301. RuhRoh says:

    Interesting letter from Japan.

    One issue is the 50/60 Hz issue.


  302. RuhRoh says:

    Japan Electric Power;

    60 cps in the west, 50 cps in the east.


  303. @George:

    Agree. Most probably it´s a plasma torch, nevertheless it accelerates particles and produces radiation that people can not withstand more than 85 years avg. (a Gleissberg cycle) and we all grow all not linearly but more when radiation increases…
    BTW, many people reject microwave ovens, however can´t put off that round microwaving thing up there. :-)

  304. George says:

    They don’t believe they have a breech in the main containment. They believe currently that it is a leak in the turbine building, where the water is accumulating. It could have happened during the EQ, they don’t know when it started because it was there the first time they went in since the quake. It isn’t big enough to change pressure levels in the reactor. It could be the explosion in the suppression pool caused a water hammer somewhere and damaged a valve, seal, or pipe. They won’t know where it is coming from until they get that water out of there and can see where it is seeping from.

    They have said there is a lot of plumbing between the turbine building and the reactor building and the problem can be in any of those pipes.

  305. George says:

    500 meters west of reactor number 1 is one of the two locations where a trace of plutonium was located. They can not be certain of the source.

    Concentration: highest 0.54 Bq/kilo

    This contamination is at about that found globally from contamination from cold war atmospheric bomb testing or at standard background ambient contamination levels.

    Samples aken from five locations. Two locations showed “traces” of plutonium. Plutonium 238 is isotope found. 0.12uSv if you ate 50kg/year of this soil over 50 years. Radiation level is at about the ambient background level. No elevated radiation level from the plutonium.

    But the media has already run with the



    Or, according to Charlie Martin, if you ate that plutonium contamination that was found at Fukushima, you would get the equivalent dose as eating 0.004 bananas.

    I-131 levels have now fallen to levels where the water in Tokyo is again safe for infants.

  306. RuhRoh says:

    From nuclear-world-news dot com

    “Status of unit 1

    Despite being listed as stable for several days, temperatures and pressures within the reactor vessel of unit 1 have been trending upwards.

    Temperature recorded at the feedwater nozzle is now 323ºC, compared to 153ºC at unit 2 and just 61ºC at unit 3. Pressure stands at 600 kPa compared to near atmospheric pressure levels at units 2 and 3.”

    What does this say to you guys who’ve run the things?


  307. E.M.Smith says:

    So, about 87 psi and 613 F ? About 596 K.

    Yikes! Sounds to me like it’s not going to be water at that temperature…

    If I’m reading that chart right, at 600 K you are at 10^7 Pa for water or 10^4 kPa or 10,000 kPa. Way over 600 kPa.

    They’ve got steam, not water, on that core; unless I’ve screwed the pooch due to no glasses on ;-)

  308. RuhRoh says:

    The unit 1 temp is not increasing monotonically;

    ” The temperature in the No. 1 reactor core began rising again. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, it reached 329 degrees, considerably higher than the reactor’s normal operating temperature of approximately 285 degrees. The pressure in the reactor was stable.

    The volume of water pumped into the No. 1 reactor was increased by 30 percent from 8 p.m. Monday to 140 liters a minute. The temperature at 6 a.m. Tuesday was 323 degrees.

    An official of TEPCO’s Fukushima office said: “The temperature repeatedly increases and decreases. However, we have been able to control it. We will continue to keep a close eye on the situation.” ”

    The challenge is about where to put the water after they run it through #1.
    Lots of drama pumping variously hot water around to various tanks. I guess #1 is not thought to be leaking radioisotopes…


    Also one other worrisome note, not necessarily accurate;
    from wsjonline;

    “Of particular concern is the runoff at reactor No. 2, which has risen to within about three feet of spilling out of an outside shaft. Radiation levels in the water are at least 1,000 millisieverts an hour—four times the level emergency crews at the site are allowed to experience in a full year. Those levels may be higher still, but authorities say 1,000 millisieverts is the upper limit of their measuring devices. ”


  309. RuhRoh says:

    New tactical plan;


    Put radioactive water into empty supertanker.

    special cloth covers for reactors


  310. Malaga View says:

    Nuclear Power gets CO2 taxed and demonised in the UK…

    UK government introduces carbon floor price
    The UK has become the first country in the world to introduce a carbon price floor for the power generation sector. Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech today that the government will introduce a floor price for carbon from 1 April 2013, aimed at “driving investment in the low-carbon power sector.” He said that the price floor will start at around £16 ($26) per tonne of carbon dioxide and follow a linear path to £30 ($49) per tonne in 2020. Osborne said that the government intends to introduce relief for carbon capture and storage and combined heat and power (CHP), and remove an existing exemption in the climate change levy for electricity CHP plants supply indirectly to an energy consumer. The carbon floor is expected to generate revenues of £740 million ($1.2 billion) in 2013-14, £1.07 billion ($1.74 billion) in 2014-15, and £1.41 billion ($2.29 billion) in 2015-16. Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF Energy, commented: “It is important that the UK maintains momentum for investment in secure, low-carbon and affordable energy including nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage.” He added, “Investment in low carbon energy will provide a massive boost to the UK economy, creating billions of pounds of business opportunities and thousands of jobs.” De Rivaz noted, “For nuclear, helping to restore the carbon price to what was originally intended is important to encourage investment in existing plants and in new build.”


    While nature and reality responds at Fukushima in Japan…

    Japan Weighs Entombing Nuclear Plant in Bid to Halt Radiation
    Japan will consider pouring concrete into its crippled Fukushima atomic plant to reduce radiation and contain the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano yesterday ruled out the possibility that the two undamaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s six-unit Dai-Ichi plant would be salvaged. Units 1 through 4 suffered from explosions, presumed meltdowns and corrosion from seawater sprayed on radioactive fuel rods after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami cut power to reactor cooling systems.

    Workers have averted the threat of a total meltdown by injecting water into the damaged reactors for the past two weeks. The complex’s six units are connected with the power grid and two are using temporary motor-driven pumps. Work to repair the plant’s monitoring and cooling systems has been hampered by discoveries of hazardous radioactive water.

    The risk to workers might be greater than previously thought because melted fuel in the No. 1 reactor building may be causing isolated, uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions, Denis Flory, nuclear safety director for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a press conference in Vienna.


    The Fukushima-Daiichi Incident, Dr. Matthias Braun, AREVA, March 29, 2011

  311. RuhRoh says:

    from 3/31/11 news;
    (tomorrow’s news today),
    from asahi.com
    Government officials are scrambling to devise emergency measures–including covering damaged reactor buildings and using robots–to deal with radioactive materials that have hindered work at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    A wider range of options for the nuclear crisis is being considered because plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. is struggling to bring the situation under control and public concerns are rising about radiation spreading into the environment, sources said.

    The presence of radioactive substances in and around the Fukushima plant has slowed work to restore mechanisms that can cool the reactor cores.

    One measure under discussion is spraying a special paint over radioactive materials attached inside the No. 1 to No. 4 reactor buildings and then using a special canvass structure to cover the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings, which have been damaged by hydrogen explosions.

    That plan could prevent radioactive materials from spreading through the air.

    A ventilation system with filters would be attached because of the danger of another explosion of hydrogen accumulating under the air-tight canvass structure.

    Another measure under discussion would involve filling an empty tanker anchored at the harbor adjacent to the Fukushima No. 1 plant with highly contaminated water leaking into the basement of the turbine buildings of the No. 2 and other reactors.

    Pumps would be used to remove the radioactive water from the buildings.

    Removal of the hazardous liquid would allow work to continue to restore power and the pumps needed to cool the reactor core and reduce the risk of radioactive water overflowing into the ocean.

    However, officials of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism have raised concerns about the lack of docking facilities in the area for a large tanker. Other officials opposed the plan due to concerns about the safety of workers who would be asked to pump the water from the plant.

    Also under discussion is the use of robots and remote-control operating equipment because of the limits to what the workers can do amid the high radiation levels.

    Sources said the Japanese government has asked the business sector and the U.S. government for cooperation in the use of robotics.

    Sumio Mabuchi, the former infrastructure minister, was appointed special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan to deal with the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

    Mabuchi and another special adviser, Goshi Hosono, have set up a team that includes officials from related government ministries, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, TEPCO, electric equipment manufacturers and construction companies. Representatives of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are also taking part.

    Three subcommittees have been established within the special team to separately consider measures to seal in the radioactive materials, use remote control equipment, and remove and transfer the nuclear fuel rods.

    The last subcommittee is considering what steps to take should the buildings housing the reactor cores collapse.

    TEPCO is now taking a more accurate approach concerning water levels in the reactors to prevent radioactive water from overflowing and leaking outside the turbine buildings.

    Workers are carefully calculating how much water is being pumped into the cores so that it theoretically equals the volume of water evaporating in the core.

    Company officials said Wednesday morning the temperature of the No. 1 reactor core had fallen to 281.2 degrees as of 4 a.m. Early Tuesday morning, the temperature exceeded 320 degrees, forcing TEPCO workers to increase the volume pumped into the core by 30 percent to about 140 liters per minute.

    A TEPCO official at the local Fukushima office said the temperatures had stabilized.

    According to calculations made by the Kyoto University Reactor Research Institute, the decay heat of fuel rods in the core is causing water to evaporate at a rate of between 80 and 140 liters a minute.

    The heat in the core will only decrease by half after six months and will continue to give off one-third of the heat after a year, the institute said.

  312. Ken McMurtrie says:

    There seems to be differing views on what is happening and the severity of the health hazards.
    This was posted in ‘Natural News’, dated 30 March.

    “(NaturalNews) The battle to save the Fukushima nuclear power plant now appears lost as the radioactive core from Reactor No. 2 has melted through the containment vessel and dropped into the concrete basement of the reactor structure. This is “raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site,” reports The Guardian, which broke the story (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/201…). A former General Electric nuclear expert told The Guardian that Japan appears to have “lost the race” to save the reactor.”
    My own comment is “Japan appears to have “lost the race” to prevent serious health repercussions”


  313. E.M.Smith says:

    Does anyone still make lead paint? Maybe they could just start covering the whole thing in paint like the navy does ships 8-)

  314. George says:

    The battle to save the Fukushima nuclear power plant now appears lost as the radioactive core from Reactor No. 2 has melted through the containment vessel and dropped into the concrete basement of the reactor structure.

    Yeah, some ex-spurt sitting in his apartment in London came up with that. It was published in the Guardian, AP picked it up, and it has suddenly become “fact”. In the meantime, when that story was going around, the lower head temperature of the reactor was 77 degrees C. So apparently the earthquake nudged Fukushima Dai-ichi into an alternate universe where steel melts at 77 C.

    Oh, and the water levels and pressure level readings from the reactor core also look stable over the past several days.

  315. George says:

    Reactor Pressure A 0.078MPa*
    Reactor Pressure B 0.078MPa*
    Condition:No large fluctuation
    *converted to absolute pressure
    Reactor Water Level A -1,500mm

    Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV)
    Feedwater Nozzle Temperature 174.3℃

    PCV*3 Pressure 0.100MPa
    Condition: No large fluctuation

    Spent Fuel Pool Water Temperature 48.0 ℃

    Current Conditions:Sea water is being injected to the Spent Fuel Pool and fresh water is being injected to the core

    As of 14:00 March 30th, 2011

  316. E.M.Smith says:


    What about reactor #1?

    Per the comment here:


    and my reading of the phase chart here:


    the implication is that the core would be in steam, not water… So is the reported temp wrong? (It would not surprise me in the least what with things having been exploded and salt soaked…)

  317. Ken McMurtrie says:

    Impressive photos!
    Why has everyone gone quiet?

  318. peter geany says:

    I think the media have decided that as no one has been killed and no one has received a fatal dose of radiation, the reactors are not melting down and spewing radiation, so there is no story. Just as they have ignored giving us news on how the rest of Japan is coping, and the plight of the thousands of people left homeless, they will now ignore the efforts of those who are trying to contain the issues at Fukushima.

    It has been the Western Media at its very worst and I think when we look back it will be a watershed for the Mainstream Media.

    Their influence is in decline and this event has made it terminal. From this point forward the blog-sphere is where most will go for acurate news.

  319. Ralph B says:

    I have been away for a couple weeks and am getting back up to speed on events. Will be away a couple more soon. Anyway concerning the SFP (Spent Fuel Pool). It does have a SS clad and no penetrations <12ft above the fuel. From my understanding one of the units was in a refueling outage when the quake hit that would have the containment open and relatively hot fuel in the pit and core but also expose potential openings for the water to drain away. Not low enough to uncover the fuel though but if you drop the level through drainage then you dont have as much room for evaporation.

  320. E.M.Smith says:

    @Peter Geany:

    Some years back the “News” function was disbanded at TV stations. It had been a “loss function” but mandated as a “public service” by the FCC. Once that was removed as a licence condition, the Uber Managers decided everything had to make money and have ratings. Exit the great TV Journalists….

    Shortly after they started to juice up the news shows, the concept of “Infotainment” was born ( along with “Docudrama”) and the “News” became a “Soap Opera based on Reality, sort of”… eventually leading to the modern “Reality TV” (that has no foundation in reality at all other than the actors are amatures and the script is transparent and improvised…)

    So, time passes… You are in the “Infotainment” business. Which gets more “eyeballs”:

    1) Potential loss of $100s Billions of productivity and drastic changes to electric power production in 10 years.

    2) Poor Dog, lost at sea for 3 weeks, with “happy talk” with rescue team and great pictures?

    You go with the mutt… ratings will be higher, wife and kids will watch… Oh, and add the picture of the to babies babbling at each other… (Anyone in back got a “bleeds it leads” story we can use for counterpoint? High school kid runs a bike off a roof? Sure, that’ll do… )

    “Human Interest” ( i.e. emotional fluff ) will beat out hard news any time the ratings game is the major control. Even the Weather Channel has gone to “Storm Stories” and “Docudrama” stories for much of the day instead of “the weather”.

  321. Ken McMurtrie says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you, Peter and EM, however I was getting the impression that this post was getting quiet. As you say, the MSM is lacking, or slacking. It is therefore of great importance that blog’s such as this keep up the good reporting.
    330 plus comments is a brilliant post but the crisis is basically still in its infancy. Not EM’s responsibility, but certainly his opportunity to continue a great service to at least part of the public.
    Am I on track here?
    The post is so large now, maybe we need a summary so far and start a new post?
    “Truth about the situation and its ongoing dangers”, maybe?

  322. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ken McMurtrie:

    Wow! I hadn’t notice it was up to over 300 comments….

    Yeah, I probably ought to start a new one with a summary of what is, and isn’t, presently known.

    Like the recent comment that one of the reactors might have been open for a refueling operation when the quake hit… That “kind of matters” as all the containment in the world is pointless if the lid is off…

  323. P.G. Sharrow says:

    I don’t know Ken. The Main Stream Media is long on opinion and fog and short on facts. Even Fox is a waste of time. This thread has provided more real information to me then anything else. Thank you, George. Frankly to me the Japanese have done a very good job of containing a very bad situation. The quake was huge and the tsunami caused damage imminence. There were some design errors and poor judgement about venting that got the roofs blown off but still not the great disaster that the media wanted. There 12,000 dead and 18,000 still missing as well as 200,000 homeless and it is still winter! that is a real disaster. pg

  324. George says:

    This video shows “the crack” that is being talked about:


    It is not in the reactor, it is in some concrete outside.

    Radioactivity in tap water in all areas is now safe for consumption. The only place with water unsafe for infants is the town immediately adjacent to the plant but the water there is safe for adults but that doesn’t really matter as nobody is living there right now.

    That crack is causing water to leak from the basement of the turbine building of the unit #2 and they believe there is a leak of water in that turbine building but they won’t be able to find it until they get the water pumped out.

    No workers have exceeded the 250mSv dose for radiation so far. And that level is half the level that US rad workers are allowed to accumulate.

    The international nuclear agency monitoring conditions on the site says at the current time they consider the Fukushima Dai-ichi incident to be “minor”. They said they have recently dealt with much worse contamination issues in places like Thailand and Indonesia (radioactive materials are used in medicine, science, and industry).

    Much of the response to this is not due to any real hazard so much as it is the required response codified in law when there are such incidents. They had no choice but to evacuate that area once the incident was declared.

    Radiation levels in meat and vegetable products are now below the maximum allowed.

    Temperatures continue to decline in all three reactors. Once they get that leak from the #2 turbine building basement sealed up and get the water pumped out, they should be on their way to fixing that leak.

    Reactor #1 should be pumped out today (Japan time).

    They have restored pumping capacity for sea water to the heat exchangers and once they get the water out, can send in crews to begin work on re-connecting electricity to the reactor vessel circulation pumps. Once that is accomplished, cold shutdown should occur within hours.

    Latest available reactor parameters from NISA are here:

    Click to access en20110402-2-2.pdf

    All radiation monitoring posts have been restored to operation at the plant. The data transfer network is broken but they can manually check each post at regular intervals.

    While the water leak is increasing ocean radiation levels, radiation levels on land are continuing to decline.

  325. George says:

    Also, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said that extensive testing has been done of people in the areas surrounding the plants and there is no evidence of any exposure or contamination in excess of allowable levels.


    We are still in a “crisis” which hasn’t hurt anyone, hasn’t sickened anyone, hasn’t killed anyone, and hasn’t contaminated anyone. Meanwhile, the real crisis goes under-reported because everyone is so fixated on a nuclear plant that isn’t hurting anyone and with every passing day isn’t likely to.

  326. Ken McMurtrie says:

    @PG. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my remarks. I was trying to say that the MSM are poor in reporting and that EM’s blog is an opportunity to get more accurate information to the outside world.
    @ George. Sure I am a cynic, but experience shows that most of the time, cynism equals realism. Because this is not always the case, I am not going to stick my neck out too far.
    However, I think you are far too trusting of your sources.You may have looked at the ‘Cryptome’ photos and concluded only superficial damage has occurred.
    You may have confidence in available reported radiation measurements when the offiicial Japanese atmospheric radiation map labelled all the close proximity readings as, ‘under review’, or some such description, never once a figure published.
    You may have confidence in the reports by the company officials and government spokespersons and other “experts”, all having vested interests, but please forgive me if I am suspicious.
    I will gladly offer you a public apology if it turns out that I am sensationalist and am wrong. I will be pleased to be wrong, in fact. That would mean that few persons will be suffering radiation health problems. Pray God that I am wrong!

  327. Ken McMurtrie says:

    Sorry to be petty but, someone has been hurt.
    NHK World report.,
    “Tokyo Electric Power CoTokyo Electric Power Company has said two employees who had gone missing since the March 11th disaster were found dead at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

    The bodies of Kazuhiko Kokubo and Yoshiki Terashima, both in their 20s, were found in the basement of the turbine building for the Number 4 reactor on Wednesday.

    They had been carrying out a regular check-up at the plant.

    The chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said in a statement that the company is extremely sorry about losing two young employees who had tried to maintain the plant’s safety in the midst of disaster.

    Sunday, April 03, 2011 13:02 +0900 (JST)

  328. Bernie McCune says:

    Though I live in the States, I have family and friends in Japan. My interest in the facts came from worrying about their safety. They mostly live in Iwate prefecture where their coastal towns were heavily damaged by the tsunamis (some of the larger ones – Kamaishi, Miyako, Ofunato, Rikuzentakata to name a few). I am still interested in knowing what is going on there right now. Reporting except for NHK has gone silent on the non nuclear disaster part (except for the dog rescue). Fortunately for the folks I know, they live about 50 miles inland and only suffered the blackouts and gasoline shortages (and some food shortages early on and even now types of frozen foods).

    I am no expert on radiation physics (or reactor operations) so I really appreciated the information presented here especially from George who has continued to monitor this site and keep us all informed. I have actually been able to go to other sites and find good data that confirm George’s information. Iwate, throughout this nuclear disaster continued to “see” only background levels of radiation.

    Japan, as we know, is a modern society with very technically competent people but some of these disaster areas have been completely wiped out. Because of power outages it has heavily stressed even areas where very little damage was experienced. And localized radiation hot zones have limited some of the response.

    The present government is a left wing leaning leadership that does not trust or rely on the bureaucracy or the military. They, for the most part, try to be heros and do too much without bringing in the experts (foreign or domestic).

    In cases of natural disaster (which occur often in Japan) the people tend not to rely too much on the federal government anyway and usually do a great job of taking care of themselves. In this case with the lack of gasoline (and to a lesser degree the lack of reliable electrical power) this self reliance was greatly scaled back. Due to both the Self Defense (Japanese military) forces and the US military (many of which are resident there) and the very competent local fire and police personnel, much of the early quick response still did occur. The present government leaders are generally anti-military so this response though “allowed” was not done with much fervor.

    The bottom line is that I will be surprised if Ken’s point of view is supported in the end. From everything I see, in spite of the huge disruptions caused mostly by the tsunamis and the power shutdown from the earthquakes, monitoring has been carried out and as best they can has been reported to all of us. George’s and my sources are open and available to all. That most of the media has mis reported (or not even reported) this information is really due to their incompetence and ultimately becomes our problem not the problem of technocrats in Japan.

    The Japanese federal government only recently allowed an Israeli medical team in (because they did not have Japanese credentials) so Japanese methods certainly need to be reviewed. This is a typical Japanese response and since Japan tends to take care of themselves most of the time it does not surprise me that this happened. Rescue dogs were apparently quarantined for rabies (I am sure they had all their rabies shots). We all need to worry about bureaucratic competency as well as the veracity of our sources.

    Finally – thanks especially to George, EM Smith, and also to all the other expert bloggers on this site. Knowledge is power (and in this case comforting).


  329. Chuckles says:

    May I recommend the Areva Powerpoint presentation referenced here as a ‘Must See’ –


  330. George says:

    “Tokyo Electric Power CoTokyo Electric Power Company has said two employees who had gone missing since the March 11th disaster were found dead at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

    Yes, these were physical injuries incurred by the quake/tsunami and happened before there was any problem with the reactor.

    These are not radiation casualties or anything having to do with the reactors, they were physical injuries. There was also one death in the quake at the Dai-ni plant on the other side of town, too.

  331. George says:

    Some lights in the turbine buildings of units 1, 2, and 3 were restored yesterday.

    Also, not that the employees were lost in unit 4 turbine building. Unit 4 reactor was not running when the quake hit and all fuel had been unloaded a month before.

  332. George says:


    It doesn’t require melted fuel to release fission products. Having written computer codes that model such releases, I can observe that much of the fission products are released in fuel heatup, and most releases occur prior to achieving fuel melt temperature, including most or all of the Noble Gases (Kr, Xe), much of the semi-volatiles (halogens) and some of the alkali metals (e.g., cesium). Don’t forget this point. This is important and I’ll come back to this later.

    But what this accident should not do is cause us to jettison the promising future of nuclear power because there might be some cesium uptake in Tuna in the Pacific. When nuclear workers receive regular body burden analysis to assess the radioactive content in their body, the technician can tell if they are hunters. “Do you hunt, sir? Yes, I hunt deer. Oh, that explains the Cs-137 spike I see.” The Cs-137 doesn’t come from commercial nuclear reactors. It comes from fallout from nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s and 1960s. We’ve been there and done that. It’s not a problem.

  333. Ken McMurtrie says:

    @ Bernie. I appreciate your comments and your calm detailed assessment of the situation. I appreciate your respect for my comments, which of course, maybe off the mark. As I said, I will be very happy to be found wrong in having a pessimistic mind set.
    @ George. I will step back a little and watch the progress and certainly don’t want to nit-pick. But I want to say a little more about the two unfortunate deaths, They reportedly occurred in the basement of of #4 station, from tsunami or maybe quake impact. This means that extremely serious structural and/or equipment damage must have occurred, in the basement. Is this in keeping with the reports you have read? Then there was the report that the bodies had to be de-contaminated after retrieval. (Even though it was shut down and fuel unloaded). That was why I considered radiation as a possible contributing factor.
    Ok, now I am on hold for a while.
    BTW, I do appreciate and have respect for your efforts and extensive information.

  334. George says:

    This means that extremely serious structural and/or equipment damage must have occurred

    No it doesn’t. It might mean they fell off a ladder or catwalk. It might mean lots of things. But you can’t say that because two people were injured that “extremely serious structural or equipment damage occurred”.

    The reactors in unit 4 were not running. The fuel had been unloaded a month ago. There was no water in the reactor vessel. The contamination is likely due to contamination that has accumulated since the accident most likely due to “overwash” from water being sprayed into the spent fuel pool of the unit 4 reactor.

    That there was a hydrogen explosion in unit 4 and the reactor was empty says that some damage has occurred to the spent fuel rods in the pool on the roof of unit 4. Some contamination from that would be expected to be washed off as they attempt to fill that pool. That likely accumulated in the basement of the turbine building. There really would be no radiation source in the turbine building except possibly contamination that has “plated out” on the inside of coolant pipes in the turbine building. This isn’t likely to be knocked loose in a quake any more than the bronze plating on that penny in your pocket is likely to be knocked loose from the zinc slug in the center when you flip the coin.

    The people at that facility would have experienced about 1/2 g of acceleration side to side during that quake. That is certainly enough to knock you down. (actually closer to 0.6g).

    Only units 1, 2, and 3 were running on the evening of the quake. Unit 1 had been running the longest and was slated for final shutdown in preparation for decommissioning on March 21. Had the quake waited another two weeks, only two units would have been in operation.

    The major operation in all of this is going to be clearing all the debris from the fueling floor of these reactors so the spent fuel and reactor fuel can be unloaded and transferred to a better location. These reactor buildings being open to the elements is a bad thing, particularly once typhoon season cranks up.

    These reactors are “top loaded”. They are going to have to get that debris off that refueling deck in order to get that fuel out of there and at this point it is pretty contaminated.

  335. George says:

    There actually has been pretty extensive structural damage but not to the parts one might expect. The reactors themselves survived the quake just fine. They were continuing to operate in their normal decay-heat dumping mode for the first hour or so until the tsunamis hit. They continued cooling off for several more hours until the batteries finally gave out.

    But one source of damage has been to the concrete serving as the walls of the turbine building basements and various cable trenches. These have been cracked and now we see water migration between units.

    Recent pumping of water from the number 3 turbine building basement to the number 4 turbine building basement seems to have resulted in a rise in water levels in a number 3 building cable pit. When they stopped the pumping to number 4, the water in the pit stopped rising. So it appears that cracks in the concrete allow water to flow into the ground and from there, seep into other areas with cracked concrete.

    Remember, this is likely the largest EQ this region has seen in the Holocene. It was huge. I also want to point out the inaccuracy in calling this an “accident” as it was not an operational accident, it is a natural disaster.

    So currently the plan is this:

    Pump the water from the waste water storage tanks and from unit 3 and unit 4 basements to the sea. This water has very low levels of contamination. This frees up space in the waste water storage tank to collect the water in the unit 2 basement that is more highly contaminated and prevent it leaking to the sea. The overall result is hoped to be a net reduction in contamination.

    So far, some 40,000 tons of lightly contaminated water have been discharged in order to free up space to contain the more highly contaminated water. Most of these contaminants have fairly short half-lives (with the exception of cesium-137) and the overall radioactivity will be substantially reduced over just a few weeks time.

    The “problem child” at this point seems to be unit 2. They need to find the source of the water leak there but they can’t do that until they get the basement pumped out and they can’t do THAT until they have a place to put that water.

  336. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve put up a new “Nuke Plant Page 2” page here:


    and reproduced the last comment from George in the posting.

    It would be good to put futher comments on that page as this on is getting rather long and slow to load…

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