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Friday, March 25, 2011

Nuke horror show worsens

They sent two nuclear power plant workers at Fukushima to the hospital yesterday after they waded into some water on the floor at reactor no. 3 that was so radioactive that it burned their feet or legs. The word is that the water contained 10,000 times more radiation than the water inside a normally functioning reactor would hold. That is leading the plant operators to suggest that the steel reactor core vessel has been breached.

If that's true, the superheated, melted fuel at the bottom of the steel vessel -- radioactive lava, more or less -- could come oozing out onto the concrete containment pad below it. Will the pad hold? Maybe. One U.S. government researcher has explained it this way:

In the unlikely scenario that the molten core material (corium) were to melt through the bottom of the reactor vessel and discharge into the containment, the material can interact with the underlying concrete basemat. This scenario has been under intense research for many years following the accident at TMI [Three Mile Island] with the intent of supporting accident management planning for existing plants just like the ones in Japan. This research has indicated that if water is present as an initial condition on the basemat floor, then there is a relatively high probability that the material can be quenched for a fairly wide range of melt pool depths. The Japanese have participated in this research from the beginning and are very familiar with these findings, along with their ramifications for accident management planning.
Nobody's saying that the concrete pad would or wouldn't hold in this case. But nobody will be getting anywhere near the molten fuel, wherever it shows up.

Now they're getting the U.S. Navy involved in barging fresh water to the site. They have to stop using seawater to cool the reactors because the salt is piling up inside the reactor cores. There's reportedly about 100,000 pounds of salt built up in each of reactors 2 and 3, and another 57,000 pounds in reactor 1.

There's also talk of raising the severity rating on this accident to level 6 on the international scale. Aside from revealing the Japanese p.r. strategy here -- break the bad news a little at a time -- that's a laughable development. Of course it's a 6, and it will probably go to a 7, the same as Chernobyl. Chernobyl released a lot of radiation, but the main fire there was extinguished within hours, and the entire blaze was put out in about two weeks. We reach the two-week mark of the Fukushima disaster today, and the end of serious releases of radioactive cesium and iodine is not in sight. And in Japan there are four very sick reactors to deal with, not just one.

Comments (7)

Maybe the Coca-Cola bottling company could send over a few tankers of high fructose corn syrup to dump on the reactor core.

Isn't #3 the one with the plutonium in it? MOX fuel or whatever? Yikes.

Look, we were all pretty stirred up this last couple of weeks watching Japan eat it. Some downplayed the severity here. Jim Karlock took the tone that this was a bunch of hysterical greenies who use every technological problem to criticize nuclear power while coal is so much worse. I said that was like comparing apples to radioactive oranges. The longterm problems of nuclear radiation are in a league of their own and I felt Jim's comments were tone deaf and idiotic.

Insults were exchanged. Basically, it came down to a bunch of people using whatever knowledge they've accumulated in life combined with whatever websites they chose to believe. Throughout Jim Karlock stepped forward to remind us that he had taken science classes in college. He characterized our concerns about the severity of this by repeatedly saying: "Some people will do anything to save the earth - except study science."
Ahh shoot, why not just quote the man:
"JK: I have no expertise in the nuclear field, but know how to read beyond greenie propaganda & how to select which expert to listen to. (For instance anything coming our of any green organization is suspect - same as corporate PR.)

Having paid attention in several science classes helps too.

As they say : some people will do anything to save the earth. Except study science.


Meanwhile my initial reaction made back on the 11th was,
"We are witnessing a true drama more suspenseful than any Hollywood movie. Godzilla was a minor inconvenience compared to this beast."

Two weeks in, things are not getting better - they're getting worse. If I had to guess, I would say that a large piece of land in Japan will be uninhabitable when this is over. In that sense it won't really be over - not for centuries. My opinion is that many people will die from its effects starting with the workers at the plant, but winding through years of cancers, etc...

I'm sorry if my horror at what happened to the people over there, fueled some disrespectful comments early on directed at Mr. Karlock. I should have just waited to see if this was no big deal compared to the deaths from coal - as Mr. Karlock pointed out over and over.

However, now that I've had time to reflect on what has happened, I would like to amend my remarks directed to Mr. Karlock and include this one:

I wish he would take his smug "I know science and you don't" attitude, roll it up into a big fuel-rod shaped object, and shove it up his ass.

Jack, thanks for the reports you've pulled together on this over the past two weeks. Your work has been a wonderful resource.

Bill, you could have just said "I told you so". How's your back?

You're right. Let me go with a joke:
How about this sleeping air traffic controller at National Airport, huh? Here, we’re setting up a no-fly zone in Libya and we need it in Washington instead.

There are non-PR reasons to not call it a 7 as yet.

At Chernobyl, after the fire and explosion, the reactor core was open to the sky. The fire may have been put out quickly, but that was still a Mighty Big Problem.

At Fukushima, as far as I have heard there has not been that serious a loss of core containment. (Of course, since there's three reactors and a fuel pond all in major distress, in aggregate it may turn out to be just as bad in the end.)

Best source for news on this incident that I've seen...


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