Japan quake, tsunami, nuke news 16: Radioactive leaks? It’s a feature, not a bug!

Welcome to the “I’m starting to get cynical” edition.

The situation at Fukushima Diiachi Nuclear Plant reached an impasse over the least few days. Two or three of the reactors are in a situation where cooling is being kludged, the reactor fuel rods are damaged and have melted but the details are unknown, storage pools are not being safely managed, unexpected fission events keep occurring despite the widespread belief that this can’t happen, and no one knows what to do because no one can see what is happening because of the more immediate problem: There is a deposit of very dangerous highly radioactive water within the plant in places that make it impossible for engineers and technicians to enter.

Meanwhile, radioactive water has been leaking form the plant. A huge blatantly obvious crack in the plant’s foundation was “noticed” quite recently and blamed for the leak. Attempts to fix the crack at first failed then apparently worked well enough to determine that this crack is not the source of the leak. Tracer stuff has been placed in the plant to see if a route between the plant and the sea could be identified. So far this has not worked. The engineers at Fukushima have no clue whatsoever how water is leaking into the sea, or which water it is, or how to stop it. But, that’s OK because they have a plan B: Dump the water into the sea on purpose! Then, the leak will be a feature, rather than a bug!

In order to remove the highly radioactive water from the plant, less radioactive water in various containers needs to be removed, so the highly radioactive water can be moved into those containers. So far, the only solution to doing this that TEPCO has come up with is to dump the less radioactive water into the ocean where it will just go away because, as we all know, stuff we dump into the ocean always magically disappears.

Well, to put aside my growing cynicism and distrust for a moment, the fact is that most of the radioisotopes in the water will fizzle out before six months is over. But not all of it. And despite the increasingly widespread use of the logic that if I have a broken arm you can’t really have a headache, the presence of longer lived isotopes does not become a non-fact if there are also shorter lived isotopes in the water.

Ooops, the cynicism came back. If this keeps up, I could end up becoming an anti-nuclear activist.

Ana’s Feed:

Saturday, April 2, 6PM

Japan news hasn’t confirmed, but I gather elsewhere that the concrete solution to the earthquake-caused leak has failed. A polymer of some kind may be tried…

  • “To fill in the crack in the pit, the utility firm began pouring in concrete at 4:30 PM on Saturday. But even more than 6 hours later, the amount of water flowing into the pit was so large that the injected concrete had not solidified yet…, allowing radioactive water to leak into the ocean.
  • The power company will try other measures on Sunday morning to stop water from entering the pit. It will use a particular kind of polymer which will absorb the water.” (NHK)

“”It has been tough. But we’ve been well taken care of by everyone. We’re really grateful.” But he adds, “I don’t know when we can go home… I hope we can go very soon. Going home is all I’ve been thinking about.”” link

“In California, home to two seaside nuclear plants located close to earthquake fault lines, federal authorities said four of the 11 stationary monitors were offline for repairs or maintenance last week. The Environmental Protection Agency…did not fix them until a few days after low levels of radiation began drifting toward the mainland United States.” link

“…critics say an absence of federal data on the issue is hampering efforts to develop strategies for preventing radioactive isotopes from accumulating in the nation’s food and water supplies.” link

TEPCO…is too busy battling the crisis to complete regular checkups for 3 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture. (NHK)
On March 31, TEPCO filed plans to build two more reactors in Fukushima. They say it was just routine. (NHK)

NOVA: Japan’s Killer Quake

Sunday, 3 PM

Around the time of the second or third explosion at Daiichi, we heard that a few injured workers were treated on-site, a few were transported away, and 2 were missing. I had imagined that they had been hurt in the blast, and hoped that they had died quickly. Today TEPCO released the fact that their bodies were found on March 30, in the basement of no.4, where they had been since the time of the quake.

  • “…they died of bleeding from multiple wounds.” link
  • “Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Yoshiki Terashima, 21, and Kazuhiko Kokubo, 24, had rushed to the turbine room of the No. 4 reactor to inspect the power switches and test the operation valves after the March 11 earthquake. An autopsy revealed that they likely died from the force of impact from the tsunami.” -Chicago Tribune

Milk and produce bans remain in effect. A Fuku. Pref. dairy farmer empties 400 liters of contaminated milk into his field everyday. No one has explained to him how he will be compensated. (NHK)

“…a male worker fell into the sea as he tried to move to the barge’s tugboat from the shore but was unhurt and not exposed to radiation, TEPCO said, adding that he will be examined for internal exposure to radiation just in case.” link

“”I wonder if our sense of urgency is being conveyed to the government…It is irritating.”” link

10 days ago in Minami Soma City: SOS from Mayor of Minami Soma City, next to the crippled Fukushima nuclear power …

TEPCO says it may be months before contaminated water can be stopped from flowing into the sea. (NHK)

From JAIF – details on what’s been going on at other power plants in response to the disasters.: link to PDF

Monday, 2AM

“…the utility firm says the white liquid did not flow into the pit and that the contaminated water must be following other routes.” (NHK) link

  • GE vows $10 mil. aid, long-term support to tackle Fukushima crisis -kyodo news
  • GE chief makes no comment on product liability of Fukushima reactors -kyodo news
  • GE says nuke industry had ‘extremely safe track record’ for 40 yrs -kyodo news

Red Cross aid hasn’t reached Japan quake victims … A woman offered a room to another woman and her son, free of charge, and far from the Daiichi plant. “There are many ways to support people, such as donations – this is what I can offer.” (NHK)

“The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station says 3 of the plant’s 6 reactors were shaken on March 11th by tremors exceeding forces they were designed to withstand.” (JAIF)

  • The Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as TEPCO, says reactor No.2 suffered the largest horizontal ground acceleration of 550 gals, which is 26 percent stronger than the reactor’s design limit. TEPCO says the readings were 548 gals at the… No.5 reactor, about 21 percent higher than its design limit; and 507 gals at the No.3 reactor, topping the capacity by about 15 percent. The power company says the strength of ground motions were close to or within the design parameters at the remaining 3 reactors, and at all 4 reactors of the nearby Fukushima Daini nuclear plant. The utility says it was planning to reinforce the reactors so they could withstand horizontal shaking of 600 gals, after the government reviewed their quake-resistance standards 5 years ago. But the work was not finished. TEPCO says it will continue analyzing the seismic activity in detail. (JAIF, Friday, April 01, 2011)

“The estimates showed that the radiation would exceed 100 millisieverts in some areas more than 30 kilometers from the nuclear plant if people remained outdoors for 24 hours between March 12th and 24th.” (Govt did not reveal high level radiation estimate)

  • I do recall Edano mentioning in passing at one point that people should probably maybe not spend 24 straight hours outside for awhile.

“The Japanese government and the operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant have started to gauge radioactive levels in the air within a 20 kilometer radius of the plant.” (JAIF)

  • What?? you say, they haven’t been doing this? No, they have not.
  • “…they have not conducted any detailed assessments within the zone, saying that most residents have already evacuated the area and that there would be an increased risk of wo…rkers conducting the tests being exposed to radiation. At a meeting of Japanese and US nuclear experts, the US side claimed more research is needed to determine the extent at which radioactive substances are spreading. After the gathering, the Japanese government and the power company began studying radioactive levels in the air at about 30 locations inside the exclusion zone.” (JAIF, April 3)
  • 30km away, the town of Namie has received an 11 day cumulative dose of 10.3mSv. This is above the level when authorities consider advising residents to stay indoors, under guidelines. While the numbers have been released, the public has not been told what they mean. NHK analyst says ‘The government must make a decision and give an explanation’.

Into the sea, intentionally: “The company said it plans to release 10,000 tons of water being kept in a plant facility and 1,500 tons of underground water, also found to be contaminated with radioactive substances, near the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors.” -kyodo

  • link
  • This decision is based on Article 64 of nuke emergency law. (NHK)
  • “The govt has given the green light to the TEPCO decision, there seems to be no other option.” (NHK analyst)
  • TEPCO to NHK: The dumping has begun.

Monday, 10PM

“‘We now think it is impossible to add reactors.”: TEPCO to drop plan to add 2 reactors at Fukushima nuclear plant | Kyodo News

Tuesday, 2AM

Radioactive iodine 7.5 mil. times legal limit found in seawater near No. 2 reactor -kyodo news

  • S. Korea expresses concern at TEPCO’s release of radioactive water link
  • Radioactive cesium exceeding limit found in young launce in Ibaraki -kyodo news
  • Ibaraki is south of the plant, launce is a type of sand eel.
  • Dumping radioactive water in sea should not happen again: Kaieda … “The level of radioactive substances in the [discharged] water is up to 500 times the legal limit permitted for release in the environment.” link
  • “Monday’s sample [in seawater near no.2] also contained 1.1 million times the legal limit of cesium 137, which has a half life of 30 years.” (NHK)

â??”The town of Namie said it has refused an offer from TEPCO to pay about 240,000 dollars to each municipality near the power plant.” link

  • “Namie said the figure would amount to less than 12 dollars per person, and would not help their lives.”

“At least 100 residents are reportedly staying at their homes within the exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” (NHK)

News stories and updates:

Ordeal Continues for Japan’s Nuclear Evacuees

In a televised address to the nation, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said the evacuation of residents from around the stricken Fukushima power plant will be long term. An estimated 70,000 people have been moved from settlements near the plant. Much of the population of Futaba town were evacuated to a huge stadium on the outskirts of the capital, Tokyo. They are now being moved on to yet another shelter.

But it’s OK because despite media hype, none of the evacuees have turned into the 100-foot tall man or woman.

US Nuclear alert system partly out of order

Parts of the United States’ radiation alert network have been out of order during Japan’s nuclear crisis, raising concerns among some lawmakers about whether the system could safeguard the country in a future disaster.

But that’s OK becuase we are much more likely to be attacked by Rhizoctonia, Pythium and Fusarium anyway.

Government Under Fire as Radiation Is Found in Milk, Rain

Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster.

But that’s OK because that was Berkeley, and they’re a bunch of tree-hugging antinuclear commies anyway.

2 missing TEPCO workers found dead at troubled nuclear plant

Two employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. who had been missing since the March 11 quake and tsunami have been found dead at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the utility said Sunday, adding that they died of bleeding from multiple wounds.

But that’s OK because Japan has a lot of cars, so the chances were much greater that these two were going to die in a car accident and besides it was the Tsunami that killed them, not harmless radiation.

TEPCO data credibility suffers on serious groundwater contamination

Fukushima gov. rebukes nuclear agency for late radioactivity data

Nuclear’s green cheerleaders forget Chernobyl at our peril: Pundits who downplay the risks of radiation are ignoring the casualities of the past. Fukushima’s meltdown may be worse

From Afar, a Vivid Picture of Japan Crisis: For the clearest picture of what is happening at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, talk to scientists thousands of miles away.

TEPCO still trying to identify leak

Red Cross aid hasn’t reached Japan quake victims

But that’s OK, because … oh, no wait a minute, that’s not about nuclear power. So it’s not OK.

Govt did not reveal high level radiation estimate

TEPCO to release radioactive water into Pacific

Fear of nuclear power is out of all proportion to the actual risks: Pollution from coal-fired power plants is responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year, whereas the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant is unlikely to kill a single person…. In fact, the disaster shows how safe nuclear reactors actually are. Reactors designed half a century ago survived an earthquake many times stronger than they were designed to withstand, immediately going into shut-down (bringing driven nuclear reactions to a halt).

Tellurium 129 Presence Is Proof Of Inadvertent Recriticality At Fukushima

uclear crisis may go on for months

High level of iodine-131 detected in Fukushima

Plant radiation monitor says levels immeasurable

The monitor told NHK that no one can enter the plant’s No. 1 through 3 reactor buildings because radiation levels are so high that monitoring devices have been rendered useless. He said even levels outside the buildings exceed 100 millisieverts in some places.

But that’s OK because some reporter at the Guardian (see above) says that everything is fine despite the media hype. Media hype, not a nuclear power plant out of control, is dangerously radioactive.

Absorbent yet to soak up radioactive water at Fukushima plant

TEPCO to drop plan to add 2 reactors at Fukushima nuclear plant

Current International Atomic Energy Agency briefing:

1. Current Situation

Overall, the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remains very serious.

On 3rd April, transferring of water from the Unit 1 condenser to the condenser storage tank was started in preparation for transferring water in the basement of the Unit 1 turbine building to the condenser. On 2nd April, transferring of water from the Unit 2 condenser to the condenser storage tank was started in preparation for transferring water in the basement of the Unit 1 turbine building to the condenser.

TEPCO has identified a possible leakage path from the Turbine building of Unit 2 to the sea via a series of trenches/tunnels used to provide power to the sea water intake pumps and supply of service water to the reactor and turbine buildings. On 4th April, a tracer was used in an attempt to determine where the water was coming from. So far, the tracer has not been observed in the water leaking into the sea.

In Unit 1 fresh water has been continuously injected into the reactor pressure vessel through feed-water line at an indicated flow rate of 6 m3/h using a temporary electric pump with off-site power. In Units 2 and 3 fresh water is being injected continuously into the RPVs through fire extinguisher line at indicated rates of 9 m3/h and 7 m3/h using a temporary electric pump with off-site power.

In Unit 1 the indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV decreased from 243 °C to 234 °C and at the bottom of RPV stable at 115 °C. The RPV pressure indications are fluctuating and Drywell pressure is stable. The RPV pressure indications for the 2 channels are diverging. For Unit 2 the indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV is stable at 142 °C. The temperature at the bottom of RPV was not reported. Indicated Drywell pressure remains at atmospheric pressure. In Unit 3 the indicated temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV is stable at 114oC and at the bottom of RPV is about 85 °C. The validity of the RPV temperature measurement at the feed water nozzle is still under investigation.

In Unit 2 additional water was injected via the Spent Fuel Cooling System line to the spent fuel pool by a temporary pump on April 4. In Unit 4, 180 T of fresh water was sprayed to the spent fuel pool by concrete pump on April 3rd.

There has been no change of status on Units 5-6 and the Common Spent Fuel Storage Facility.

2. Radiation monitoring

On 3rd April, deposition of both iodine-131 and cesium-137 was detected in 7 prefectures. The values for iodine-131 ranged from 2.4 to 82, for cesium-137 from 5.2 to 57 becquerel per square metre. On 4th April, deposition of iodine-131 was detected in 7 prefectures ranging from 3.1 to 75 becquerel per square metre. Deposition of cesium-137 in 6 prefectures ranging from 7.4 to 46 becquerel per square metre. Reported gamma dose rates in the 46 prefectures showed no significant changes compared to yesterday.

As of 3rd April, iodine-131 and cesium-134/137 was detectable in 8 and 5 prefectures respectively. All values were well below levels that would trigger recommendations for restrictions of drinking water. As of 3rd April, restrictions for infants related to I-131 (100 Bq/l) are in place in only one village of the Fukushima prefecture. The restriction is still in place as a precautionary measure.

Currently, the IAEA monitoring team is working in the Fukushima region. On 5th April, measurements were made at 7 locations at distances of 16 to 41 km, South and South West to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The dose rates ranged from 0.3 to 31 microsievert per hour. At the same locations, results of beta-gamma contamination measurements ranged from 0.01 to 3.2 megabecquerel per square metre. The highest dose rates and beta gamma contaminations were measured at the location closest to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Since our written briefing of yesterday, data related to food contamination was reported on 4 April by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. These reported analytical results covered a total of 24 samples taken on 31 March (4 samples) and 1st, 3rd and 4th April (20 samples). Analytical results for all of the 24 samples for various vegetables, fruit (strawberry) and seafood in five prefectures (Gunma, Ibaraki, Niigata, Saitama and Tochigi) indicated that iodine-131, caesium-134 and/or caesium-137 were either not detected or were below the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities.

The IAEA/FAO Food Safety Assessment Team has completed its tasks and returned to Vienna. The team met with relevant local government officials and stakeholders in the agriculture sector in the four prefectures (Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma) most affected by the nuclear emergency in Fukushima. The team were appraised on the local situation and provided relevant technical information.

On 31st March, the team reported to the Japanese Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Tokyo. The team returned from their mission on 1 April.

Seawater is collected daily close to the discharge areas of Units 1 – 4 and of Units 5 and 6 at the Dai-ichi NPP. The data show a decreasing trend from 1 to 3 April from about 66 kBq/l to 24 kBq/l for I-131 and 21 kBq/l to 10 kBq/l for both Cs-134 and Cs-137 at Units 1-4. The concentrations at Units 5 and 6 also showed a decreasing trend until 3 April. These values were measured before the discharge of low level contaminated water authorised by the Japanese Government on the 4th April.

New data were provided for the off-shore survey on 8 sampling points about 30 km east of the NPPs. Concentrations are between 5 and 18 Bq/l for I-131 and between roughly 1 and 11 Bq/l for Cs-137. For the new coverage of the coastal transect in the south, about 35 km south of Fukushima Daiini, the highest concentrations were detected at the sampling point closest to the coast in the south with about 38 Bq/l for I-131 and 4.5 Bq/l for Cs-137. The concentrations at all sampling points have decreased over time.

3. IAEA Activities

The two agency experts in BWR technology are in Japan. A third agency expert will join them in Tokyo to have additional meetings with TEPCO at the end of the week.

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69 thoughts on “Japan quake, tsunami, nuke news 16: Radioactive leaks? It’s a feature, not a bug!

  1. Greg: :Ooops, the cynicism came back. If this keeps up, I could end up becoming an anti-nuclear activist.”

    What, pray tell, is holding you back at ths point?

    Just reading that extensive briefing from Ana’s feed (whatever you’re bribing her to provide that, it ain’t enough) leads me to this question: Do you have any reason to trust any assurances, any favorable assertions about nuclear power, from anyone who has an investment in the nuclear industry?

    To be explicit, tell me the basis for trusting any statement about the relative safety of nuclear power. Tell me the basis, at this point, for crediting any claim that the harm from Daiichi won’t be far-reaching and long-term. That it won’t have global health and environmental effects.

    Based on the track record of full disclosure from the industry and government regulators? The unbroken string of accurate estimates of potential risks of system failures and accidents? How about the abundance of caution and concern the industry and government have shown about the health effects of radionuclides? This track record leaves me underwhelmed with the good intentions of the industry and its adherents.

    The platitudes from nuclear advocates about the low risks and stellar safety record of nuclear power ring hollow to anyone who looks at what is transpiring at Daiichi, or the history of the industry, with open eyes.

  2. Is anyone attempting to quantify the cumulative amount of radiation released? This is going to have a significant impact on the “radioactivity from fly ash” canard.


  3. Do you have any reason to trust any assurances, any favorable assertions about nuclear power, from anyone who has an investment in the nuclear industry?

    Nope, and I never have.

    bks: How would you do that? The best way might actually be to take the site readings from sites around the northern hemisphere as well-averaged values and extrapolate from that.

  4. Well TMI cleanup went on from 1979-93. Either it’s long haul cleanup or abandonment. Cleanup sucks but walking away from a mess is worse.

  5. But TMI wasn’t pouring the guts of three reactors into the environment every hour for the four years. It was pretty much over in four days.


  6. “…stuff we dump into the ocean always magically disappears.”

    Love it.

    It is in fact standard operating procedure for nuke plants to dump stuff in the rivers/sea and atmosphere as a normal part of their day-to-day operations.

    Another challenge for you: try to find a long-term follow-up study into health following the environmental contamination at TMI. Apparently nobody thought it would be useful to do such a study….

  7. TEPCO has a tactic of 1) Saying something really, really, really bad is going on; 2) Saying that they made a mistake, it’s only really, really bad; 3) Getting a wave of headlines saying “Reactor Situation Improving”

    I said they were lying weasels, I didn’t say they were stupid lying weasels.


  8. Another challenge for you: try to find a long-term follow-up study into health following the environmental contamination at TMI. Apparently nobody thought it would be useful to do such a study.

    Why would anyone bother, since we already know the answer? Move along, nothing to see here…

  9. Ana: “I’m not going to get any sleep!!! If things blow-up, Greg, I’m calling you. phillydoug says you owe me. ;)”

    I encourage people to call Greg at 3am, just on principle alone. And he doesn’t seem to sleep much, anyway.

  10. Nice narrative summary of estimating radiactive material release rates and totals (it shouldn’t make anybody feel any better about the situation):

    (excerpted from :http://investmentwatchblog.com/estimating-radioactive-contamination-from-the-accident-at-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-plant/)

    “There are five loaded reactor cores, six spent fuel storage pools and one large common fuel storage pool on site. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stores 11,125 fuel rod assemblies in the pools, with each assembly holding either 64 or 81 fuel rods for a total of approximately 800,000 fuel rods. 1,479 assemblies are at the Unit 4 pool, of which 548 are from the â??core loadâ?? removed for maintenance in December. At Unit 3, 32 assemblies in the pool are made of mixed plutonium-uranium or MOX fuel, as is the entire core load.

    The cores themselves contain various numbers of fuel assemblies depending on the size of the units. Units 2, 3 and 4 are each 784 MW in rated electrical capacity, and each holds 548 fuel rod assemblies. So for perspective, each spent fuel pool holds about two core loadsâ?? worth of fuel rods, while the common fuel pool on site holds about 1.5 times again as many as Units 1-6 combined.

    Setting aside the common fuel pool, then, there are roughly 18 core loads in the reactor buildings, counting both the reactor cores and the spent fuel pools.

    According to TEPCO, the total number of fuel rods in those buildingsâ?? spent fuel pools is 2,060 plus the core load from Unit 4, or 2,508 assemblies, or roughly 180,000 rods.

    At 0.127 tons per assembly, this implies 431 tons of uranium within the damaged buildingsâ?? pools. There should be another 534 assemblies in the cores of Units 2 and 3 which are the same size as Unit 4, and about half that number in Unit 1. Adding these 1,335 assemblies brings the total to 3,843 assemblies, 280,000 rods, and 488 tons of uranium in the damaged units. The MOX fuel rods are about 3% plutonium which does not materially alter the analysis of fission products, our main concern here.

    While there are several dozen substances that can be of concern in a nuclear accident, this analysis will focus on cesium-134 and cesium-137. Cesium has a long half-life, is easily incorporated into living organisms, and results in full body radiation exposure. It has been the major legacy of contamination from Chernobyl, and is the basis for the exclusion zones enforced in Eastern European countries today and for the foreseeable future.

    Cesium is a fission product, produced by the splitting or decay of larger atoms of uranium (or plutonium, whether from MOX fuel blending or from plutonium produced in normal nuclear fuel reactions). Together with strontium, cesium produces most of the decay heat over a long period after a core is shut down.

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory analyzed the core constituents at the Brownâ??s Ferry nuclear plant as a â??reference unitâ?? for boiling water reactors. In a 1,065 MW core, cesium was estimated at 429 kg given an extended period of fuel irradiation.

    For the slightly smaller 1,000 MW Chernobyl core the comparable figure would be 402 kg if the fuel was fully irradiated, but Chernobyl Unit 4 was only three years old.

    For the Fukushima Daiichi Units 2, 3 and 4 rated at 784 MW, 315 kg of cesium should be present in each core load of fuel. For the 460 MW Unit 1 185 kg of cesium would be present.

    Thus, in the cores of Units 1-4, some 1,130 kg of cesium was in place when the accident occurred. Adding the spent fuel pools (net of the offloaded Unit 4 core) gives an additional 1,245 kg for a total of 2,375 kg of cesium in the damaged buildings.

    Fraction Of On-Site Material Emitted Into the Atmosphere

    According to the UN, only 22 kg of cesium was released into the atmosphere as a result of the Chernobyl accident. The amount of cesium at the Fukushima Daiichi site, then, represents over 100 Chernobyl releases. The next question is, what fraction of the total cesium may be released into the atmosphere from Fukushima Daiichi?

    Release mechanisms for nuclear fission products are varied and complex. For cesium, an initial â??burst releaseâ?? occurs when rod cladding fails at fairly low temperatures around 500 degrees. After that the major mechanism up to roughly 2,000 degrees is release of the â??gap inventoryâ?? held through condensation on free surfaces of the fuel, with diffusion of fission gas bubbles from deeper within the fuel becoming more important with increasing temperature and instability in the fuel rods (accident conditions, sudden changes in temperature etc.).

    From experiments and simulations of reactor accidents, it is observed that cesium release approaches 100% at extended (more than 20 minute) heating over about 2,000 degrees.

    Because the accident at Fukushima is likely to be a long one, the burst or gap emissions are of less interest than the diffusion of fission products out of the deeper levels of the fuel. A design basis fuel rod may have 30% of its cesium inventory already condensed into the cladding gaps and other channels, primed for burst release. Over time, the fraction of cesium that is emitted if temperatures do not rise over 2,000 degrees is estimated at 50%. This means that 20% of the cesium is subject to release in the current status quo at Fukushima, along with any cesium in rods that have not failed yet. On the other hand, rods that have already been exposed to temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees may have already expelled most or all of their cesium.

    The Austrian Center for Weather and Climate Data estimated cesium release rates for the period of March 14-17. They used measurements on both sides of the Pacific Ocean to calibrate a source estimate. This estimate is in the range of 4*1015 to 5*1016 Bequerels (Bq) per day. This equates to 0.14-1.35 megacuries (MCi).

    To assess the reasonableness of this estimate, the nuclear activity of cesium-137, 88 curies per gram, is used to translate the ZAMG estimate into cesium mass, and this mass into a fraction of the available cesium at the plant site. 0.14-1.35 MCi/day would require 1.5-12.3 kg of cesium, or just 0.1-0.5% of the inventory in the damaged buildings. This emission rate would ultimately result in 20% of the total cesium being emitted in 11-85 years, clearly a reasonable time frame for spent fuel to emit fission products.

    Neither Chernobyl or Three Mile Island emitted cesium in anything like the quantities that have likely already been emitted at Fukushima Daiichi. Chernobyl likely emitted about 2.5 MCi, and Three Mile Island perhaps a hundredth of that amount. So we may be witnessing a Chernobyl every 2-20 days, perhaps every ten days as a midpoint.”

  11. Why is this subsurface water radioactive and why is it piling up?

    In addition, as low radioactive subsurface water is piling up in sub-drain pits of Unit 5 and 6 and a part of subsurface water is running into buildings, we are concerned that important equipment to secure the safety of reactors will be submerged.

    NISA report on 4 April


  12. No calls over night, so I’m thinking Fukushima has not had another hydrogen explosion yet.

    Here’s a question for the nuke experts: Is the hydrogen in the hydrogen gas that forms in these instances isotropically typical for Earth or does it include hydrogen radioisotopes, and if so, how much?

  13. bks: “Why is this subsurface water radioactive and why is it piling up?”

    The hypothesis I suggested was that the reactor containment structures were severely damaged by the initial quake, then by the hit they compund took from the soil. I think it’s fair to assume the 500+ aftershocks, some at 6M and 7M+ didn’t do the concrete and steel any favors, either. The force of successive hydrogen blasts, and the intense heat from the meltdowns (partial or otherwise) further impacted whatever structual integrity was left.

    Given the size of the crack associated with the observed leak, I’m guesing that similar cracks in the foundation, sub-soil, walls, you name it, exist throughout the compound, and in all the reactor buildings.

    TEPCO then, out of necessity, dumped tens of thousands of tons of water over the buildings. I don’t think there was a lot separating the water from the rods, and very little to keep the water in the buildings.

    I think the water is flowing essentially unimpeded into the ground, and flowing wherever a path presents itself. Some will be the sea, some will be soil and local aquifer, some will travel along fissures and planes in the bedrock, to re-emerge more miles away than any of us would really want to imagine. And over very long time frames.

    And I think I just read that the order restricting seafood consumption was because a small bottom feeding fish tested a few thousand times the gov’t limit for cesium. Guess that took less time than the nuclear engineers assumed. It also confirms that the materials are settling quickly (surface water readings don’t tell most of the story), and the small organisms are absorbing it, passing it up the food chain easily. Which is consistent with observations from pretty much every other release of radiactive materials into the water, um, ever.

    No reason to think that this process won’t occur on land, as well.

  14. jeez– I can neither type, nor edit… correction:

    compund took from the soil = they took from the tsunami

  15. jeez– I can neither type, nor edit… correction:

    compund took from the soil = they took from the tsunami

  16. I finally found something on the spread in the ocean:


    and the original simulations


    .. but my question is (the big pro-nuclear and reassuring argument being the Pacific will dilute just any amount of radioactivity): would “limited” spread be good (=only local pollution) or bad (=heavy local pollution, little dilution)..?

    Maybe the answer depends a lot on where the person answering is situated geographically… People in the Fukushima region maybe would prefer dilution, anyone else local pollution…?

  17. Nina: “Maybe the answer depends a lot on where the person answering is situated geographically… People in the Fukushima region maybe would prefer dilution, anyone else local pollution…?”

    Why feel like you have to choose? Like the AMEX commercials used to say– you can have it all…

    concentrations in the sea bottom near the shore, which will continue to re-contaminate the coast for generations, and the continuing spread of materials globally.

    “the big pro-nuclear and reassuring argument being the Pacific will dilute just any amount of radioactivity”

    I read a comment from an (Austrian?) nuclear safety expert yesterday, with the conclusion that the amounts being released from Daiichi will not increase the levels of radiation in the Pacific. As an unqualified statement.

    I mean, my math is shaky and all, but I thought adding something would, I dunno, increase the total. I’ll defer to the mathematicians on that, I suppose.

  18. And, just a reminder:

    (from: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/04/20114219250664111.html#)

    â??The U.S. Department of Energy has testified that there is no level of radiation that is so low that it is without health risks,â? Jacqueline Cabasso, the Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

    Her foundation monitors and analyzes U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies and related high technology energy, with a focus on the national nuclear weapons laboratories.

    Cabasso explained that natural background radiation exists, â??But more than 2,000 nuclear tests have enhanced this background radiation level, so we are already living in an artificially radiated environment due to all the nuclear tests.â?

    â??Karl Morgan, who worked on the Manhattan project, later came out against the nuclear industry when he understood the danger of low levels of ionizing radiation-and he said there is no safe dose of radiation exposure,â? Cabasso continued, â??That means all this talk about what a worker or the public can withstand on a yearly basis is bogus. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. These so-called safe levels are coming from within the nuclear establishment.â?

    Risk at low doses

    Karl Morgan was an American physicist who was a founder of the field of radiation health physics. After a long career in the Manhattan Project and at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he became a critic of nuclear power and weapons. Morgan, who died in 1999, began to offer court testimony for people who said they had been harmed by the nuclear power industry.

    â??Nobody is talking about the fact that there is no safe dose of radiation,â? Cabasso added, â??One of the reasons Morgan said this is because doses are cumulative in the body.â?

    The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a report in 2006 titled Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) report, VII Phase 2. NAS BEIR VII was an expert panel who reviewed available peer reviewed literature and wrote, â??the committee concludes that the preponderance of information indicates that there will be some risk, even at low doses.â?

    The concluding statement of the report reads, â??The committee concludes that the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.â?

    This means that the sum of several very small exposures to radiation has the same effect as one large exposure, since the effects of radiation are cumulative.�

  19. I can only imagine the frantic editing of thousands of powerpoint slides around the globe as vice-presidents of the nuclear free enterprise reticulum modify their net present value calculations.

    To make a significant contribution to global electricity needs, how many new Fukushimas are required? 10,000? 100,000?


  20. “Another challenge for you: try to find a long-term follow-up study into health following the environmental contamination at TMI. Apparently nobody thought it would be useful to do such a study.”

    Columbia epidemiological study, Stephen Wing study, University of Pittsburgh study, 2008 thyroid cancer study. The fun thing is very few things are exclusive to radiation and the region is very much a part of the East Coast industrial pollution corridor in the 70s and 80s. Also the are has high natural radon gas levels in the environment.
    For example:

  21. Inside a human there is ~ 140 g of potassium. That is ~4400 Bk of K40.

    In one m3 of sea water there is something like 12,000 Bk of K40. In 1 km3 there is 1.2e+12 Bk. The Pacific Ocean has ~ 7e+8 km3 of sea water in it. This is ~ 8.4e+20 Bk of K40.

    Reactors 1, 2, 3 are 460, 784, 784 MWe for a total of 2088 MWe. If we assume that all of that was irradiated for 3 years, that gives a 150 day after discharge cesium level of 12 MC of Cs134 and 6 MC of Cs137 for a total of 18 MC total cesium. (This number is from table 8.1 Long lived radioactive fission products from discharge fuel 150 days after discharge for a 3 year fuel cycle for 1000 MWe PWR (scaled to 2088 MWE) taken from Nuclear Chemical Engineering, Benedict, Pigford, Levi, 1981.)

    12 MC = 4.44e+17 Bk

    At Chernobyl it was estimated that 8.5e+16 Bk of Cs137 was released. (wikipedia).

    So if the entire inventory of cesium leaks into the Pacific Ocean and mixes, the radioactivity of the Pacific Ocean will increase from 8.4000e+20 Bk to 8.40444e+20 Bk, an increase of 0.053%.

  22. Almost a tenth of a percent? Holy crap! That’s huge! I am honestly shocked at that number. One nuke plant hast that much potential radioisotope to release in it?

    If Fukushima is average that’s about 30.00% of potential contaminant measured in those same terms (which become somewhat silly at this point, but you get the point).

    Are you sure you don’t have more zeros in there? Please tell me there’s more zeros in there.

  23. Oh pretty math Daedalus2u. So whats the ambient dose equivalent of the ocean in sierverts? I’m trying to convert but keep miss counting my decimal places.

  24. Greg, that was assuming the entire inventory was released. I think that most of it won’t be. Most of the radioactivity is from Cs134 (which wasn’t included in the Chernobyl figure) which has a half life of only a couple of years. The K40 has a half life of over a billion years, so it will be around a lot longer.

    There are other radioisotopes in the ocean that I didn’t account for. Uranium, radium, radon, radon daughters.

  25. Greg: “Almost a tenth of a percent? Holy crap!”

    It’s nothing to worry about, Daedalus tells us it’s fine, so it’s fine.

    His calculations are actually a source of comfort. All you have to do is assume that the materials released distribute evenly throught the entire volume of the Pacific Ocean. And ignore every prior instance of radiactive release in coastal environments, in which the materials didn’t behave that way. Because heavier elements don’t settle, they remain in solution in perpetuity, allowing themselves to be blended like a smoothie. No variability, no effects of tides and currents, no entering the food chain.

    But who’s quibbling– here in idealized abstraction land, everyone is happy and smiling! And no one ever get’s cancer, has a miscarriage, or a birth defects. Never happened, not once, anywhere.

  26. phillydoug, What is your point? I made no value judgment as to the harm or lack of harm from the release. I just did some calculations to compare the release of Cs137 and Cs134 with naturally occurring K40.

    Cs137 and Cs134, once diluted will behave much like K40. They are both alkali metals, they are both beta emitters.

    I think they should do everything possible to prevent any release of any radioactive materials. But if the release can’t be prevented, release into the ocean is a lot better than release into the air. Cesium should stay mostly dissolved in the ocean until it comes out from natural processes or decays.

    In the Earth’s crust the K/Cs ratio is ~ 4e+3. In the ocean the ratio is about 2e+5, about 50x higher. What that means is that the geological processes that set the ocean composition favor K over Cs. The ocean composition is set by hydrothermal interactions of sea water with hot rock. What that means is that as sea water percolates through the rock that sets the ocean composition, radioactive Cs will tend to be reduced by exchange with natural Cs in the rock.

    Trying to demagogue and frighten people is not helping. Is your goal to mitigate and reduce the harm from radioactive materials, or is your goal to punish people who do not share your views on radioactivity? Is your goal to make people so frightened of radioactivity that they will do stupid things to avoid imaginary risks? That is what the Bush administration did with Iraqi WMD, they hyperventilated about a non-existent risk to justify spending multi-trillions on a war that enriched their cronies. That is what anti-vax advocates do. That is what anti-GM advocates do.

    Do you avoid natural sources of radioactive materials? Do you avoid bananas? If you think that an increase of 0.08% is significant, what actions are you doing right now to mitigate the harm that you suggest is happening from the 99.92% that you are already being exposed to?

  27. Once we come back from idealized abstraction land, maybe we can look how dispersion of nuclear materials in the Pacific might work in reality:


    Remembering that dose = exposure * time (and we need to consider the dose received by marine life as a major factor in the scope of the disaster, both when thinking of hazards to humans consuming ocean products, but also the direct environmental damageâ??something I would view as a problem in its own right) note the concentration of materials off the east coast of Honshu, and how coherent the plume remains as it extends into the open ocean.

    Estimates of how much more material will be released in the coming months (years?) need to include some of these factors:

    (from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/world/asia/06nuclear.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3&hp)

    â??The assessment provides graphic new detail on the conditions of the damaged cores in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Because slumping fuel and salt from seawater that had been used as a coolant is probably blocking circulation pathways, the water flow in No. 1 â??is severely restricted and likely blocked.â? Inside the core itself, â??there is likely no water level,â? the assessment says, adding that as a result, â??it is difficult to determine how much cooling is getting to the fuel.â? Similar problems exist in No. 2 and No. 3, although the blockage is probably less severe, the assessment says.

    Some of the salt may have been washed away in the past week with the switch from seawater to fresh water cooling, nuclear experts said.

    A rise in the water level of the containment structures has often been depicted as a possible way to immerse and cool the fuel. The assessment, however, warns that â??when flooding containment, consider the implications of water weight on seismic capability of containment.â?

    Experts in nuclear plant design say that this warning refers to the enormous stress put on the containment structures by the rising water. The more water in the structures, the more easily a large aftershock could rupture one of them.

    Margaret Harding, a former reactor designer for General Electric, warned of aftershocks and said, â??If I were in the Japaneseâ??s shoes, Iâ??d be very reluctant to have tons and tons of water sitting in a containment whose structural integrity hasnâ??t been checked since the earthquake.â?

    Not a problem, unlessâ?¦

    (from: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-japan-aftershock-20110408,0,7854107.story?track=rss)

    â??Japan hit with magnitude 7.1 aftershockâ?

    And just to up the ante:

    â??A nuclear plant in Miyagi lost three of its four power sourcesâ?

    Just really feeling much more positive with each passing day.

  28. Daedalus: “Trying to demagogue and frighten people is not helping. Is your goal to mitigate and reduce the harm from radioactive materials, or is your goal to punish people who do not share your views on radioactivity? Is your goal to make people so frightened of radioactivity that they will do stupid things to avoid imaginary risks?”

    The hazards of the release from Daiichi are purely imaginary? Does it comfort you to think that?

    Why are there international laws banning dumping of radiactive materials into the ocean? To placate frightened misinformed people?

    Why set standards for exposure at all?

    What do you, personally, make of the National Academy of Sciences conclusion that there are ‘no safe levels’ of ionizing radiation? Overreaction?

    “If you think that an increase of 0.08% is significant, what actions are you doing right now to mitigate the harm that you suggest is happening from the 99.92% that you are already being exposed to?”

    If we allow that your .08 figure has any connection to reality– most sources I cannot avoid. I can’t undo all the above ground, below ground, and undersea tests. I can’t filter solar radiation (much), and I still have to eat.

    But we all could dispense with unnecessary contributions to the total. Daiichi never had to be built. It was choice. The illness and death that it is now causing were part of a choice I wasn’t party to, and one that you are still comfortable with.

    I’m less cavalier with other people’s lives, and crapping all over the environment.

    That has always been the point.

    The flip-side of fear-mongering is minimizing known hazards– to serve some purpose only you can enlighten us to.

    Is your estimate that there is 0.00% possibilty that you are simply wrong about any of your claims and beliefs?

  29. Pillydoug are you this safety evangelical about hydroelectric which holds the record on number of bystander casualties for catastrophic failure? Or oil and coal for environment poisoning? Or Coal for worker fatalities? There is no safe limit of PCB exposure and it doesn’t have a half life so how’s your campaign against that.
    Unless you think Japan should have stayed a feudal tourist park they had no choice. These plants were built when the options were fossil fuel or nuclear and that was it for a growing population on an island.
    The renewables are a lovely dream for 2 or 3 generations from now but they are not a based load solution now.

    “I’m less cavalier with other people’s lives, and crapping all over the environment. ”
    So you’re Amish then? The luxury of being anti nuke comes out of being able to crap all over the environment by other means.

  30. You young people have no stamina! Some bozo is comparing the water pouring out of Reactor 2 (rose 5 cm in 24 hours after leak “fixed”) to bananas and you’re debating it with him. Everyone reading this will be mouldering in their graves before the modes of interaction between the manifold forms of ionizing radiation and living cells are enumerated, let alone understood.

    BTW, Reactor #1 was cracked by the quake (core vessel leaked coolant
    to containment vessel). Looking at the diagram on NHK-TV I am left to wonder what idiot designed that failure mode into the system. After today’s quake a number of other reactors have lost grid power and are only one more aftershock away from being brand new little Fukushimas.


  31. bks: “You young people have no stamina! Some bozo is comparing the water pouring out of Reactor 2 (rose 5 cm in 24 hours after leak “fixed”) to bananas and you’re debating it with him.”

    I admit it, I’m weak and easily suckered into such debates. I find it hard to let absurdity go unanswered. It’s that kind of absurdity that perpetuates these horrors.

  32. Adela: “are you this safety evangelical about hydroelectric which holds the record on number of bystander casualties for catastrophic failure? Or oil and coal for environment poisoning? Or Coal for worker fatalities? There is no safe limit of PCB exposure and it doesn’t have a half life so how’s your campaign against that.”

    Actually, I am every bit as evangelical about these. I’m in favor of dispensing with each and every thing you cited, as quickly as possible. I happen to think it’s possible to do so in a matter of a few years, but it would require more effort (and self-reflection) than many people care to engage in. I think no person should ever go into a coal mine. I think we need to abandon natural gas. PCB’s? What would lead you to think I support using PCB’s? Or would be indifferent to them?

    But really, we’re back to the Hobson’s choice, which I rejected in a comment over a week ago.

    I don’t believe that we are stuck with the choice nuclear advocates propose– ‘it’s either nukes or coal+gas+hydro’, because no combination of reduced consumption (the ‘base load’you refer to), renewables, and modernized distribution could meet our energy needs.’

    It seems to suit your worldview that this Hobson’s choice is based on axiomatic premises. I say they are false assumptions, which profit the nuclear industry.

    If you aren’t pulling in big dollars from the industry, and you accept the Hobson’s choice as simply true, you’re being played for a chump. If you are making big dollars from the industry, that’s for you to make your peace with.

    Here’s some more reasons why I reject the premises that nuclear advocates must rely on to characterize nuclear reactors as safe, and the releases from daiichi as ‘nothing to stir up fear about’:

    (from: http://www.psr.org/resources/health-risks-releases-radioactivity.pdf)

    Prepared by Seth Tuler, Research Fellow, SERI
    Seth Tuler, PhD, is a Research Fellow at the Social and Environmental Research Institute

    He has advised the National Cancer Institute in its efforts to inform people about health risks from iodine-131 nuclear weapons testing fallout and was a member of federal Advisory Committee on Energy-Related Epidemiologic Research and chaired its Subcommittee for Community Affairs for 2 years. He served on the National Academy of Scienceâ??s Committee on Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High Level Radioactive Waste.
    March 2011

    â??Most of the exposure typically received by the public is produced by cosmic rays, terrestrial radiation, and internally deposited natural radionuclides. Radon alone, one source of background radiation that enters indoor environments from the soil and irradiates the lung through inhalation, accounts for over fifty percent of the worldâ??s total estimated effective dose of radiation. While these exposures are termed â??natural radiationâ? this does not indicate an inherently benign nature. Claims that human-made exposures are the same or only a fraction higher than natural radiation levels imply that the effects are insignificant, and this is a false assurance. A substantial body of research suggests that natural radiation can be harmful. Even though they are natural, what we do can increase or decrease our exposures (e.g., choice of technologies, how we construct our homes, activities we engage in).

    According to the BEIR VII report, the average cancer occurrence risk for females is 0.14 cancers per sievert and for men it is 0.09 cancers per sievert. So, lets assume we have 1 million people, with a distribution of ages typical of the United States population. If half of them are men and half are women and they all experience a dose of 100 mSv, then how many additional cancers would be expected? Well, 500,000 men * 0.09 cancers/sievert * .1 sievert dose = 4,500 additional cancers in the men. 500,000 women * 0.14 cancers/sievert * .1 sievert dose = 7,000 additional cancers in the women. That gives a total of 11,000 additional cancers in the 1 million people exposed. If the doses were 1 millisievert (0.001 Sv), doing the math would give an expected 111 additional cancers in that group of 1 million people.

    Absolute claims that a certain exposure is â??not harmful to the publicâ? are, to be blunt, incorrect. Actually, it is implying a value judgment: that the levels of exposure (and doses) are not viewed as significant enough to warrant concern. A judgment like this is often based on two (related) beliefs:

    — Exposure levels below regulatory standards are not dangerous to public health. Regulatory standards are basically government determinations of how much harm society is willing to tolerate from some sort of hazard (i.e., exposure to toxins). Except in rare examples, regulatory standards reflect complex trade-offs between the kinds of harms we want to avoid (e.g., additional cancers in a population), economic costs, and our values about what is important.13,14 In other words, assertions that even a small level of radiation â??will not harm human healthâ? is really an assertion that â??the levels will not cause intolerable levels of harm among the public, even though there is a small risk.â? Furthermore, arguments have been put forward that regulatory standards for radiation exposures are not always protective enough.15
    Low doses carry less chance of harm. Higher doses carry more chance of harm. For those who like the technical descriptions, this is referred to as the â??linear, no threshold model.â?

    ï?­ï?­ï? The existing science suggests that the harm likely to occur in an exposed population will be â??smallâ? compared to what are the â??normalâ? rates of, say, cancer. Or, that the extra chance of an individual developing cancer from that exposure is small, compared to all other causes of developing that cancer. So, when a public official says the public is safe, or that there are not risks, they are saying that in comparison to other things that threaten public health â?? such as air pollution, smoking, etc.â?

  33. Why are the most recent data documents from Japan corrupt? (Or is it just me?) For example at the the NISA site:
    The first document is
    Try reading Appendix1

    Also in the MEXT data:
    the 7 April document
    is unreadable. But earlier docs are fine.


  34. About risks, and the statement that there is no safe level of radiation…

    I made my Master’s thesis some years ago on an industrial enviromental pollution / risk case (which, by the way was inverse to this Fukushima case: normal activity during 30 years produced more pollution in the ground, water, plants, animals and people that the famous accident of Seveso).

    Anyway, in the course of looking into the discussion of risk in general and health risks from pollution in particular, I learned that Americans have a special stance at this – the stance that there is no safe level, and for many other pollutants, too, like PCB and dioxins. I learned that here in Europe (for some reason that I did not look into) it is considered that the level of no risk is NOT zero, but a bit above that (how much, depends on the pollutant obviously). This produces for example different recommendations of evacuation areas and safe limits etc.

    I am not a health risk expert so I can’t tell which is better or right, and I’m pretty sure American and European scientists etc. haven’t agreed on this either. 😉 I’m pretty sure it is more philosophical issue that “purely” scientific issue.

    (I don’t have the time now to search for the source, I’m sorry)

  35. “phillydoug, so what should the Japanese do with the spent fuel at the reactor site? ”

    So we once again arrive at the crux of the nuclear power issue/dilemma. The only long term solution to nuclear waste is to get it off planet – preferably into the Sun – but judging by mankind’s present levels of expertise, we have no 110% safe way to get it off planet…Conundrum 101 for nuclear advocates and rocket scientists alike?

  36. daedalus: “phillydoug, so what should the Japanese do with the spent fuel at the reactor site?”

    Now we’re getting somewhere. There’s at least the insinuation in your question that you think this is truly a concern.

    The options are pretty few, and there’s no rule that says the options have to include something positive.

    The least bad option is dry cask storage, followed by decommissioning, but you have to be able to access the rods to transfer them, and they have to be sufficiently cool before you can.

    (from: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/dry-cask-storage.html)

    “Dry cask storage systems are designed to resist floods, tornadoes, projectiles, temperature extremes, and other unusual scenarios. NRC requires the spent fuel to be cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least five years before being transferred to dry casks.”

    (from: http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/4264620731/chairman-jaczko-should-listen-to-himself)

    “Analysis that we and others (including the National Academy of Scienceâ??see below) have done shows that moving older spent fuel from pools to dry casks reduces both the likelihood and potential impact of an incident affecting spent fuel.

    Moreover, in 2008 Chairman Jaczko agreed with that assessment, stating:

    The most clear-cut example of an area where additional safety margins can be gained involves additional efforts to move spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry cask storage.”

    Neither circumstance– cool rods, able to approach them– presently exists at Daiichi. The rods won’t be cool enough for several years, and it is evident that the plant grounds are massively irradiated, so workers in sufficient numbers can’t operate on site for extended periods.

    Let’s assume things get no worse than they presently are (it’s a stretch to assume that, but as a starting place).

    The spent rod pools at reactors 1-4 are in various states of disrepair (5 and 6? seem better off? maybe?), and the primary mechanisms to cool them are shot. With no further deterioration, what TEPCO is doing now is what they will need to do for quite a while– ad hoc water pumping into leaking containers. Maybe they rig up some more concrete pumpers, and run more water supply to the site. Staus quo and cross their fingers.

    No repair work can be done on the pools to restore their structural integrity, or permanent cooling. Even ignoring the levels of radiation, the earthquakes and tsunami have made the site unsafe for that kind of heavy construction.

    So, we can’t reinforce the existing pools, can’t remove the rods (again, not even factoring in the radiation levels, getting the rods from the pools is heavy and precise work, dangerous under the best conditions, and Daiichi is a bombed out mass of steel and fractured concrete), and at best can only maintain cooling ad hoc. For years. Let’s call this option one, followed by decommissioning.

    Systematic decommissioning of the plant is no picnic under the best of circumstances:


    “A significant amount of material that is contaminated with radioactivity will result from decommissioning a nuclear facility. These wastes must be converted to a stable solid form, packaged into suitable containers and transported off-site to an authorized repository in accordance with the regulations of the country concerned.”

    That’s with ordinary, no major accident, run of the mill irradiated plant materials. At this point, the entire Daiichi compound is radiactive waste.

    Which brings us to Option two, entombment:


    As the above report notes, entombment reduces potential exposure to workers, and to everyone else because fewer materials are transferred off-site. Again, because the nuclear industry has left us with a situation at Daiichi, where there are no safe options, entombment there is problematic as well. Ideally, the reactor cores and spent rods would be removed and contained. That’s not happening at Daiichi, because the cores and spent rods can’t be accessed safely.

    It is essentially the same situation as at Chernobyl, but the location and geology of Daiichi mean that entombment will never be ‘absolutely airtight’. Entombment in this case is not a solution, but a harm reduction approach. Some radionuclides will continue to be released for eons.

    And this is, like the ad hoc option 1, very much a ‘cross your fingers’ approach, since the scale of ‘largest predictable earthquake and tsunami, and maximum number and strength of aftershocks’ has been reset.

    When someone poses the question “So what do you suggest should be done?”, I’m reminded of an X-files story line.
    Moulder is at area 51, hit by a wave of space-time disturbance from an extraterrestrial craft, and his mind swaps with that of a nefarious agent (the guy who was Lenny on Laverne and Shirley, very funny performance by him). Later, Moulder is in the secret lab, and sees a lizard, partially phased into a rock by the same event. He asks another agent ‘So how do we get the lizard out of the rock?’

    The agent replies: ‘Who says we can?’

    Before serious consideration of options to really begin harm reduction and mitigation efforts at Daiichi and the surrounds, there has to be full acknowledgement of the nature of the situation, the scope of ongoing radioactive release, and the hazards presented by this release. Your comparisons purporting to show the relative harmlessness of the materials already dispersed suggest you’re not yet ready to give the matter serious consideration.

    When you are, get back to me with your list of options. I’ve given you mine, and none will work well. Because there are no options that will work well at this point.

    Which is why I think we need to remove the possibility of more ‘lizard in rock’ situations. Of course, the nuclear industry has left us with over 400 of those situations world-wide, plus a few hundred temporary waste storage facilities. Since that gift has already been bequeathed to us, we have to address it. That doesn’t mean we have to keep adding to the problem, and consoling ourselves with false comparisons, and ignoring the evidence from repeated episodes over several decades. The experiment has been repeated dozens of times (release of materials into the environment). The results have been consistent. Why dismiss the results?

  37. “The renewables are a lovely dream for 2 or 3 generations from now but they are not a based load solution now.”

    As long as people continue to think of renewables as “a lovely dream for the future”, that is exactly what they will continue to be, a pipe dream. Why haven’t we created a renewables Manhattan Project yet? Lack of political will? (of course in America it’s difficult enough to even get people to acknowledge that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.) Lobbying from the fossil and nuclear industries to make certain that their “solutions” are the only ones that enter the public discourse?

    Luckily some nations are taking it seriously, like Spain and its Andasol projects.

  38. aldo, what planet are you living on? Radioactive waste is only dangerous because it is radioactive. The nature of things radioactive is that they decay and release energetic particles. After radioactive things have done that, they are no longer radioactive.

    Non-radioactive toxic things like mercury, lead and arsenic stay toxic forever. Do you suggest that mercury containing waste should be shot into the Sun?

    When you propose ideas that are not doable, you demonstrate either your complete ignorance, or your disingenuous noise making designed to make implementing a solution more difficult.

    You are not being helpful.

  39. Daedalus: “Radioactive waste is only dangerous because it is radioactive.”

    Your depth of insight is stunning.

    “The nature of things radioactive is that they decay and release energetic particles. After radioactive things have done that, they are no longer radioactive.”

    Fortunately, the average human life span is between 30,000 and 2,000,000 years, so we can just wait it out.

    “you demonstrate either your complete ignorance, or your disingenuous noise making designed to make implementing a solution more difficult”

    I’m sorry, we’re you referring to someone else with that comment, Mr. ‘Don’t eat bananas if your upset about radiactive water dumped in the sea’?

    “You are not being helpful.”

    And the grand total of productive comments you have offered is… still waiting. While we’re waiting, feel free to say again why dumping in the ocean is banned. Or what you would do with the spent rods.

    And drop the Hobson’s choice– no nuclear does not mean coal + gas. Closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears, and saying ‘renewables aren’t real’ over and over doesn’t make it so.

  40. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-30/tokyo-electric-s-damaged-reactors-may-take-30-years-12-billion-to-scrap.html)

    “Damaged reactors at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant may take three decades to decommission and cost operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion), engineers and analysts said.

    The damaged reactors need to be demolished after they have cooled and radioactive materials are removed and stored, said Tomoko Murakami, a nuclear researcher at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. The process will take longer than the 12 years needed to decommission the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania following a partial meltdown, said Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University.

    The damaged reactors will take more than a few weeks to stabilize, Katsumata, who took charge of Tepcoâ??s response after President Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized, told reporters.”

  41. (from: http://bigthink.com/ideas/37782)

    Michio Kaku April 7, 2011

    “The basic problem was revealed by the NRC’s (Reactor Safety Team), which drafted a report that combined the collective assessment of nuclear physicists and engineers around the world. Contrary to the rosy press releases by the utility, this report revealed the true depth of the nuclear accident.

    â?¢Cooling to the core of Unit 1 might be blocked by melted fuel and also by salt deposits left over from the use of sea water.
    â?¢Melting in Unit 2 might have been so severe that the core actually melted through the pressure vessel, so that melted fuel dripped down to the bottom of the containment, although there is room for speculation here. This molten fuel might be the source of all the radiation leaking into the environment.
    â?¢Pieces of highly radioactive fuel rods, perhaps from Unit 4, were blown over a mile from the site by the hydrogen gas explosion.
    â?¢Ominously, the huge amounts of water being flushed into the containment system in a desperate attempt to cool the cores might be stressing the frame beyond its safety limit. Indeed, in case of an earthquake, it is not clear if the stressed metal of the containment, burdened with all this water, can maintain its integrity. So the very method used to stabilize the reactor (flooding the containment with huge amounts of water) may actually stress the reactor too far, esp. in case of an earthquake. ”

  42. You can fight all you want with the straw man you have constructed. It bears no relationship with reality.

    I have never said â??renewables aren’t realâ?. Having renewables doesn’t make spent fuel magically disappear. We do need to transition to renewables and away from coal, oil and gas. I have never said otherwise.

    The mechanism by which radioactive materials injure people is by the ionizing radiation they produce hitting cells and damaging them. If the radiation doesn’t hit a person, the person cannot be injured by it. If you take spent fuel and wait 700 years, it becomes less radioactive than the ore from which the uranium was mined. Build a building to put it in a km underground and wait.

    5,000 years ago, Egyptians built the Pyramids. They are still standing. Why do you think we can’t do better?

    K40 has a half life of over a billion years. Why isn’t K40 a problem?

  43. Dadedalus: ‘If the radiation doesn’t hit a person, the person cannot be injured by it. If you take spent fuel and wait 700 years, it becomes less radioactive than the ore from which the uranium was mined. Build a building to put it in a km underground and wait.”

    Good that we agree– how do we get at it?

    Daiichi is dangerous even without considering the radiation– it’s a bombed out mass of steel and broken concrete, on unstable ground. Add in radiation levels burning out the detectors, and I’m not sure how you get at at it, transport it (to where?). That’s if the conditions don’t deteriorate further.

    “K40 has a half life of over a billion years. Why isn’t K40 a problem?”

    Tell me again how that makes Daiichi less hazardous. That’s what I mean when I emphasize the false comparisons– the materials dispersed( dispersing) from Daiichi aren’t less dangerous because you can look up elements with long half-lives in a textbook. How does that help the situation at hand? It really does imply minimization on your part. If that’s not your intention, focus on the materials known to be at the reactor site, and dispersing in the environment.

  44. You keep bringing up the quote:

    â??The U.S. Department of Energy has testified that there is no level of radiation that is so low that it is without health risks,â? Jacqueline Cabasso, the Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

    So why do you demand that nuclear power be â??without health riskâ? when that isn’t the standard for any other human activity?

    You do appreciate that is what you are doing when you demand storage of all radioactive materials for multiple times their half life don’t you?

    You do appreciate that stance is inconsistent with not treating K40 containing materials the same way?

    What standard do you want to apply?

    Aldo wants to put radioactive waste into the Sun? That is complete nonsense. It costs something like $10k to put 1 kg into LEL orbit using launch technology that fails catastrophically maybe once per thousand launches.

    Putting up impossible demands simply makes the status quo the default. That is why there are many thousands of tons of spent fuel accumulating in storage pools at reactor sites and not at a central radioactive waste depository. It is people wanting perfect solutions NIMBY and using the absence of a perfect solution NIMBY as the reason to do nothing.

    What standard do you want to apply?

    I have said what they should do, they need to get all the radioactive materials in containers and off site so that workers can have access to the site and remove all the radioactive crap. Excavate tunnels a km underground in granite or basalt and put the stuff there.

  45. Japan’s geothermal plants are not on that list but they only have a total capacity of 536MW or .1% of national production.
    You will need roughly about 6700 E-126 to replace the nuclear plants. Don’t even ask about the fossil fuels number. Looks like they are also running out rivers to damn.

  46. Daedalus: “I have said what they should do, they need to get all the radioactive materials in containers and off site so that workers can have access to the site and remove all the radioactive crap.”

    See, I actually got that– your solution is so simple, why hasn’t anyone thought of it before?

    That’s why I answered you with this:

    ‘how do we get at it? Daiichi is dangerous even without considering the radiation– it’s a bombed out mass of steel and broken concrete, on unstable ground. Add in radiation levels burning out the detectors, and I’m not sure how you get at at it, transport it (to where?).’

    Your ‘solution’, Daedalus, is, once again, an idealized abstraction. What prevents you from factoring in the conditions at Daiichi as they actually are? It really is a recurring blind spot with you.

    Nobody can get near the materials that need to be contained. So they remain uncontainable.

    To put it bluntly, there are rods in three reactor cores and a few spent fuel ponds that are naked to the environment. Containment has been lost for almost a month. There is no evidence of consistent control over the decay of the materials. There is eveidence of periodic re-initiation of criticality.

    This is likely to continue for several months. Your solution may not even begin for a year or more.

    How much radioactive material gets released over that time?

    “Putting up impossible demands simply makes the status quo the default. That is why there are many thousands of tons of spent fuel accumulating in storage pools at reactor sites and not at a central radioactive waste depository.It is people wanting perfect solutions NIMBY and using the absence of a perfect solution NIMBY as the reason to do nothing.”

    I ain’t looking for perfection; let’s start with accepting the reality of the situation first. It is this reality that, if acknowledged, leads me to conclude nuclear power never was worth whatever benefits it is purported to provide.

    If nobody getting cancer, no miscarriages, no birth defects, and no deaths is an ‘impossible’ standard for nuclear to meet, then maybe you need to revisit your notion of what constitutes reasonable safety, rather than me reconsidering what is pragmatic at the moment.

    To call other things dirty doesn’t make it clean. Say it another hundred times, and you’d still be peddling the same false comparison, and the same Hobson’s choice.

    Adela: “The total capacity you have to replace if you take away nuclear is beyond renewables reach”

    Oops! You might want to consider data before offering suppostions:


    “The Scientific American article provides a quantification of global solar and wind resources based on new research by Jacobson and Delucchi.

    Analyzing only on-land locations with a high potential for producing power, they found that even if wind were the only method used to generate power, the potential for wind energy production is 5 to 15 times greater than what is needed to power the entire world. For solar energy, the comparable calculation found that solar could produce about 30 times the amount needed.

    If the world built just enough wind and solar installations to meet the projected demand for the scenario outlined in the article, an area smaller than the borough of Manhattan would be sufficient for the wind turbines themselves. Allowing for the required amount of space between the turbines boosts the needed acreage up to 1 percent of Earth’s land area, but the spaces between could be used for crops or grazing. The various non-rooftop solar power installations would need about a third of 1 percent of the world’s land, so altogether about 1.3 percent of the land surface would suffice.”

    It could grow much more quickly, but only if we were willing to spend the same money on renewables that we do on coal, nuclear, and petroleum. That is, if they weren’t so heavily subsidized, none of the dirty energy sources would be cost effective.

  47. (from: http://theintelhub.com/2011/04/10/plutonium-and-uranium-detected-april-10-2011-update/)

    “Experts like Michio Kaku mentioned that Plutonium could be released from the MOX fuel, and then when the explosions began occurring so often (beginning on March 12), many nuclear experts stated that plutonium is a byproduct of the nuclear fission process. The explosions, whether hydrogen in origin or not, occurred at least five times over the month long course of the disaster.

    Apparently TEPCO knew about Plutonium isotopes on 3/21 and 3/22. It was discovered in the soil around #1 and around several parts of #1â??s infrastructure…

    The 3/26 NRC document details neutron sources being thrown up to 1 mile and bulldozing of very high dose rate material being bulldozed between units 3 and 4.”

    (from: http://nuclear-news.net/)

    “Plutonium is a manmade element created in nuclear reactors. Plutonium is fiendishly toxic. A speck of it the size of a pollen grain, if caught in the lungs after inhalation or in bone after ingestion, can cause cancer. A severe reactor accident with plutonium-based MOX fuel in one-third of the core will result in 100% more latent cancer fatalities than if the core was made up entirely of conventional uranium fuel. Such an accident with an all-MOX core would kill 300% more people than with an all-uranium coreâ?¦”

  48. phillydoug, the only “solution” I have seen you propose is to never have developed nuclear power in the first place.

    So your solution is to find a time machine, go back in time and tell FDR to not do the Manhattan Project because in 30 years Japan will purchase BWRs from GE, and then in 70 years there will be a earthquake and tsunami that will damage those 6 reactors and cause some radioactivity to leak out. In Japan. The same Japan that just bombed Pearl Harbor. But it is ok, by then Japan will be a really good ally.

    When you do that, be sure to tell FDR that he should spend the $2 billion on conventional weapons instead because he is going to need them. After the two atomic bombs from the Manhattan Project, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, without an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Without those atomic bombs, Japan might have to be invaded. He needs to be prepared to do that, because as good an ally as Japan will be in 70 years, in the next 5, they will be a pretty serious adversary.

  49. Daedalus: “the only “solution” I have seen you propose is to never have developed nuclear power in the first place.”

    Close– I did say in a prior comment that we can’t undo what has already been done. Wish we could. But what we can do is stop defending nuclear with spurious claims of safety, reliability and necessity.

    Begin decommissioning immediately. This will take decades. And we’ll still be left with all sorts of hazardous materials. But we don’t have to keep producing electricity from a source that is inherently hazardous.

    Because we don’t need it.

    I thought that should have been evident when I posted the link about how either solar or wind alone can meet world energy needs.

    The technology is there right now. And if we bother to invest in it, generation and distribution will become more efficient. All that’s lacking is political will. The misleading arguments about nuclear power’s relative safety compared to– what, jumping off a cliff in a trash bag?– serve to perpetuate the delusion. And create more health problems, more avoidable deaths.

    As ususal, however, you aren’t really interested in having a real discussion.

    Don’t think I don’t notice when I pose direct questions, and you decide the converstation is about something else.

    Your simple solution for a nuclear catastrophe– encase the stuff in concrete and bury it. Agreed. We have no choice. I think entombment was mentioned repeatedly the first week of the accident (and by me, here). Glad you caught up.

    Really, Daedalus– how do you get at the stuff to encase it and bury it? If you have the answer, why are you holding out? There are plenty of people at Fukushima that would love to hear it. Because the real answer is, you have no idea how to get at the stuff. Neither does anybody else, anywhere. That’s why they’re bulldozing over it. It’s an admission they have no other back-up plan. Time for you to acknowledge that to. The simple, textbook answers only work in textbooks. In the real world, people are being exposed, and many will die. That’s just how it is, and the exposed rods are no closer to being contained than on March 12.

    So how do you propose to carry out your plan? And what happens to the people of Honshu in the meantime?

    Since the Japanese government today acknowledged what reasonable people knew three weeks ago– that Daiichi is a 7 on the accident scale, as bad as (actually considerably worse than) Chernobyl, with “widespread health and environmental effects”, how about you do the same?

    Your off-hand ‘collect and bury it’ statement glosses over just how much material has been released, the technical barriers to containing it, and you still haven’t shown much grasp of just how dangerous the release is, and will be for centuries.

    Another direct question: What do you think the direct health effects of “10,000 terabecqurels per hour” released from the plant might be? (source: New York Times wire services)

    Still suggesting we avoid bananas?

    I’m becoming less convinced over time that you really have an understanding of the basic aspects of what is happening at and around Daiichi. Maybe I’m too easily suckered into debates, as BKS suggested.

  50. Time for a dose of reality for the nuclear advocates:

    (from: http://www.npr.org/2011/04/12/135324541/cleaning-up-fukushima-a-challenge-to-the-core)

    “Nuclear engineers working at the Japanese plant are dealing with two problems at the same time: They are working to fully stabilize the plant’s reactors, and they are trying to control the release of radioactive material.
    It could take weeks or months to stabilize the reactors. And containing and cleaning up the radioactive material could take at least 10 years

    In the case of Three Mile Island, we had about half a million gallons of very highly radioactive water in the basement of the containment building,” Barrett says. “It was about 10 feet deep. They’re facing the same situation in Fukushima, but they have three of these cores that have severe damage to them, so they probably have tens of millions of gallons of the same highly radioactive water that they’re dealing with.”

    Once the energy, gas and water aspects of the nuclear crisis are under control, the most highly radioactive materials â?? the solids in the reactor cores â?? remain. Just getting to them is a problem.

    After the Three Mile Island accident, the core was still intact, but overhead cranes that usually do the lifting work were damaged by fire. So workers first had to refurbish the cranes to lift the reactor’s lid. In fact, it was five years until they could look inside the reactor; only then did they discover that 30 percent of the nuclear core had melted.

    Leo Lessard, a nuclear engineer at the French company Areva, says just getting to the cores at Fukushima Dai-ichi is going to be much more difficult than it was at Three Mile Island. For starters, the tops of two buildings have collapsed, so that debris will have to be cleared.

    “A lot of that material is probably very radioactive, so there will have to be shielding and other precautions incorporated in order to protect workers who have to do some manual operations in those areas,” Lessard says.

    Robots may be useful, he says, but don’t assume they can pick through all that debris. And if it turns out that some of the nuclear fuel has managed to leak through a hole in the reactor vessel â?? as some officials have speculated â?? it will be quite a challenge to scoop it up and put it into a shielded container.

    “In that case, you have a tremendously high radiation field, as opposed to having it underwater, where the water is providing complete shielding,” Lessard says. He expects the cleanup to take more than a decade.”

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