Tag Archives: Japan Disaster

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 41: Good News – it’s bad. Bad news – it’s worse than we think


p class=”lead”>There is a lot of news in Ana’s Feed about the nuclear power industry world wide, as well as across Japan, and especially disturbing news related to the Fukushima plant in particular. In brief, the main reason that the situation at these reactors seems to be kinda-sorta under control (as in the water in the plants has stopped boiling uncontrollably) is that much of the nuclear fuel has melted its way into the underlying geology, and/or all over the plant’s foundation structures, and/or dispersed through groundwater that is moving through the system. Towards nearby rivers and/or the ocean.

Radiation Readings and Contamination


p class=”lead”>The catastrophic meltdowns at Fukushima’s Nuclear Power plant and associated plume of radioactive material were picked up some 60 kilometers away from the plant at a medical facility; These data are now available in a pretty, yet scary, graph (see Ana’s Feed). Good news: It may be the case that most of the radioactive substances in the vicinity, which would be Cesium, is on top of everything … i.e., the top 2 cm of soil. Bad news: The Cesium fallout covers a very very large area, including large areas of eastern and northeastern Japan. Having said that, it appears that very few people were zapped with large amounts of radiation at the outset of the disaster.

However, this may not be an accurate assessment, and hopes that decontamination would go fairly quickly because radioactive material is mainly on the surface and just has to be wiped or scraped off do not seem to be working out. Some of the preliminary decontamination efforts seem to indicate that the procedure being used reduces radioactivity by as little as 22%, which is unexpected.

But that’s OK, because TEPCO’s policy is that radioactive stuff that falls on your property is now YOURS, not theirs!

As decontamination of homes in the Fukushima disaster evacuation area begins, the government is considering sending in the “army” to help with decontamination, but other parts of the government want to see data on potential contamination, which is apparently not available, first. There is a plan to build a facility to bury Fukushma waste. The government is looking for a site. So far there have been no volunteers.

There was a complete botch-up regarding Radioactive Rice, in which a brilliant hypothesis of how rice would be not too contaminated was killed by the ugly fact of highly contaminated rice. Also, school children are, apparently, being given contaminated milk to drink. This was discovered by tests applied to milk over the objections of the milk industry. Similarly, baby formula seems to be contaminated as well.

The Cold Shutdown vs. the Meltdown

TEPCO claims that the planned cold shutdown is on schedule for the end of this month. At present, all of the water in all of the reactor machinery seems to be below boiling point. In fact, it turns out that the temperature inside the primary reactor vessels is even lower than expected. It is possible that this is because most of the fuel has leaked out of the vessels to an unknown location. That’s good, right?

TEPCO has produced a study that shows that the containment vessels for the reactors contained the melted nuclear fuel from the plant. This is based on a computer simulation produced a few days ago.

In contrast, the architect of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 3 suggests that nuclear fuel beneath the plant may be as deep as 12 meters below the foundation level, continuing to melt its way through the earth. If he’s right, that could mean future hydrogen explosions accompanied by massive radiation releases. TEPCO is also concerned about future hydrogen explosions.

Other experts claim that the material from the cores is mixed into the top 70 cm. of material above a steel containment barrier. Yet another suggests that the material is two meters deep into the concrete below the vessel. All of these suggestions are worst than the previously defined “worst case scenario” used by the plant’s engineers and designers.

As efforts leading to the cold shutdown continue, strange things keep happening in the plant with temperature and radiation readings, and there are uncertainties about the instrumentation being used in the plant.

Contaminated Water and Ground Water Problems

One of the major problems at the damaged reactor facilities is still contaminated water in the buildings. TEPCO is unable to remove water from the buildings, though the reasons are somewhat unclear as to why. One of the problems is that groundwater is flowing into the foundations. This is a concern, since the foundations are supposed to be a seal to keep contamination inside the plant in the event of a spill or meltdown. Presumably contaminated water is flowing out if it is also flowing in. It is of some concern that TEPCO can’t identify the source of the groundwater. Modern facilities that will contain dangerous materials are built after accurate groundwater maps and models are developed. This suggests that a review of existing nuclear power plant area groundwater maps is in order.

The good news is that maybe the radioactive stuff under the plants will not actually drill its way through the center of the earth, but rather, it may just flow out into the sea via a nearby river. Extremely high radiation readings have been identified at the mouth of the Abukumagawa River.

Plant Workers

The ex-skf blog expresses concerns over worker’s safety in the vicinity of the plant’s breached containment vessels. Masao Yoshida, the manager at Fukushima at the time of the disaster, has stepped down from his position due to an unspecified illness.

Told you so

More evidence that TEPCO was aware of the threat of a tsunami, but ignored or repressed it, has been brought to light.

Far away but still of interest

Highway 40 in Memphis saw a Uranium Truck crash. No big deal. This time. A coolant leak was reprted at Brunswick Plant in the Carolinas. A recent report suggests that all of the nuclear reactors in France need to be upgraded. Given the geography of much of Western Europe, a Chernobyl or Fukushima type disaster is sometimes called the “10 trillion dollar scenario.” Not only would a major contamination plume cause major direct effects, but at the moment, a huge percentage of Western Europe’s power comes from nuclear.

In Otter Matters

There is still a problem with pets, in the Fukushima area. Volunteers are barely able to handle current needs for care of animals left homeless due to the disaster. Concerns over radioactive contamination? There’s an ap for that! You an now get a Geiger counter attachment for your smart phone.

And now …

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 41: Good News – it’s bad. Bad news – it’s worse than we think

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 40: Fukushima Plant Still Producing Energy! (In a bad way)

The Fukushima nuclear power plant was opened to journalists for the first time; See below for numerous links to related stories.

There appears to be very high levels of radiation at Fukushima plant reactor #3, and at either reactors 1 and 3, or both, nuclear fission may have been occurring in the melted down remains. Ideally, once a plant is turned off, i.e., control rods inserted etc. etc., the state of “criticality” is stopped and there is no more fission, or at least, only a small background level. But, if a nuclear power plant’s core melts down, nuclear material can re-accumulate in some uncontrolled manner in the wreckage beneath the plant or in lower areas of a reactor containment vessel, and critical mass can be re-attained. This apparently has been detected over the last few weeks at Fukushima. This is evident from the presence of Xenon-135, a product of nuclear fission with a half life of just over 9 hours.

However, TEPCO appears to be making adjustments to the definition of the term “criticality” so this problem is expected to go away soon. (You will remember that some time ago when it became apparent that TEPCO would be unable to effect a true “cold shutdown” of the melted down reactors, the definition of “cold shutdown” was changed. Now, there is discussion of the meaning of the term “criticality.”) Also, TEPCO reassures us that the detection of the products of “spontaneous fission” is not really a new phenomenon. Rather, they just started to be able to detect this accidental nuclear process. It has presumably been going on all along (which could go a long way to explaining why it has been impossible to obtain a “cold shutdown” of the reactors without having to resort to redefining “cold”).

Of increasing concern is the amount of evidence that people, including some school children, nuclear plant workers, and others have been found to have internal exposure, meaning particles of nuclear material were breathed in or ingested. In a possibly related move, the upper limits of contamination for food is being lowered significantly. One rescue worker who was found to have been internally exposed has died and some are suggesting that there is a link.

One report indicates that about 79 percent of the fallout from Fukushima ended up in the ocean, 19% has been deposited on the land in Japan, about 2% on other land surfaces mainly in Asia and North America. The report indicates that about twice as much Cesium 137 was released at Fukushima than had bee previously reported. Another report indicates that measurable amounts of Iodine-131 have been found in several European countries, of uncertain origin.

Speaking of contamination, have a look at this discussion of bird brains and radiation at Chernobyl.

Robotic exoskeletons are being developed to help the workers work harder – there are ~3,000 people working there every day. It is interesting to observe over these months since the meltdowns how many procedures and technologies are being invented and deployed for the very first time, as though the nuclear power industry actually, really, truly believed that nothing could ever go wrong. Had the possibility of a major disaster such as this been considered earlier, not only would TEPCO and others have been more prepared, but also, the costs may have been manged better.

Speaking of cost, there is talk of recalculating the cost of nuclear energy – internalizing waste costs and accident costs when planning plants. Interesting idea, and utterly surprising that this has never occurred to anyone before. It turns out that nuclear energy is fairly expensive. Floridians are upset over two or three billion dollars of state funds being used to upgrade a nuclear power plant plant; TEPCO has asked for and will get a trillion yen. It adds up.

The Japanese Genkai reactor has restarted, and this is the first restart of a nuke plant shut down for technical problems in Japan since the massive Fukushima meltdown. The technical problem was caused by a screw-up that was, in turn, caused by using a faulty operation manual. Perhaps the instructions were written originally in English and translated poorly into Japanese. In any event, it is telling that a) Nuclear industry lies and cheats to get a major plant that should not have been built constructed where it should not be; b) plant melts down causing worst nuclear power disaster ever; c) Other plants start to resume operations d) within weeks, another plant is shut down because of a bad photocopy job in a manual.

Oh yes, of course we can trust the Nuclear Power Industry to get it right.

NHK asked plant operators if they’d been cyber attacked and many said yes, but that they had not been compromised. And of course, the would never lie. Later it was reported that sensitive data was leaked through these attacks, including design plans, etc.

And now, it is time for Ana’s Feed of all the latest Fukushima and other Nuclear Power related news:

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 40: Fukushima Plant Still Producing Energy! (In a bad way)

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 39: Nuclear Explosion at Reactor 3?

The radiation at the Fukushima plants has gone up, rather than down, since June. This may be because contaminated water has become more concentrated due to evaporation. The release of radiation from the plant into the air continues, although a covering over Reactor 1 is almost completed. The release of radiation from the plant into the sea continues, and plankton are shown to be contaminated to a level that raises some concern. Mid month, the plant was measured to be releasing about 100 million becquerels per hour. The reactors are still not uniformly shut down to less than boiling. Additional pumps are being brought in to inject more water. And what goes in must come out, as steam into the atmosphere and effluence into the sea. So this is going to keep going for a while, at least a few more months.

Most of the facilities are too radioactive to enter or to spend very much time in.

TEPCO claims that if there was another earthquake knocking out their current “cooling” facilities at Fukushima, they could return to a state of the plant continuing to emit radiation out of control and boiling off radioactive steam and dumping radioactive water into the sea within just a few hours, so no need to worry about that eventuality.

Even though one of the “hot spots” found in Tokyo turned out to be, rather disturbingly, a small nuclear waste dump someone had in their home, many other hot spots at many localities ofairutside of the evacuation area have been found. It would seem that some sort of winnowing effect is concentrating radioactive material here and there. In at least one case, a rainwater pipe seemed to be the source of high radiation. In another case, in Kashiwa, a drainage ditch has very highly concentrated radiation.

Meanwhile, radioactive material is spreading throughout the region in another way: Radioactive sludge and dirt is being systematically shipped to numerous municipalities for them to put in to their own local dumps, and political pressure is being applied to make sure mayors or other community leaders keep quite about his and allow it to happen. One wonders if the population was warned of this during the initial hearings about whether or not to build this plant. Were the region’s municipalities told then that if there was a massive meltdown at the Fukushima plant, individual municipalities would be expected to become radioactive waste repositories?

Children in the Fukushima area are returning to schools as radiation levels at the schools are dropping. The children are being asked to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants when they go outside for their Physical Education classes.

The explosion at Reactor 3 may have been a prompt moderated nuclear critically within the reactor 3 fuel pool. Also, the containment at Reactor 3 was probably badly damaged and cracked independently. (see video below from Fairewinds)

Ana’s Fukushima Feed

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 39: Nuclear Explosion at Reactor 3?

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 38: Decontamination Edition

The latest update on the crisis in Fukushima. The hot spots are everywhere. Be careful where you step!

But first, we’d like to introduce the handy-dandy Fukushima Post and Ana’s Feed search engine. This search engine will return results from this series of posts we’ve done. This is a good place to start if you are researching anything about fukushima:


Later, we may produce a search engine that includes everything we’ve pointed to as well. That, of course, is roughly the same as searching the entire internet. We’ve not yet decided if we should pursue that strategy or something intermediate (such as our posts plus selected other sites).

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 38: Decontamination Edition

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 37: Glow in the dark fish, and the meaning of “Power”

As a result of our last posting on Fukushima, we had a discussion initiated by commenter Daedelus2u about radioactive istopes of Cesium becoming concentrated in fish. I thought I’d take this opportunity to expand on that discussion a little. This relates to the possibility that radioactive elements spilled or spewed from a nuclear reactor site (as per normal or following a meltdown and China Syndrome, as in the case of Fukushima) can become part of our diet especially in fish, and how much concentration of radioactive isotopes we might expect.

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update # 37: Glow in the dark fish, and the meaning of “Power”

Japan Nuclear Disaster: Update # 36: Sushi Recommendations

One of the interesting items we have this week is a study by Greenpeace in which various organisms from the sea near Fukushima were sampled for radioactive isotopes. Let’s take a closer look.

The data in the table provided (see the first item in Ana’s feed for the link) show the amount of radiation (radioactive decay) by isotope type per kilogram of plant or animal tissue from various samples. On the higher end is a fish with 357 bq/kg of radiation and some seaweed with 190 bk/kg.

What does this mean? Hard to say. I can tell you this: A normal human has about 4,000 or more bq (in total for the human) of radiation primarily from the most common source of radiation (radioactive potassium) So if Greenpeace had sampled a typical human not from a radioactive region they would get a result of about 4,000 bq total. Say a human weighs 70 kilos. That means the human being sampled would yield about 50 bk/kg. So the radioactive fish is about 7 times more radioactive than a human, and the plant almost 4 times as radioactive. A concern here would be where on the food chain one is, if radioactive isotopes are being concentrated through trophic activity (things eating things). Also, a concern would be how long this radioactive stuff will be radioactive.

Regarding the second question first, roughly half the radioactive material found in the Greenpeace samples has a half life of just over 2 years, but the rest has a half life of 30 years. Regarding trophic level, note that among the less radioactive samples both fish and seaweed have similar amounts, but among the more radioactive samples, it is the fish (which are trophically higher than plants) that have more, which simply indicates that the samples could be revealing things about a real biological system (subject to revision). In other words, were the reverse true, I’d be scratching my head and not because of dandruff.

The most radioactive fish is a Rockfish, which is an opportunistic carnivore often feeding on other things that eat things and sometimes things that eat things that eat things, and they are probably relatively long lived. In other words, rockfish are high on the food chain and would be expected to concentrate radioactive isotopes that are in the environment. The next highest fish in terms of contamination is the halibut, which is also a carnivore, but eating more crustaceans and probably not as high on the food chain. A kind of cod, with a similar diet to halibut is next. The lowest in terms of radiation is a kind of mackerel, which probably eats pelagic crustaceans (shrimpy things that float around near the surface) which in turn eat plankton. This would be the lowest on the food chain of the sampled fish, but also the highest in the water column. So, it might be hard to tell the difference here between how high something is on the food chain and how high (top feeder) vs low (bottom feeder) the fish is in the water column. My sushi recommendations? Surface feeding low-torphic level short lived fish. From the Atlantic Ocean.

None of these samples were particularly close to the power plant, some were purchased from markets some taken directly from the sea. The plume of radiation from the plant is rather large.


Scan Ana’s feed for a lot more on contamination issues.

And as these data become available we also see bans on Japanese produce being lifted for US military commissaries. The effects of food bans are being explored, and radioactive contamination is being found in novel places such as industrial waste.

News regarding nuclear plant incidents, construction patterns, and potentials in the US, as well as further conversations about nuclear safety, are all over Ana’s feed. And it’s OK, the IAEA has a plant to make reactors safe. They also have this barn door they intend to close. The plan will be voluntary, of course.

Meanwhile at the reactors, water has been used to cool them down to the point where the hot spots are only barely boiling and bubbling. In other words, we are still in a state where Step One control over the situation has not yet been achieved, even though it was declared achieved weeks ago. It is now expected that cooling below boiling levels may be achieved by some time next year.

It does appear that rainwater is passing more or less feely into the lower levels of the nuclear power plant where it interacts with uncontrolled globs of nuclear material, then presumably disappears from the planet all on its own. Or perhaps it flows into the nearby sea. They’re still working on that.

I want to take a moment to express my very sincere thanks to Analiese Miller for the tremendous work she does in putting together this feed. I know that she’s been very busy with other things over the last few weeks and that this has been an extra burden on her. You are awesome, Ana.

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster: Update # 36: Sushi Recommendations

Twin Cities Nuclear What If

For the purposes of discussion in the Japan Disaster threads, I’ve made a graphic that very roughly approximates the zone of likely future very high rates of cancer if the Fukushima nuclear power plant were located where our (somewhat similar but smaller) plant is located, upwind during the winter of the Twin Cities. The lightened up area (circular) would be the zone in which agriculture would probably cease. Anyone who knows this area knows that the main outputs are electricity and produce!

This is not meant to represent what would happen here … different plants, different conditions, etc. The idea is just to make it easier for people from the area to understand the scale of space we are talking about here.


Japan Nuclear Disaster: Update # 35

It has been Just over six months since a magnitude 9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In the hours following that incident, nuclear power protagonists filled the blogosphere, the news outlets, and other media with assurances that little could go wrong, that the reactors would be managed, that the disaster would demonstrate, once things had settled down, that nuclear power was, indeed, safe.

One of the first things Ana and I noticed, and we were not alone, is that some of the same stories … in some cases the same exact wording … was showing up in various places, as though planted by apologists for the nuclear power industry. But more worrying than that may have been the naivete of many who were seemingly very trusting of the nuclear power industry than they probably should have been, quite innocently. And, it was becoming increasingly clear that many members of the skeptics community had become convinced over the last several years that anti-nuclear sentiment was irrational, and that somehow this translated into a blind trust for the nuclear power industry being the most rational course. Today, six months after the earthquake, we know that three of the plants fully melted down. We have a rough estimate of how much nuclear material was released from a point in time a few days after the accident to the present, but for the first few days, the estimates are very poor and the amount being released was probably very high, because that is when the meltdowns were occurring. And, there is reason to believe that most of the radioactive material released from this plant was released (and is still being released) into the sea, pretty much uncounted.

The following is a non-comprehensive timeline of some of the events over the first several days of the disaster mixed in with selected comments on this blog, mostly just the very few updates in this series or related posts.
Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster: Update # 35

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 34: A quick feed for your reading pleasure

Today all we have for you is Ana’s feed, and only the first half. We have both been very busy with distracting things like work and other writing projects and so on. There are interesting things going on at Fukushima and in the Nuclear Power industry in general, as you’ll see soon. In the mean time, here’s what has been happening:

Fight Over Mining Near Grand Canyon, Other Riders Will Return After Recess -NYT, August 9
-Several lawmakers involved in the congressional debate over uranium mining around the Grand Canyon expect the war of words to reignite as soon as the House returns from summer recess.
-Even though it remains an open question whether lawmakers will finish work on the Interior and U.S. EPA spending bill, they expect the legislation to at least come back to the floor after Labor Day.
-One of those riders, inserted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), aims to stop the Obama administration from withdrawing about 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from new mining claims. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in June a second temporary withdrawal and his intention to move forward with a 20-year ban, pending the completion of a final environmental impact statement.
-Since then, pressure has been mounting in Congress, with Republicans wanting to use the appropriations process to tie the administration’s hands. The argument over job impacts and environmental consequences is bound to only get louder.

Fairewinds Report for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy on TVA Bellefonte Plant -Fairewinds Associates, August 10
-Today the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Fairewinds Associates issued a report to the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority regarding numerous concerns with the Bellefonte Unit 1 nuclear project. First designed with slide rules back in 1968, Bellefonte Unit 1 is America’s oldest nuclear power plant that has yet to generate any electricity. TVA began construction in 1974, mothballed the plant in 1988, and cannibalized the plant for scrap metal between 2006 and 2008. Alarmingly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently allowed construction of Bellefonte Unit 1 by TVA to start again with its 1968 design and its 40-year old weakened foundation and containment. In the video and in its report, Fairewinds identifies seven areas of substantial risk for TVA if it continues to construct this aged facility.

NRC studies possible nuclear fuel problem at Peach Bottom plant -York Dispatch, August 11
-The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is undertaking a study to ensure the spent fuel pools at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station can maintain safety guidelines despite the degradation of a material used to control the radioactive waste.
-At issue is Boraflex, which absorbs neutrons from fuel that was once burned in a reactor. The spent fuel is still highly radioactive when it is placed in the cooling pool, said Neil Sheehan, NRC spokesman.
-Though the temperature of the radioactive waste drops dramatically within a few months, conditions must be controlled to make sure it doesn’t start fission, he said. To this end, Boraflex panels are attached to racks where the spent fuel is stored, 40 feet underwater at the bottom of the spent fuel pool, he said.
-But gamma rays, the strongest form of radiation, have caused shrinkage in the Boraflex, so NRC inspectors will examine whether the existing material is safe for use until 2014, when owner Exelon Nuclear plans to replace it, he said.
-Failure of the system could cause boiling of water in the pool or the release of radioactivity, he said.
-He said there are 19 reactors nationwide that use Boraflex, and problems have also been noted at other facilities.

NISA under fire over hiring of former TEPCO subsidiary worker as nuclear inspector -Mainichi News, August 11
-The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said it hired a former employee of a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) subsidiary in April as a nuclear inspector and assigned him to the utility’s Fukushima No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant the following month.
-NISA explained that it hired him to fill the vacancy after one of its inspectors quit at the end of March.
-The practice has called into question NISA’s neutrality as a nuclear power plant regulator.
-NISA and TEPCO emphasized that the worker is performing his duties in an appropriate manner.

Krypton-85 and Xenon-131m in Reactor 2 Containment Vessel Air Samples -Ex-SKF, August 11
-Half life of xenon-131m is about 12 days.
-The measurement of density of radioactive materials in the air inside the Reactor 2 Containment Vessel was delayed because there was water in the temporary sampling instrument that TEPCO installed outside the CV. It looks like they decided to measure the water anyway, as well as the air.
-According to the measurement, the air is more radioactive than the water inside the Containment Vessel, but less radioactive than the air inside the Reactor 1 CV.
-So the melted fuel is probably not even inside the Containment Vessel in Reactor 2 either.

Radiation measurement experts trained -NHK, August 12
-The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to train about 4,000 workers as experts on the safety of irradiated areas.
-The government plans to consider lifting evacuation orders for zones which are deemed safe after it achieves the second phase of bringing the plant under control. In the second stage, the government aims to significantly reduce the amount of radiation emitted from the plant.
-To determine the safety of the 20-kilometer no-entry zone and the evacuated areas, a large number of experts on radiation exposure will be required. Tokyo Electric Power Company is now training staff for that purpose.

New nuclear safety agency to be set up under Environment Ministry -Japan Today, August 12
-The government has decided to set up a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry instead of the trade ministry to increase its independence after the country’s atomic disaster, officials said Thursday.
-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the cabinet is expected to approve the plan by Monday.
-The current Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has been widely criticized for cozy ties with the nuclear industry under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear energy.
-Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a parliamentary session Thursday that “someone who is not a blind advocate of nuclear safety or promoter of nuclear energy but is fully aware of the problems of nuclear power” should head the new regulatory agency.

Nuclear plant may get revival; TVA board to consider completing Alabama site -Power Engineering, August 12
-TVA says reviving the Bellefonte plant would cost about $4.8 billion and take several years. The proposal follows a crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which went out of control after an earthquake and tsunami in March. As recently as this month, workers were still trying to contain radiation leaks at the plant.
-The incident prompted international concerns about the safety of nuclear power. Germany announced plans to eliminate all nuclear power plants by 2022 and regulators in the U.S. have taken a close look, too.
-A group called the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says rebuilding the Bellefonte plant is “an extremely costly and dangerous proposal,” according to a news release.
-Construction on the Bellefonte plant began in 1974, but the utility canceled it in 1988 because the demand for power had subsided and also because it was over budget and behind schedule, Golden said.

Tomari No.3 nuclear reactor restart not decided -NHK, August 12
-Japan’s industry ministry has deferred a final decision on restarting a nuclear reactor in Hokkaido following local government criticism.
-The No.3 reactor at the plant in Tomari Village operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Company has been undergoing trial runs for 5 months.
-The agency told the Nuclear Safety Commission on Thursday that no abnormalities were found in the reactor during a 2-day final check that ended the previous day. The commission endorsed the view that the reactor can restart commercial operations.
-But Hokkaido’s prefectural government has criticized the operator for applying final tests of the reactor before it has reached its own decision on restarting.
-Industry minister Banri Kaieda told Governor Harumi Takahashi on Wednesday that the prefecture’s consent is vital, and that he intends to wait for that.

Giant tent to go up over Japan nuclear reactor -Stars and Stripes, August 12
-The operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is building a huge tent to cover one of the worst-hit reactors, officials said Friday.
-Officials hope the cover will keep radioactive materials that have already leaked from spreading, prevent rainwater seepage and offer a barrier from possible leaks or blasts in the future.
-Construction of the tent and its foundation began this week, Koji Watanabe, a spokesman for the power utility, said Friday.
-The work couldn’t begin until now because the location was too dangerous for workers to operate in.
-If the tent over reactor No. 1 proves successful, similar coverings will be constructed over other reactors on the plant. The areas around the other reactors are also highly risky to work in.

Local govts worried by N-ash -Yomiuri, August 12
-With residents living near final disposal sites voicing concern and some local governments refusing to accept it, the Tohoku region is reconsidering its arrangement to store ash–some of it radioactive–from the Tokyo megalopolis in its local landfills, it has been learned.
-In Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, up to 47,400 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium was found in ash at two garbage processing plants in July.
-The figure is about six times the government’s interim limit for ash to be disposed of in land reclamation.
-But the Matsudo government did not report this information to Kosakamachi, Akita Prefecture, which accepted and finally disposed of the ash.
-As a result, 39.5 tons of the problematic ash was buried at a Kosakamachi landfill facility.

Radiation contamination leaves Fukushima schools unable to drain pool water -Mainichi News, August 13
-Many schools in Fukushima Prefecture are at a loss over what do to with their swimming pools, which can’t be used or drained because the water is tainted with radioactive materials from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, it has emerged.
-The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has said schools should obtain consent from farmers when draining pool water into agricultural waterways, but the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education has not formed any guidelines on the concentration of radiation in water that is drained — leaving locals to sort out the issue themselves.
-According to the education board, about 600 of the 735 pools at public kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools in Fukushima can’t be drained. Most of these pools are located in eastern parts of the prefecture near the damaged nuclear plant or in central Fukushima Prefecture. One-third of the pools are designed to drain their water into sewage systems, while the rest have to drain the water directly into agricultural waterways or rivers.

Fukushima food producers protest -Yomiuri, August 13
-Demanding stabilization of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and compensation for the disaster at the earliest possible date, about 2,800 farmers and fishermen from Fukushima Prefecture gathered for a protest rally in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park Friday.
-Following the rally, the participants, some carrying protest banners, marched to the nearby head office of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
-The protest rally and demonstration were organized by JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) Fukushima and related bodies to appeal for speedy payments of compensation to food producers whom the disaster has left in dire financial straits.

Professor’s anger at lawmakers creates buzz on Internet -Asahi, August 13
-An exasperated University of Tokyo professor who launched an angry tirade at lawmakers over the Fukushima nuclear crisis has become a hero to many on the Internet.
-Tatsuhiko Kodama, 58, who heads the Radioisotope Center at Todai, was called to provide expert testimony before the Lower House Health, Labor and Welfare Committee on July 27.
-Besides being a doctor of internal medicine, Kodama is also an expert on internal radiation exposure. His background made even more shocking the testimony he provided in the Diet.
-“(On March 21), Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, ‘There are no immediate problems for people’s health.’ At that time, I felt something very disastrous was about to occur,” Kodama said. “When we look at problems from radiation, we consider the total exposure amount. Neither Tokyo Electric Power Co. nor the central government have made any clear report about total exposure from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”
-The Radioisotope Center conducted its own calculations on the level of radiation contamination arising from the Fukushima nuclear accident.
-Kodama explained the horrifying results of those calculations at the committee session.
-“The equivalent of 29.6 times of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or in terms of uranium about 20 atomic bombs, were released by the accident,” Kodama said. “While the remaining radiation from atomic bombs decreases to one-thousandth of the original level after a year, radioactive materials from the nuclear power plant only decrease to one-tenth the original level.”

Zone’s dissolution brings confusion, fear -Yomiuri, August 13
-Recently announced plans to dissolve the emergency evacuation preparation zone have been met with trepidation in affected municipalities, whose residents and officials worry about radiation and whether evacuees will actually return.
-The central government decided Tuesday to dissolve the emergency evacuation preparation zone, which was created in the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
-The dissolution will likely be announced late this month or in early September, after all the related municipal governments have submitted reconstruction plans. However, local governments have said central authorities should dissolve the zone after presenting plans for decontamination.
-A 34-year-old homemaker who evacuated to a hot spring facility in Iwaki with her two primary school-age children said: “I’m mostly afraid of radiation. Unless safety is guaranteed, we can’t go home even if we want to.”
-Some residents in Minami-Soma said they were also unsure about the decision to dissolve the zone.
-Yoshioki Fukano, 72, said his home is in a hot spot–a specific location where voluntary evacuation is recommended due to high radiation levels–in the Haramachi district of Minami-Soma.
-“The emergency evacuation preparation zone will be dissolved, but my house is in a place where evacuation is recommended. I don’t know if the city is really safe,” he said.

How Merkel Decided to End Nuclear Power -NYT, August 13
-How did Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, turn its back on nuclear energy?
-Most directly, the decision belonged to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Unlike other world leaders, she is a trained scientist, with a Ph.D. in physics.
-She reached the momentous decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 after discussing it one night over red wine with her husband, Joachim Sauer, a physicist and university professor, at their apartment in central Berlin, according to people who spent many hours debating the issue with her but spoke only on the condition that they remain anonymous.
-The decision to switch off Germany’s nuclear power plants has been widely portrayed as a sudden U-turn by Mrs. Merkel. After the nuclear disaster in Japan in March, the German public, long opposed to nuclear power, was ready to pull the plug, and their chancellor, known for shifting with the prevailing political winds, complied.
-But those close to Mrs. Merkel described her change of heart as something more like an awakening. Powerful industrial and energy interests fought the shift, but Mrs. Merkel, her allies say, is ready to lead Germany into a new era in which wind and solar energy, along with enhanced efficiency, can be developed fast enough to replace the lost power from nuclear plants.

Arizona dream and nuclear reality -RT, August 13
-The uranium boom of the 1940s made mines sprout like mushrooms in parts of Arizona. Eventually the need for nuclear fuel declined and after decades the facilities were abandoned, and left to contaminate the environment.
-This North-East part of Arizona encompasses part of America’s Navajo nation. Native American governed territory, rich in uranium, but ruined by America’s demand for it.
-“It’s a different world. We don’t have money. We don’t have the funds the people from the dominant society have. We also have conditions we’re trying to live through. Like living in the abandoned uranium areas here and drinking the contaminated waters that we have drank,” says Faye, a Navajo Nation Citizen from Blackmesa, Arizona.
-Beginning in 1944, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands, under the auspices of private companies and the US government. The radioactive resource was in high demand for development of atomic power.
-After four decades, corporations closed shop but neglected to clean up. Abandoned mines, homes, and drinking water were left contaminated with elevated levels of radiation. Residents were left behind to battle deteriorating health conditions.
-Elsee Tohomie an Old Woman of the Navajo Nation, says that her knees are aching and walking became difficult for her.
-“I’ve been diagnosed with some form of cancer. I feel pain below my chin.I’m taking medication now,” she says.
-US officials say radionuclides in the air and drinking water have been linked to thousands of cases of lung cancer, bone cancer and impaired kidney function.

Radiation effect on children’s thyroid glands -NHK, August 14
-A group of researchers led by Hiroshima University professor Satoshi Tashiro tested 1,149 children in the prefecture for radiation in their thyroid glands in March following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactive iodine was detected in about half of the children.
-Tashiro says radiation in thyroid glands exceeding 100 millisieverts poses a threat to humans, but that the highest level in the survey was 35 millisieverts.
-Tashiro says based on the result, it is unlikely that thyroid cancer will increase in the future, but that health checks must continue to prepare for any eventuality.

Lawyers provide free consultation to evacuees -NHK, August 14
-Lawyer Kiyoshi Morikawa who heads the group says evacuees are becoming increasingly concerned about their homes and living expenses, as evacuation centers are closing 5 months after the disaster.
-He says he would like the evacuees to feel free to consult with the professionals.

Radioactive impact on wheat may be small -NHK, August 14
-Researchers in Japan have found that wheat absorbs a relatively small amount of radioactive cesium from its roots, and the impact of the substance on wheat grain may be small.
-The scientists believe wheat absorbs only a small amount of radioactive cesium through its roots.
-They believe the substance does not migrate from leaves to the grain, the edible part, which makes the impact small.
-They also measured the distribution of radioactive cesium in rice paddies in Fukushima prefecture by collecting soil at 5 centimeter increments from the surface.
-96 percent of the cesium was found at the 5 centimeter level from the surface.

Fukushima farmers in a jam / Fruit growers see orders plunge due to fears over radiation -Yomiuri, August 14
-Shipments of Fukushima’s signature akatsuki peaches would normally be peaking about now.
-The fruit is a popular summer gift, but orders have plummeted this year, even though the levels of radioactive material detected in the fruit since the crisis began at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are much lower than government-set interim limits.
-Unless consumers stop shunning this produce, the problems afflicting peach farmers could soon spread to growers of other fruit–such as pears and apples–whose shipments are scheduled to peak later this month.

Mud sports festival held in Fukushima -NHK, August 14
-People enjoyed playing volleyball and other sports in the mud in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
-The festival was held in the town of Hanawa on Sunday. A local sports club started the event 3 years ago.
-The town is about 75 kilometers from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
-But the organizers say it’s safe as they measured radiation levels in the courts and confirmed it was about 0.2 microsieverts per hour.

Safety doubts raised at U.S. nuclear waste cleanup project -LA Times, August 14
-The Energy Department has asserted that Bechtel Corp. underplayed safety risks from equipment it is installing at the nation’s largest nuclear waste cleanup project, according to government records.
-A federal engineering review team found in late July that Bechtel’s safety evaluation of key equipment at the plant at the Hanford site in Washington state was incomplete and that “the risks are more serious” than Bechtel acknowledged when it sought approval to continue with construction, the documents say.
-Senior scientists at the site said in emails obtained by The Times that Bechtel’s designs for tanks and mixing equipment are flawed, representing such a massive risk that work should be stopped on that part of the construction project.
-But Energy Department officials in Washington said they believed the problems were fixable and that they had authorized Bechtel to keep going for the time being. Bechtel officials said Friday that the matter was not a safety issue and that sticking to the current construction schedule would save money.
-The Hanford project is the most important environmental cleanup program in the nation. It seeks to prevent 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge in underground tanks, some of which are leaking, from contaminating the nearby Columbia River.

Cesium levels down in seawater near reactors 2, 3 -NHK, August 15
-Seawater collected near the water intake of the No.2 reactor on Saturday was found to contain 0.058 becquerels of cesium-134, or 0.97 times the government-set safety limit. It also contained 0.056 becquerels of cesium-137, or 0.62 times the limit. Both figures were around one tenth of the level found on the previous day.
-In April, the level of cesium-137 in seawater near the water intake of the No.2 reactor was found to be 1.1 million times the safety limit. Since then, the density of the radioactive element has been declining, and recently it has fallen below the limit sometimes.
-Seawater sampled near the water intake of the No.3 reactor on Saturday was found to contain 0.087 becquerels of cesium-134, or 1.5 times the safety limit. It also contained 0.09 becquerels of cesium-137, or about the same as the limit. Both figures were less than one tenth of the level found on the previous day.
-Seawater taken from 6 spots offshore was found to contain no radioactive materials.

PET bottles become radiation detectors in Japan -Reuters, August 15
-To meet growing demand for radiation detectors after Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami, which set off the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, a Japanese researcher has come up with devices made from recycled PET bottles — inexpensively.
-The detectors devised by Hidehito Nakamura, an assistant professor at Kyoto University in western Japan, in cooperation with Teijin Ltd, cut costs by 90 percent from existing devices, many of which come from foreign firms.
-“We’re aiming to have a final product by the end of September, given the ever-increasing demand following the March earthquake,” said Toru Ishii, a sales executive at Teijin.
-Nakamura came up with “Scintirex,” a plastic resin that emits a fluorescent glow when exposed to radiation. The resin acts as a sensor within the radiation detectors, allowing measurements of radiation.

Debris disposal bill to be submitted to Diet -NHK, August 15
-Japan’s main ruling and opposition parties have compiled a bill stating that the government will be responsible for cleaning up the fallout from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
-The bill calls on the government to collect and dispose of debris contaminated with high levels of radiation in the no-entry zone and areas near the troubled nuclear plant.
-It also says the government will deal with debris whose radioactivity levels exceed pre-determined standards, regardless of where it is found.
-The parties also propose that the government should oversee the decontamination of soil in areas where contamination is serious.

At least 30 prefectures to test newly harvested rice for cesium to alleviate safety concerns -Mainichi News, August 15
-As many as 30 prefectures are planning to test newly harvested rice for radioactive cesium contamination in a bid to ensure and demonstrate the safety of their farm crops to consumers worried by the spread of radioactive substances from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the Mainichi has learned.
-The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has subjected newly harvested rice in 17 prefectures from Aomori to the north to Shizuoka to the west in East Japan to cesium contamination tests, but other municipalities, keen to alleviate safety concerns among consumers about farm products, decided to test rice independently.
-The farm ministry urges the 17 prefectures to test brown rice raised in soil containing 1,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram or more, or in areas whose atmospheric radiation doses are more than 0.1 microsievert per hour, before and after harvesting. If more than 200 becquerels per kilogram are detected in brown rice in a preliminary testing before harvesting, the area will be designated as an “area for priority testing” and be thoroughly examined after harvesting. If radiation exceeds 500 becquerels, shipments of the rice from the area will be banned.

“Loud bang” at FPL nuclear plant near Miami -Sun Sentinel, August 15
-Florida Power & Light employees heard a “loud bang” Thursday at the utility’s Turkey Point nuclear plant 24 miles south of Miami when a large valve carrying water unexpectedly closed, turning off a system that cools equipment in one of the reactors, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report on the incident. Regulator have not yet determined the safety significance.
-FPL employees followed their procedures, immediately opening one of two backup valves to fix the issue within 20 minutes, said FPL Spokesman Mike Waldron.
-On Tuesday, a three-person NRC team began a special inspection of the plant because the cooling system “failure resulted in the loss of a safety system,” the agency wrote in a statement.

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 33: Fukushima is as interesting as it’s ever been

Things at Fukushima are about as interesting as they’ve ever been. We want to talk about specific problems at the reactor site, with radioactive material, cooling systems, etc. but first a few words about things happening more broadly, beginning with the largest and work towards the smallest scale. Everything we discuss here is based on the material provided in “Ana’s Feed” below. There, you will find detailed notes from media and other sources since our last posting, and links. (See here for all of our postings on Fukushima.)

Globally, it is interesting and disconcerting that Japan itself is drawing back from further use of nuclear power while remaining very much involved in promoting this source of energy in other countries. In the US and elsewhere, the nuclear industries and institutions in various countries continue to make strong yet inconsistent statements about nuclear power. In the US, the heated discussion that arose from the big-ass reality pimp-slap we know of as Fukushima has caused a certain amount of friction and tension in the fractious relationship among the disparate nuclear-related regulatory agencies. In one tasty but bitter bit of irony, a nuclear power plant had to go to 50% power because the waters in the river used for cooling at that plant were too warm owing, presumably, the global warming that running nuclear power plants would curtail. If they worked as such.

In Japan, the contaminated beef story continues to develop, and problems continue with contaminated compost, fish, rice and tea (see more below regarding contamination). The Japanese Government, accused earlier of trying to control the message regarding Fukushima a bit too earnestly, has both denied those accusations and deleted the public data on radioactive contamination of children.

And now, a few details from on-site or nearby.
Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 33: Fukushima is as interesting as it’s ever been

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 32: “Biggest Industrial Catastrophe in History”

In the old days this was easy. The power plants were melting down but no one knew what was going on inside them; Water was being poured in and cooking off as steam, and every now and then the way they were getting the water in or the way they were powering the pumps would change, or one of the containment buildings would blow up, or whatever. If you’ve been reading the last few Fukushima Updates, however, you’ll know that things related to the crippled nuclear power plant have gotten more, not less complicated, which at first is counter-intuitive, but on reflection, expected. After all, engineers have more access to the inside of the plants now, though that is still limited. Pumping water into a big concrete box that blows up now and then is not as complicated as assembling a functiniong cooling system from parts that have been mauled by floods and earthquakes and that are highly radioactive. And the secondary but very important ramifications of an out of control set of multiple meltdowns at a large nuclear power plant are developing around the world as entire countries swear off nuclear power while at the same time major, influential industry entities revert to pretending that this is pretty much what we expected and everything is fine. The patterns and problems associated with contamination are starting to emerge and sink in; The fact that the industry expected this sort of meltdown to occur has been revealed.

One of the interested developments for the coverage period for this update was the declaration that Step 1 of the road map plan to bring the crisis to an end was completed. This involved stable cooling of the reactors and eliminating risks of hydrogen explosions. It is probably true that this has been accomplished, however things could change; Cooling systems are in place and hydrogen is no longer burning off, as it were. However even since this declaration there were interruptions in the cooling system. There have also been technical problems with the decontamination units that are supposed to clean the water that is being cycled through the cooling systems. At one point power went out for 5 hours stopping all cooling operations for some of the reactors and storage pools. We might be optimistic and call the situation stable but not trustworthy.

Also interesting is the attempt to redefine the meaning of the planned “Step 2.” This is “cold shutdown” of the reactors, to be completed within six months, which is actually a thing defined by standards. A cold shutdown has two major features: The reactors have to be below a certain temperature internally, and the radioactive stuff in the reactors has to be contained. The second of these two is of course impossible in at least two of the reactors, possibly three, because they melted down and the radioactive stuff will never be contained by any standard that the industry may have specified at any time in the past. The outcome of a “china syndrome” like event is that you get a bit of landscape that is really more like a new geological formation than an ex-power plant. And it will do what it does. The Japanese authorities seem to be interested in redefining both the temperature of “cool” and the meaning of “containment.” The current plan is to build an underground shield running 30 meters deep to contain the radioactive material and contaminated water. Below that is a geological layer that at this time does not absorb water. It is not clear how this feature would be built or how it would be made earthquake resistant. For the time being, engineers and plant managers are seriously considering plugging the holes in the reactors, though there is no known way to do this. Meanwhile, the IAEA has visited the site and tells us that everything is fine.

One of the most prominent features of contamination after a nuclear disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima is the way radioactive material can become concentrated as it moves up the food chain. Therefore, authorities would naturally be prepared to focus on dairy products and animal meat, as these are well up the food chain from, for instance, grass or hay (or what seems to be called “straw” made from rice stalks, in Japan). But, ooops, they forgot about this problem and officials of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry allowed quite a bit of beef into the market from cattle that had been eating contaminated feed.

The problem is that while steps were taken to avoid having cattle feed on contaminated grass and certain stored feed, the memos regarding safe levels of contamination in feed never got to the rice farmers who provide this “straw” material. And of course, that stuff was contaminated. The beef did get into the market and some of it was even eaten by nursery school children. At first it was reported that almost a dozen cattle had eaten radioactive feed and then were sent to market. Then more such cattle were discovered. It now seems that the number is probably close to 1,400 over 3,000 cattle shipped.

Also, it appears that straw grown very far from the plant is contaminated, but is still being used as feed. And, some of the beef may have been sold abroad. Other plant products and eggs are also contaminated.

Some time over the next few years the process of removing the spent fuel rods will be initiated. This includes the rods that are inside the reactors. Removing rods so badly damaged from reactors so badly damaged in buildings so badly damaged has never been done before, according to engineers involved in the planning. (This implies that the removal of nuclear material from Chernobyl was easier.) The process is expected to take several decades.

Evacuations continue and evacuation zones continue to be expanded as contamination is discovered or spreads. People are still resigning or getting charged or investigated or otherwise sternly looked at, plant construction plans are being scrapped. Gangsters. There are gangsters benefiting from the cleanup projects. Whistle-blowers are blowing their whistles but the climate for them is just as dangerous as ever; Policies are being scrutinized or changed, except in the US where recommendations have been hastily cobbed together and are now being duly ignored. We have yet to see a good analysis of the effects of these political and economic shifts on global warming. Earthquakes continue to occur in Japan. Contamination of workers is an increasing concern at Fukushima.

Another plant in Japan, Genkai, may have a faulty reactor pressure vessel. You will recall from earlier updates that this is the plant that the industry pushed the local mayor to restart using methods that were not entirely ethical. Other plants have other problems.

One of the most interesting and possibly most important items to come up over the last few days is a simulation created by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization of a meltdown and “china syndrome” event at the type of reactor at Fukushima. The simulation was created before this disaster and appears to be what actual did happen. See below.

Japan has passed a law outlawing this blog post. Don’t expect to be reading this if you are in Japan, or if you do … watch out.

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 32: “Biggest Industrial Catastrophe in History”

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 31: Radioactive stuff spreads, questions multiply

The International Atomic Energy Association issued its last report on Fukushima on June 2nd and appears to not be keeping their web site up to date any more. This is the last time I’ll be checking with them unless I hear otherwise. The email scandal reported last time continues “Analysts say the scandal reflects panic in Japan’s atomic power industry, long coddled by political, corporate and regulatory interests dubbed the “nuclear village” but now facing growing anti-nuclear sentiment as workers battle to end the Fukushima crisis.? (from Ana’s Feed, below). The magnitude of the tsunami wave that hit the plant (and vicinity) has been re-estimated, and it was quite a bit larger than previously thought. Radiation in sea-living organisms continues to be a concern.

UPDATE: On sundau, Goshi Hosono, the Japanese Government minister in charge of the accident, officially stated that “Step 1” of the recovery process was completed (as scheduled). This involves bringing cooling of the reactors to a stable level, and eliminating the risk of a hydrogen explosion.

The Step 1 plan also required “Prevention of release of contaminated water with high radiation level outside of the site boundary… Actions will be taken against accumulated water to (1) secure several storage places and (2) install facilities to process the contaminated water and reduce the radiation dose, among others.”

These steps seem to have been only partially achieved, so it is a little premature to announce that “Step 1” has been completed. In any event, as of Sunday, July 17th, it is claimed that cooling is totally under control and there is zero possibility of a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima.

Ana’s feed has several items regarding tracking radiation both near Fukushima and around the world.

Questions: Would a newer reactor design have done better? Were poor decisions made when this and other reactors were built? For instance, one of the original options for siting Fukushima was above the level of the tsunami. Siting the plant within range of tsunamis was a conscious decision. Why was it made?

More questions: Are US plants, now being re-evaluated with the sudden realization that nuclear power can be dangerous, in need of safety re-evaluations, upgrades, or decommissioning?

It turns out that while the Fukushima reactors were busy melting down, a depleted uranium storage facility in Chiba caught fire when the adjoining oil refinery blew up. Other industrial facilities including other nuclear power plants are now understood to have suffered important damage that has not been discussed publicly.

The situation with Fukushima’s cattle herd has continued to develop since our last report on July 7th. Initially, 11 cattle were found to have 2,300 becquerels/kilo of radioactive cesium, which exceeds the allowable limit of 500. The beef from that herd of 11 was never sent to market. However, in a separate development reported four days ago, the meat of six cows form Fukushima was distributed widely in Japan, and at least some of it was consumed by unsuspecting patrons. The six cattle were from the same farm as the 11. Eventually, a total of more than 80 cattle were shipped out from farms with high-cesium feed.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited Fukushima on Saturday

Read all about these issues and much, much more in Ana’s Feed:

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 31: Radioactive stuff spreads, questions multiply

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 30: It was, is, and will be worse than you thought

Perhaps the most interesting single thing on the table in today’s update is the revelation that at least one of Fukushima’s reactors suffered sufficient damage from the earthquake that hit the region … prior to the tsunami … to have likely gone out of control or melted down. This is hard to assess because the tsunami caused so much additional damage as to obscure earlier damage, and because cleanup efforts are not proper forensic methods to reconstruct what happened there, and because we can assume at this point that the untrustworthy TEPCO will cover up whatever it can, and it is in their interest to ignore any evidence that the earthquake itself resulted in significant damage. The problem is that there are people who saw the damage happen during the earthquake and some of them are talking.

This is important because NPA’s (Nuclear Power Apologists) including TEPCO (and don’t get us wrong …. we love the promise of nuclear energy!) wants everyone to think that THE problem at Fukushima was the totally unexpected tsunami, not the more likely to occur and totally planned-for earthquake. It would turn out that not only was this tsunami not unexpected at all (this has been covered before) but that the earthquake did enough damage that whatever other expectations Japanese nuclear regulators have regarding earthquakes may have are in serious question.

There are about 120,000 tones of contaminated water at Fukushima. That is roughly equivalent to the volume of about 200 modest town homes or almost 50- Olympic size swimming pools. The plant is essentially full of water … injecting more water into the plant can only happen if some of it boils off, which releases radioactive steam into the air (which is, essentially, what has been happening for weeks). The current plan is to decontaminate the water and use the decontaminated water to cool the plant.

What has been happening instead is that the decontamination system has failed or worked at a lower rate than expected and pumps that are supposed to push the water through containment vessels have been under achieving. There is no evidence that water is no longer leaking into the sea or steam into the air. So, the current situation is one in which efforts to cool the plant and contain the water are partially working but not entirely under control. The result of this is continuing and in some cases increasing spread of contamination.

And the contamination stories are starting to get worse, not better, though the meaning of it all is hard to assess. One model shows contaminated water reaching the US coast in a few years, though at low concentration. A handful of cattle radioactive to a much higher than allowed level were brought to market the other day, though they were detected and removed from the meat supply. Local tea (tea is grown in this area) is too contaminated to drink. A school group engaged in a fieldtrip in which they pick tea, process it and drink it almost consumed tea contaminated to what is considered an unsafe level. Increasing and alarmingly high levels of radioactive material is being detected on the sea floor near the Fukushima plant. People in one village had three times the allowed annual exposure to radiation indicated in test of their urine. Close to half of the children in the Fukushima area appear to have thyroid exposure, though the levels seem moderate. And so on.

Fukushima had a lot of nuclear material in it and a lot of that material has escaped, and the rate of escape is only somewhat slowed down, and the prospect of additional catastrophic events such as the collapse of a structure or an explosion is still very real.

Which brings us to the instability problems. There is still a distinct possibility of a hydrogen explosion. Measures to reduce the likelihood of this have been put into effect in two of the reactors, but a third reactor that has a high (though unmeasured) chance of an explosion has proved more difficult to secure. The spent fuel pool in Reactor #3 is not only structurally questionable due to the earthquake, but the vessel and fuel rods also appear to be under severe threat of corrosion.

This particular story is interesting because it illustrates the uncertainty of what happens when disasters occur. The Fukushima plants are designed to keep gasses that get out of the reactor or cooling system in place so they do not contaminate nearby areas. But one of the gasses that can build up in the case of a meltdown or even a lesser problem with cooling is very explosive hydrogen. If the overarching structure was built to withstand a hydrogen explosion, this would concentrate the explosive forces and certainly do excessive damage to the machinery inside the plant, or worse. Therefore the structure is designed to blow up gracefully. That happened at Fukushima. In the case of Plant #3, however, there was a spent fuel storage tank in the facility, and much of the gracefully blowed-up overstructure fell slap-dab into it. The cement from this structure has dissolved in the hot water in the tank (extra hot because unexpected fission events occurred, i.e., a mini-melt down of sorts) and this has caused the liquid in the spent fuel rod tank to become extremely alkaline. And that alkaline water is eating through things, such as the fuel rods and the containment vessel itself. Storing your spent fuel rods in Draino is generally not recommended, and as far a we can tell, this was entirely unforeseen, as have been most of the events at Fukushima over the last few weeks.

The political fallout, while not exactly radioactive, remains toxic. One local mayor was apparently strong-armed into allowing the restart of two nuclear power plants, though he backed off this position later. Heads are still rolling here and there. We also have an email scandal, of course. It turns out that journalists were systematically fed misinformation about what was happening here in a coordinated effort by governmental and private entities. You saw some of that happen on this blog, in the way of “Not-concerned troll” spamming.

And now, a record size record of information about the situation at Fukushima …

Ana’s Feed

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 30: It was, is, and will be worse than you thought

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 29: Indecent Exposure

Much of the current news is about exposure and fallout.

As a point of information, the Sievert is a unit of “dose equivliant” from exposure to ionizing radiation. It was designed to indicate relative levels of biological effects on living organisms. This measurement technique attempts to take into account the fact that radiation is absorbed differently by different tissues. Usually we speak in terms of humans unless otherwise specified. There are one thousand millisieverts in a sievert (mSv). Zero to 0.25 Sv in a day is considered to have no effect. At up to one Sv people feel sick and more susceptible tissues are damaged. 10 Sv in a day is deadly. As one goes from 1 to 10 Sv in a day things get worse. If a person is esposed to about 6 Sv in a day or more, they won’t die that day. But later, they probably will. Some of the numbers are given in microsieverts, one thousand times less than a millisievert.

In practice, it is common to measure the effects of radiation exposure accumulated over longer time periods. For example, one measures the maximum dose allowed for US radiation-related workers at 50 mSv per year. When mSv is being discussed in most of the text in Ana’s feed (below) you should assume “per year” is meant if not stated, unless otherwise indicated, although in some cases it seems that the measure being used is accumulated to date, which is closer to one fourth of a year.

The question has been raised; Are increased radiation levels across North America sufficient to explain a jump in infant mortality seen since Fukushima, or is that a coincidence? These deaths are concentrated in the region that would have a larger increase of exposure (the west coast). Probably not. Fukushima is so far away. Babies are so … tough and able to withstand toxic insults. And you can’t see radiation, so how bad can it be? Anyway, it ends up that this is probably some very creative data cooking.

One of the main problems at Fukushima at present is the highly radioactive water flooding the structures’ basements. As this water is being pumped around a certain unspecified (probably unknown) amount of radioactive material is being removed from it. In theory, it is possible to remove most of the raidioisotope from the water, but then one is stuck with a pile of radioactive carbon filtering material. An unknown amount of water is leaking from the plant before being contaminated. Efforts to decrease the amount of water being pumped into the plant, and thus becoming contaminated, were tried but resulted in increasing heat in a reactor core.

The other main, continuing story is the growing understanding of how poorly prepared TEPCO was for any sort of disaster at the plant, and how much sweeping under the rug was going on after the earthquake and tsunami.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to reinforce the Number 4 reactor spent fuel rod containment pool which is thought to be too weak to sustain a serious earthquake. Reinforcement is in fact being put in place but it will be several more weeks before that job is done. The water in the containment pool is still quite hot.

Enigmatically, even though the situation at Fukushima improves only very slowly and radiation continues to spew from the plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency no longer sees it as the top story, and it is now supplanted by various IAEA activities and an FAQ about nuclear safety, relegated to page two, as it were, of their web site. The latest update is still JUne 2nd.

Ana’s Feed

Continue reading Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 29: Indecent Exposure