Drumbeat Special Edition: Fukushima Thread

Analysis: Seawater helps but Japan nuclear crisis is not over

(Reuters) - Pumping seawater into troubled nuclear reactors in Japan should keep them from a catastrophic full-scale meltdown, but conditions are still so volatile that it is far too early to declare the emergency over, nuclear experts said.

It is probably the first time in the industry's 57-year history that seawater has been used in this way, a sign of how close Japan is to facing a major nuclear disaster following the massive earthquake and tsunami on Friday, according to the scientists.

Radioactivity levels normal at one nuclear plant; emergency continues at others

Radioactivity levels at one of Japan's nuclear power plants are back to normal following Friday's earthquake and tsunami, but the emergency continues at the Fukushima plant.

A state of emergency was called at the Onagawa nuclear power plant in northern Japan earlier today.

At least 15 Japanese hospitalized with radiation poisoning

At least 15 people have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning following an accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Kyodo news agency said on Sunday.

A blast ripped through the Fukushima Number One nuclear reactor on Saturday, destroying the building, but leaving the nuclear reactor itself undamaged, according to official Japanese reports. A steel container covering the reactor has protected it from the blast, the authorities said.

Analysis: Japan crisis fuels fears over Europe's nuclear revival

(Reuters) - Japan's nuclear crisis in the wake of a huge earthquake is likely to increase opposition to plans for a major nuclear expansion in Europe and focus attention on the vast potential costs of a nuclear disaster.

The crisis will reignite concern over nuclear safety as Japan fights to avert a meltdown at crippled nuclear reactors, describing the quake and tsunami, which may have killed more than 10,000 people, as its biggest crisis since World War Two.

The disaster is a setback to the nuclear industry, which is enjoying a renaissance as public fears over nuclear safety have faded along with memories of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States and Ukraine's 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Tsunami marks end of 'nuclear renaissance in Japan'

HIROSHIMA, Japan: It is this nation's greatest fear, revisited.

Almost 66 years after atomic bombs decimated this city and Nagasaki during World War II, Japan holds its breath against a new nuclear threat.

Japan disaster may set back nuclear power industry

Japan's struggle to contain a partial meltdown at one nuclear reactor and the threat of an explosion at a second reactor could deal a hard blow to the nuclear power industry.

Nuclear Overreactions

After a once-in-300-years earthquake, the Japanese have been keeping cool amid the chaos, organizing an enormous relief and rescue operation, and generally earning the world's admiration. We wish we could say the same for the reaction in the U.S., where the troubles at Japan's nuclear reactors have produced an overreaction about the risks of modern life and technology.

Japan reactor is no Chernobyl: experts

"This is not a serious public health issue at the moment," said Malcolm Crick, secretary of the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

"It won't be anything like Chernobyl. There the reactor was operating at full power when it exploded and it had no containment."

Japan Radiation Risk Seen as Low so Far

Although several plant workers are ill from radioactive exposure in Japan, the radiation risk to the public appears low so far, experts said.

Uncertainty surrounds Japan's nuclear picture

The word "meltdown" goes to the heart of the big nuclear question - is nuclear power safe?

The term is associated in the public mind with the two most notorious accidents in recent memory - Three Mile Island, in the US, in 1979, and Chernobyl, in Ukraine, seven years later.

Threat from meltdown only minor: nuclear power expert

The impact of any meltdown in Japanese nuclear reactors damaged by the recent earthquake will be small compared to the devastation caused by the quake itself and the subsequent tsunami, Australia's best-known nuclear power expert says.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who was chairman of the the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) until a few months ago, says a significant build-up of radiation is unlikely.

Factbox: Anatomy of a Meltdown for English Majors

"Does it bother anyone that CNN has a picture of a Pressurized Water Reactor on this page when the Reactor at Fukushima I Unit 1 is a Boiling Water Reactor (BWR-3)? " asks RickW123.

We liberal arts and English majors shrug our shoulders and talk to each other in frightened, shrill tones, admitting to each other that, like scientific bigots, "they all look alike."

US lawmakers mull nuclear moratorium after quake

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan at reactors damaged by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami has led some lawmakers to call for the United States to "put the brakes" on domestic nuclear development.

"I've been a big supporter of nuclear power because it's domestic -- it's ours and it's clean," influential Senator Joseph Lieberman told the CBS News television program "Face The Nation" Sunday.

Nevertheless "I think we've got to ... quietly and quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami," said Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

U.S. won't feel radiation from Japan: U.S. nuclear agency

(Reuters) - The United States is not expected to experience "any harmful levels" of radiation from Japan's earthquake-hit nuclear power reactors, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Sunday.

Total of Seven Japanese Reactors Now Face Coolant Problems, Core Damage Possible at Two

The Kyodo News Agency is now reporting coolant issues at a third Japanese nuclear plant, bringing the total number of reactors with severe electrical or cooling problems following Friday's earthquake to seven.

Factbox:Japan quake impact on energy, commodities, manufacturers

(Reuters) - The following is a roundup of the effect on manufacturers, energy firms and other companies of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan.

Fukushima: Nuclear backgrounder

Following is a technical backgrounder on events at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, crippled by a tsunami unleashed by last Friday's 8.9 magnitude quake:

Japan's N-hazard due to rare mix of events: Scientists

MUMBAI: Indian nuclear operators and scientists on Sunday said the failure of Japanese nuclear reactors was mainly due to the devastating tsunami, which led to external electricity failure and termed the incident "rare combination of events." They also commended their counterparts in Japan for carrying out an excellent procedure in the aftermath of the worst tsunami and preventing any external radiation exposure at Fukushima Daiichi No.1 Nuclear reactor.

In Pictures: Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time (05:46 UTC), a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan. The epicenter was 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Sendai, and 231 miles (373 km) northeast of Tokyo. If initial measurements are confirmed, it will be the world’s fifth largest earthquake since 1900 and the worst in Japan's history.

Nuke industry spin: Be "reassured" by Japan

As the crisis unfolds, the Nuclear Energy Institute joins an intense PR battle that has already started.

What went wrong at Fukushima?

A state of emergency has also been declared at a second nuclear facility, at Onagawa, after excessive radiation levels were recorded. But Japan's nuclear energy agency said the rise in local radiation levels might have been caused by the Fukushima leak.

So, what went wrong at Fukushima?

Japan earthquake: Record-shattering breakwater can't hold back tsunami

The Kamaishi, Japan, breakwater was in the Guinness World Records as the deepest on the planet. It was a product of decades of research on wave dynamics and dissipation. But the tsunami made short work of it.

Japan earthquake: Insurance cost for quake alone pegged at $35 billion, AIR says

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake could mean billions of dollars in insured-property losses, and that's without factoring in the tsunami, according to a new analysis from AIR Worldwide.

The Scariest Earthquake Is Yet to Come

The tsunami that struck Japan was the third in a series of events that now put California at risk.

How Black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?

Reactors are equipped with multiple cooling systems as part of the defence in depth design principle. The idea is that there should be redundant systems with no components in common, and therefore (theoretically) no possibility for common mode failures. Each system should be capable of independently preventing a design-basis accident.

Japan is a sophisticated country with a long history of nuclear power, and also a long history of seismic activity. One could argue that this is Japan's Hurricane Katrina moment, in that a predictable scenario was not adequately prepared for in advance despite the potential for very severe consequences.

Partial Meltdowns Presumed at Crippled Reactors

TOKYO — Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a widening nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying they presumed that partial meltdowns had occurred at two crippled reactors and that they were bracing for a second explosion, even as they faced serious cooling problems at four more reactors.

Workers scramble to cool reactors; official says 2nd blast possible

(CNN) -- Japanese efforts to prevent a nuclear meltdown by flooding reactors with seawater are a last-ditch attempt, but do not mean that a nuclear tragedy is imminent, experts said Sunday.

Nuclear experts who have followed the developments at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan say that despite several setbacks, the possibility of massive radiation exposure remains low -- at least for now.

Japanese nuclear plant calls state of emergency

A state of emergency has been called at a Japanese nuclear plant in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas hit hard by Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

The UN's atomic watchdog said the Onagawa nuclear facility went into a state of emergency on Sunday after excessive radiation levels were recorded.

The Onagawa plant is in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas hit hard by Friday's tsunami. There was a fire at the plant after the earthquake, which shut down the plant's cooling systems.

Russia offers help on fixing Japanese N-plants

Russia has formally offered Japan help on operations to fix tsunami damage to nuclear power plants. Russian experts have already supplied that country with their assessment of what to expect from two reactors at the Fukushima plant, in which cooling systems are out of order.

Anxiety, fatigue grow among evacuated citizens near nuclear plant

SENDAI (Kyodo) -- Anxiety and distress was growing among evacuees near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant Sunday, a day after a blast occurred and fears increased over possible radioactive leaks from the plant that was hit by Friday's massive earthquake.

"What's going to happen, and when...?" a local town official said in expressing concerns, although he noted that people are not panicking. He evacuated from the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma, where the plant is located, to the city of Tamura in the same prefecture, farther away from the plant.

Official: 2nd Japan nuclear reactor at risk of explosion

Japan was fighting to contain what could be the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years with the government warning there could be an explosion at a second reactor crippled by Friday's devastating earthquake.

More than 170,000 people have been evacuated from the area around two nuclear power plants in Fukushima as a precaution, officials said Sunday.

It was also confirmed that 22 people had been contaminated by radiation.

There is believed to have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods following an explosion and leak Saturday from the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Thousands flee nuke horror from Fukushima plant after earthquake and tsunami

JAPAN'S largest and oldest nuclear power plants appeared on the verge of meltdown last night in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that is feared to have killed tens of thousands of people.

More than 200,000 people were fleeing the area around the two Fukushima plants, about 250km north of Tokyo, as the magnitude of Friday's earthquake was upgraded to 9.

Japan faces toughest crisis since WWII, prime minister says

Reporting from Sendai, Japan and Beijing — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters Sunday his country was facing its most difficult challenge since World War II and called on his people to unite in the face of a devastating earthquake and tsunami and potential nuclear crisis.

Q&A: Explosion at Fukushima nuclear plant

Nuclear energy experts were working on Saturday to establish the chain of events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility, which suffered an explosion following Friday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake. Experts outlined the range of possible scenarios, based on information available from official Japanese sources.

Japan to ration electricity with rolling blackouts

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo Electric Power says it will ration electricity with rolling blackouts in parts of Tokyo and other Japanese other cities.

The planned blackouts of about three hours each will start Monday. They are meant to help make up for a severe shortfall after key nuclear plants were left inoperable due to the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Meltdown fears spark 'turning point for world'

AUSTRALIA'S most prominent nuclear power advocate believes the possible meltdown in Fukushima will set back support for its introduction, but not kill it.

Ziggy Switkowski's optimism came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the damage to Japan's nuclear power supply as a ''turning point for the world''.

Will nuclear industry feel the fallout from Japan?

Japanese officials continue to struggle to contain the damage at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, but it may be much harder to limit the fallout for the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

Images of an explosion Saturday and word of a possible partial meltdown have rippled around the globe and are expected to linger for U.S. nuclear advocates already wrestling with their own economic and political challenges.

Scientists predict shift against nuclear power

Nuclear experts convened by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental campaign group, said they expected the explosion at the Fukushima plant to undermine public support for nuclear power, however serious the incident ultimately turned out to be.

Japan reminded of nuclear safety fears

For many Japanese the blast at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Saturday will reignite deep-seated distrust of the nuclear power industry following a series of major disasters.

Although Yukio Edano, the chief government spokesman, stressed that the government was taking all possible measures to contain the impact of the explosion, it did not take long for criticism to begin.

Nuclear is not failsafe says Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

THERE is no such thing as a failsafe nuclear power plant, science commentator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki said yesterday.

"Nuclear reactors are not failsafe. They won't fail in a safe way. They can go bang as Chernobyl did," he said.

Japanese Government Responsible for Nuclear Cleanup Costs, Brokers Say

The liability costs associated with cleaning up after the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will ultimately be borne by the Japanese government instead of the private insurance market, according to experts from the insurance industry.

Those liability costs, if they prove substantial, will place an added burden on the government as it copes with tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in other expenses linked to the massive rebuilding effort that lies ahead.

Thanks for the special thread.
I see that it is now night time in Japan, so new images that reveal information about the problems will be limited. At least the temperature is moderate.

The Oil Drum and it's contributors bring knowledge to the great unwashed masses without all the annoying advertising. I remember The Oil Drum before Drumbeat. Back then TOD was more technically focused and industry oriented, but probably had less traffic as well. When Drumbeat first came out I was skeptical. Now I look forward to every Drumbeat. The aggregation of energy related news is wonderful and provides great launching points for discussions (or flame wars).

The admins here, IMO, have done a good job managing this site, adapting to change as TOD has grown over the years.

Remember all the stories on TOD that repeated the official 'leak' of the BP Deep Horizon spill? 5000 gallons. 5000 gallons. 5000 gallons. 5000 gallons....

Now we have another disaster. Here's how it works. Take your official report, assume it is basically PR work to maintain calm, then analyze the problem based on evidence given to estimate the real scale of the disaster.

There are currently 6 reactors that have been affected.

Two reactors have been described as "may be" in a meltdown, or "partial meltdown."

One building exploded, but that was 'no big deal' because it was just housing the containment structure, basically now-useless parts of the 'back-up' system.

In reactor 1, all back-up electrical systems have failed and forced the authorities to flood the reactor with seawater--in the hope of cooling it. No guarantee of success, of course, an act one expert described as a "Hail Mary" effort.

They lied on day one saying they had no problem whatsoever, "everything under control."

Day two, "possible meltdown" of two reactors, minor, unimportant explosion.

Day three, ... ?

Week one, ... ?

TOD has a lot of Nuke supporters. I suggest those with some money be the first to volunteer to help with the situation, particularly if we see a failure of the containment structure and the need for volunteers to pour cement. Stand up for what you believe in! If you can't get over there to help pour cement, maybe set up a fund for the nuke workers' surviving family members.

There's money to be made on every disaster!

When people use the qualifiers 'may be' , 'partial', 'possible', then that tells me they are trying to be truthful by qualifying their lack of precise knowledge about a situation.

Your last two paras are unnecessarily emotional and do not add to the understanding of the situation.

My estimation is that TOD's posting population and editorial staff has a majority of folks who do not favor nuclear power. I have been reading this site for years (far longer than I have had this account) and I don not recall any tech posts about nuclear power etc. I may have missed some, I admit I haven't read every word in TOD :)

Your last two paras are unnecessarily emotional and do not add to the understanding of the situation.

Agreed. Reminder, folks...we value civility here. Defend your viewpoints without insulting/baiting those who hold differing ones.

Leanan, I have always assumed that your ancestors were on that island before Hilo. I hope any relatives there are okay.

Here is a link to a photograph of the unit 1 building showing that it was more than just the weather shell that blew off:


So various officials and media parrots have been downplaying the disaster.

However, the whole "we should drop nuclear since it is so dangerous" is inanity of the worst sort. More people die each year in road accidents in Canada alone each year than all the hypothetical nuclear disasters from 1950 to 2100. Power down and alternatives to fossil fuels are delusions not based on any actual quantified analysis. Wind is too intermittent and even in Denmark accounts for no more than 20% of the energy. Solar is a non-starter in high latitudes. The only serious alternative is geothermal but for some reason only Iceland has succeeded in tapping into it. In most other places they become too worried about earthquakes and give up (e.g. Switzerland).

I would be ecstatic (turning cartwheels and jumping for joy) if the U.S. could produce 20% of its electricity from wind!

If we could get another 20% from solar I would be even happier.

I think a 'Powerdown' of 20% would be very challenging and break a lot of glass but we could do it and still live nice lives (not in caves :) )

We will use coal, and use even more if we jettison all use of nuke plants, probably exacerbating climate change, but that will be the trade-off I suppose.

I agree with you that many folks may not assess the global (total spectrum of) risks and benefits from the spectrum of technologies we use, but that seems to be hard-wired into the human brain and difficult to overcome.

When I hear folks say "we just need to turn off all the nukes and also cut our energy consumption by 50% (insert favorite large number here)", I would ask that we develop Courses of Action and all decide on the best alternative for our future energy use/supply and implement it rather than spot platitudes.

Deliberate planning based on solid risk/benefit/feasibility analysis is preferable to more 'Hail Marys' :)

Sorry, but I don't see the evidence that makes your assertion conclusive.

Much more information is needed before we will know the extent of the damage caused by the explosion.

It is very common for any operation that could experience an explosion or rupture to be covered by a thin shell that provides weather protection and little else.

For example, acetylene plants are often covered with sheet metal only on the outside of the framework, and fastened with the intent to blow off easily, minimizing the pressure build-up inside, in the event of a mishap.

How do I know this? Because I was inside such a plant when it went bang. In an instant, I was in sunshine, still inside the building. Apart from some temporary deafness, I was fine.

That was some years ago, and things that hiss still make me nervous.

Good picture - but it appears to me that it shows that the weather shell protecting the equipment above the outside containment structure was blown away. Even the frame work shows remarkedly little damage. What do you see in the photo that is more serious damage?

BRW Mark 1 cutaway

What bothers me, and I haven't been able to find any information on this, is that the spent fuel pools are at this level and there hasn't been information if they were compromised.

It is rather clear that the exposed concrete walls are heavily damaged. The graphic you link to shows a flat roof design so the irregular shape on the left facing wall is not a design feature.

The damage to the containment building is not limited to blowing away the steel framed shell at the top as claimed by officials and media.

I still don't see any major damage to the containment structure. I see what looks like some debris hanging down on both faces and I think the 'V' in the framework is damage but I don't see the concrete damage.

If you are referring to the splotches on the walls they were there before the earthquake. In fact you can see the same pattern on the #2 building in the background in your picture.

A poor quality before and after -


I believe that the notch in the exposed structure is to accommodate the end of the overhead crane in it's traverse.

I expect you are right.


Daiichi number 3 has just blown. I guess you can keep on believing all that debris, pulverized concrete, is just some notch. Jeez.

So, a totally different reactor explodes, with a very different plume profile, and this somehow verifies that reactor # 1 is destroyed?

You apparently have an emotional bond with your theories. I don't have a theory. I base my opinions on what evidence I see, or don't see.

If your conjectures float your boat, then go with it.

I'll stick with facts, thank you.

For those intrested a good article on the history of GE BWR reactors.
From page 10
"In addition, following a loss of coolant accident, the temperature of fuel cladding could rise and hydrogen could be generated by a water-metal reaction, which could impair the containment integrity due to hydrogen gas combustion. In order to prevent such a case, BWR
containments are kept inert with nitrogen gas."

"the whole 'we should drop nuclear since it is so dangerous' is inanity of the worst sort." - dissident

Considering the now more apparent risks of current nuclear power technology, what would you recommend? Your arguments seem to promote BAU: to me, that seems inane.

Perhaps a robust risk/benefit analysis would be in order.

The definition of "robust" will be central to the success of such an analysis. It seems to me that the entrenched interests could easily corrupt the process.

As evidence, I submit to you the flurry of propaganda that daily inundates us.

That would be most welcome, as long as it took into consideration the true costs involved. I'm thinking about government subsidies here, including the massive subsidy of what I believe to be ultimate liability coverage. If governments are going to bear the lion's share of those costs in the event of an accident, as the WSJ article cited above says will happen in Japan, then full transparency needs to be assured going forward.

I am not stridently against nuclear energy. On the other hand, I would absolutely be against any arrangement between government, Wall Street, and the nuclear power industry (GE, Westinghouse, et al) that proposes to privatize the profits and socialize the losses. Any risk/benefit analysis would have to address those concerns to be of any use.

If instead of placing all their faith in a sea wall the designers of this plant had put their back up generators on a platform 40 ft high there would not have been a problem. At a basic level this was an engineering failure- and we depend on engineering to work otherwise we wouldn't get into an airplane or high rise, drive a car etc.

I don't know what the answer to this question is- but how much higher would atmospheric concentrations of CO2 be if we had no power generation from Nukes and all their electricity had been produced from coal power plants? What would the consequences of that have been on the planet? How many millions are going to have to evacuate permanently if there is 1ft rise in sea levels?

It seems to me that is possible to deny climate change and be anti-nuke. I just don't see how one can inhabit the real world and believe in climate change and be anti-nuclear. Of course it is possible to design a theoretical model in which we can do without nuclear energy and fill the gap with conservation. However, in the real world were even eliminating incandescent bulbs and moving to low flow toilets is a political issue it is hard to see where the political will for serious conservation is going to come from. I doubt very much even if we had a dictator you would get it.

Um, New Orleans?

Welcome back. A question for you. I seem to recall something about drainage pumps failing in New Orleans because they were situated in the area that got flooded. Am I remembering right or am I barking up the wrong tree (or even barking for that matter)?


All the ones in the flooded areas were lost. Glad to be back. How are you?
The crew had managed to stave off street flooding in the teeth of the storm. So the deluge flowing toward the massive pump station seemed to defy logic.
“We actually watched the water walk up the driveway and actually come into the station. At that point, we’re locked in,” he said, adding that switching on the massive drainage pumps became futile.
“We can’t accomplish anything,” he said. “We’re pumping in a circle. We’re pumping that way, the water comes back this way. So we had to kill the station.”
And he had heard before bedding down the previous night that dozens of his colleagues were still stranded in S&WB facilities across the city.
But he’d also heard that boats and helicopters were expected to rescue them overnight.
As he heard the voice of pump operator Renauldo Robertson broadcasting from Pump Station No. 1, it became clear the plan had disintegrated.
“No one showed up,” Robertson said. “We need to get out of here. Is someone coming?”
Launching his boat from an Interstate 10 ramp at Earhart Boulevard, Alexander maneuvered the flooded city. He had to pass residents crying out for a ride, people balancing water containers on their heads as they waded through the water — and dead bodies afloat in the muck.
He rescued his co-workers at the Broad Street pump station, ferried them to Algiers, then returned to check four more S&WB facilities before nightfall.

A similar situation befell the 13-man crew at Pump Station No. 17, a mammoth facility nestled between Gentilly and Bywater. The elevated site took on 3 to 4 feet of water as more than 7 feet of water filled nearby streets.

The corps also plans to "harden" each pump station to withstand ever-stronger hurricanes. Walls would be built around some facilities, vents would be covered with stainless steel, and downward-sloping slots and all glass would be removed. The corps also might install sluice gates as a temporary protection for pipes that now use highly pressurized air to keep storm surge from rushing back into the stations.

None of the pump stations along Lake Pontchartrain have sluice gates installed, Alikhani said.

Using pressurized air to keep storm surge at bay -- known in engineer vernacular as "air suppression" -- bred contention after Katrina. Residents say air suppression failed in east bank pump stations that Broussard left empty, flooding neighborhoods.


Doing good, thanks. Thanks for the report, reinforces my feeling that not enough thought goes into locating critical pumps/generators and protecting them from the sort of disaster where they will be needed, New Orleans meet Japan.


I believe in climate change and I am anti -nuclear. I think that due to ELM data that I have seen, we should not build nuclear plants we cannot take care of long term. I believe BAU is winding down, nuclear power will not help stop the looming economic disaster that awaits us. We need a new economic system on the fly, and the elite will not let go of their monopoly of power to change anything in my opinion. The co2 is in the atmosphere, and if we cut back burning coal, the developing world will take up the slack.

"the developing world will take up the slack"- Mark N

They will take a lot more than "the slack". They are 'developing' as an echo of our own consumer society.

Would 40' be enough? This time maybe but next time? Maybe better to design for inundation, sealed doors, close off valves etc. I think every nuclear station is going to be reviewing their plans for flooding VERY carefully.


I am also a believer in climate change, and think that Nuclear is not an 'Angel waiting in the wings' that will give us a balance of advantages when the effects of PO and CC are on us. It is powerful, but tempermental, and requires an expensive diet of specialized parts, very highly trained labor-force and constant input power not just to function, but to remain safe.

We're heading into waters that will likely be turbulent around Financial Stability, Water Accessibility, River Temps as well as Levels, Consistency of Part Suppliers, of Roadways and the Vehicles on them that are supposed to be bringing critical replacement parts, Ability of Customers to keep demand for grid power consistent (which is critical.. pun intended, for Nuclear Plants which need cashflow to continue on and be run safely, or be dismantled safely, not so for most other power sources. They might be in debt, or even be abandoned.. but they won't leave the potential for going Critical, leaving concentrated radioactive waste where they are, or spreading poison across the region/globe via air and water)

PO and CC are a disastrous mix with Nuclear. Fission won't prevent them, and will be unsupportable within them.

How can you have a "partial meltdown" is that like a "partial pregnancy"?
If the emergency power generators were on higher ground would they be safe from a tsunami?


I also wonder about that. I'd love a balanced view of this situation from someone that knows what they are talking about. FOX just had some 'Joe the nuke expert' on a few minutes ago talking about Chernobyl. I was under the impression this was no way similar to that because that plant had no protective containment as these reactors do.

I also wonder how the MOX fuel being burned in one of the reactors changes anything.

I also just read that this plant was just extended another 10 years in Feb after running for 40 years. Maybe letting these plants operate for so long isn't the best idea.

Obviously as Cool mentioned, if this would have been on higher ground, we probably wouldn't be talking about meltdowns. I can't imagine they wouldn't have thought of a situation that involved flooding?

Chernobyl also used solid graphite for moderators, and those things caught fire when exposed to the air. That in turn sent a plume of radioactive nastiness into the air.

"I also wonder how the MOX fuel being burned in one of the reactors changes anything."

MOX (in this case) contains Pu (plutonium), touted by Ralph Nader as "the most toxic substance known to man", though there has been some disagreement with this assertion. Some discussion here.

....in a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA-SM-202/806), [and] they agree closely with Table I. We see from Table I that Pu is dangerous principally when inhaled as a fine dust. It is not very toxic when ingested with food or drink because of its very small probability of passing through the intestine walls into the bloodstream. Pu forms large molecules, which have great difficulty in passing through membranes.

In addition to causing cancer, intake of plutonium can also cause genetic defects among progeny in the next 5-10 generations, but the total number of eventual genetic defects before they are bred out is only 20% of the number of cancers.

While there may be disagreement regarding the toxicity of Pu, it is accepted that it is far more dangerous than Uranium when released into the environment, especially when inhaled.

Anyone know what the elevation at the Fukushima plant is? The tsunami reached 6 miles inland or more, surprising many Japanese who thought they were a safe distance away from the coast. Perhaps they didn't anticipate that much flooding.

I would guess that they didn't expect the problems such widespread damage would cause. They had generator backups in case of power failure, and battery backups for those if they failed. They probably thought the possibility of needing backups for the batteries was remote.

IME, this is not unusual for this kind of rare and catastrophic event. Experience is the best teacher...but there are things we just don't have a lot of experience with.

It's literally right at sea level virtually on the beach. Although obviously the buildings are slightly elevated. Apparently they had designed it to survive a tsunami of up to 6m. Which unfortunately was nowhere near enough.

It is built right on the ocean so they can take condenser cooling water directly from the ocean and then dump the heated water right back into the ocean without the need for cooling towers. The cooling water would be dumped on the leeward side of the direction of the current and on the other side of a seawall that extends out several meters into the ocean. If you enlarge the map from Rethin's link above you can see the seawall.

Of course the seawall was built to create a small sheltered port for barges and small boats.

Most countries do not have environmental laws that prohibit dumping heated water directly into the ocean. The environmental impact would be quite small because the heat would quickly dissipate in the Pacific Ocean. Only a small area around the outtake would be constantly above normal temperature.

Ron P.

Looking at the satellite images the sea walls seem to form an inlet system, probably to strain debris out of the water. The discharge is north and south next to the coastline. Different parts of the plant are at different heights above MSL but there's nothing to say a tsunami cannot run uphill. Google earth is good for checking the heights at different spots and you can check the surrounding countryside as well.



I believe that the distance between where the tsunami traveled 6 miles inland and the Fukushima plant is located is about 40 km. Where Sendai (sp) is located is a heavy farming area that is very flat.

It would seem that the designers of the plant did not take account a tsunami when they sited the plant and generators. But hindsight is hard to compete with. You cannot think of everything. That is why so many rules are written in blood.

According to NHK World, they designed the plant to withstand a tsunami of up to 6 metres.

That's 20 feet - seems like it should have been enough, at least for this tsunami. The reports I've seen said the tsunami brought waves of 9-12 feet.

Perhaps they didn't consider the effect a tsunami would have on other infrastructure they were dependent on?

NHK reported waves up to 7.2 meters. But they didn't say where that was.

7.3 metres was the highest guage recording but it is known that was nowhere near the highest level as towns that were designed to be safe from 10m high tsunamis are now no longer there.

When the energy of a tsunami reaches the coast the 'pile up' of water depends on the local topography.

- in a flat terrain the wave will just go on 'flat' inland till equilibrium is achieved somewhere ... inland... and then turn and slide back into the to sea again
- but if the wave hits a steep cliff-face plunging into the sea - the energy will 'pile up and up' an materialize as a much 'higher' wave swamping higher grounds ........ and this I guess is why those nukes are located at a faulty asl level - in hindsight that is. The Japanese underestimated the mechanics of an extremely long wave tsunami - 6 m is 'nothing' we have just learned.

Paal: I think you misunderstand wave mechanics. A gradually sloping topography amplifies wave heights, and steep one does not. A tsunami is basically a fast (and quasi-cyclic) flood. Think of the sea level as rising falling over a period of ten minutes to maybe a half hour. If the sea edge is vertical, it is simply a raising and lowering of the water level. If the slope is gentle, then a huge amount of water must travel inland in order to adjust to the new temprary sealevel. So the currents strength will be stronegr as the slope gets lower.

They did of course use a design tsunami, which was lower than what they got. But, as far as can be discerned from scattered news reports, the reactors themselves handled the earthquake and tsunami just fine, but the ememgency cooling system located outside the building didn't.

The tsunami topped walls 10 metres high in places. Estimates that highest level was about 14 metres although that was not near plant. Broken gauges mean they have no accurate readings from worst hit areas but they do know that tsunami defence walls 10m tall were swamped in multiple places.

Heights can/will be determined afterwards. Geologists can look at the evidence on the ground to map how high the waves ran up. But I don't expect this will happen until the disaster response has been finished. Of course the data in the water where the gauges were overtopped, will be incomplete.

Some of the height reports are maximum readings not maximum height, the gauges didn't go that high. For comparison, after the boxing Day tsunami one dive shop owner went back to his shop to see what he could salvage. He found his dive computer. These start recording automatically at the start of the dive. He was able to check the maximum depth recorded for the wave passing over his shop - 60'.


Both of the plants are literally right on the ocean, so I guess the elevation is whatever they built up the land to when they built the place..


Yesterday I looked them both up in Google Earth - not that you can tell all that much.

Google Earth has a display, at the bottom, ov the ground height under your cursor.


I recall reading the elevation was some 45 feet above sea level. With all the news out there, I can't point to the source of that number...

E. Swanson

It's the lowest level of critical infrastructure I'd be more interested in. If reports are accurate the emergency generators may have continued to run for some length of time after the tsunami hit.

The sea is the lowest level. Thats where they dump the heat from the condensers. If they can't push seawater through the condensers, they can't cool the reactor effectively.

"The sea" is not a level as that varies - a lot in a tsunami... If you mean "sea level" was the critical lowest level then that's not correct if the plant was designed to assume that the actual sea level could be up to 6 metres higher in a tsunami.

Yeah....you totally missed what he was saying

The point I was making was that we actually do have a value for the lowest level of critical infrastructure if the NHK report was correct. It was 6 metres above nominal sea-level.

I think they didn't have a very good view of "critical infrastructure" then, given all the water handling equipment and some building-related infrastructure (HVAC units and such, maybe more?) are gone. Either that, or the water was a LOT higher than 6M.

Certainly it topped 10m high walls just a little further north. So quite possibly it was hit by a 10 metre plus tsunami. But I have only heard the 6m design figure from one source (some professor on NHK) so it may not be correct.

Since wave height can vary tremendously according to location and geography, both above and below sea level, it's hard to know much. Too many unknowns.

Tsunami overlap increased damage

The multiple tsunami caused by Friday's Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake wreaked enormous destruction not only because of the quake's massive energy and proximity but also because they hit coastal areas from various angles and overlapped, experts said.

As the fault rupture was 500 kilometers long in a north-south direction, "tidal waves hit the coastal area from different directions and crossed over each other, increasing [the tsunami's] destructive power," said Tomoya Shibayama, professor of ocean engineering at Waseda University. "They also became higher after currents threw them back and forth against the sea floor in coastal areas where the water was more shallow."

Since the tsunami was generated by a spatially distributed source, constructive interference could cause wave heights to be substantially higher at some points on the shoreline.

Yeah . . . You totally, TOTALLY missed what Hot Air was saying: The heat-exchangers are a critical, non-optional part of the plant. If they fail, the plant fails.

The heat-exchangers are at sea-level.

Thus it matters only little where the reactor vessel is.

So you are saying that they designed the plant to survive a 6 metre tsunami but forgot about the heat exchangers and even the slightest bit above nominal sea-level would have taken them out of commission- never mind 6 metres?

I am saying you not only have to protect the core--which they DID do--but you ALSO have to ensure at least one effective means of getting heat out of the core and shed (that is, keeping the pumps and the heat exchangers working)--which they did NOT do.

Failing to protect heat-shedding means the core overheats out-of-control and you ultimately lose it anyway--which is what is happening.

I think what they forgot to do is protect the diesel engines that (indirectly) power the pumps--leading to loss-of-cooling followed by core destruction. (The core of at least one unit was already at least partially destroyed by Saturday morning, else no cesium would have leaded and been measured).

If there is a post-mortem investigation, I suppose we will find out if this is correct.

think what they forgot to do is protect the diesel engines that (indirectly) power the pumps--leading to loss-of-cooling followed by core destruction.

The pumps were supposedly protected by tsunami walls. unfortunately these walls weren't high enough. The protection was supposed to be up to 6m according to information broadcast by NHK. NHK also saying that the tsunami was believed to have been 10m tall at plant.

So the designers didn't "forget" to protect. They just didn't provide enough protection...

I recall reading the elevation was some 45 feet above sea level.

I recall hearing 15meters, which is the same thing. The pictures I saw showed the buildings on a coastal bluff. Most likely the cooling water intakes got fouled by tsunami debris. I heard the diesel gen sets were running when the tsunami hit. On hindsight, it would have been prudent to have diesel gen shutdown during tsunami. I think the reactor buildings themselves were designed for the 15M event, but obviously the emergency cooling system wasn't.

In NC we have two nuclear reactors near Wilmington NC. I think they sit only about a mile or two at most from the ocean on the flat alluvial plain in Southport, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic. In light of what has happened in Japan, this seems monumentally stupid. Yes? ... Flooding from hurricanes... ??

For a hurricane there should be warning of a day or two in advance giving them time to shut down the reactor. For Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant they had about 10 minutes from the earthquake to when the first tsunami arrived.

"I also just read that this plant was just extended another 10 years in Feb after running for 40 years. Maybe letting these plants operate for so long isn't the best idea." - daddylonglegs

NRC OKs Palo Verde license extension

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station would be safe to remain open for 20 years beyond the existing licenses for its three reactors."

Jan. 14, 2011

I am interested in the thought experiment of how Public Utilities of New Mexico could replace its electricity it received from nuclear plants, particularly from Palo Verde in Arizona>


Public Utilities of New Mexico (PNM) owns all or part of eight power plants, seven of which are in New Mexico. Strategic investment in these plants has given PNM a diverse fuel mix, which provides PNM customers reliability and rate stability. PNM's power plants are fueled by coal (41 percent of total), nuclear power (16 percent), natural gas (22 percent) and wind (8 percent). The remainder of PNM's power comes from power purchases.


PNM is proud to be one of several owners of Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, largest nuclear plant in the United States. Located about 50 miles west of Phoenix in Tonopah, Ariz., Palo Verde generates 3,810 megawatts of energy. The plant, which has been online since 1986, services homes throughout the Southwest and meets nearly 20 percent of the power needs of PNM customers.

PNM's investment in Palo Verde, and the competitive cost of the power it produces, is one of the main reasons PNM electric rates are so affordable. Today, PNM electric rates remain below the regional and national average.

There is no contribution from solar (unless it is hidden in the 'power purchases' percent.

So, using this disaster as a forcing function to jump start thinking about energy policy in the U.S., how could PNM and NM replace the ~20% of nuclear electricity consumed?

Some possibilities:

Other source contributions to make up for the loss of 20% of nuke power to NM:

Wind/ Solar/ Efficiency Improvements&Doing with less

+4% +10% -6%
+8% +6% -6%
+2% +8% -10%

Of course coal and/or NG usage could be increased as well.

This type of analysis could be applied to the premise that we keep Palo Verde's trons and cut our coal-fired electricity by 20% or whatever.

These types of considerations are what we should prod our governments to undertake.

"These types of considerations are what we should prod our governments to undertake." - Heisenberg

How could they be prodded? Even if they could be prodded, how much real control of energy policy do governments have?

I am interested in the thought experiment of how Public Utilities of New Mexico could replace its electricity it received from nuclear plants, particularly from Palo Verde in Arizona" - Heisenberg

What timeframe? What is the vision? Goals? Milestones? Constraints?

Rate Crimes

All of your questions (and more) would be asked in by a logical group of critical thinkers to build frame an analysis effort.


I was offering New Mexico as a microcosm of the U.S. wrt to idea of doing without nuclear power.

Due to the plethora of sunshine, nearby wind resources, nearby coal, NG, geothermal, the presence of several national labs etc...if we can't make it work here, it is hard to see where else it can be made to work (with the possible exception of the Pacific NW with the hydro power resources they have there).


One analysis might be to posit a plan for Palo Verde going offline anytime due to a catastrophe.

Another analysis might assume Palo Verde is available through 2026 then shut down...etc.

Goals: First we would need to determine how much energy we need, and how much we would like to have (Threshold and Objective values).

Constraints: Legion. How long will the coal lasts? The NG? How much will additional wind and solar cost in RDT&E, production and installation, and Operations & Maintenance?

Do we care at all about GHG/Climate change and pollution in this analysis, or not so much?

Do we have sufficient trained workers, technicians, etc appropriate to build out to our goals?

Determining these 'framing questions' is non-trivial in effort and vital to proceed with an the rest of an analysis.

"Another analysis might assume Palo Verde is available through 2026 then shut down" - Heisenberg

Please see the message at the top of this thread . . .

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station would be safe to remain open for 20 years beyond the existing licenses for its three reactors."

The plant will operate for several more decades beyond its original sunset date.

I notice that you omit 'vision'. I consider this to be the primary, essential consideration. It is because we now lack a coherent vision that all attempts at 'solutions' fail.

Rate Crimes,

You caught me!

During my strategic planning experiences (both as a organization member and a facilitator), the Vision Statement process was not my favorite deal...

A Vision is defined as 'An Image of the future we seek to create'.


From Wikipedia article on 'Strategic Planning'


Vision: Defines the desired or intended future state of an organization or enterprise in terms of its fundamental objective and/or strategic direction. Vision is a long-term view, sometimes describing how the organization would like the world to be in which it operates. For example, a charity working with the poor might have a vision statement which reads "A World without Poverty."

A Vision statement outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future. It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria.

Many people mistake the vision statement for the mission statement, and sometimes one is simply used as a longer term version of the other. The Vision should describe why it is important to achieve the Mission. A Vision statement defines the purpose or broader goal for being in existence or in the business and can remain the same for decades if crafted well. A Mission statement is more specific to what the enterprise can achieve itself. Vision should describe what will be achieved in the wider sphere if the organization and others are successful in achieving their individual missions.

Some examples from http://www.samples-help.org.uk/mission-statements/vision-statements.htm\

To achieve sustainable growth, we have established a vision with clear goals.

Profit: Maximizing return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
People: Being a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
Portfolio: Bringing to the world a portfolio of beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy peoples; desires and needs.
Partners: Nurturing a winning network of partners and building mutual loyalty.
Planet: Being a responsible global citizen that makes a difference.

"Tenet will distinguish itself as a leader in redefining health care delivery and will be recognized for the passion of its people and partners in providing quality, innovative care to the patients it serves in each community."

From other parts of the Internets:

BP operates at the frontiers of the energy industry. We use world-class assets, technology, capability and know-how to meet energy needs and deliver long-term value.

The ingenuity and determination of our people have brought new resilience to BP. From deep beneath the ocean to complex refining environments, from remote tropical islands to next-generation biofuels– a revitalized BP is driving greater efficiency, sustained momentum and business growth.-BP 2009 Annual Report to Stockholders

From The Environmental Defense Fund:

Imagine a mother in inner-city Chicago sending her young children to a neighborhood park—
without the dangers of crime, asthma from polluted air, or sickness from the contaminated soil...

Imagine a father and daughter fishing in a nearby lake and eating the healthy and plentiful fish
they catch, without the fear of PCBs, dioxins, and other poisons...

Imagine families living near a factory, having a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect
their health, safety, and environment...

Imagine a worker actively participating in decisions that protect his or her health and safety,
including reducing the use of toxic chemicals in the work place...

Imagine a manufacturer saving money and reducing pollution and long-term liability by
integrating pollution prevention into the core business practices at a factory...

Imagine a household buying safe and affordable locally-produced foods...

Imagine yourself choosing between a number of affordable, efficient, and environmentally-sound
transportation options...

Imagine agency officials moving beyond oversight and beginning to optimize the connections
between business, environment, and community...

Imagine a community where many diverse sectors of society work together towards shared
solutions to community problems...

I invite you to write a vision statement for a study on future energy demand/supply courses of action/Alternatives.

Do either TOD or TAE have Mission and Vision statements?


There was a time when all three reactors of Palo Verde were down at the same time. In Arizona we burnt more natural gas. Expensive, but a temporary expediency. I don't know what New Mexico did. But I bet you can look it up.

Robert a Tucson


Thanks, I will keep this in mind in future info searches.

One would think that PNM has a contingency plan in place for the sudden loss of Palo Verde trons.

However, once upon a time in my career, I have been flabbergasted to find out that there was no modeling/simulation/analysis/documentation to provide a credible basis for an 'on-the-shelf' contingency action of the utmost import. Actually, it has been more than once I have run into this...

I have learned to demand analysis documentation of any 'plan' I see anymore...because sometimes there is no there there.

I can't imagine they wouldn't have thought of a situation that involved flooding?

Well actually they did. The plants were surrounded by a seawall designed to stop a tsunami. The problem was the design did not cover a very large tsunami of the present magnitude. A huge mistake.

Also, the diesel generators & engines driving the pumps were built on the low lying ground & not raised in case of a wall breach by water.They flooded & failed to pump coolant - meltdown.

Tsunami's are not uncommon in Japan. Surely if you build a nuke on the coast in a known tsunami zone you build adequate tsunami protection.

As is often the case, a relatively inexpensive solution such as building higher tsunami walls to protect against a worse case scenario was not performed, leading to massive, catastrophic & horrendously expensive failure.

I believe they planned for the most likely situations, up to an 8.6 earthquake and a 6m tsunami. This event exceeded both of those by quite a bit.

"Meltdown" is actually not a precise term, so yes, you can have a partial meltdown.

Basically, it means that reactor core is damaged by overheating. That could be a little damage, or a lot.

Partial nuclear meltdown "no disaster,": expert

Many people think of China Syndrome or Chernobyl situation, but it need not be catastrophic.

I think the term meltdown is a very poor term for this.Probably some parts of some fuel rods were overheated, leading to some volatile fission products being driven out of them. Meltdown, implies the rods and nearby material melt into somesort of selfheating lava, which if it gets hot enough can melt through containment. There is a huge difference in the severity. I'd say the difference is between a PR disaster with little direct health effects, and a real disaster.

There is a huge difference in the severity. I'd say the difference is between a PR disaster with little direct health effects, and a real disaster.

Just a PR disaster? You don't think it would still cost hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs?

They were planning to close down the reactor anyway (at the end of March, apparently); the melt-down will make the decommissioning much less routine and cost a hundred billion yen more, but I don't tend to associate 'disaster' with the sort of thing that costs only money, even quite large amounts of money.

The Wikipedia article says Unit 1 was granted a 10-year extension last month.

You don't think it would still cost hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs?

I don't think the severely affected units will ever be refurbished and run again. At this point, using sea water I think that may be inevitable, even if no core damage had ocurred. But, if a catastrophic release can be avoided then the damage is mostly pyschological and reputational. If a catastrophic release happens, and major areas are declared unfit for habitation -or have to undergo radiological cleanup first, that would be a huge economic hit. I don't think the general population will get large enough doses to be significant (i.e. they have been removed from the vicinity).

Nuclear reactor cores for dummies:

The heart of the reactor is the core which is an assembly of "fuel rods' and control rods. The fuel (U-235, PU, etc) is an unstable isotope (or mix) which decays, releasing energy and particals. The particals smash into other atoms of fuel, releasing energy and particals, which smash into more fuel atoms, releasing more energy and particles.....and so forth: a chain reaction. Left uncontrolled, the fuel will continue to consume itself at an increasing rate. In order to allow control of this process, 'moderators' are used, primarily fuel rods and water. The moderator (a stable substance) intercepts particles of decay and limits the chain reaction. Water removes the heat as well (which is used to generate electricity).

The fuel rods and control rods are designed to fit together in a precise geometry to limit/control the chain reaction ongoing in the fuel. Note: This process cannot be "turned off". The chain reaction continues but is reduced to a low, manageable level by the control rods and water (moderators) and there is still heat produced which must be continuously removed.

Meltdown/partial meltdown:

If part of this assembly is damaged (melted), the precise geometry of a portion of the assembly is destroyed. The control rods' role as a moderator is diminished in this area and precise control of the chain reaction is lost. Depending on the level of damage, the chain reaction can build on itself resulting in further damage to intact parts of the core....and so-forth. Meltdown commences. If the damage is slight, continuing to supply water to the core will cool the damaged part of the core and hopefully moderate the chain reaction. The chain reaction in the damaged part of the core cannot be stopped, only prevented from further damaging the intact parts of the core assembly; a standoff. In this case, boron is being added to the water to increase its effectiveness as a moderator.

While this is a greatly simplified explanation, I hope it helps folks understand the fix these folks are in. This is a 'fire' that cannot be easily extinguished, only, hopefully, prevented from spreading.

A short primer on control rods

In order to allow control of this process, 'moderators' are used, primarily fuel rods and water.

You mean "control rods and water," right?

Yeah, sorry. Thanks!

Following shutdown by complete insertion of the control rods there is relatively little continued production of heat due to continued nuclear fission. The continued production of heat is due to the decay of radioactive fission products. This is about 7% of reactor power at first and then decreases at a rate which depends on the relative proportions of different fission product isotopes.


This is about 7% of reactor power at first and then decreases at a rate which depends on the relative proportions of different fission product isotopes.

Just thinking off the top of my head here. So Fukushima I – 1 has an electric output of 430 MW, call it a round 1000 MW thermal (I guess it's a bit more than that). With the full insertion of control rods, there remains 7% or ~70 MW of heat to dissipate. The latent heat of vaporization of water is 2.5 MJ/kg (ignoring energy to boil), so we get through 28 kg of water per second, or 100 tonnes an hour!

Seawater is around 3.5% salt, so using seawater is going to deposit 3.5 tonnes of salt per hour. Wow, is this even remotely right?

Okay, so I read Merrill's link now. The ~7% is the instantaneous rate. After a day it's more like 0.4%, so leaving 4 MW to cool, leaving behind around 200 kg of salt per hour.

The term "meltdown" isn't one that has a rigorous definition, but I guess the worst case is that the core melts a hole in the bottom of the containment vessel, and that would release massive amounts of radioactivity into the environment.

My understanding is that they believe that the cores have partially melted, but the containment vessel has not been breached.

And used for a similar reason something you talk about a late nights with a nice girl, "I promise it is perfectly safe" ...


From what I have read the difference between a partial and complete meltdown is the following. A partial means that the top of the fuel rods became exposed to the air from a loss of cooling fluid. This results in a rapid rise in temperature and the rods begin to fall apart. They flake and slowly disintegrate. If the cooling fluid can be brought back up above the top of them then you can sometimes stop the rise in heat and thus the meltdown. No guarantees obviously. A full meltdown is a complete loss of cooling fluid or enough of it that the temperature rise boils off the rest of it and any other that you are pumping into to containment vessel. Eventually the temperature reaches the point that the stainless steel vessel melts and the molten fuel rods are lost to the environment. This will also result in atmospheric emissions as well as ground contamination. Very bad news. This may not be exactly correct but I think it is close.


I'd like to get a little more information about the containment system there.

As I understand it, what blew off in the explosion yesterday was a thin roof (ie, weather protection, not radiation protection) over the refuelling gallery where the cranes, etc. are housed.

Is there a "containment roof" (ie, heavy rebar and concrete) still above the reactor vessel? Or is the vessel now essentially exposed to the sky?

I am sure that someone can pull up a schematic of the design, but they had one on the news a night or two ago and, if I remember correctly, it is your latter comment. The actual vessel is now exposed to the air. It is a 6" stainless steel container. If this melts through then you have the meltdown. The current emmissions are steam venting that is being done deliberately to lower pressure in the containment vessel. If you don't do that then something blows.

The plant is a GE Mk 1 Boiling Water Reactor.
The reactor vessel is encased in a pear shaped steel and concrete containment.
It sits at the bottom of the building that blew up. That structure, the secondary containment, is really just a weather shell to protect the piping, wiring and access/maintenance equipment that surrounds the reactor.
It is consequently quite probable that the TEPCO claims that the containment is still intact are true. However, the piping leading to the reactor and the reactor controls may not be working well, if at all, after the blast. That may explain the really unprecedented decision to flood the secondary containment with sea water, which of course will wreck any machinery. It may be their only hope for getting cooling water into the reactor.

That explosion was quite energetic, with the visible shock wave and all. Could that be simply hydrogen that built up inside the "shed" or something else?


The Hydrogen/Oxygen reaction is quite energetic.

Witness the power of the Space Shuttle Main Engines.

Instead of saying 'or something else' it would be more useful to readers for you to state exactly what you are thinking.

If you mean to imply that the nuclear fuels in the steel reactor containment vessel exploded, please say so.

If the reactor core with the rod assemblies etc exploded, one would think there would be quite a lot of radiation.

theoretically 'or something else' could be rupture of a steam-pipe or -vessels , for instance, from a rookie's POV..

Bit harsh, he may simply not be a nuclear engineer and thus has little idea about what other possible reactions could cause a similar explosion.

I agree. I may have read something into the comment that wasn't there. I therefore apologize for any hurt feelings.

Very equitable ;-)

Note the steam pressure is a function of temperature, and if they vent pressure that means the core temp is moderated by boiling of the water, and once the water runs out temps can rise uncontrollably. They pretty much HAVE to have some sort of flow into the vessel or I assume it will boil dry in a race with the decaying fission products to see which runs out first.

One would expect a final set of high-pressure ports to force water into the reactor if needed, and some very robust tubing. I assume that is what is being used, and it's probably working fine.

Some may remember a gas explosion up East last year, caused by improper purging of lines. The damage from that looked similar to this shell explosion -- the building shell gone, but the structure still standing strong. While yesterday I assumed a steam explosion due to the growing cloud of steam, it does seem that hydrogen could have been the cause. It would imply either the containment is leaking, though, or the venting was not very well routed and disbursed.

boiling salt water will leave behind a lot of salt (and other stuff)...I wonder if that is rapidly changing the heat transfer?

Harder to boil salt water. So salt water has a higher heat capacity. But I envision they are continuously flowing sea water on there to take away heat.

As with "meltdown", the term "containment" is subject to interpretation which is leading to some confusion. Here is what I think is the commonly accepted technical use of the term: PRIMARY containment is the reactor vessel. It is a heavy walled vessel containing the fuel rods and operating around 1000 psig. The SECONDARY containment is a stout steel reinforced concrete structure meant to contain, within limits, any breech of the primary containment. The structure that blew up appears to be a weather enclosure built over the secondary containment. This is a thin walled structure capable of confining just enough of the hydrogen that was vented into and out of, or through, the secondary containment that it reached it's lower explosion limit in air and ignited. The press has widely reported that the "containment vessel" or "secondary containment" blew up. This would be a very bad deal. Instead, it was the weather cover - bad enough but not, as yet catostropic.

This story as spun by the media and various officials is nonsense. The video of the explosion shows that it was 1) very powerful and 2) produced a gray concrete powder plume. A subsequent close up of the unit 1 building shows that it was more than just the outer shell that was blown off and the concrete containment building is heavily damaged.

There was a hydrogen explosion at unit 1 that originated in the reactor core. For some stupid reason this is being downplayed and misrepresented. Perhaps some politicians are afraid of losing votes. There will not be any Chernobyl style meltdown due to the design of these reactors and there is no need to avert some hypothetical panic.

I think if the actual reactor core was involved in the explosion, the amount of radiation detected near the plant would have been hundreds of times greater than reported. IMO the lack (so far) of a major release is evidence the core is intact.

No it doesn't.

The pic, linked above, shows it's just the weather shield that was blown out, and that the force wasn't even enough to damage the steel girders that supported it.

Saying 'the concrete containment building is heavily damaged' is NOT supported by the available evidence.

Here's a picture of the reactor containment vessel and overpressure torus under construction at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama. It's the same vintage as Unit 1 at the Fukushima I plant. This particular Browns Ferry reactor was a 1,065 MWe unit, while Fukushima Unit 1 produced less than half of that. I am not at all sure how the physical size scales in relation to the designed power output.

"How can you have a "partial meltdown" "

You can melt part of a core without melting all of it.

As to moving the backup generators higher, it might have kept them from getting swamped, but if the power lines washed out (and burying them would not have helped giving some of the obvious earth-moving the tsunami did) you would still end up with the same problem.

Looks like I'll be spending a lot of time on TOD again, like I did during the Macondo blowout. TOD can't be beat for informed comment. (The uninformed comment isn't bad, either.)

Back at you. How bad should we be worried and do I need to go get iodine pills or a dosimeter? I think we are at least in Deep Kimchee.

I don't know where you are, but I am assuming that you aren't in Japan. I wouldn't worry at all. Even if I were in Japan, I wouldn't worry unless I were in the general area of the plants in questions..

Perhaps, but I know for a fact Chernobyl was really found out by the Scandanavians. Their alarms went nuts and it was the fallout from Chernobyl when they checked it out. Strontium is fairly persistant no?

Containment was breached at Chernobyl, releasing large amounts of radioactivity, which continued for many days. That hasn't happened at any of the Japanese plants, as far as we know, and there doesn't seem to be any immediate threat that it will. It's much more like Three Mile Island than Chernobyl.

Yes, but Chernobyl was really a worst case kind of accident that was made worse by some of the design flaws of the reactor.

The amount of radiation released so far is miniscule by comparison, and even if there were a worst-case kind of incident, we have thousands of miles of ocean separating us from Japan.

If they have to entombed at least one of these reactors, will they have to leave it entombed forever? I'm reading things just now that suggest they may have to start cementing soon.

I can't think of a reason why they would need to start cementing anything soon.

Remember that at Chernobyl, the reactor vessel lid was blown off, and the reactor core was exposed to the elements. I remember reading accounts of Cherenkov radiation being seen (a beam of blue light directed up into the sky).

Nothing even remotely similar has happened in Japan. The primary concern is getting everything into a stable state.

And the key point for Chernobyl was that it remained critical for a long time, thereby cranking out massive heat from fission while it melted itself and everything around into slag and gases. A 1GW heater in a volume that small will get host fast.

These reactors are probably cooling by the hour, either with control rods seated or the core flooded with boric acic (or both). There should be no ongoing fission, just a lot of residual heat from decay products.

Note that a 1GW reactor would have more than 50MW of initial residual heating from decay products, if I have the math right. If that drops almost to zero in a few days on an exponential curve, that means the first day is MUCH more dangerous than the second, and after that it should be much less worry. For those who have worked around 1000hp motors, even a 1MW residual would be nothing to sneeze at, so water will need to flow for quite some time.

Hopefully it all gets boring today. :)

And the key point for Chernobyl was that it remained critical for a long time, thereby cranking out massive heat from fission

Even if Chernobyl had had no fission going on, the graphite moderator was burning, and would have supplied enough heat to cause a huge problem. So they were in really bad shape no matter what happened with the reactions.

The estimate for the immediate post fission heating for this system is about 15MW. The trailoff is slower than exponential, as the faster decaying isotopes are rapidly depleted, but the ones with longer half lives contribute longer. The wikipedia article had heat production decaying as time to the minus .2 power.

The trailoff is slower than exponential, as the faster decaying isotopes are rapidly depleted, but the ones with longer half lives contribute longer.

This is a generic behavior. Radioactive waste-dumps show a mix of decay constants. Nominally, radioactive material will show a single Poisson emission rate, leading to an exponential decline over time. But when the different radioactive materials get combined, the Geiger counter will pick up this mixture of rates, and the decline will turn from an exponential to a fat tail distribution See the red curve below.

A maximum entropy mix of decay rates (where a high decay rate indicates a potentially more energetic state) will generate the following half-life decline profile:

P(t) = 1/(1+k*t)

where k is the average of the individual rates. This is essentially time to the -1 power, faster than the time to the -.2 power that EoS quotes.

As you can see, the combined activity shows a much larger equivalent half-life since the tail has so much meat in it. In the limit of a full dispersion of rate constants, the average half-life will actually slowly diverge as the log of infinity. However, it never reaches this because the slowest decay rate will eventually dominate and that will not diverge.

This derivation was taken from The Oil ConunDrum.

Actually - Norwegian sheep in the worst struck areas will still undergo Becquerel-testings before slaughter.Apparently cesium is the ugly substance.

Yes. There is a danger of concentration of fallout being concentrated by a major local preciptation event. The washout isn't uniform, but weather dependent.

I thought radioactive Cesium was not a huge risk because it reacts with water.
Radiocaesium does not accumulate in the body as effectively as many other fission products (such as radioiodine and radiostrontium). As with other alkali metals, radiocaesium washes out of the body relatively quickly in sweat and urine. However, radiocaesium follows potassium and tends to accumulate in plant tissues, including fruits and vegetables.

Fox had Sen McConnell on and ask him about nuclear energy and how this would be viewed by Americans. The first thing he mentioned was the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Last time I checked, the interstate was still full of traffic.

Whatever the case, Japan is going to have some serious reduction in electrical production for what could be a long time. I assume they'll need to import gas or coal or oil to fuel generators.

Doesn't Japan own about 1 trillion in US debt? Is it time to cash in?

Given that we are now having problem selling debt at the levels previous levels, much less the larger levels needed as govt expands spending, and the fact tax receipts by the US govt plummeted, we have large problems coming.


1. Federal Reserve and US Intragovernmental Holdings - $4.806 trillion
That’s right, the biggest holder of US government debt is the United States itself. The Federal Reserve system of banks and other US intragovernmental holdings account for a stunning $4.806 trillion in US Treasury debt. And with recent announcments from the Fed, potentially another $1 trillion may be added to its balance sheet... About a decade ago, the total government holdings were "only" $2.5 trillion.

2. Mutual Funds - $769.1 billion
According to the Federal Reserve, mutual funds hold the second largest amount of US debt compared to any other group. Including money market funds, mutual funds and closed-end funds, this group of investments manages approximately $769.1 billion of US Treasury securities.

3. China (Mainland) - $739.6 billion
4. Japan - $634.8 billion
5. State and Local Governments - $550.3 billion
6. Pension Funds - $456.4 billion
7. Other Investors - $413.2 billion
8. Oil Exporters - $186.3 billion
Big oil means big money... and big investment into US debt. Included in the group of oil exporters are Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria. The group combines for a total of $186.3 billion, up from $140.8 billion one year earlier
9. Caribbean Banking Centers - $176.6 billion
10. Brazil - $133.5 billion
11. Insurance Companies - $126.4 billion
According to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, insurance companies hold $126.4 billion in Treasury securities. This group includes property-casualty and life insurance firms.
12. United Kingdom - $124.2 billion
13. Russia - $119.6 billion
14. Depository Institutions - $107.3 billion
As of the fourth quarter of 2008, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors lists depository institutions as holding approximately $107.3 billion in US debt. This group includes commercial banks, savings banks and credit unions.
15. Luxembourg - $87.2 billion
A country slightly smaller than Rhode Island currently holds $87.2 in US government debt. Over the past 12 months, Luxembourg’s holdings have ranged between $66.1 billion and $104.7 billion.

Let's see... something happened underground that was anticipated but worse than expected. Safety procedures and equipment kicked in, as designed, but owing to a failure of equipment or procedures to cope fully, an explosive mixture of gas was released but not vented in a controlled way, causing an explosive blowout.

Macondo, meet Fukushima.

Well done, aardvark. You sum it up perfectly.

Doesn't Japan own about 1 trillion in US debt? Is it time to cash in?

Yes, Japan holds about $880B in US government debt. Like most bonds, you can't decide to "cash in" when you choose to. You get your principal back after the term of the bond, not before. At best, you can sell the bond to a third party.

Russia and the smaller (in terms of their economy) oil exporting countries already hold significant amounts of US debt, and may be reluctant to increase their holdings by anywhere near that much.

Japan is going to have some serious reduction in electrical production for what could be a long time.

Japan's nuclear plants provide about 35% of the country's electricity using 55 total reactors. How significant the loss in production is would seem to depend on what happens with the reactors further away from the epicenter and the largest tsunami effect.

I haven't seen any reports on the effects on the power grid itself. All the additional coal-fired generating capacity they can fuel doesn't do any good if the high-voltage distribution network in a region has been wiped out.

Does Fukushima count as ten reactors or two? If it is 10, that would be about 9% of the country's nuclear power, and 3% of its total electrical power.

Is there a Mark I reactor near you?

....the following 23 U.S. plants have GE boiling-water reactors (GE models 2, 3 or 4) with the same Mark I containment design used at Fukushima, according to the NRC's online database:

• Browns Ferry 1, Athens, Alabama, operating license since 1973, reactor type GE 4.

• Browns Ferry 2, Athens, Alabama, 1974, GE 4.

• Browns Ferry 3, Athens, Alabama, 1976, GE 4.

• Brunswick 1, Southport, North Carolina, 1976, GE 4.

• Brunswick 2, Southport, North Carolina, 1974, GE 4.

• Cooper, Brownville, Nebraska, 1974, GE 4.

• Dresden 2, Morris, Illinois, 1970, GE 3.

• Dresden 3, Morris, Illinois, 1971, GE 3.

• Duane Arnold, Palo, Iowa, 1974, GE 4.

• Fermi 2, Monroe, Michigan, 1985, GE 4.

• FitzPatrick, Scriba, New York, 1974, GE 4.

• Hatch 1, Baxley, Georgia, 1974, GE 4.

• Hatch 2, Baxley, Georgia, 1978, GE 4.

• Hope Creek, Hancock's Bridge, New Jersey, 1986, GE 4.

• Monticello, Monticello, Minnesota, 1970, GE 3.

• Nine Mile Point 1, Scriba, New York, 1969, GE 2.

• Oyster Creek, Forked River, New Jersey, 1969, GE 2.

• Peach Bottom 2, Delta, Pennsylvania, 1973, GE 4.

• Peach Bottom 3, Delta, Pennsylvania, 1974, GE 4.

• Pilgrim, Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1972, GE 3.

• Quad Cities 1, Cordova, Illinois, 1972, GE 3.

• Quad Cities 2, Moline, Illinois, 1972, GE 3.

• Vermont Yankee, Vernon, Vermont, 1972, GE 4.

Wow! Thanks for the list.
It looks like many of these are 40 years old too. Were they also designed to last 40 years?

Yes. At the point in time when these plants were licensed, the NRC issued 40-year licenses based on their analysis of the usable lifetime. A number of these have received 20-year license extensions, presumably reflecting the NRC's current belief that the principal components are good for at least that long.

TTBOMK, admittedly incomplete, and ignoring Three Mile Island, the largest problem that has been encountered in the US in considering the lifetimes for nuke plants has been tritium releases from leaking underground pipes. At least some of the license extensions have required the operators to upgrade their inspection program for buried pipes, and possibly to replace questionable pipes.

The tritium leak issue is attractive to the US legal mind, since it is easy to understand a simple, measurable non-compliance with a regulation.

It probably has nothing to do with reaction stability and overall safety.

We have some Brown's Ferry folks posting on AL.com but I doubt you will get any tech info there. I do remember this. I once charted a course for a fishing trip on a chart of the GOM off Mobile. The chart had 5 nuclear dumps listed on it. The captain said ,"don't worry" the sea is a good shield. I also saw that Bikini Atoll special. Nuked ships everywhere and yet a little distance away the radiation faded away. Of course we are comparing thermonuclear reaction to a core meltdown, but gamma rays are gamma rays, right? From what I understand, core meltdowns can be much worse for generating lethal fallout. Anyone know?

Partial meltdown likely under way at a second nuclear reactor in Japan

core meltdowns can be much worse for generating lethal fallout. Anyone know?

There is much much much more fissionable material in a reactor than a bomb. Gamma rays are bad because they have high penetration and can pass through several hundred meters of air. I think the main threat is getting radioactive material inside you, then even poorly penetrating radiation like alpha particles (which can't even penetrate the outer layer of your skin) can do harm if the source isotopes become part of your body.

This is probably as good a place for this as any.

Radiation hazards review:
Radioactive material: material containing radioactive isotopes of any sort.
Half life: the time it takes for half of a sample of radioactive isotopes to decay, releasing radiation and reducing the radiation release rate of the remaining sample.

Fallout: radioactive material dispersed from a nuclear incident (radioactive material release from a reactor or a nuclear weapon).

Radiation types:
Alpha: 2P2N, a fully ionized Helium nucleus. Easily blocked, only a hazard when an Alpha source is ingested. Very damaging.
Beta: High energy free electrons. Less easily blocked than Alpha particles, but also less damaging.
Gamma: High energy photons (shorter wavelengths than X-Rays). Very penetrating.
Neutron: Free neutrons, fairly penenetrating, cause of radioactive isotopes in reactor plant materials.

Light elements (Hydrogen, boron) are used to block neutron radiation. Heavy elements such as lead are used to block Gamma.

Radiation spreads like light, with the intensity of the radiation dose decreasing as the square of the distance from the source.

Fallout is the spread of a radiation source, so does not follow this rule but rather moves as the material the source is contained in moves, usually with wind or water movements.

Breaking: Nuclear emergency declared at Onagawa.

Reuters: IAEA says they were told by Japan that a state of emergency has been reported at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant.

Said to be precautionary due to abnormal levels of radiation recorded around plant. Cooling said to be functioning

More just in


According to our correspondent, Japanese authorities told the U.N. nuclear watchdog that the lowest state of emergency was reported by the operator at the Onagawa nuclear power plant.
"The alert was declared as a consequence of radioactivity readings exceeding allowed levels in the area surrounding the plant. Japanese authorities are investigating the source of radiation," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.

Some suggestions elevated radiation is from the Fukushima plant about 50 miles away to the south-west. Not sure whether I'd call that good news if true...

This from NHL news:

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

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

That's 2 meters of fuel elements exposed ==> damage to fuel rods very likely. Unit #3 was said to have been fueled with Mixed Oxide fuel...

E. Swanson

Water injected into troubled nuclear power plant to avert disaster

Large amounts of hydrogen were formed when the water injection procedure temporarily ran into trouble and they may have filled the upper part of a building housing the No. 3 reactor, Edano said at a news conference.
The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., commonly known as TEPCO, began injecting fresh water into the No. 3 reactor's core vessel on Sunday to deal with the problem that the tops of MOX fuel rods were 3 meters above the water inside.

But after trouble developed with a fresh water pump, the company was forced to pour seawater into it, a step that will eventually lead to the reactor's dismantlement. As a result, water levels began rising again, Edano said.

The fuel rod exposure ended at 3 pm, but when did it begin? How long were the rods exposed?

I heard "at least 2 hours" reported on NHK World.

BBC news reports an explosion at Fukushima 1, reactor #3, about 2:20 GMT. More reports of explosion at about 2:32 GMT, perhaps 2...

E. Swanson

NHK World in English is now on Ustream for the duration of the disaster


They are saying there is a 70% chance of another earthquake measuring 7.0 on Richter scale in next couple days. I think that complicates things quite a bit.

The upgrade to 9.0 from 8.8 means the quake was twice as strong as initially claimed (as Richter scale is logarithmic, which I just learned).

A 6.4 struck yesterday centred just 12 miles from the crippled reactor forcing them to suspend seawater pumping for a time. They really don't want any of the larger after-shocks getting that close :-(

Although the initial quake was rated at 9 it seems the fault let go at several points. Unless there's a bigger quake to come then it's hopefully unlikely at least that they will get aftershocks as high as the typical 1 magnitude below the main quake. Which is about the only piece of good news there is.

A geophysicist on CBS Sunday Morning said that the 1994 Northridge earthquake in San Francisco was on the order of 1/3000th the power of the one that hit Japan:


FYI Northridge is in LA (San Fernando Valley).

CNN said this quake was 1,000 times stronger than the one that hit New Zealand, and several hundred times stronger than the one that leveled Haiti.

Sorry, I was confusing it with the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, but the geophysicist was talking about the Northridge quake.

wt - Also significant: the NR quake shook for about 15 seconds. I've seen reports that the Japanese quake shook for up to 3 minutes. As I understand it even the high construction requirements in Japan aren't designed to handle such a high energy input.

As I understand it even the high construction requirements in Japan aren't designe

That could well be true. A major quake takes a few minutes to happen, the fault break only travels a couple of kilometers per second, and hundreds of kilometers of fault rupture. Fortunately Tokyo was a couple of hundred KMs away from the rupture zone, so the shaking intensity shouldn't have been too high.

This quake is generating a lot of aftershocks.

Talking head on CNN yesterday pointed out that this quake also had a foreshock - a 7.2 quake two days earlier that people assumed was the main event. Instead, it was a foreshadowing of the main event.

He said it's also possible that the 9.0 was a foreshock of an even larger quake. We won't know until the quakes die down.

A rule of thumb is to expect a quake one magnitude smaller within the next year. Which in this case, would be a very formidable 8.0 quake.

Hopefully though this time any subsequent quake will be at one location only and therefore won't reach magnitude 8. At least three widely separated locations on the fault let go during the big quake.

From the USGS, click on "List of Earthquakes on this Map"


had a foreshock - a 7.2 quake two days earlier

When I first heard there had been a big quake I had discounted it, because I figured it was just reguritated news of the 7.2!
I think the odds of this being a foreshock of something even bigger are very small (but not nonexistant). This probably released most of the stress within a couple of hundred kilometers. But changes in stress and possible weakening of nearby faults create the conditions for lots of smaller events to pop.

EOS – Though a geologist earth quake have never been my thing especially living in the Gulf Coast. But many years ago lecture explained the importance of “fore shocks”. Too long a tech explanation (which I don’t remember enough about anyway). The easiest was to envision the set up: an 18-wheeler parked on an incline with wooden blocks holding it in place. The potential energy of the truck is huge compared to the energy needed to knock the blocks out of the way. In Japan a rock mass may have provided such a lock up of major fault movement. When the blocking rock mass broke (the foreshock) it allowed the much larger movement to occur. That’s why there can be a reverse correlation between smaller faults, as often seen in CA, and the risk of a major fault. The small ruptures allow a continuous energy release. Thus a long period of quiet in an area may not indicate a low level threat.

I think the big problem is you don't know if an event is the main shock or a foreshock, except by waiting to see what happens. Usually a substantial event is the main one, but you can't be sure it hasn't paved the way for a bigger one to let loose.

I remember one time China called it and saved many lives. Then they missed the very next big one. Chickens and dogs were involved to some degree.

After a series of foreshocks, the Chinese government was able to successfully evacuate much of the populace before the 1975 Haicheng earthquake. However, the Chinese government failed to predict the July 28, 1976 M7.8 Tangshan earthquake, which put Chinese earthquake prediction research in doubt for several years. In the late 1990s, there were over thirty false alarms unofficially announced in China,[24] but the Chinese government claimed successful prediction of the November 29, 1999, M5.4 Gushan-Pianling Earthquake in Haicheng city and Xiuyan city, Liaoning Province.
I was in Korea at the time.

The quiet period on the San Andreas between Cajon Pass and Parkfield is now more than 150 years. It's locked up so tight that there are only occasional magnitude-1 quakes. It makes me nervous. (I heard that if it blows out, the glass (and stuff) will be five or six feet deep in downtown LA, even with the better construction methods now. I know that the rollers and other shock-absorbers under highrises don't make for a fun experience when things move. I want instant-acting dramamine....)

This makes me think about what nuclear power electricity production will be for the years to come. This disaster will really put a strain on the nuclear energy, political and technical to increase output the next few years.

Reminds me about the Wang/Dittmar bet:
( Original )
( Wang's website )
( Gail's update )
The latest data from ( IEA )indicates, only indicates, a close call for 2010 at 2600 TWhe for the bet.

Ps. as Dittmar already pointed out "and who will be responsible this time (more strikes? low oil price? warm weather, earth quakes? )"!!

And hopes for improvements for the situation for the people in Japan.

Nuclear Energy - Too expensive to meter.

I'm concerned about the spent fuel stored at Fukushima. Does anyone have any knowledge.

There was one commentator on TV last night who was concerned that the pool that contains the spent fuel may now be exposed to the elements. This is a somewhat different case from the reactor - you need to keep the spent fuel covered with water to keep it cooler, but my recollection is that you don't need to circulate the water (the amount of heat given off is a lot less). Nonetheless, you do need to keep the pool topped off, but that's an easier job than to keep water circulating through a reactor.

A fuel assembly of this size is expected to generate 10KW of heat after a year, and 1KW, after a year. So thats not too bad (a square meter of sunlight is roughly a KW). But right after shutdown it is more like 15MW, i.e. more than a thousand times hotter.

The New York times has a good graphic - The pools are near top of the reactor building, just below the part that go blown off in the hydrogen explosion.


I've seen no status on the water level in the pools post-explosion.


Thanks Paal, really puts the damage into perspective in a sobering way. Merrill's post below saying the death toll will likely exceed 10,000 is hard to grasp until you see the devastation.

This is hell.... fire, water, and now eternally glowing embers.

The one labeled "Fukushima" - is that the nuclear power plant?

Yes, that is Fukushima Plant 1 I believe.

That looks like Fukushima Daiichi.


Thanks. It does look like they had some damage from the tsunami, judging from the picture.

Welcome- and as you imply the tsunami didn't take the plant itself.

But have a look at this google-maps Fukushima image from the sky- look at the enormous amounts of cooling-water leaving the spillway in the lower portion of that picture. 'Those' amounts of water has to be provided in order for the nuke station not run amok - and as we all know, thats what they are struggling with.

For more than 2 days now - the energy running large cities are now piling up as heat inside small containers. THAT is THE problem, since there is no OFF-switch to stop the process.

They are not piling up the heat to run large cities inside them as the control rods are in place. If they were producing normal amounts of heat then we'd be talking about a much worse nuclear disaster.

I stand corrected, my fingers went faster than my brain ,so lets talk about a or two village then--

There was a fair bit of good cropland in those pictures. How long will it take to flush the salt water out of the soil?

The radioactivity may take longer to leave the local farmland.

The risk analysis wasn't done properly. It was entirely foreseeable that a tsunami would damage the cooling system and/or emergency generators on the East (ocean) side of the power plant(s).

There are many more power plants with the same vulnerability. A list of all Japanese power plants is on my website under "Energy Transition, Japan"


In the same way, we are not doing a proper risk analysis for peak oil

Quick risk analysis for M2 widening (Part2)

Sydney increases its oil vulnerability as strategic shifts in ME threaten global oil supplies

There will be electricity rationing. We should carefully follow how Japan will do this. Those electric car dreams will be gone by now.

There will be many other impacts on finance, oil & coal demand, manufacturing capacity etc.

This is example of how we need an exogenous crisis to put everyone in an 'ingroup'. Anything short of 'japan earthquake' on international scale and people will play the blame game.

But who can blame an earthquake? Events like that bring out humanities cooperative nature. Resource wars, pursuing monetary-linked environmental cues create too many ingroups. This situation (IMO) will show that if everyone is in the same boat, it gives us more opportunities for moving to (relatively) benign paths.

In addition, and in consideration of the moving contamination at Hanford Wa towards to Columbia River via groundwater, I sure hope the desperate future does not allow the mothballed nukes to be resurrected in Washington State now that we know earthquakes knock down cooling infrastructure. I remember cutting across the Olympic Peninsula from Aberdeen to Olympia last year and seeing the vacated cooling towers and feeling their ominous threat. Now I know that building such a facility near a subduction zone is absolute stupidity.

When there is a plan to deal with spent fuel beyond storing emitting/decaying rods on site, when there is a plan to deal with facilities owned by companies that may go broke or cut corners, when there is a plan to fix that pesky problem of human error, then.....and only then consider nukes. Otherwise, turn down the heat and lights, insulate, conserve, and raise the electricity rates through taxation to enforce the idea that such wonderful energy is not unlimited, is not a right, and is a gift to be used sparingly with great reverence. If society has to change to accommodate these limitations, then so be it. Clearly, this overbuilt complex modern era is not good for the world.

I see the belief expressed that a form of BAU is possible with everyone substituting ICE vehicles with plug-ins and know that when everyone plugs in at night it just isn't going to work. In reality, companies will just ramp up NG and coal and ask for Govt subsidies to build nukes.

Let's hope it is not as severe as the post implies. Chernobyl is on everyone's mind. How could it not be?


The political and social consequences of a great catastrophe are uncertain. Up until the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 Japan was making progress towards establishing a democratic parliamentarian government roughly on the British imperial style. After the 1923 earthquake, democracy lost ground and military reactionary forces took over completely.

Banyan: When the catfish stirs
Earthquakes, and the preparations for them, are metaphors for Japan’s malaise

We will still have two groups. The science and the anti-science groups.

Recall that Governor Piyush Jindal railed against spending for "volcano monitoring" in a nationally televised address about 2 years ago.

It turns out that this was part of the ARRA stimulus package in section H1321, which included:
"U.S. Geological Survey facilities and equipment, including stream gages, seismic and volcano monitoring systems and national map activities" $140,000,000

Maybe it is just a USA thing, but how will these two groups ever come together? We all know what earthquakes are euphemisms for in dog whistle language.

With a were all in this together approach there is no obstacle humanity couldn't over come and you see examples of it in times of extreme tragedy. After its passed though we always revert back to competition mode.Short of a second coming or an alien invasion its hard to imagine. .
could you make a political platform on cooperation?
Imagine all the people. . .
just a junkies dream

" This situation (IMO) will show that if everyone is in the same boat, it gives us more opportunities for moving to (relatively) benign paths."

From your keyboard to Gods/Mother's eyes.

Events like that bring out humanities cooperative nature. Resource wars, pursuing monetary-linked environmental cues create too many ingroups. This situation (IMO) will show that if everyone is in the same boat, it gives us more opportunities for moving to (relatively) benign paths.

I wish I could be so optimistic. I don't want to post the link because it would certainly start a flame war but I was just reading some comments posted by some inhuman beings on another site to the effect that Japan and the Japanese deserved this as pay back for Pearl Harbor.

Plus, I wouldn't want to spoil such a nice composed technical discussion thread by mucking it up and laying bare some of the ugly realities of human social dynamics and thereby allowing any emotion to seep in here... Engineering drawings of containment vessels and discussions of how this really isn't such a big deal are so much easier to moderate.

We can all continue to pretend that humans, their societies and their engineered civilizations are completely divorced from such things as their cultural history, religions and politics. Kumbaya!

We should carefully follow how Japan will do this.

The Japanese people are legendary for their cooperativeness. There is virtually no looting during events like this. Most other places will have to deal with anti-social human activty. So. I think Japan's coping will be a "best case" study.

Anybody that could try and recover from Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be able to deal with this. They are a resilient bunch.

I am wondering if this will be the stimulus for a new Japanese technological and industrial revolution and we had better watch out.


Could be, they have faced worse before.


"Speaking after Mr Kan, government spokesman Yukio Edano said that although seawater was being injected into reactor 3 at the Fukushima plant to cool it, gauges were not showing the water levels rising.

"We do not know what to make of this," he said."

Anyone here know what to make of this?

Sounds like a leak to me.

Either that, or broken gauges.

Or it could be boiling off as fast as they pump it in.

What role does the Leidenfrost Effect play in cooling an overheating core?

Yeah...hmmm. I mentioned elsewhere that boiling will leave behind all the salts. I would think the salts would be a huge hindrance to heat transfer, but the 'Leidenfrost' effect wouldn't matter as much--the conductance of the source is the same, the specific heat of steam is fairly large (half of liquid water), and the mobility of steam is enormous, so a layer of steam should be able to transfer heat pretty well. I have no concept of the engineering...too much steam would make the pumps inoperable? (or ineffective), but that isn't the same effect.

My bet is broken gauges. Level gauges for nice clean high spec boiler water are not likely to be robust under the current conditions. They can outpump any leak that is small enough not to be noticed.

They ought to be able to get a pretty good idea of level from comparing what they have pumped in to what they have vented. Adjust for what has to boil to raise the vessel to the measured pressure.

If I did the math right, 50MW of residual heat would vaporize about 20kg of water per second, so even a controlled steam release would be a pretty hefty flow. A flow to keep it cool without boiling would be maybe 10x that.

That looks like you did the math for atmospheric pressure rather than whatever the current conditions are in the reactor, but that is the order of cooling needed.

They aren't going to be taking sea water out, only venting steam/H2. A through flow of water would make it impossible to keep the boron concentration up.

That seawater flowrate is what they need to be able to push through the condensors to keep the temperature under control by normal means.

Yes, I assumed atmospheric pressure and not terribly cold or hot water. First order approximation.

From World Nuclear News:

In a media briefing at 8.00pm, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano stated that while initially the water level had risen, a gauge indicated that this had leveled off, despite ongoing seawater injection.

The Japan Atomic Industry Forum (JAIF) said that a malfunctioning guage means that water levels cannot be confirmed.


Not clear whether JAIF is saying that it is a malfunctioning gauge or just what the result would be if it were.

First, injecting seawater into a reactor is a desperation measure, as hot salt water will corrode anything. So that writes off a second reactor at the site, which was newer and larger than the first one.
Second, they also reported trouble with the venting valve on that unit.
It may be that the water is unable to rise in the reactor because there is a trapped bubble of gas, steam plus possibly hydrogen/oxygen from the decomposition of some of the water due to the overheating of some of the fuel. If that is the case, there is real risk of a similar explosion here as at reactor 1.

That would explain why they are fearing an explosion like what happened with Dai-ichi.

The reactor 3 they are referring to is at Fukushima daiichi. The one that had the hydrogen explosion was reactor 1 at daiichi.

ichi means 1.
3 would be san.

There are two plants (1 and 2) each with multiple reactors numbered 1-n thus the confusion.


See my post below. I tried to clear up the name confusion.

Yup, saw it after I posted. thanks.

A rupture due to being unable to vent fast enough is a lot more serious than an explosion of vented H2.

Over 10,000 deaths feared in quake-tsunami, nuclear crisis continues

The death toll from Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern and eastern Japan will likely surpass 10,000, the Miyagi police chief said Sunday as Japan grapples with widespread damage and a crisis at one of two affected nuclear plants.

via Reuters live blog:

A cooling system pump has stopped at Tokai No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki, Kyodo, according to area's fire department


This is interesting. This is a 3rd power plant.

According to Wikipedia

That plant is also a BWR built in 1978.

But its been scrammed since friday so it should be pretty cool by now.

Sorry hit wrong reply button.

Here is a better link on the 3rd power plant having cooling system problems.


Based on the TEPCO news release that Units 4, 5 & 6 were off line and they have full control of Unit 2, I'd expect they put these units back on line fairly quickly. The second unit at Three Mile Island operated while they decommissioned the unit that suffered the accident.

So I'll pretend I'm a scientist and make a bold prediction. Tepco will have these four units back on line before the Joint Coast Guard - MMS Investigation Team (JIT) issues its final report on the Deepwater Horizon accident now due July 27, 2011!http://www.deepwaterinvestigation.com/go/doc/3043/1025771/

They have a huge advantage over the U S, they have significantly more competent leadership!

The other reactors won't be back online anytime soon from what I've heard. Also they don't have full control of reactor 2 and are preparing for a pressure release as of last statement.

The level of shaking reached was such that the plants are assumed unsafe until proved otherwise. Some stations have been offline for over a year after lesser shaking in the past - and they weren't also hit by a tsunami.

Btw, have you looked at the before and after satellite images of the plant at http://www.vg.no/nyheter/utenriks/jordskjelv-i-japan/bilder.php ?

It's too bad they can't fire up at least one of the reactors to provide power for current operations and cooling for the other reactors.

Power is no longer the problem. Powering up the other reactors would blow them up given the state of catastrophic damage to the entire plant.

Based on the description of the flooding http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7637#comment-775825 I'm reminded of the Great Chicago Flood http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-flood-story,...

"They" said it would take years to extinguish the Oil Fires of Kuwait. It took nine months. "They" said the only way to kill the Macondo well was via the relief well. Lubricate and bleed killed it in early August.

I am underwhelmed by the track record of "They"!

P.S. The length of time available between now and July 27 is almost as much as between 12/7/41 and 5/1/42, the length of time it took to salvage and repair the battleship USS Nevada http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Nevada_(BB-36) and send her to the West Coast under her own power after being sunk at Pearl Harbor.

But in this case, "they" have a track record. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant shut down automatically in a quake. It took three and a half years before it was fully brought online. And that was a much less destructive quake, and a much more routine shutdown.

That is quite a misinformed opinion you have there. In 2002 there was a huge scandal involving TEPCO and Japanese regulators. TEPCO falsified safety reports, regulators were tipped off about it and took no action for 2 years.

Mr Minami will oversee an internal probe, which is expected to find that a secretive corporate culture and a bureaucratic aversion to inconvenience—in other words, standard Japanese business practices—are among the chief culprits.

I seriously doubt much has changed since then, but if you want to believe they have significantly more competent leadership then you go right ahead. The US and Japan seem to share about the same level of incompetence when it comes to leadership.

A very informative article


I am writing this text (Mar 12) to give you some peace of mind regarding some of the troubles in Japan, that is the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Up front, the situation is serious, but under control. And this text is long! But you will know more about nuclear power plants after reading it than all journalists on this planet put together.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.


Thanks for posting this, this is a very well-written piece that a layman /should/ be able to comprehend.

No hyperbole or hysteria, and the guy wasn't trying to blow sunshine up our skirts either.


There are a lot of significant-sounding caveats to this article in the comments, about both the writer's facts and his qualifications.

Yes. Reading the comments, I'm now unsure if his account should be trusted.

Stoneleigh's article is very well written; its is not as sanguine as the the blog in question (which is a good thing in my estimation), and she is very good about delineating the credible bad things which could happen vice the inaccurate comparisons that some others make to the Chernobyl incident.

A few basic bounding statements need to be established for the folks unfamiliar at all with nuclear reactors:

1) There is zero possibility of a blinding white flash (nuclear yield explosive such as would be produced by a nuclear weapon)

2) There is zero possibility of an incident with radiation dispersal consequences such as was experienced at Chernobyl; the reactor designs are different

3) The reactors which experience partial or greater core melting events are total write-offs. The clean-up, decommissioning, and disposal costs will be very great, but, excepting some further explosive events, these cleanup and disposal actions will not pose great risks to humanity, including the population of Japan.

4) The talk of the 'China Syndrome' etc. is likely unwarranted fear. TMI's core didn't melt into the Earth, and neither did Chernobyl's.

Thoughtful discussion is not nearly as heart-pumping as these screaming headlines on MSNBC:

Japan works frantically to contain crippled nuclear reactors (In large bold print).

Stoneleigh described her view that nuclear reactors do not have enough EROEI to be warranted as part of our future energy supply mix; she may be correct.

She also correctly notes that Japan does not have many options for producing energy.

She does not offer ideas on how Japan is to proceed; I don't blame her, for that question begs for logical, structured, detailed analysis.

One possible answer may be that Japan constructs new modern-design nuclear power plants able to withstand higher levels on the seismic energy scales, and built on higher ground as well. Perhaps designs that are more fail-soft, with cores located underground with a massive borated water tank above, set up to provide an emergency passive cooling loop.

Perhaps designs with modular smaller cores, so as to limit the scope of an excursion when any one core experienced abnormal conditions.

There are indeed engineering and policy possibilities in a continuum between BAU and 'no nukes, ever...turn them all off ASAP'.

One good thing which could come out of this disaster would be the beginnings of a mature, deliberate energy policy discussion in the U.S.

We could deactivate all our nuclear plants in a phased action over two decades and replace the capacity with wind and solar (and probably some more coal-fired generation), combined with cutting energy use through efficiency and doing less with less, but that would require rational planning and the concept of shared responsibility and sacrifice.

Since nuclear may be 'politically toast', this is a good time to analyze how much we can get from wind and solar and efficiency gains and doing less with less. King Coal can carry us along doing its share for some time (this is a U.S.-centric post), but that time is finite, although since it is likely longer than the lives of the folks posting here,the psychology of 'I'll be gone, You'll be gone (IBGYBG) likely would apply.

For those who don't know who Stoneleigh is, a link to her blog entry. I don't think anyone's posted it yet:

Ilargi: You may not be have been aware of it until now, but The Automatic Earth has an in-house full-blown nuclear safety expert.

The subject of Stoneleigh's master thesis at the law faculty of Warwick University in Coventry, England, where she studied International Law in Development, was nuclear safety research.


A good read, and necessarily brief. But...how old are the fuel rods? What is their condition? The fission reaction produces lots of reasonably short lived isotopes that continue to produce heat via secondary decays after the U-235 fission is quenched, but it doesn't just produce the oft cited I-131 or his N-16, thus the heat production doesn't stop in a few days. There must be 100s of isotopes, some very short lived (and hot), some much longer lived (thus producing heat at a lower rate). With age, the fuel pellets will have increasing loads of those longer lived products... This stuff is well understood by the experts, and I cross my fingers that it is all under control. But I wouldn't bet that things are as cheery as the blogger argues.

will try to summarize the main facts. The earthquake that hit Japan was 7 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for (the Richter scale works logarithmically; the difference between the 8.2 that the plants were built for and the 8.9 that happened is 7 times, not 0.7). So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.

He knows he has just written garbage above as he has not taken into account the distance of the quake from the plant. Clearly an 8.2 directly under the plant would produce more shaking than a 9.0 at a large distance. According to the USGS the area where the plant was located experienced level 7 shaking - the same level experienced in Christchurch. Bad enough but nothing like a 9.0 right under you.

My opinion is that he's biased the story - probably thinks that's what he should do to counter what he considers bad reporting but if he's going to stoop to misleading in one area then I'll distrust him over everything else

The article assumes that there has been no damage to the control rods. This has not been established and may be a dangerous assumption.

This was reported earlier, but I found it hard to believe. Good grief.

Within the 8 hours, another power source had to be found and connected to the power plant. The power grid was down due to the earthquake. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. So mobile diesel generators were trucked in.

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

You'd think that if it was plugs, they could do some sort of McGyver solution to hard wire the generators to the power supply.

This plant is in the 50 Hz region of Japan. However, the design was General Electric. Possibly the anciliary equipment at the plant is 60 Hz, while the nearest available generators were 50 Hz?

Or conversely, they brought in 60 Hz generators to a 50 Hz plant?

Everyone here should read this before commenting further.

Great article.

Although like someone upstream mentioned you need to weigh up both sides - some are saying the Fukushima reactor doesn´t have a core catcher.

I tried googleing that but couldn't come up with anything definitive. Reactor 1 at daiichi was built in 1971. That's pretty old. But I don't know if that predates core catchers or not.

Yeah.. now I've had time to read through the comments I think I'm going to retract my previous comment - he doesn't seem qualified to comment on the situation and the article's contents may be quite misleading.

some are saying the Fukushima reactor doesn´t have a core catcher.

That's my biggest concern with the accuracy of the article, as he bases his thesis that a full meltdown (through the floor of the containment structure into the environment) could not happen because of the core catcher. If there isn't one, that particular bet is off.

An interesting cross post from CalculatedRisk.

Re: the Japanese nuclear reactors, I emailed a friend of mine who was a nuclear engineer for GE in the '50s through the '70s and so is familiar with this type of plant -- even more so because the reactors were GE built. Here are his views: some points you've heard repeatedly, some details you haven't:

"I have been following this closely the past two days, and have been monitoring utility press releases and talking with some of my old associates.

"I can only speculate as to whether they will get it under some form of control before a really big release occurs. It is nearly certain that there has been core uncovering (of water) and that serious fuel damage and melting in one of the units and probably in a second unit at that same plant. They report indications of cesium and ioodine outside the reactor confines and that can really only come from damaged fuel inside the reactor vessel itself.

"Also, the explosion reported and filmed yesterday was probably hydrogen, which is generated when there is a metal-water reaction between the zirconium fuel cladding and water under very high temperatures.

"The cause of this unexpected series of events was no doubt the loss of all (significant) on-site AC power. I haven't seen a definite report on this but assume that the quake took out the incoming (and outgoing) electric transmissin lines and the subsequent tsunami wiped out the on-site emergency power diesel generators. This left them with only battery power which is only capable of operating lighting and control systems, but no electric driven pumps. There is one non-electric pumping system, which runs a smaller turbine which drives a pump that can send water into the reactor to maintain coolant level, but the battery system will or did run out after a few hours if there is no in-coming power to run the battery charging system. Problem is that eventually they run out of water for a heat sink until they get some reliable AC reestablished.

"The good news, if there is any, isthat the units have now been shut down more than a couple of days, and the reactor fuel decay heat production drops off pretty rapidly after shutdown. That means (in my opinion) that there is probably not enough heat in the core to melt through the reactor vessel, and so there may not be a catastrophic release but there is going to be a god-awful to cleanup. I wouldn't pack up and head for Australia yet--there will probably be a couple more days before it hits the fan."

"The good news, if there is any, isthat the units have now been shut down more than a couple of days, and the reactor fuel decay heat production drops off pretty rapidly after shutdown. That means (in my opinion) that there is probably not enough heat in the core to melt through the reactor vessel, and so there may not be a catastrophic release"

This is the key detail. There will be no Chernobyl style meltdown. But that won't stop the nuclear-phobes from calling for a ban on nuclear power.

I don't know about this friend of a friend of a friend email stuff.

This left them with only battery power which is only capable of operating lighting and control systems, but no electric driven pumps.

That seems to be at odds with everything else I've read regarding battery-powered pump systems at these plants. He goes on to say:

There is one non-electric pumping system, which runs a smaller turbine which drives a pump that can send water into the reactor to maintain coolant level, but the battery system will or did run out after a few hours if there is no in-coming power to run the battery charging system.

Wikipedia's article on BWR Safety Systems, says:

The Standby Liquid Control System is used in the event of major contingencies as a last measure to prevent core damage. It is not intended ever to be used ... The SLCS consists of a tank containing a large quantity of soluble neutron absorbers (typically borated fluids, such as borax) protected by explosively-opened valves and redundant battery-operated pumps, allowing the injection of the borated fluids into the reactor against any pressure within;

I'm sure construction details vary from site to site, but the article makes clear that SLCS are used in the kinds of reactors used at Fukushima. More than one battery-powered backup pump system seems to be the norm, in direct contradiction to what this alleged retired GE engineer says.

Every source of information and opinion is suspect right now. The only thing we can be sure of is that TEPCO and GE know a heck of a lot more about what's going on at the Fukushima plant than they're letting on. When all is said and done, whatever they're hiding won't be pretty.

But at what point did they start to build in what safety systems? The worst one seems to have been the oldest, lowest power, GE built one while they seem to be having more success with the more recent and powerful Japanese ones. Design improvements in the safety systems?


Some of the possibilities were covered in "Life After People" in the event that the Reactor was safely "scramed" by the safety systems. They indicated that the "spent fuel storage pools" did require cooling and of course maintained at the proper water level. It would not take too many days for the stagnant pool to boil off the water and expose the fuel. The resulting fire would then release a considerable amount of highly radioactive particulates into the atmosphere...

Thanks for going the extra mile to bring us this one, Leanan, you're the greatest!

Oh, many dittoes. Fantastic resource. Thank you!

Ditto. Better quality info here than any other site on the web that I've found, with commentary to boot!

Very interesting picture, brought to us by Paal Myrtvedt (thanks, Pal!).

Specially revealing the before and after of the atomic plant in Fukushima.

We see building 1 broken and in smoke (no TV to the best of my knowledge, has offered that) and the seawater channels for refrigeration and evacuation of the heated water of the secondary seriously damaged. We can wonder how in hell are they refrigerating now. Mobile pumping plants?

Many other questions come to my mind:

1. We shall see now and soon if the tales of the confinement vessel were so sure and failsafe in Western mighty technology, used to criticize the “Soviet” technology for not having had them in Tchernobyl.

2. If we look to the dominant winds, and draw a radioactive potential footprint of highly radioactive particles that forces the population to evacuate, how are the plans- will they be possible?-, even for the highly recognized and educated Japanese people, of about 60 million people?

3. If they are pouring seawater inside the reactor, as some sources seem to indicate, how safe and recoverable is a reactor flooded with this type of salted, corrosive water in the primary?

4. If the evacuation circle is about 20 Km. today and radioactive materials continue to fly on the area, how are they going to tell to the military staff, firemen or technicians to go and care for the nuclear power plant for days, months or decades, if the doses received in one day are superior to those admitted for a human being in one year, just today, as per other official Japanese sources? We all know how disciplined and how valiant their citizens are. I am sure there will be thousands volunteering to go there are try to repair, even knowing their lives are may be finished days after, but, how can they neutralize and make safe again this monumental disaster?

5. If people cannot stay within 20 Km form this plant, how are the dismantling plans for the other two reactors fuel rods to take to a safe place, if possible, before they also go out of control, if nobody will be able to work in this area for long?

6. If radioactive particles flow freely to the sea, after having refrigerated the primary, what about the fishes and the millions of Japanese eating fishes?

7. I sincerely cannot believe that they did not imagine a scenario in which a complex technological system goes down and then it has some emergency power generators (even heavy duty, able to work for months) and then, in case of a temporary failure, they have a set of stationary batteries, with at least power capacity stored to move enough amounts of water to refrigerate enough to be lifting and removing, one by one all the fuel rods. I am not too old enough and I have already experienced a collapse of a telecom network, due to the bombing of several power plants. Then, the emergency generators switched on automatically and were working until they run out either of rationed fuel or gripped for lack of lubricants. Then, the stationary batteries entered, but they were designed to make the telecom exchange center work for 8 hours. When entered into work, we noticed that maintenance (as many of the human fallible systems) was not properly done and 4 hours later, the whole center collapsed. Fortunately for us all, once the electricity came again, the service could be restored and there was no need to evacuate nobody. But in a Japanese nuclear power plant, I CANNOT CONCEIVE THE SAME TYPE OF CASCADE MISTAKE, because once the nucleus is meltdown there is no way back ,like in a simple telecom installation. Is that all they had designed and prepared?

I have about 200 questions more, but I would like also those talking about the statistical possibility of 10-power-to-minus-a-lot for a Western reactor to melt. This reminds me that the nuclear industry has been playing Micky Mouse games with us for decades with not enough significant statistical samplings and sold the public the idea that one chicken for two persons statistically results in half a chicken for each one, when it may really happen that one eats the whole chicken and the other starves. And it reminds me that of lies, big lies and statistics.

My most sincere condolences to the people of Japan.

Pedro from Cappadocia in Turkey, in a Troglodyte cave, but with no radioactive free food and water supplies in for 24,000 years.

We shall see now and soon if the tales of the confinement vessel were so sure and failsafe in Western mighty technology, used to criticize the “Soviet” technology for not having had them in Tchernobyl.

Indeed, we already have video and photographic evidence that the concrete containment building of Daiichi unit 1 has been heavily damaged and breached by a hydrogen explosion originating in the core. That there has been a hydrogen explosion and breach is beyond any doubt given the isotopes released into the environment around the plant.

Any structure is built on assumptions. The amount of energy released and in what timeframe can only be guessed at. It is now apparent that the design assumptions were incorrect. So the typical spiel about impervious western confinement vessels is a load of BS.

The main redeeming quality of light water reactors is that their cores are designed to have negative reaction coefficients and without the water coolant/moderator the neutron reaction chain is broken. That does not mean that they cannot overheat and start to melt without the coolant since there is plenty of residual heat that does not simply disappear. But pouring salt water on them like they are doing in Japan is enough to prevent any serious melting and an effective remedy. Unlike with the RBMK-1000 design they are not fighting self-sustaining nuclear reactions.


This Wikipedia article about Corium (lava-like fuel containing material) seems to be a useful read:


This is a picture of some Corium in Chernobyl:


Please read the note below the picture: the outlines of the Corium were artificially blackened in this pic to enhance the contrast between the Corium and the background.


This Wikipedia article about the current situation seems useful.


As is the case with many Wikipedia articles, the list of external links is a great resource for one to conduct their own further research/education.

The slider doesn't work, at least on my computer.

The slider works on these pictures of before and after:


No pictures of nuclear plants though.

This link has a slider that works and also pictures of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant:


"3. If they are pouring seawater inside the reactor, as some sources seem to indicate, how safe and recoverable is a reactor flooded with this type of salted, corrosive water in the primary?"

If they put seawater into the plant, it's dead. They might be able to save the pressure vessel, but I suspect it would be cheaper to just start over with that too.

By the time the radiation drops off enough to enable replacement of all the piping you will have had time to build a new plant.

Seawater and austenitic stainless steels do not get along. At all. Look up chloride stress cracking.


"Certain austenitic stainless steels and aluminium alloys crack in the presence of chlorides, .... This limits the usefulness of austenitic stainless steel for containing water with higher than few ppm content of chlorides at temperatures above 50 °C. Worse still, high-tensile structural steels crack in an unexpectedly brittle manner in a whole variety of aqueous environments, especially containing chlorides"

4 & 5

This is a precautionary zone not a dead zone. Expect people to be let back in before too long. Don't know about days, maybe a few weeks. The prevailing wind is taking smoke and radiation out to sea so the land should not be badly affected.


Written by Pedro Prieto:
We see building 1 broken and in smoke....

No, it is not. The roofs of all 4 of the reactor buildings are intact. The "smoke" looks like steam being vented from the tower on the left. The after photo was taken before reactor 1 exploded.

Here is an Aussie site that shows before/after photos of different areas. Gives a good idea of the extent of devastation.


Edit: Just saw that Paal scooped me on this one from a different site.

Interestingly, the link was sent to me from a friend who is a geologist and just traveled to Hokkaido a couple of weeks ago to study tsunamis. Well, she got it in spades.

It seems there is some confusion about the Japanese names for the plants.

The Fukushima nuclear plant is really two nuclear plants. Neither one is in Fukushima city but both are in Fukushima prefecture.

The first is Fukushima Daiichi. In this case Daiichi (第一) literally means primary or first. Is located in the coastal town of Okuma in Fukushima prefecture.

The second is Fukushima daini. Daini (第二) literally means secondary or second and is located in Naraha in Fukushima prefecture a short drive away from Okuma.

Fukushima daiichi has 6 reactors and daiini has 4 reactors.

The reactor that exploded was daiichi number 1. And the one that's threatening to blow is daiichi number 3.

All 10 reactors are Boiling water types.

I've been listening to newscasters butcher Japanese names all weekend. I hope this helps.

There are also problems at Daiichi 2 and Daini 1, 2 and 4. Of the seven reactors at both sites which shutdown during the earthquake, only one has managed to complete a cold-shutdown. All others are unsafe.

Here is a google map of the evacuation zones surrounding Fukushima Daiich (the northern 20KM circle)and Fukushima Daini (Southern 10KM circle, almost entirely overlapped by the Daiichi zone. http://goo.gl/Ipj5z

Nuclear Energy Institute coverage: http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/information-on-the-japanese-earthquake-...

IAEA update blog: http://www.iaea.org/press/

For those of you who can't read Japanese I'll try to interpret that map a bit.

The yellow markers are the two nuke plants. Fukushima daiichi is the top one and Fukushima daini is the bottom one.

The blue markers are city or town halls.

The little green guy is some sort of soccer training center. Don't ask me why its marked here.

The red crosses are, of course, hospitals.

The red marker is an old fashion, non nuke, power plant.

The purple circle is a 10 km radius around daiichi. The orange is a 20 km radius around daiichi.

There is another orange 10 km radius around daini, but its hard to see under the 20km circle from daiichi.

I live near Tokyo.
Today rolling planned rolling blackouts will last three hours or so. The areas of the blackouts extend down to beyond Yamanashi Prefecture.

Very little food in the grocery stores also.

Big worries about the radiation, as you can imagine.

So, I am hoping that people everywhere will reject nuclear power and use less power. That is why I post very little here.


Glad to hear that you are doing well.

Info on Japan's energy supply mix from a pro-nuclear organization web site:


Despite being the only country to have suffered the devastating effects of nuclear weapons in wartime, Japan has embraced the peaceful use of nuclear technology to provide a substantial portion of its electricity. Today, nuclear energy accounts for almost 30% of the country's total electricity production (29% in 2009), from 47.5 GWe of capacity (net). There are plans to increase this to 41% by 2017, and 50% by 2030.

In 2008 Japan generated 1085 billion kWh gross, 30% from coal, 25% from gas, 24% from nuclear, 11% from oil, and 7.5% from hydro, though 8 GWe of nuclear capacity was shut down for checks following an earthquake in mid 2007. Per capita consumption is about 7900 kWh/yr. Demand for 2009 was expected to be 892 billion kWh, with peak 173.4 GWe, requiring capacity of 194 GWe.

As Japan has few natural resources of its own, it depends on imports for some 80% of its primary energy needs. Initially it was dependent on fossil fuel imports, particularly oil from the Middle East (oil fuelled 66% of the electricity in 1974). This geographical and commodity vulnerability became critical due to the oil shock in 1973. At this time, Japan already had a growing nuclear industry, with five operating reactors. Re-evaluation of domestic energy policy resulted in diversification and in particular, a major nuclear construction program. A high priority was given to reducing the country's dependence on oil imports. A closed fuel cycle was adopted to gain maximum benefit from imported uranium.

So, I am hoping that people everywhere will reject nuclear power and use less power. That is why I post very little here.

Your first sentence: Implementing the words before the 'and' may lead to implementing the words after the 'and'. Especially in Japan. Unless Japan builds oil/NG/coal-fired power plants and imports the fuels.

Wind generation may play a role, if Japan has significant wind resources. Perhaps a small contribution from Geothermal sources. Maybe a small contribution from PV.

I don't understand your second sentence...from my reading of TOD comments there is strong support for decommissioning all nuclear power plants, as well as strong support for decreasing mankind's energy usage.

Info on Japan's energy supply mix

Here are some charts from the Energy Export databrowser (under the "All Fuels" tab) showing the evolution of Japan's energy supply mix since 1965. The first chart shows consumption of all resources (not including renewables) reported in units of 'million tonnes of oil equivalent':

The second shows the same information but as a percentage of total consumption:

Please note that Japan, with zero indigenous production, imports 100% of the coal, oil and natural gas it uses.

Japan's bumpy plateau of nuclear production has just taken a big step down. In the immediate aftermath of this disaster the Japanese will almost certainly need to increase their imports of refined products such as diesel for emergency power and rebuilding regardless of cost. Over the medium term they will also need to boost imports of coal and LNG. (After the 2002 scandal, Tokyo Electric Power Company was forced to shut down all 17 of its nuclear plants. As seen in the charts, this loss was made up by consumption upticks primarily of oil and gas.)

Without a doubt, this catastrophic event will make waves in all three primary energy markets.

Hopes and Prayers for those impacted by this disaster.



Thank you for the data.

Does anyone have data depicting wind fields and insolation maps and geothermal resource maps for Japan?

I live near Tokyo.
Today rolling planned rolling blackouts will last three hours or so. The areas of the blackouts extend down to beyond Yamanashi Prefecture.

I wonder if this continues and/or more earthquakes/blackouts if it has any implications for supply chain/component parts in international trade. This is just speculation as I have no idea re Japan situation. But I am well aware how fragile our international delivery systems are for food and parts. If (granted an unlikely if) Japan shuts down for a while that would have impacts well beyond Japan

There's some discussion in yesterday's thread. The Kobe quake created some supply chain problems, and it's expected this one will, too. Chips for iPhones and the like. Also, several car factories have shut down.

On the electricity front, the difference between west Japan and east Japan is 60hz and 50hz and complicates power sharing between the regions.

On food - a substantial portion of food is imported anyway, and while norther Japan does grow food the warmer west Japan produces more (other than the fishing fleets based out of the north), and the milk/fruit industry in Hokkaido is pretty much unaffected.

The biggest industrial loss appears to be to the supply chain for the automakers. The rolling blackouts will affect all industries of course. Beer production is affected by loss of breweries.

If I were still in Japan I would not be worried, but then again I lived in west Japan.

Do you know if any coal, oil or gas power stations have gone off line? There seem to be some on the affected coastline that may have taken a hit.


After reading the Reuters article listing some of the affected commodity processing facilities I feel as though this has potentially huge implications for the global just-in-time supply chain.

The quake has shut multiple facilities that produce basic industrial inputs such as steel, copper, naptha, and ethylene. If some of the outputs of those facilities are unavailable for a period, we may see that lack of inputs show up in pricing and availability across a range of industries.

Pi, Very glad to know that you survived the original events and are doing okay. Regarding radiation releases, my observation would be that this is a true ongoing emergency, nothing scripted, playing out under highly difficult and abnormal circumstances. At least two reactors are seriously damaged and releasing radioactive material, and efforts to manage the others are strained. Everyone working at these plants right now is heroically putting their life at risk. No one really knows what or how much radioactive material is being vented or is leaking into the atmosphere. Best case is that the winds continue to blow it out to sea, but if the winds shift south the population will be in its path. I have no idea what your circumstances are but you may want to consider leaving for a few days and putting yourself out of harm's way until things in general are under better control, and the situation is better understood. Just my opinion; others may differ.
- Walt

Pi, tomorrow is PI day! 3/14. I hope things start looking up for ya.

To think this unit was only a couple weeks from permanent shutdown. Mother Nature just doesn’t have any sense of timing. Still the damage and deaths from the rest of the earthquake and tsunami will far exceed what happened at the power plants.

According to Forbes, Japanese regulators recently decided to allow the reactor to operate for another 10 years. It's possible they may have shut it down anyway for refueling, in which case the result could actually have been worse since offloaded fuel would have been sitting in the spent fuel pool.

When the roof and upper wall panels blew off the reactor building the other day, one would speculate that the surface of the spent fuel pool is now open to the elements. Whether that's true or not, and whether or not any fuel is currently in that pool, is something nobody is talking about.

There would not be a problem if it had been shut down. ISTR No 1 was due to shut down in a couple of weeks so anything in the pool would likely be old.


"Old" is a relative term when you're talking about spent nuclear reactor fuel bundles. They remain hot for years, that's why they keep them submerged in a pool. Eventually, yes, they cool off enough to be placed in dry casks for longer term storage, but the fission products remain inside the cladding generating heat from decay. Not the heat of a self-sustaining fission reaction, but enough that you certainly wouldn't want to crack them open and disperse the contents into the air. Flying debris and the shockwave generated from a point-blank hydrogen explosion doesn't sound like a good mix to me. I wouldn't be too sure about calling that situation "no problem".

If the reactor had been shut down then there would not have been the risk of run away heat so there would not have been the problem there. Without the runaway heating the hydrogen explosion would not have happened. The hydrogen explosion would have occurred over a wide area rather then being a point blast such as a bomb. I would not expect a great deal of shockwave. True that old is relative but if the reactor was approaching a shutdown any rods in the pool would have bee there for some time and will have lost activity. If this had occurred shortly after off loading then that would be another matter.


Leanan, thanks for posting this special thread. I don't have time to read all the news items you posted or the comments but wish to share what I believe to be well informed comments from a nuclear scientist on the BBC this morning.

First, I gather all reactors were properly shut down ahead of the power / pump failures. So they are not stuck in fissioning operational mode. The residual problem is the fuel is hot and needs to be cooled for a period of days after shut down.

With cooling pump failures two reactors are in a sub-critical state where parts of the core / fuel rod systems may partially melt. But there is apparently no danger of a full scale reactor meltdown.

With pump failure, boiling water and steam are trapped in pressurised containment vessel. High temperatures lead to hydrogen gas formation and what the BBC reported was that when this steam + hydrogen was vented the hydrogen exploded destroying the building housing the reactor. Apparently light construction allows the blast to go outwards - spectacular but planned. I've not heard of any casualties from this explosion suggesting the area was evacuated before hand.

OK so we don't know what the final outcome of this is going to be. But I hope the Japanese have contained the situation.

My own opinion - if this is safely contained then we will have a situation where nuclear power plants have been hit by a very bad natural disaster and "survived" not intact but survived.

"Nuclear reactors are not failsafe. They won't fail in a safe way. They can go bang as Chernobyl did,"

This is alarmist journalism. Chernobyl had a graphite core that caught fire and no containment vessel. It is time for cool heads among OECD government leaders.

"My own opinion - if this is safely contained then we will have a situation where nuclear power plants have been hit by a very bad natural disaster and "survived" not intact but survived.[emphasis mine]" - Euan Mearns

What do you mean by "survived"? Do you mean that the nearby population was not poisoned? That the reactor might be recovered for future operation? That the plant might begin generating power again?

If we get a breach of a containment vessel, serious leakage of radioactive materials, serious radiation induced health issues for the population, then I imagine this may kill the nuclear renaissance stone dead - and rightly so.

At present the situation seems to be contained and lets hope it continues that way. The benefits those reactors brought to japan are about to be felt now they are lost. These are apparently old reactors - 40 years old - and I very much doubt any will resume active service.

This report in the FT says that 9.7 GW of nuclear capacity is shut in. That's a lot of capacity to loose, but a country the size of Japan should have reserve capacity (FF) to cover.


then I imagine this may kill the nuclear renaissance stone dead - and rightly so.

Incredible lack of perspective. Will you also want the petrochemical industry shutdown due to all the accidental and non accidental spills and pollution too? Remember Bhopal? That one incident killed more people by a factor of several hundred times all of the nuclear accidents combined, which includes Chernobyl (Greenpeace's propaganda does not count for anything).

I see some US legislative busybodies are trying put a nuclear moratorium in place. I say more power to them. Idiots deserve all the pain they can get. The only downside is that the US will be killing more millions of civilians in oil rich countries with non-pliant regimes to get the last scraps of oil.

I am pro-nuclear. But if we cannot command the technology safely then we shouldn't be using it. A serious incident in Fukushima could be very serious indeed - two catastrophes rolled into one. If there is a serious incident it will kill the nuclear renaissance stone dead.

The engineering here is too complex for most to understand. So the destiny of the global nuclear industry is in the hands of a few Japanese engineers. If the incident is contained then one argument will be that well designed and run OECD nuclear plant can withstand bad natural disasters and the nuclear case may be strengthened. If it is not contained the future is bleak.

Unfortunately, that sounds like a roll of the dice to me. If the dice lands on an even number we can handle nuclear power, if it lands on an odd we can’t. I mean, the situation with the reactor boils down to controlling the temperature with last ditch efforts (sea water). We do not know how this will play out, but it certainly seems to me that just watching to see if there is a catastrophe or not is no way to make a decision on nuclear power. I am afraid nuclear power is beyond our ability to safely control.

Nuclear energy will never quench the thirst for LIQUED transport fuels. I think oil is also needed to mine uranium. Economic reality wins everytime.

There are plenty of electric mines.

You wouldn't want to be running an IC engine down most mines.

Is the problem with nuclear energy, per se? Or, is it as much or more a problem of central generation (all the eggs in one basket)?

Could nuclear power be deployed differently? If so, how soon?

Look up the case for Hyperion type nuclear generators. Locally based and with a design which does not allow runaway heat.

Thanks- a very nice summary. Let's really hope that what we now see is 'the worst case' scenario on this nuke-tale -Pore folks, they already have enough to grapple with.

I hope the Wall Street pays a little bit more respect come opening Monday, as compared to Friday.

"It is time for cool heads among OECD government leaders." - Euan Mearns

When it is NOT the time for cool heads among OECD government leaders?

I've not heard of any casualties from this explosion suggesting the area was evacuated before hand.

Casualties were reported yesterday. Four at first, then the number went up. Perhaps the report was inaccurate; the coverage of this story has been very confusing.

There has also been one confirmed death at Fukushima Daini plant (the plant that isn't getting much attention right now even though it also has three reactors in serious trouble). A crane operator working on the "exhaust stack" died.


A seriously injured worker who had been trapped in the crane operating
console of the exhaust stack was transported to the ground at 5:13pm and
confirmed dead at 5:17pm.

I read in the NYTIMES that 3 workers are experiencing serious radiation sickness.
22 residents are showing signs of radiation exposure (less serious radiation illness I presume).
170 so far have been exposed to radiation (so far . . .)

Yeah. It's way too early to say for sure, but my impression so far is that the explosion was not planned or even anticipated.

It's way too early to say for sure, but my impression so far is that the explosion was not planned or even anticipated.

I could be wrong, but I believe the three plant workers were reported to be suffering from radiation sickness well before the explosion, and that the evacuation was also ordered and begun before the explosion. Plus, I've read (can't recall where) that a hydrogen explosion in these circumstances (release of steam) is a known risk. Three Mile Island had its own "hydrogen bubble."

Seems to me there would have been a whole lot of plant worker injuries (not just radiation sickness) had the explosion taken them by surprise (i.e., had the workers not been evacuated).

There were definitely reports of injuries consistent with blast exposure. At least one was said to have "broken bones".

They would have been aware of the possibility of the blast even if they did not expect it and I assume only the very minimal number of workers would be close enough to have suffered blast injuries.

Yes, but I should think there would have been a whole lot more.

Edit: A whole lot more if it was unexpected. Missed your edit! Yes, that's what I'd figure. They wouldn't have been able to evacuate all the workers. The guy on the crane, for example, must have been doing something fairly crucial at the time.

Onsite yes - immediately in potential hydrogen blast injury radius, I assume not.

The guy on the crane was about 12km away at Fukushima 2 (the one we are all forgetting about).

There are 7 reported missing and 3 injured from the explosion about an hour ago at Fukushima plant's reactor 3.

Let's say casualties seem light which suggests the risk was recognised in advance. There's so much going, I'm sure there is much confusion everywhere - apart from in the orderly lines of Japanese folks doing what they are told.

In the OECD, government leaders will eventually react to public sentiment.

My guess is that public sentiment will be roughly "In times of natural disaster, nuclear power presents special hazards not evident with other power generation, and even the very well-prepared and methodical Japanese corporate and government system was unable to avoid radiation release and catastrophic plant failures, despite mobilizing the armed forces and massive emergency response. No way our dysfunctional system could handle this kind of problem!"

Agreed that much of the media response is alarmist, it was ever thus. My guess is that new nuclear power facilities will be constructed in authoritarian countries such as Russia, China, etc., but that in democracies new nuclear will be stalled for decades and decommissioning current plants will be seriously discussed.

The vignette, Mount Fuji in Red, from Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, seems prescient today.

There seems not to be much understanding of the electrical systems of power plants in this discussion.

In thermal plants as well as nuclear, there is a station service or auxiliary power system that supplies the plant itself. There are several AC voltage levels such as 4160 V. (or 6900V), 480V
(or 400V), as well as 220 and 120V. There is also a DC system of typically 125V 0r 250V supplied from storage batteries.

The higher AC voltage levels supply large motors such as seawater intake pumps, feedwater pumps, and other large motors. The lower AC voltage levels are for remaining services, smaller motors, lighting, battery charging, and similar. The DC supply is for protection and control generally.
There may be another separate DC system for communication and computer systems, as well as AC systems supplied via a UPS installation.

In the case of Fukushima, the Tsunami flooded out the outdoor seawater pump motors, the emergency diesels (several MW),the auxiliary plant switchgear, motor control panels, small and large motors, etc, rendering essential auxiliary systems near sea level inoperable. The corrosive salty water has ruined much of this equipment more or less beyond repair, unlike if it had been fresh water. The affected equipment can only be replaced, not a quick option.

This would have affected all the four reactor units at the station, simultaneously.

Therefore the reports of "loss of cooling" have to be understood in this light. Not that several unrelated failures occured one after another.


Your own understanding of the situation is not perfect, either. There are 6 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, not 4. The other facility some miles away - Fukushima Daiini - has 4 reactors; maybe you meant those?

Here's a compressed version of the before and after images.

High Res versions at

The "after" picture has been distorted to give a false perspective as if one is looking from bottom to top. In reality one is looking from top left to bottom right. It's quite disorienting, but necessary if you want to make the two pictures comparable, I suppose.

@ Pedro Prieto:

We see building 1 broken and in smoke (no TV to the best of my knowledge, has offered that)

Building 1 is to the right of the picture and is shown pre-explosion. The "smoke" is cloud over Building 4.

Edit: Note added.

It's too bad they didn't color correct the "after" image. The red tint makes it look like it went to "hell."

I don't know. Looks worse then when Lemay got through with the place.

Not only were the sea walls protecting the plant not high enough, but apparently the back up generators were placed in a low area.

In Tsunami, Japan’s Seawalls Were No Security

Peter Yanev, one of the world’s best-known consultants on designing nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes, said the seawalls at the Japanese plants could not handle tsunami waves of the height that struck them. But the diesel generators were situated in a low spot on the assumption that the walls were high enough to protect against any likely tsunami.

That turned out to be a fatal miscalculation. The tsunami walls either should have been built higher, or the generators should have been place on higher ground to withstand potential flooding, he said. Increasing the height of tsunami walls, he said, is the obvious answer in the immediate term.

“The cost is peanuts compared to what is happening,” he said.

Maybe, one would need to have a back-up system of last resort that does not depend on electricity being available. Is it conceivable to have a back-up system driven by gravity, water-tower that is? To much water needed?

I do not know how it is in Japan, but here in Sweden there has in recent years been much discussion on safety-culture being more relaxed in later years. Safety costs, and with no really serious accidents this may seem as un-necessary costs. Especially in a environment more and more focused on (short-term) profit.

In a world with more and more emphasis on economic market solutions to all kinds of problems and less and less direct over-sight by authorities one might possibly expect the risks to increase. (Especially as someone else than those taking the risk(s) will bear the costs of severe accidents.)

In the U.S., the risks of an industry that professes to be private -- and distributes rewards based on that belief -- have been pushed into the public sector via the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnities Act.

"Is it conceivable to have a back-up system driven by gravity, water-tower that is?"

In a boiling water reactor that would be tough. You would have to dump all the steam pressure, and since the steam is slightly radioactive everyone would get their knickers in a knot. That much dumping would probably cool down the pressure vessel too fast and now you have even worse problems.

In a PWR you could do it. Let the steam side (not radioactive) boil off in a controlled manner, then start adding water as needed at low pressure. And the primary loop can be designed to support natural circulation (put the boilers higher than Rx core) and as 6% circulation would be enough to handle decay heat you should be fine.

Given a big tank of water and a small steam-turbine feed pump you could once-through the water and cool the core with no electrical power at all even if all the condensers are plugged.

If memory serves EBR II did a 'turn it all and walk away' test that was extremely boring. And molten salt reactors are supposed to be fail safe as well.


Here is a decent place to start research to explore your question:



he NRC has questioned the durability of the AP1000 reactor's shield building in the face of severe external events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and airplane collisions.[2] A US nuclear consultant engineer has also criticised the AP1000 containment design arguing that, in the case of a design-basis accident, it could release radiation; Westinghouse has denied the claim.





Lots of ideas...are any worth pursuing?

Shaken by the prospect of nuclear meltdown after a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japanese investors will dump overseas assets on Monday and bring their money home to help finance reconstruction.


Hundreds flee in Japan after Shinmoedake volcano begins spewing ash, boulders

Earthquake, tsunami, nuclear plant meltdowns -- as if the people of Japan didn't have enough to cope with, a volcano began erupting Sunday.


Do Shintos pray for each other? I have been giving the Catholic prayers a good go, but I am curious.

TinFoilHatGuy, the short answer to your question is yes, although the chain of command for the prayers is different than that found in monotheistic faiths.

The Catholic prayers will do. People in Japan would appreciate the piety, the respect and sense of connection that the gesture of prayer implies.

These events could be related because an earthquake can trigger a tsunami, nuclear plant failure and a volcanic eruption.

Refinery Margins Poised to Surge After Quake If History Is Guide

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s biggest earthquake, which cut at least 9 percent of power capacity, may boost oil-refining profits in Asia as the world’s third-largest economy seeks to replace lost nuclear output.
The quake has shut or disrupted supplies from seven of Japan’s oil refineries, accounting for more than a third of the nation’s oil processing capacity, or 1.6 million barrels of crude a day. Refinery utilization may fall to about 65 percent following the earthquake, from 88 percent beforehand, Wood Mackenzie said in a report on its website.
JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp., Japan’s largest refiner, shut plants in Sendai, Kashima and Negishi. Cosmo Oil Co.’s facility in Chiba, outside Tokyo, was on fire, while Showa Shell Sekiyu KK said it halted shipments at refineries in Keihin and Yokkaichi. TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K., Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Japanese refining unit, shut all major units at its Kawasaki refinery near Tokyo.

This from the Reuters blog on radiation levels


@ Pawel the numbers from TEPCO indicate peak of 1600mSv/h @ 03/10/2011:1000am so French got it wrong by just 1000. www.tepco.co.jp
comment by chrcel at 10:00 PM

This is the highest of the readings on this one and it is for the Fukushima Daiichi and shows that radiation lvls at over 800-1600 for 9 HOURS on 12/03 between 01:40 - 10:05.

I cannot access the TEPCO page to verify at the moment.

Edit: Kyodo Breaking News: Fukushima Plant 1 is again over the legal radiation limit.

Further edit: NHK just broadcast that "TEPCO doesn't know why the levels went up.".... Yeh, right.

I would be interested if anybody has more information on the state of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.
I have only found some initial messages that they where operating on backup power.

Can't find any reliable information other than said to be operating on emergency power.

I have been too busy working away from a radio or computer today to keep up with the news, but after reding the comments here just now, it looks as if the apanese have dodged the bullets in respect to major releases of radiation;if the hard hit reactors haven't melted down by now, it is very likely they won't.

It is a cinch that none of the heavily damaged reactors will ever run again, given thier already advanced age.

It's also a cinch that the Japanese will tighten up the engineering specs for anu new reactors to a substantial degree, incporoprating what has been learned not only this past couple of days but also over the last forty years or so.

Euan has imo correctly estimated the situation;I am not a nuclear expert, but I AM a keen student of politics.

If there is no major loss of life from radiation releases, and the damaged plants can be secured safely, albeit at huge expense, commercial nuclear ppower will likely survive this setback, but with a major loss of momentum.My guess is that any new construction not already well underway in the OECD will be delayed for at least three years, bare minimum, and possibly much longer.

I have never rationalized the inherent dangers of nukes.

My position tonight remains the same as it has been.

Nuclear generating plants, properly designed, constructed, regulated, and operated, are not in the last analysis as dangerous as the non nuclear alternative.

It's not that we COULDN'T get by without nukes, technically speaking.

It's that we don't have the political will to make and stick to the necessary tough choices to do so.

The only politically feasible alternatives are more coal and a greater likelihood of resource wars-which imo are pretty much of a given anyway, but we can always hope.....

Most current report says radiation levels rising again and now above safety limits at Fukushima 1. We don't have enough info to even begin to have confidence this will resolve satisfactorily (whatever that means at this stage).

Most current report says radiation levels rising again and now above safety limits at Fukushima 1.

Safety limits are set pretty low (on purpose). So that isn't a good measure of a potential widespread release. Obviously the cooling water is going to contain some fission products, and to the extent steam needs to be released there is no stopping it. [They do try to run it through filters, which I assume remove some of the material].

My position tonight remains the same as it has been.

Nuclear generating plants, properly designed, constructed, regulated, and operated, are not in the last analysis as dangerous as the non nuclear alternative.

It's not that we COULDN'T get by without nukes, technically speaking.

It's that we don't have the political will to make and stick to the necessary tough choices to do so.

That exactly describes my position. Although I'm less optimistic about the prospects of nuclear in the OECD now. I think this episode is atally toxic to the pro-N case, that all we can do now is try to reduce the amount of systems that get shutdown early (i.e. before they are physically worn out).

Stoneleigh: ".... no human society has ever lasted for as long as nuclear waste must be looked after. It needs to be held in pools on site for perhaps a hundred years in order to cool down enough for permanent disposal, assuming a form of permanent disposal could be conceived of, approved and developed. During this period, the knowledge as to how this must be done will need to be maintained, and this may be more difficult than is currently supposed."

This is where I stand. I don't trust long term human stewardship enough to condone further creation of this waste. Leaving behind this poisonous legacy is BAU selfishness in the extreme. Just sayin'...



That was the paragraph that caused me to say "bingo" as well.

All those cooling ponds full of "spent" fuel will be intolerant of hiatus. Hiatus is built into a number of not-unlikely scenarios.

Fission power makes more sense than burning coal, but then anything makes more sense than burning coal.

Our war with the future of earthlife continues apace, but we may manage to stretch the immediate-gratification thing a fair bit longer. It's very human, after all, to try making the universe seem a bit more fair... at any cost.

Best hopes for the stricken people of Japan, and lets bear in mind that they're only mildly discomforted compared with what will predictably pass for human normal in a hundred years. These are the good old days.

jes' passin' by.

Add this 'ole boy' up in Spokane to that list. This area led the nation in MS for years after the deliberate release from Hanford some years back.

20,000 missing in 2 towns / Magnitude of Friday's quake revised upward to 9.0

About 20,000 people were unaccounted for as of Sunday afternoon in two coastal towns devastated by tsunami after the Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake.

About 10,000 residents each of Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture, and Otsuchicho, Iwate Prefecture, were missing, authorities said. Otsuchicho Mayor Koki Kato is among those unaccounted for.

The head of the Miyagi prefectural police reportedly told a prefectural disaster headquarters Sunday afternoon that the number of deaths from the earthquake would "no doubt be tens of thousands" in the prefecture.

Behind a paywall, but viewable through Google:

Fuel Prices Expected to Jump

Japan will have to import more oil, fuel and natural gas for electricity generation to make up for the shortfall caused by the shutdown of nuclear power plants after the earthquake. This will put upward pressure on global prices in markets already concerned about the availability of energy supplies amid widespread unrest in the Middle East.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on Friday sent the cost of natural gas and other fuels that can be used for power generation soaring, as reports of widespread shutdowns to the country's nuclear facilities poured in. Japan is the world's largest importer of liquefied natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Nikkei looks like it is falling like a shot:


Almost 6% down now. Must be bad as CNBC has just called Cramer in on a Sunday night. I'm sure he will be telling us how this is great news for geiger counter manufacturers.

Edit: Well he didn't mention geiger counters but it seems it's good news for everyone but nuclear operators. Nikkei rebounded by 1% after he appeared coincidentally or not. Falling again now.

Edit 2: 80+ billion dollars of "liquidity" added by Bank of Japan.

Surely whatever stabalizing mechanisms the world can offer will be implemented. Could the US buy back debt form Japan or something. Maybe sell it to another country? I am lost in international finance.

Japanese stocks slump despite $181b cash injection

Reuters is reporting that there are TEPCO sell orders at 2,071 yen, which would be a fall of 2.4 per cent.

However, there were 200 times more sell orders than buy orders, leaving the stock untraded.

Tohoku found some willing buyers, with the stock down 20 per cent by 1:26pm (AEDT).

Japan's three main insurance companies (outside life insurance) were also untraded in the first hour due to a glut of sell orders.

CNN reporting that people are trying to go to work in Tokyo but finding many trains and subways are not running. Quake damage, presumably. They're being told to walk or take a taxi.

Trying to go to work? Lets you know what those chaps are made of. Yes, I wish them nothing but speedy recovery. If I am wishing this, you know it is bad. My mother was born a slave of the Japanese Empire. I buried that wound long ago and now wish speedy recovery.

Some folks just get 'their' share and then some.

People who suffered the effects of both Japanese atomic bombings are known as nijū hibakusha in Japan. On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi (1916–2010) as a double hibakusha. He was confirmed to be 3 kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when Little Boy was detonated. He was seriously burnt on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He arrived at his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, a day before Fat Man was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognised survivor of both bombings.[106] Tsutomu Yamaguchi died on January 4, 2010, after a battle with stomach cancer at the age of 93.[107] The 2006 documentary Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki documented 165 nijū hibakusha, and was screened at the United Nations.

many trains and subways are not running. Quake damage, presumably.

Hopefully not. I bet they have to do a pretty thorough inspection before restarting them, and that will take time. That might also be the case for many buildings.

I can understand trying to go to work: (1) The bills from this event will be substantial. (2) Sit home and worry about relatives up north. (3) Sit home and watch depressing tsunami videos on the TV.

Breaking: another big after-shock. Details and location not yet available.

Edit: 6.2 preliminary - larger one still expected.

From Reuters:

A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 jolted northern Japan on Sunday, seismologists said, shaking buildings in the capital Tokyo some 240 km (150 miles) away.

There were no reports of injuries or damage and no tsunami warning was issued. The magnitude of the quake, at 5:08 p.m. (0808 GMT), was measured at 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

The epicentre was about 40 km (25 miles) beneath the ocean off Honshu, Japan's main island, the JMA said....

That report refers to a quake about 18 hours ago.

Oops, sorry. Didn't even look at the time. It was new on Reuters.

5 meter tsunami caused ocean rise, with a 3 meter tsunami as of now. Evacuation warnings.

Also, from NHK live, no rolling blackouts so far because cuts in train service have created just enough power savings to not require rolling blackouts.

Correction, that's a 5 meter sea level drop, with a 3 meter tsunami wave.

Update: now they say there is no sea level drop or tsunami, must be hard to get clear information when the social structure is so damaged.

Update: he says the quake was an hour ago and there would be a tsunami by now so apparently that's a false alarm, but could have been a slower landslide under water I guess from what he says.

CNN still freaking over tsunami warning. Apparently the cops are trying to move people to higher ground. Even if it's a false alarm, it must be making work at Fukushima more difficult.

Maybe CNN should tune in NHK ;=)

Apparently, the sea really did drop suddenly. CNN showed it "racing out." Local officials can pull the tsunami alarms, and they've been doing it a lot, so people kind of ignore them. The reason they didn't ignore this one was they noticed the water receding. However, it didn't come back as a tsunami.

That explains what the newscasters were saying, apparently there was a slow slip, not creating a tsunami but creating the sea level drop. Didn't make sense as they did the news conferences but that is what they were saying I see now.

Re rolling blackouts, cuts in train service are providing enough leeway to cover the roughly 25% shortage from plant outages.

Given these are electric rail, it sort of makes me wonder about the entire 'solve our future by high speed rail' notion. The assumption that we can provide the load levels as required in the future with coal and oil and uranium supply issues seems highly suspect. At least unless we cut massively overall consumption of electrical power.

Update: supply of power is now in excess of demand due to cuts in train service. But power cuts, rolling blackouts, will need to happen in the near future.

CNN is reporting new tsunami warnings. They had to evacuate their correspondents.

US Military detects radiation 60 miles away from Fukushima.


The above linked NYT article has some interesting discussion regarding efforts to control the reactor:

Usually, when a reactor is first shut down, an electrically driven pump pulls heated water from the vessel to a heat exchanger, and cool water from a river or ocean is brought in to draw off that heat.

But at the Japanese reactors, after losing electric power, that system could not be used. Instead the operators are dumping seawater into the vessel, and letting it cool the fuel by boiling. But as it boils, pressure rises too high to pump in more water, so they have to vent the vessel to the atmosphere, and feed in more water, a procedure known as “feed and bleed.”

Apparently at least part of the problem is that the electrical switching gear is in a basement flooded by the tsunami. Even if they believed their sea walls were high enough, putting that critical gear in a basement sounds like a seriously dumb design flaw in a sea side plant:

Christopher D. Wilson, a reactor operator and later a manager at Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant, near Toms River, N.J., said, “normally you would just re-establish electricity supply, from the on-site diesel generator or a portable one.” Portable generators have been brought into Fukushima, he said.

Fukushima was designed by General Electric, just as Oyster Creek was, at about the same time, and the two plants are very similar, he said. The problem, he said, was that the hook-up is done through electric switching equipment that is in a basement room flooded by the tsunami, he said. “Even though you have generators on site, you have to get the water out of the basement,” he said.

The Achilles Heal is the location of the diesel back-up pumping system.

They are using firetrucks to pump sea water -- also very telling that they are very suboptimal for this problem.

Hard to believe it was too expensive to modify the building layout to reflect Japan's special characteristics and risks.

From IAEA:

Japan Earthquake Update (14 March 2011 01:30 CET)
Based on information provided by Japanese authorities, the IAEA can confirm the following information about the status of Units 1, 2 and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Unit 1 is being powered by mobile power generators on site, and work continues to restore power to the plant. There is currently no power via off-site power supply or backup diesel generators being provided to the plant. Seawater and boron are being injected into the reactor vessel to cool the reactor. Due to the explosion on 12 March, the containment building has been lost.

Unit 2 is being powered by mobile power generators on site, and work continues to restore power to the plant. There is currently neither off-site power supply nor backup diesel generators providing power to the plant. The reactor core is being cooled through reactor core isolation cooling, a procedure used to remove heat from the core. The current reactor water level is lower than normal but remains steady. The containment building is intact at Unit 2.

Unit 3 does not have off-site power supply nor backup diesel generators providing power to the plant. As the high pressure injection system and other attempts to cool the reactor core have failed, injection of water and boron into the reactor vessel has commenced. Water levels inside the reactor vessel increased steadily for a certain amount of time but readings indicating the water level inside the pressure vessel are no longer showing an increase. The reason behind this is unknown at this point in time. To relieve pressure, venting of the containment started on 13 March at 9:20AM local Japan time. Planning is underway to reduce the concentration of hydrogen inside the containment building. The containment building is intact at Unit 3.

The IAEA is seeking information about the status of spent fuel at the Daiichi plant.

The IAEA is seeking information about the status of spent fuel at the Daiichi plant.

They are trying to tell us they don't know and have to prompt Japan to tell them by announcing the request in public? What a load of nonsense,

0232: Update on the explosion(s) at Reactor 3: "We believe it was a hydrogen explosion. It is not immediately known if it affected the reactor" - nuclear safety agency spokesman Ryo Miyake.

0227: There were two explosions at Reactor 3, the operator Tepco says - AFP.

0224: "Hydrogen blast occurs at Fukushima nuke plant's No 3 reactor" - Kyodo.

0221: Urgent: Explosion at Reactor 3 - AFP.

218: Column of smoke escaping from Reactor 3 at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant - Japanese TV.


details rolling in.

This is from the scrolling live update part of that page.


confirms explosion in number 3. They say the wall of the building collapsed, but I think that might be a translation issue, they said that when translating number 1 explosion.

Explosion at 11 am japan time.

11:08 to be precise.

Top is blown off, hard to see the walls, but they look more damaged than number 1 from the first shots I'm seeing.

MSNBC has this at very top, but no story yet (9:43pm CST/USA):

BREAKING NEWS: Explosion heard at Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor in northern Japan - NHK

NHK BREAKING NEWS: The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says a hydrogen explosion occurred Monday morning at the No.3 reactor at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture.

Video of explosion at Diachi #3. It's shot off a TV set, so not great resolution. Looks much bigger than the first explosion at #1.

The video starts at some point after the explosion, it looks like, then there's a replay. At about 0:16, the beginning of the replay, a distinct bright-yellow flash is visible. It's seen again at about 0:48, at the start of another replay.

same deal as unit 1, hydrogen explosion, water injection continuing, container pressure stable, no excess radioactivity at this point.

Water injection cooling it still, container is still safe, low possibility of mass radiation leak, as of now.

I am sorry I think your claim is far too premature and in fact a little too muted considering the explosion. That video shows the thing blowing up at least 500 ft into the air in a giant exploding cloud.

Unit 3 is looking like a bigger problem than a so-called "routine" H2 explosion. If there is such a thing -- or subtle minor stripping away of a little Zr cladding.

I am tired of the underplaying of the situation. No one has any idea what is happening including the Japanese Government, which cannot even get a story straight as far as I can tell.

Lets just watch instead of trying to under or overplay the crisis.

He's reporting what the news is reporting. It's not "his" claim.

Acknowledged. Perhaps I am annoyed with Japan's government for not being forthcoming. I know they are busy, but some of us on the West Coast may have to breath in this crude in a few days.

truly an awful disaster underway. No stopping it either it seems.

That is a massive explosion in Unit 3, with a yellow fireball as well. Much different explosion than Unit 1.

Oct, Leanan requested no pro/anti nuke flames in this discussion yesterday. As she notes, I'm just reporting what's being reported live, but it does seem that the stuff is reasonably stable at this point, little radioactive material is escaping currently as of the last tests and reports, a few minutes ago.

To be clear, it's my opinion that nuclear energy, like coal energy, fails all 7 generation tests, and is totally non-sustainable, like coal power, and lethally toxic long term when the half lives of the waste products in their widely varying forms, often ignored or minimized by apologists, are taken into account. As does uranium mining, and waste of nuclear material. Allegedly there are now reasonably secure and safe disposal methods, but they are very expensive and require a high degree of technological ability and commitment to engage in, not to mention political will to actually clear the waste up as it is generated, permanently.

I also reject the false choice of either more coal or more nukes, the only rational choice is less consumption of energy in total, with reduction of all non renewable energy sources.

Read the book: When the Lights Went Out - A History of Blackouts in America, David E. Nye
to get a sense of just how recent our sense of the new normal of what we 'need' re electrical power really was born, around 1935 was the start, the 50s saw it go into high gear. Pretending we 'need' to maintain the level of only the last 60 out of multiple thousands of years is patently illogical and absurd.

Leanan, if you feel this is off base feel free to delete.

Not off base at all. Excellent comment, even.

As I said, feel free to make your case. Just do it civilly. Criticize ideas rather than the people who hold them.

Reasonable people can disagree on this issue. I just ask that they do it without being disagreeable.

The 'ideal' nuclear waste disposal methods (advanced copper containers, sealed in cements, stored in caverns, packed with special minerals around them so they actually will not break down for the life of their toxic contents), discussed by I believe Monbiot, are also only that, ideals, the realities globally are found in the USSR/Russia sinking decommissioned nuclear subs in the ocean, barrels of nuclear waste being tossed into the ocean, corrupt politicians in the failed state of Somalia / Somaliland being bribed by for example EU states to dispose of toxic wastes in their oceans for 1/100 the price it cost to dispose of them in the EU. I don't even want to think what will happen in China when their miracle starts to fail, or in Russia when their oil money starts to dry up, it's a terrifying thought to be honest.

Any 7 generation test must include real humans, real corruption, real failings of states, real infrastructure failures, in other words, they must deal with real human society, now and future, not some fantasy aberration generated in the last 60-100 years of extreme wealth and privilege in the West.

And that doesn't even talk about the tailings from the mines, or the rapidly declining percentages of uranium in the ore being extracted from the mines now.

Since Norway recently rejected for now Thorium as a viable alternative in a government funded white paper, I'll trust them as fairly neutral participants in the discussion until they are proved wrong by viable and active commercial scale power plants.

I am reminded of an incident from the past:

Civilian Radiation Accidents

December 6, 1983 – Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, A local resident salvaged materials from a discarded radiation therapy machine carrying 6,000 pellets of 60Co. The dismantling and transport of the material led to severe contamination of his truck; when the truck was scrapped, it in turn contaminated another 5,000 metric tonnes of steel with an estimated 300 Ci (11 TBq) of activity. This material was sold for kitchen or restaurant table legs and building materials some of which was sent to the U.S. and Canada; the incident was discovered when a truck delivering contaminated building materials months later to the Los Alamos National Laboratory accidentally drove through a radiation monitoring station. Contamination was later measured on the roads that were used to transport the original damaged radiation source. In some cases pellets were actually found embedded in the roadway. In the state of Sinaloa, 109 houses were condemned due to contaminated building material. This incident prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Customs Service to install radiation detection equipment at all major border crossings.[17]

Just do it civilly

That's funny, where were you the other day when I was being called a "pile of yak dung"?


You weren't being called yak dung. Your statement was. I wasn't too pleased about that, either, but you started it by accusing your opponents of "delusional wild-eyed hand-waving."

If I had stepped in on that thread, I'd have removed your comment, not just the replies. I probably should have.

Thanks for your reporting. I am worried.

I wish I could be more pro-nuclear given our energy problems. But alas what a mess.

Greatest calamity ever in Japan and you have doubts about nuclear power? This only proves the viability IMHO. These were old designs. These were unprecedented events. Look at Katrina. We had pumps and generators flood. We had old folks drown in bed. We had doctors euthanizing patients. Because the Corp of Engineers could not build an adequate barrier and maintain it? Remember the guy in the bulldozer trying to fill the widening crevasse? There might be failures of imagination and materials, but the concept of safe nuclear power has only been enhanced IMHO.
According to Articles from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) indicate that SCRAM stands for "safety cut rope axe man", referring in that case to the early neutronic safety mechanism of using a person equipped with an axe to cut the rope suspending the control rods over the Chicago Pile nuclear reactor, at which point the rods would fall by gravity into the reactor core, shutting the reactor down. Specifically, Wallace Koehler, a technician working for the Manhattan Project at Chicago Pile 1, under Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, and later a research physicist at ORNL, reportedly said that Enrico Fermi coined the term as this acronym. Although Koehler did not serve as a rope-cutting control rod axe-man, he was responsible for dumping a bucket of aqueous cadmium solution into the reactor if reactor period entered into the sub-optimal range.

So a man with an axe cutting a rope was the first SCRAM. It appears things have progressed a long way, but that first pile did not need water or electricity either. Perhaps it is not practical to design a system to be so again, but it is worth noting.

I went to University of Chicago. I know the story.

Great one too.

Here is an interesting point. We are cutting and axing basically science, math, university funding, research etc.

How do you keep up the education in the US, which is supposed to be top of the food chain, with the Congressional firing squad SCRAMing the educational system required to support nuclear power in the first place.

I am pro energy sources -- a lot of different ones -- but you need smart people.

Until you can convince the rich folks that the system will not tolerate giving economic power to the ignorant, then it will BAU. It is up to the have nots to save themselves and the haves from themselves. It must be done in a way that maintains confidence of the wealthy as displayed by the market indices and employment numbers.

I had to add a reply so this comment cannot be altered in the future. This is one of the most astoundingly cynical statements I have ever read anywhere, and is certainly one of the strongest arguments in favor of massive and immediate tax increases on the wealthy I have yet come across if this view in any way reflects the views of the wealthy. Clearly their power is starting to go to their heads, despite all evidence they are totally unable to restrain themselves when social controls, aka regulations, are removed. But I am certain this is in fact how many among them do view themselves. Not the smart ones like Soros, Buffet , Bill Gross, but many.

This looks like it was lifted from Orwell's book. Certain people appear on this forum during disasters and then disappear soon after, seeming only to want to rile people up.

""Greatest calamity ever in Japan and you have doubts about nuclear power?""

I think one should brush up on a little history.



This Natural Disaster in minor, compared to the atrocities inflicted by the U.S. Military upon Japan. Or the fire bombing of Dresden...Or ...Or..the list is pretty long.

I have doubts about Man.

Choose Wisely.
The Martian.

Yes but was the splitting of the atom just the instrument of destruction and the demand for hydrocarbons the real cause. I think oil played a role in both main Axis powers declaring war in WWII. The Japanese wanted the East Indies oil fields when it attacked the US and Britain. Hitler wanted the Caucus oil fields when he attacked the Soviets. What column should those deaths really go in?

Now they have confirmed, reactor and containment vessel are not damaged by H/O explosion, and the translators continue to slightly mistranslate, calling it 'the wall of building has collapsed' but it's clear that's not really what they mean, so I assume they are saying: the roof has blown off, with the top side walls.

Update: new shots, they are insisting the building has collapsed and they could be right, it's hard to see, the image is fuzzy, but it may be collapsed.

Update: it looks like at least half the building is gone.

Update: they are still injecting sea water to number 3, explosion was at 11:01 - still believe no damage to container vessel, plant workers in injured.

Update: at 11:35 water level in reactor core, -1800 mm.

Update: confirmed, pressure in containment vessel stabilized after it shot up, injuries, no extra radiation detected externally. 'Internal Evacuation' still in place for those left within the 20km evacuation zone, that means stay at home and don't go out if you haven't yet evacuated.

The story that the reactor core is sealed is not credible after seeing this level of damage. The hydrogen originates in the overheating core. It is detonating in an unplanned manner inside the concrete containment building. Perhaps the inner concrete containment around the reactor vessel is surviving these blasts intact, but none of the piping that is allowing the hydrogen to escape the core is going to be untouched.

From the graphic of this GE reactor model (http://www.nei.org/filefolder/BoilingWaterReactorDesign_3.jpg) it looks like the torus at the base of the reactor building is not shielded by the same amount of concrete as the main pressure vessel. Maybe these figures are not meant to be accurate but it looks like it is even less than the thickness of the walls.

It also looks like it is underground, which makes sense. Also notice how much thinner the walls are above the refueling deck at the top. If that diagram is anywhere close to scale, it seems very possible that those walls and the roof could blow off without the rest of the building or the containment vessel being severely damaged.

I agree that the hydrogen was probably generated in the reactor core itself, but there are other possible sources I've also seen mentioned, and your presumption has a long way to go before being confirmed.


0453: John Keeley from the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington has told the BBC the hydrogen explosion was similar to the first blast at the plant: "Japanese officials to their credit have come out here quite quickly and suggested that at least at this moment they don't believe there has been any significant radiological release - we will cross our fingers and hope that's the case. It appears that was the case with Unit 1's explosion, we'll hope that's certainly the case with Unit 3."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12307698 (from live update scrolling left side.)

That's the status officially as of now. To me it doesn't look like the Japanese ministers who are giving frequent press conferences are lying, seems like it's pretty real discussion and information, best available, which doesn't mean it might not have flaws or be corrected later, as was the initial false tsunami warning a little while ago.

This post is to comment on the hydrogen explosion and cesium detection at the Fukushima reactor No. 1.

As background for my post, I worked for General Electric Co at the Hanford AEC site in Washington State, starting in 1956 during the Cold War buildup of nuclear materials. I was one of the materials scientists and worked 8 years on R&D programs for the zirconium alloy (Zircaloy-2) that was used fuel cladding and high pressure tubes used in the graphite stack moderated N-Reactor at Hanford. This project was then classified "secret", but the Soviets found out enough about it to make a pseudo copy of this type of reactor at Chernobyl which I will comment on at the end.

I believe there is a close similarity to what is now going on in Japan to the Three Mile Island accident. At Three Mile Island a combination of equipment failure and operator error caused the water level in the pressure vessel to fall and expose the very hot fuel to just a steam atmosphere after the reactor shutdown. This lead to overheating of the zirconium alloy fuel cladding, which then begins to corrode rapidly in the hot steam forming a hydrogen bubble at Three Mile Island which I quote from this link:


After almost 80 minutes of slow temperature rise, the primary loop pumps began to cavitate as steam, rather than water, began to pass through them. The pumps were shut down, and it was believed that natural circulation would continue the water movement. Steam in the system prevented flow through the core, and as the water stopped circulating it was converted to steam in increasing amounts. About 130 minutes after the first malfunction, the top of the reactor core was exposed and the intense heat caused a reaction to occur between the steam forming in the reactor core and the Zircaloy nuclear fuel rod cladding, yielding zirconium dioxide, hydrogen, and additional heat. This fiery reaction burned off the nuclear fuel rod cladding, the hot plume of reacting steam and zirconium damaged the fuel pellets which released more radioactivity to the reactor coolant and produced hydrogen gas that is believed to have caused a small explosion in the containment building later that afternoon.

This same lack of cooling due to the failure of the last battery powered safety cooling system appears to have exposed the fuel rods in a similar manner in this Japan nuclear accident. The media is calling this a "meltdown" which is a misleading, but commonly used term. What actually happens is the normal corrosion reaction of zirconium exposed to water or steam rapidly accelerates as the cladding temperature rises without cooling water.

Zr + 2 H2O = ZrO2 +2 H2

Zirconium is an extremely reactive metal, but this reaction quickly forms a corrosion resistant thin film of ZrO2 that almost totally blocks the reaction from proceeding in normal temperature reactor conditions. In fact it is routine to autoclave fuel rods to pre-coat them with this thin film. However if overheated, this reaction takes off exponentially, the coating becomes thick and cracks, hydrogen is absorbed into the cladding causing embrittlement, and very quickly the protective cladding cracks and releases fission products to the system. Radioactive cesium and iodine detected are clear evidence of cladding failure. If this reaction proceeds far enough the cladding can crack off causing uranium oxide fuel pellets to be exposed or even drop out.

So rather than "meltdown" a more accurate description is: "catastrophic fuel assembly disintegration".

This process can be stopped by getting cooling water into the vessel which is what the Japanese are doing by pumping in sea water. Putting boron compounds in the water, which are strong neutron absorbers, guarantees that in a worst case scenario, a pile of fuel pellets in the bottom of the vessel cannot go critical and restart the nuclear chain reaction.

Clearly after seawater containing chlorides has been put into the reactor, it will NEVER run again, since chlorides cause stress corrosion cracking in the stainless steel used for the pressure vessel and piping and one could never get all traces of chlorides removed again.

The hydrogen explosion occurred just as the operators were starting to put water into the vessel which probably vented the steam containing hydrogen into the building where it exploded. An explosion this big implies that a LOT of zirconium fuel cladding has been destroyed by reaction with the steam in the pressure vessel. But, that is why this huge pressure vessel is part of the safety system- it keeps all the debris and fission products inside when sealed. However, it will be a huge financial cost to decommission and disassemble it!

It is ironic that this reactor is 40 years old and I read it was scheduled for shutdown this year .

This scenario is nothing like Chernobyl where a steam explosion blew apart the graphite moderator and building ( there was no containment building) letting air in. This caused the graphite to burn up the fuel elements in a catastrophic fire spreading the fission products over thousands of miles for days. This CANNOT happen in the reactors in trouble in Japan as they have NO graphite moderator.

I was part of a USA team invited for a two week tour of Japan's reactors in 1970 as part of a USA- Japan technical exchange agreement. I found the Japanese nuclear engineers outstanding in their work in Japan.

I will await more information about this tragic event to see how close my accident hypothesis is .

There will be those who will cite this accident as reasons that the USA must not go back to nuclear power. I would suggest they read how the new reactor designs now have a built in cooling system design that maintains adequate cooling flow by thermal convection without ANY electrical power or pumps needed. Just as airplane designers have learned from past plane crashes, new designs prevent the Three Mile Island scenario from ever happening that way again. If anything ,this accident is proof of a need to replace these aging nuclear reactors with modern reactor designs.

Thanks! Good to hear from someone who really understands what is probably happening.

Had a post on al.com with the same concerns. I post my response again.

afraidtoques March 13, 2011 at 11:53AM
We will be running out of oil in the future. Do you believe nuclear power is reliable, safe and clean, or do we even have a choice? Consider how many people have died or suffered other health problems from nuclear accidents around the world. What are the key questions we should be asking to be sure we have defined what the real problems are and that we establish the right priority to solve them?
AL public education fails to sufficiently train students how think critically, and especially in public policy and government to define key issues, problems and how to solve them. What are tests and measures for critical thinking and problem solving for complex poorly understood issues?
Has Japan made some serious public policy errors? Of course, but they are still one of the world's most progressive and efficient countries. If you live above major fault lines, even the best policies will still result in great damage and loss of lives. Living near the ocean in fault areas, might be a bit safer if citizens could wear some kind of ultra lite comfortable flotation device as normal clothing.

TinFoilHatGuy March 13, 2011 at 12:00PM
Consider how many people have died or suffered other health problems from nuclear accidents around the world.
Maybe 85,000 folks. 98% from Chernobyl
Hydrocarbons have probably killed mega ten millions if you count that whole WWII thing. Add Hiroshima and Nagasaki and you do not even make a dent.

The 85,000 to 100,000 figure for Chernobyl is Greenpeace anti nuclear propaganda. More serious studies have estimated the total deaths from the fallout to be about 2,000. But these deaths by cancer include ones in later stages of life. On these timescales you can be killed off by air quality problems and it is hard to extract the signal from the noise.

Nobody demonstrated and imposed moratoriums in the wake of Bhopal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster).

Thanks for the clarification, so now I am more convinced that hydrocarbons still has killed magnitudes of more folks, just perhaps even more as you point out. Gulf War I listed 3,600 Iraqi civillians killed. I saw that many and I am just one man.

Yes, the RBMK was a plutonium production design and not a civilian reactor. It didn't help that there was criminal negligence in the "experiments" they were conducting with it.

Update from edges of the quake zone, near Tokyo: no gasoline at gas stations, no food on store shelves. Fears of radiation.

I guess peak oil is coming early here. I think this is a blow from which the Japanese economy will never recover.

Our prayers and thoughts are with you. Thank you for commenting. Hamster

Wishing you and all your fellow countrymen all the best in these tough times, pi.

0654: Tokyo is open for business as usual, our correspondent adds, but there's a real sense of concern: Shop shelves are empty, and there's lots of rumour and speculation about latest developments at the Fukushima power complex.

Alabama shutdown for 9/11. Different culture. God bless them. Good luck.

Military Crew Said to Be Exposed to Radiation, but Officials Call Risk in U.S. Slight

The Pentagon was expected to announce that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan, causing crew members on deck to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials said Sunday.

The fact that anyone at all has "symptoms" at this early date, presumably nausea and vomiting, means that some people (plant workers?) have already experienced radiation exposure well above the Annual Limit on Intake (ALI). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_poisoning.

Here is Unit 3 exploding with better video and sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_N-wNFSGyQ

From BBC:

"0650: Japan's government is insisting that radiation levels across the country are safe, says the BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo, but a German businessman has told our correspondent that some foreign firms are starting to move their expatriate staff south - or out of the country altogether - because they don't have confidence in what the government is saying any more."

Says it all.

Now foreigners will leave Japan like they did Libya. It is up to the government to restore confidence in the situation. Of course, the truth may not be easy to tell.

That was a massive explosion, Oct. You can see parts of the building/reactor falling back down.

Fairly sure that isn't original sound! It's the Sky News 'disaster' soundtrack overlayed.

Has anyone given a credible explanation about the big difference in the appearance of the two explosions?

#1 blew mostly sideways, with flying fragments of wall visible for at least 15 seconds and a whitish dust cloud slowly spreading and drifting away.

#3 blew mostly upwards, with a jet of dark grey smoke/dust quickly rising high into the air.

It's hard to understand how two H/O gas explosions, in nearly identical buildings, could produce such different plumes.

PT in PA

The buildings are very different and were built at different times by different companies. If you look at the satellite photos you will see that #1 is by far the smallest.


Fukushima, reactor No 2. Cooling system has stopped and water levels are falling. Presumably that means the possibility of another explosion.

I have to think that Unit #3 caused #2 to have this problem.

Design flaw number 2. They put 4 reactors too close together.

I am thinking those engineers should have watched some Godzilla movies. I say this not as a smartass, but as a good engineer. If you designed against an attack from Godzilla, no way you put those close together or to close to the water. You would also elevate and armor everything. You would also count on losing every high tension wire. I wish those folks the best but something off the wall like that might have made a difference. Good luck my brothers in the East.

I feel terrible about it all myself.

To armchair it like this.

The tsunami damage elsewhere is horrific.

Actually the tsunami death toll, casualty rate, damage, pollution etc is orders of magnitude worse than that of the nuclear plant so why are we all obsessed with the nuclear plant?


EDIT: ambiguous.

Because this is an energy site?

And there aren't many people on the TOD who have been directly affected by the tsunami.

There isn't anyone on TOD who cannot potentially be affected by a nuclear disaster in Japan.

The Japanese do not stop the whole country on the anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo. They stop and pause on 815 AM on Aug 6 every year.

Because radiation and the mutagenic and teratogenic effects of many of its toxic byproducts, like Genetic Modification of plant species, carries in it the ability to create long-term chain reactions that can devastate life forms far removed in geography and time from the source of the accident and the waste.

Because it's key weapon is invisible and undetectable by normal human senses, and even if Anti-nuke voices are constantly called 'emotional' for it, the idea that some little chunk of Kryptonite sitting in your lunchbox doesn't do ANYTHING to tell you it's dangerous, but in fact could have you become a walking dead-man within minutes-- is a very good reason to be afraid of the potentialities of the materials we're so cavalierly spreading pool of across the planet, and particularly in proximity to water sources.

But the invisible almost doesn't matter, since the promise of POWER blinds us to any danger..

It began with the forging of the Great Rings.

Three were given to the Elves: immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings.

Seven to the Dwarf-lords: great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls.

And nine. Nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who above all else desire power.

For within these rings was bound the strength and will to govern each race. But they were all of them deceived.

- Tolkien

And in appropriate response to this, and perhaps in anticipation of those who say 'Then what, do you want to go back to the Dark Ages again, and live in perfect squalor?'

There are other perspectives to be had on what is important, and what defines 'squalor'.. I've watched TV and played video games.. I've lived in Cities and in the Countryside of this Techno-wonderland, and I'm quite sure I have, in my priviledged life experienced all sorts of the 'Squalor' we call modern life.

Though this is idealized greatly, it does contain ideas to remind us of what is actually worth working towards..

BILBO: Hobbits have been living and farming in the four Farthings of the Shire for many hundreds of years, quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Big Folk. Middle-earth being, after all, full of strange creatures beyond count, Hobbits must seem of little importance, being neither renowned as great warriors nor counted among the very wise... In fact, it has been remarked by some that Hobbits' only real passion is for food. A rather unfair observation, as we have also developed a keen interest in the brewing of ales and the smoking of pipe-weed. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good, tilled earth. For all hobbits share a love for things that grow. And, yes, no doubt to others, our ways seem quaint. But today of all days, it is brought home to me: It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.

.. beyond the 'Storybook Fancy', think about what this says about a 'Hobbit's' relationship to Power, which is the key question in this Story. (and I'd argue, in OURS)

What about all the fuel oils, chemicals, smoke pollution etc that occurred in the areas affected by the tsunami? It's just that it struck me that most of the attention, not just here, is focused on the smaller part of the problem and it is eclipsing the rest. There is an oil refinery that is affected, what is the situation there? What about the natural gas installation? Has any other generating capacity been lost?

It is not a criticism aimed here but rather a general observation on coverage in general. Lots of articles counting how many casualties may have occurred at the station but on the other hand reports of thousands of bodies washing up on the shore from the tsunami. I just get the feeling that some balance has been lost along the way.


From the BBC feed:

Worrying news, this: The operators of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant say it's possible that cooling water at one of the reactors has evaporated, Reuters reports. The company says it can't rule out the possibility that the nuclear fuel rods in Number 2 reactor were now exposed and could be at risk of meltdown.

AP is reporting that the rods were exposed at Unit 2. They are now pumping sea water in to cover them.

So we should expect a "Hydrogen explosion" there within 24hrs?

Does anyone know what we are talking about in terms of vessel design and components? How thick are the walls? How big is it? How many rods of what types. Dimensions. Weight of each and total weight of each type. Composition of nuclear materials in the fuel rods. About how old are they? Are they partially 'depleted' and if so, is this a factor? Sorry to ask the dummy questions but it will help me get an idea. How hot and under what pressure is the vessel normal operating conditions.

Wikipedia is your friend, will answer many of your questions
Follow links for a list of reactors. #1/#1 was 40yo about to be shut down so full of old fuel.


As I said above, "old" is a relative term when you're talking about nuclear reactor fuel. From Wikipedia:

The fraction of the reactor's fuel core replaced during refueling is typically one-fourth for a boiling-water reactor and one-third for a pressurized-water reactor. The disposition and storage of this spent fuel is one of the most challenging aspects of the operation of a commercial nuclear power plant. This nuclear waste is highly radioactive and its toxicity presents a danger for thousands of years.

So how "old" do you think the fuel in the reactor core is exactly?

I thought I read somewhere it had been given a 10 year extension?

Since the spent fuel pools are towards the top of those buildings and after seeing the energy involved in the explosion of the 3rd reactor, I'm pretty concerned about the security of several decades of spent fuel rods.

Does anyone have a decent picture of reactor 3 after the explosion?

Yes, it was given a 10-year extension. Just last month. It's in the Wikipedia article.

Lifted from zerohedge:

"Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination. The detection of the highly radioactive elements heralds the beginning of an ecological and human tragedy. The two radioactive isotopes can mean only one thing: One or more of the reactor cores is badly damaged and at least partially melted down."

Seemingly this was before the recent explosion at reactor #3.

The question I have is with this releases of radioactive steam, how far will the radioactive particles drift? Can they drift 1000's of miles or is this localized? They better hope the winds stay out to sea and not turn back towards Tokyo.

It depends on the particle size. If the reactor core isotopes are not clumped into large particles with a diameter more than a few microns but are smaller or consist of a few oxide molecules, then they will be carried by the winds around the globe. In spite of all the downplaying, these isotopes are being released during the hydrogen explosions. This means that they can spread far and wide and accounts for the ever increasing evacuation zone.

A significant part of the released isotopes will be deposited into the ocean and surrounding land while they are mixed by the eddies in the turbulent planetary boundary layer. But some will be lofted higher than 1 km and a part will cross the Pacific ocean. But the mean distance traveled by the coarser particles will be much shorter than the finer ones due to sedimentation. However, I would not worry about radiation from Japan if was living on the west coast of North America.

It is amazing how people are treating the destruction of the concrete containment buildings as nothing to be worried about. It is no surprise that reactor core isotopes are escaping into the environment. They are being launched into the atmosphere together with the hydrogen explosions. This is a massive failure of containment.

It could get worse if the fuel assemblies collapse as noted by donshan but hopefully the pumping of sea water will give the cores long enough to cool down.

First, I have assumed that the hydrogen and radiation products have been released along with the steam from the reactor vessel, in a somewhat controlled manner.

Second, while the explosions have been large, concrete is pretty strong, and damage to concrete walls and moorings while metal cladding tears off is to be expected. Whether this means the containment dome has been compromised or not is in uncertain.

Third, if the concrete containment dome was cracked, that's only critical if the reactor vessel failed. The concrete is supposed to hold if the pressure vessel fails, so a moderate hydrogen explosion really shouldn't do that much compared to a captive steam explosion.

Fourth, given the number of pipe cuts through both vessels, it is clear that no containment can really be "complete". There are avenues for some low-grade radiation to escape, obviously.

Fifth, after 3 days the reactor should be down to a megawatt or two. If the containment dome has cracked, now they can just take fire-hoses to the pressure vessel and cool it directly, or so I would think.

Sixth, short half-life decay products in the steam will quickly dissipate, so down-wind risk will be much less by the time it crosses the ocean.

From my admittedly amateur perspective, there is no way for this to become a Chernobyl -- fission should not resume. A steam explosion is still possible if the pressure vessel fails, but the resulting magnitude should decrease with each passing day. The critical need seems to be to continue getting water into the reactor vessel. Failing that, cooling it externally would probably help. Power levels should be down to the level that firehoses would deliver the needed flow, so the earlier high-volume needs should be over.

It is quite probable that we'll end up at TMI twice or thrice over, though. Total radiation emitted is going to be a lot more than TMI, but I don't yet understand why it would be any higher intensity or more dangerous once dissipated geographically.

The analysis right now, in relation to the Fukushima unrest, is that oil prices are falling due to the immediate demand drop, together with falling steel prices.

However, once the reconstruction scheme begins, it will send prices upwards in a very aggressive manner. Unless the world economy is down again, sending oil prices downwards(but by then oil prices will be the least of Japan's concern).

Either way you cut it, Japan's economic situation has just gone from bad to worse.
This will increase oil demand over the long term, since they need a lot of energy to build and reconstruct but also because so much of their nuclear capacity is wiped out and they need to replace it with something in the short term. Economic activity will be hit badly. Japan could simply become the new Greece if the situation is slowly amended - too slowly - and the oil prices continue to rise(which they will), until a point where they simply won't be able to take it unless there's draconian measures(i.e. Greece).

Swedish media is already reporting a huge surge for oil in Japan as not enough tankers are available to ship the stuff. But this is mostly increasing prices for freight costs, not oil(for now):


(Use google translate on the language of your choice, it tends to work fairly well now).

Power Shortages To Impact Japanese Car Production For Months To Come


Japan’s Industrial Output Suffers Major Damage


I hope this does not mean containment is being lost.

1426: Mr Goto says his greatest fear is that blasts at number 3 and number 1 reactors may have damaged the steel casing of the containment vessel designed to stop radioactive material escaping into the atmosphere. More to follow.
1422: Japanese engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for Fukushima's reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand earthquakes or tsunamis and the plant's builders, Toshiba, knew this. More on Mr Goto's remarks to follow.


edit: 1431: More from Japanese nuclear engineer Masashi Goto: He say that as the reactor uses mox (mixed oxide) fuel, the melting point is lower than that of conventional fuel. Should a meltdown and an explosion occur, he says, plutonium could be spread over an area up to twice as far as estimated for a conventional nuclear fuel explosion. The next 24 hours are critical, he says.

No company I've worked for like to let engineers talk to customers, let alone the press. :)

"May have" means "some non-zero probability to an engineer. "Damage" does not necessarily mean "compromised the primary containment ability".

Did they ask what the probability of a meltdown was? What his most probably outcome view might be? What he would do?

Talking to engineers requires some experience, like talking to lawyers or politicians. You may get accurate information with little useful value if you ask questions that solicit facts instead of understanding.

Lifted from the Telegraph (UK time stamp):

15.19 Japanese officials say the nuclear fuel rods appear to be melting inside all three of the most troubled nuclear reactors. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said:

Quote Although we cannot directly check it, it's highly likely happening.

15.12 Fuel rods are fully exposed again at the nuclear power plant, according to Kyodo news.

15.09 Japan has provided 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centres as a precautionary measure in the country's nuclear emergency, the UN atomic watchdog has said.

bbc says that the explosion at #3 stopped the water injection into #2, but that it has now resumed.