How Black Is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?

The following is a guest post from friend of TOD Nicole Foss who blogs at The Automatic Earth as Stoneleigh. The subject of Nicole's master thesis at Warwick University was nuclear safety. Subsequently at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, her research field was power systems, with a specific focus on nuclear safety in Eastern Europe.

The Japanese earthquake is a tragedy of epic proportions in so many ways. The situation continues to evolve, and the full scope of the disaster will not be understood for a long time. One critical aspect is the effect on Japan's nuclear industry, which provides over 30% of the country's electricity from 54 reactors. Some of the largest nuclear plants in the world (Fukushima Dai-ichi and Fukushima Dai-ni, 4696 MW and 4400 MW, respectively) are located close to the epicentre, and on the coast, directly in the path of the resulting tsunami:

A state of emergency has been declared for five reactors, with the worst affected reactors being the forty year old Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) at Fukushima Dai-ichi, 240 km north of Tokyo. These reactors shut down, as the control rods were automatically inserted to dampen the nuclear reaction (SCRAM). At least two reactors experienced a station blackout, which prevented the cooling system from functioning (a loss of coolant, or LOCA accident).

Without the ability to cool the core, the risk is a meltdown, with the potential for explosions resulting from steam or hydrogen. Even after the cessation of a nuclear chain reaction, heat from radioactive decay continues to be produced, and this heat needs to be dispersed in order to avoid a meltdown of the components of the core. Workers have been desperately trying to cool the reactor cores at units 1 and 3, but there has already been an explosion at Fukushima 1. Footage of the plant shows only the skeleton of the building remains. An evacuation zone has been expanded from 10km to 20km, and close to 200.000 people have been evacuated from the area.

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.

The design-basis accident for Fukushima did not include earthquakes of the magnitude of this event (recently upgraded to 9.0 on the Richter scale).
Company documents show that Tokyo Electric tested the Fukushima plant to withstand a maximum seismic jolt lower than Friday's 8.9 earthquake. Tepco's last safety test of nuclear power plant Number 1—one that is currently in danger of meltdown—was done at a seismic magnitude the company considered the highest possible, but in fact turned out to be lower than Friday's quake. The information comes from the company's "Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 Updated Safety Measures" documents written in Japanese in 2010 and 2009.

The documents were reviewed by Dow Jones. The company said in the documents that 7.9 was the highest magnitude for which they tested the safety for their No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Simultaneous seismic activity along the three tectonic plates in the sea east of the plants—the epicenter of Friday's quake—wouldn't surpass 7.9, according to the company's presentation. The company based its models partly on previous seismic activity in the area, including a 7.0 earthquake in May 1938 and two simultaneous earthquakes of 7.3 and 7.5 on November 5 of the same year.

Fukushima 1 before the tsunami

Fukushima 1 after the tsunami

The Fukushima 1 plant was equipped with 13 diesel back-up generators to power the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS), but all of these failed. Battery back-ups are available, but these function only for a few hours. Without the ability to cool the reactor, the outcome is a meltdown, which can occur rapidly after the failure of cooling:

  • Core uncovery. In the event of a transient, upset, emergency, or limiting fault, LWRs are designed to automatically SCRAM (a SCRAM being the immediate and full insertion of all control rods) and spin up the ECCS. This greatly reduces reactor thermal power (but does not remove it completely); this delays core "uncovery", which is defined as the point when the fuel rods are no longer covered by coolant and can begin to heat up.

    As Kuan states: "In a small-break LOCA with no emergency core coolant injection, core uncovery generally begins approximately an hour after the initiation of the break. If the reactor coolant pumps are not running, the upper part of the core will be exposed to a steam environment and heatup of the core will begin. However, if the coolant pumps are running, the core will be cooled by a two-phase mixture of steam and water, and heatup of the fuel rods will be delayed until almost all of the water in the two-phase mixture is vaporized. The TMI-2 accident showed that operation of reactor coolant pumps may be sustained for up to approximately two hours to deliver a two phase mixture that can prevent core heatup."

  • Pre-damage heat up. "In the absence of a two-phase mixture going through the core or of water addition to the core to compensate water boiloff, the fuel rods in a steam environment will heatup at a rate between 0.3 K/s and 1 K/s (3)."

  • Fuel ballooning and bursting. "In less than half an hour, the peak core temperature would reach 1100 K. At this temperature, the zircaloy cladding of the fuel rods may balloon and burst. This is the first stage of core damage. Cladding ballooning may block a substantial portion of the flow area of the core and restrict the flow of coolant. However complete blockage of the core is unlikely because not all fuel rods balloon at the same axial location. In this case, sufficient water addition can cool the core and stop core damage progression."

  • Rapid oxidation. "The next stage of core damage, beginning at approximately 1500 K, is the rapid oxidation of the Zircaloy by steam. In the oxidation process, hydrogen is produced and a large amount of heat is released. Above 1500 K, the power from oxidation exceeds that from decay heat (4,5) unless the oxidation rate is limited by the supply of either zircaloy or steam."

  • Debris bed formation. "When the temperature in the core reaches about 1700 K, molten control materials [1,6] will flow to and solidify in the space between the lower parts of the fuel rods where the temperature is comparatively low. Above 1700 K, the core temperature may escalate in a few minutes to the melting point of zircaloy (2150 K) due to increased oxidation rate. When the oxidized cladding breaks, the molten zircaloy, along with dissolved UO2 [1,7] would flow downward and freeze in the cooler, lower region of the core. Together with solidified control materials from earlier down-flows, the relocated zircaloy and UO2 would form the lower crust of a developing cohesive debris bed."

  • (Corium) Relocation to the lower plenum. "In scenarios of small-break LOCAs, there is generally. a pool of water in the lower plenum of the vessel at the time of core relocation. Release of molten core materials into water always generates large amounts of steam. If the molten stream of core materials breaks up rapidly in water, there is also a possibility of a steam explosion. During relocation, any unoxidized zirconium in the molten material may also be oxidized by steam, and in the process hydrogen is produced. Recriticality also may be a concern if the control materials are left behind in the core and the relocated material breaks up in unborated water in the lower plenum."

Other aspects of defence in depth failed as well: 
1st layer of defense is the inert, ceramic quality of the uranium oxide itself. 2nd layer is the air tight zirkonium alloy of the fuel rod. 3rd layer is the reactor pressure vessel made of steel more than a dozen centimeters thick. 4th layer is the pressure resistant, air tight containment building. 5th layer is the exclusion zone around the reactor.

The incident is being described as a hydrogen explosion. The official line is that the outer containment building was destroyed, but that the reactor vessel itself remains intact:
Top government officials assured the nation that an explosion that took place Saturday at one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant merely knocked down the walls of its external concrete building, and that the reactor and the containment structure surrounding it remained intact.

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission analysts explain the hydrogen production process under accident conditions:

Former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) member Peter Bradford added, "The other thing that happens is that the cladding, which is just the outside of the tube, at a high enough temperature interacts with the water. It's essentially a high-speed rusting, where the zirconium becomes zirconium oxide and the hydrogen is set free. And hydrogen at the right concentration in an atmosphere is either flammable or explosive."

"Hydrogen combustion would not occur necessarily in the containment building," Bergeron pointed out, "which is inert—it doesn't have any oxygen—but they have had to vent the containment, because this pressure is building up from all this steam. And so the hydrogen is being vented with the steam and it's entering some area, some building, where there is oxygen, and that's where the explosion took place."

A hydrogen release is very much part of a meltdown scenario, and difficult to imagine hydrogen explosion scenarios on the scale of what was seen at Fukushima 1 that would not involve compromising the reactor pressure vessel:
If hydrogen were allowed to build up within the containment, it could lead to a deflagration event. The numerous catalytic hydrogen recombiners located within the reactor core and containment will prevent this from occurring; however, prior to the installation of these recombiners in the 1980s, the Three Mile Island containment (in 1979) suffered a massive hydrogen explosion event in the accident there.

The containment withstood this event and no radioactivity was released by the hydrogen explosion, clearly demonstrating the level of punishment that containments can take, and validating the industry's approach of defence in depth against all contingencies. Some, however, do not accept the Three Mile Island incident as sufficient proof that a hydrogen deflagration event will not result in containment breach

click to open interactive graphic in new window

One speculative scenario may be alpha-mode failure. This would involve an explosion sufficient to blow the head off the reactor pressure vessel, launching it at the outer containment system, which could then be breached as a result. The odds of this are considered low, but many supposedly very low probability events have in fact occurred at nuclear installations.

Given the detection of radioactive caesium, which could only have come from inside exposed fuel rods beginning to burn, and the subsequent violent explosion, it is difficult to imagine scenarios not involving substantial destruction of the reactor. Indeed it has been admitted that a major accident has occurred in one unit and another is at risk:
Meltdowns may have occurred in two reactors: Japan government
Japan's top government spokesman Yukio Edano said Sunday that radioactive meltdowns may have occurred in two reactors of the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant. Asked in a press conference whether meltdowns had occurred, Edano said "we are acting on the assumption that there is a high possibility that one has occurred" in the plant's number-one reactor. "As for the number-three reactor, we are acting on the assumption that it is possible," he said.

There are 6 reactors at Fukushima 1 and an additional 4 at nearby Fukushima 2. Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) is now indicating that there are cooling problems and dangerous pressure increases at several of these units:
Tokyo Electric said Saturday another nuclear-power plant nearby, Fukushima Dai-ni, was experiencing rises of pressure inside its four reactors. A state of emergency was called and precautionary evacuations ordered. The government has ordered the utility to release "potentially radioactive vapor" from the reactors, but hasn't confirmed any elevated radiation around the plant.

Loss of cooling ability appears to be the common problem:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPOC), operator and owner of Fukushima nuclear plants, said early on Sunday that a sixth reactor at the nuclear power plants has lost its ability to cool the reactor core since Friday's quake. The No. 3 reactor at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant lost the cooling function after No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the No. 1 plant and No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 at the No. 2 plant had suffered the same trouble.

Kodama said the cooling system had failed at three of the four such units of the Daini plant [Fukushima 2]. Temperatures of the coolant water in that plant's reactors soared to above 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported, an indication that the cooling system wasn't working.

Containment structures are being flooded with seawater and boric acid as a desperation move to lower the temperature and poison any capacity for further nuclear reactivity. The latter is important to absorb neutrons in order to avoid incidences of potential criticality during a meltdown. Such an event would have the potential to cause much more widespread releases of radiation.

There seems to be considerable evidence that we are closer to the beginning of this disaster than to the end, and already it is almost unprecedented in scope.
"If this accident stops right now it will already be one of the three worst accidents we have ever had at a nuclear power plant in the history of nuclear power," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear materials and president of the U.S.-based Ploughshares Fund, a firm involved in security and peace funding.

Comparisons are being made with the accident at Chernobyl, but there are a number of very important differences, notably in terms of reactor design, and therefore accident implications. Nuclear safety in the former Soviet Union was once my research field (see Nuclear Safety and International Governance: Russia and Eastern Europe), and the specifics of the accident at Chernobyl could not be replicated in Japan. The risk in Japan is primarily meltdown, not a Chernobyl-style run-away nuclear reaction.

RBMK (Reaktor bolshoy moshchnosty kanalny [high-power channel reactor]), Chernobyl-type reactors have a very large positive void coefficient, meaning that reactivity increases as a positive feedback loop. The presence of steam from overheating increases reactivity, which increases steam production. The graphite moderator in an RBMK is flammable, and RBMKs also have no containment system. If two or three of the 1700 channels in an RBMK are breached, the steam pressure will lift the lid, introducing air, while shearing the remaining tubes. Essentially, the reactor will explode on a sharp spike of reactivity. The moderator will catch fire, and a nuclear volcano will be the result. At Chernobyl, some 50 million Curies of radiation was released over several days. 

Like the Fukushima incident, Chernobyl began with a loss of power, undertaken in that case as a test of safety systems commissioned long after the reactor became operational (the Chernobyl reactor had been in a state of critical vulnerability to blackout for two years at the time of the accident.) It could have been worse, however. Attempts to extinguish the fire at Chernobyl 4 came very close to causing a loss of power to the other three reactors at the site, which could easily have sent four reactors into into a critical state rather than one.

Non-technical comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl are more apt, specifically in terms of governance in the nuclear industry and complacency as to risk. Nuclear insiders in many jurisdictions are notorious for being an unaccountable power unto themselves, and failing to release critical information publicly.

The Soviet nuclear bureaucracy ignored obvious risks and concealed accidents wherever possible. While nothing remotely like so serious has occurred previously in Japan, Fukushima 1 has been at the centre of transparency problems in the Japanese nuclear industry before. In 2002, the president and four executives of Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) were forced to resign over the falsification of repair records.
Japan's nuclear power operator has chequered past
The company was suspected of 29 cases involving falsified repair records at nuclear reactors. It had to stop operations at five reactors, including the two damaged in the latest tremor, for safety inspections. A few years later it ran into trouble again over accusations of falsifying data.

In late 2006, the government ordered TEPCO to check past data after it reported that it had found falsification of coolant water temperatures at its Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 and 1988, and that the tweaked data was used in mandatory inspections at the plant, which were completed in October 2005.

In addition, the Japanese government had been repeatedly warned about seismic risks:
[..] the real embarrassment for the Japanese government is not so much the nature of the accident but the fact it was warned long ago about the risks it faced in building nuclear plants in areas of intense seismic activity. Several years ago, the seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko stated, specifically, that such an accident was highly likely to occur. Nuclear power plants in Japan have a "fundamental vulnerability" to major earthquakes, Katsuhiko said in 2007. The government, the power industry and the academic community had seriously underestimated the potential risks posed by major quakes.

Katsuhiko, who is professor of urban safety at Kobe University, has highlighted three incidents at reactors between 2005 and 2007. Atomic plants at Onagawa, Shika and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were all struck by earthquakes that triggered tremors stronger than those to which the reactor had been designed to survive.

In the case of the incident at the Kushiwazaki reactor in northwestern Japan, a 6.8-scale earthquake on 16 July 2007 set off a fire that blazed for two hours and allowed radioactive water to leak from the plant. However, no action was taken in the wake of any of these incidents despite Katsuhiko's warning at the time that the nation's reactors had "fatal flaws" in their design[..] The trouble is, says Katsuhiko, that Japan began building up its atomic energy system 40 years ago, when seismic activity in the country was comparatively low. This affected the designs of plants which were not built to robust enough standards, the seismologist argues.

Many countries are currently looking to nuclear power to carry the load as energy production from conventional fossil fuels declines. Japan has previously unveiled very ambitious plans to expand nuclear capacity:
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has modelled a 54 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from 2000 levels by 2050, leading on to a 90 percent reduction by 2100. This would lead to nuclear energy contributing about 60 percent of primary energy in 2100 (compared with 10 percent now), 10 percent from renewables (now 5 percent) and 30 percent fossil fuels (now 85 percent).

Proponents argue that the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for nuclear power is sufficient to power our societies, that nuclear power can be scaled up quickly enough as fossil fuel supplies decline, that there will be sufficient uranium reserves for a massive expansion of capacity, that nuclear is the only option for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and that nuclear power can be operated with no safety concerns through probabilistic safety assessment (PSA). 

I disagree with all these assertions. Looking at the full life-cycle energy inputs for nuclear power, it seems to be barely above the minimum EROEI for maintaining society, and the costs (in both money and energy terms) are front-loaded.

Scaling up nuclear capacity takes extrordinary amounts of both money and time. While construction can be speeded up, where this has been done (as it was in Russia), the deleterious effect on construction standards was significant. Uranium reserves, especially the high-grade ores, are depleting rapidly. The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the full life-cycle do not impress me. In addition, nuclear authorities make risk decisions without informing the public. They have consistently made risk calculations that have grossly underestimated the potential for accidents of the kind that can have generational impacts. 

In my view, nuclear power represents an unjustified faith in the power of human societies to control extremely complex technologies over the very long term. Any activity requiring a great deal of complex and cooperative control will do badly in difficult economic times.

Also, 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.

We need to evaluate the potential for a nuclear future in light of the disaster in Japan. This was not unpredictable, and should have been accounted for in any realistic assessment of nuclear potential. It cannot realistically be described as a black swan event. 

Japan has few energy alternatives, as it lacks indigenous energy reserves and must import 80% of its energy requirements. It was therefore prepared to make Faustian bargains despite what should have been obvious risks. The impact of the loss of so much capacity, much of it probably permanently, on available electric power following the accident is very likely to impede Japan's ability to recover from this disaster, potentially strengthening the parallels with America's Hurricane Katrina.

We need to assess the risks inherent in using nuclear power in other locations, whether or not the risk they face is seismic (see Metsamor in Armenia, for instance, or Diablo Canyon in California). There are risks in many areas, most of which are grounded in human behaviour, either at the design stage or the operational phase. Human behaviour can easily turn what should be a one in one hundred thousand reactor-year event in to something all too likely within a human lifespan. Nuclear power may allow us to cushion the coming decline in fossil fuel availability, but only at a potentially very high price.

I agree that this does not classify as a Black Swan event. It had a finite probability of occurring beforehand. The correct classification that Taleb would probably recommend is a "Gray Swan".

OK, so if the probability of an event occurring is zero and it occurs all this shows is that the statisticians were wrong.

On this occasion you need to get into reality mode about how global media, society and political system will react. Who would have guessed (on 1st January 2011, quite soon) that Arab uprising across N Africa and Middle East would happen + that civil war would break out in Libya +one of the worlds biggest quakes on record (probably tiny in geologic context) would wipe out a stretch of coast in Japan + leading to nuclear reactor scare (potentially serious).

I think at the moment you are right, this is a grey swan. But if it turns into a serious nuclear incident it will turn black. Not for the very dire consequences for the poor people affected but for the future power supply to industrial society.

OK, so if the probability of an event occurring is zero and it occurs all this shows is that the statisticians were wrong.

That is essentially how Taleb defines a Black Swan event. Earthquakes of this size have occurred before, and waves of this size have occurred. The number of cascading events that can propagate from this combination is uncountable and unknowable, so some yet to be determined Black Swan could still turn up.

The fact that many of these large earthquakes have occurred recently, with 3 of the top 6 occurring in the last 7 years has made the fat-tail of the statistics fatter. Sornette and Laherrere have discussed the possibility of a "king effect" on large eathquakes, see

Who would have guessed (on 1st January 2011, quite soon) that Arab uprising across N Africa and Middle East would happen + that civil war would break out in Libya +one of the worlds biggest quakes on record (probably tiny in geologic context) would wipe out a stretch of coast in Japan + leading to nuclear reactor scare (potentially serious).

Any sane person could have guessed that "something like this" will happen. Nuclear scare is just icing on the cake and it was indeed hard to predict, but everything else...

The simple fact is: world economy is in deep shit. Far, far worse then in 1930. There can be no recovery for a long, long, time (partically because the oil is gone but there are myriad of other, different, reasons). Yet world leaders claim that we are hair·breadth from it. Are they crazy or stupid? Neither. They are realistic: if they admit the truth (and also admit that it was their past policies which created the current situation) they'll lose the job - and they don't like that.

But this means they need something huge to explain why promised recovery never comes. Better yet - they need a series of huge accidents. So they instigate them where possible and where not possible they blow them out of proportion.

Fukishima accident is serious, there are no doubt about it, but it's no Chernobyl. Yet it'll be blown up beyond anything you can imagine because it's oh-so-convenient excuse.

A Black Swan is an unforeseen event that has a non-linear impact. Nuclear power is known to have risks and the loss to the grid (~1-4Tw) is linear.

A Black Swan would be the spike in unemployment in Miyagi as a result of the earthquake/tsunami bringing the Japanese economy and government to its knees, causing a massive default, and sending the entire global financial system into chaos (clearly a non-linear event).

Or alternatively the shock to the system of the quake and the necessary rebuilding effort being just the shot in the arm the Japanese economy needs to force it out of its decades long malaise.

Nothing says the black swans have to be 'black'.

Just because something is necessary doesn't mean it will happen when a country is up against real limits. Japan's economy was in major trouble before this. They've been hollowing it out for over 20 years trying to keep the ponzi scheme going. They have the highest debt to GDP in the world. Where will they find the resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude?

Wouldn't be a black swan if you expected it to happen, would it?

By selling US bonds into the teeth of an already weakening bond market?

Nice to see you here, Stoneleigh. It's been a while.

The Fed will continue with QE2 at an increased pace in order to prevent short and intermediate term rates from rising in the U.S. The end game is that nominal prices of real goods will rise.

The Japanese people still have a very forward looking culture despite the hardships of the past couple of decades.

I have no idea where they will get the resources, but I wouldn't bet against them finding something they can work with. If nothing else they have a motivated population who work together well, that is an immense amount of power all by itself.

Japan Surpasses China to Become No.1 Creditor Nation of American Debt

China and Japan are the largest holder of U.S. Treasury securities. Japan bought US$11.5 billion last December; this brings the total to USD 768.8 billion. China sold US$34.2 billion; to bring its total to US$755.4 billion, becoming no. 2 creditor.

The Japanese have a huge debt to GDP ratio, but it is money that the Japanese government owes to the Japanese people.

Since they do not have Social Security, the savings rate is high and the people lend the money to the government in hopes of getting it back when they need it in retirement. This is in contrast to the United States, where we tax the people a social security tax, social security lends the money to the US government, and we hope to get it back (some of it) in social security benefits some days. Both systems are probably insolvent.

On the other hand, external cash flows and external investment flows are really important, especially for Japan, which has essentially no natural resources and little agricultural land. It must import energy, raw materials, and food, and it must export manufactured goods in order to pay for the imports.

In terms of its external current and assets accounts it is in relatively good shape. The current estimates of the disaster are in the upwards of $100 billion range, which is only a fraction of its holdings of US debt.

Are you sure Japan has the highest debt to GDP in the world? I know their government has a huge debt (200% of GDP?) but it is funded by internal borrowing from the Japanese public. The Japanese lend huge amounts of money to the overseas markets (the Yen carry trade), and when they pull some of this money back to Japan what will it do to the carry trade? (not good for foreigners who borrowed Yen at low rates).

Japanese total debt to GDP 471% - the highest in the world. The UK is second with 466% and the US is third with approximately 370%. The US would be worst (at over 650% of GDP if medicare, medicaid and social security were taken into account though).

The yen carry trade is on the verge of unwinding, with disastrous consequences. The yen could appreciate sharply versus other global currencies (perhaps more sharply than any other currency).

Nothing says the black swans have to be 'black'.

People miss this point. If we discover a crude oil reservoir 10X the size of Ghawar tomorrow, that would also be a gray swan approaching a black. Black Swans can either be negative or positive in impact.

But remember that we discovered actual physical Black Swans in Australia soon after surveying the land. Finding an oil black swan now would be like finding a living Black Swan after habitating Australia for several hundred years -- a very unlikely event.

the shock to the system of the quake and the necessary rebuilding effort being just the shot in the arm the Japanese economy needs to force it out of its decades long malaise

That sounds suspiciously like the broken window fallacy.

Nice to see someone with a proper economics background (and a fan of Henry Hazlitt? Most people learn of the broken window fallacy from Hazlitt's writings these days). While the broken window fallacy is in full effect and correct (that is, a real loss to the economy has occurred despite the appearance of new commerce/productivity resulting from a catastrophe) most of modern economics has very little to do with the real economy. It's mostly about nominal figures (the econometricians will rig their hedonic regressions to make sure inflation is below nominal growth). This disaster will mobilize nominal savings and take up slack in the work force similar to what happened in the U.S. during World War II.

Nicole, this seems a very instructive piece on a very complex subject at fast moving, very complex times. I thought I understood what was going on, and then read your piece and doubts began to form.

One question. On your graphic showing 5 layers of containment. My understanding is that concrete pressure vessel is still intact and that it was the pap surrounding this that got blown away by hydrogen explosion - would you care to comment?

And my opinion - if a handful of Japanese engineers manage to contain this in very adverse conditions then the future argument for more nuclear may be strengthened. If they do not and we have a serious nuclear incident here then I think it will kill the nuclear renaissance stone dead.

The Japanese public have benefited from the power these plants have provided over 40 years. I think the discussion about ERoEI, costs etc is very complex.

And my opinion - if a handful of Japanese engineers manage to contain this in very adverse conditions then the future argument for more nuclear may be strengthened.

Japan is a densely populated country and can't afford even a small
dead zone--Chernobyl's covers 1400 square miles and Tokyo covers 850 sq. miles.

It's hard to imagine Japan phasing out their nukes which supply 26% of the nations electricity but it could happen--see Germany after Chernobyl.

Nukes have always been attractive to densely populated, resource poor countries.

Really the Chinese nukers should be quaking in their boots as that country is as earthquake prone as Japan. I also think the odds are high that the Three Gorges Dam will be destroyed by inevitable shocks.
More nukes for Europe are also questionable.

And the LWRs are relatively harmless compared to the 'advanced' breeders being pushed by nuke enthusiasts.

Rock vs. Hard Place.

So far this century is full of tough questions with no answers.

I think we're going to no choice but to use nuclear til we figure out how to live without fossil, and we know that'll be a while...

Also can hope for lessons learned - next generation designs that will make this impossible.

We can't build them out cheaply or quickly enough, so the point is moot. Nuclear power (current tech, and I have little hope for newer tech on large scales) has limited applicability even in the best possible scenarios.

At least in the US, I'd expect the mix of fuel for generating plants to favor coal and gas over nuclear. We have very large coal reserves which can be mined at a reasonable cost.

On the other hand, most countries do not have large coal reserves, and they may well continue to build out nuclear. For example, France.

German, IIRC, has started work on lignite plants.

"German, IIRC, has started work on lignite plants."

Germany gets about half of its base load from nuclear and the other half from lignite plants with each having a capacity of about 20GW. It is building (and planning to build) several new lignite plants (together with other coal plants) to replace older ones.

However, I think quite a number of planned new lignite and coal plants plans have been put on hold because of the strong build out of renewables (27GW of wind and 17GW of PV) is starting to effect baseload and threatening to make new base load plants uneconomical over their lifespan.

Yes, Germany has made good progress with wind and PV, but the problem is that both are entirely unsuitable for providing baseload electrical generation due to the obvious problem with both sources of having far less than 100% availability at full power (well under 50% availability in most locations). Unless we completely revamp our expectations about power availability, or invent new methods of truly large-scale power storage, wind and solar simply will NOT do the job of providing baseload power to an advanced society.

And while the USA, China and a few others have plenty of coal, no one has yet implemented carbon-capture on anything but a small, experimental scale. Therefore, increased coal usage means kissing goodbye to the world's current strategy for preventing runaway global warming.

The best technical answer IMO may be Thorium/Salt-based nuclear reactors based on a Liquid Flouride technology. Search on thorium and LFTR for many sources of further explanation. The Thorium to Uranium 233 fuel cycle in a liquid form has many persuasive advantages over current reactors, including strong, self-correcting, passive safety features. And it has been proven to work quite well in long term usage at the Oak Ridge Natl Lab during the 1950s and 1960s. The main obstacle may be nuclear industry resistance to any change from the well established U238/Plutonium fuel cycle.

See more on Thorium at:

Unless we completely revamp our expectations about power availability, or invent new methods of truly large-scale power storage, wind and solar simply will NOT do the job of providing baseload power to an advanced society.

Perhaps it's time them, to finally accept that we need to not only completely revamp our expectations about power availability but we also need to completely redefine what constitutes an advanced society. IMHO what we have now is just an ultra complex suicide machine, that to me, at least, is the antithesis of what I think of as advanced.

As hard as I might, I can't think of a single facet of our global civilization doesn't need a complete revamping.
Unfortunately I'm not sure we are up to task.

I advocate hurrying up the gradual changes and adaptations.
The key factors are a population with a good level of knowledge,
about the issues, a free market and an active and trusted government.

My most recent example of what is possible is the handling of
the financial crises when the messages about austerity and
serious handling of the crisis that now is bringing the economy
back into black figures were rewarded by reelecting the government.
This is no longer unique to Sweden it has also recently happened
in Estonia where the financial crisis werer togher. Bring bad
news, do what is needed as dictated by reality even when it hurts
and get rewarded for it. I realy like this, it gives me hope for
having a functioning society all thru the post peak oil crisis.

While I agree that you need backup power systems for renewable power supply, I disagree that baseload power is suitable for this job.
Nuclear energy is used as baseload power because it takes quite some time to switch if on or off. Therefore nuclear power and regenerative energy do not mix well.
Natural gas is a good backup power source. The power plants are comparatively cheap. So it is easy to install the backup power needed for those rare but existing events that regenerative power supply is down because of a low wind and low sun combination. Since the balancing power stations are only used during short intervals, the higher cost of gas as a fuel is not that important.
Another option is to convert conventional hydro power to a system that can store power - through pumping water upwards in times of low energy usage / high energy production. Norway is willing to offer these services to Central Europe - although currently the necessary high capacity power links (cables) are missing.

Here in Australia the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme uses surplus base load power (from coal fired stations) to pump water up in the middle of the night, then they release it to generate extra electricity at peak demand times over and above what could be generated by using the water once.

The Hyperion reactor was originally supposed to use a Thorium cycle, but changed to a more traditional U-235 or 238 cycle for reasons unknown to me. I still believe that this small approach, 75 Meg thermal, is wiser than the current "ship electrons from one big plant" approach. Their design also seems to be much more inherently safe.

There are actually some new approaches to large-scale power storage investigated in Germany. It involves synthetic methane from H2 and CO2 (Sabatier process) that can use the huge natural gas storage facilities that already exist:

Of course pumped storage in Norway still has the better efficiency rate (80%) for short-term fluctuations,


On your graphic showing 5 layers of containment. My understanding is that concrete pressure vessel is still intact and that it was the pap surrounding this that got blown away by hydrogen explosion - would you care to comment?

And my opinion - if a handful of Japanese engineers manage to contain this in very adverse conditions then the future argument for more nuclear may be strengthened. If they do not and we have a serious nuclear incident here then I think it will kill the nuclear renaissance stone dead.

It is not yet clear how many layers of defence in depth have been breached at this point. I would be surprised if the explosions we have seen at units 1 and 3 would have left the pressure vessels intact, but it is not inconceivable. Alpha-mode failure is highly speculative. I think it will likely be some time before we find out what has actually happened. What is clear is that a design-basis accident was greatly exceeded. My guess is that all the units at both Fukushima plants will have to be written off, and quite likely the Onagawa units as well. Onagawa is so close to the earthquake epicentre that it is hard to imagine it would not also have been crippled.

No matter what happens in Japan though, it will be not be another Chernobyl. There is no nuclear volcano scenario, hence the impact should remain much more geographically limited, although within the affected area, a worst case scenario full meltdown (or series of them) would likely be severe.

Pouring in seawater and boric acid destroys the plant, they were written off at the moment they did that.

If my understanding of this article was correct, since the reactor has been producing hydrogen isn't the core damage already extensive? If we can use TMI as a model for what is happening, these plants will never be restarted.

Where, in your estimate, does that leave residents of Tokyo?

Nicole, BBC tonight showed a graphic that confirms what I suspect, though that doesn't make it true. The concrete dome structure, signature of many nuclear plants in USA and UK is contained inside a pap building in Japan. So I believe we have a steel containment around the reactor and a concrete dome over that and seawater is being circulated between the two as well as into the core area. The pap building is gone in reactors 1 and 3, and it seems that 2 will be gone by morning (UK time).

Regardless of what happens now, I think nuclear renaissance is stone dead. Germany already changing policy before final outcome is known. This is a pity since there is a huge difference between these reactors being destroyed but molten cores contained and a nuclear disaster of sub-Chernobyl scale. The politicians must surely differentiate between these two outcomes.

Agree with your comments else where. None of the reactors will ever be used again, >10GW of capacity gone. And the Germans joining in to make things worse globally by not renewing licenses to old reactors.

Japan will continue to slide down the world rankings.

Regardless of what happens now, I think nuclear renaissance is stone dead. Germany already changing policy before final outcome is known. This is a pity since there is a huge difference between these reactors being destroyed but molten cores contained and a nuclear disaster of sub-Chernobyl scale. The politicians must surely differentiate between these two outcomes.

Politicians never make rational distinctions like that. They mostly don't have a clue, and only react to the prevailing mood. That mood is now decidedly anti-nuclear, so I agree that the nuclear renaissance is dead.

I think the containment will fail, and there will be major spent fuel issues, so it will be a major and long-lasting disaster. I still don't think it will match Chernobyl though. I think the fallout will be much more concentrated in the vicinity of the plant. IMO there will be a large exclusion zone, but I don't expect major health impact at long distances.

Personally I would close plants in seismic zones, but I would necessarily close plants in a reasonable place where the safety record is good. Germany may live to regret not extending the life of its reactors, given that access to fossil fuels may be far more difficult in the future.

My guess is that all the units at both Fukushima plants will have to be written off, and quite likely the Onagawa units as well.

This brings to mind the recommendations of Alan Drake (AlanFromBigEasy) that a nuclear build-out should *not* be plants of the same design, since a design related failure at one will mean taking them all off line. Better to take several designs and depend on an evolutionary process of weeding out the bad ones.

I found a good video of the Chiba refinery fire

At about 0:31 you can see that the emergency vents on the vessels have opened feeding gas to the fire causing a dramatic expansion in the size of the fireball. That relief is deliberate, intended to prevent the internal presure from rising so high the vessel would explode like a bomb. The fire goes up, not horizontally.

I would like more information on the EROEI point and on uranium reserves. It is my understand that the US commercial nuclear industry is burning military stockpiles of uranium not mining it in a "sustainable" way.

Not sure, but I recall seeing spam from an investment advisory service touting uranium stocks because of the HEU-LEU agreement ending in 2013. I own no stock in uranium companies but they should be interesting to follow in coming weeks.

Edward Teller and others design an inherently safe reactor - 1956

The Triga reactors are only research reactors. They do not produce useful amounts of power. Irrelevant in this discussion.

(Ex-General Atomic(s)engineer.)

P.s. Teller was the model for Dr. Strangelove in the movie of the same name, and quite appropriately if you read some history of his career.

Teller was one of the models for Dr. Strangelove. But so was
a cold war theorist and technological cornucopian.

I believe that in 1956 Dr. Teller was suggesting that an attempt be made to build all reactors with inherent safety. Perhaps this became impractical for economic or other reasons. Is it impractical today? See Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson for a more complete discussion. . That some consider Teller to have been one of the inspirations for my favorite movie (I have also seen Curtis LeMay mentioned) has nothing to do with the virtue of inherent safety.

"The idea of such a safe reactor was originally conceived by Dr. Edward Teller when a team of scientists was assembled in the "Little Red Schoolhouse" in San Diego in the summer of 19561. The mandate to this distinguished group, working under Dr. Teller, was to "design a reactor so safe … that if it was started from its shut-down condition and all its control rods instantaneously removed, it would settle down to a steady level of operation without melting any of its fuel." In other words, "engineered safety," or the prevention of catastrophic accidents by engineering the reactor control and safety system, was not good enough and the challenge was, therefore, to design a reactor with "inherent safety," guaranteed by the laws of nature. This way, the safety of the reactor would be guaranteed even if the engineered features were by-passed and the control rods, which contain the poison materials for shutting down an operating nuclear reactor, were rapidly removed."

A reactor design I saw encased the uranium in a sheath and it was in pellet form so that you could never get critical mass. Even without cooling it could not melt down as the sheath around the pellets dampened the reaction to a safe level. That sounds fool-proof to me, but fools are so damn clever.

Pretty sure that's the Gen IV pebble bed reactor being developed in South Africa

BTW, most of the Gen IV designs that have a "very high outlet temperature" paradigm are largely irrelevant in the face of new supercritical CO2 heat engines that are under development:

What bothers me about this event is the "Pencil whipping" that was done. Batteries are costly to replace and were probably not maintained well, which may have led to the lack of power pumping problems. The earthquake, or the resulting tsunami, caused the failure of the diesel backup generators (I think they had 38?) which the operators no doubt considered to be THE failsafe. Do our American plants test such generators at regular intervals, or pencil whip such tests? I'm out of my depth here, but why are there not large water towers that could supply coolant without pumps operating located nearby?

Lots of questions to be sure.

Your first statement is an assertion.

Do you have evidence?

Your second statement appears to be conjecture. Do you have evidence?

Your third and fourth sentences are related only in that they both reference diesel generators as backup power sources.

Whether U.S. plant operators test generators at required intervals or not does not seem to be related to the issue of diesel generators at the Japanese plants being swamped by tsunami waters, which is apparently a design siting flaw. The two sentences seem to be a 2-way non-sequitur.

Large water towers would have to be made earthquake-proof/resistant to falling down as well.

Lots of questions...awaiting data.

I'm probably showing my ignorance here, but I've never heard the term "pencil whipping", which I suspect is jargon that a somewhat narrow community may use. Could you define it for us?

EOS...this saying is used quite often in the U.S. military...

Writing down that you did something when you actually did not do it.

Making false statements.

Exaggerating how much you did vs what you actually did.

Cutting corners...doing less than what you said you did.

Being lazy and lying.

Heisenberg, Ty for the replies, I forgot which forum I was posting to. Proof and documentation is needed here. as to the pencil whipping charges.
NHK had a video about the many generators failing. I do not have a link as it was a live broadcast. The last time I checked the power companies website was still down.
As to the swamping of the generators, In Houston we learned all about putting generators in the basement after Hurricane Ike. A bad idea. Our medical center lost power because the generators were underwater.
Do I know that the batteries were bad? No, but it is one of the easiest places to cut costs, 5 year batteries actually can last 10 years.The "New accounting" uses this a lot on things that wear out.

I would have hoped that we learned-it after Tropical Storm Allison. Alas, I guess not.

SharkMan (and others downthread who provided info), Thank you for your answer.

Lots of unanswered questions.

There very well may be some negligence (pencil-whipping) involved...or this may be a case of not designing well for the worst-case scenarios. Or both.

Or as the above article says...
"The company was suspected of 29 cases involving falsified repair records at nuclear reactors. It had to stop operations at five reactors, including the two damaged in the latest tremor, for safety inspections. A few years later it ran into trouble again over accusations of falsifying data."

pencil whipping means just filling out the paperwork and not doing the inspection.

I do inspection of fire systems at a nuclear facility. I would not do that because first I could get fired and second I could personally go to jail. These are price/Andersen controlled systems I would not go to jail for any employer to save them a few dimes. To say people do this lightly is ignorant on your part of people and management in the industry.

What if you could get fired for not pencil whipping? BP, and the aircraft maintenance industry to just name a few, seem to require this practice. Dotting the I's and crossing all the T's could put your company out of business as your competitors do not do it. What would you do? You follow industry standards and whip it. Sad but true.

What bothers me about this event is the "Pencil whipping" that was done. Batteries are costly to replace and were probably not maintained well, which may have led to the lack of power pumping problems. The earthquake, or the resulting tsunami, caused the failure of the diesel backup generators (I think they had 38?

First, a careful reading of the article above indicated 13 diesel generators. We don't know how many batteries, but my personal experience with telco-type batteries in seismic zones is you put them in a rack and pray. If the quake bounces the batteries (probably 99% chance they are lead-acid) too much, the acid escapes (usually because the plastic battery casing cracks) see example image below.

The generators are a more interesting problem. Again, going by telco experience (in a previous life) the gensets are typically placed in subterranean vaults (for noise abatement among other reasons) with surface fuel tanks that are gravity fed. Once the tsunami water inundated those vaults I suspect the design engineers experienced a Doh! moment. Of course even if they were a normal deployment with a small building pictured below a 10 meter wall of water would still be more than enough to swamp them.

You would need a very tall tower to supply coolant at the pressure the reactors use or else you would need an open vent, water in steam out.


...and probably any recommendation to build a massive water tower sufficiently strong to withstand an earthquake of that magnitude (considering the shear forces a mass of water at height would experience!) would lead any engineer to call it an unlikely project, particularly for a plant sited conveniently right beside more water than would ever be needed.

Not much pressure needed as they already mentioned that they were venting. From day 1.

An "expert" trotted out on Sky News a short time ago said that fuel tanks for the emergency diesel generators were washed away by the tsunami.

If you look at the various before and after pictures at several web sites in the bottom right hand corner of the before picture there are two vertical tanks with what appears to be a wall around them, as required for fuel tanks. They are located in a convenient spot to be filled from a fuel barge or small tanker. I think they may be the fuel tanks for the back up generators.

They are conspicuously absent in the after picture.

These are very old reactors and obviously are not current. Regardless, we still do not really know the consequences to human and animal health at this point.

One argument in favor of proceeding with a build out of nuclear power will be that modern reactors are and will be much more robust and not subject to the same events which have occurred here. One other argument is that we don't have to build in high earthquake or Tsunami zones.

My take away is that a meltdown, in and of itself, is not necessarily catastrophic with respect to its impact on emissions and human health.

Regardless of the final result here, we need to evaluate all sources of electric power in this context: compared to what? If we are comparing nuclear to coal, we need to consider all the ongoing radiation from coal combustion, mercury, sulfur, CO2, waste, land destruction, bio destruction, etc. If we think we can avoid coal and nuclear, we need to be prepared to demonstrate how that would be possible even assuming a significant deviation from business as usual.

My perspective on nuclear power has changed radically since the 70s when I was an anti nuclear activist. Global warming has changed my perspective. This isn't to say that I am not open to listening to those who still forcefully argue against nuclear power.

Spoken like a systems analyst.

We could use more of that thinking.


Nah. There is no robust risk assessment, so not very systems thinking. The risk is Chernobyl or worse. The conceit is, while we haven't built a safe nuclear power industry yet, we will, but good risk assessment doesn't allow such arrogance. True systems thinking would be to balance Chernobyl - because failures will happen - vs. benefits. If you accept those risks, proceed.

However, as Nicole points out, these decisions are made on unrealistic risk assessments. Ask the public: If we build more, there is certainly going to be another disaster at some point; is that acceptable?

Also, only BAU considerations there. What about more nuclear vs. localizing and powering down? Etc.

The most benign (low-impact to the environment, low risk of accident) power generation technology I can think of is solar PV.

Wind would be my # 2 pick along those lines.

One of the big criticisms of these two technologies is the high cost to build them out.

Interestingly, that is also a big problem with nuclear power.

However, of these three technologies, nuclear certainly has the greatest risks due to accidents and incidents.

Sweeping efficiency changes (efficient lighting, appliances, motors, etc) should also be low risk, but such sweeping change of equipment comes with a high price up-front.

So a first-order idea is to forget nukes and build out negawatts, solar PV, and wind and accept the low energy density and the high build-out price, since nuke also has a high build-out price AND much greater risks.

Does this make sense?

NO this does not make sense because solar and wind can generate the terra watts of power the world needs.

Ida-russkie, I think you meant to say CANNOT generate the terra watts of power the world needs.

That assertion is not proven or even provable. The sun does provide orders of magnitude greater energy than humans consume, and if combined correctly with geo-thermal and methane recapture, the human race essentially has more energy around it than we know how to use. On the other hand, there is not yet evidence that we are smart enough to take advantage of this great energy bounty. Even though the existence of this energy bounty is a fact, the technology/economic/political/cultural system needed to harvest it is not.

The first step is of course to believe it can be done. Technology is as much a result of applied faith as it is applied science.


Correct, TIIO, imo. The biggest deficits in virtually all assessments of the future fail to account deeply enough for negawatts. We probably need 30% or less of the energy we currently consume. Can alternatives do this? Of course. The real problem is matching types of energy with needs, i.e. liquid fuels, lubricants, etc.

Chernobyl didn't even have a containment vessel, so I am not sure that is the relevant reference point. In any event, we obviously need to carefully evaluate what is happening in Japan in any decision to proceed with more build out.

Go ahead and keep dismissing the tails. That seems to be working well.

Any comment on this piece?

It's quite long, it goes into a lot of basics of nuclear power generation, but the gist of it is "a core meltdown should not lead to the core venting to the atmosphere, because the containment will hold."

NB though the author's affiliated to MIT, he's not an engineer, let alone a nuclear engineer.

His account is consistent with the article, but reaches different conclusions.

I vehemently agree with the comments about the usual appalling level of clue in broadcast coverage of this event. A BBC anchor identified burning oil/gas storage tanks as "a pall of dense black smoke billows from the stricken reactor"...

See this critique from a person who works in the industry


So the question becomes what do we know right now (i.e., if you stopped this catastrophic event this second, what has already occured, what questions are already being asked?)

1. The damage to nuclear power as "safe" has been seriously corrupted. Once more we see a case of planning for "worst case scenario" and then getting the reality which is worse than worse case. It is impossible to plan for every possible scenario (what if a large meteor had struck the plant?)

2. Nuclear power, which was already expensive at the very front end, now becomes even more expensive, because the demands to build for beyond worst case already being heard due to this accident(s)/catastrophe must raise the costs. So cost/benefit analysis of nuclear power completed before the date of the Japanese catastrophe will be not reliable (this will not keep people from using 10 year old statistics however, as we often see in projections about solar energy)

3. The question already being asked: What do large economies based on islands with no home energy resources do for energy if the nuclear option is completely removed? At this point, no one really knows. This question can be extended to the mainland economies relatively easily because we are essentially an ocean planet, and earth is essentially an island.

4. Japan was already in deep long lasting recession, with an aging population and heavy national debt. At what point does an economy reach the breaking point on how many costs can be endured to retain its national lifestyle/safety/security? Honestly no one knows and the "experts" seem totally unreliable.

5. The last sentence of point 4 is important in recent historical context. In the last several decades (let us say from the period about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam/the collapse of the Soviet/Marxist economy and cultural system)we have had repeated cause (AIDs health crisis/Bhopal chemical catastrophe/9-11 terrorist attack/hurricane Katrina/world financial collapse/to name only the most notable) to bring into question the ability of our educated class around the world to provide any useful guidance. This systemic breakdown of the projections/advise/guidance in all spheres of human activity (economic, technical, cultural, moral) brings into question the value of everything (education, social orders and systems, technical reliability of devices, economics as it is commonly understood and taught,the status of the educated class). We are seeing once again a reason for serious questions about why the most rewarded class in world history, based on their knowledge, skil and education should continue to be compensated so richly when they are so often wrong in estimates, projecions and choice of future options.

Not so much a fact as a conclusion: The Japanese have a very hard road ahead and deserve all the assistance we can lend them. In many ways, their future is our future. They just got there first.


The Japanese have a very hard road ahead and deserve all the assistance we can lend them. In many ways, their future is our future. They just got there first.

A good insight. Lots of possibilities other than rebuilding for business as usual. "Sendai Sustainable Village" or what have you... If the leaders and body politic can think out of the box here - 10-20 years ahead - some real creative things might emerge...

Your "Sedai Sustainable Village" idea sounds good, but it IS a city... And there is another, much bigger problem.

As you say, "if leaders and the body politic can think out of the box" - and that's the problem, particularly for Japan. Japan produces many brilliant people, but they are continuously marginalized. Fortunately, mavericks like Soichiro Honda do sometimes make it to the top and produce great things, but on the whole we are talking about a culture that is in many ways very conservative and does not promote outside the box thinking.

Problem #2 is that Japan is very much invested in BAU and the idea of the technological fix. This is why they have tons of nuclear reactors. In political terms, this was encouraged by the conservative clique that had a monopoly on power in Japan from the end of WWII until just a few years ago. You know how in America, we have "drill, baby, drill" conservatives? In Japan it's nuclear. And construction, which is probably even worse... Japan built concrete seawalls and breakwaters all over, covering at least 40% of their coastline (!!!), and they thought they could beat nature. They have dammed and channelled all their rivers, too (only 2 undammed rivers remain). On top of that they have a citified consumption culture (a quarter of the population lives in Tokyo). Their media, on the whole, tends toward the same sort of bad habits as in America, pushing consumption very strongly, even today after decades of stagnation.

BAU is very, very strong in Japan. I expect Sendai will be rebuilt, but I expect that one of the "features" will be a yet bigger seawall - nevermind many seawalls built for 10 meter tsunami were overwashed by this one.

I hope that out of thwis disaster a new direction comes, but I am not counting on it. People in Japan are just as wed to the system we've built as people in America or Europe. It isn't going to change easily, and even after a disaster the tendency is to do the same thing again.

800 years ago, the Japanese poet Kamo no Chomei wrote in his essay Hojoki about the transience of the world and the works of men. We must keep these things in mind and build with respect toward nature. Unfortunately, we think we will live forever and we think we can beat nature. It doesn't work. I think nuclear power is in this category - we arrogantly think we can do anything, but if really thought of the consequences of the inevitable accident, maybe we would think twice.

I bet the Dutch are glad they don't get tsunamis. :)

Seriously, the flooded fields can be recovered with dikes, as modest subsidence does not make them completely non-viable. If anything, tsunamis illustrate that coastland SHOULD be used for farms and such, not cities.

Ports will be rebuilt. I assume some are simply cluttered with wreckage, while others actually have seismic damage and significant shifting.

These reactors will not be reactivated, but they may be rebuilt a bit higher. In retrospect, pumping sea water up a hill seems cheap compared to the costs they are incurring now.

From a systems thinking perspective, it's time to go back to the base assumptions, and see what has changed, and what the future vision should be. Is the North any more or less vulnerable to natural disasters than the south?

People and power are readily movable -- should critical infrastructure be more carefully located, with "safe zones" created for those who must necessarily work or live in less secure areas?

Does nuke power still make the cost/rewards cut, versus other base-load power sources (geothermal comes to mind)?

With a gentrifying populace, can some population-consolidation be purposefully managed to reduce carrying costs?

Are there immediate efficiency measures (lighting, heating, etc.) that could be more readily or cheaply deployed than building new power plants? It's one thing to replace incans with LEDs at greater cost when you have cheap power 24/7 -- it's another if it's a matter of national necessity to halt rolling blackouts.

Hi RC,

We are seeing once again a reason for serious questions about why the most rewarded class in world history, based on their knowledge, skill and education should continue to be compensated so richly when they are so often wrong in estimates, projections and choice of future options.

The Japanese have a very hard road ahead and deserve all the assistance we can lend them. In many ways, their future is our future

Certainly, this is a time for assistance and compassion for the Japanese people - we should be restrained with criticism. However, your comment about their future being our future also suggests that we need to be clear-eyed about "lessons learned". Perhaps we should be thinking about the mentality of our leadership (growth, growth and growth)

I've no doubt that lessons-learned will be debated for some time. The one lesson that majorian pointed out above:

Japan is a densely populated country

At the end of WWII, it's my understanding that the Japanese leaders realized the importance of achieving an appropriate population size for thier island if they were going to have any chance of a successful recovery. Their strategy was highly commendable (IMHO) because they used a very "soft" approach based upon using the media to idealize a one or two child family. It appears they were very successful and the island prospered. Too much so, it seems.

Notice the little tick down in population after the war and then a steady climb thereafter. It seems that industry leaders favored population growth (including in migration) to fuel economic growth. Japan is now the 10th most populated country Japan's population density is 336 persons per square kilometer according to the United Nations World Populations Prospects Report as of July 2005. It's interesting to note in the above chart how the island population is now at its historic high, but it is projected to have a steady decline for the remainder of the century - perhaps someone realized their population growth was unsustainable.

Although it may appear that high population density is "no problem" in good times - this earthquake shows the danger of that mentality. The USA has several cities (like New Orleans) that would be devastated by any number of natural or man-made disturbances. This is a lesson from Japan we should think about. I wonder if the USA will ever develop an explicit and rational population policy (and please, I'm not suggesting any heavy handed dictator tactics)?

All their past has been population growth and then they project strong population decline for 90 years. They should wait until they have a year of population decline before projecting 90 years of it.

At least the United States doesn't have to worry about that kind of reduced demand for natural resources. We are in no danger of ever having our population decline at this point. Nothing but good old population growth for the United States. Good thing we don't have to worry about declining amounts of fossil fuels. Oh wait...

The question already being asked: What do large economies based on islands with no home energy resources do for energy if the nuclear option is completely removed?

IMEHO, Japan is a good candidate for some type of wave or tidal power system. Prototypes already exist and undersea cables could carry the power from wave machines to shore. Worst case would be the loss of units during a storm.

I disagree.

You have a 4o year old plant that survived a 9.0 earthquake (it was designed to 7)and the resultant tsunami with the reactor intact. It later survived a hydrogen explosion in the outer structures. The reactor is intact. True they are venting small amounts of short lived radiative isotopes but the containment is intact. Some employees are getting some doses but the community is not.

it does not matter how big your water tank is if the underground mains break and it all leaks out.

If the community is not getting any elevated doses, how come the US aircraft carrier has just sailed through a radioactive plume out in the pacific and us helicopters have measured caesium and iodine a 100 km away from the plant? There are also reports of a few evacuees _showing_ signs of radiation illness.

All those reports don't sound like "a small amount of short lived radiative isotopes that don't effect the community" and it does not install much confidence in the accuracy of the reports coming from japanees official sides. Especially as disaster management plans are known to explicitly downplay events to prevent mass panics.

So it will probably need another while and independent measurements until we really know the scale of what has and has not leaked into the environment.

If the community is not getting any elevated doses, how come the US aircraft carrier has just sailed through a radioactive plume out in the pacific and us helicopters have measured caesium and iodine a 100 km away from the plant?



I agree. Japanese politicians and industry spokesmen are just like the ones in the US and elsewhere - we won't get the truth until after the fact, after a lot of digging. Period. This is very similar to the Macondo situation, where the "we have it under control" speeches continued long after it was obvious that it was NOT under control.

Shoot the marketing and public relations types.

No really. Not only are they the root of the problem, we could do with the oxygen they waste. In my experience truth is being told to liars, but it's not reaching the outside world. These people can't be straight even if their own lives do depend on it.

I disagree with this. If there really is a more serious problem than venting coolant, the world will know about it because other nuclear power plants will detect the radiation, even at very low levels after dispersing into the atmosphere. This is how the western world found out about Chernobyl.

I think it is highly likely that this turns out very similar to TMI: coolant released to relieve pressure in the core with some radioactive materials from the core present in the coolant. If this is the case, the reports from TEPCO have been realistic.

We don't know the half of it yet as far as what contaminants have been released into the environment. They store lots of "spent" fuel rods in those reactor buildings, and 2 of them now are missing their roofs, possible exposing significant quantities of spent fuel to the atmosphere.

Additionally, if they're pumping seawater into the reactor vessels to cool them off (as a last resort), is the effluent just being released into the ocean? And if so, is that now contaminated and to what degree?

There's a LOT we don't know yet. Making premature pronouncements on how the ultimate danger posed by these reactors isn't really all that bad is irresponsible, at best.

Additionally, if they're pumping seawater into the reactor vessels to cool them off (as a last resort), is the effluent just being released into the ocean? And if so, is that now contaminated and to what degree?

How can we grow this guy if we don't release a little radiation into the pond?

The image of Godzilla has gone through my head more than once over the last few days. The ideas and psychology of those who invented him are well known.

History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man.

- Blue Oyster Cult

That's something else that keeps going through my head.

We ought to take a moment to reflect on how hard those nuclear engineers are working right now.

I was able to tour a nuclear reactor in Richmond, Washington some years ago, and was impressed by:

* the amount of heavily armed security,
* the professionalism in the control room, manned mostly by retired Navy submarine and aircraft carrier nuclear engineers. Average age perhaps late 30s, early 40s. They work 12 hour shifts. I asked, "doesn't it get boring."

They responded: "Of course. But "boring" is good when it comes to nuclear power!"


the plant was absolutely spotless>

visitors were screened for radiation< coming and going> they don"t want you bringing it in>

but what most impressed me< indeed what was astonishing< was the incredible complexity of the facility< redundancy< wiring< plumbing< piping< conduit< doors< hallways< controls<

it felt like the power plant equivalent of the space shuttle< the most complicated "flying machine" humans had invented to boil water

the 8.9 was probably manageable, but this freakin' tsunami overwhelmed that section of the coast line

the nytimes has a great set of before/after illustrations, move the blue slider from left to right here:

Thats the thing I am saying. The very best folks do nuclear power and yet they cannot control the atom when stuff goes wrong.

These reactors in Japan are not under control at all. They put there back-up systems in the way of a tsunami for whatever reason. Pick any nuclear reactor and you will be able to find a 1 in 40 year event possibility for failure.

How much money will it take to clean up and decommission? Is that for the public to pay for or the biggest power users. See there lies the problem. The true costs are not paid for correctly by the end users.

How much land is ruined for farming, manufacturing, etc.?

A lot to weigh in on there and the public is very weary of nuclear. Very weary.

Remember they do not put nuclear power in their gasoline tank. It is very abstract to them.

I see nuclear being too abstract and dangerous to be adopted much after this. I wish it could be but the public does not think that they need it. Many are against science and math educational funding as well. No I do not see us training smart enough people to man these operations either.

You cannot cut school funding and teachers and universities and expect to have a robust nuclear industry.

That is pure folly.

The follow-on question is how much value the public gets from the large power users. If that value sifts through and stays somewhere in the nation, then from a national perspective it may still make sense.

From where I sit, school funding and outcomes are not closely correlated. How you spend the money is far more important. Home schooled kids spend far less, and perform superbly. Private school kids spend more, and perform well. Public schools are all over the map, and some high-cost schools perform very poorly.

University spending is similar. Giving cheap loans so kids can party their way to a liberal arts degree which has value only as an admission ticket to an employer who requires a degree for clerks and assistants is not a great societal investment.

However, in the end I'm not sure smarter people are necessary -- wiser people are. From my limited wisdom some degree of intellect, education, and experience is needed to have wisdom, but it is not sufficient. Valuing wise decisions is required as well.

Sure cut funding. I want to cut back all excesses. My pay check was cut. But you have to stop the bleeding if you want a sustainable system imho.

You can only work so many hours a day per educator, right?

I think it's worth noting, regarding the before-and-after pictures, that reactor number one is the rightmost of the four big rectangular buildings visible in the aerial photos.

It is not visibly damaged in either picture. The 'after' may have been taken after the tsunami but before the explosion.

I would be interested to hear Ms Foss' opinion about the possibilities and potential hazards of thorium nuclear power.

The problem is how to prepare for unanticipated events. If you have to DO something when a system failure occurs, you've got a serious risk exposure. But you can also bulid a system where you have to DO something to keep it going. And if the DOing is interrupted for any reason, the system passively collapses into a safe mode.

A simple example of this would be a fire door that springs closed on its own, but is held open by a piece of twine or solder wire that will fail if things get hot. Nuclear reactors, of course, are a bit more complicated. And unnecessary shutdowns are certainly very costly. But they all seem to be built with complex non-passive safety systems that are also vulnerable to failure in an unanticipated event.

Obviously you can't prepare for inconceivable events. But you can build things so the train rolls to a stop if the engineer drops dead. Right now, in the absence of properly functioning equipment, nuclear reactors go flying off the end of the track.

Preparation for inconcievable events is what risk analysis is all about.

The more severe the consequences, the more money you should be willing to spend to insure that if the event does occur, the result is mitigated. This does not mean you skate free, only that the costs of the event occurring are within controlable levels.

The back up generators are the place where the analysis fails.

Yes, they were not designed for a 9.0 quake, but if one happened, what is the severity of what will happen next? Answer, not too bad if cooling does not fail too.

My comment here is that a tidal wave and an earthquake could and should have been treated as a joint risk condition. I have read nothing that indicated that the engineering staff considered their back up generators safe in the event of a tidal wave. People can and should do a better job of risk analysis in situations like this.

It would apperar that Japan's engineering in this instance was a lot closer to that of BP than to what I would have expected of the Japanese Nuclear Industry.

They were not designed to withstand the eight 1,000 kg. bombs that Israel applied in rapid succession to Iraqi's Osirak nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981. It is an obvious risk that is ignored.

My comment here is that a tidal wave and an earthquake could and should have been treated as a joint risk condition. I have read nothing that indicated that the engineering staff considered their back up generators safe in the event of a tidal wave.

According to NHK, the plant design protected against a 6m high tsunami but they were hit by one of 10m.

All I can say to that is, "Missed it by that much"

It is a tragedy for all nuclear power supporters that the quake and wave were out of the range of considerations and the fall back condition if all the fail safes were breached is a melt down. A tragedy for the country of Japan as well.

This is still not a good Risk Mitigation Plan. They needed to say, what if we experience a higher than expected quake and wave? What do we do then?


Old Reactors of this design (1960s) *will* have a meltdown under some conditions. The answer to this is that if they do melt down, the meltdown itself is contained (as at TMI). The only fix is to replace them with newer reactor designs that cannot melt down.

Luckily we've had a week or so already, which means that even if the reactor(s) do melt down, the heat generation in the corium piles will be a lot lower. Unless the pile goes critical which is extremely unlikely.

From what I can tell, the big danger right now is from the spent fuel pools.

Of course, if we has a sanity based energy policy, we would already have replaced generation II reactors with better, safer designs (just as we've generally replaced 1960s designed airliners with better, safer designs), and we would always reprocess fuel rods as soon as realistically possible. But unfortunately any such plans tend to get buries by the luddite lobby, with consequences we are now seeing.

But unfortunately any such plans tend to get buries by the luddite lobby, with consequences we are now seeing.

I didn't know that Japan was overrun by Luddites.

no they do not go flying off the end of the track. they roll off.

You won't hear much about it in the US , but the Japanese have upgraded the quake to a 9+. Why? So they can say they had no idea that a quake that large could happen. CYA bigtime.


A rooster crows and then the sun rises.

A politician crows and then stuff happens.

If it's good stuff, the politician takes credit for it.

If it's bad stuff, the politician figures out a way to blame another person or thing for it.

USGS WPhase Moment Solution

11/03/11 5:46:23

Epicenter: 38.321 142.369
MW 9.0

Seismologists at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, have just revised their calculations regarding the magnitude of today's quake. They now say it was magnitude 9.0. Already one of the top 10 recorded earthquakes in history, the revision suggests the quake was even more powerful than first thought.

So Japan and the USGS both say 9.0 now.

Revisions up and down are normal and expected. This one covers a large area, so that likely plays into the initially measured versus after analysis numbers.

Nate - Seems to boil down to a problem without any acceptable solution. Especially if one defines “acceptable” as no potential for serious consequences. I also agree that the situation wasn’t a Black Swan. In fact, it wasn’t a Gray Swan either IMHO. Neither was the BP blowout nor is the potential death of 10’s if not 100’s of thousands in L.A. from a major earth quake IMHO. Such event will happen eventually. Perhaps some folks see BS’s in the sense of what might only happen in their lifetime.

Back to unacceptable solutions. But I’m sure you fully agree that BAU is not an option either. Logic would seem to demand we employ one or more unacceptable answers. A great course of action would be to increase energy taxes to a level to induce conservation across the board. And perhaps to utilize that revenue to supplement alts like solar and wind so they could compete with FF. But since we lack both a time machine and a godlike power to control the will of others we can forget that fantasy. Similarly any change that cannot be sold to the public in short order is another non-starter IMHO.

There certanly exists a long litany of reasons to not do one thing or another. So if my proposition is valid I would be curious as to which unacceptable response our fellow TODsters would “accept”. Needless to say doing nothing is not acceptable IMHO.

ROCKMAN - "There certanly exists a long litany of reasons to not do one thing or another"

Very true and that seems to be exactly what will happen. However the problems after the earthquake with our power systems are, to me, more symptoms of overshoot. In a sensible world no-one would build a nuke in a seismic area however the Japanese had no choice. With growth in power demand unchecked it was nukes or turn off the lights which is not acceptable to our BAU society. The Maconda disaster was another symptom as if we were not outstripping our oil supply just why would we be drilling in such deepwater? The current "nukes can save the world" cries of nuclear advocates is simply more in this same vein. However the problem is not nuclear power so much as our short-sightedness to think that we can power our way our of this crisis.

The problem is that overshoot leads to collapse. We have a choice now to make the hard decisions and control societies change to a low energy technological society. Otherwise the choice will be taken out of our hands by events such as these. When climate change really starts to bite in the next few years we make look back on this event as not so bad as other larger disasters that are climate related start to shake our BAU confidence. Certainly cyclone Yasi could have been a lot worse if it had hit a larger town. It is luck that Australia is large and a massive Cat 5 cyclone can still miss heavily populated areas. This will not always be the case.

We can change - we don't have to change human nature only set the right conditions for everybody to follow with their nature's unchanged.

Where is the Prius built and designed? How about the Insight? How about a lot of the PV cells?
The turbines that go inside windmills? For better or worse, the majority of "conservation" technologies have been built and designed in Japan. How did they do this? They built nuclear power plants to have clean reliable power. Semiconductor lines don't operate properly with even the slightest power fluctuations. You are never going to operate them with wind or solar power. This disaster's impacts on global supply chains are only beginning to be felt, let alone imagined. BAU just took a major hit in the BUTt. IMHO

Where is this is clean reliable nuclear power?

All power stations go on and off line regularly and usually invisibly to the end user. Thats what the industry is there for. The supply for any industry does not require nuclear power.

nuclear is online 90% of the time.

wind only blows about 30 %.

So? the tides flow every day and the sun rises every morning. That sounds pretty reliable to me

Semiconductor lines don't operate properly with even the slightest power fluctuations.

It's probably a good thing, then, that they don't take power direct from The Grid.

They buffer it. Since they've already got the capability to buffer power over short periods of time, increase the time-span is just a question of money, materials, and effort.

In a post-BAU world, if a semiconductor fab can get a few hours warning about power outages, they may take that as a winning scenario.

The whole world is a seismic zone, the first earthquake I experienced was in an area where there was not supposed to be ANY earthquakes (undiscovered fault). Seismic can be planned for and, unless it caused damage that has not been reported yet, was not the issue here. However building right in front of an ocean that has a history of tsunamis and typhoons is a truly unbelievable. How could designers not see that there was a very real risk of very large amounts of water incoming? Maybe they did design the station to be seismo proof but they seem to have totally overlooked the wet stuff.


Ender – Very well put IMHO. But now I’m going to pick on you…nothing personal but to just emphasize my main point. “…we don't have to change human nature only set the right conditions for everybody to follow…” – So the solution is a global dictatorship to force folks to follow those “right conditions”? I’m sure that’s not your intent. So the goal is to educate folks about principals they’ve chosen to ignore for generations? And if most continue to not attend class?

Your explanation for how the current circumstance is as valid or more so than many IMHO. But identifying the cause of any problem is only the beginning. So specifically how do you achieve a fix? And if that fix isn’t really applicable what doable approach do you envision?

As a doable approach, energy conservation has very broad support on this forum.


I believe that the population of folks who post or even read this forum are not representative of the population writ large.

If the majority of the U.S. population was even amenable and educated enough to have these kinds of discussions, we would have already have made many different and better choices about many things.

PT- and that’s exactly my point. Serious conservation efforts have been a very necessary component of dealing with PO for at least the last 30 years. But consider how even more obvious it is today. Yet neither the govt nor public appears to be considering changing their MO to any significant degree. IMHO “doable’ isn’t a matter of what might help. There are many good ideas floating thru TOD every day. But the public doesn’t care what we think in this forum. A “doable” solution isn’t just one that is valuable but one that has a clear road to enactment. Thus IMHO as far as I can tell conservation is NOT doable for a very simple reason: we are not doing it now to any significant degree. Of course, by conservation I mean proactive and voluntary. Folks cutting back on the driving because fuel prices get too high is not conservation IMHO.

The US is on a glide path towards lower energy usage. This is being accomplished due to two factors.

First, the price of energy is going up, which reduces consumption.

Second, while the economy is recovering, most of the recovery is going to the top income brackets. The economic situation of the bottom 90% is stagnant to deteriorating. Thus, the "masses" have less money to spend on "mass consumption", and it is mass consumption that drives mass energy usage. A $2000 handbag does not have much more embedded energy than a $20 handbag, but selling one of the former offsets not selling 100 of the latter in economic terms.

Prior to the industrial (fossil fuel) revolution, money and wealth was distributed in a highly unequal way. A decline in fossil fuel availability will cause a reversion to that situation.

Unfortunately I'm afraid your "glide path" might intersect with a rock cliff just past those fluffy white clouds up ahead.


Funny. It wasn't till Roosevelt and 90% taxes that it evened out. And the bonanza has largely been confined to OECD nations. Globally, it never changed. In the OECD, it's been reverting for decades.

Someone wrote recently, if you are using a computer, you are in the 1% globally.


ROCKMAN - "So the solution is a global dictatorship to force folks to follow those “right conditions”? I’m sure that’s not your intent."

You are exactly correct that was not my intent. I live in a democratic country and value this. Already isolated pockets are doing relocalising and powering down without any sort of dictatorship - you only have to look at the TOD Jason Bradford to see this. The point is that those isolated pockets need to become the norm rather than the exception.

I don't know why you see global dictatorship when I say these things. Also how much of a global dictatorship are we already in? Only now we call it the 'free' market. The market is really free until the Koch brothers don't like it.

The point is the market free or otherwise needs some adjustment to account for externialities that we now take for granted. Yes we will have to pay some back taxes however what is the alternative?

I don't know why you see global dictatorship when I say these things.

An awful lot of people in the anglophone world have been brainwashed into equating anything perceived to be "green", including acknowledging global warming, as a vast left wing conspiracy to form a New World Order where our precious firearms are prised from our hot, living hands, where we are made to pay more tax, where the current wonderful situation in countries like the US (1% of people control over 90% of retirement funds) is threatened, and where the chance to make indecent profits in the "erl bidness" may be curtailed — hence Rockman's comic outrage.

mamba - sorry but I missed your doable solution to the problem at hand. What was it again?

Ender – As I said I was just teasing you to get a point across. And you took it well. LOL. But to the point: how do you get the “isolated pockets” to become the norm? Again I’m not just jumping on you personally but all the folks who offer truly insightful solutions but seem to always have to include the “BIG IF” in their plan. In your case “IF” you can get the small pockets to expand. So since the public appears to be showing no interest in changing BAU how do you expand the efforts of so few?

We have a global dictatorship, it is called earth and finite limits are totalitarian in nature. Her rules are unyielding. We can either get in line with those limits proactively with some kind of logic or be forced to it in an unpleasant way(Which we are well on our way to).

The problem is our civilization resource guidance system does manage resources with any logic. In fact, our guidance system, which was developed pre-science, dictates that we should race to use resources up as fast as possible with a built in, provably false, mythology that alternatives will manifest magically. Coupled with a "value" system, with monumental scope limitations, making all decisions regarding resources. Not too smart when trying to govern a high-tech complex civilization on a finite resource base. In fact, it's a doomed to fail system

Education would invalidate neoclassic economics, which is where a good part of the blame needs to be placed for the global doomsday machine called and economy we have built. A cult masquerading a science. A cult that seems to have virtually the entire academic would beguiled with her charms.

1st paragraph, mod that up.


A – Very well stated IMHO. That’s exactly the point I made the other day: Mother earth makes the rules. We only respond to her challenges. But when we meet those challenges we tend to think we’ve changed the game. We haven’t…often our only option is to pick the best undesirable course of action.

And that’s what I’m asking the TODsters: how do we respond to the current situation? And again, I’m not asking what COULD help or what WOULD make sense but what will society choose to do? Which IMHO will have nothing in common with most of the thoughts on TOD…unfortunately.

I expect a big campaign now to "strip,baby, strip" and "dig,baby,dig", and don't worry about mountain top removal and miner safety, courtesy of the coal industry.

Further, a country that cannot even build a new building in New York over ten years after 9/11 is not likely to rise to the occasion.

I agree Coal is going to be licking its chops. They will likely help fund the anti-nuclear grass roots groups I bet. Get average joe angry about nuclear and then ask them to make their back yards into slag collection pools of low-level radioactive wastes instead.

Doomed either way.

Oct - I fully agree with you...unfortunately. Coal appears to be the short term option that MIGHT allow us the time to develop alts/nukes. If not it's difficult to not believe forceful solutions won't dominate the future.

#3 Reactor building blew out from H2 explosion at 11:01 AM Japan time.


Video of the explosion at unit 3 with sound

I'm trying to understand the forces involved in blowing huge pieces of concrete hundred of meters into the air. How could the primary containment withstand those kinds of forces? Also, someone mentioned that the plumbing is contained with the secondary containment is that true? Stratfor is saying that Cesium 137 has been detected after the first explosion which means a breach of the reactor vessel and the primary containment. What does that mean to the interior condition of the reactor vessel?

Simply put, explosions are just areas of high pressure. The pressure will escape via the route of least resistance. The containment unit is quite rigid; much stronger than what got blown out. This is the principle behind shaped charges, e.g.

The explosion blows out along the path of least resistance. The way these reactor buildings are built, there's a "refueling deck" that's above the uppermost extent of the reactor containment vessel. Surrounding that deck are walls and a roof designed to keep the area above the deck separated from the outside elements (and vice versa). There's a spent fuel pool whose surface is level with the deck, and an overhead crane suspended from the superstructure to move fuel bundles back and forth between the reactor vessel and the spent fuel pools (new fresh fuel is also stored there prior to use).

The floor of the deck is thick reinforced concrete. There's a hatch of sorts that leads to the top of the primary containment vessel which is opened for refueling. One would assume there is normally a heavy plug of concrete in the hatchway when the reactor is closed and operating.

To summarize, below the refueling deck the reactor building is a brick shithouse with 2-foot thick reinforced concrete walls and buttresses. Above, not so much.

The more interesting question is what effect the explosion had on whatever was sitting in the spent fuel pools.

I am curious to hear opinions on the vastly different plume profiles from the two explosions.

The first one (reactor #1) looked plausibly like a hydrogen explosion, as the energy was quite equally directed from each side of the housing and was not particularly directed, indicating that it occurred in a fairly unrestricted enclosed space.

The second one (reactor #3) was far more powerful with heavy debris (= not mere paneling) falling from the huge vertical plume, and generally the force of the explosion seemed far more directed along the vertical axis (such as erupting from a cylindrical structure?). This could indicate that the explosion took place within the concrete casing of the reactor, or perhaps even the reactor core itself.

We will also likely have a third plume to analyze shortly when reactor #2 blows up, as the water levels have reportedly fallen to critical levels (rods partially exposed).

No one here will say anything, other than that they are identical. They will say they are both simple hydrogen explosions, when obviously the videos are quite different and the end result in terms of structural damage is more severe in the Unit 3 blast.

I see what you see basically.

Wait for the AAR on these.

Whatever we think we see now, good or bad, is going to be biased by our opinions heavily because the facts are too thin on the ground.

Personally, both for the sake of the Japanese people and for the future of nuclear power, I want these to be brought under control with minimal damage to the environment. It might not be so, but I intend to withold any optimistic statements until things settle out.

What I can say, is that most of the extreme pessimistic projections are as likely to be way off base as the pollyanna crowd. There is now, and will be more damage from this, but until it is all tallied up (which will take months) nobody will be able to say with certainty whether it was worth it or not.

You're right about the fundamental difference between the explosion at Reactor 3 and the previous explosion at Reactor 1. This latest was evidently much more energetic, with some of the heavy debris blow quite high. And the final view is of a much more damaged building.

Today's explanation is designed to reduce panic, but the truth will definitely change all future considerations of Nuclear Power.

People in general will never voluntarily give up BAU, but they will have to let pieces of it slip away one at a time, IMHO.

0629: Urgent news: Cooling functions have stopped and water levels are falling in Reactor 2 at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant - Jiji news agency, quoted by Reuters.

From BBC.

I wonder if that blast at Unit #3 compromised the effort at Unit #2.

They said it was expected. seems they are venting the hot noble isotopes gases into the outer building instead of straight into the air to allow time for the stuff to decay away. The stuff is so hot because the 1/2 lives are on the order of seconds.

You can see that Unit 3 is basically blown away in this Sky Video.

Not much left there at all. Hard to say whether the core is really unharmed as they seem to be saying.

Please don't b*ll***t

Focus on the after parts of the video and you can see it looks similar to the No.1 reactor blow out, if more blackened. Skeleton of the containment building is there again - suggesting that once again its the soft sheet metalwork that's blown out (and up) again.

Still no sign the reactor is impacted.

That will be just a swimming pool of fresh fuel and a swimming pool of dirty rods scattered over 2km then..?

When you see them dumping sand and cement, then you'll know the extent of the problems.

Right. A 500 ft explosion and the skeleton of the building is all that is left.

Tell me that you think think the reactor core is completely unharmed. There are no cracks or imperfections now in the so-called containment. The water is not leaking at all.

I mean you can believe what you want to but that was multiple explosions according to the soundtrack.

It is nowhere near to the Unit 1 explosion. No where near it.

The skeleton of the outer building. Containment on these is going to be at least 3 layers deep (outer containment, inner containment, reactor vessel).

We see that the outer containment is clearly and decisively breached. It is unlikely that anyone not working the job (and possibly even them) knows the state of the inner 2 containments with certainty.

Yeah no one knows, but everyone is signing off and saying, "It is just fine"

If you read what I said above, I said that Unit 3 was a serious blast many fold greater than Unit 1.

How could the inner workings be perfectly normal. It is a pile of concrete and dust on the outside.

Believe what you want. I think they cannot get water into Unit #3 as stated in the news and that meant the thing was blasted pretty darn hard. So I stand by my assertion, "The core cannot be unharmed." Even if you all can me a B-S-er.

sticks and stones may break my bones ... lol

Argue with the reality that they cannot get salt water into the pressurized unit. I will be interested to hear what you have to say.

If you'd ever walked into such a facility you would know how the inner containments could still be intact after a blast of that magnitude.

It isn't certain that they are, but it is definitely *possible*.

Like I said, I am refraining from any extreme statements of good or ill on this one until the cores cool down enough to be stable.

Right now we are looking at the second-worst nuclear power incident that I know about. It has a long, long way to go to even come close to the first, and even further to go to match Bhopal, and it is merely a sideshow to the larger disaster that it is a part of.

Chile February 2010 8.8, New Zealand September 2010 7.1, Japan March 2011 8.9... Next up on the Pacific Ring or Fire is the north east corner. What do we know about the preparedness of Diablo Canyon and San Onofre?

Are they boiling water reactors like these or are they light water reactors? or do you know the difference?

If you care ask the NRC for a copy of their Safety analysis report(SAR).

Diablo Canyon PWR 85/86
San Onofre PWR 83/84


And the 6.6 quake off New Britain (PNG) on 10 March.

This is not really on message, but there was a cartoon of Far Side, that had a punch line of "I don't think we have to worry about the salmon limit any more", as two fishermen sitting in their boat saw nuclear explosions rising in the distance.

Another way to deal with this is to get a copy of "Far From the Madding Crowd" and follow its directions.

Is there any hope, or has the devil come for his due, in the Faustian bargain?

"Japanese traditional culture has a strong pastoralist element and appreciation of nature."

"Modern Japanese culture is citified, capitalistic, and consumerist, just like America, China, Germany, pretty much like everywere else."

Gee, I wonder why? What I am about to say will be controversial but a study of history will bear me out: What we now call "Japanese culture" is essentially an import from the U.S. We set the terms after WWII for their political and economic system, and it was U.S and European banks who decided what projects would be funded, what development needed to take place. Long before WWII it is to be remembered that Commodore Perry had pretty much forced the opening of Japan by U.S. navel power in 1854. The United States Navy website celebrates this with some pride

To quote: "The Japanese government realized that their country was in no position to defend itself against a foreign power, and Japan could not retain its isolation policy without risking war. On March 31, 1854, after weeks of long and tiresome talks, Perry received what he had so dearly worked for--a treaty with Japan." This treaty inclued the opening of two ports to allow continuing trade. Essentially, Japan began its path to industrialism/consumerism, etc. 156 years ago.

Out in the coutryside, however, this type of "modernism" was slower in coming. the local lords still held power in what was essentially a fuedal system.

It is said the Japanese are not taught the history of the atrocities by Japanese forces in WWII. True, but in truth, the Japanese really do not study much Japanese history at all. They are not really liberal arts oriented, seeing education as a tool to compete with other nations in world markets. In the battle between the arts and sciences, the Japanese have sided with the sciences.

I once heard a young Japanese university student being interviewed. What do you know about the history of Japanese culture before the World War, he was asked. he replied, in English, "There is no history. History begins in 1945." I shuddered when I heard this.

The ancient tradition of Japan, Buddhism and Shinto, have a very strong environmental tradition. So called "pure land" Buddhism (Amitābha 無量光; "Infinite Light") Amitābha, as an advanced monk named Dharmakara, made a great series of vows to save all sentient beings, and through his great merit, created a realm called the Land of Bliss (Sukhāvatī). Honan imported the ancient Amitābha Buddhism created in a monastary on China's Mount Lu in approx. 1209. Though Honan would be exiled, the "pure land" tradition is still a major sect of Buddhist thought in Japan. Strands of Chinese "Tendai" Buddhist aesthetic is still present in some modern Japanese art and architecture. Tendai Buddhism is very minimalist, believing in renounciation of material goods and pleasure (try selling that idea down at the local Acura dealership!)

Over 91 million people in Japan claim to be Buddhist practitioners, so this is no small influence.

Shinto doctrine is even more direct in its connection to nature, so much to the point that many Westerners consider it "nature worship". The Shinto idea of "Kami" can be loosely used to mean spirit, force, soul, and nature. Shinto seeks balance...and the greatest balance to maintain is between the creative force of the universe, Kami or nature and the individual Kami, which through unpure thought, greed or lust can fall out of balance with THE Kami.

Japanese nature art and their fondness for birds and other animals is depicted in so much of their art.

But in the modern world, people have moved to a more "practical" way of making a living, and like those of us in the West who can say "the meek shall inherit the Earth" on Sunday, and then go back to a job building fighter planes on Monday, many young Japanese people of ambition find the old traditions and philosophies outdated and old fashioned, a relic. Much as we laughed when our grandparents told us "waste not want not".

The old schools are not dead however: Several ecological groups in Japan as well as some anarchist groups base their philosophies in older teachings of Buddhism and Shinto, just as some Christian groups are beginning to make an alliance with ecological groups in the U.S. and Europe.

The futurist Alvin Toffler as early as 1980 actually pronounced a coming "eco fundamentalist" movement as a real possible danger to the existence of modern western economies. The linking of fundamentalist "no other doctrine but ours" idealogy with the eco green (and in some cases green anarchist) tradition could be a potent mix. Events such as the ones we are seeing now in Japan can only be seen as encourging some folks further down that path. And given how often Toffler has been right from 1980 to now, I would not bet against him on this one....yet.


New reactors coming on stream now will probably operate for sixty years. How will the energy picture look in sixty years' time?

1. NG will be mostly gone. As the cleanest power it will be used preferentially.
2. High-quality smaller coalfields will be gone. Giant coalfields and low-quality local fields will be all that remains. Little will be available on the export market.
3. Crude oil supply will be 30% of today's level, given a 2% decline rate. None will be available on the export market -- it will all be spoken for in bilateral arrangements.
4. Oil from bitumen sands and kerogen shale maybe double today's levels.
5. Sun and wind and tides will continue to be intermittent.

In addition, I expect public attitudes to turn against FFs as AGW is blamed for several climate-related catastrophes.

In short, I expect nuclear power will be a much more important part of the energy mix than it is today in all advanced economies. Nuclear power will be regarded as a strategic necessity in any country that considers itself a regional or world superpower (which is maybe 30% of all countries).

We should accept this and be doing a lot more research on and construction of various types of reactors to make optimum use of the fuel available (i.e. including breeders, thorium etc), and designs which are inherently safer than today's.

One black/grey/red swan event I hope I am not around to see is a major conflict involving nations with nuclear reactors. They are such juicy targets, a country may not be able to resist attacking its opponent's reactors, even though this will invite retaliation.

Another black/grey/red swan event is of course nuclear terrorism, whether from disaffected groups or rogue states. I am sure we will see one or two such events.

Personally I think we will have to accept the occasional nuclear disaster as the price of progress, like we accept aircraft crashes today.

Whether we go the nuclear route or not, we are headed for troubled times.

One black/grey/red swan event I hope I am not around to see is a major conflict involving nations with nuclear reactors.

This is a white swan.

Sometime prior to 2070 the next major conflict will break out.

The next major set of conflicts will most likely be fought with biological weapons, since the point of war is to kill the enemy and take his stuff, not to destroy everything. Hence the population by 2070 is likely to be considerably smaller than at present.

Confirmed by NHK, Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant Reactor #2 is without cooling function and the water level is dropping. #2 will be #3 to blow I guess. Rolling blackouts across Japan.

Rolling blackouts across Japan is unlikely because AC power is 50 Hz in eastern Japan and 60 Hz in the west, and the two grids are connected only at two frequency converters. For the same reason, western Japan can give only so much power to the east now.

"A huge column of smoke billowed from Fukushima Daiichi's reactor 3, two days after a blast hit reactor 1."

It seems to me that the Japanese engineers are loosing control of the situation. In Nicole's scheme it seems clear that the reactors are way beyond rapid oxidation and that the cores in all 4 of these reactors are being reorganised.

Two very surprising things for me:

1) That these reactors are built so close to each other that a hydrogen explosion in one building may compromise the function of a neighboring building.

2) That these reactors have been built on a coast line where there was a high probability of an event such as this taking place during the reactor life.

I'm guessing that the next stage may be that the reactor site may soon become too hazardous for engineering operations to continue and that "nature" is allowed to run its course.

Does anyone know if the steel pressure vessels are able to withstand the temperatures and pressures associated with uncontrolled melt down? Or do they simply allow the pressure vessels to vent accepting wide spread contamination around the site, that may be a better option to an explosion that would scatter highly radioactive material over a wider area?

I find it difficult to see a good outcome from this for the global nuclear industry.

Just saw NHK reporter start story about #2 reactor and he got cut off in mid-sentence. Now admitting that water is gone and fuel rods are exposed. The seawater pump has failed.

Ref melt down time.
Presently there is a chat in the largest Swedish newspaper ( with Lars Gunsell from the swedish authority for radiation safety.

He mentions as answer "if cooling stops: in approx. 1 h the core melts through the reactor" and " if completely with water filled and cooling stops: a few hours". He further mentions the power after shutdown, the "left-over power", is a few percent of original power. That still a lot.
If reactor breaks, the next containment will hold it, and large scale cooling can continue.

I can assure you it is a mess at these power plants at the moment - let's hope for the best.

Now they say the pumping has resumed. My BS detector is pinging.

EDIT: I must correct my writing above: L.G. did not say that the reactor melts through in 1 h. He said "in the case of a large melt-down, it melts through the reactor, eventually". He did not specify what he means with "large" and "eventually", unfortunately.
My mistake.

Didn't we see the "next containment" already go boom? The containment structure? On number 1 and 3, soon to be #2?

Another reasonable good source in this noise seems to be our friends at

There the best guess (based on Japanese info) is that both the reactors and outer structure are intact,
there are still pressure readings from all reactors of a few atmosphere overpressure, almost normal, until next problem might arise with cooling.

There also some radiation levels around the plant is indicated, elevated but not killing, tens of microSieverts per hour.
Poor workers - hard work. Loyality needed.

Levels of around 1000 microsieverts per hour (peak 1,600) were recorded outside the plant for several hours. And that was before the explosion at reactor 3.

That is 1 years worth of safe exposure delivered per hour.

And as the local hospital was treating people suffering from nausea after radiation exposure my guess is that they were exposed to these levels (or higher) for several hours. It would also fit with radiation alarms being triggered about 70 miles away to the north-west.

Btw, the information on recorded radiation levels was posted by Reuters with a link to the information on the TEPCO site. The page link they gave now returns "not found". Make of that what you will.

NHK is reporting that "we don't have the information at hand" regarding exact radiation levels.

Fuel rods of No. 2 reactor of Fukushima plant may have partially melted: TEPCO

Is this new info?

Fairly new yes.

triggered about 70 miles away to the north-west

I should have said to the north-east.

Edit: Here's a link to The Japan Times

On Monday, radiation on the plant's premises rose over the benchmark limit of 500 microsieverts per hour at two locations, hitting 751 microsieverts at the first location at 2:20 a.m. and 650 at the second at 2:40 a.m., according to the report.

The hourly amounts are more than half the 1,000 microsieverts people would normally be exposed to in a year.

The maximum level detected so far around the plant was 1,557.5 microsieverts Sunday.

There is no way that people are presenting symptoms of radiation poisoning yet. At 1.6 mSv/hr, it would still take months of exposure at that dose rate to absorb enough radiation to cause any noticable symptoms.

edited to remove bad information

I believe these were the levels at the plant gates. If so then I can imagine the true levels nearer the reactor could easily be high enough to cause nausea. But yes, they shouldn't really be feeling an immediate effect at the dose reported around the gates.

they shouldn't really be feeling an immediate effect at the dose reported around the gates.

Not to be a Pollyanna, but it seems to me nausea could very well be psychological, especially given what these people have been through in the past few days. After the earthquake and the tsunami, the possibility that they'd also been exposed to radiation in their own backyards could have been the straw the camel stepped on and broke as far as their emotional stability was concerned. How much more threatened and helpless can they be made to feel? That's enough to make anyone whoopsie.

Also in the same source,, Frigyesh Reisch who has worked both for the Swedish radiation authority and tye IAEA, says that the calssification of the accident as 4 on the INES scale is wrong, and should be a 7.

"Det här är absolut jämförbart med Tjernobyl. Det handlar om påverkan på en stor area med många människor och lokala utsläpp av radioaktiva ämnen som sannolikt är fråga om dödliga doser, säger han."

"This is absolutely comparable to Cernobyl. There are effects for a large area with a big population and local leaks of radioavtivity in deadly amounts, he says"

He also points out that there are huge commercial interests at play "the whole nuclear business is Japanese". Incuding, apparently, GE (General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy), these days.

Well, to be honest, aftonbladet is, what is it called, an evening tabloid paper. Let just say I would not trust them. I do not trust DN neither, sometimes thea are very naive and lobbyist (they are pro-nuclear for instance), but they usually have the technical facts correct. Sweden is no longer what it once was...

"the whole nuclear business is Japanese". Incuding, apparently, GE (General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy), these days.

Toshiba as well. "The reactors for Units 1, 2, and 6 were supplied by General Electric, those for Units 3 and 5 by Toshiba, and Unit 4 by Hitachi. All six reactors were designed by General Electric."

The stress levels for most steels drop off a cliff after about 800 deg F.

I would appreciate any discussion by Nicole Foss (or others) regarding the scientific validity of Beir VII and the LNT (linear no-threshold) model.

Something else that might blow up?

TOKYO, March 14 (Reuters) - Japan's Sendai Gas said on Monday it was unable to reach the tsunami-hit Shinminato liquefied natural gas terminal near the port of Sendai in the country's northeast, but the terminal appeared undamaged from a distance.

"We've been unable to reach the terminal because there was a tsunami warning again today," an official at Sendai City Government's gas department said.

The terminal did not catch fire after the strong quake on Friday, but was flooded by seawater after a series of tsunamis, the official said. (Reporting by Risa Maeda in TOKYO, Writing by Rebekah Kebede, editing by Anthony Barker)

Uh, couldn't they take a boat if a terminal is "undamaged"?

Does LNG require continuous cooling, or are the pressure vessels alone sufficient at ambient temp? If the former, then without power you'd think it would slowly boil away.

I think LNG is kept cool using compressors run off of NG from the LNG.

So there may be NG engines that turn compressors. Not electrical ones.

LNG is usually not refrigerated for storage. Once it is liquified, it is stored in very large insulated tanks. The ratio of mass to surface area is high, so there is is a very slow rate of evaporation.

The evaporated gas is either pumped into the natural gas pipeline for delivery to customers, or is used on-site to run generators to offset grid-bought electricity.

LNG tankers run the same way. The evaporative losses are run through the ship's propulsion boiler, however the evaporation is not nearly sufficient to fully power the tanker. The tanker's main propulsion is stil oil fuel.

Keep an eye on those rad levels in the PNW and SF;

Two points, if it is OK...

1. With all the discussion about the existence and color of the swan, the overlaying problem is with us (humans, at least in the West) that we would like to "legislate" the risk and danger away. So to feel safer we hide behind a rationalization of a Black Swan, just to appease our fears. Taleb points rightly that all we can do is built resilience into our life, as the event is not predictable. People in Japan are likely more resilient that we would be, thanks to the training, preparation, outlook on life, patience, existence of confucian values etc. No Swan here though: 9.0 earthquake in Japan - no surprises, maybe a bit on the size of it. Tsunami - actually expected, this one larger than Japan was preparing for (breakwalls, dykes etc), but no surprise. Nuclear problem?

2. The Fukushima plant was designed to withstand certain size of earthquake and tsunami - 40 (design 50!) years ago. Possibly it could not have been built to higher "specs" due to lack of technology or cost. Nuclear is a Faustian pact, and we got short hand here. But again, designed with Depth of Defence, it gives the engineers a chance to prevent a total failure. So 50 years old specs did not totally fail in the light of an extreme event.
Actually, according to the table in , the containment is intact, with stable pressures in both the reactor and in the containment structure.

So here comes a question to people with nuclear know-how: In a modern design, is the primary and secondary containment designed to withstand total loss of any cooling ability. i.e. SCRAM the reactor and leave it alone. Would it melt through "exposed to the elements", or molten corium would be contained?

At some stage during this venting, the explosion occurred. The
explosion took place outside of the third containment (our “last line
of defense”), and the reactor building. Remember that the reactor
building has no function in keeping the radioactivity contained. It is
not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely
scenario: The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure
vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between
the third containment and the reactor building (to give the
radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that
at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage,
water molecules can “disassociate” into oxygen and hydrogen – an
explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment,
damaging the reactor building around. It was that sort of explosion,
but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not
managed properly by the operators) that lead to the explosion of
Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima. The problem of
hydrogen-oxygen formation is one of the biggies when you design a
power plant (if you are not Soviet, that is), so the reactor is build
and operated in a way it cannot happen inside the containment. It
happened outside, which was not intended but a possible scenario and
OK, because it did not pose a risk for the containment.

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.

When the earthquake hit with 8.9, the nuclear reactors all went into
automatic shutdown. Within seconds after the earthquake started, the
control rods had been inserted into the core and nuclear chain
reaction of the uranium stopped. Now, the cooling system has to carry
away the residual heat. The residual heat load is about 3% of the heat
load under normal operating conditions.

The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear
reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power
plant, and accordingly, a “plant black out” receives a lot of
attention when designing backup systems. The power is needed to keep
the coolant pumps working. Since the power plant had been shut down,
it cannot produce any electricity by itself any more.

Things were going well for an hour. One set of multiple sets of
emergency Diesel power generators kicked in and provided the
electricity that was needed. Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than
people had expected when building the power plant (see above, factor
7). The tsunami took out all multiple sets of backup Diesel

When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy
called “Defense of Depth”. That means that you first build everything
to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design
the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure
(that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami
taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario.
The last line of defense is putting everything into the third
containment (see above), that will keep everything, whatever the mess,
control rods in our out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.

When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched
to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the
backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8
hours. And they did.

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.

more details at the link.

These types of statements hold no water with me (excuse the pun).

The earthquake that hit Japan was 7 times more powerful than the worst
earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for

Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than
people had expected when building the power plant

Six years prior there was the Boxing day Earthquake and Tsunami, a magnitude 9.1-3 quake with the Tsunami of a reported 24 metres at the closest landfall (Aceh). In the 6 years since, there had been no attempt to make these reactors safe in case of such an event, or anything above the original specs (8 and 6 metre Tsunami). Basically a huge failure of the nuclear industry to prove how safe reactors are/can be.

When the diesel generators were gone, the reactor operators switched
to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the
backups to the backups, to provide power for cooling the core for 8
hours. And they did.

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.

It obviously did not occur to anyone that feeding 3 different types of electricity to one type of pump could be a problem. What was the back-up if the electric pumps failed??

There clearly should have been separate diesel pumps as a back-up, especially with the possibility of Tsunami. The backup diesel pumps need to have the air intake protected from water, the fuel high enough and a mechanism to keep the inlets clear.

The mere fact this was not considered after the Boxing day quake and Tsunami is an indictment on the thinking of the whole Nuclear industry, in terms of safety.



Watt's up with that - The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana. The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv).

Another way to consider the concept is by comparing the risk from radiation-induced cancer to that from cancer from other sources. For instance, a radiation exposure of 10 mrems (10,000,000,000 picorems) increases your risk of death by about one in one million—the same risk as eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter, or of smoking 1.4 cigarettes.

Japanese radiation readings:

Monitoring of radiation levels on the spot is ongoing. At point MP4, where a reading of 1,015μSv was detected yesterday, a radiation level of 44.6μSv was recorded at 00:30 this morning, and a level of 36.7μSv at 6:00am. After the start of venting around 9:20, a reading of 76.9μSv was recorded at 9:20 and of 70.3μSv at 9:30.

The radiation spiked up to 30 bananas a day and then fell back down to 1 to 2 bananas per day.

Watt's up with that

Which is the name of the blog where this information came from. It is run by a television weatherman who rants against climate science research day in and day out. Not worth my time to debunk. Get a better source and maybe we can fact check it.

Well Web in Unit 3 there are a lot of bananas now.

The levels of radiation are so high a human could not stand it for more than 7 or 8 hours.

Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China 278
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

Does anybody look at these numbers for a sanity check?

Global energy consumption amounts to over 17400 Terawatt hours per year

Nuclear 5.9%
Death rate 0.04
17400 TWh/yr * 0.059 * 0.04 Deaths/TWh = 41 Deaths/yr

17400 TWh/yr * 0.26 * 161 = 728,364 Deaths/yr

Somebody can correct me if I have this wrong, because it is of course a sanity check.

These seem to be cumulative deaths for all reasons e.g. for coal, it is coal pollution, mining etc, for solar it most probably includes roof falls during installation etc...So 41 for nuclear deaths these might be industrial accident on-site. Or something.

One would need to read the studies to see the details, but in at least one authors seem to have credentials:

And for other energy types it gets more many people worldwide die in oil related refinary fires, even fires in cars...of course you could even extend the logic to car crashes because if they didn't have oil, they wouldn't be driving.

I do know that there are a considerable number of deaths to natural gas explosions and fires each year.

What sets nuclear energy apart is not the number of people who have been killed to this date (very few actually) but (a) the invisibility of radiation (b) the potential for extreme long lasting effects (after an oil fire the deaths can be counted and that is pretty much it...even respitory issues due to coal will become apparent relatively soon), nuclear is different in having possible effects centuries into the future. Nuclear remains terrifying to the public not for what HAS happened bor for CAN happen.


I greatly respect Stoneleigh's intelligence and professionalism, and as a result, was happy to learn that nuclear energy is among her areas of expertise in her already impressive academic portfolio. Nevertheless, as a nuclear sceptic who is trying to get a handle on the pro's and con's of this complex subject, I found this sentence in her posting less than helpful:

"The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the full life-cycle do not impress me."

An additional sentence or two substantiating her "impression" would have been helpful to the reader, especially since most sources point to zero CO2 emission as one of the unqualified benefits of nuclear power.

I think the words "full life cycle" can be a good starting point for such a substantiation. Full life cycle includes mining and disposal of the fuel and waste as well as contruction and operation of the plants.
>"The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the full life-cycle do not impress me."

An additional sentence or two substantiating her "impression" would have been helpful to the reader, especially since most sources point to zero CO2 emission as one of the unqualified benefits of nuclear power.<