Fukushima Dai-ichi status and potential outcomes

Image dated 16th March, posted by Undertow, source digitalglobe. Unit 1 to right, reactor building destroyed by hydrogen gas explosion on Saturday 12th March. Unit 3, second from left, destroyed by hydrogen gas explosion on Monday 14th March, venting steam? Unit 2, second from right, explosion causes radiation leak from containment system, venting steam? Unit 4 on left, building destroyed by fire on Tuesday and Wednesday, the likely result of spent fuel rods boiling dry in their cooling pond. Ironically, it is unit 4, shut down at time of incident, with large quantities of radioactive material outside of containment, that is a major cause for concern.

On Wednesday 16th March, I sensed that the rate of official news flow from the Fukushima nuclear site declined leading to a number of conflicting reports and much speculation about what is going on and what might happen to the crippled reactors.

I am not a nuclear engineer and all should be wary of information reported by non-experts on the internet. Here I try to assemble information (not facts) gleaned from TheOilDrum comments, our email list, as well as mainstream media and news reports, in an attempt to cast light on status and potential outcomes. This involves considerable speculation.

On Friday 11th March, the day the earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan, reactors 1, 2, and 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site were successfully shutdown by inserting control rods to shut down the nuclear fission chain reaction. Reactor 4 was non-operational at the time of the event, its spent fuel rods being stored in a cooling pond outside of the reactor containment system. The chart shows that heat flow in a reactor drops extremely quickly upon shutdown but that after the passage of days to weeks (where we are now) the rate of heat decay slows. Things are still very hot and need to be cooled. The source of the heat is radioactive decay of the fission products, many of which have very short half lives and decay away in the first minutes to hours, but the longer lived isotopes go on decaying and emitting heat and radiation for days, weeks and years.

Chart from energyfromthorium is for illustrative purposes only.

There is therefore a world of difference in terms of energy that has to be contained between an operational reactor experiencing difficulties, as was the case with Three Mile Island, and reactors that have been shutdown, as is the case in Fukushima.

On Saturday 12th March, the reactor building of unit 1 was blown apart by a hydrogen gas explosion. The reactor containment vessel survived and there was only minor release of radiation at that time. At this point it was evident that engineers at the plant were having difficulty cooling the reactors and all sorts of speculation began about possible meltdown of the core and what might happen next.

Oil Drum commenter donshan left this comment on my Safety of nuclear power and death of the nuclear renaissance thread which I believe may provide an accurate picture of what is actually going on in the reactor cores:

I think I can answer this if I am correct that the Japanese reactors use conventional zirconium ( Zircaloy) fuel cladding with ceramic uranium oxide fuel pellets inside. I understand that Unit 3 has a mixed oxide pellet including plutonium oxide.

In 1956, my first job as a materials scientist was at the AEC's Hanford Laboratory in Washington State, operated by General Electric. Over 8 years I conducted many laboratory scale high-pressure autoclave experiments on the properties of zirconium alloys in high temperature and pressure water and steam. These tests were classified "secret" back then to prevent our technology from being obtained by the Soviets. Sometimes I fear that even though all this science is now declassified, this early science has not made into the education of today's engineers. I retired in 1995 and have followed TOD for 3 years now, having also worked on natural gas pipeline and geothermal system corrosion, but now feel I have expertise to share on this topic.

The source is the hydrogen is a chemical reaction between the uncovered, overheated fuel assemblies and steam.

Zr + 2 H2O (steam) = ZrO2+2 H2

Zirconium is an extremely reactive metal and has even been used in flash bulbs filled with oxygen. There have been fatal explosions handling zirconium powers. So how is it possible to use zirconium safely in a nuclear reactor?

Like aluminum, zirconium and its alloys (Zircaloy-2) oxidize instantly in air. A thin film of ZrO2 is so impervious to oxygen diffusion that the reaction stops. Even in 300 C (572F) water or steam at over 1000 psi, the oxidation rate is extremely slow and corrosion properties of Zircaloy fuel cladding are outstanding and safe, AS LONG as they are not overheated and cooling water flow is maintained. In fact, it is standard practice to autoclave fuel rods in hot-pressured water or steam to precoat these rods with the optimum coating of ZrO2.

But these fuel rods must NEVER be overheated. That is why multiple redundant cooling systems are required. All these backup-cooling systems failed in Japan. Even after reactor shutdown, if the fuel rods are uncovered cladding temperatures can rapidly rise to 800C or higher, due to fission product decay heat. As in any chemical reaction, the rate accelerates rapidly with temperature, but in the case of zirconium, the protective character of a thin ZrO2 film is destroyed by this high temperature and catastrophic oxidation occurs. However this catastrophic oxidation occurs below the melting point, so I object to the media using the common term "meltdown" which is misleading.

This loss of the last battery-powered cooling, led to the fuel rods becoming uncovered in a manner similar to that in the Three Mile Island accident (although due to different reasons). When overheated in steam, the oxidation reaction above accelerates exponentially. As the zirconium oxidizes, the coating thickens, cracks, and turns white from internal fractures that increase the diffusion rate of steam to the metal. It then has the look and mechanical properties of eggshells. Hydrogen from this process is released, but is also absorbed by the underlying metal cladding, which causes embrittlement and metal fracture. Soon cracks form in the cladding, releasing the trapped fission products inside. This is not "melting', but rather catastrophic disintegration of the cladding structural integrity and containment of fission products. If the process continues, the cladding can fracture away, exposing the fuel pellets, which in the worst-case scenario can drop out and collect on the bottom of the reactor vessel. It is the worse case scenario that I believe is causing the Japanese to inject boric acid. Boron is a neutron absorber and will prevent any possibility of a pile of fuel pellets on the bottom of the vessel from going critical and restarting the chain reaction.

These reactors are now a total loss, but I am still disturbed by their inability to bring in portable diesel generators and restart the back-up cooling. I guess the chaos of the catastrophe is the cause.

I do question the use of seawater cooling. I hope the Japanese have considered the danger they have created by introducing oxygenated seawater into this stainless steel piping and pressure vessel at boiling temperatures. These stainless steels are extremely susceptible to chloride stress corrosion cracking:

Since residual weld stresses and tensile stress in piping, valves, control tubing, etc. are always present, Standard Operating Reactor water quality standards require keeping chlorides at parts per billion levels. Seawater has about 3.5% or 35 grams per liter of salinity!!!

I have no way of knowing how many days they have before a stainless steel component suddenly cracks, but if it were me, I would be advocating an emergency program to get pure deionzied cooling water back into this stainless steel system ASAP. In laboratory tests in boiling chlorides, cracking of stainless in tensile stress can occur within days- they have at most a few months if they keep boiling sea water in this system and yet another disaster occurs. I am sure there are competent scientists in Japan's nuclear industry and government regulators. I hope they are on top of this threat!

It appears that large quantities of hydrogen gas have been produced in all three reactors based on Donshan's well-informed explanation. Severely corroded fuel rods with exposed fuel pellets may be inside the reactor housing or gathering as debris on the floor of the reactor vessel.

On Monday 14th, the reactor building of unit 3 exploded in similar manner to unit 1 but, at this point, there was still no significant radiation leakage, and the containment vessel seemed to be doing its job. It became evident that the Japanese engineers were losing the battle to keep the reactor cores submerged in water and adequately cooled.

On Tuesday 15th March, a third explosion in unit 2 resulted in serious radiation leak. This was a game changing event since contamination of the site by radioactive materials created a much more hazardous operational environment and many of the staff, who seemed to be fighting a losing battle in any case, were evacuated.

Donshan points out that Unit 3 was running on a mixed oxide fuel (MOX) that includes plutonium. This provides a further hazard since Pu is extremely radiologically poisonous.

The reactor building of unit 4 caught fire on Tuesday. Successfully extinguished, the building caught fire again on Wednesday 16th March and fears grew that spent fuel rods lying in a cooling pond outside of containment had boiled dry exposing the reactor site to large quantities of radiation. The photograph up top shows unit 4 to the left and it is clearly badly damaged even though the reactor was non-operational at the time of the incident.

Unit 3 is also reported to have spent fuel outside of containment that is giving rise to concern. In email correspondence Joules Burn had this to say:

I have been watching the NHK feed and grimly laughing at the helicopter operation. Here is some info:

Capacity of spent fuel pools: 1200-1500 tons water 15 meters deep
Needed to cover rods: 15 meters, 400-500 tons water

For reactor 3, they think there might be enough water that they only need < 100 tons, perhaps less

One helicopter can drop 7.5 tons/load. BUt it can't hover, due to the radiation level. If I heard right, those on board are limited to 100 mSieverts/hour (check the time units). They had measured 250/hr at 30 meters and 87/hr at 90 meters. They dumped from 90 meters. See image. Looks more like crop dusting. There was one drop which looked a little better, but at the speed they are going, hitting the building with much is not likely.

They tried some fire trucks, but they could get close enough. Next, they used some vehicles used for crowd control (see cartoon truck image). The water cannons can be fired from inside the vehicle. Two trucks can carry 10 tons, the others less. They shot a total of 30 tons water at #3 and called it a day. They will do more tomorrow.

The NHK link is reporting radiation levels 30 Km from the plant that provide annual safe dosage in six hours.

This time line and analysis posted on Wikipedia seems to provide a good chronology of events and status of units 1 to 4 (also units 5 and 6 located on another site). Of note, water levels inside the containment vessel remain below the level necessary to submerge the core, and the vessel is being vented continuously. This latter point seems a sensible approach. It will prevent pressure build-up in the containment vessels that could result in explosion but risks continuously venting small amounts of volatile radioactive materials.

What next?

At this point, it is necessary to lurch towards pure conjecture. Day by day, the status at Fukushima has worsened and until the situation is stabilized, it is impossible to predict the final outcome.

Much will depend on the status and location of the fuel rods and pellets in the reactor cores. If these remain largely intact and in place then they will be easier to cool and to moderate, i.e. to have the neutrons being released absorbed by boron or the control rods already in place.

If one of the cores is disintegrating and gathering as debris on the vessel floor then it becomes much more difficult to circulate cooling water and to absorb neutrons being produced. We have had much debate about whether or not it is possible for the fission chain reaction to re-start in a pile of reactor rubble. The consensus is that this is unlikely though possible. Should this happen then the energy to be contained escalates and the situation becomes more critical. Colleagues Joules Burn and Engineer Poet suggest that restarting the fission chain reaction would be self destroying since the energy produced would blow apart the pile of rubble, shutting down the fission process immediately.

The possibility remains that an explosion (hydrogen gas?) or fire (burning what?) destroys one of the containment vessels, rendering the site uninhabitable, in which case the fate of the other reactors would be left to nature. Fire in particular could spread high levels of radiation over a substantial area. Stuart Staniford at earlywarn.blogspot has produced this picture of what a Chernobyl scale disaster could mean for Japan.

Using military helicopters to drop water on the site seems like an act of desperation. France and the USA are sending charter planes to evacuate their nationals from Tokyo.

So is Donshan saying that the hydrogen can only have come from the cladding? Meaning the rods were in fact exposed to the atmosphere?

Yes, at least that is my understanding of it.

No atmosphere in there. But there is little doubt that water levels have fallen exposing large parts of fuel rods / core to a steam environment over boiling water. Fuel rods over heat leading to reduction of water, the oxygen going to oxidise the zircaloy and the hydrogen venting with steam where it explodes upon contact with atmosphere.

If a steel containment vessel ruptures allowing air in I don't know what happens but I doubt it will be good.

donshan's main point is that up until now it is unlikely / unnecessary for any melting to have occurred. The reactor cores are more likely being destroyed by a super-fast corrosion process of steam acting on zircaloy and chloride acting on stainless steel.

However, if the water level falls in the waste fuel ponds, then the Zr is directly exposed to the air. They are not has hot as the core (yet), but plenty hot enough to drive the oxidation process. Is it not possible that the hydrogen which caused the explosions derived from the waste fuel rods overheating, and not from the cores at all? Afte all, how come the cores manage to release H2 if the explosions happened before venting of the containment chambers began?

I understand that these are boiling water reactors so it would seem that at some point the water that's in the reactor is turning to steam as designed. If that happens in the core, then it is normal operation for at least part of the core to not be in a water environment.

I see that they are trying to get electricity to the reactor complex. As I suggested a couple of days ago in Drumbeat, If they could get any of these reactors fired back up (like 5 or 6) it would solve that problem. It's probably too late for that.

1) #5 and #6 have NOT been thoroughly inspected for damage from an above design force earthquake. Inspection by operation is a very bad idea.

2) A second earthquake & tsunami of equal or greater force is quite possible. See New Madrid earthquakes.


Thanks for reminding us of #2--do you have any sites that are actively discussing this possibility? Is there a likely seismic signature that people are looking for that might indicate a second big quake?

No, not much time on blogs.

I am concentrating on my speeches nest week in Madison Wisconsin (UW March 24, rail convention March 26th).


Good luck with the speeches. I'll tell my nephew down there (a biking enthusiast and activist) to go.

Good luck in Madison.

What sort of conditions does it take for the O to be seperated from the H2 and thus release free hydrogen into the system?

just temperature

And zirconium to bind the oxygen.

The source is the hydrogen is a chemical reaction between the uncovered, overheated fuel assemblies and steam.

Zr + 2 H2O (steam) = ZrO2+2 H2

Thanks I blew right by the equation in my first reading

Discussion here next week of a light rail loop downtown, paralleling the highway loop. Alas, I can't attend.

Many meetings on rail projects, none on new highways of late. It's a start.

The core (fuel rods) are int he lower portion of the reactor vessel. The steam is in the upper portion and the water level is NEVER allowed to go as low as the core (oops)

The word "atmosphere" has a broad meaning, but in this case it definitely is steam and NOT air inside the reactor vessels when the fuel assemblies are uncovered. Since this steam containing hydrogen was under pressure and being vented, it would be impossible for atmospheric air to enter the reactor vessel as long as it is intact.

I also would like to correct an inadvertent typo in my original post in this paragraph were the word "powers" should have been "powders"

Zirconium is an extremely reactive metal and has even been used in flash bulbs filled with oxygen. There have been fatal explosions handling zirconium powders. So how is it possible to use zirconium safely in a nuclear reactor?

The explosions of zirconium powders in the early days using zirconium occurred in air with oxygen. Such explosions cannot happen with zirconium metal sheet or tubing. (Powders have much higher surface area exposed to the air.)


However, air could be involved in potential damage to the exposed spent fuel assemblies in the storage pond at reactor 4 that is reported to have evaporated dry. These spent fuel assemblies still have residual heat from fission products, and if left uncooled they will eventually heat up enough so that oxygen from the air would also oxidize the zirconium alloy fuel cladding to just ZrO2 without the hydrogen generation that comes from steam oxidation.

Zr + O2 = ZrO2

However there probably will be some steam since they are attempting to drop water on the pool and both steam and air oxidation could occur simultaneously. The resulting fracture and disintegration of the fuel cladding would proceed by the same process I previously described, but now in the spent fuel storage pond that would eventually fracture the cladding and release some of the fission products inside.

There is one VERY important difference in the storage pool case! There is NO containment building over this storage pool, and IF the fission products are released they will go up into the air along with the smoke and steam and drift downwind. The total amount of fission products stored inside the sealed fuel rods in this pool is enormous and an extreme hazard, fully justifying the emergency efforts to get this pool covered with water again.

Right now I interpret the high radiation levels workers are experiencing just to the spent fuel assemblies being unshielded by the 30 feet of water shielding that normally is there. But, getting this spent fuel cooled and covered is an emergency of the highest priority before high temperature oxidation of the fuel cladding fractures the fuel rods.

Many, including me, have pointed out this accident in Japan is not like Chernobyl. However, there are enough long life fission products stored in the spent fuel rods in this pool to create the same levels of radioactive release as happened at Chernobyl. I believe it is this potential worst case scenario threat, if water cooling and refill the storage pond is not restored soon, that is behind the recommendation made by the USA to evacuate a 50 mile zone around the reactor complex.

Edit added:

Upon further thinking about the cause of the fire/explosion at unit 4, it possibly was due to hydrogen from excessive oxidation of the zirconium. I am now less sure of my statement above that the high radiation is due JUST to the fuel being unshielded by water. If the high radiation is even partially due to fission products being released from fractured fuel cladding, then they are already into the start of worst case scenario. Oh! I pray for those brave workers now trying to stop this!

The spikes and declines in exposure noted at the site are probably caused as the water level drops the tops of the fuel assemblies are exposed first and heat. The fuel pins contain a void at the top of the fuel column with a spring. The void collects fission gas to moderate pressurization during exposure and holds the spring that allows for fuel column expansion and contraction during heating and cooling. When the top of the fuel pin gets hot enough (850-900 C) there is catastropic steam corrosion of the zirconium (minutes) generating hydrogen (that may or may not result in a hydrogen explosion in the room air atmosphere above the pool). The fuel pin finally ruptures and releases the fission gaes and probably some cesium that has deposited by condensing at the top of the pin (cooler during irridation). This release results in a spike and is quickley dissipated. When the bottom of the fuel pins are uncovered, the rubbilized fuel that has been collecting for the weeks it takes to dry the pool will ultimately dry out and the releases of fission froducts will increase again.

One thing to keep in mind is that having a reactive metal can be a good or a bad thing depending on the circumstances. I'm pretty familiar with titanium, which is perhaps THE most reactive metal. Titanium will actually burn in pure nitrogen. However titanium also reacts extrodinarily stongly with water and forms an extremely tough oxide layer. A few ppm of water in that nitrogen and nothing happens. It is used in many applications that require extreme corrosion resistance, so long as there is a little water around.

Zirconium is used in many applications that involve high temperature exposure including jet turbine blades and vanes, and in space vehicle parts exposed to re-entry temperatures. Those fuel rods would have to be REALLY hot for some of the scenarios talked about in the news to happen. My understanding is that US fuel storage pools are controlled so that the rod storage density never gets high enough for the fuel rod ignition scenario to be possible, even in the absence of water. The primary purpose of the water is to act as a gamma ray shield.

I'm wondering if you could clarify some about the chloride issues with stainless steel. As a fusion researcher, all my vacuum tanks are of course SS, and as a cook, I boil salty water in SS pans all the time, no issues whatever. I know that many vacuum type operations use halogens in SS tanks, no issues (with that part, real hard on pumps and fluids of course). So is this just one of those super refinement things, something that only matters under stresses and temperatures that are near the normal material limits, what?

To even electro-polish SS you need phosphoric acid, a complexing agent and electricity. Are there dissimilar metals in a reactor system that would provide this in a salty environment? Which would be the anode, the zirconium or the SS?

On another site I saw some guffawing about us sending them "coolant", supposedly a Hillary gaffe (wouldn't be much surprise if it was). However, I note that there are a number of things better at eating thermal neutrons than borated water, too -- some rare and expensive (Gd). Could that be what was behind that statement?

I've done some work with zirconium (pure) to store hydrogen isotopes for my fusion work, and as a powder you don't worry embrittlement, it's contained in something else (a heater) anyway. Would that be an issue here? Doesn't seem like it would as at high heat, it gives you the stuff back, doesn't absorb it much at all.

Zirc sure is pretty stuff when you hold it to a grinding wheel....heh. To make powder you have to use a file and go real slow....

Some of my stuff is at http://www.coultersmithing.com/forums/index.php if anybody cares. We're working a different set of issues than the oil drum, but most here would be welcome there too.

Like here, my board's emphasis is on real actual practical knowledge, rather than endless gassing by those sans a clue about how things really work.

Here is a link to an excellent metallurgical enlarged crack of chloride stress corrosion cracking,


In this photo the chloride water environment would have been in the top black area and the metal in horizontal stress, These cracks will propagate until there is insufficient strength left and then the component suddenly fractures,

This process not only takes chloride ions, oxygen, and stress but mostly occurs above 60C (140F) temperatures. Ordinary stainless cookware usually does not stay hot long enough. However, at home we once had the stainless steel rivets holding the handle on a pan suddenly fracture and I am sure it was chloride stress corrosion cracking. The crevice also accelerates this process by setting up an oxygen concentration cell with anode-cathode areas causing pitting corrosion in stainless and accelerating cracking.

Now that Japan is using water cannons to spray sea water on the reactors, another issue is the outside of stainless steel piping under insulation. If there are any stainless steel flange bolts they are prime candidates for chloride stress corrosion cracking. The bolt suddenly cracks and fails causing the piping flange to leak.

I have done a lot of work on zirconium hydriding too, and that reaction will only proceed in a vacuum system with pure hydrogen free of oxygen or water vapor, OR it will also proceed in an inert gas like helium containing hydrogen IF there is no oxygen or water present to form the ZrO2 protective layer . Thus I would expect the zirconium hydride mechanism would never occur in these Japanese reactors or spent fuel ponds since steam and air ( in the spent fuel ponds) is always present.

I worked on the inert gas atmosphere in the graphite moderated N-reactor.


Occasional water leaks could react with the graphite moderator stack, introducing ppm levels of hydrogen into the gas atmosphere. This would have exposed the outside of the Zircaloy-2 pressure tubes in the reactor to potential hydrogen absorption and embrittlement. My work showed maintaining a very small amount of water in the helium atmosphere kept the outside of the Zircaloy-2 pressure tubes oxidized with protective ZrO2. A Zircaloy pressure tube was removed every 5 years and destructively examined and hydriding never occurred. The N- reactor operated successfully and safely for about 20 years producing plutonium along with electric power generation.

The Soviet Chernobyl reactor was an attempted copy of N-Reactor, but they missed a number of very important refinement details. The most important difference was the Chernobyl reactor had a positive void coefficient where the nuclear chain reaction would speed up with a loss of cooling, which is what initiated that Soviet accident explosion and subsequent fire. The USA N-reactor had a negative void coefficient and was much safer. However it was shut down after Chernobyl as the confinement building was judged not constructed to 1980s safety standards of a "containment' building, and after 20 years was not needed anyway as the Cold War was over! While this zirconium work was never published, since this was a "secret' project, the reports were declassified and in archives of that era.

Please, we need to recruit international workers to go Fukushima Daiichi plant. All expenses paid.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support nuclear power and the world community of activists who know that we cannot live without nuclear energy.

Workers will be paid in the form of life insurance for loved ones or cash up front--your preference. All meals included. Free airfare. Extra work up to the legal limit and then retire comfortably.

All of our workers will be given lead-threaded suits, breathing apparatus, and full-body monitors.


Tepco Temps

Good summary,

Two naive questions:
1- what exactly is burning in the spent fuel pool? is it just steam coming out? I understand that in Chernobyl, graphite was burning helping disperse contaminants. I don't see yet how we could get to a situation as bad as in Chernobyl.
2- in your top chart, is the heat rate evolution assuming the continuous circulation of water?

I don't know what might have been burning. Could it be the zircalloy, super hot, in contact with steam and air?

I don't see yet how we could get to a situation as bad as in Chernobyl.

Here we have 3 reactors and 2 spent fuel pools all in very bad shape, one reactor and one batch of spent fuel using Pu MOX. None of the cores have yet been exposed to air, but if they are, it seems that catching fire is one possible outcome.

Agreed that graphite core moderator at Chernobyl was a major contributor to fire there. It was the big Chernobyl fire that led to dispersal of radiation as far as Scotland and Wales. Agreed that dispersal on this scale is less likely at Fukushima. But what is the main dispersal mechanism of heavy isotopes in a 100 km radius around the plant? I'd guess that aerosols, blast ejecta and wind will all play a role in the immediate environment.

At Chernobyl we had one reactor, here we have the equivalent of 5 in close proximity to the heart of the World's third largest economy that has just be subjected to a major natural disaster.

Second question, I don't know.

Thank you for the excellent roundup Euan.

I know the British are noted for understatement and am guessing the Scots might be as well

subjected to a major natural disaster.

is more than somewhat understated. Experienced resue crews who have seen it all lately say they are unable to comprehend the scope of the devastation much less descibe it in words.

Footage I first saw yesterday and repeated again today on main stream TV news was of snow storms in N Japan creating severe hardship for stranded victims. Folks are dying of hunger, thirst and cold. I think Japanese authorities are swamped / paralised by what is going on.

They should send cruise ships to these Northern towns / cities to provide succor to desperate victims.

And the US Navy could drop spam to them ala Carnival - Sorry Euan, just couldn't resist that one.

The US Navy has 8 Wasp class and two Tarawa class amphibious assault ships.



600 bed hospitals, 1,894 Marines capacity (some crew could be offloaded for a humanitarian mission as well), 100,000 l/day distilled water and many tons of MREs plus up to 42 helicopters each. Ideal for supporting Japan (9 to Japan, keep one in the Middle East).

Bring in cruise ships as well !#


The USS Bataan was scheduled to steam up the Mississippi River, providing first aid to Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish before anchoring at either the US Navy base in the Upper 9th Ward or at the cruise ship terminal behind the Convention Center.

The Commander-in-Chief of the US Navy ordered the Bataan to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where her commander said she was "under utilized".

Best Hopes for All Resources ASAP,


# My joke after Katrina was that half of NOPD was on Ecstasy. The rest were on the other cruise ship.

A large portion of the Japanese fishing fleet and their ports have been destroyed. Further, many of these ports are at risk of contamination, especially if the wind blows north this weekend as forecast. This tripple disaster will have long term consequences for the region.

I'm having a hard time explaining to folks the difference between a nuclear blast (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and the particulate contamination this area is likely facing. Some of these risks will endure for generations, especially if the contamination is regional and concentrated.

I wouldn't say that a large portion of the fleet has been destroyed. Some portion has been, but we don't know the overall proportion.

Sendai is also known for good sashimi, sushi, and sake. This is because Sendai is near several major fishing ports, such as Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, and Shiogama,.......

Kesennuma ... was ravaged by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and major fires on March 11, 2011. ...

Kesennuma relies on tourism and commercial fishing, the latter being what the city is known for, especially its tuna, pacific saury and skipjack tuna production, keeping the fishing port very active. It also has a shark fin fishery.

Some of the most important fishing ports in Japan have been wiped out. Besides ships (many of which were at sea, hopefully), there were extensive facilities and processing plants. Seems large to me.

I suggest folks study the map of the area north of Tokyo. This area is full of natural harbors, good for fishing towns and great at concentrating tsunamis.

Type in Sendai, Japan......

With any luck the whaling fleet has been destroyed.

This destruction of a very nice prefecture (I have visited Fukushima and it was beautiful) reminds me of Aesop's fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs---one every day. The man who owned this goose was happy at first but then he became greedy for more so he killed the goose to open her up and get all the eggs out. Only he found no eggs at all and had no more after that since she was dead. Fukushima's fishing villages and coast will be wasteland for darn near forever now. Goodbye, golden eggs!

What is more, Nicole Foss is correct---nuclear power is incompatible with hard times. Old power plants are weaker. I think the way they were storing those rods seems very cost conscious rather than safety-conscious. Nuclear power is oil's handmaiden and like cars and the industrial lifestyle, it has no future in a world powered by the sun and limited by the sun.

I have fled the area to the south of Fukushima. I used to live near Tokyo but we (my whole family) have all just fled down to a place near (so ironic!!!!) Hiroshima! (Luckily we have friends to help us through this difficult time!)

I am anticipating the worst possible outcome (a meltdown) for this disaster. The Japanese press doesn't publicize radiation levels. They are just trying to prevent panic because it's unseemly.

What, in terms of land that will have to be abandoned, is the worst possible outcome, by the way?? How many kilometers would be effectively turned into garbage for 1000 years or more? Chernobyl has a 30 km "do not enter" radius around it. However the Fukushima plant has 6 reactors--does that mean 180 km?

Another thing I am doing is limiting my electricity consumption, so I don't spend much time on the internet. I have started to feel that electricity is a bad thing, a perverted thing, a drug, a warping thing. It engenders so much consumption that has a bad outcome---landfills of old appliances, factories producing useless things, nuclear accidents, ugly nuclear power stations, etc.

I know that it is lovely to communicate and many things I have read on the Oil Drum are useful, yet I want to limit my electricity consumption now that this awful nuclear mess up there has occurred.

"What can go wrong will go wrong"---why do people never learn the wisdom of this simple phrase?


Great to hear that you are alive and well. I hope your sense of the danger of over-consuming energy is spread far and wide. If you have a chance, though, please let us know how wide-spread the emigration out of the Tokyo area is.

Our thoughts go out to you.

I'm so sorry to hear you've had to leave your home.

What a terrible situation.

My Grandfather Curt Ivan was from Linkoping, Sweden, and came to the US to become an IBM Engineer and Manager, and this brought him many times to Japan, where the coastline and the Artistic History reminded him of his native Sweden, and inspired his second calling. He painted many many inspired Watercolors with Japan and later, the Maine coastline, where I now live, giving him a route back to the simple and serene and yet elegant land of his childhood. Just his little quick pencil sketches have that quiet elegance that endear a scene with just a couple simple objects in them, a boat, some rocks and a tree.. to convince you that there is magic and genius in a brief slip of paper.

I'm sitting under one of these paintings now, though I can only see it with the glow of a little bit of electric light.. in this case from a solar panel just outside my office window. We don't have to be greedy or dirty with it, but like you, I'm not always sure how well we'll be able to mark the difference, and be capable of using even the little golden Blueberries wisely enough.

As my art teacher in High School had on a silly little sign in the Art Classroom,
"Art is like morality. You have to draw the line somewhere."

Roald Amundsen
"Adventure is just bad planning.."


Pi, look around you. Hiroshima survived. It was predicted it would be a wasteland for generations. Spare your anger for those who are turning a problem into a crisis. You can run a laptop or tablet off a solar panel. The sun can help you keep in touch. Lastly, do not concern yourself, too much of this is people trying to make names for themselves by sensationalising the problems and issues, do not let them win.


I am anticipating the worst possible outcome (a meltdown) for this disaster. The Japanese press doesn't publicize radiation levels. They are just trying to prevent panic because it's unseemly.

I won't pretend that things are going well but perhaps they are not quite as dire as that.


Ambient radiation levels there are 30-40 nGy per hour.
Current levels are around 300 nGy/h - ten times normal.

Acute radiation effects are seen around a dosage of a Gy,
so long way to go - currently getting close to μGy/h.
Things get serious around milliGy/h.

If the data being released is accurate then it seems things are getting a little better


JAEA Environmental Radiation Monitoring


World Fishing - Japanese tsunami hits fisheries

In Japan, the port of Minamisanriku was destroyed and Misawa was devastated. The fishing hub Ofunato was also badly hit, as was the fishing town of Rikuzentakata, and Hakodate suffered greatly.

Now get this:

It has been reported that the commercial fishing harbour of Crescent City in California was destroyed.
The town was still recovering from a tsunami in 1964.
53 vessels were damaged, including 15 that sank, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

The damage in Santa Cruz Harbour is estimated at nearly £10 million. The harbour is housing 58 commercial fishing vessels that were not able to leave the harbour for at least a week until reopened, said Lisa Ekers, director of the Santa Cruz Port District.

That's not a typo, the '64 Alaska quake destroyed the harbor and killed 11 people. Still, I think there's a statute of limitations on "rebuilding," right?

NPR reports that they were still bounding back from a 2006 tsunami, that sounds more plausible.

Another story said that a few Japanese ports have already reopened.

We are past peak fish anyways.

Footage I first saw yesterday and repeated again today on main stream TV news was of snow storms in N Japan creating severe hardship for stranded victims. Folks are dying of hunger, thirst and cold. I think Japanese authorities are swamped / paralised by what is going on.

It's like god was aiming for Gadaffi, but missed well wide.

The heat generated by decay of the fission products doesn't care whether you are circulating water or not. If not, then the heat just keeps building up (except for what can get conducted through metal to the outside).

As for burning, that can also be called "oxidation", because is that is what happens to the zirconium tubing at high temperature. The hydrogen gets liberated, as discussed above.

As a side note, most surface corrosion (rust, for example) is actually an electrochemical reaction of sorts involving two or more points on the metal surface. Flaws in the existing oxide provide pathways for electron and ion migration to/from the bare metal (which contributes electrons to hydrogen). If a bunch of salt has been poured in, so much the better because you now have a strong electrolyte.

JoulesBurn: question - finding in the net would take forever.

When Sr and I are generated in the lattice, they have to fit somewhere, Sr and I are roughly size of Uranium, so what happens to the structure, when you double the space needed? Then are they stuck in their locations or can migrate (in hot, but solid U), obviously when rod melts, they are gone.

I'm not JulesBurn, but I wonder if the answer is not simpoy that no new room is needed because they are not so much created as transmuted from the parent.

THere are actually two situations. One, something fissions into two atoms. Then we have to have some kind of dislocation in the crystal structure. The other is a particle is released, whether it be a neutron, proton or something more exotic. There may be sufficient energy imparted to the parent that it is dislocated anyway, but ther is no net requirement for additional positions in a solid.

So for dislocations, as long as there is not too much U-235, there is no problem. At some concentration of "doped" atoms, the crystal structure would actually change, including decrease in density, increase in the volume of the rod etc..So there is one of the limits to the enrichment level?

Swelling of fuel pellets as they are "burnt" is one of the considerations in fuel rod design.


True, there is <5% U-235, and not nearly all of that is converted before they take it out.

Remember that it's also the oxide (a ceramic), and the swelling might do some interesting things.

They probably migrate slowly, evening ressure through the pellet. Of course, as there are so few fissionable atoms to begin with, and so few of them actualy break in two, the pressure will be negligible.

Also, those altoms won't be roughtly the same size as the original U. The original atom is very small because it is a cation, the Sr atom will probably ionize too, but the I will be way bigger.

a search for spent nuclear fuel

gives a decent wiki page with refs.


note the fuel is a sintered ceramic (UO2, PuO2) pellet, so there are some voids therein.
Additionally voids are created in the fuel itself.

At red hot temps, things tend to migrate in the lattice and once they reach grain boundaries, they can really take off.

the nuclear fuel page looks informative

Very informative. Thank you.

So there is this .pdf file floating around which claims that there is 40 years of spent fuel rods for a total of ~600,000. I am no expert on any of this but that seems like a lot to be lying down in evaporating pools. I have yet to see anything in the MSM suggesting that, but of course we all got a hard lesson in the politics of information less than a year ago.

The link: http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/accidents/6-1_powerpoint.pdf

Last night, Rachel Maddow had apparently good estimates of tons in each reactor and tons in each reactor pool.

Apparently, the spent fuel is staged from the pool inside the reactor, to a common pool for all six reactors (the common pool is safely away from all reactors but on-site) and then to dry storage (after ten or so years).

I think she said the data was on the MS-NBC site.

Best Hopes for the Japanese People,


(the common pool is safely away from all reactors but on-site)

The shared pool has been identified as the building directly east of No 4

(edit) Based on TEPCO comments, they are attempting to bulldoze access to No 4 because they cannot get there now. No 3 may be too hot. If they can't get to no 4, then they probably can't get to the shared pool.

Comments elsewhere have indicated the shared pool buildings windows were blown out by the wave.

Yes I read that pdf re 600,000 spent rods in storage, but I think that is a typo & the actual number is around 60,000.

I am not sure though. Perhaps someone else has better information.

The 600,000 number was an article posted at zerohedge.com this morning.

The two subsequent explosions were different from the first, in that the first one merely blew the canopy off unit 1, leaving the concrete building containing the core, and the suppression pool intact. In the video from the unit 3 explosion, you can see chunks of stuff falling out of the debris cloud.

Later pictures of units 3 and 4 show concrete panels blown out of the concrete buildings by much more powerful explosions. (It's hard to believe that the suppression pools survived intact with this much building damage.)

While there may have been enough hydrogen in those reactor cores to do this much damage, I sort-of wonder if a small dab of unwanted criticality wasn't involved. It's hard to predict what will happen once the Zr cladding has been damaged.

All the nuclear engineers will say that it is impossible for the UO2 core to go critical without water as a moderator to slow down the neutrons. None of them has addressed what happens if the MOX fuel all came together in a heap somehwere, or if the MOX fuel got reduced by the strong reducing agent Zirconium to then flow as a metal or form alloy with other molten metals present.

If No 3 was two hundred feet high, then the blast threw pieces of No 3 over one thousand feet in the air.

I find it interesting that, since the component of most concern is Plutonium OXide, that they chose not to use the more accurate 'POX'!

It is mixed with normal U235 and U 238 oxides so the industry can call it Mixed OXide. If one wants to get public attention away from the plutonium.

What I find interesting is the special outrage for MOX, given that there is plutonium oxide in normal spent fuel via transmutation. A new MOX fuel pellet is 7% Pu, a spent U fuel pellet is almost 1%. not as much, but if you are worried about Pu getting into the environment, it 'only' takes less than 10 standard pellets for 1 MOX pellet to do the same job.

Either way, it is unlikely for significant amounts of U or Pu to get into the environment, even in an absolute worst case scenario. Even with all the explosions and fire of Chernobyl, the main issue was/is still the volatile fission products.

With damaged cladding, and spilled partially-spent fuel pellets, what you have on the bottom of the reactor is far from pure UO2. Not to mention, there might have been a bit of water in the bottom of the vessel as well.

Anyhoo, it was mostly idle speculation. Apparently there are many tons of Zr in the cladding alone, which probably would account for enough H2 to blow up those buildings. The second 2 explosions were much larger than the 1st, and apparently originated below the fueling deck, where they could damage the concrete part of the building. One wonders whether the pools survived undamaged.

From the videos, if those towers are 1000 feet high, the second explosion sent a cloud of dust and debris about 3000 feet up. Also you could see largish chunks (the fueling crane?) of heavy looking stuff fall out of the cloud.

3000 feet would be incredible if true, we need some engineer to scale the video.

And another engineer to calculate the volume available in the No 3 building for explosive gas mix and see if there is anywhere near enough energy to have thrown bus size pieces a half a mile in the air in an explosion which was heard 40 km away. Fuel pools intact after that?

If not a hydrogen explosion, there is the possibility of another chemical explosion somehow involving all those tons of Zirconium and something else. Thermite is after all, mainly Aluminum powder and iron oxide.

The information TEPCO is letting out is not credible. One can assume that the US is watching the site with best available hardware, and has hard evidence for saying the pool at No 4 is dry (thermal imaging?) and the radiation levels are very high (airborne sampling systems, SOP).

Also, don't know where to stick this in, but it is possible that the pumps which were supposed to be the last ditch cooling system, the Low Pressure Coolant Injection system, LPCI, were diesel driven at some/all of these reactors. This might explain why they haven't been able to activate this system from generators--the diesels might have gotten terminally wrecked by the tsunami (flooded while running).


Those vent stacks are 300 to 350ft high.
Note: Systems connected to vent/exhaust towers require electric power to function.

I estimate the concrete roof structure was launched 700 to 800ft vertically. (Very impressive)

Debris from the #3 explosion also took 4 out of 5 low pressure fire pumps feeding sea water into reactor #2.

That sounds more reasonable. The notion that the towers were 1000 ft came from a talk radio show (none of which are known for fact checking).

From what I've seen reading these threads, the reactor building of #1 is built differently than that for #3. The top half (gallery) of 1 was constructed of a steel truss structure covered with paneling on the outside. I believe that the upper sides of the top half (gallery) of 3 were made of poured concrete (maybe tilt-up), I believe this accounts for the difference in color of the explosion debris and also for the difference in the force of the explosions.

Yes; #1 has an obviously steel-framed upper part; the rest appear to be concrete-framed with steel truss roofs. All appear to be steel- or aluminium-clad (thin sheet). Apparently the design was extensively reassessed after the first unit. Reactor buildings for the later units appear slightly longer and are positioned further from the turbine house (foreground buildings in pic); why they don't line up.

The exposed concrete framing shows extensive damage from the explosions, perhaps exacerbated by earthquake damage. The earthquake load may have exceeded design earthquake by a factor of two.

BTW, tilt-up was not in common use in the 60s-70s, and would be unlikely in buildings of this sort anyway.

Unit 1 was rated at 500 MW, Units 2, 3 & 4 are rated at 800 MW. I don't know if this changes any dimensions in the reactor or building.

Yes, later units are larger; #6 larger still (1100MWe).

Correction: Later units have metal clad roofs, but apparently thin reinforced concrete infill walls between reinforced concrete framing.

I don't recall radiation leakage being reported at time of unit 3 explosion which is a bit strange. Maybe we are not being told the whole truth.

Maybe we are not being told the whole truth.

Ya think?

Whenever I hear something like this these days, I think back and realize that people have NEVER been told the whole truth, but before the Internet, we didn't really appreciate HOW MUCH manipulation of information goes on, especially from 'official' sources.

Yeah, if the official sources say everything is OK after something like this, I figure something's wrong; if they say something's wrong, I assume it must be bad; and if they actually admit that things are kind of bad, then I figure that they must be really, really bad.

When reactor 3 exploded, an orange fireball shot out one side of the roof. Since hydrogen does not produce an orange fireball when it burns, something else was burning and exploding. I did not see an orange fireball in any of the videos of reactor 1 exploding. Something, perhaps in addition to an hydrogen explosion, happened in reactor 3.

The height of a GE mark 1 containment building is about 61 meters (200 feet) above the ground. The debris looks like it was launched about 2,000 feet upward.

Thanks for these images. As I was saying, a much bigger explosion. Indeed, the color suggests some metals are involved; a hydrogen explosion is colorless.

Whether an accidental critical mass propelled that cloud may be hard to prove, but I have wondered if that is the case. Such a criticality event would not resemble an atomic weapon blast, as the explosion quickly disperses the offending material.

Hydrogen can make a good bang when it wants. No need to invoke more sinister stuff. Orange flash is interesting though. Barrels of oil/lube/solvent stored on site?


EDIT: Forgot, you can see debris in the first explosion. Maybe differences in debris due to differences in construction? Later explosion would likely be bigger as the building is bigger.

There's debris in both explosions, but in the second explosion, you can see large chunks of obviously heavy stuff falling out of the cloud. The first explosion just removed the relatively light weather canopy.

Foss, who has some background in this area, also concluded that the helicopter drop was an act that 'reeks of desperation.'


The overlay of the Chernobyl map is interesting, but of course wind patterns will likely be very different.

It's high time for B-52's!

Nice reactor shot... (but, yes, I am ashamed of myself.)

It's ALWAYS time for the B-52's!

Many are wishing for their own Private Idaho.

Where in central CA are you?

Was in Arroyo Grande. Very nice
Summer at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. Yes
Wintered over in the walnut groves behind Paso Robles. Pretty!


Sorry for my late reply - it's best to social network in the Drumbeats section or via personal e-mail to keep the threads on-topic. Members have e-mails listed in their profiles.

Thank you!

One worry about water drops.

They are using non-borated water (although some boron should remain from evaporated water earlier) and the physical force of the water could move the exposed ceramic uranium pellets around, creating a low level critical reaction (assuming that not enough of the boron (a neutron poison/absorber) is around).

I would assume that the fuel rod assemblies are locked in place and neither the earthquake nor the force of water should be able to shove them around. But such assumptions have been unfounded before.


The hydrogen explosions would suggest that the assemblies are no longer exactly in their original configuration. If the Zr has corroded away completely, then it's just a pile of pellets -- or worse, a pile of corroded powdered fission products.

It's really hard to say what happens to water under those conditions.

Water has some interesting properties when you drop or throw it. From big heights it dosen't fall as a single mass, but as drops, that are light and have a very small terminal velocity.

We are bombarded with huge amounts of it quite often. And from much bigger heights. I don't understand why all that controversy. Also, I assume the fuel rods weren't in place after the earthquake, so I don't agree with your assumption.

Marco - As a previously licenced forest fire fighter (in a former life) I would disagree with your assessment.
During training, instructors were very clear about the potential impact of a water bombing run.

I can't remember all the instructions but I do remember it was someithing like this:
get down - flat down, wrap your arms around an avaiable appropriate sized tree and prepare for a massive enema - it was best to have your butt facing the direction the water was coming from since it can take the beating better than your face.

I cant' recall recieving similar instructions (in school or otherwise) about surviving the potential harmful effects of any raindrops as I grew up. (lightning storms being a different beast).

Really? In my wildland fire fighter training I was taught to lay down head towards the drop to make the best use of my hard hat and fire pack.

WW - it has been a few years, thoughts may have changed, or I could be wrong on the facing direction - obviously any protection offered by pack and hardhat would be welcome in the event that one ever had to experience it - but that is really beside the point i was trying to make - that is experiencing water bombing runs cannot be equated to experiencing rain...

Therein lies the problems with water bombing. To be effective, it needs to be dropped from as low a height as possible, at as slow a speed as possible. That results in the greatest volume of water landing where required - however if it remains as a coherent mass the energy is very substantial. I have had previous experience of using 40ton water bags for load testing cranes - you never do this over anything you wish to keep using - if the bag lets go the force of the water is tremendous, and this is from limited height.
There is also the problem of the helo crews receiving maximum radiation from low and slow.
If dropped from height / at speed, the water disperses, and reduced volume lands where needed, however with less force.
It does indeed smack of desperation.

Maybe a water bag on the end of a loooong rope may be better. Lower it until it bursts on the structure. Have a machete handy for the rope. You can stay a lot higher with no dispersion.


Rain is not dumped in a bunch all at once, from a big tank in the sky.

To me the helicopter drop is a more banal PR move. So little of the water will get to the critical places that it won't do and damage and they are seen to be doing something.

Why are the Japanese using only 1 helicopter at a time? This is an emergency. Send 4 dozen choppers full of water and drown the reactors... Throw liquid nitrogen or blocks of CO2... The aim is to cool down the reactors...

Why risk 4x as many lives for a publicity stunt?

Well, maybe they are throwing water around the reactor in an atempt to reduce the spread of radioactive particles.


That was my thought too.

I'm all for bulldozing everything into the ocean.

A short wikipedia article on decay heat I found useful. Just wish that another graph with non-logarithmic axis in days was included.


Media reports said that that #4 had been the last one shut down for refueling, but did not give the # of days.

And exposed zirconium is the almost certain source of hydrogen. However, with the openings in the containment structure, hydrogen is very unlikely to build up to explosive levels again in reactors #1, #2, #3 and #4.

One bit of trivia. The 40 year operating license for Reactor #1 was scheduled to expire on March 24, 2011. After which it was to be decommissioned.

Sorry, but I will not be closely following this debate on TOD.

Best Hopes for the people of Japan !


Alan, per wikipedia:


At the time of the earthquake unit 4 had been shut down for a scheduled periodic inspection since 30 November 2010. All fuel rods had been transferred in December 2010 from the reactor to the spent fuel pool on the top floor of the reactor building where they were held in racks containing boron to damp down any nuclear reaction

Since the last chain reaction was November 30th, this implies that there will be very little decline in thermal heat from the spent fuel during this emergency.

This also implies that I 131 (half life 8 days) is now gone from the spent fuel rods of reactor #4.

Best Hopes,


I'm a chemist with a modest understanding of these processes, but am by no means an expert. My big question is what is the nature of the radiation? If the radiation is from the decay of the daughter products of the original fission, it (radiation) should largely be beta. Beta radiation will only travel a few meters in air, so clearly this is not the case.

Is the radiation gamma? From what isotopes? Is it neutrons? Really shouldn't be unless the fission hasn't been quenched...and I really don't want to think about that.

The waste is a messy soup. As Alan writes, the I-131 from the original fission is long gone, but it is being produced in some steady state amount from the decay of Te-131, which in turn could be produced form Sb-131 or from the original fission, etc., etc. I have no idea how rapidly it (I-131) is being produced, but the relatively short half life does not necessarily mean that it is gone.

Te-131 has a half life of 25 minutes and Sb-131 has a half life of 23 minutes (per wikipedia).

I stand by my statement that spent fuel that has been sitting for over 100 days has no I-131.


Agreed that the I-131 should effectively be gone, and that isotopes that might produce will generally have even shorter half lives, thus not altering the picture much. My point was more that there is a nasty soup; focusing on one isotope that gets a lot of press doesn't mean there isn't a lot of nasty stuff.

Maybe I missed the early discussion...any presence of I-131 means that leaks are coming from the reactor's fresh rods, not stored ones?

I don't know what is going on at the reactor; the media is fixated on isotopes that are beta emitters, but the radiation hazard is not beta... it appears that the graphs below show the radiation spikes to be gamma; anyone know what that is from?

no argument!

Half life 8 days, 100 days, 12 half lives, 1/4096 activity. Wouldn't call that no activity where there is a lot to start off with.


Actually, it has been 13.5 half lives since November 30th. 1/11585 or so.


Mainly gamma radiation from beta decay from products of fission.
About 3% of the fuel is turned into products of fission.
U-235 is broken by neutrons into radioactive 'krypton-92' and 'barium-141' but this isn't precise.
As a chemist you know that reactions are not perfect.
Sometimes it breaks into iodine-131, cesium-137 instead of barium-141. Sometimes you get stronium-90 instead of krypton-92.
Many other isotopes have very short half lifes so they aren't counted or don't emit much radiation.

Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 is particularly nasty because they are long lived with a 30 year half-life and radioactively decay with about 0.6 Mev and 2.8 Mev of gamma rays respectively.
Iodine is dangerous because the thyroid gland concentrates iodine and radioactive iodine causes cancer there. The long term danger is from inhalation or consuming radiation where it causes internal damage.

A LWR reactor contains around 30 tons of fuel so a 1% leak would hypothetically be about 600 pounds/272 kg max of say cesium. Cesium puts out 87 curies per gram, so that totals 23,600,000 curies of radiation.
If all that cesium were concentrated 5280 feet from you the
output would be about 3000 millirem/hr or 30000 microsieverts/hr.
The occupational limit per year is 5000 millirem per year, so in 1.6 hours you would get a full years exposure assuming a clear line of sight.

I'm not an expert either but I play one on the internet.


This stuff has to be blown into the air, correct (Sr90/Cs137)? It doesn't just float away? Are these heavy enough to settle out of the air before reaching, say, the US? :)

This just sucks because its too radioactive to even fix anything..

Fine particulates will get carried but a vast amount will get dispersed and deposited before it gets anywhere. Besides, much of the air stream is heading further south. It is getting very well diluted on the way too. Worry about the tobacco smoke in your environment, it is far more deadly:)


Strontium mimics calcium chemically, so it goes right into bones. Bone cancer is not fun.

Bone cancer is not good.

The 5-year relative bone cancer survival rates by race and sex were:

67.5 percent for Caucasian men
72.1 percent for Caucasian women
70.0 percent for African-American men
68.4 percent for African-American women.

All those figures are when you get aggressive medical treatment.


The species that cause the greatest concern are usually not those that are present in the highest concentration or even those that emit the most radiation at the time, but rather those that can travel,make it into the human body, and find a nice home until they wreck the house. But I have no expertise in this either.

The U-235 daughter decay chains are seemingly more interesting, but a big chunk of the direct radiation from the quenched fuel rods (in the reactor cores) starts from U-239 that is formed by thermal neutrons getting captured by the U-238 (which makes up the majority of the uranium). U-239 beta decays to Np-239, which beta decays to Pu-239. Lots of gammas.

And something you obviously know but didn't mention is that gamma emission can occur when there is a nuclear excited state for the decay product (gamma energy = difference between excited and ground state).

If you are saying that 3% of the fuel is turned into products of fission then a 1% lea would only put out about 1/33 of your figure. Then take into account that only part of the products would be released as many would not be volatile plus not just one product is released the figure is going to be lower still. Your figures are way too high.


The place to get information on the fission products is the online Chart of the Nuclides at the National Nuclear Data Center. If you haven't seen the Chart of the Nuclides before, it is basically a graph with number of protons on the vertical axis and number of neutrons on the horizontal axis. Elements each have a row, and moving horizontally in a row moves you along different isotopes. The name "nuclide" is a nod to the fact that each combination of protons and neutrons is unique.
In the upper 2 rows of buttons, click on the button labeled "235U FY" to the right side which stands for 235U Fission Yield or "the likelihood of this nuclide being a result of fission of U235". You will see that everything from element 24 (Chromium) to element 69 (Thulium) can be found in nuclear waste, or at least is produced in nuclear fission. There are two peaks that unfortunately center pretty close to Strontium and Cesium, the two fission daughters with the worst half-lives (about 30 years).
Click on any of the tiny boxes (and if you like you can then zoom to a more detailed view). You will get a readout of the most prominent decay modes.
Nuclei aren't as simple as we would like them to be. People often guess that a particular nuclear species will emit one kind of radiation, but this is not so. With the exception of stable nuclides, all the fission daughters emit betas, and the vast majority of these also emit gammas. In the process of beta emission the nucleus has to dump additional energy, so it also emits a gamma. Beta emission not accompanied by a gamma is very rare.
My students have estimated around seven half lives for a golf-ball sized radioactive source to get down to a reasonably low level of hazard. In the case of iodine 131, this would take about two months. So while the risk from iodine has already decreased almost by half in the reactor cores and is basically zero in the used fuel rods, there will still be enough iodine around to cause trouble for some weeks yet.
In the decay chain leading up to iodine 131, all of the nuclides have half-lives in the range of minutes or seconds, so there isn't any more being created unless the fuel pellets manage to go critical again. Let's hope they don't.

Thank you. What age students do you teach?

I teach non-science majors in college. They don't know much science but they appreciate learning a thing or two. BTW, if you are a teacher, you can get the Radiation By Inquiry classroom course materials at http://www.camse.org/andy/radiation

Only dabbled in teaching and not lately. Susskind gleaned some insights from his Physics for med students classes, I'm sure you pick up on a lot filling the basic framework voids you must deal with.

In terms of potential outcomes:

In a worst case scenario, if the fate of this plant and its reactors is "left to nature" - would the exclusion zone around the plant also include the second power plant 7 miles away? Because if so, do we need to consider how the safety of the second plant could be guaranteed under a worst case scenario for this one?

Thanks for a fascinating, if worrisome, addition to the discussion about this ongoing crisis.

TheraP: Yes. Worrisome to say the least. It seems all the outcomes are, at best, bad. Geez,are they ever in a tight spot.

Oh, gosh! I was hoping someone would tell me to take off my tinfoil hat! :(

I think we have power.

Fukushima ... Working towards recovery, began early in the morning. According to the Tokyo electric power company, participated in the premises of the nuclear power plant of approx. 320 workers.


Bad translation. Just reporting work. As you were.

Story with EMPLOYEE videos, Japanese text: http://www.asahi.com/national/update/0317/TKY201103170518.html

Oh yeah just reconnect the power and reboot this plant!
I understand the government wants to contain the panic but
this is just plain propaganda and the use of helicopters
is further providing proof that at least some of these
reactors are beyond control.
I mean just look at the picture you don't just replug this.

The corporate world is desperately and foolishly trying
to maintain and cling to the business as usual mentality
of the last few decades.

(the original image is from digitalglobe.com)

I think that the article means a powerline to provide power TO the reactor area has been put in place.

There is no way that that reactor is ever going to be producing any electricity again. That possibility ended when they first started pumping seawater in.

After all the explosions, what are they going to be providing power TO?

Big centrifugal pumps perhaps? They may be a bit more efficient than the helicopters.

They may be providing power to the existing pumps if they're survived the blast. Supposedly, this whole thing started because backup power failed, not the existing pumps. Perhaps they and the all the associated plumbing was robust enough to survive the explosions and fires.

Likely more damaging is a 9.0 earthquake and 10 m tsunami.

Salt water does very bad things to electrical equipment of all types. And much of the nuclear plant got wet.

Add connections separated by earthquake or water, and the electrical infrastructure is a write-off at the nuke plant.

Yes, attempts to use it will be made, but failure at multiple points can be expected.

Even after Katrina (water about 1% salt, less than salt water) failures occurred for over a year after drying out. Potable water pumps were quite vulnerable.

There is *NO* good and easy technical solution to this !! No just "turn this on".


Supposedly the pumps and plumbing were working after the shaking and soaking. It was the backup diesel generators that failed - supposedly.

"Supposedly" ?

Any reasonable engineer would question the workability of electrical and plumbing systems after an

1) Above design earthquake
2) A 10 m tsunami (what was height at nuke site ?)
3) Explosions & fires

Most pumps and valves are electrically operated.


Supposedly, because all the information we have is from the company that runs the plant. That's why I typed; "supposedly".

If any motors burned, they're shot. If they merely took a soaking, they're probably fine, and will turn as long as they get power to them.

What can we do but speculate when the source of our information has a history of obfuscating or outright lying? (rhetorical)

Some of the Boiling Water Reactors have Low Pressure Coolant Injection LPCI systems that are direct diesel driven. If that was the case here, it would explain why they haven't rushed in big enough generators in to start them. Diesels might have been wrecked by the wave--ingested water while running?

They've been described as diesel generators, which makes a lot more sense than direct drive diesel pumps. The back up power was probably for a lot more than merely pumps.

In the original GE design of BWR there are a number of emergency cooling systems. Some of them require electric power either from off site or emergency generators. A couple have lower power requirement and can be sustained on batteries for a few hours or until they are deployed in the case on one shot systems.

There is one backup system than utilizes diesel driven pumps, usually 4 so they have 4 levels of redundancy just in this one system.

It is not clear, from what I have been able to find, which emergency systems Fukushima has installed.

I realize I'm armchair-engineering but... Injecting makeup water into a pressurized boiler using only the steam produced by said boiler is a solved problem. Why bother with prime-mover and motor driven pumps at all, especially for an emergency backup? The old timers used a device known as a steam injector, no moving parts, no torque required, all thermodynamics, really cute. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injector

For a venturi to work there must be flow in the main pipe, substantial flow if the pressure differential is high as it is here. That would be unsuitable for an emergency system where flow may be stopped and must be restarted, as in this case.

For normal use if everything is working properly the amount of makeup water should be very small. Positive control over the system is imperative. Not that you couldn't use a venturi system but they probably want more positive control.

The pressures the system operate at (usually over 400 psi) may also be a factor in the decision to use pumps.

Just trying to be the devil's advocate here.

I've been wondering too.

Some of the GE designs used a steam driven turbine in the emergency cooling system,
dubbed the High Pressure Coolant Injection system.

http://www.nucleartourist.com/ has this picture of the turbine-pump.

more details:

as far as an injector
the BWR operates at about 1000 psi (75 atmospheres), not sure about going from 0 psig to > 1000 psig in one stage with an injector.
Easy enough to do with a small steam turbine directly driving a pump.
But batteries were needed to control the thing, and when they gave out - no more cooling.

N.B. interview with a guy who was nearby at the time.
If an office building is loosing wallboard, what's happening to all the pipes/valves/... at the reactors?
And the seals on the fuel storage pools hatch!

More pics of a BWR here

It doesn't show clearly, but apparently the process of refueling is:
shut down the reactor, wait for it to cool, remove the shielding plate, remove the containment head, remove the reactor head,
flood the area over the reactor, open the hatch between the storage pool and reactor containment, transfer fuel, close hatch, drain containment, replace heads and shielding, and restart reactor.
Can't find the reference now, but some authority surmised that seiche and/or leakage of the pool hatch caused loss of pool water.

Anyone know for sure?

Hate to take up server space with an inane comment, but I have to give you a hat tip for the work.

Yes, there are definitely diesel electric sets to provide stand alone power at the reactor buildings. A commenter elsewhere indicated they are like locomotive engines. But the emergency low pressure coolant pumps can be diesel or electric.

An electric motor that has been in muddy, sandy, arbitrary-debris-filled saltwater? Oh, it might start but I wouldn't expect it to run for very long at anything near its rated RPM/HP.

You must not work for FEMA, evaluating claims from New Orleans on, say, pump motors for potable water.

And when said pump motors did fail after limited service, a "rush" premiums for rewinding is an unnecessary expense, even if one more motor failure will require the evacuation of half of New Orleans.

Best Hopes for Better Policies in Japan,


Assuming we got correct info. (1) The pumps were working for the approx 55minutes between scram and the tsunami. (2) They had something like 8hours worth of battery backup, presumably the pumps ran until the batteries were exhausted.
To me the obvious error was to assume the diesel generators weren't absolutely critical (i.e. only prottected to 5.5M tsunami) protection was sufficient. Obviously the assumption was that if the diesels were ruined, it would be a simple matter to bring new ones in from nearby. But after a mega tsunami, thats simply not possible.

Any reasonable engineer would question the workability of electrical and plumbing systems after an

1) Above design earthquake
2) A 10 m tsunami (what was height at nuke site ?)
3) Explosions & fires

Given the pictures, and talk of them needing to bulldoze (!) access, it's a good bet almost nothing original still 'works'.

Yet they seem to be pegging a lot on the new power connection ?

Perhaps Reactors 5 & 6 are just far enough away, to be in the 'can be cobbled together' basket, and they are the real target of new power ? I guess saving them is a small gain.

That, and maybe they have refrigeration plant/heat transfer equipment that might still be working ?

Edited : I see a 2323 tweet says ["Diesel generator sending power to Units 5, 6 "], so they may have working equipment there.

There's a control room with lots of blinky lights and whistles and knobs and dials and sensors. It may not all be working any more but they'll try to learn what they can.

When I was doing a school trip tothe nowdays discontinued Barsebäck nuclear plant they told us a story. There was a politician who was very pro-nuclear. To show that there is no radiation risks from a reactor operating normally, he offered to take a swim in the reactor pool, during operation. But he wasn't allowed by the plant staff; HE could damange the reactor.

Tons of sea water is... much dirtier.

Politicians must be a special class of mental disorder. There was another politician who promised to drink a glass of PCBs to show how safe they are.

The power of short-term thinking.

Who says politicians never have any good ideas? We should encourage this kind of thing.

Narcissists and psychopaths
These are the creepy kids that ran for class president in school.
All they do is run their mouth.
"Clans of the Alphane Moon" has them as heads of industry and power.


We had a politician in the UK who stood on TV feeding his daughter burgers at the height of the prion disease scare [KY disease - mad cow disease]. To my understanding the docs still have no full picture of who is affected by it...

We had a very infamous industrial polution scandal in Sweden back in the 70'ies. (The Teckomatorp / BT Kemi scandal), realy realy big thing in the news back then. One of the heads of the company drunk a full glass of goo to show how harmless their products were. He died of cancer 6 months later. The guy realy believed their stuff was not toxic.

That's interesting. Do you have a link?

Audio doc on it here, but in Swedish.


Also, brief translation and photo of Lars Foss drinking hormoslyr here:


Forum here: http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?t=19712

Of interest:

Foss died in 2007, or 32 years after hormoslyr-drink.

Other persons mentioned are Lennart Christoffersson, forest manager at Uddeholm, and the forest officer Karl-Henrik Rudelius. Christofferson died in May 2004, at age 89. Rudelius, or his namesake, seems to live in Karlshamn. I do not know if they had drunk hormoslyr

On the other hand died Ragnar Nilsson, site manager at BT Kemi, of cancer in the early 80's. Presumably, people have confused the memory of his fate with Foss.

That should be nominated for a Darwin :)


Tons of sea water is... much dirtier.

Dirtier than a politician, no way!!!!!


Just found some interesting new helicopter footage. In Japanese so I haven't a clue what is being said. It looks like WWII down there.


The narration doesn't contain any new information. He's mostly just pointing out the buildings and noting white smoke coming from them. The numbers at the bottom of the screen are the reactor numbers. For example 4号機 is reactor 4. 3号機 is reactor 3 and so on.

They had BWRs in WW2?

At 1:13 there is a view down into #4. Looks like piled dirt.
Calcined concrete?

Actually the article says the work to restore the power at Daiichi has been postponed until the 19th.

You need to be careful with machine translations.

Thanks but delaying or in process of doing, not much a difference there? Gave a disclaimer and a link, again how more careful can you be? Infomation is being hidden, perhaps intentionally.

You really need to stop posting things from machine translations. They are almost always wrong. What's the point? It just misleads everybody who can't read Japanese. And people who can read Japanese don't need your machine translations.

Comments re: current Japan updates / machine translations would be better posted in the TOD Drumbeats.

Thank you!

How about I use it to find an official English version when available. This way I can keep within guidelines and try to still inform. It seems they are coming faster now. Sorry but information did seem limited in the sites English counterpart. I will cease immediately. Thanks again.

Who are you?

The Oil Drum now has someone to watch over threads and keep order.

Sounds like something Gaddafi would say.

Not an improvement.

Posts are eliminated without notice or explanation. And poor choices as much as I can observe.

A waste of contribution funding IMHO.

Self policing worked quite well. I remember when cursing was banned voluntarily on TOD when it was pointed out that school filters would keep TOD from high schoolers.

One of the reasons I withdrew from TOD Mark 2.



Don't you think it might have be a good idea to have introduced this moderator to the community before he/she starts giving dictates?

First comment after 10+ weeks, perhaps there should be some information in the profile. I do recall that an official moderator was to be appointed so an official post with the appropriate information might be in order.


There was an annoucement that we would have a community moderator here, along with guidelines. I suppose something further could be announced. (There haven't been too many problems but with the nuclear situation (as with Horizon), comment #s are heading up again)

Yes, that was what I was referring to. The point is to identify the moderator so that people cannot just create a login and say 'I am the moderator', for example I could claim to be the newly appointed moderator though I would not exist for long:) Just needs a short announcement that 'so and so' is the moderator, perhaps a contact in the 'Contacts' for dispute remediation. This is the second claim in about a week for being the moderator.


I am not a nuclear engineer and all should be wary of information reported by non-experts on the internet.

That doesn't stop Ambrose Evans-Pritchard quoting you in the Daily Telegraph

Dr Euan Mearns at the Oil Drum said Fukushima has shattered democracies' faith in the safety of nuclear power. If Japanese engineers had prevailed despite the worst that nature could muster, it would have vindicated the industry. "Alas, this is not the case. The future of the human global energy system has just changed course with potentially far reaching consequences for civilisation," he said.

Maybe it is not a Nuclear Engineering problem. We passed that parameter on Fukushima in the '60's.

I don't have to be a nuclear engineer to have well formed opinion on likely outcome of this disaster on global nuclear industry. The hand of the anti-nuclear lobby has just been strengthened and the hand of the pro-nuclear lobby weakened. I suspect things at Fukushima will get a lot worse before they stabilise. Its not good for the nuclear industry.

Radio 4 right now is the mitigation effort in full flow. It's not good for the nuclear industry in the long term only if states care about environmental public outcry more than they care about maintaining BAU. Malcolm Grimstead (I think) just suggested if Japan had been reliant on renewables to the same extent it is reliant on nuclear at present, then the entirety of the renewable infrastructure would have collapsed under the earthquake. Speaking off the top of his head a bit there, I feel - surely renewables can be earthquake-proofed, tidal can be overdesigned for tsunamis?

Malcolm Grimstead (I think) just suggested if Japan had been reliant on renewables to the same extent it is reliant on nuclear at present, then the entirety of the renewable infrastructure would have collapsed under the earthquake. Speaking off the top of his head a bit there, I feel -

Yeah, that sounds like BS to me.

One of the great things about solar and wind is that they naturally lend themselves to DEcentralization of power production.

If there were windmills scattered all over Japan and solar cells on everyone's building, there would be no large central points of failure to go down in a disaster like this. Even if the grid went down completely, people would still have some power from solar if they had it installed.

So Mr Grinstead's point is exactly wrong, the opposite is true -- renewable energy systems should be much more resilient than nuclear or fossil fuels.

And if they weren't, you at least wouldn't have an immediate radiological threat - although his point was you would have a lack of electricity on a larger scale. Which, as you point out, seems stretching it a bit as it would have to take the lot down. And also, in case he hadn't noticed, they have a pretty significant lack with a nuclear failure anyway.

Was trying to edit the post to include:

Nuclear holding ground:
UK has no row-back yet, I would call these "cautious positive noises": http://www.cnplus.co.uk/sectors/energy/nuclear-industry-welcomes-prime-m...
Russia has just forced Belarus to sign on the dotted line: http://english.pravda.ru/russia/economics/17-03-2011/117228-russia_belar...

Nuclear losing ground:
Swiss and Israeli govts cancel plans
And of course Germany and China have started safety reviews/shutdown some plants/postponed their decisions to a more politically advantageous time.

Those who had houses in the path of tsunami, of course, would not have any power. But they wouldn't have a house, either, so maybe the issue of power is somewhat moot.

>I feel - surely renewables can be earthquake-proofed, tidal can be overdesigned for tsunamis?

So can a nuclear power plant, however unlike renewables, it can provide reliable power with far less of a footprint, less resources, and the need to be backed by fossils.

So can a nuclear power plant

The problem here is the asymmetry of safety demands. The public will demand 99.9% for the Nuke, but will accept a reasonable failure rate for the renewables.

Which is perfectly reasonable, given the possible consequences.

Did we stop making boilers when they were regularly killing people? Did we stop making chemicals after Bhopal?

No, we learned from it and developed better designs and practices.

The thing to remember is this is an _old_ station. Perhaps we should decommission all the reactors older than some amount, and replace them with newer, safer designs?


You buy the first one.

Sure, why not? It'd be far far cheaper than the amount of money Germany spent on solar for the last 10 years, it'd use far less resources, and be a lot more reliable.

I think that any analysis of the nuclear power industry would show a safety statistic way better than 99.9%, just as deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is 99.997% safe from underwater blowouts.

The evaluation has to incorporate the severity of that 1 in a million (or 1 in 100 million) perfect storm.

The difference between 100% safe (impossible by definition) and 99.999% safe = catastrophe.

Well said. Talking in terms of % chance is a joke and a talking point for nuclear shrill.

And yet, despite all this, no one has died from Fukushima, there is no massive area contaminated at all, and the cores are intact. All that from a flawed, 50 year old design that survived one of the most powerful natural events in recorded history.

Quite remarkable, but I see the 10,000 deaths from the tsunami pale next to any story with the dreaded NUC-U-LER word in it, despite ANY significant damage whatsoever (disregarding similar histrionics in the markets).

"All that from a flawed, 50 year old design that survived "

Permit me a wry smile, amazing that some can call a slow motion train wreck 'surviving' !!!!

However, you are right that on a pure body-count scale, Fukushima is low, but there are other scales than body count.
Guns and cars top the body count for most western countries.
India had a staggering 118,000 road fatalities in 2008.

Fukushima has already impacted billions of dollars, globally, and that will likely increase.
Fallout has many meanings.

The tsunami has caused orders of magnitude more damage than Fukushima ever will. The jitters in the markets are one thing, and kneejerk reactions to nuclear by Germany (who never liked nukes anyway) notwithstanding, the impact is otherwise contained and vastly overstated by the MSM, which isn't helped when worst case scenarios are thrown around alongside incredibly rosy TEPCO/Japanese government spokespeople who say there's nothing wrong at all.

The same applies to flying. A commercial pilot who wants to have a successful aviation career wants to have at least "6 nines" - 99.9999% that he will land successfully, and more likely more than that.

I heard a joke about engineers and pilots a while ago:

Engineers are obsessive in their work. Nuclear engineers check again. Test pilots say that nuclear engineers are slobs.

That's from a guy who graduated with a nuclear physics degree, turned military pilot and had a 30 year flying career.

1 in a million?
Japan has 54 reactors. Four have suffered catastrophic failures. US has 104 reactors. One has suffered a catastrophic failure. If utilities had to bear the cost of these failures rather than taxpayers, it is likely that no more reactors would be built since shareholders, bondholders and re-insurers would likely not tolerate the risks.

When you do risk analysis each possibility is expressed as a percentage or ratio. I would maintain that having an accident that consists of an 8.9 earthquake, a 10m tsunami, loss of outside power, loss of most communications, loss of sea water cooling, loss of outside support (roads not passable), loss of contingent assistance (other people had their own problems), and all of this happening with in less than an hour is probably a 1 in a million, or maybe 1 in 10 million.

My definition of a catastrophe when discussing nuclear power is obviously different than yours. My definition would involve not only large financial costs but multiple loss of human life. TMI was a serious accident, not a catastrophe. Only the Russian's have had a true nuclear catastrophe, maybe two if rumors about one of their sub accidents are true.

Don't confuse "catastrophe" with "catastrophic failure" which is defined term in risk analysis.

Catastrophe is in the eye of the beholder.

A "catastrophic failure" is a perfectly acceptable term in the English language - I was not aware that the rights to it were sold to the risk analysis field!

Also, if those unlikely events all stem from a single source event, then the likelihood of all of them happening is higher.

And to go to the root of the issue - having a significant earthquake that generates a tsunami on a subduction zone along the Ring of Fire... well we've now had 2 mega versions of those in less than 10 years so I'd say the odds are far better than 1 in a million...

As kids on a trip, my brother and I were at an old German Castle, way up on the roof, and he first dared me to, in the middle of the deck, stoop over and re-tie my shoe. Piece of cake.

Then, he walked me over to the unguarded edge of the Keep, and with our heads extending just a bit over the edge as we bent, invited me to try the same thing.

Failure Modes. It's not whether you're going to fall. It's whether you can get back up.

Three-Mile Island was a Gracious Warning Shot.

8.9 earthquake

Why not design for that? Earthquake power approaches a limit, why not design the core systems to take the worst?

10m tsunami

10m, trivial. If you build next to the sea or any large water body, why limit yourself especially after worse has been experienced as recently as 7 years ago?
Everything you mention should have been part of disaster planning. P^6 was not applied. The limits were chosen to make the numbers look good. 'We are prepared for a magnitude X siesmo', 'We have 6m tsunami walls', 'We have diesel generators' just makes it sound good, not planning at all.


You can define catastrophe anyway that you wish but all dictionary definitions that I googled would suggest that the "event" at TMI and events now unfolding can properly be called a catastrophe.

I grew up in NYC during the first total blackout in 1965 and was told confidently that the liklihood of a recurrence was 1 in a million. It's happened twice more since then.

Regarding risk analysis - there is an inherent uncertainty to the dynamism of reality that assumptions and probabilities cannot capture. The fact remains that the current failure rate of nuclear power plants does not instill confidence in assertions that the probability is 1 in a million.

The deeper question is not whether newer plants are safer than previous designs. I believe that they are. The question is who assumes the risks and costs. The the utilities are unwilling to assume the risks. The costs are borne by the ratepayers, taxpayers and the larger community of life. The rewards, in the form of dividends and interest payments, are harvested by the shareholders and bondholders.

Do I believe that nuclear power plants have lower "costs" than coal plants? It depends on what one chooses to factor in or ignore.

More broadly, is society as a whole better to commit large capital outlays to reducing power consumption and moving to a more decentralized model or to continue to pursue the illusion of low cost energy through large, centralized power generation, transmission and distribution. If one had greater trust in our political, regulatory and corporate leadership than a more centralized system may actually yield an economies of scale. But at this point, given the cozy relationship that seems to inevitably arise among regulators, corporate interests and political parties throughout the world a more localized approach may offer a greater degree of resiliency and public safety at lower costs.

What we have here is a disaster that was the result of a poorly understood or inaccurately formulated probability distribution regarding the safety of nuclear power in general.

Others here have debated whether this was a Talebian Black Swan event. I don't think the distinction is important; I think a different aspect of Taleb's work comes into play here.

There is a specific type of probability distribution in finance called a Taleb Distribution, in which there is a high probability of a small gain, and a small probability of a very large loss, which more than outweighs the gains (in finance, an example of this would be a risk where a loss would bankrupt your company and/or wipe out years of profits in hours- a Russian-roulette -type risk.)

It is obvious now that the rationalizations we have made about nuclear disasters- that Chernobyl was a one-off and that it couldn't happen in a western reactor, and if it did, it'd be like Three Mile Island, a failure but not a catastrophe- need to be re-examined, at the very least.

As Razrmon notes, the data is in now. There are roughly 440 Commercial Nuclear power plants in the world today, and we now have had 6 reactor failures since 1954, and 2 massive containment breaches (I think that we can safely say that Fukushima is a serious containment breach.)

So (roughly) an average of one complete reactor failure every 10 years, and one massive containment breach of some kind every 28 years, per each 440 reactors. (Since we didn't start with 440 reactors, the probabilities are higher than that. I'll leave it to somebody else to figure out the disasters per 100,000 hours of operation or per trillion watts produced, as the rough figures seem serious enough.)

So let's round off a bit...say, 3 breaches per century, so a little less than one percent chance of your generator becoming the centre of a 3000 square kilometer exclusion zone for each hundred years of operation.

I'm pretty sure they didn't use those figures to sell Nuclear Generation in the '50's and '60's.

I'm much less sanguine now about the dozen reactors that are essentially in my backyard.

A war, a disaster, sabotage, drought...who can say what the next 50 or 100 years will bring?

If anyone is around in a hundred years, they are going to view us as monsters.


There is a specific type of probability distribution in finance called a Taleb Distribution, in which there is a high probability of a small gain, and a small probability of a very large loss, which more than outweighs the gains (in finance, an example of this would be a risk where a loss would bankrupt your company and/or wipe out years of profits in hours- a Russian-roulette -type risk.)

That is not strictly a probability distribution. These have actually been around forever and they are usually called "effectiveness" measures. The term "system effectiveness" was first used in the early 1960's on aerospace projects and it combined elements of reliability in various ways. This eventually mutated into "cost effectiveness" and then it has been an integral of all sorts of decision support algorithms where one tries to maximize or minimize some criteria based on a weighting of several factors at once.

It is still a valid approach but I am not sure that Taleb discovered anything that novel.

Which is perfectly reasonable, given the possible consequences.

I think due to radio-phobia, the public will demand more 9's than make sense. But, while 50% might be reasonable for say a wind turbine, >99% (depending upon the severity of the consequences) for the Nuke does make sense. And there is a big difference between a failure mode that means you lose the reactor but contain the fuel, and one which causes a major release. It is only the later scenario that needs to be made highly imporbable.

This has to do with probability and impact. Car crash and plane crash are good examples. The former is higher probability but lower impact per case for society as a whole, the latter lower probability but higher impact via media coverage.

Major nuclear incidents are very low probability but very high impact when they occur. I think that Fukushima may have impact of Richter scale 12 upon the future of nuclear power - although watching popular news programs on BBC this evening it seems the public are showing resilience faced with a nuclear emergency. Not sure why. If this was USA, Europe, or English speaking world I think it would be different.

In conventional economics risk adjusted value = upside - lambda*downside.

Nuclear lambda should be huge. How much is the upside: energy generated, coal not burned with it's impacts, technology generation, etc. ?

How much is the downside? I think it is very perspective dependent, globally it (risk adjusted value) is clearly positive - so far. Locally - e.g. for France it is like high speed train, pure profit. Locally for Ukraine - disaster. Locally for Japan - that depends on the final outcome. etc...

I live now on one the most stable pieces of rock on the planet, several thousand km from the nearest nuke and am 100% supplied with hydro energy, my valuation is different than Japanese, living without FF and 20km from the reactor. They have a Faustian pact. France is staying put, with safer designs while Germany wants to get rid of their nuclear industry. The winds are predominantly western...

I don't think this question can be answered but locally.

Risk Analysis

Random thoughts --

This is a subject that reappears with any calamity – Japan nuclear or BP oil spill.

Risk analysis is commonly done by assigning percentage chances to a range of possibilities and then assessing the impact of each possibility in terms of financial cost, damage to property, injury to personnel, fatality, multiple fatalities, etc. To be honest often things like political damage, risk to reputation will also be included, often by subjectively weighting the other factors.

Even more than most studies subject to mathematical analysis, risk assessments are subjective and skewed by the prejudices of the analysis group.

Sometimes the results of a properly done risk analysis can be surprising. In the North Sea we convinced the Norwegians, one of the most conservative safety organizations in the world, that it was safer to use mountaineering techniques to inspect offshore platforms than using traditional scaffolding.

Everyone agreed the NDT technician was a greater risk hanging a hundred feet over the ocean on a thin rope than working from a scaffold. The safety gain was due to not exposing a dozen laborers, helicopter crews, boat crews to having to transport and work offshore. A 1% chance of accident for 10 man-days is less than a 0.1% chance of accident for 200 man-days. And so it goes.

Here is a hypothetical risk analysis anyone can do.

I’ll lay out the scenario and you can provide your own percentage chance of each possibility happening and the resultant cost – financial and societal.

In real life there are hundreds of possibilities to consider – and the one that gets you is (A) the one you didn’t think of – an earthquake, WITH a tsunami over design height, WITH no outside power, WITH the seawater cooling system out of service, WITH most outside support incapacitated, WITH limited communications, etc, etc, or (B) the one that was so far-fetched you said it could never happen (see A).

Question – which is higher risk - (a) not putting oil in your car engine and (b) not filling your windshield wiper fluid.

Not putting oil in your engine:

Chance of damaging the engine – financial cost of repairing the engine

Chance of destroying the engine – financial cost of replacing the engine

Chance of being stranded – cost of taxi

Chance of being stranded and eaten by wolves (or walruses if you are in Gulf of Mexico)

Not filling your windshield wiper fluid:

Chance of having to stop to clean your windshield – cost?

Chance of having an accident causing property damage – cost of repairs

Chance of having an accident with human injury – cost?

Chance of hitting a school bus and killing 15 kids – cost?

With just the slightest prejudice it is easy to prove the lack of windshield washer fluid is a much higher risk than lack of oil. But just ask any car owner and you will get a different answer. Human nature only evaluates the most likely events and ignores the extremely unlikely no matter what the cost. Which is why a structured analysis is imperative.

Shelburn, with great respect to your scientific acumen, trying to imply this situation would be difficult for an expert to predict and talking about the series of unexpected failures--I just don't know.

In what part of the world is an earthquake with a big tsunami MORE likely? Plus, there's been analysis floating around for a number of years about the size of tsunamis which have hit Japan over the past 400 years or so. Big.

And if the experts who built/maintained this plant missed that pretty obvious potential problem, then really, all the other failures are just one large failure; whether they represent an honest effort at prediction/safety just doesn't matter. A giant tsunami is going to wreck the plant and everything around it. Miss that piece of things, and all the neat stuff the engineers built to mitigate the inherent cost and danger of cooling nuclear material after a disaster is just so much flotsam. (Literally, in this case.)

I didn't intend to write a screed about "so-called experts" here and I hope it's not coming across that way. But at some point don't we all--especially those of us who consider ourselves experts--have to take a look at whether, collectively we're really competent enough to do what we say we're going to do?

Because we've got lots of nuclear experts, but their collective competence couldn't predict, prevent, or knowledgeably treat this situation. So the reality is that without a higher degree of collective competence among the experts, ordinary people can't be assured that this extremely dangerous material can be handled over many years without sickening them, their kids, or grandkids.

Leaving aside all the hucksterism, smart people tried to go nuclear and missed the fact that a big wave could throw all their safety precautions into turmoil. And as in your windshield washer scenario, it wasn't so much the chance of hitting the school bus as the impact that was important. So I'm afraid my "structured analysis" is leaning toward the conclusion that given a naturally unpredictable world and
the difficulty of getting any group of humans to see both detail and Gestalt, it's just a bad idea to mess with this stuff.

(Unless we can dispose of it in space, which is a whole other issue.)

When I read something like the hypothetical risk analysis you've laid out, my engineering intuition starts screaming that the complexity is too high and the data too subjective (or subject to error), the scenarios artificially limited, and that in the end it's just going to be guessing and rationalization.

What are the chances that loss of engine power also lead to an impact with a school bus? Power steering went out, catastrophic failure of the drivetrain leading to loss of control? The guy adding washer fluid left a pocket knife on the battery (he used it to open the foil covering), and it fell into the fan pulley and was thrown into the radiator, puncturing it and blowing coolant back onto the windshield, etc. People try to substitute calculations for good judgment based on experience, but there are times when the latter is the better approach.

Often the hardest part of solidly solving a problem is making it tractable, so that it can be rigorously solved. Like risk analysis, systems architecture has subjective components that can heavily weight the outcome -- the blinders you put on the engineer (and yourself) are often some of the most limiting factors the design will face.

Sometimes it is helpful to go one level up in thinking, or even two or three. And to go one level broader. Failure to involve the stakeholders (all of whom are affected by, but may not have control authority) over a system is a common error. Failure to reconsider the original problem in light of the solution risks is another. Failure to appropriately weight the needs is yet another (often many key requirements are simply assumed -- that a power plant should not derail the economy of a powerful nation, or that a driver should not crash school buses are rarely listed on the solicitation specs for a liquid pump in either design).

Taking the car analogy one step further: If the insurance companies weigh in, they would require a windshield clarity monitoring system. Now the complexity has increased a bit, and you have a new coupled fault -- the operator now has two idiot lights. If the user is untrained, will he stop when the oil light comes on (red) versus the oil change recommendation (yellow)? Will he prioritize a refill of the washer or clean the windshield by hand?

Now take the decision away from the driver for the good of his car, himself, and others -- the car won't start with a dirty windshield. Now you have a safe car, but perhaps a driver who can't get a heart-attack victim to the doctor, or his daughter is stuck at night in a dangerous neighborhood.

Point is that coupling of systems, decisions, and risks is a perpetually messy business, and the state of the art is not as rigorous as for technology design tools. We are better at building things than deciding which things to build.

Twiight and Paleocon, this is exactly what I'm getting at, so thank you. Looking at the large picture after the initial analysis, the level of complexity/competence/necessity to make the right decisions post-build is just so demanding, with impact of wrong decisions so great and long-lasting, that it doesn't make sense to build. Nobody likes think of themselves as dropping the wet blanket on progress, but I think when H2 in an earlier thread was talking about an intuitive dislike of nuclear power, this is what he meant.

Good post. Things that fall outside the limits of our economic ken (by chance or design) are usually called 'externalities', and one major critique by greens has been to try and include some more of them. I've even heard experts, when talking about oil consumption particularly with regards to climate change, that "we should include all the externalities, then there is no problem".

Except, of course, that then there is no profit. Take the 'stakeholders' terminology used above - helpfully for me it's one I'm familiar with. Who are the stakeholders for a nuclear power plant? Many (most?) of the human ones are not yet born, many (most?) of them are non-human (broadly speaking, the ecology). Even including a few of these more readily - as enhanced safety systems are designed to do - pushes the costs up of a project. Include ALL of them at full value, and you have not appropriated any value.

Particularly with nuclear, as a particularly arcane technology that has taken a very long time to 'democratise' outside of military/state secret territory (and probably still isn't out fully even now), but with anything that requires expertise, even within the currently alive human stakeholders there is a large asymmetry of power/knowledge between various stakeholders - never mind the other ones. Who is to take the hit is a question of politics and power.

Edit: there's a related policy concept of "unintended consequences" which is alluded to above.

We are better at building things than deciding which things to build.

Well said.

I may use that quote in my speech (with your permission). Although we do not even build useless things well anymore.

Best Hopes for Building the Right Things, and Building Them Well,


Certainly Alan, though I cannot claim the underlying basis. Validation and verification of a system SHOULD validate that you build the right thing and verify you built the thing right (this is a classic systems engineering viewpoint), but from a test perspective often those are bounded by precisely the same blinders used to justify a project. The part that is often missed is asking the question one-layer up, with a one-size bigger scope (or more), but often that falls into the purview of CTOs and CEOs, not project engineers, and so they run with what was given them as the problem to solve.

Of course the problem is fractal, with similar problems at each layer further up, until you're at a global scale (at least for problems like nuclear energy). Such is the nature of complexity.

Best hopes for seeing the forest when designing trees.

Media attention is also highly situational. In a rural area, a fatal auto accident will be given top coverage in the local newspaper and radio station. People will discuss it for days.

On the other hand, in the New York metro area, a fatal auto accident will only be refered to, if at all, as the cause of a traffic tie-up during the rush hour traffic reports.

In either case, objectively, the victims are just as dead.

...less resources ...

I do not buy it.

EROI of 5 for nuclear at best with terrible accounting since the waste would need decades to store and maintain after the plant is finished.

EROI for wind and solar ~20.

No public insurance. No public toxic waste and clean-up. No threat of mass exodus when they fail.

So again why is the forecast for nuclear so rosy when it requires a lot of public insurance? LOL

As much as I like wind and solar, it usually means public access to the land is denied. Mostly for reasons of theft prevention. But in the case of wind, there are safety concerns as well.

Maybe big solar farms have a fence, but I can tell you there's nothing preventing me from walking up to pretty much any of the wind turbines in cornfields in Iowa. What is going to get stolen? The copper is energized, and anything else needs a truck & a crane, both of which are easy for the local police to track down.

EROI for wind and solar ~20.

I would like to see that calculation with the right boundary. Wind and solar buffs like to draw the boundary around the windmill or solar cell.

The real boundary must include the backup natural gas turbine, the cost of its fuel supply integrated over the next sixty years (the life of a new Gen III reactor) including fuel cost escalation and emission fees escalation over 60 years, and include the cost of the replacement solar cells and windmills at 20 and 40 years.

Today wind and hydro depend on free backup from existing hydro and fossil plants, but they are aging and will not last forever.

Even with free backup wind and solar construction comes to a screeching halt when mandates and subsidies run out. If wind and solar projects had to pay the true cost to generate reliable dispatchable power year round they would not be built.

"had to pay the true cost to generate reliable dispatchable power year round"

Oh, sweet sweet irony...

Does 100% of our power supply need to meet this standard? Why?

The only value of intermittent unreliable un-dispatchable electricity is the cost of fuel saved. If wind and solar proponents are willing to sell kWh’s at the prevailing fuel cost without mandates or subsidy’s I have no problem with that.

EROI for wind and solar ~20.

I would like to see that calculation with the right boundary. Wind and solar buffs like to draw the boundary around the windmill or solar cell.

If the boundary includes the manufacture of the windmill, I can imagine an old-fashioned Dutch windmill used to pump water over decades could have an EROI that continues to rise with time.
Total energy produced = m*g*h * N
Energy in manufacturing = X

Tell me how high that ratio could go?

Today wind and hydro depend on free backup from existing hydro and fossil plants, but they are aging and will not last forever.

Not true in many cases.

You will come back and say that I have created a strawman, but renewables are different enough than nonrenewables that a strawman like this puts the two on separate measures of effectiveness. See elsewhere on this thread the concept of "system effectiveness".

We could power the United States with an all fossil fuel grid or an all nuclear grid or an all hydro grid if we had several more large untapped wild rivers, because they are reliable dispatchable energy sources.

How would you design an all wind/solar grid that provides power with the same reliability we enjoy now? Could you do it with just windmills, solar cells and power lines?

No, unreliable un-dispatchable kWh’s are not worth much. You would need a massive grid to handle the wind and solar power surges. You would need massive storage capacity and/or fossil backup plants with all their associated costs.

All those additional costs are avoided by relying on aging fossil plants and dams to maintain grid reliability. It is a huge unseen subsidy along with the feed in tariffs and “green energy” mandates that force consumers to pay for uneconomic energy sources.

What happens when those aging plants and dams are decommissioned? If we build out a fleet of robust modular factory built nuclear plants, no problem. If we spend the money on wind and solar farms, big problem.

One cannot have a 100% nuke grid. Impossible with current technology. See France (10% hydro and adding 5 GW of wind for winter demand, 4 GW pumped storage + 1 GW Luxembourg, 12 GW Switzerland).

Renewables are not limited to wind & solar, they also include hydro (large, small & pumped storage), geothermal, biomass and conservation & efficiency.

First, cut per capita demand by 2/3rds to 3/4ths and reduce population growth. Cheaper and better than, say, 600 new nukes.

Implement variable pricing for electricity.

Build 35 GW of new hydro in Canada (mostly large) and 8 GW in the USA (mostly small) and add turbines to existing plants.

Build geothermal for base load west of Mississippi River.

HV DC and pumped storage for matching generation to load.

Biomass to fill the gaps.

And an excess of wind & solar (like France, which turns reactors off in Spring & Fall and some weekends).

Power costs could vary from 1 cent to $1 per kWh, depending. And civilization would continue.

OTOH, an all nuke grid is not possible with existing technology.

And an all fossil grid runs out of fossils. Faster if demand grows every year.

That said, I do support an increase in new nukes from 2017 till 2050 or so and a decrease in nukes after that. Better than coal.

Best Hopes for seeing the possible,


OTOH, an all nuke grid is not possible with existing technology.

Not true Alan. Existing designs are capable of modest slew rates. For fine control simply run the plants 2-3% above demand and dump the rest into resistive heating elements with electronic controls providing almost infinite slew rates over the full range of 0 - 100%.

With fuel cost of ½ cent per kwh the cost increase would be 0.5 cents x 0.03/.97 = 0.0155 cents / kwh.

More importantly, how many car manufacturers build in fire protection systems. None that I know of. Not because it is impossible; because there is no demand for that feature.

Utilities build nuclear plants for baseload power, so load following has no value to them. When they ask for it the manufacturers will provide it.

Gen III plants are designed for higher slew rates than Gen II.

The French have given up on trying to modulate their plants.

And an all nuke grid would have DRAMATICALLY larger fuel costs, and could not provide spinning reserve

I said current technology, not some unproven hypothetical. And even the EPR rate of slew would be almost useless to meet the, say, 6 PM weekday peak.


The French have given up on trying to modulate their plants.

The French grid is not all nuclear. With fossil fuel five times more expensive than nuclear fuel it makes sense to load follow with fossil plants to minimize cost and emissions. Why would you expect them to operate their grid in an illogical manner?

And an all nuke grid would have DRAMATICALLY larger fuel costs, and could not provide spinning reserve

Total nonsense. If the US had ramped up to 600 nuclear plants providing all its power, fuel cost would be vastly less than we pay for fossil fuel now and in the future as fossil fuel cost and emission costs ramp up. One plant tripping unexpectedly would be a small blip, easily accommodated.

I said current technology, not some unproven hypothetical.

You think dumping excess power into a resistor is a huge engineering challenge? The lameness of that makes my case.

And even the EPR rate of slew would be almost useless to meet the, say, 6 PM weekday peak.

“Boiling water reactors (BWR) and Advanced Boiling Water Reactors can use a combination of control rods and the speed of recirculation water flow to quickly reduce their power level down to under 60% of rated power, making them useful for overnight load-following. In markets such as Chicago, Illinois where half of the local utility's fleet is BWRs, it is common to load-follow”


Nuclear fuel cost are 1/5 of fossil fuel cost.


If the forecast grid ramp rate exceeds reactor ramp rate, simply start ramping the reactors earlier.

More importantly, energy storage technology like pumped storage can be used much more effectively than by intermittent sources because nuclear can use that capacity every day.

Electric vehicles and smart grid technology will flatten demand.

Basically your claim is that an all nuclear grid is not possible because it has not been done, therefore it cannot be done. Clearly a false and illogical analysis.

Much of the time the French grid is 100+% nuclear and other times it is half nuke.

And your purported reasons for them trying to load follow and then giving up is because current nukes cannot effectively load follow. Simple as that.

The French do load follow by turning off their nukes seasonally. But that is it.

Current technology nukes cannot load follow.

The slew rate required exceeds their real world capacity, especially when the fuel is no longer fresh.
Sorry, grids cannot take the sudden tripping of one 1.6 GW without spinning reserve, much less a half dozen. I know for a fact that the first nuke in Texas doubled spinning reserve requirements and the second nuke doubled the spinning reserve again.

In your pro-nuke bias, you assert things that are factually wrong, like "nukes require no spinning reserves". True enough for wind, but not for nukes.

You ignore the Law of Supply & Demand. Increase demand 5 fold for a finite resource and the price will rise dramatically.

You also ignore the questions raised on TOD about the Uranium available for current rates of projected consumption. The uranium supply will NOT increase 5 fold just because you want it to.
I know of no 10 GW resistor loads. (10 GW = six 1.66 GW nukes at one site) Use of resister loads would drive up the cost of nuclear power and the cost of fuel.

But yes, one could set up a dozen or so 10 GW resistor loads around the USA and they could serve as your spinning reserve. and help a bit with load following.

However, properly engineering such massive loads is an unsolved problem. The EIS would be very difficult to be accepted because of the environmental impact (which you ignore).
I was unaware of BWR (the type in trouble in Japan) superior slew rates. However, it is now proven that they are unsafe (4 out of 6 exploding, 3 out of 3 of those operating at the time and nearby BWRs, that stayed on the grid are in trouble to, just not so bad) and so BWRs are not a viable current technology.

But note the difference. You quote "overnight". That is kind of, sort of load following. I said the 6 PM peak (a nearly universal weekday peak). Quick and short up and declines after supper is cooked.

No current nukes can load follow that quickly. And decay heat + thermal inertia makes it very unlikely that they ever will be able to. Apparently BWRs can roughly follow an 8 hour decline. Not true load following, but it makes the FF plants job easier to load follow.
Basically, an all nuke grid is just a fantasy. There is not enough uranium for widespread use in any case, without a massive increase in price.

The French islands of Corsica and Reunion would have been good places for such grids, but no nukes, and no plans for nukes, on either one.

I wonder why.


PS; And I do support increasing the subsidies for new nukes in the USA till we get at least 3 (preferably five) more committed to build. If we have to double the current subsidy (already higher than wind) so be it.

North Carolina was about to follow Georgia and force local ratepayers to subsidize building a new nuke during construction when Fukushima exploded. Too bad, that would have been another two new nukes, maybe more.

Simple nuke design could load follow by dumping hot seawater rather than spinning turbines with it -- but like the resistor, would be complete waste. I'd rather see a dynamic useful load, like producing ammonia or pumping water up a hill somewhere. If you had a pumped hydro with a capacity a few times greater than the area under the response curve of a reactor then the pair could load follow usefully, and have some "spinning reserve" as well, if needed.

Of course that same pumped hydro would have worked for wind as well.

From Bill's POV, as I understand it, ANYTHING that does not support a chain reaction is a waste of money.

That includes pumped storage and conservation/efficiency.

Pumped storage is renewable (multiple centuries plant lifetime) and is part of my solution to integrate a full range of non-carbon generation to meet reduced demand. As such, Bill is not aupportive.

As an aside, I think every US nuke should be required to install a large solar PV array with larger batteries for back-up power. Well tied down and able to generate 25 MW/reactor (rough guess) on a cloudy winter day. Distributed around the site and near-by off site (depending).

99.9999998% of the time it would just add more power to the grid, but it would supply intermittent power more reliably than the current back-up diesel generators. The two sources in combination should reduce the risk of no power at all.

I do wonder about a, say, 15 m diameter meteorite hitting one of the Great Lakes. Or what ever the 1908 Tunguska event was.


Since 1900, there have been five 9.0+ earthquakes and one Tunguska. If nuclear plants are to become more widespread, and built to operate for 60+ years, their ability to cope with once a century events needs to be included in the design criteria.


I commented on emergency cooling requirments here.

Per design, batteries provided direct current (dc) electrical power for a bare-bones minimal subset of emergency equipment. The dc power enabled a steam-driven turbine connected to a pump of the reactor-core isolation cooling (RCIC) system to supply cooling water for the reactor cores. The steam was being produced by the decay heat from the shut down reactor cores. from this UCS page

The NNLC pdf. linked on this page
is a doomsday report that gives 200MW as cooling needs for a 1000MW of generation capacity in SCRAM mode. The thing that jumped out was that this cooling need was reduced by a factor of 10 in just 24 hours. So 24 hours would seem a reasonable minimum requirement for battery capacity--that would also give a bit wider window for some sort of emergency charging system to come online--as we just saw things can happen to the emergency generators. The number I could not find was how much DC power (per 1000MW generation capacity) it took to enable the steam turbines and other bare essential systems. It would be good to know just how much battery we are talking about.

The uranium distribution in the crust, with a 300-fold increase in reserves if you utilize 10 times more dilute ores, says that uranium supply is no problem. We can ramp conventional nuclear tenfold and still have enough for this century, until breeders come and make supply practically endless.

Also, remember that new plants increase burnup, that we can do reprocessing, that we can re-enrich tails and virgin uranium alike with new, better enrichment technology and so on.

I don't understand, btw, why you guys argue about an all-nuke grid. We have some hydro and biomass, and can use a little gas as well without AGW worries. Worst case, you can always do a couple of percent PV to shave off peak. The first goal is to get rid of coal using nuclear. Then we can worry about going further.

I generally agree, although my emphasis is different.

The first goal is to get rid of coal using nuclear ANYTHING that works.

One reason is that I do not believe (and neither does DoE) that an all out nuke build is possible in the USA in the next dozen plus years.

If North Carolina followed Georgia in increasing the state subsidy for new nukes and Duke Power et al builds two more AP-1000s# and TVA finishes Bellefonte 1 (+ Watts Bar 2) then the supply chain will be re-activated and on-the-job nuke experience can be gained for a larger number of new nukes (say 2017 to 2025) and a much larger nuke building program after 2026.

Meanwhile massive conservation and efficiency gains are possible (97% of existing air conditioners replaced, etc.) and a Rush to Wind + Solar water heating & Solar PV + pumped storage and HV DC can be in place or under construction when nuke can FINALLY reach it's potential.

Best Hopes for a Rush to Wind & Solar and a measured safe build-out of new nukes,



The Charlotte-based utility has said it won't proceed with the Cherokee County project unless North Carolina changes state law to allow the company to charge customers before the facility is completed


I agree that what you propose is the best we can hope for, especially now, because of the lack of urgency in coal replacement in the US. I still maintain that with enough urgency, it could be done faster, but it won't.

I hope it won't matter much - with luck, we'll avoid climate tipping points anyway. I think China will lead the future, and that the US will follow in due time. In five years, the Chinese may have cleared almost all IP rights for their indigenous design and will start exporting power plants to smaller countries. They will ramp that, and then around 2030 you may hear a giant sucking sound when the entire world energy market gets virtually monopolized by them. (They have started an LFTR program with the goal of commercialisation in 20 years.)

Let us hope so !

The USA faces a large number of challenges and diminished resources. Among the losses are self discipline and planning for a future.

I am aware that my own efforts are likely to fail, but may succeed. I took a hard eyed look at what to focus on, with a skeptical eye.

Yes, I am hard on dreams and hopes because I have seen both dashed and destroyed.

Politics are the Art of the Possible.

I chose something that has very few "dug in" detractors and massive cost-benefit ratios, zero technology risks and can be largely implemented in less than a decade.

I do mourn the number of nukes never completed in the USA, the self destruction of the nuke building industry and desperately want to avoid a repeat.

I respect your POV, but I am far too cynical and realistic to share it. I try to account for Mr. Murphy in my plans.

Best Hopes,


--with luck, we'll avoid climate tipping points anyway

I picked up on a tidbit of encouragement on that count on this NSIDC page

The January study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany suggested that sea ice could recover quickly, even if all the ice melted in the summer—showing that the feedback effects that would lead to a downward spiral in ice extent may be weaker than suspected.

The whole report might be a bit more helpful.

Alan, I see that you are desperately trying to lead the conversation away from the central point of this discussion, your often repeated claim that;

an all nuke grid is not possible with existing technology.

Lets put that to bed with a thought experiment. Imagine that nuke plants can only have two power settings, 0% and 100%. Simply run enough reactors to meet peak demand and dump the rest, problem solved.

I like paleocon’s idea of using excess power for a useful purpose. They could auction it off for a reduced price.

The excess energy would still be far more valuable than wind/solar kWh’s because it would be assured every day and night except on-peak hours. In fact, demand curves are so predictable that most of the excess power would be quite reliable and therefore far more valuable than wind/solar kWh’s that might be down for 2 weeks in winter gloom.

Sorry, grids cannot take the sudden tripping of one 1.6 GW without spinning reserve, much less a half dozen.

More nonsense. Imagine a moment in time where the US is generating 550 GW of nuclear power to provide 500 GW of reliable power. 1%, 5.5GW, is going into multiple resistor banks around the country for fine control and 45 GW is going to industrial customers with interruptible contracts at reduced cost.

That grid can handle the simultaneous failure of five 1GW plants around the country without dipping into their interruptible capacity.

In your pro-nuke bias, you assert things that are factually wrong, like "nukes require no spinning reserves".

More nonsense, see above example.

You ignore the Law of Supply & Demand. Increase demand 5 fold for a finite resource and the price will rise dramatically. You also ignore the questions raised on TOD about the Uranium available for current rates of projected consumption. The uranium supply will NOT increase 5 fold just because you want it to.

More nonsense. Uranium demand has increased many orders of magnitude since WW II. The spot price bounces around a lot but contract prices under which most uranium sells has not changed much corrected for inflation.

The uranium supply can grow as fast as we build reactors, that is the historic record.

I was unaware of BWR (the type in trouble in Japan) superior slew rates. However, it is now proven that they are unsafe

I do not believe anybody is building 1960 BWR’s. What is the risk of building new ones like this?


Basically, an all nuke grid is just a fantasy. There is not enough uranium for widespread use in any case, without a massive increase in price.

More nonsense. Uranium from seawater is a huge untapped supply at a cost lower than fossil fuel. We do not use it because land based supplies are even cheaper.

PS; And I do support increasing the subsidies for new nukes in the USA till we get at least 3 (preferably five) more committed to build. If we have to double the current subsidy

That’s great Alan, but the point is that this often repeated comment is false.

an all nuke grid is not possible with existing technology.

Imagine that nuke plants can only have two power settings, 0% and 100%. Simply run enough reactors to meet peak demand and dump the rest, problem solved.

Such a policy would ruin a modern economy, create more unnecessary environmental disasters and require new engineering to create many GW of resistance load. And run out of fuel.

PURE fantasy. Not possible with existing economies.
Your hypothesized grid could not handle what is now required, six 1.66 GW (say six EPRs) going offline in one location. NOT even close.

I am being generous to the fanatically nuke supporters, for such incredibly large numbers of nukes would require more than 6 units/10 GW per site in all probability.

Without more HV DC transmission than I envision, extra reactors in Texas will be of no help in a Calfiornia complex trips due to, say, an earthquake. Likewise reactors in Georgia and Ohio.

You obviously know little of spinning reserve requirements, which is one of the flaws of a high % nuke grid. And also very limited knowledge how EdF manages to run a high % nuke grid (see Switzerland).

In reality, anything above a 55% or so nuke grid is problematic. See the island of Japan at 30% nuke, island of Taiwan at 20% nuke (32% when new reactors are finsihed) and the French islands of Corsica and Reunion with no nukes. One cannot blame anti-nuke bias for no nukes there. Perfect places for an all nuke grid !!

Real world -> No nukes, not all nukes.

(BTW, how DO you explain no nukes there ?).

More nonsense. Uranium demand has increased many orders of magnitude since WW II.

Many have said the same thing about oil.

At MUCH higher prices we could supply fuel to 2,500 GW of world wide reactors.

Uranium from seawater is a huge untapped supply at a cost lower than fossil fuel.

Just like oil shale.

Ok, I will amend this to an all nuke grid is not possible with existing technology and economy.

Again, why are there no nukes on Corsica, Reunion or Okinawa ? And Japan and Taiwan stay below 1/3rd nuke ?

I am talking reality, when all nuke grids could be built (according to you) by very pro-nuke governments, but are not.


Such a policy would ruin a modern economy


create more unnecessary environmental disasters

Describe the disaster senario for the modern BWR.

require new engineering to create many GW of resistance load.

LOL. Each plant could have its own resistor bank. Or we could use the power lines themselves through dynamic control of their power factor. Power line losses average about 5% under best conditions, they could easily handle a lot more.

And run out of fuel.


Not possible with existing economies.


Your hypothesized grid could not handle what is now required, six 1.66 GW (say six EPRs) going offline in one location. NOT even close.

Probably not. How often would that happen? Analysis?

I am being generous to the fanatically nuke supporters, for such incredibly large numbers of nukes would require more than 6 units/10 GW per site in all probability.

Why? We do not do that with coal or gas. We do not do that with nuclear. How many 10 GW stations have been built or are planned?

Without more HV DC transmission than I envision, extra reactors in Texas will be of no help in a Calfiornia complex trips due to, say, an earthquake.

You have nuclear mixed up with wind solar and hydro. They need long distance transmission capacity because the generation is often hundreds of miles from the population centers.

An all nuclear grid would have about 300 sites distributed in proportion to population. California would have perhaps 30 of them and would no longer have to import power over long distance lines.

You obviously know little of spinning reserve requirements

Educate me.

I am a couple of hours away from flying to Chicago (all day workshop on rail electrification 3-22) and then two lectures in Wisconsin 3-24 & 3-26 and back home on 3-28.

One very quick note is that large # of reactors on one site is becoming more common. For example, in California, finding one acceptable site for one new nuke will be a challenge, you may have to put all 30 reactors at that one site.

You get an early tremor that creates an automatic SCRAM and 30 x 1.6 GW goes off line in a matter of seconds.

Of course, 30 reactors at one site is impractical.

And you seem not to realize that coal & NG sites are not as severely constrained as nuke sites.

As for a BWR accident, all sorts of possibilities. Faulty bolts that missed detection (or failed due to chloride exposure or ...) break during a strong earthquake, combined with other system failures.


BTW, your unquestioning devotion to nukes makes you the greatest enemy of new nukes. I saw your attitudes in the 1970s and it created the self destruction of new nukes for 30 years.

It was not evil environmentalists but gung-ho, unquestioning supporters that caused WHOOPS and TVA. (15 reactors canceled between them) and Zimmer.

WHOOPS, TVA and Zimmer did much more damage than TMI.

PPS: Where are the all nuke grids for the islands I mentioned ? If they are so practical, why are they not built ?

BTW, your unquestioning devotion to nukes makes you the greatest enemy of new nukes. I saw your attitudes in the 1970s and it created the self destruction of new nukes for 30 years.

Alan, you have seen my recommendation many times, it has not changed in years. So you know that it maximizes the probably of finding some technology better than nuclear. It is the most anti-nuclear recommendation that makes sense.

If you were confident in your own recommendation you would not need the misdirection. Here is my recommendation again.

We need a plan that does not have failure as an option, and will automatically select the best solution even if most of us are wrong.

1...Implement a $100 billion / year R&D budget that pushes all technologies as hard and fast as possible. Steven Chu will know how to spend it. $100 billion / year is not much to solve the two biggest problems faced by 6.5 billion people, energy and climate change. The economic return for getting it right will be many orders of magnitude larger

2...Build demonstration plants of every technology as it becomes possible. If the first one fails, build improved models until the technology is proven to be useful or not.

3...Publish all the data.

4...Eliminate all subsidies. Note that R&D and subsidies are two completely different things. With R&D there is always the potential for a dramatic breakthrough that will change everything. Not so with subsidies.

5...Include all external costs for all technologies.

6...Allow the cost of energy to rise or fall to its real value on a totally level field.

7...Allow a well informed private sector of individuals and corporations to select the best technology for mass production.

This process will produce the best possible solution, whatever that is.

BTW, do you support a level playing field for rail?

Uranium from seawater? RIght, and it is cost competitive with Solar and Wind power too. Tell me that too.

See look Bill, we all understand nuclear's place in the food chain. We know it is base power.

But you fail to state the limits of nuclear:

nuclear waste (decentralized and everlasting)
failure modes are not understood and we seem to be surprised every 20 years by a new failure mode
baseload power is not the be all end all
uranium has peaked in production already (it is a finite resource as well)
nuclear disasters scare people and rightly so thus you face a land problem and a siting problem

Lots of negatives and you will not acknowledge them. I think basically Alan says it best. You are the worst enemy of nuclear to the public at large. Too rosy sounds like snake oil, and nuclear seems dangerous enough. Why gloss coat it?

See that perspective and try to work in a little careful contrast and comparison for the informed observer. You do not need to try and bully us into compliance like we are in a totalitarian state ;-)

Uranium from seawater? RIght, and it is cost competitive with Solar and Wind power too.

Agreed - the seawater stuff isn't practical.

nuclear waste (decentralized and everlasting)

Easily centralized and not everlasting.

baseload power is not the be all end all

Yes it is.

uranium has peaked in production already (it is a finite resource as well)

Temporarily peaked. The finiteness is irrelevant at this time.

nuclear disasters scare people and rightly so thus you face a land problem and a siting problem


Too rosy sounds like snake oil, and nuclear seems dangerous enough. Why gloss coat it?

The image problem is a tough one. Nuclear is very benign, but look scary, so everybody involved have to feign taking everything very seriously, or else we can't get public acceptance. (Some of you might react to me saying this. Proves my point, in that case.)

Couple of things I think you need to regularly throw into your arguments, is the fact that we're going to be needing yet more electricity even with gains in efficiency, because we need to electrify as many activities that are now done using fossils as we can, such as space heating and cooking. Also, EVs are going to become more popular. Just switching space heating to electric would shift peaks to early morning hours. Some utilities already report record peaks in early morning hours, because heatpumps are relatively popular in the south.

Also, I don't follow your commentary too much, because I spend more time at reddit, but I don't often see pro nuke folks counter wind power footprint arguments with the argument that they're ignoring service roads. Service roads to wind farms should be included in footprint arguments. They're not nature preserves.

An aggressive energy conservation & efficiency program could more than offset new uses.

eBikes use electricity but not nearly as much as EVs, promote eBikes and put modest taxes on EVs.

We are a half century away (at a minimum) from discouraging the use of natural gas for cooking and home heating. Dual fuel (heat pumps down to say, 38 F and NG colder than that) are viable today.

For parts of US like Germany, follow German housing standards (r-50 walls, low-E double pane windows, max % of walls in windows, etc.) to just get a building permit. Tax incentives to build to Passiv Haus standards. Adjust standards up & down to meet local climate.

Put 40% or 50% tax credit for retrofit insulation & windows, rebates for heat pumps above 23 SEER, etc.


Alan, we use more energy for heating and cooking, and there are several times the number of haves who don't have what the haves have, and are striving to get it. They don't want short ranged electric bicycles, they want the luxury and utility of a vehicle that can take them, whatever materials they need to haul, *and* family anywhere they want to go.

I'm about a month away from getting a $10,000 electric motorcycle, but I'm not an idiot and think it's going to take me wherever I want to go whenever I want to. It's the best on the market, and although it has a 50 mile range best case scenario, realistically I'd be taking chances going anywhere more than 15 miles away, unless there's 0 traffic. It's ZERO's dual purpose bike, BTW.

Heat pumps are great. They're quite common in the region you live in. So common, that some southern utilities record peaks are early morning winter hours, rather than mid summer days. A heat pump is a refrigeration unit, and although it's more efficient than heating your home with resistance heating or fossils, it draws a lot of current, and ground source heat pumps are pricey.

Germany, like the states, is an elite country. They can afford the extra costs involved with extra efficiency. The billions of havenots in the world, can't afford triple glazed windows and ground source heat pumps. I think you should start thinking with a global view in mind. Right now you come off as thinking only about the west. The western elite is the minority in the world, and the rest of the world will continue trying catch up.

Them and our needs to ween off of fossils will far and away outpace gains through efficiency and conservation. There's no lack of consensus on that.

"because they are reliable dispatchable energy sources"

We clearly have different definitions of "reliable"--perhaps it is just a matter of timescales.

Do you consider Japan to have a "reliable" grid?

"No, unreliable un-dispatchable kWh’s are not worth much"

You sound like a utility executive. Un-dispatchable indeed!--ever heard of storage?

You sound like a utility executive. Un-dispatchable indeed!--ever heard of storage?

From other past comments he claims otherwise. I am just annoyed that he first posts a lecturing comment on the missing precautions needed to avoid the Fuk disaster (yes, we know about 20/20 hindsight) and then he turns around and starts blasting wind power, as if no creative thinking is allowed for wind.

To these people problems can be fixed in hindsight but apparently foresight is very bad!

Fuk disaster (yes, we know about 20/20 hindsight)

Not really Web, in grad school I wrote a paper proposing a design with a core catcher that used a large mass of water to absorb decay heat for the first 2 weeks and a large array of heat pipes to extract heat thereafter, with no additional water, or active systems, or human input required.

It also described containment vent filters for non-condensable gases and a tall vent stack with a flair on top that could burn natural gas or hydrogen to punch any radioactive vent gases deep into an inversion layer on days with an inversion.

Do you have a reference to a publication?

No, that was a term paper written well before the internet.

LOL. One of the entries in my blog (now a section in my book) which is an analysis of the popping of popcorn was plagiarized by some professor at NC State
The dead giveaway is that he left in all my references to oil depletion, which is why I was working on the popcorn analysis in the first place; mathematically they share the same characteristics.

I also resurrected an old term paper that I wrote on telegraph noise and put the analysis as a blog entry and also in the book.

The internet is a wonderful and strange place.


I found the text from my website published as the introduction to someone's publication once--multiple complete sentences -- no editing at all. I then had to make an email to that principle investigator saying, "Your post-doc swiped my language right off my webpage." Very awkward but the post-doc owned up to it and apologized. One of the problems with plagiarism. When it happens to you and involves unpublished webpage items, then you feel like people may perceive that you were the one the committed the act of plagiarism since they published the paper.

Kind of nasty that way the web is.

Right. I am taking a calculated risk on dumping ideas out there. My hope is that they contain my signature "style" whatever that is.

I also have anther story from the early days of the internet, where a student cribbed verbatim another article I had posted on my personal homepage for his term paper. That kind of thing has largely disappeared as profs use the anti-plagiarism software for grading papers. At the time I just laughed it off.

Do you consider Japan to have a "reliable" grid?

These are uniquely bad times for Japan, yet they have scheduled their rotating blackouts so that people can plan ahead.

You cannot do that using an all wind / solar grid with no storage or backup, with or without a 9.0 earthquake.

Yair...Bill Hannahan, you just made a point.

they have scheduled their rotating blackouts so that people can plan ahead.

In a future "powered down" society life will go on... and continueous power will prove to be an unaffordable indulgence.

All that is needed is a intermittant supply. You learn to make hay while the sun shines...and the mill fills the overhead tank when the wind blows. Better get used to it old mate, I have lived like that most of my life.

Hi Scrub,imagine your on the 60th floor of a high rise in Japan and want to go to the ground floor. It is 9:30 and you know the power is going off at 10:00, do you get on the elevator? Yes, but what do you do with a wind/solar grid with no backup?

By the way, you are in a wheelchair.

And now we understand why we have not built the World Trade Center replacements yet. Skyscrapers are worthless ventures -- a vestige from the mid 20th century when fossil energy was in vast surplus per capita.


If you run a skyscraper, then you better figure out how to power your elevators when the lights go out.

Oh and the tenants can pay for the excess power and backup systems, meaning the rent will be sky high ;-)

The rest of us can take the stairs in normal-sized buildings.

See we are just wasting resources. We do not need 25% of the electric power we use. It runs worthless things in the main -- like light bulbs that make 90% heat and only 10% light.

@Oct, How are you doing on those stairs in your wheelchair as Bill mentioned above?

Most people that take elevators are not in wheel chairs. LOL. Do you want me to fact check the numbers from the CDC on that?

People are lazy in the main. Skyscrapers are dead when energy gets costly. Look at the World Trade Center. Too expensive to build a replacement. That was last century and you know it.

Brother, friend, give it up. Nuclear is a limp dead fish. Like the ones swimming near Fukushima.

If it paid out, then it would be self-evident to the masses.

It is not paying out. One accident roaches billions of dollars and other industrial production.

Oh well...

Couldn't respond to my EROI statement and misdirected just as I predicted.

Your sole argument is about grid issues and not EROI, which means you know it to be true that solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biogas etc all have higher EROI than nuclear.

Power storage. Pumped water storage either used to store energy or to do useful work.

You need to pump water anyway to maintain water pressure and do basic agriculture.

Should we use fossil and nuclear to pump water around?

I know you think we should only use fossile and nuclear energy to pump water around. LOL.

Solar can be used to heat and melt salt, which provides a baseload-type power capability.

Solar PV provides peak power when demand is highest.

Perhaps a little more creativity is needed for the people that plan our power grid. There seems to be entrenched interests.

Total energy produced = m*g*h * N
Energy in manufacturing = X
Tell me how high that ratio could go?

Web, the key limit is M*g*h/mc where mc is the annual average maintenance cost and M is the total annual mass pumped.

The same principle would apply to a nuclear plant if you replaced life limited components as needed.

A kWh of reliable dispatchable electricity is worth far more than a kWh of unreliable undispatchable water pumping energy or a lump of coal with 1 kWh of potential heat.

Miniscule maintenance cost that barely registers against the X. I did say it was an old-fashioned Dutch windmill which run for years and years

(m*g*h * N)/(X+mc)

This number could potentially reach 1000 or 10,000 before it starts to level off. Raising water over a potential head day after day is a relentless factor.

Here is another one. Instead of an air conditioner or a fan, open up a window and let the breeze replace the energy generated by electromechanical means. Calculate the EROI on this situation and it will approach some huge number. What you miss is that EROI is related to some expected utility in that you don't use energy unless a human has some application for it.

Web, if they are so great why doesn’t everybody have one in their backyard? Do you have one in your backyard? What % of all the energy that supports your life does it produce?

I do have a window. It works great for bringing in a breeze and has an infinite EROI for its intended use.

We won't know until we exhaust all of our creative possibilities. If you tried to imagine that long ago someone was able to discover a new continent hundreds of miles away based on wind power alone, you might have been labelled a heretic.

Maintenance costs for a wind based system are lower than a nuclear plant. A wind generator is not used up at the end of service life. It may be rewound. The steel structure is not obsolete, it may be reused.

Radioactive steel and concrete are worthless parts from a nuke facility.

Good grief. Radiation alone is killing the service life of nuclear components. Then you have the leaky pipes and other liquid handling components -- why else do we have all these tritium leaks in New England. The stuff is old, corroded, leaky, and in need of repair. So it is looking like nuclear plants are too expensive to maintain, else they would not be leaking radioactivity.

Why else is the technology so expensive and so poor of a return on investment?

AFAIK, O&M costs are about the same, including fuel. Nukes also last 3 times longer, and most nuke material can be reused if desired.

Nuke technology is not expensive and it has great returns on investment - it's just so large-scale and so regulated that very few companies can actually jump the hurdles, take the risk and make it happen. And meanwhile, the public around the world is footing the bill for extreme external costs from coal, and extreme subsidies for renewables. We simply don't have a level playing field.

We simply don't have a level playing field.

Referring specifically to the UK case, may I be the first to say: Non-Fossil Fuels Obligation? Military R+D blank cheque budget? Unknown (and possibly never knowable) write-offs on privatisation? Dungeness? Rescue of British Energy? THORP? I really cannot see how renewable subsidies even approach the cost of these.

Nuclear has only survived in Britain (and elsewhere) due to state support, because the private sector can't stomach the risks, through preferable capial rates, public insurance, as well as all of the above mentioned devices. One of the great joys of being a large scale nuclear operator, as I understand it, is that you are too big to fail - if you look like going under, the state has no option but to back you in the last instance due to the potentially catastrophic consequences of not doing so. Even if you decide to let a nuclear operator fail and no-one picks up the plant, at the very least someone simply has to deal with the back end - and if no-one private wants to bite, it's the state who'll deal with it. Which is the same as saying: in the last instance, the public foots the bill for extreme external costs from nuclear, too, like it has footed the bill for its development.

Certainly there are subsidies for other technologies - miners' pensions and wages for a long time, feed-in tarriffs, the Renewables Obligation, for example. But this is the nature of the beast. Unsurprisingly, in the energy sector the public generally foots the bill for various things as we are dealing with the 'master resource' - it's just too important. Which makes it a political decision what energy system a jurisdiction will have - some jurisdictions will pick different winners to others, and each of these decisions has trade offs, but there is no getting away from the act of picking. If you want a standard grid system with large plant with economies of scale and comparatively low carbon (and the way of life associated with these), nuclear is your tech for baseload - but expect to pay for it.

I'm convinced renewable subsidies are far larger. If not, the reason is that renewables are not yet providing as much power.

Perhaps nuclear needs state support because regulation and taxes are so big, and because alternatives are so subsidized or allowed so large external costs. That's typical politics for you - make regulation and distortions, then fix the symptoms with more politics, and then fix the fixes' symptoms with even more politics, and iterate.

I think we could have a level playing field and a free market in energy. But I guess it won't happen because we can't imagine it.

New nukes today (Georgia Power's two AP1000s) are being offered the same subsidies wind gets PLUS massive additional subsidies. At least double in value what wind gets and arguably quadruple +.

I have cut & pasted several times the Energy Act of 2005 with the myriad subsidies new nukes will get. Not enough though.

Please see the quote I recently posted from Duke Power on this thread. The State of NC MUST approve rate payer financing or it is a No Go.

I think you do not see the financial realities for new nuke power in the USA.

We NEED additional subsidies so we can build at least 5 new nukes (+Watts Bar 2) by 2018/19. And five is, IMHO, the minimum required to rebuild our ability to build new nukes in moderate numbers (say 10 from 2017/18 to 2025/26) and more beyond then.

I would prefer seven new nukes (+ WB 2) built by 2019, with at least one of them being an EPR (to give a choice going forward & avoiding common design risk) .

Best Hopes,


New nukes today (Georgia Power's two AP1000s) are being offered the same subsidies wind gets PLUS massive additional subsidies.

I'm a Swede, and probably don't see it all from here, but what I've gathered is this: US states seem to have created problems with their electricity regulation. You don't seem to have been able to create a common US market, nor separate the natural monopolies of grids from the electricity generation, which would be required to create a healthy competition in generation.

Also, you seem unable to internalize costs of coal and natural gas. So, by regulation and by failure to internalize costs, you have artificially low electricity prices. And this means neither nuclear nor wind can really compete, which is a problem, so it gets subsidised. Also, your regulation seems to keep electricity companies to fragmented and too weak to be able to take the risk of building new nukes, especially since it hasn't been done for a while. This also requires subsidies.

So yes, you need to subsidise nuclear to get it going, and perhaps you need to do it continously. But there's reasons for that. On a level playing field, with internalized costs, in a competitive landscape, I maintain that nuclear would have an easy time.

Yes, deregulation has resulted in a patchwork, but the only new nukes to be built are where regulators will make the ratepayers help finance the plants.

And US utilities are not small.

Southern - 47 GW (building Georgia Power AP1000s)
American Electric Power - 38 GW
Entergy - 30 GW
Exelon - 31 GW, 17 GW nuclear
TVA - 29 GW (finishing Watts Bar 2 & Bellefonte 1)
Luminant - 18 GW
NRG - 24 GW
PPL - 19 GW
Bonneville - 22.5 GW hydro plus other

And other large electric utilities I did not list. All or almost all also include transmission.

Vattenfall would fit neatly into the above list after the recent merger with Nuon.


I surfed to the "about" page of Southern to educate myself a bit. My views were confirmed by language such as this: "Public service commissions determine fair electric rates, oversee what project costs can be recovered (for environmental controls or plant construction), and define the profit margin utilities can make in retail markets."

So, ok, Southern may be non-small in generation (but also seems split in different parts, but I don't know whether this is a problem), but it seems that they have their hands tied behind their backs. 2009, they were allowed a net profit of $1.6 billion. I guess they could save this for 5-10 years and then gamble it on a pair of nukes, or try to borrow the money with questionable liquidity and cash flow. I do understand that nuclear doesn't work out for you, even though a pair of AP-1000 would be just a 5% buildout of capacity for Southern. And this is the largest US utility!? What other large companies can't handle a 5% size increase over five-seven years if they believed that it would be profitable?

By contrast, Swedish Vattenfall (who has business in more countries than Sweden) has had a yearly operating profit of $4-5 billion over the last five years. I would understand if a Swedish company wouldn't have the muscle, but it seems it does...

Some provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.


# it authorizes cost-overrun support of up to $2 billion total for up to six new nuclear power plants;

# it authorizes production tax credit of up to $125 million total a year, estimated at 1.8 US¢/kWh during the first eight years of operation for the first 6.000 MW of capacity,[7] consistent with renewables;

# it authorizes loan guarantees of up to 80% of project cost to be repaid within 30 years or 90% of the project's life [1];

# it authorizes $2.95 billion for R&D and the building of an advanced hydrogen cogeneration reactor at Idaho National Laboratory[2];

# it authorizes 'standby support' for new reactor delays that offset the financial impact of delays beyond the industry's control for the first six reactors, including 100% coverage of the first two plants with up to $500 million each and 50% of the cost of delays for plants three through six with up to $350 million each for [3];

I am not sure if Southern is the largest utility but it is certainly close to being the biggest.

Some utilities are regulated and others unregulated.

Another one is NewEra (formerly Florida Power & Light) - 17 GW with 2.5 GW nuke and 6.6 GW wind (all outside Florida where New Era is an unregulated merchant generator).

That is a substantial investment in wind.


Nuke technology is not expensive and it has great returns on investment


Tell that to TVA and the bondholders of WHOOPS bonds !

Market price for used nukes was *CHEAP*

In 1999, Entergy paid $80 million for the Pilgrim nuclear plant near Plymouth MA.

Vermont Yankee for $180 million in 2001

Entergy and Exelon, the industry leader, spent almost $4 billion to buy 15 nuclear plants. Less than $300 million per plant.

These are arm lengths, market prices for nukes with decades left in them.


Are electricity prices regulated in those states, perhaps? Is the continued operation subject to political risk? I can't really penetrate all market conditions, so let me modify my statement to say that nuclear, all considered, is a low-cost energy generating technology.

When the canceled plants, problem plants (Browns' Ferry) and early retirement plants are considered, the economics of the existing nuke plants are not terrible but not particularly cheap.

Generally speaking, the utilities that avoided building nukes are glad they did.

Just financial reality. And why massive gov't subsidies are required to build the first few new nukes today.


Those two utilities bought 15 out of 104 reactors, and the mix appears skewed towards older reactors.

You can research the list if you like to find more commonalities.


Nuclear is cheap, except ...

Exceptions generally mean ... no it is not cheap. LOL

Please show me then why nuclear is not overtaking coal, and why wind is growing faster by the day.


Actually, every source of energy, for every country, can be given arbitrary costs by regulation, subsidies, internalization/externalization of costs and so on.

What I'm talking about is the levelized energy costs for a non-first-wave of plants, including reasonable (to me, not to you) regulatory burdens, no subsidies but with internalization of external costs for all competing energy sources. In this context, I'm convinced nuclear is the cheapest option for large scale energy production.

In other context, as mentioned, arbitrary costs may apply. For instance, coal is cheaper in many countries due to failure to internalize costs. Wind is cheaper in some places due to failure to internalize costs for mitigating intermittency, and due to subsidies.

And I disagree Jeppen. There is too much controversy and untied loose ends re low dose biological damages, waste (low level, intermediate level and high level) for me to accept your premise. The fact that private industry will not invest in nukes without government largesse in any country in the world you care to think of should provide a clue. This accident should provide a good testbed, if we can get independent entities to do the studies of just of safe or harmful low dose radiation is, especially when accumulated internally to the body by the like of our good friends, the radio nuclides of iodine, caesium, strontium, plutonium etc.

Nuclear plants do not have a history of getting cheaper with production as is the case with other technologies. As we learn more about it, the message is always the same, we have to be more careful which inevitably means more costly provisions to deal with the issues.

There is "controversies" about cellphone radiation and evolution too. But they are unnecessary, because the knowledge is there - the truth is known to a sufficient degree.

The fact that private industry will not invest in nukes without government largesse in any country in the world you care to think of should provide a clue.

As I said, the playing field is not even.

This accident should provide a good testbed,

Certainly, but we don't need it. This is well-researched stuff.

if we can get independent entities to do the studies of just of safe or harmful low dose radiation is

Independent who? As always, you will be able to get whatever results you wish, because everybody and his grandma will do studies of this. Which results will you believe? If you believe academic mainstream, as I said, the answer is already there.

Nuclear plants do not have a history of getting cheaper with production as is the case with other technologies.

Can you demonstrate this? Fundamentally, the AP-1000 is much simpler than old US nukes.

As we learn more about it, the message is always the same, we have to be more careful which inevitably means more costly provisions to deal with the issues.

It's not about learning - it's more about hysteria, media pressure and politicians who play "responsible" with other people's money. Over a certain level of safety, any additional safety will cause more cancers since the alternative, coal, is (not arguably) orders of magnitude worse. We are way past that level.

No argument with anything you have said. I believe it is more than reasonable to expect some changes in plant design/operation to be implemented world wide after this earthquake/tsunami caused nuke plant major accident/disaster, call it what you will.

One big thing that jumped out at me was the cooling needs for a reactor that has been put into the SCRAM mode drop very quickly. They start out at about 200MG of cooling required for a 1000MG generating capacity. By the end of twenty four hours that cooling need is down to 20MG--a reduction by an order of magnitude.

Here is a link to a pdf entitled station blackouts at nuclear plants radiological implications for nuclear war that I got the cooling need info from. The last time I linked it the page came up with an error a couple days later but I was able to google the study's title and get an active link to the file.

I'm no nuclear expert but I've some cost/benefit risk analysis experience. The ongoing mess at Fukushima Daiichi should certainly up the projected cost of not having a sufficiently robust and redundant emergency reactor cooling system that will operate for extended time periods in a SBO situation. The dc backup powers bare essential controls that allow a steam driven turbines to power the cooling pumps-so obviously the system is designed to allow the decay heat the reactors are generating to do the heavy lifting in the cool down--but all systems are only as strong as their weakest link.

There is always a cost tradeoff in design-but seeing what the cost of not have cooling capacity has cost it would seem a robust dc battery actuated cooling system should have at least a full day capacity without needing any additional charging when the nuclear plant suffers a station blackout (SBO)

The ongoing mess at Fukushima Daiichi should, in any credible analysis, certainly up the projected cost of not having a sufficiently robust and redundant emergency reactor cooling system that will operate for extended time periods during a SBO.

Truly. I've been living off the grid since 1982, on PV and backup generator that runs rarely. I've even run a computer software development business and a machine shop off this power source. Sometimes I don't have as much ready electricity as I wish, so I just temporarily don't do things that need a lot. Just as often, I have far more than is easy to use -- time to either fire up some machines, distillers, welders, or just pull the switch. I have had precisely one unplanned power failure in all this time, which lasted 5 whole minutes, and am still using the original PV panels, along with more I've bought since.

This is like living off the worlds largest interruptible power system, and yeah, sometimes the batteries just don't hold enough - but we do have ways of knowing how much there is so we can budget power. It's a design tradeoff, as more batteries not only cost more, but have more self-discharge current. Still, I use very little gasoline, far less than most people use to commute even short distances, and since I run my business out of here, I don't even do that.

Where the entitlement mentality comes from of being able to demand an electrically heated shower at 5 am every single day, rather than a nicer solar heated one whenever that happens to be available I don't know. But clearly most of mankind is way to "entitled" or should I say "vain" to survive in a world where there are real limits.

And no, I didn't get any subsidy. As an engineer, I figured -- if not me, who. I'm not even particularly green philosophically -- just actually. Which is better?

Tried to edit error and got this.

Permission denied
You don't have permission to access the requested content.

Is somebody on a power trip here?

Should read; Today wind and SOLAR depend on free backup from existing hydro and fossil plants, but they are aging and will not last forever.

That's a pretty convenient boundary.

How is the backup power 'Free'? It has to be paid for.. and is 'Solar and Wind' getting paid for those KWH that they don't provide, or in any way credited with that power?

EROIE doesn't work that way. You're counting the energy produced by a given source.. the backup power to satisfy someone's 'Baseload Demands' would throw mud into both ends of the calculation, in that case. Your assumption that none of this counts unless it's handing out '24/7 power' is not uncommon, but that doesn't mean you get to drive the formula with it.

I'm glad you acknowledge that other generating sources won't last forever. This at least lets them be shown as 'intermittent and unreliable' as well, just on a different timescale, and apparently in an unrepeatable performance.

At least the sun'll come out tomorrow.. Or the day after.

look at the time stamps, you can't edit after someone has replied to the posting

I've lived off-grid for 9 years now, all electrical needs provided only by wind and solar power, backed up by lead-acid batteries. Sometimes when it's cloudy and calm for extended periods, I'm forced to prioritize electrical usage, like pumping water is highest, refrigeration lowest. In between there is much flexibility in my needs and habits to adjust to the power available. Virtually every homesite in this area could do the same, for maybe 10% or less of the cost of their existing homes.

The footprint for wind should include the service roads. Also, let's not forget about associated transmission corridors.

Some farmers like the service roads (when they are put in right), because they can get the crop out easier. Thereby taking a little land out of production, but raising the net farm income (and crop production).

If you are worried about footprint, buldoze some chunks of underwater-mortgaged suburbia, put up farms & turbines, and build a skyscraper.

Farmers love the land lease agreements, but they don't like having to steer their equipment around monopoles. They don't need more service roads, they already had all the roads they needed. Also, what makes you think all wind turbines are installed on farms?

If you're worried about the luxuries of living in suburbia, buy yourself a yurt and take yourself back to the stone age.

The tends to rise every day, so can effectively plan around solar power pretty well.

With wind, you can spread the turbines around in a manner such that will almost always be guaranteed power.

These are engineering problems that can be worked and do no require a 100% stand-by back-up.

Those fossil fuels . . . the prices will get more expensive over time and they will run out someday. You should thank people willing to pay higher prices for the clean power since they are funding the R & D for the power that your descendants will use.

New nukes have come to a screeching halt in China.

And they are at a crawl in the USA.


This is early days yet, all we have right now, is political reflex 'Check Nuclear', with no real brief on WHAT to check.

Once the details emerge, and the new standards are applied, then the new prices and new lead-times will be calculated, as will the retrofit costs.
Look also for liberal coatings of spin, over what retrofit fixes are needed.

Price was already a BIG Problem for Nuclear plants in the West, this has given that a boost. (even ignoring politics)

Yair...not picking on you 1smartass but this seems to be a questionable comment...

So can a nuclear power plant, however unlike renewables, it can provide reliable power with far less of a footprint, less resources, and the need to be backed by fossils.

Could any one direct me to a study that shows the true cost of nuclear power...including disposing/storing spent fuel untill it is safe and decommissionig the plant after its useful life time.

I am not completely anti-nuclear but believe it is a temporary transition technology untill such time as we realise that a power down is inevitable and adopt wind and solar in a meaningful way.

In a country such as Australia I believe a latest generation nuclear facility could become our "Niagra Falls" to allow the continued maintainance and build out of a completely seperate renewables based grid...unlikely to happen though.

Nuclear power is not that reliable either. It is prone to common mode failures.


"- surely renewables can be earthquake-proofed, "

.. and even if it can't, the results wouldn't be what we're seeing. We'd have been delivering food, blankets and water to that Dockside for the last 4 days..

But the 'hopelessly diffuse' offerings of Solar Panels, both Heat and Electric, with a little reconnecting- can be propped up against a pile of rubble and start charging batteries and heating some water, as soon as you can stand up.

There are simple ways of using 'glass and mirrors' (bottles and tinfoil, etc..) to sterilize and distill water, to desalinate. You can cook and get some heat.. But it's pretty much necessary to have the pieces ready BEFORE the crisis. It's a lot harder after hell has already broken loose.

Two conflicting responses almost immediately :)

Useful link for anyone that hasn't seen it - under construction, 'planned' and 'proposed' reactors worldwide http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/reactors.html

South Korea and France have also committed to carry on ( http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_business/468327.html and see in article below)

"White House stands by its policy but with a note of caution" http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i4QUOP_E7SDbSoyUZflXR...

India orders safety checks in the above as well.

South Korea and France have also committed to carry on

Not quite. This from the French PM.
{ Of course, even Japan would fail this export test, which is itself rather catch-22, and so would exclude France form ever selling the first reactor to a country }

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon tells France 2 television: "We will only export nuclear reactors to countries that have reached a level of development and handling of the technology and who have capacity to cope with crises like the one we are witnessing."

Most of these present 'Nuclear Check' responses are PR fluff, as they don't yet know what they are 'checking' !! - the real impact will be after the train-wreck-analysis is complete, and they find fundamental flaws.
Note disaster impacts do not all have to come from nature.

In my defence, that's exports of French tech rather than domestic orders. I'm not sure how much that statement is a practical change from current policy and the treaties they are party to, to be perfectly honest.

"disaster impacts do not all have to come from nature"

"The building broke!"
"-We can rebuild it. Give us a hand.-"
"The ocean broke over it!"
"-Grieve our losses. Things will dry.-"
"The reactors broke!"
"-...Run Away! Run 20 miles Away! 50! Run far away to another country!-"

The human's accident poisoned everything for everybody for ever.

I guess that's the difference.

Yes. I don't see the basis for the criticism here. You weren't discuiing things that depend upon tchnical knowledge. What you said is almost certain to come to pass. The only question is to what degree. It was already exceedingly difficult to get new Nukes approved and construction started -and even then there weren't enough to make up for planned retirement of old ones. Now, some places will kneejerk shutdown older plants, like Germany. Ot re-evaluate and delay almost finished ones (China). But there will be huge opposition to lifetime extensions of older plants (and even calls to shut then before the planned license expiration date). So the supply situation has gotten quite a bit worse than it looked as recently as a week ago.

Dr Mearns IS speaking within the area of his expertise there I believe.

Euan, the source of the picture at the top of your post is: http://www.digitalglobe.com/

And I have a question:
Even if the Japanese can stabilize the plant and rebuild a cooling system, will they have to cool this unproductive rubble heap FOREVER?

In the ordinary course of events, spent fuel is transferred from pools to dry cask storage after ten years or so.

See my link to wikipedia on decay heat elsewhere in this thread.

Ten or more years is a long time, but not forever.

However, the geometry of the spent fuel in place may be less than ideal and dry storage in place may take longer here.



Can all this stay "exposed" like it is for 10 years or will some structure have to be built around these or what is your take, long term (next 10 years), that is if the whole thing doesn't just melt away?

I can see a need here for remote control heavy equipment (dozers, helicopters)... or a lot of people who aren't scared of radiation.

Ionizing radiation makes electronics fail. The soldiers used to work at Chernobyl were called bio robots. Most of them are still alive today. It was mostly folks that were present at the time of the disaster and first responders that died from radiation exposure.

Yet, we can put all the sensoring and computing away away from radiation, and control the actuators by wires or radio. Power electronics and radio receptors can be made imune to radiation quite easily.

Ok, you can't put sensoring very far. Most sensors can also be made imune, but video can't and it is very important. I guess one'd need some throw away cameras, that could be kept there for a while, and then replaced.

Thanks Alan, I was thinking of the considerable energy costs of cooling a non-productive site for (a) decade(s), apart from the risks involved.
But your answer is only covering the spent fuel. Inside the other reactors are live rods that will take longer to go inactive, I suppose.
If the site stays a no-go area for years by high radiation levels, it will be hard and costly to cool, isn't it?

Fresh fuel (say loaded and restarted the day before) will require almost no cooling. Fresh fuel is just concentrated uranium from rocks (and then enriched ratio of U235) (except for MOx in Reactor #3).

Fresh fuel is barely warm to the touch (through thick gloves).

Fuel being burned develops increased %s of fission by-products (half lives typically from seconds to hundreds of thousands of years) and the daughter products as the fission by-products decay.

See the wikipedia article on decay heat. 6.5% of all reactor heat comes from decay. This declines by 99% in 2.4 hours and then starts to level out after that.

Also, uranium (238 & 235) absorbs neutrons and these decay into several new series of daughter products.

Bottom line, the newer the fuel the better long term, with spent fuel being the worst for generating long term heat.

Spent fuel from Reactor #4 has a 3 month head start in decay over #1, #2 and #3, but active fuel in #2 and #3 are not as "burnt up" as spent fuel.

#1 was two weeks from final shutdown and it's fuel should be almost spent (one would assume).

I can only make uninformed speculation about the issues of cooling spent fuel in situ on site long term.

Hope that helps,


#1 was two weeks from final shutdown and it's fuel should be almost spent (one would assume).

Wikipedia says otherwise

Unit 1 is a 460 MW boiling water reactor (BWR-3) constructed in July 1967. It commenced commercial electrical production on March 26, 1971, and was initially scheduled for shutdown in early 2011.[10] In February 2011, Japanese regulators granted an extension of ten years for the continued operation of the reactor.[11]

Oops, I missed the last minute (February 2011) reprieve.

However, given the late date of the extension, it is reasonable to suppose that economic optimization would result in #1 being full of almost spent fuel today.

Although other factors (scheduling, Tokyo Electric knowing that a life extension would be granted) may make the above assumption invalid.


I've held unused nuclear fuel in my hand. They sent it around when we had a field day. We were school kids. "Totally harmless" the nuclear engineer told us. Then he went on telling us, if they packed a buss full of people, placed one used pellet on the ground, started the buss from 400 meter and drove at 90 km/h towards it, they would all be dead before arrivial. Never forgot it.

But the unused pellets were as inactive as the raw material in nature.

Not forever. I guess at some point they try and build a concrete sarcophagus like they did at Chernobyl - well at least 4 sarcophaguses. I imagine they will be tending this site, spending vast amounts of Yen (they don't have) for at least a decade.

I've seen those glass cloches that you put over plants during early spring to keep them warmer. What we need is about 4 of them, a little bigger then these buildings made of steel and lead? and then topped with concrete.

Gov Cuomo calls for closing Indian Point
Euan it seems that if not "democracies" at least Democrats "faith in the safety of nuclear power" has been shattered. NY Governor calls for shutting down nuclear plant just north of NYC.


I wouldn't be surprised to hear Jerry Brown calling for the closure of Diablo Canyon in California. He could virtually guarantee a 'yes' vote on his special iniitative to raise taxes, coming in June, especially if he actually accomplished its closure, under some emergency safety declaration or whatever a governor has power to do.

He could revoke Diablo Canyon's collective bargaining rights

The Smithsonian Museum (a very large state sponsored museum in the United States that displays things like moon landers etc) has an web article on the Three Mile Island disaster.

Here is a diagram showing how the zirconium cladding failed and the fuel rods crumbled (as described by Donshan above). Excellent detail of the inside of the reactor pressure vessels.


The next page discusses that despite dropping 20 tons of fuel rod material onto the pressure vessel floor it did not melt through (though there was damage).

Perhaps this is the real issue the Japanese are trying to handle. They have not hope of stopping meltdown, that has already occurred (just before the hydrogen explosions) they are just trying to keep the pressure vessels from melting through or go critical (perhaps because coolant was still present).

We can imagine that if the fuel stored outside of the containment in the cooling ponds also crumbled, then it would prevent reconstruction of the secondary containment structure. I think we will see some very fascinating robots developed in the next decade.

nice pics, but the text is off in a spot.


Wednesday, March 28, 1979, 4:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

4:00 a.m. Operators trying to unclog some piping in the secondary (steam generating) water circulation system accidentally block the flow of water, stopping removal of heat from the reactor.

Argh - operators were trying to unclog a block in the condensate polishing system,
a sub-branch of the secondary water loop. They were using "shop" compressed air to "fluff" water treating beads. Apparently (as had happened BEFORE), a slug of water got into the compressed air lines, and made its way to the "instrument" air (either as a slug of liquid water or condensation).

Meanwhile, due to a shortage of "instrument" compressed air (which runs valves, sensors, etc. for control), the "instrument" air was cross connected to the "shop" air, since management was too cheap (sound familiar?) to buy another instrument air compressor (what? $10K maybe).

The slug of water apparently caused the condensate to polisher pump to trip off, which caused the main feed water pumps to shut off. An auxiliary feedwater pump came on, but the operators had left the blocking valve closed, so it was ineffective. Without suction from the condensor, the vacuum was lost, the turbine tripped off, shutting down the steam, which is why normal heat removal from the reactor stopped.

The rest of their story seems reasonably correct.

I can't get how anybody in the regulatory agencies would have allow a cross-connect of instrument and shop air, though the nuke industry has fought to limit "safety critical" systems to just the reactor. This is bullshit, nearly anything at a nuclear power plant can cause a cascade of troubles.

They knew that water from shop air was getting into instrument air and had caused issued before.
They knew that the Pilot Operated Relief Valve had stuck open.

While hypothetically I'm semi pro-nuke, the industry management seems to be about as arrogant as it's possible to be.
"pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall"
Unless there's a real meaningful acceptance of responsibility and change, I can no longer support nuclear power.
Why do we keep playing with light water once thru or sodium cooled nonsense. Either get on with molten salt liquid fuel thorium breeders, or just coast to a halt and be done with it.

Then there's this kind of stuff with the Japanese nuke industry...
Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents

I cannot believe that people would site a plant so low near one of the world's worse earthquake/tsunami zones.

If you look at this image

You can see the steep cuts into the side of the site (like the road ramping down to the right of the middle), meaning it is built on pretty hard rock (good), but they cut away massive amounts of rock to lower the plant site.
The building at middle bottom looks like its floor is at or above the roof of reactor #1.

Why would one go down so far?
A 5.5 meter tsunami is just moderate.
At the edge of a subduction zone, one ought to plan for magnitude 9 quakes (max what's physically possible), and max possible tsunami - I wouldn't feel any safe at anything less than 10 meters, and would want 20 or more - they had it, and literally threw it away.

"I can't get how anybody in the regulatory agencies would have allow a cross-connect of instrument and shop air,"

At a mine I used to work at the plant (shop) air and instrument air were also cross-connected, or at least could be. This often did cause trouble.

At the chemical plant I work at now, plant air is not connected to instrument air, but plant nitrogen is. This keeps water out, but is not risk free either. If the N2 back up goes certain areas have to be evacuated at least until LEL monitors can get set up (all the N2 coming out the valve positioners could build up), and there is also a risk that liquid N2 from the back up tanks could get sucked into the lines. Not only would this work no better than water, the boiling liquid could overpressure the lines and the extreme cold could shatter the steel instrument air piping.

There is no perfect solution. Pick your solution, and the consequences, and go from there.

Nothings perfect - but it's just insane to cross connect instrument air and shop air.
I was going to say it's hard to believe you could get liquid out of the gas outlet of a big dewar, but don't know your system, and an overzealous/distracted LN2 tank truck driver could do just that. Guess life's a mess.

How expensive are air compressors anyway - compared to any plant with air actuated valves, etc.?

Need X amount of instrument air?
Get three X/2 capacity instrument air compressors, four if you're really paranoid.
Need backup over power outages?
get a UPS good for 2 compressors and 30 minutes to an hour, a diesel backup electrical generator, and a diesel backup air compressor.

TEPCO destroyed Billions of plant due to poor siteing.

TMI #2 was destroyed due to too cheap to spend $10K on another air compressor.
Cost of cleanup was about $1 Billion, cost of lost capital and buying replacement power off the grid: "enormous".
All for lack of a $10K air compressor.
Like what - a nuclear power plant didn't produce enough electricity to run an extra air compressor?

"Why would one go down so far?"

Cost. Even if you get electricity at the cost of production, it takes a lot of energy to pump the tens of thousands of gpm condenser water from the ocean up the hill, plus the increased cost of higher pressure pumps. Every kw-hr you save in production, you can sell to the consumer.

In a sealed system, wouldn't the weight of water travelling downwards draw the water upwards on the other side with almost no excess energy need? So why not build the heat exchanger on sea level? You can build the plant on 100m or higher, it doesn't matter at all..

You can only siphon to the height of vacuum, so after a few meters you'd need a different mechanism, but you could certainly come up with many solutions with at least moderate efficiency.

Probably a dumb question, but could we/Japan use that big bluff as the pivot point of a giant bendy straw to deposit water to the reactor buildings?

And yes I do realize that I'm suggesting an insanely big/long straw (~150m?)...and that pumping water up that high is not optimally efficient, but could it be done?

Alternately, seems like a ship with a massive water cannon (or set of them) could? shoot water directly from the sea...?

I think a construction crane with a hose would be a better choice. Pretty sure the large cement pumper trucks go almost 5 stories. How long does it take to put in place a 100' crane? A few days maybe?

Edit: Like this

High Reach Telescopic Hydraulic Cranes. We launched a new crane concept in 2007 for heavy lifts that require a high reach, but with minimal ground space and greatly reduced erection time. The GTK 1100 is a high reach telescopic hydraulic crane that can lift a 77 ton load up to 394 feet, only requires about six hours to erect and is based on a combination of mobile crane and tower crane technology.

I think the cement pumper trucks might have difficulty with water, too thin but there may be ones with different pumps to the ones I've used. Bringing in heavy equipment may be an issues with broken roads and bridges. 6 hours is probably way too long for radiation exposure. Craning a hose up does sound like a good idea though.


I am truly amazed at how bad and unsafe BWR (boiling water reactor) and cooling pond designs are.

Both the reactor and the cooling ponds are heat engines, which can drive pumps, which can pump cooling water through heat exchangers in the event that electrical power goes off. (Waiter, waiter, pecolator.) But noooo, they depend instead on electrical power.

Can you say brain dead? I knew you could.

On a different tack, I think that workers are going to have to volunteer to die in order to make things safe. I suggest that they sign up to have their families well compensated before they give up their lives.

And as has been suggested, they may have to volunteer to die forever to keep the next set of plants at Daini from melting down.

As the first plume of radioactivity wafts over the US tomorrow, I hope everyone will reflect on the fact that nuclear power anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.

>As the first plume of radioactivity wafts over the US tomorrow

It might end up giving us all a dose of radiation equivalent to a banana. The horror!

The nuclear lobby folks are bananas if they think they can strut around town with that argument. LOL.
I'd say it is a loser.

Lack of nuclear power is a much bigger threat.

Here's hoping that your view will not prevail and politician will make sensible long term decisions. However, I fear the result of this will be for millions to die because we stopped building new nuclear plants.

However, I fear the result of this will be for millions to die because we stopped building new nuclear plants.

Maybe billions because of serious AGW! It's sad we are so compfortable now that we cannot stand the loss of - eventuelly - some 100 people to a 60s' nuke design anymore. In the early days of the industrial revolution pressured-steam engines got blown to the air every week or so - killing often hundreds of people. I know some may say "good if we didn't build them anymore" - and had returned to some kind of pre-industial lifestyle. I'm not so shure in the "back to nature" is really desirable. Life expentancy about 30, 1 child out of 3-4 survives till adolescence, no books, superstition, the right of the strongest (and often unscrupulousest). I know for those who die eventually in Japan (and theire beloved) this is hard to stand, but nevertheless the design can be upgraded in the future. But it will not. I get crazy when i see which way my one nation has gone (Germany).

I think our whole western society tolerates fewer wnd fewer hardships and risks. But no risk - no outcome. There is no fire in the eyes of a westener anymore. We are aging and dying in agony.

So we will get what we deserve - indeed a Darwin world (and pariarchate) again under unpredictable circumstances because of AGW, resource depletion,..., and righly so!

Yeah so you are giving the going-back-to-caves argument.

Nuclear Lobbyists have two lame arguments. Nuclear waste is like bananas and without bananas then we are cavemen.

I love these false choices. LMAO. How stupid are we do you reckon?

"Either stand behind nuclear or go back to your cave, you primordial moron." Terrible argument. It is first off offensive. Second it ignores real things that ought to be done. Improving efficiency, population control, extending renewables, solar and wind and geothermal. Also if we must build nukes, then at least deign them to survive failure and DEAL with the waste storage problem like responsible adults.

Maybe you see my points.

"I suggest that they sign up to have their families well compensated before they give up their lives."

I was just wondering what $/hr rate (or Yen/hr) would be reasonable compensation to "renegotiate" with the nuclear industry/WS financiers given the existing situation--assuming of course that those workers weren't doing this entirely for duty/honor/love of country etc.? (i.e. if your replaced the workers moral sense with that of a WS banker)

The owners can agree to anything and then back-out later.
(i.e. if your replaced the owner's moral sense with that of a Wisconsin polititian)

demand each hourly payment up front then!

The owners can agree to anything and then back-out later.
(i.e. if your replaced the owner's moral sense with that of a[ny] Wisconsin politician)

Actually at least two of the emergency cooling systems for most BWRs are designed to use steam power from the decay heat to run the coolant pumps. These control systems can be operated with battery or emergency power. Unfortunately the main emergency cooling system requires that the saltwater cooling system for the condensers be operational and that was also knocked out presumably by the tsunami.

There hasn't been a lot of discussion about the problems stemming from the failure of the salt water cooling system but I think it significant. Several emergency systems use the salt water cooled condensers to remove heat and most of the other emergency systems use the suppression water in the torus as a heat sink. But that water will heat up quickly and another system designed to cool the suppression water is also unable to function due to the loss of salt water circulation.

The problem of where to dump massive amounts of heat is critical and I assume they are just venting steam or letting the sea water they are injecting into the reactor vessels run back to the ocean. If so it would seem that there could be some substantial contamination of the sea water and sea bed from particles being released when the zirconium fuel tubes disintegrate. Again, haven't heard anything about possible seawater contamination.

Doing some VERY rough calculations it looks like Unit 1 would have been producing about 75MW of thermal power immediately after shut down, that would reduce to about 20MW in the first hour while systems were still functional, before the tsunami.

After a day there is still probably about 8MG of heat energy dropping to 7MW on the 2nd day, 5MW after a week and 2.5MW after a month.

This is based on Unit 1 producing 1,380 MW thermal and 460MW electric when operating. It will vary widely depending on actual fuel composition and the age of the fuel. Spent fuel will produce more decay heat than new fuel. And Unit 1 was scheduled to shut down for refurbishment in a couple weeks.

Units 2, 3 &4 were rated for 60% higher output than Unit 1, so theoretically Units 2 & 3 may be producing even more heat maybe 25MW from the three units even today.

Corrections welcomed - especially as I really don't like these numbers.

shelburn, I ran the same numbers days ago but without accurate knowledge of the 3x thermal multiplier. The heat should still be enough to vaporize a few kg per second of water, so with controlled flow you could choose to have water pollution or air pollution. Personally, I would worry about the buildup of salts and sediment from the vaporized water over time, but that's a small worry compared to getting power out for the next few weeks.

Both the reactor and the cooling ponds are heat engines, which can drive pumps, which can pump cooling water through heat exchangers in the event that electrical power goes off. (Waiter, waiter, percolator.) But noooo, they depend instead on electrical power.

Hence the reason your ideas have LONG been incorporated in generation III designs. But those haven't been "approved" by the NRC after 20 years, so let's keep looking at old designs and complaining about what isn't there rather than admit much of the problem stems from lack of political will to actually FIX the problem.

On another thread days ago I compared today's automobiles and their safety features with those built 40 years ago as these plants were. There truly is no comparison. There are darn good reasons owners with "classic" cars only take them out on perfect sunny days (and it ain't just to protect the wax job). Unfortunately for these nuclear "cars" 3/11 was anything but. Now imagine that all these improvements to our car designs just stayed on the drawing boards, that no new car designs were ever built? To carry the analogy further, imagine there were some commission hosted of course by Ralph Nader and for every new design and feature they would say, "but can you GUARANTEE this new car design can NEVER get in a wreck"? A perfect scenario to ensure that no progress is ever made. :(

In a similar vein I posted the other day that when Fukushima was first commissioned the Datsun 240Z was the new man of moderate means sports car. Now Japan has moved beyond moderate means and could afford something a little higher end, say a Nissan GTR. A side by side or those two rigs might be instructional.

I hate to ask but I have been looking everywhere. What was the mass of the rods/nuclear materials that were involved in the Cernobyl incident. I have looked all over Wiki and I just cannot find it. Help please.

Last night, Rachel Maddow had the numbers for Chernobyl (about 180 tons from memory) plus active fuel and spent fuel for all six reactors.

No data on common spent fuel pool.

Check MSNBC site.


Usually I don't care much for the MSNBC commentators - too liberal for me (Fox is way to reactionary, conservative and just untruthful - leaving me little to watch) but Maddow has had by far the best technical presentation of all MSM for the last two evenings and she has presented the problems and risks in a reasonable manner without the fear mongering so common on MSM.

Maddow is the best. Even a conservative should be able to appreciate the fact that she is extremely bright and precise when presenting an issue, even a highly technical issue like nuclear power.

Having said that, I have yet to read or hear anything which really has led me to understand the true impact of a full meltdown.

I watch her often. She is about the only commentator (on either side) who I can watch without getting mad at the hyperbole and spin. She presents her facts accurately and then does her political take, often with the disclaimer that she is highly biased to the liberal side.

So even while I often disagree with her I appreciate the professionalism and she has even managed to convert me a few times.

I consider my self a moderate conservative. I was a lifelong Republican but I have trouble even recognizing the Republican party in its current mode.

Maddow rubs me the wrong way, a little "know it all."

Olbermann was the only news guy on TV worth watching, but even I tired of his mostly slavish devotion to Obama.

I now have no particular reason to watch TV news (and a million reasons not to), and therefore, I don't.

Since giving it up and relying solely on the internet and blogosphere, I find myself much better informed, my mental constitution has improved, and I have increasing confidence that I can navigate these times with some degree of sanity and success.

re: Lifelong..

"Mister, you lived here all your life?"

"Not yet."

Theoretical maximum loadout of U235 for Tsjernobyl 4 was 3803.69 kg of U235. I arrievd at this in the the following way:
Though not always a fan of wikipedia but the article on Tsjernobyl's RBMK seems to be reasonably well sourced. According to this article at the time of the disaster reactor 4 had 1661 fuel channels.
Each fuel channel was filled by a fuel element. Each element contained 114.7 kg of uranium at an enrichment level of 2%. So a new fuel element contained 2,29 kg of U235. Maximum loadout of Tsjernobyl 4 was 3803,69 kg of U235.
Bu there's a snag: RBMK channels could be fuelled and de-fuelled without shutting down the reactor an thi was happening all the time. RBMK's were developed from plutonium factory piles rather than from submarine drives. I haven't found good data on the average age of the elements in Tsjernobyl 4 yet.

No plutonium @ Chrenobyl? Capable but not present? It was a converted breeder, no? I just got lost again.

I think you're not lost. I think we're almost there. The fuel rods contained U238 and U235 when they were 'fresh'. Once the chain reaction started they would be producing Pu239 from the U238 through neutron capture. What we need to know is how much U235 had been 'burned' and what the neutron capture rate was for the U238. I don't have the time right now to dive into this but I think you will find your answer in the sources mention under the RBMK article on wikipedia. I'm also quite sure we have had this discussion on the 'Drum before so a site search may be helpful.

Ah so, older is more Pu, is worse then, no?

The world burns 60 000 tons (metric) of fuel a year. One load sits inside the rectorfor about 2 years. Now you only need to find the number of reactors in the world to get the average. If Cernobyl is close toaverage, you have your number. But I don't know that.

I haven't been able to get clear on one issue: Are there (or were there) spent fuel rods in spent fuel pools in the #1, #2, and #3 reactor buildings, as in #4? I would ordinarily presume the answer is no, but I have not heard anyone here or anywhere else specifically indicate that there were no fuel rods in storage in those buildings.

I was asking about Chernobyl. For Fukushima, http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/accidents/6-1_powerpoint.pdf

Thank you TinFoilHatGuy, very much, for the link. Very interesting. Possibly very disturbing. Am I correct in my understanding of Slide 9: "Storage Status of spent fuel (as of Mar. 2010) (Assemblies)" "Spent fuel pool at each reactor unit" "3,450", to mean there were 3,450 spent fuel rod assemblies stored at each reactor as of one year ago?

If so, it's hard to fathom why no one has asked or reported the current status of the spent fuel assemblies that were in the reactor buildings that blew up. So I have to ask, "Excuse me, but were 10,000 fuel rods vaporized?"

It is an interesting experiment, yes?
I don't think anyone has ever done this thing before...
Gathering so much reacting material together into a heap.
"But it is in the form of an oxide: it is refractory."
Is the expert response: "It can't melt and run and pool."
But such a mountain can still get excited? Like the rising radiation
before criticality when "Tickling the Dragon"?
An interesting experiment...


From this article:

At Fukushima each reactor has between 60 and 83 tons of spent fuel rods stored next to them. Vermont Yankee has a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods on site.

I believe I read elsewhere today that there is an additional large pool of spent fuel rods store near reactor #4, outside the reactor enclosure, but I can't find the link just now -- does someone have information on this?

EDIT: The missing link is here at the NY Times.

Here is an article discussing the spent-fuel storage arrangements at Fukushima Dai-ishi in detail.

I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy of this information. Below is one of several charts and diagrams in the linked article.

"This provides a further hazard since Pu is one of the most toxic substances known to man in addition to being radioactive."

It's not true: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium#Toxicity

"Based on chemical toxicity alone, the element is less dangerous than arsenic or cyanide and about the same as caffeine.[86][87]"

Plutonium is a heavy metal and is indeed toxic, but it is not much more toxic than uranium or lead, for example.

I have read that there is no MOX fuel stored in any spent fuel pools. It is thought that all MOX fuel is in reactor 3 (loaded Sept. 2010). Does anyone know if the storage pools, all of them, are free of MOX rods?

Danger of Spent Fuel Outweighs Reactor Threat

At Daiichi, each assembly has either 64 large fuel rods or 81 slightly smaller fuel rods, depending on the vendor who supplied it. A typical fuel rod assembly has a total of roughly 380 pounds of uranium.

According to Tokyo Electric, 32 of the 514 fuel rod assemblies in the storage pond at reactor No. 3 contain mox.


Using the assembly count above, that is 6 million pounds of fuel!

I get 195,320 pounds. 380 pounds/fuel rod assembly (not fuel rod) * 514 fuel rod assemblies.

My number was for the entire site, not just that reactor, but why does the 500 number not match the much larger average pool number up-thread, unless it has only recently started operations? 500 is barely one reactor load, right?

Edit: For the 15K assembly storage capacity. The chart says 10K units are on site, which would be less than 4M lbs of fuel total. A much smaller fraction in a reactor pool would of course be much less, but in any case that is a heck of a lot of material that requires active cooling.

"Plutonium is a heavy metal and is indeed toxic, but it is not much more toxic than uranium or lead, for example."

*sings* Yummy, yummy, yummy in my tummy, tummy, tummy.

Not according to OSHA.

First standards (early 1970s) for Pu were half that of Beryllium (VERY nasty) and got progressively more so till ZERO Pu exposure is allowed.





Maybe you are right. This is something I was taught decades ago. Checking out this source it says Pu is an extreme radiological poison - different to chemical toxicity - I'll delete the sentence.

Does metallic plutonium float on the liquid like ice on water? Weird.

Pu (239) is more dense than lead. Probably won't float on normal water.

On liquid plutonium. Yes, I am glad it sinks or it might be floating off, LOL ;) You got me.

Oops, maybe I should read more carefully and consider context. ;-) But you know water is almost unique in nature because its solid form expands somewhat as it gets colder. At least it does in the range of temperatures we experience on earth. Perhaps it works differently at extremely cold temperatures or high pressures.

Anyway, plutonium being a more conventional metal, and not a polar molecule, is unlikely do do that.

Plutonium is not nature right? No natural source been found yet, even extraterrestrially, no?
Unlike most materials, plutonium increases in density when it melts, by 2.5%, but the liquid metal exhibits a linear decrease in density with temperature.[9] Near the melting point, the liquid plutonium has also very high viscosity and surface tension as compared to other metals.[10]

wow. not in your normal experience, you might say.

Plutonium is not nature right? No natural source been found yet, even extraterrestrially, no?

It would be extremely odd if the supernova detonations that happen in supernovas stop at Uranaium. In fact I'd bet a lot of short lived elements/isotopes that man hasn't been able to create get made. But, none of them last very long, so they are essentially nonexistent on planets.
Of course some fission happens in natural deposits. One African deposit is depleted in U235 because it was a low grade natural reactor about a billion years ago. That should have been a lot more common in the early earth (as U235 concentration goes down with time due to decay).

But, the whole natural=good, unnatural=bad thing is a canard.

Interestingly, as an enlisted grunt during WW2, my dad worked on physical chemistry of plutonium. (Was not told what the projects goals were until after the bombs were dropped.) He claims they had a bunch of people get together informally (and illegally) comparing notes, and they guessed the nature of the project.

But, the whole natural=good, unnatural=bad thing is a canard.
Perhaps but anecdotal evidence compels me to believe natural means belongs to Nature's system so that the death or conversion of that system or object to the next state is inherent in the design. The inorganic holds to no such rule, at least in the middle time scale of beyond lifetime but not geologic or stellar. Such as applies to Fukushima maybe?

Natural Radon can give you cancer.


And you naturally rot and the Radon escapes, not to kill again.

Trace amounts of plutonium have been found in the remains of a natural nuclear reactor in Gabon.



There are very small amounts of Plutonium found in nature. As Alan mentions below the natural reactors contain some but anywhere there is Uranium, Plutonium can be generated. ISTR some primordial Plutonium may exist but you would need to look very carefully. It is nature but so long after the supernova that created out elements there is very little original material about.


Note that:

a) this is from wiki so should be taken with a grain of..NaCl

b) it specifically say "chemical toxicity"--with Pu, people are not worried primarily about chemical toxicity, they are worried about radiation poisoning. There are no serious suggestions that Pu does not emit dangerous radiation, especially if it gets into the bloodstream (which, thankfully, it does not do very readily, iirc).

But this is just splitting hairs on what toxic is defined as.

Scientists that work on Pu have their mail read by the FBI.

Pu research is limited to the University of California/LBNL and Auburn (oddly).

Why might that be? Cause it is nasty nasty nasty material.

For reference:

LD-50 values (lethal does for 50% per kg of body weight)

anthrax spores 8000 colony forming units (I do not know the weight of a spore or cfu -- but it is lightweight)
Botulinum toxin 300x10^-12 g
Pu-238 1x10^-6 g (if inhaled)
Ricin toxin 22x10^-6 g
mercury 1x10^-3 g
Cyanide 1x10^-3 g

One can place Pu in with the real nasty biological weapons. So that is why it is very heavily regulated and everyone knows it too.

I can buy uranium for research purposes. I cannot buy plutonium. Ask yourself why.

Pu-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years.

So certain types of Pu contamination are permanent.

Plutonium is more toxic than caffeine. That analysis is fully bogus and refuted. LOL.

Ld50 for caffeine is 13 g.

Far less than 13 g of plutonium would be lethal.

The dose in Sv for each Bq of Pu-239 ingested is 1*10^-7 Sv/Bq.

13 grams of Pu239 is 3x10^10 Bq.

Ingesting the Pu should give a dose of 3*10^3 Sv

That is assuming it takes around 48 hours to poop if you ever get too!

LOL. Bogus bogus bogus.

It's a silly distinction between chemical and radiational poison potential.

Who cares if chemically it is no more poison than caffeine if one atom of it can give you cancer?

This is a good example of how information can equal dis-information.


Yep, if your caffeine is radioactive it can be a whole lot worse;)


Here is the radiation exposure at Fukushima if I didn't made mistakes:

The data was taken from there:


Fascinating Sam. Why the evenly spaced pulses? And you have to be concerned by the rising baseline.

Steam releases as the pressure in the containment system built up? Or rod debris collecting, going critical, and then getting blown apart again? (hopefully the former!)

Maybe they correspond to venting/explosion events but also the measurements are not taken at the same location:

Google translation

The New York Times has a similar chart:

Actually looking more closely you can see that the timing was becoming more frequent and intensity higher until the last spike which is a bit delayed but of longer duration. Is this coming from Unit 2, ruptured expansion chamber?

It certainly is most consistent with a single source which is very puzzling since I thought radiation was spewing out of 3 and 4 fuel storage pools. Above the reactors we have a continuous stream of radiation going upwards that has impacted helicopter flights. I'm guessing these measurements are just part of the story.

How you convert a Japanese table into a chart?

There is a big difference between locations, the location called "Portal" (正門) has the highest radiation levels. Looking at the last report, this location disappeared:

March 17

For the conversion, I used Google translate (see above), captured the html table, then created a xls file.

If you throw a whole load of water at a radioactive pool you are going to shed radiation. If you throw water on a very hot metal object you will get a steam. If there is radiation about the that steam will distribute it. In other words, no surprise.


There doesn't seem to be a baseline, at least until the second to last pulse. The line seems headed into zero. Then the second to last pulse was too hight, and too fastly followed by the last one so there isn't a clear trend.

here is a corrected chart:

This appears to be a "periodic function" with a consistent time domain.

Might it be that cooling cannot be done well in the dark or something to that effect?

This appears to be a "periodic function" with a consistent time domain.

If boiling was happening at a constant rate, you release at the same pressure down to again the same (lower) pressure, one would expect it to be periodic. Wait for it to fill up, dump, rinse repeat.

Yeah a boil-off seems right for periodicity.

The cumulative radiation is also looking exponential growth.

Scary that perhaps these figures are off by some factor if the wind is blowing away from detectors.

Are they working 12 Hr shifts? :)


Since they don't have a way to circulate through a cooling loop, they cannot condense the steam. I am guessing the steam builds up until some safety valve releases it. The steam carries fragments of crumbled fuel rods up and out. The fragments would explain the spike and the slowly rising baseline level. More and more radioactive material scattered.

If all the fuel had been in the reactor core, I think they could have dealt with it by restarting the cooling loop. The steam would flow down into the torus and condense. The radioactive material would be trapped there. But I wonder if / how the storage ponds are cooled?

These readings are from the perimeter. TEPCO has said that radiation next to No 3 hit 300 milliSieverts.

And the helicopters hit very high radiation above.

Most of this stuff is going out to sea.

I don't think we have gotten accurate radiation numbers yet from Japanese sources. Note the US is saying radiation levels are "very high" and evacuating citizens.

These readings are from the perimeter. TEPCO has said that radiation next to No 3 hit 300 milliSieverts.

Yes, perimeter readings suggest a quaint concern about legal procedures.

Of course, any heat-venting, is going to hop nicely OVER any perimeter sensors, and so give optimistic low local readings !!

So ground readings some distance away, will be more relevant.
This shows the effect :

Thursday, March 17, 2011 21:20 (JST) Japan's science ministry says radiation levels of up to 0.17 millisieverts per hour have been detected about 30 kilometers northwest of the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Experts say exposure to those levels for 6 hours would result in absorption of the maximum level considered safe for 1 year.

That's 1460x the annual base.

It is interesting how the media is giving TEPCO and the Japanese government a free rid on this. Those microSievert/hr numbers quoted everywhere are basically totally irrelevant.

I'll bet those larger spikes are accompanied by bursts of neutron radiation, which would explain the increasing "baseline". Neutrons accompany the decay of uranium in these "little" possibly near-critical events.


Neutron radiation essentially irradiates everything for a certain distance from the source depending on the power of the emission. Am I correct?

Apparently correct:

Neutron beam observed 13 times at crippled Fukushima nuke plant

TOKYO, March 23, Kyodo

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has observed a neutron beam, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after it was crippled by the massive March 11 quake-tsunami disaster.

TEPCO, the operator of the nuclear plant, said the neutron beam measured about 1.5 kilometers southwest of the plant's No. 1 and 2 reactors over three days from March 13 and is equivalent to 0.01 to 0.02 microsieverts per hour and that this is not a dangerous level.

The utility firm said it will measure uranium and plutonium, which could emit a neutron beam, as well.

In the 1999 criticality accident at a nuclear fuel processing plant run by JCO Co. in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, uranium broke apart continually in nuclear fission, causing a massive amount of neutron beams.

In the latest case at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, such a criticality accident has yet to happen.

But the measured neutron beam may be evidence that uranium and plutonium leaked from the plant's nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuels have discharged a small amount of neutron beams through nuclear fission.

SOURCE: http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80539.html

We are going to need to increase the scale of this graph at least 2x going forward...


There have been about 50 staff engaged in pumping seawater into the reactor cores and primary containment vessels of units 1, 2 and 3. From time to time these need to vent steam, which causes radiation to rise across the site and required the workers to move to a safer location.

So I'm guessing they maybe coordinate steam venting across the reactors since they need to evacuate workers. The radiation levels should be falling all the time and so the size of the peaks need to be seen in that light.

Ah, that was the last puzzle piece: Why would all reactors vent at the same time? There we have it. Well, that means they have at least minimal control of some valves.

I am reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith's comment about the Great Depression--"The worst continued to get worse."

It might be worthwhile to note the difference in area between 12 miles (20 Km Japanese evacuation area) and 50 miles (80 Km US recommended evacuation area). The land area approximates a semi-circle, so the respective areas would be:

12 mile radius: 230 square miles (12 X 12 X 3.14 X 0.5)

50 mile radius: 3,900 square miles

The difference between 12 miles and 50 miles is a 17 fold difference in area.

After the earthquake and tsunami, Japan has no place to evacuate people to. All available shelters are full to overflowing.

Bad, bad, bad !


I reported 27 possible shelter deaths on NOLA.COM, disclaimers for machine translations, original cited. NOLA blocks links. It might be old folks and such but remember the wheelchair lady @ Morial CC? http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/japan_begins_air_drop_of_sea_...

I think the 27 is just till GWB finally decided to allow aid in 2 hours before this PR speech in Jackson Square and the air evac after that.

Deaths in shelters after that date surely exceeded that number, despite easy access to food and water.

Deaths in hospitals were more than 27 in the first days after Katrina.


No Alan. The old lady @ MM died from natural causes and no shelter deaths were reported save for a few natural cause deaths. Now the NOPD gunned down Henry Glovers, The Danzinger bunch, and perhaps others, but shelter deaths were not an issue. Granny drowning in bed or Dr. Pau euthanizing some folks but not in the shelters. When did you think I started my blogging hobby? How you been? Good to hear from you my friend.

"Natural causes" is a euphemism IMO.

Deprive a diabetic of food, water and insulin and expose them to high humidity mid-90s and all these natural causes will kill many of them. Same for the elderly, infants, and other vulnerable people.

Post-Katrina, all nursing home populations went out of town, if you developed cancer, you were told to move away for treatment, and very few of the frail elderly returned.

So three major sources of mortality were removed, yet the mortality rate increased by almost 50%. The death rate among evacuees was also much higher than before Katrina.

Even Gov. Jindal made addressing the mental health crisis in New Orleans as one of his four major priorities when he was first sworn in.
Given the age of Japanese society, additional evacuations to shelters, that act alone - in and of itself, will cause a number of fatalities.

If there were shelters to evacuate to.


But no one will have died of radioactivity as we will soon see reported over and over again in the media.

This might be the sequel, "The Radioactive Grapes of Wrath".

People are not evenly distributed in the 30 km radius area. The main evacuation would be the narrow strip (about 7 km wide, but varies) along the ocean. This is the coastal plain that was partly flooded by the tsunami. Behind that is a coastal mountain range. There are larger cities further north and south, as well as in an inland valley beyond the 30 km range.

Google map "Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan" and go to the satellite view.

Thanks everyone for the very useful contributions here, this is the first forum/blog with helpful discussions I came across since Friday.

I have a question about something which was touched here, but not fully discussed. When watching the videos of the first and the second explosion (see links below) ... they look very different. Is there anyone around who thinks he can explain that somehow? The first one is what I would expect from a hydrogen explosion, you can see the shockwave coming out of the building, it blows off the roof. But the second one seems to be much more powerful, you can see flames bursting out, large parts of debris are being thrown several times of the building's height into the air, there is a large black smoke cloud.

Probably the reason for them looking so different is simply, that the second one was much more powerful ... but then my question would be, why is there such a big difference? Let me make a naive estimation here. The energy released by the explosion is proportional to the mass of the hydrogen involved. On the other hand, the energy released should also be proportional to the maximal height pieces of debris reach after the explosion. Comparing those two values roughly from the video, I would estimate that there is an order of magnitude between the hydrogen masses in the two explosions. If this is so, couldn't you correlate this with the time the fuel rods have been melting in the respective cores? Assuming this is true, we would have a contradiction with the official reports ... looking at the timeline, there was roughly the same time between first report of cooling problems and explosion for both cases.

Also the time scales of the explosions themselves seem to be slightly different (explosion two happening significantly faster). An explanation for this might be the location of the hydrogen bubble within the power plant, i.e. it would have been closely underneath the roof in the first case and more central (from the core's point of view) in the second. Although, this is just complete speculation on my behalf.

It would be really interesting to have an opinion on this by someone who has expertise in this. The discrepancy is puzzling me and I would like to know where I am wrong in my above thoughts.

First explosion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3DW33V-MtE
Second explosion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsdpqZR0UIs

I can provide some thermochemistry speculations. Hydrogen releases very high amounts of energy upon combustion (explosive as well): around 34,000 kcal per kg. For comparison, hydrocarbons produce a bit more than 10,000 kcal/kg. Regular explosives are in the order of 2,000 kcal/kg and high explosives a few thousand.

I cut and paste a fragment from Wikipedia:

Hydrogen gas (dihydrogen or molecular hydrogen)[10] is highly flammable and will burn in air at a very wide range of concentrations between 4% and 75% by volume.[11] The enthalpy of combustion for hydrogen is −286 kJ/mol:[12]

2 H2(g) + O2(g) → 2 H2O(l) + 572 kJ (286 kJ/mol)[note 1]
Hydrogen gas forms explosive mixtures with air if it is 4–74% concentrated and with chlorine if it is 5–95% concentrated. The mixtures spontaneously explode by spark, heat or sunlight

So there is a huge range of explosive concentrations. At 4% H2 we will get 1,700 kcal per cubic meter of H2/air mixture. That means one cubic meter of H2/air mixture releases as much energy as 1 kilogram of TNT. On the extreme side of stoichiometric ratio of 40% H2, 20%O2 and rest N2, we will have 6 times more energy per cubic meter (not 10 times, because density of hydrogen/air mixture decreases), so 10,000 kcal per cubic meter of mixture. This is equivalent of twice the mass of high explosives. So if the amount of mixture was in hundreds of cubic meters, we are talking about equivalent of several tons of regular explosive. The force is applied evenly to the roof, so the roof flies flat quite high (almost like a morbid cartoon) and then disintegrates. The effect is amplified by the fact the explosion is very hot, so the product water vapour and remaining gas expands drastically - a few times by volume.

At the end of the day there is a huge range of possible amount of energy released and the amounts are non-trivial.

Good start. Assume 3 kg TNT explosive force per cubic meter, and building No 3 is 60 meters X 60 meters X 60 meters with 50% space filled with H2 and air.

108,000 cubic meters at 3 kg TNT per cubic meter. 324 tons of TNT

0.3 kiloton explosion--that is in the tactical nuke range.

This makes a lot of sense.

How much Zirconium is need to produced 108,000 cubic meters of mixture which is 10% H2?

Circa 20 tons.

Cut away view of a 1967 GE BWR building:


This would be similar to No 1. Building is about 40m tall (above ground portion) X 30m X 30m.

(edit) Next question, how fast was the H2 evolution and how much heat was produced?

No way to even speculate

What is the ratio of Z to U in fuel rod, or the Z per rod? 15,000 rods total equals how much H2 available? There are thousands of tons of U, so probably 20 tons of Z is readily available?

1 cubic meter = 1000 liters. At 4% H2, you would have 40 liters of hydrogen. That would be 1.5 moles of h2. At 286 kJ/mol... 400 kJ or 100 kcal....right? Density doesn't matter as we care about moles and volume, not mass. Though the concentration would depend on temperature.

The downside might be that all the boiling water might drive off (sparge) all the oxygen, thus reducing the explosive risk...Also, oxygen would likely react with all that hot metal, reducing its concentration further. Details, details. No doubt you could get a hell of a bang with an enclosed volume of hydrogen. And did.

Ouch..My mistake hurts.

Recalculation needed.

Assume 30% (vol/vol) H2 as this will yield the maximum heat per cubic meter, m3.

H2 gas weighs 0.08375 kg/m3

Heat of combustion for H2 is 33,859 kcal/kg

Heat of combustion for TNT is 1080 kcal/kg

then 0.3 X 0.08375 X 33,859 kcal/kg X 1 kg TNT/ 1080 kcal = 0.784 TNT explosive force/m3

If No 3 was 60m X 60m x 60m and half the space was filled with 30% H2 gas, the explosion would be (based on some no doubt incorrect assumed equivalences between an H2 blast and an HE detonation) similar to 85 tons of TNT, 0.085 kiloton.

Under the same set of assumptions, the smaller No 1 building would be 14 tons of TNT, assuming the size is 40m X 30m x 30m.

Okay, that would seem to explain the difference in the explosions .... but does it make sense that so much more hydrogen was generated in the same period of time? Maybe they had problems venting the hydrogen from the reactor 3? (see also my comment related to that some lines below)

Also, it would be interesting to cross check that with the explosion of reactor 2. Does anyone know a link to a video showing explosion number 3 in reactor 2? I couldn't find one ... only some which were talking about it but showing the explosion of reactor 3. It occurred early morning (about 6am) according to official reports. Sunrise is about 5:45, so maybe it was too dark for videos? Maybe there was simply nothing to see, as the building showed almost no damage from outside (see below).

From the helicopter video (see link below) which was circulated on the 17th (as far as I know), I can see almost no damage at all at building 2. Maybe the amount of hydrogen exploding was simply too small to rupture the concrete shell? Which is strange as the reports said that the cooling water of reactor 2 evaporated completely several times (I'm referring to repeated reports of the fuel rods being exposed to air, then being covered by cooling water and reported to be fully exposed again soon afterwards). From this one could speculate that they managed to vent hydrogen faster in this case, and something prevented them from doing so for reactors 1 and 3. Anyone any thoughts on this?

Helicopter video: http://www.infiniteunknown.net/2011/03/18/helicopter-view-of-fukushima-n...

The videos are being taken down. Here is one that is up currently http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc7GtYIqkb8

Your original questions about the difference between the two explosions are the same ones I had after seeing the videos. Why was No 3 so powerful? Is an H2 blast sufficient explanation? How fast was the H2 evolved? Was the H2 evolution exothermic? Was O2 even needed or indeed present after a massive outflow of steam and H2 from the reactor valves? Was the sequence a) uncover hot rods, b) heat Zirconium, c) react Zr with H2O, d) vent H2, and e) ignition? Is their sufficient Zr to fill the available space in the building with 30% H2?

Four of the explosions had at least the following in common. Loss of cooling during the cool down process. Heat. Boron. Stainless steels. Zirconium. Water. Metal oxides sintered into a ceramic like pellet. Potential for massive release of radioactive material into the environment.

Situation at Fukushima nuclear plant

16 March 2011 -- (from the British Embassy in Tokyo web site)

The Government's Chief Scientific Officer Professor John Beddington comments on the developments following the explosion at Fukushima nuclear plant.
[Q] You’ve said that at Chernobyl radioactive material went up to 30,000 feet, but you’ve also said that the worst case scenario here is for it to go up to 500 metres. Could you just explain why the worst case scenario here is much less than at Chernobyl?

[JB] Yeah, very much so. In Chernobyl, , first of all the top blew off the reactor and then the core of the reactor, the graphite which surrounds the core actually caught fire and burned for a very long time, so you had very, very, hot fire pushing all the material up in the normal sort of convection processes. Here, what will happen with the build up of pressure if the radioactive material interacted with the container floor and you would get a single explosion but it would not be a continued explosion. So that explosion would send material up to about 500 metres would be the sort of level we would expect. You know, it’s spurious accuracy, it might be 517 or 483 but that’s about it. And in terms of that, and couple that with weather, we still see absolutely no issue of material being taken at any critical level for human health beyond that 20 kilometres or so.

The whole interview is quite long.

This is a very good summary.

I think the fact that the US asked for a 50 mile perimeter and Japan says 30 km is very telling. The US should have said 80 km as well so people can see that difference side-by-side.

Regarding MOX and plutonium.

If 120 grams were disseminated then as many as one billion to two hundred million civilian overdoses would be possible.

I've heard figures like this for Pu as well in the past from what I remember thinking were reliable authorities, but I can't track down sources on it. Do you have a good source, though?

A Canadian Nuclear agency was my source. Lost the link. lol

It may even be true if you were able to divide the 120 grams into uniform 120 nanogram doses and administer them to 1 billion civilians.

Well of course but that is not a lot of material.

You cannot get much more toxic than plutonium is the bigger picture here.

There are plenty of radioisotopes and chemicals in general that are far more potent. The problem with plutonium is more that is fissionable, not that it is any more unhealthy than inhaling lead or DU dust.

Visiting this site...
She talks about the glowing cloud, shining cloud, over Chernobyl
(Tsernobyl Чернобыльской)

How much earns a Nuclear Engineer?
Apparently in Spain at Garoña they earn 500,000 - 1:000,000 euros a year.
If that's the case it may go some way to explain why they are all for Nuclear Power.

Monster.com has nuclear engineer job openings listed. For example

Immediate need for a Senior PRA Analyst/Developer with a minimum of 10 years experience in Licensing and risk-informed application experience. Must have experience with Advisory Council Reactor Safeguards. This is a long term contract assignment in the Southwest. Per diem will be considered.

This is a full-time contract position paying $70 - $85 / hour.

Not a lot, a networks engineer will earn more for a contract position.


"Burned" rods get worse as they are "burned" more.

Fresh from the fuel assembly factory they are fairly benign.

As the time since they were last irradiated gets longer, they get better (except for the one daughter, AM 241 that is worse than the original isotope, Pu 241 per my understanding). Pu 241 half life 14 years,

I hope to meet you one day :-)


It's time to get the nuclear industry off taxpayer-funded welfare. No more loan guarantees and liability limitations for that vicious, corrupt and polluting industry. If they can't afford to pay their own insurance in the much-loved free market, then they can bloody well fail.

And since no insurer will write a policy for a nuclear plant in the USA without both loan guarantees and liability limitations - the funding for said having been filched from the pockets of taxpayers by your ever-loving government - there will be no more nuclear plants in the USA.

End of story.

Before or after hydrocarbon and renewable welfare?

Let all technologies compete on a level ground in the free market. Let the market decide which ones are affordable and which ones are not. Then we will see some rational decisions.

Nuclear would not last one minute in a free market.

Oh and taxpayer theft is not justified by your relativism.

Relativism or spill victim?

Such an approach ignores externalities, and hence is a VERY poor public policy. To be avoided.


I'd put my money on coal.

Assuming that the cost of global warming (and various other Coal-associated nasties) get externalised, which it would do in this case, Coal would win by a country mile.

Although Nuclear may do well as well. Depends largely on the cost of capital.

Of course, if all sources are subject to full-spectrum NIMBYism, then if lucky we'll get a few natural gas plants built. Even Wind and Solar get resisted.. Indeed, I can picture the day when the court, having firmly ruled that no one can ever be even slightly polluted through chemicals, radionuclides, views, or rare element mining , suddenly notices that the lights have gone out....

It is an interesting conundrum for the "conservatives".
If only they could perceive it.
That takes dealing with two concepts at once.
They want centralized nuclear power because...
their corporate owners/investment aristocracy want to make money.
They want no subsidies for anyone because...
their corporate owners/investment aristocracy wants to keep money.
They are all praying for the Japanese.
It is cheap and meaningless.
They are cursing the workers, the poor, and the laws.
It is cheap and mean.

Engineers at Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant have successfully connected a power line to reactor 2, the UN's nuclear watchdog reports.

Restoring power should enable engineers to restart the pumps which send coolant over the reactor.


Any thoughts on this?

Good news. More water to leak and more folks to risk but beats the alternatives. I always wondered what it felt like to step on a landmine all alone knowing I would be gone once I stepped off. How long would you ponder your fate before doing the inevitable? Brown's Ferry engineer interview on CNN last night said each pump could transfer 900 GPM of H2O and it took 8 hours to fill the 'vessel'. There was multiple redundacy in most items. Like Fukushima, I am guessing.

Browns Ferry has fresh water available (but not terribly clean!), and a ready supply of technologists and soldiers to help. Other than that, the designs appear to be of similar type and vintage.

So they are just going to pour water thru the reactor, forever?. The radiation levels inside the plant aren't going to go down if the plant stops exploding.

Send in the bio-robots!

If I were trying to cover my ass and plan for the future, I could see trying to wash away as much of the nasty stuff as I could. Remediating the land area will be expensive, remediating the stuff watched out to sea will be impossible...thus will be apologized for and perhaps denied (as much as possible)...possibly much cheaper?

Compared to using a fire truck it's a godsend. Look at the upper right corner of the Google Earth picture http://maps.google.com/maps?q=fukushima+nuclear+power+plant+map&rls=com.... to see what the water discharge normally looks like (presumably for all 6 reactors). One-sixth of that is a huge improvement.

That's only half of the pump discharge, look at lower right in your same picture for the OTHER half. I think many people here have no concept of the massive scale of these plants.

1MW thermal heats from 20C to 80C 1 gallon of water per second, that is 60gpm. The reactors produce on the 5MW to 10 MW thermal now so they need hundreds of gpm of water - if the heat exchange is perfect.

I think you're off by a factor of a thousand. Millions of gallons per minute.

1 MW is 1,000,000 Joules per second, which is 238,000 calories per second. 238,000 / 60 = 3,977 grams of water = 1 gallon per second (per MW) so 60gpm per MW and 300gpm for 5MW. This is if heat exchange is perfect. But definitely not factor of thousand. Yes, thousand times more when the reactor is operating at full power.

PS. It is called Reactor Core Isolation Cooling System (RCIC) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_water_reactor_safety_systems) and runs at 600gpm

It seems that Wikipedia entries about nuclear energy have been comprehensively updated.

Sorry, I thought you meant when operational. My bad.

Well my own take is one of not understanding. They could have had on-site power from diesel generators from day 2. Will any of the primary pumps still work in this "war zone"? How much of the original valve and pipe work is still in place?

Lets hope Fukushima is not subject to rolling blackouts.

Well my own take is one of not understanding. They could have had on-site power from diesel generators from day 2

I've been scratching my had on that one as well. It may be that the locations they would have to work in to cut into the cables to connect the generators were just too hot and the temp power line kept more people out of harms way longer and require less work time in the super hot zone because it can use in place components--I'm really grasping at straws, with only construction site experience to draw on, can't imagine the facts on the ground at Fukushima.

They could have had on-site power from diesel generators from day 2.

I'm asumming that wasn't the case. All roads were blocked with tsunami debris. Still I would have hoped they would have brought a boat up next to the plant to use as a power source. I suspect the desire to minimize the severity and avoid the humiliation of asking for extraordinary help may have been a big factor in letting this thing get out of control. Obviously a close in boat is at some risk from a possible new EQ/tsunami. But the original tsunami was something like 55minutes after the quake -so they would have had time to head into deep water after anything over a 7.5(say).

Doesn't any large sea vessel have generators and pumps. Do supertankers fill up like cars or have on board pumping. I dreamed of the 9/11 Harvey fireboat and fighting the Deepwater Horizon fire. I saw Angel Falls on roids there. Why did that not be considered? Fukushima is right in the water right? We complained it was a problem. Why can it not be a solution too?

I agree that they seem to have been reticent to ask for help and that the roads are impassable. Note that 4 trains are totally missing!

The diesels are typically stationary versions of a locomotive diesel, so they are very big. The missed opportunity was to use U S Navy LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion) on the LSDs in the vicinity. They can land a main battle tank over the beach and uneven, unpaved terrain. But the Japanese had the Seventh Fleet waiting offshore for days pending a request for aid. Absent a specific request, they emphasized rescuing people in desperate straits when they did get the call. Then the fleet started dodging the radiation plume and moved to the Sea of Japan (the other side of the country) so its too far to operate the LCACs.

From what this Army guy remembers all Navy fleet vessels have nuke operating plans including a suicide skeleton crew for a final voyage. I do not know if they drill it but personnel are already assigned and designated, I assure you. No return is more of a reason for the US military to plan in my personal expirience. This is the leadership I keep referring to.

I think there may be other factors at work impeding generator replacement.

As I am not directly involved with the nuclear industry I only have a limited understanding of the actual plant specification so a lot of this is conjecture.

I understand that much of a nuclear plants heavy equipment like pumps, etc. utilize high voltage, something in the 3,600 to 4,000 volt range. There just aren't portable generators around in that range and transformers, even if they were available, would be massive. Consider the amount of water that is pumped through the sea water coolers, the discharge is visible in the "before" pictures.

The more I consider that, coupled with comments about "the plugs don't match - just twist the wires together", I think the power incompatibility was the problem. Something to consider in future risk analysis.

Even without the compatibility problem generators in the required size are larger than can be carried by helicopter and I hear that most of the roads in the area were severely damaged.

Other factors that may have impacted the response time:

Lots of communications, cell phones, landlines were down

Railroads and roads were damaged.

Other close by nuclear plants that could have quickly responded with personnel, supplies and equipment had (may still have) their own problems.

Potential government and military assistance was siphoned off to deal with a search, rescue and relief effort for over 10,000 dead and missing and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

About government assistance I doubt the powers that be had a real understanding of the seriousness of the situation for 24 to 36 hours. It was just one more blip on a radar screen filled with signals.

Japanese government reportedly turned down early offers for assistance from the USA and others.

This is what a certain 'energy unlimited' at malthusia (also a frequent, long-time poster at POforums), someone generally sympathetic and knowledgeable about nuclear power, has to say about this latest development:

"They apparently reconnected power.
However I doubt that there are any operational pumps left there and even if they are it may not be wise to pump water down into hundreds of tons of white hot radioactive material.

Substantial steam explosion would disperse material around and thats about it.

I am afraid that we might be observing PR exercise."

Can't thet slowly increase the pumping volume? That would seem like the prudent approach. Letting it continue to build heat sounds like the most dangerous course to me.

re no operational pumps...

likely few or none, and a lot of switchgear is probably toast too.

but this from Tuesday

OKYO - Toshiba Corp. said Tuesday it has sent engineers to the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant at the request of the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., aiming to address the problems at the quake-hit facility amid growing fears of radioactive contamination.

The company said dozens of its engineers are set to instruct workers at the plant operated by TEPCO about the usage of pumps to inject water into the plant's reactors, adding the firm has already sent motors to activate the pumps at the facility.

while searching for the pump motors (originally thought it was Hitachi), came across this:
The #4 reactor vessel was damaged during fabrication.

Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents

In my experience/observation with backup power installations, people don't hook everything up in an attempt to save money. So having grid power on site will allow everything (that's not destroyed/damaged) to be turned on.

Would a fireboat or ship not reach? Hose or personnel issues? They Japanese sure used to soak that Whale Wars guy good.

I really do hope they find something that works and can cool this mess down.. but lest I seem like I'm praying for disaster, I have to wonder how much of this suspense and anguish might be enough to show people just how thin the ice is under this technology.

I don't want us to go Cold Turkey tomorrow morning with Nuclear.. but I do want us to stop digging and start finding a way out of this wretched pit we've sunk ourselves into.. and phasing out Nuclear Power ASAP is pretty assuredly (IMO, naturally) a key step in this direction.

We've already got Cooling Pools that are overloaded all over the world.. there's plenty to be done just to wrap up our Parent's Garbage Bags in this realm..

But for now, I really don't want Half of Japan to become either a Memorial Site or a Test-Bed. I hope we can wrap this thing up safely.


I sure hopes that means they can get enough water in the containment vessels and spent fuel pools, to prevent further damage. I'd rather rad materials get washed into the ocean, then released into the wind, so pumping water in/out, rather then in and steam out sounds like an improvement. A big human issue, will be how big the public exclusion zone must be for how long? I suspect it may be a couple of months at least (but hopefully only at a kilometer or two -not twenty).

According to TEPCO, each reactor at Daiichi generates 700 “waste” fuel assemblies year, and there are 3450 assemblies [sic: capacity] in each reactor’s pool, plus another 6291 in a common pool in a separate building. NIRS.org

Number of fuel assemblies in spent fuel pools (updated data from Aileen)
Unit 1 - 292
Unit 2 - 587
Unit 3 - 514
Unit 4 - 946
Unit 5 -
Unit 6 - 876        [Vancouver Observer]

Unit 4 - 548 fuel assemblies that were in use at the reactor until last November, when they were move to the storage pool on the site.  [NYTimes]

Unit 4 - 783 spent [sic: assemblies] in unit 4 cooling pond  [FDL]

[EDIT]Above comment found reference I was missing on 32 spent MOX assemblies.

Unit 3 - 32 of the 514 fuel rod assemblies in the storage pond at reactor No. 3 contain mox.  [NYTimes]

I read in a few places that Unit 3 storage pool contained only 32 MOX spent fuel assemblies. The rest were not MOX. Of course I can't find the link again to the TEPCO quote. [/EDIT]

Plutonium content in MOX assemblies:

32 MOX assemblies, altogether weighing 8.3 tons and containing 210 kg of plutonium. A single MOX assembly is made up of 60 rods, each of which is 3 percent to 4 percent plutonium.  [Japan Times]

"One BWR assembly is typically 200-300 kg of heavy metal. BWR assembly is comprised of 63 fuel rods."

At Daiichi, each assembly has either 64 large fuel rods or 81 slightly smaller fuel rods, depending on the vendor who supplied it. A typical fuel rod assembly has a total of roughly 380 pounds [172 kg] of uranium.  [NYTimes]

Turns out Japan's nuclear industry is on taxpayer welfare too. A taxpayer-funded liability limitation of $1.2 billion, in particular.

The people in Japan pay thrice: once for the industry's too-hazardous-to-insure nature, next for the actual power, and third when a reactor blows - the last with their lives.

The USA's taxpayer pays four times: an additional theft of money for loan guarantees, which it seems the Japanese taxpayer doesn't have to fork over for.

Cheap, clean, too big to fail. I heard that before.

"(also units 5 and 6 located on another site)"

There is a lot of manifestly false information about this incident. The more you know, the more you find to criticize. But one thing that even the most ignorant might appreciate:
The other location is Fukushima Dai-Ni. This location is Fukushima Dai-Ichi. I have found
both sites in Google Maps (with the images from space turned on). Of course Google Maps images don't show any damage, because they were recorded months or years ago. But you can count reactor buildings at both sites and there are actually four (4) reactor building at the other site, not two. One can also see that at both sites there was a lot of excavation and earth moving done to create sea level sites for the plants. They must have really wanted to maximize tsunami vulnurablity. And, for compiracy theorists, the two sites are, indeed, different. They are not two images of the single site PhotoShopped into Google Maps.

Thanks Euan.
Its an interesting guided tour through an interesting event on the way to a post-industrial world.

Reactors 5 and 6 are about 2000 feet away from reactors 1-4. This is probably what is meant by separate site.

Fukushima #1 ("Dai-ichi") plant has 6 reactors ("units" 1 through 6) , the group of 4 in crazy trouble (roofs/walls blown off, ...), then the group of 2 in mere serious difficulty a bit off to the North "2000 feet" or so.
It is located in the town of Okuma.

Fukushima #2 ("Dai-ni") has 4 reactors.
It is located in the towns of Naraha and Tomioka, 11.5 kilometers South of plant number 1
It has troubles with tsunami damaged pumps, but apparently outside power stayed on, so things there are a minor disaster.



a bit about counting...

The investigation of these events will produce numerous valuable insights and recommendations, here are a few I expect to see.

1... These plants survived the earthquake well. They were killed by the lack of electrical power when the tsunami flooded the backup generators and associated gear, well after the seismic event.

Common mode failure is hard to predict reliably, so diverse ways of performing important safety functions should be encouraged. For example, reactors can be shutdown by control rod insertion or boron solution injection.

Instead of building three identical diesel generators in a row, plants might use one diesel, one large battery array and one small gas turbine hardened and installed at different locations and elevations. Modern reactor designs with passive safety systems do not need as much emergency power as these old plants.

2... The first hydrogen explosion delivered a strong message. “DO NOT ALLOW LARGE VOLUMES OF H2/AIR MIXTURES TO ACCUMULATE”.

Safety related equipment is qualified for operation in severe conditions, but that does not include a supersonic shock wave from a large hydrogen explosion.

There is a range of fuel air concentrations that is flammable. The velocity of flame propagation depends on concentration, and is slow at the minimum flammable concentration. The intensity of the blasts indicate a large volume of fuel air mixture near the optimum fuel air ratio for high velocity propagation.

The subsequent explosions could have been prevented by;

a… Ventilating the buildings with enough air flow to keep the H2 concentration below the flammability limit. Operators could have ventilated the reactor building through the turbine hall, using the turbine hall vent fans to draw air out of the reactor building. It may have been necessary to create a hole(s) in the opposite side of the reactor building to let fresh air enter the building.

They could have run the fire protection sprinklers in the turbine hall or set up chemical spray systems. This would wash out most harmful nuclides and avert further explosions. Sprinklers and fans do not require a great deal of power. Portable industrial generators could do the job. Not a great solution, but much better than more explosions.

b… Burn the hydrogen continuously as it is released into the building to avoid a pressure spike. Install ignition devices at numerous locations throughout the plants including near the containment vents and at high points where H2 would tend to accumulate.

In this case they would have had to improvise with propane burners, spark generators or electrically heated elements, but in the future, ignition devices could be as small as a pack of cigarettes and have backup battery power to operate several days under accident conditions.

After unit 1 exploded, operators should have made the necessary changes to prevent additional explosions in the remaining plants while radiation levels were low.

If the fuel melts through the reactor vessel and the containment vessel, having the buildings intact with building spray systems operating would have dramatically reduced the off site release. It is a shame that they lost the buildings.

3... Spent fuel pools should be at or below ground level in hardened enclosures. They should be equipped with external accommodations for monitoring and refilling. This would take the form of spray nozzles piped to secured connections outside the building, with independent temperature and level sensors wired to a junction box outside the building. Battery powered radio transmitters could be connected under accident conditions for remote monitoring.

4... Next generation plants should have a core catcher capable of capturing and resolidifying a melted core, using passive cooling systems.

5... Next generation plants should have a containment vent filter and stack sized for accident conditions so that the containment can be maintained at low pressure without releasing large quantities of chemically reactive fission products.

I see these as modular units the size of standard shipping containers located below grade in hardened trenches covered with removable reinforced concrete slabs.

Vent gasses will be bubbled through chemically treated water to cool and remove chemically reactive fission products. They will pass through a coarse gravel bed to remove water droplets and large particulates followed by HEPA filters and charcoal filters.

There will be two parallel units capable of replacement under accident conditions should one become saturated with fission products.

6... Next generation plants will be designed with passive safety systems and will be licensed to start up and operate without external power. This will help restore power quickly in disaster situations.

It is important to remember that;

1... These are 1970’s reactors designed with 1960’s technology. Many of the lessons from this accident are already covered in the Gen III designs proposed for construction. They would have ridden through this disaster well. They may not require much revision to accommodate the lessons learned.

2... Even in a worst case outcome, the fatalities from radiation will be a small fraction of the total number of fatalities from this earthquake.

3... The routine operation of coal plants kills 11,000 Americans each year, perhaps a million around the world, and the mercury lowers the IQ of tens of thousands of newborns.

4... Advanced modular designs like the MSR have the potential to deliver reliable, safe and abundant power without complex expensive safety systems at a lower cost than conventional nuclear plants or fossil plants. We need a serious well funded R&D program to develop the new technology as soon as possible.



Very funny.

Some very level headed suggestions

After unit 1 exploded, operators should have made the necessary changes to prevent additional explosions in the remaining plants while radiation levels were low.

Though probably very true does not take into account the shear hell they were facing on the ground. Entire cities around them had been washed away--very likely some of the operators' families with them. The crew manning the site was about the number needed to keep it going during smooth running...you think maybe be just a tad light to properly handle a task the magnitude of the one at hand. Heck of a 'between a rock and hard spot' there.

Not hard to imagine how problems they were already focussing on might have made it difficult to step back and reason out a cool line attack to ward off what was about to overwhelm them. Simulation of the actual scenario would have been near impossible to model--something/s very important will always be unthought of.

No argument that design could take into account all factors that caused the loss of cooling this time--but like they always say about our military solutions, or homeland security measures--we seem to always be fighting the last war, not the next one.

Anybody that can pilot a Kaiten or manually lower the rods is of the same stuff. At least as a people and culture, I am so pro-Nippon now it is not funny. There is no difference between Boris Korchilov and the operators at Fukushima but a lack of leadership, IMHO. Chernobyl? Lack of leadership. K-19 (edit wrong boat #)? Crappy gear and leadership in spades.

Checking the pipes would have been costly and reporting the negligence would have hurt the career of Captain Zateyev, who preferred to hide the fact not really my kind of leader--but then I have always been a bit insubordinate especially when I was aware of incompetence or lying ambition in those I was supposed to be led by. Its a trait that has kept me from getting particularly moneyed up but I can live with myself.

Of course the above is only one side of the story and not the official line.

I don't know how accurate an account we will end up getting, but knowing exactly what has and is still going down would certainly make it easier to avoid the same pitfalls. Saving face and personal loyalty might not play to well to full disclosure--they never do.

That said the situation on the ground at Fukushima Dai-ichi was/is hell, and unlike either Chernobyl or TMI the entire world around the hell of the plant is even worse off (the crew is on a mission and not looking at their devestated hometowns). People fighting to keep the reactors from full meltdown probably have huge family losses they are not able to deal with at all, but which are certainly affecting their decision making process whether they know it or not. Leadership can overcome almost all of this, but the same rigid social structure that maintains calm and order can stifle the best leaders from rising to the top in such an unparalleled battle. Always trade offs.

With leadership comes power. With absolute leadership..........

"1... These plants survived the earthquake well."

Thanks, Bill. I consider your #1 an assumption. We have no verifiable information about the overall condition of the plants after the 9.0. There may have been cracks in critical components and the storage pools. Other physical damage may have occured to electrical and control systems or other subsystems. I haven't seen it confirmed that cooling was functioning properly after the quake and before the tsunami.......so...

The way things are going, we may never know.

"1... These plants survived the earthquake well."

I consider this assumption to be specious at best.

What proof is there of this ?

In the 55 minutes between scram and tsunami, what was observed ? No reports AFAIK.

In any case, only the most gross failures would likely be noticed as staff would be more than fully occupied with the tsunami warning and quake aftereffects.

And plant staff is unavailable for3rd party questioning ATM.


"And plant staff is unavailable for3rd party questioning ATM."

... and some, perhaps, permanently so I fear, considering their likely levels of exposure. Dead men tell no tales :-(

I saw one account indicating that at least some of the reactor personnel were in a state of panic after the quake due to major leaks.

At this point we don't really know for sure what damage specifically resulted from the quake, but it would seem that this is a case where the absence of information is not information.


First post on the 'drum.
Alan and others keep mentioning this 55 min interval from earthquake/SCRAM to Tsunami at Fukushuma. Sorry this does not seem plausible. I live on Vancouver Island (east side thank god) and have an interest in subduction zone tsunami for reasons self preservation. I thought the transit time from typical quake off Tofino to landfall would be about 10-20 minutes. Wikipedia timeline article indicates 15 minute interval, 2:46 earthquake, 3:01 tsunami local time at the reactors. Other locations up the coast had perhaps 9-10 minute warning to get to high ground as witnessed by survivors.

Thanks for a good post.

It's pretty straightforward. If we keep nuclear, we can keep some semblance of industrial civilization. If we don't, it's lights out and a return to the dark ages. In this particular instance, there is no in between as we know the oil, coal, and gas will be depleted. We also know that their continued use will exacerbate AGW, and that renewables are very limited in their application and simply don't provide the steady, reliable energy needed.

Of course, my bet is on the dark ages as my opinion is that we are scared, stupid apes who won't be able to handle nuclear.

In the time frame you suggest, you may be wrong.

Hydroelectric is reliable and a good "gap filler" for other renewables. Add pumped storage. Geothermal is 24/7 power. Biomass can fill gaps as well.

Time to adapt to high and low power.

And time to get, say 10x as efficient and shrink our population through birth control.


In an ideal world, I can see nukes taking a growing role from 2015 to 2050 and a shrinking role from that point forward as efficiency continues to grow and population shrinks.

Alan, how big a role does nuclear play in your electrified rail vision? If we face a nuclear constrained future, there will be a lot of competition for available KWs.

One, the amount required is small. Urban rail + intercity rail about 2% of total. About 1% for freight.

Going slower will use less electricity. DC Metro slowed down to 40 mph max during a power shortage.

Using rail corridors for HV DC & HV AC transmission would allow renewables to be shifted to load. So a net positive from a renewable generation POV.



Isolated evacuees muster up strength to live in self-sustaining way


Evacuees on an island in the quake-hit northeastern part of Japan, cut off from the mainland after a bridge collapse, have been sustaining themselves despite their isolation, having long known such a day may come.

Residents staying at a school in a less-damaged area on Miyatojima Island in Miyagi Prefecture are taking turns to cook rice that they brought, make rice balls with seaweeds that are famous in the area, with determination that they will survive, even though they are cut off from the mainland.

''People on this island are very strong,'' said Sanae Katahira, a nursing teacher at the elementary school who lives on the nation's mainland of Honshu.

I think that the drivers and the pumps will be out of alignment due to the earthquake and explosions. The shafts will not be aligned. They may run for a while then vibration will take over.

Well, it's official. The public time span for any one thing has expired on the nuke story... NYTimes is now giving equal visual space to Middle East, specifically Qaddafi

U.N. Approves Airstrikes to Halt Attacks by Qaddafi Forces

The Security Council approved a measure on Thursday authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from harm at the hands of forces loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.

I note that major news agencies are filtering out and removing links to Japanese government/TEPCO sites that mention re-criticality possibility at reactor 4 spent pool. Instead they have "experts" who say this is impossible. However TEPCO stated "non zero probability" and every Japanese government update since (including today's just issued) contains the directive to TEPCO to give priority to preventing this.

See http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/english/files/en20110318-1.pdf page 11. Links to this (pointing out the mention of re-criticality) are removed as soon as they are posted or never appear (I've verified this personally). Although Reuters (to give one example) mods are happy to reply to other questions I've asked I get no reply when I ask them why they are censoring comments pointing out that re-criticality possibility is stated by both TEPCO and Japanese government.

Perhaps you should use try term 'second coming'.


For those who don't get this, google translate translated "re-criticality" as "second-coming". Apparently the Japanese government ordered TEPCO to prevent the second-coming occurring in reactor 4's pool according to Google.

You have to keep a sense of humour somehow ;-)

All ultra right wing should be looking forward to second-coming...