Patterico's Pontifications

3/11/2011

Even More on the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami and the Increasingly Scary Nuclear Issue (Update: Explosion!)

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 4:43 pm



[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

Yes, we have had one, two, three posts already on this, and this is the fourth.  Sorry if that seems too focused but the story keeps going, so I keep posting.

Update: This New York Times article and this Reuters article both suggest that the Daini plant, not the Daiichi plant, is the one where they have “lost control over pressure in the reactors.”  They are both in Fukushima, separated by about ten miles.

Update (II): The New York Times is reporting that they are evacuating the area around both reactors now.  And Msnbc reports that five reactors at these two different locations are in serious trouble.

Update (III): This blog, All Things Nuclear, has some very cogent analysis of the problem, here and here.

Update (IV): “Mobile electricity supplies have arrived at the site.” That is a big deal, because if was the power dying to the pumps that has been creating this problem. Hat tip: Allahpundit.

Update (V): Finally someone is asking the important question: what do celebrities think about the disaster? It reminds me a big of this classic piece in the Onion just after 9-11. Hell, the ABC story manages to work in a reference to Charlie Sheen. Winning!

Then again, the tsunami did interrupt production on the latest Twilight movie, so at least some good came out of this.

Update (VI): Got this flash from Reuters’ twitter (via @andylevy):

FLASH: #Japan nuclear authorities say high possibility of meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor – Jiji

Update (VII): Twitter feeds are suggesting that we have begun meltdown in at least one reactor. Waiting for verification. I will remind you that breaking news events often contain erroneous information. For instance, during the Giffords shooting people were being reported alive, and then dead. Follow my twitter @AaronWorthing, and we can keep track of these things together.

Update (IX): Hot Air is covering the story. They have mild verification. Now it is important to note that this is not the same as breaching containment, etc. Three Mile Island, for instance, had a partial meltdown, and no one died, the core didn’t leak.

Update (X): The story seems to be that they have very strong indicators that we are in meltdown, but by the nature of the beast they can’t really be sure. Its not like they can step inside of it, right? From Reuters:

Japanese nuclear authorities said that there was a high possibility that nuclear fuel rods at a reactor at Tokyo Electric Power’s Daiichi plant may be melting or have melted, Jiji news agency reported.

Experts have said that if the fuel rods have been damaged, it means that it could develop into a breach of the nuclear reactor vessel and the question then becomes one of how strong the containment structure around the vessel is and whether it has been undermined by the earthquake.

And NFK is reporting that the radiation has gotten so severe they have stopped venting.

Update (XI): And the rods were briefly exposed to the air as they pumped in water from a fire engine.

Update (XII): AFP/Breitbart news verifies.

Update (XIII): According to this report, there has been an explosion at the nuclear plant. Four people were injured. Hopefully not seriously. This will probably be the last update this evening.

——————–

A second reactor a the same facility that has been failing all day is in trouble.  The Washington Post has details:

Japanese officials called Saturday for further evacuations from the area surrounding a nuclear power plant where radiation levels inside have surged to 1,000 times their normal levels after the cooling system failed.

The nuclear safety agency expanded the evacuation area after some radiation had also seeped outside the plant, the Associated Press also reported.

The cooling system for a reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was crippled after power was lost in the wake of a deadly earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on Friday afternoon.

The loss of electricity has also delayed the planned release of vapor from inside the reactor to ease pressure, AP said. Pressure inside one of the reactors had risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal.

Japanese authorities on Saturday were racing to find ways to deliver new backup generators or batteries to the plant.

The reactor, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co., is drawing on battery power that may last only a few hours. Without electricity, the reactor will not be able to pump water to cool its hot reactor core, possibly leading to a meltdown or some other release of radioactive material.

Japanese authorities ordered the evacuation of about 3,000 residents within a 1.9-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and told people within a 16.2-mile radius to remain indoors, according to the Web site of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Incident and Emergency Centre.

Read the whole thing.

Via Hot Air, we learn of this Time Magazine piece, which taps the expertise of nuclear scientist Ron Chesser:

“I think this sounds like a low-level alert,” said nuclear scientist Ron Chesser, director of Texas Tech University’s Center of Environmental Radiation Studies. Chesser knows a thing or two about crises like this: he was the first American scientist allowed inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone in 1992.

But Chesser spoke before Fukushima officials made their next announcement at about 1 PM ET,  acknowledging that they had had to release a small amount of what’s being referred to as “slightly” radioactive vapor to keep pressure at safe levels. The country’s nuclear safety agency insists that the vapor will have no ill effect on the health of either people or the environment, which may indeed be true. Chernobyl taught officials the importance of candor in such matters and in any event, simply taking radiation readings of the Fukushima surroundings will confirm if the authorities are telling the truth. The greater problem—an unknown unknown—will occur if the pressure cannot be brought under control and more steam needs to be bled off.

The U.S. is pitching in, shipping more coolant to the stricken plant. But if the pumps can’t get up and running it will do little good. Chesser, who  toured one other, smaller, Japanese plant before the quake, is still sanguine. “I was very much impressed with the amount of attention to safety, especially regarding potential earthquakes,” he said. But he does concede to being “a little it surprised” that the Fukushima plant is nonetheless in such trouble. One thing that weighs in the plant’s favor: unlike the Chernobyl reactors, those in Fukushima are covered iwith containment vessels, which should help minimize any potential damage.

And of course you know by now that we have not been supplying coolant—Hillary misspoke.

The same Hot Air post states that “Dow Jones is now reporting that the local electric company says it’s ‘lost control over pressure in the reactors[.]”  They link to a WSJ pieces that I can’t read because I don’t subscribe.  But there is assurance that even if things go really bad, the materials will not leak out:

Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters that there is serious concern in Japan whether the cooling of the core and removal of residual heat could be assured. “If that does not happen, if heat is not removed, there is a definite danger of a core melt … fuel will overheat, become damaged and melt down.”

“Even if fuel rods melt and the pressure inside the reactor builds up, radiation would not leak as long as the reactor container functions well,” Tomoko Murakami, leader of the nuclear energy group at Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics, told Reuters. But the pressure can only build up so much before steam must be released, and along with it, some radiation.

Also at the Blaze we are hearing of a problem at another nuclear plant, and we get this video discussing the issue:

And meanwhile for a change of pace at one of IGN’s user blogs, Keira shares her experiences in the quake:

Well, I’ve had an eventful afternoon.

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that a massive earthquake struck just off the coast of Japan a little before 3pm this afternoon. I was in my fourth floor lab at the time; I’d just started to vacuum-transfer some solvent into a flask to begin a reaction, and was sitting at my desk when the tremors started. There were two other students (Horiguchi and Ochiai) in the room with me and at first we just grinned nervously at each other, as you do when minor earthquakes strike, waiting for it to stop.

It didn’t stop. The shaking got stronger and stronger. Soon I was wondering if this would be the biggest earthquake I’d experienced in Japan – then I was sure it was. By the time I started wondering if I should be getting the hell out of the building, it was more or less impossible to move. Everything in the room was shaking like crazy. I was hanging onto my desk as glassware and equipment crashed down all around us. Ochiai was clinging to the edge of the fume cupboard, trying to keep away from the stuff falling off benches in the middle of the room. Books were flying off the shelves, and Horiguchi ducked under a desk just in time to escape being knocked out by a falling scanner. The power went out, and dewars of liquid nitrogen crashed over adding clouds of vapour to the chaos.

When there was a slight lull, Tanaka stuck his head into our room to yell, “Soto deyou, deyou!” (Let’s get outside!) The only thing I thought to grab was my jumper before Ochiai, Horiguchi and I picked our way across the floor and followed him out into the corridor. The rows of compressed gas cylinders by the entrance had fallen down, a bookshelf had slid half across the corridor, and the shelves right by the emergency exit had completely toppled over, spilling machinery and oil baths everywhere. Clambering over stirrers and heating mantles strewn across the oil-slicked floor to get to the fire exit was no mean feat with the building still moving, but we made it out and down the stairs to the car park.

There’s a lot more, so if you are interested in a first person account, there’s one and in English, too.

Meanwhile IGN itself asks the real important question: did video game developers survive?

They even have a handy graphic:

Thanks for that.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

39 Responses to “Even More on the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami and the Increasingly Scary Nuclear Issue (Update: Explosion!)”

  1. it’s not like they don’t have giant robots what can hurl the pesky reactor into space before it melts down and destroys Tokyo

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  2. An earthquake knocking out Square wouldn’t be so bad. They’ve been putting out crap of late. A bit of a purge from nature might get some more creative people producing again.

    Just so long as Nobou survives D:

    Newtons.Bit (922da8)

  3. No sightings of Godzilla yet

    Rodan (03e5c2)

  4. Ummmm, GentleBeings of Breeding and Distinction (and happyfeet), while the term “meltdown” can cause US folk to panic, it should be pointed out that Three Mile Island didn’t “meltdown”, and Chernobyl didn’t “meltdown” …

    Chernobyl, nuclear power plant that it was, had a conventional explosion due to human overconfidence or stupidity (disabling safety interfaces) as well as greed, and as a result of the explosion managing to damge the substandard-constructed containment vessel, , the graphite core (irradiated graphite bring radioactive-carbon-rich) literally burned, releasing CO2 whose carbon atoms were radio-carbon … the plume of easily-bio-available radio-CO2 then headed downwind and polluted vegetation and got into the food chain, thus creating even more of a disaster …

    Going back 50 years and more, for western industrialised countries nuclear power plants, their design is such that, if the coolant boils off, the reaction slows and then shuts down … without sufficient moderator, the fission stops …

    So – if you want to panic, don’t let me stop you doing so … but you actually don’t *have* to panic …

    Bottom line, you were much safer at Three Mile Island than being a passenger in Ted Kennedy’s car …

    Alasdair (512486)

  5. newtons bit

    i did like their final fantasy dissidia. favorite fighting game, because it is so different from the others, with a real arena and real movement.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  6. oh. Well I hope the giant robots get the memo Mr. Alisdair that would be very awkward.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  7. Alasdair I mean with an a

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  8. Let’s all just hope and pray the far east isn’t entirely and completely Fukushima’ed yet.

    qdpsteve (f1c59f)

  9. the arena… it’s not really real. It’s just pretend.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  10. I have a coworker whose wife and child arrived in Japan yesterday; they’re fine.

    *All* of my customer contacts are in Japan (I do development for something embedded in a machine manufactured in Japan); I’ve not heard a peep from them today. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t – it’s Saturday, after all, for them – but it’s still unnerving.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  11. Yup, let’s shut down all nuclear power AND offshore drilling in the middle of a socialist created world depression. That’s not unnerving at all.

    Dirty Old Man (6bc7af)

  12. I thought reactors had control rods, and if they lowered the control rods into the pile, it brought the reaction to a halt?

    JohnW (527726)

  13. john W

    my understanding is that they already did that, but the rods are still too hot, and they need the cooling system to get it under control. its not about stopping the reaction but stopping the heat. does that make sense?

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  14. I’m not a nuclear engineer, but I think they need to have water covering the rods as well as recirculating pumps to remove the water. Without electricity, the pumps won’t work and the water level will drop as the water converts to steam.

    I’m sure that is completely wrong and I would welcome correction.

    Ag80 (efea1d)

  15. somebody early today talked about Tokyo Disney here is an article about that

    Here is the importantest part:

    It is unclear when the resort will open, the company said in a statement issued Friday, adding, “As of now, we have not confirmed any injuries among our guests or cast members.”

    here is the lemons/lemonade part:

    As the visitors tried to make themselves comfortable overnight in the park, Landsel made light of the situation, tweeting “anyone who ever wanted to run around a Disney park all night, uninhibited, has their chance now.”

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  16. From what I’m reading, the steam is building up pressure inside the reactors/containment structures, which is why they want to release some of it even though it’s radioactive. Presumably the pressure could rise to a level that threatens the structural integrity of the reactors or have other ramifications. But as Ag80 says, IANANE.

    kishnevi (bb4d18)

  17. I thought reactors had control rods, and if they lowered the control rods into the pile, it brought the reaction to a halt?

    Yeah. But it’s still awful hot and needs hours days to cool down, meanwhile you have to pump millions of gallons of water through the reactor to get the heat out.

    Rodan (03e5c2)

  18. My question is, why have they lost electric power? What were they relying on as their power source in the first place? The Reuters article says the diesel backup generators failed but gives no explanation of that either.

    Gerald A (389a16)

  19. Gerald A – Emergency power is provided by generators. US plants use either diesel or gas turbines. The plant I worked at used two huge diesels, a nearby plant has both gas and diesels (don’t recall how many but it is at least two for each reactor). The generators are big and could be damaged themself by a large enough siesmic event, in addition the fuel lines (the main fuel tank at my plant was several hundred yards forom the generator building) and even more important cooling water pipes for the generator are also vulnerable to damage.

    Have Blue (854a6e)

  20. we were “hours” from catastrophic meltdown or what have you going on several hours ago now

    Not to be impatient or anything.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  21. “Three Mile Island didn’t meltdown” A portion of TMI-2 core did indeed melt, but the molten/slumped material did not breach the reactor vessel wall. Fortunately, there were no health effects. The financial damage was significant.

    gp (1330f9)

  22. see the updates. it looks like we are in meltdown. there is no good, here, only hopefully less bad.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  23. Actually Aaron, the fact that the Japanese over-engineer for safety makes it likely things will still be ok.

    Remember, when Three-Mile Island had a meltdown, there were zero injuries, zero fatalities, because the containment worked as intended.

    The Japanese do even more, so I’m not entirely concerned…

    And if things DO go badly, at least we’ll end up with Godzilla or something, and the would be pretty f**king cool.

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  24. this gives Obama and Pelosi and various other anti-american elements all the ammunition they’ll ever need to forestall nuclear power in America for our whole lifetimes

    Don’t believe me tune into National Soros Radio in the morning.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  25. I don’t think there have been enough updates to this post. MORE INFO, PLEASE!!!

    Icy Texan (680204)

  26. According to angeleno they are intelligent….So like you need to stop listening to beck and like oh my god listen to NPR /Sarc

    DohBiden (984d23)

  27. Scott

    that depends on which Godzilla we get. the rubber suit, or that crappy CGI one from a few years ago?

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  28. Japan Syndrome?

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  29. “it looks like we are in meltdown. there is no good, here, only hopefully less bad.”

    A.W. – Can they ship it to Iran before it blows up?

    Winning!

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  30. I’ll be watching this stock in the morning just out of curiosity.

    They are right now as we speak embroiled in a struggle with anti-american dirty socialists to keep an older nuclear plant open. I suspect their struggle just got even more struggley.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  31. The sky is falling! A piece hit me on the head!

    “Meltdown” is a pretty loosely defined and commonly misunderstood term. It certainly has nothing to do with Chernobyl, or even Three Mile Island, and isn’t the Armageddon the frantic hand-wringers seem to believe.

    But far be it from me to stop the ignorant from soiling their undergarments. Carry on . . .

    Estragon (ec6a4b)

  32. estragon

    if you feel we are going wrong on this, fine. but you can express yourself without being a jerk.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  33. btw big update. there was an explosion at the nuke plant. link for details. have a good evening.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  34. Dump all stocks in uranium mines

    EricPWjohnson (6a2bb1)

  35. Yeah. But it’s still awful hot and needs hours days to cool down, meanwhile you have to pump millions of gallons of water through the reactor to get the heat out.

    Here’s what I don’t get. The Fukushima plant is a Boiling Water Reactor. So if it’s still generating heat it’s generating steam. Which can drive the turbines. Which can generate the electricity to power the pumps it needs to cool things off so it stops generating heat.

    Doesn’t it?

    I’m sure there’s something I’m not grasping. Maybe a former Navy Nuke can ‘splain it to me in terms I understand.

    Steve (49173f)

  36. wow-you people are cold…

    Renate (cccddf)

  37. Well renate it is winter……………..See what i did there?

    DohBiden (984d23)

  38. How bad can nuclear technology and safety be if the Cheese-eating surrender monkeys make nuclear power use a major part of French electrical generation? Sorry to see casualties in Japan from Mother Nature, but surely the same thing would be much worse in other countries, such as the third world. I don’t know what, if anything, our own west coast has done to minimize damage from earthquakes.
    Powerline blog discusses obama’s defense of his energy policy, which is actually a disaster for Americans.
    Don’t know what effect this will have on uranium prices but I’m holding my uranium stocks.

    Calypso Louie Farrakhan (798aba)

  39. Steve, Gerald, et al: the explanation I’ve seen is that the tsunami took out the gas generators.

    aphrael (9802d6)


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