Patterico's Pontifications

3/12/2011

Explosion at Nuclear Power Plant in Japan; Meltdown Feared; UPDATE: Has the Worst Passed?; UPDATE: Maybe Not: Report Says There Has Been a Meltdown

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:49 am



Aaron mentioned the explosion in an update to this post — but it is clearly going to be the story of the day and, with new information just breaking now, it deserves its own post:

IWAKI, Japan (AP) – An explosion at a nuclear power station tore down the walls of a building Saturday amid fears that its reactor was close to a disastrous meltdown after being hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. Friday’s twin disaster, which pulverized Japan’s northeastern coast, has left 574 people dead by official count, although local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.

Here is video:

As I write this, it is not clear whether the building whose walls collapsed houses the reactor. Hardly reassuring is the L.A. Times‘s statement that “[a]t least one reactor at the plant was already showing signs of a partial meltdown.”

Stay tuned. This could be ugly.

UPDATE: Allahpundit has running coverage here. This kind of thing is his specialty, so if you’re looking for continuous updates, I suggest you follow the link. There is a lot of contradictory information there, as is common with breaking stories. My interpretation of the bottom line: it looks like we are going to avoid the worst. But it’s not guaranteed.

UPDATE x2: DRJ posts in the comments:

The bad news is Japanese officials have admitted the explosion was caused by a melting reactor core, but the good news is they claim the metal containment unit is still in place. They also say the use of seawater is considered an act of “desperation” because it means the reactor will have to be scrapped.

From the link:

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Saturday afternoon the explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core.

The same day, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), which runs the plant, began to flood the damaged reactor with seawater to cool it down, resorting to measures that could rust the reactor and force the utility to scrap it.

Cesium and iodine, by-products of nuclear fission, were detected around the plant, which would make the explosion the worst accident in the roughly 50-year history of Japanese nuclear power generation.

An explosion was heard near the plant’s No. 1 reactor about 3:30 p.m. and plumes of white smoke went up 10 minutes later. The ceiling of the building housing the reactor collapsed, according to information obtained by Fukushima prefectural authorities.

At a news conference Saturday night, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano discounted the possibility of a significant leak of radioactive material from the accident. “The walls of the building containing the reactor were destroyed, meaning that the metal container encasing the reactor did not explode,” Edano said

UPDATE x3: And while I was out, another report has come out saying the reactor has not been breached, but that there was a limited meltdown. (“The discovery indicates that meltdown, caused by a nuclear reaction running out of control, had indeed affected the reactor’s fuel rods – although possibly only to a limited extent.”) And this one, saying there was a partial meltdown. (“The detection of the materials, which are created following atomic fission, led Japan’s nuclear safety agency to admit the reactor had partially melted—the first such case in Japan.”)

So there you have it.

In summary, I still have no idea what’s going on — nor, it appears, does anyone else. It’s a breaking news story, and that is the nature of breaking news stories. At this point, there is no need to get carried away. And it would be especially silly to talk about what this means for the future of nuclear power before we really know what happened.

UPDATE x4: To illustrate the confusion, CNN reports at 5:48 p.m. Eastern: “A meltdown may be under way at one of Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear power reactors, an official with Japan’s nuclear and industrial safety agency told CNN Sunday” — and at 6:30 p.m. Easter: “At the moment, there is no evidence of a nuclear meltdown at one of Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear power reactors in northern Japan, Japan’s ambassador to the United States said.”

So there you have it. There is or there isn’t.

UPDATE x5: It may be helpful to define terms. Via Ace comes a report making the distinction between a core meltdown and the type suspected here: a fuel meltdown.

A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous. A meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster. As long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the core breaches but the containment facility built around the core remains intact, the melted fuel can still be dealt with — typically entombed within specialized concrete — but the cost and difficulty of such containment increases exponentially.

I have seen some folks confidently saying there has been no meltdown of any sort, and patting themselves on the back for their calm handling of the story. Ironically, some of them link to stories that say there has been a meltdown, albeit a fuel one. I wonder if the confusion of terminology is the problem here.

As for the claims of no meltdown at all, I suppose they could be right (and I hope they are) but I don’t think anything is clear at this point.

UPDATE x6: DRJ asks, isn’t the fuel part of the core — and isn’t the issue containment?

I really have no idea. I was going off Ace’s post, frankly. This is why English majors shouldn’t try to talk about science.

UPDATE x7: DRJ is quite right. I just read this, which appears to be a good explanation of the mechanics behind a reactor such as the one at Fukushima, together with an explanation of all the controls in place. The fuel rods actually make up the core, so when people distinguish between a “fuel meltdown” and a “core meltdown” it’s not entirely clear what they mean.

If you believe the piece, it provides reassurance that there is no Grand Disaster in the works. As I read it, the author insists that there is no release of radiation that can cause any significant health problems under these circumstances. The only thing I find confusing is reconciling the post with today’s reports of workers suffering radiation sickness.

I will probably link this piece in the latest post.

115 Responses to “Explosion at Nuclear Power Plant in Japan; Meltdown Feared; UPDATE: Has the Worst Passed?; UPDATE: Maybe Not: Report Says There Has Been a Meltdown”

  1. No matter how this comes out, the left will use the result to attack America.

    Fred Z (550c64)

  2. In affirmation of post #1, here is a comment on the nuke plant failure in my local paper (Tacoma News Tribune) by one of our more despicable leftists who calls its self Sumner402…

    “What we really need here in this country is bunch of Nuke plants!
    I mean, they are clean, safe and cheap…….right?
    They must be the far right has been whining about it for years now and they never get anything wrong.”

    Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/03/11/1581156/japan-braces-for-n-reactor-meltdown.html#ixzz1GOuILmdH

    Huey (ddf1a4)

  3. Stay tuned. This could be ugly.

    Shouldn’t that be “This could get uglier.” ????

    I mean it’s the “Argentina Syndrome” isn’t it ?

    Actual (e248ab)

  4. Please check nei.org for accurate updates on Fukishima. The explosion was a hydrogen explosion and the reactor is still intact.

    Don Kosloff (20bc04)

  5. Would you believe that Kimberlin’s business partner, would try to exploit this situation;

    narciso (a3a9aa)

  6. The containment building that exploded appears to be Fukushima I. Fukushima I is the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and is the smallest Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) of the 6 units at the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility.
    There are 3 different nuclear facilities in Fukushima Prefecture, with a total of 17 reactor units. All are run by TEPCO.

    Rodan (03e5c2)

  7. The left are scum.

    DohBiden (984d23)

  8. The last I saw and heard was the containment vessel had not been breached and that the levels of radiation were dropping. But things are so confused. They’ve now evacuated 50,000 people from a radius of 12 miles of the plant.

    MIshka (ffb1f6)

  9. Evacuation (and iodine pills) are just good caution. But the latest news seems to indicate that they’re getting the cooling back under control Barring another major shock throwing them offline again….

    IF containment has been maintained (which it does seem is the case), then even if the fuel pile did melt some before they got it under control, this means a 40 yr old reactor design survived a once-in-1000-yr type earthquake event. (Didn’t they revise the initial shock estimates up to 9.1????)

    Think the enviro-lefties will report it that way? Nope. Expect the next wave of TMI-level anti-nuke hype.

    rtrski (8bb1a4)

  10. Wait a tic if this was caused by gorebull warming[which it was not] Than how come we aren’t calling out India and China for polluting the world?

    DohBiden (984d23)

  11. What I read is that the gas was in the containment building, outside the reactor housing, and the containment building was breached. But not the reactor.

    MY first (engineering) opinion is that someone decided to not vent the gas that was building up in containment and they should have. My money is on craven management.

    Kevin M (298030)

  12. Your probably right Kevin.

    DohBiden (984d23)

  13. I probably won’t be able to cover this at all for a few hours. believe it or not, my wife has another death among people in her life (she has been getting alot of this recently). but one aspect to the story i am wondering is this. it really looks like the japanese government has not been square with the people about this–how will that affect their local politics?

    And naturally this will have implications about any attempt in america to have a more active nuke program. Even if all the safeguards work, people will freak out.

    [I should add the death in my wife’s life has nothing to do with this story. But the fact we have to go to the service does.]

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  14. “And naturally this will have implications about any attempt in america to have a more active nuke program.”

    A.W. – Exactly. Screw these electric cars, which require massive electric generating capacity. People should buy wind powered cars like mine. Wave of the future I tell you.

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  15. I guess the green energy solutions are positively “glowing” right now

    EricPWJohnson (6a2bb1)

  16. I love nuclear powers it’s my second-favorite kind after the kind you get from burning coal.

    More nuclear power please and don’t skimp on the gravy!

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  17. it really looks like the japanese government has not been square with the people about this

    That doesn’t surprise me at all.

    I mean: this is Japan. If there’s anything the government wants to minimize from a PR perspective, it’s the risk of nuclear disaster. Their history practically demands it.

    And naturally this will have implications about any attempt in america to have a more active nuke program. Even if all the safeguards work, people will freak out.

    Even if the safeguards don’t work, a freakout isn’t really the correct response. It really looks like the plant would have been fine had it not been for the tsunami. So: it takes one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded, followed by a destructive tsunami, to take out the plant. This means that a plant in California’s central valley, for example, has a very, very, very low chance of being taken out; the only real problem is coastal sites in earthquake zones.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  18. Happyfeet: back when I was in high school, like all good liberals, I opposed nuclear power.

    My thinking on the issue began to chance when I learned – while researching a paper on the way the Gobcikovo dam had helped spur the environmental movement in Hungary – that the environmental movement in east-central Europe was pro-nuclear power … because the coal plants they used in the Warsaw Pact just sucked, horribly.

    As an adult, I think: all power generation has a cost. The question really is, which cost do we prefer. Do we prefer coal, with the attendant air quality risks? Hydropower, with the flooding of a valley and the risk to fisheries? Nuclear, with the problem of dealing with the waste and the potential for nuclear disasters? (Wind and solar are helpful but expensive if we try to base the entire system on them, and only really work in certain regions).

    My preference would be for hydropower first, nuclear second. Tidal power looks interesting, but I think it will take a while for the costs to come down – and even then, it only works in coastal regions.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  19. Mr. aphrael if your goal is abundant cheap energy you’ve gone a long way towards ensuring your society can produce the wealth that makes quick production and wide adoption of new clean happy efficient products feasible. A wealthy society has choices. Barack Obama’s poor desperate broke and jobless America not so much.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  20. STRATFOR considers the worst-case scenario that the earthquake, tsunami and explosion damaged the containment system:

    At this point, events in Japan bear many similarities to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Reports indicate that up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of the reactor fuel was exposed. The reactor fuel appears to have at least partially melted, and the subsequent explosion has shattered the walls and roof of the containment vessel — and likely the remaining useful parts of the control and coolant systems.

    And so now the question is simple: Did the floor of the containment vessel crack? If not, the situation can still be salvaged by somehow re-containing the nuclear core. But if the floor has cracked, it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through the floor of the containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before but has always been the nightmare scenario for a nuclear power event — in this scenario, containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  21. DRJ: that’s … terrifying.

    Japan isn’t all that large a place.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  22. I don’t know if this STRATFOR report is correct but I doubt anyone outside the Japanese government really knows what’s going on. However, the possibility the cooling system has been damaged might explain reports that they are using seawater to cool the reactor.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  23. We gave up ‘renewable energy, three hundred some years ago, it was called the industrial revolution,
    what’s wrong with these people?

    narciso (a3a9aa)

  24. Long-term, renewable energy is the only option: eventually we’ll exhaust all non-renewable supplies.

    The trick is to keep the economy growing and the level of technology increasing while using the non-renewable sources, so that by the time they’ve run out, we’ve developed a cost-effective renewable energy source.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  25. One possible (and simple) explanation for the poor statements coming out could simply be that whatever the Japanese government /is/ saying is not getting translated well.

    I saw the Japanese ambassador to the US on some show last night and he seemed to be having lots of problems staying on topic. It didn’t seem like he was particularly trying to be evasive so much as shocked at how big the event was.

    Soronel Haetir (c12482)

  26. if they poured slusho on top of everything it would cool off lickety-split quick like a bunny I bet

    It can’t hurt to try.

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  27. DRJ: sure. I said “long term”, and I meant “long term”. I’m not expressing a view on when oil will run out; I’m saying that it’s inherent in the definition of something non-renewable that eventually all of it will be consumed.

    This applies to uranium as well as oil.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  28. Aphrael,

    Also GTL plants can be built, giving an allmost endless supply of fuel

    EricPWJohnson (6a2bb1)

  29. trusting the MFM to report accurately on anything technologically complex, let alone on something they hate like nuclear power, is like expecting fire to not be hot. after all, these are the geniuses to whom every tracked vehicle is a “tank” and every warship that isn’t a carrier is a “battleship”.

    they don’t know what they are talking about to begin with, and deep down, they want there to be bad things happening so that they can continue their campaign against the use of nuclear power everywhere, but especially here in the US.

    therefore, i would question every report that is so breathlessly offered up for immediate consumption as “truth” and doubt both the content itself and the integrity of those offering it until proven reliable. they have been lying to us for so long that i doubt they even remember what truth is, but we can never allow ourselves to forget that they lie.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  30. Long-term, renewable energy is the only option: eventually we’ll exhaust all non-renewable supplies.

    There is a generation of nuke breeder – reactor plants that will be smale – scale and work on using the expended fuel rods of other plants for their fuel; if there had not been a virtual moritorium on any new construction of plants here over the past 20+ years we probably would have had a number of of them in working condition here. I wasn’t a fan of the plants built here that are still in operation, due to the many defects found in their construction (which were followed by lengthy shutdowns – the one built in Zion, IL was actually shut down permanently) – but it can be done more cheaply and safely than previously.

    Dmac (b9fd74)

  31. UPDATE: Allahpundit has running coverage here. This kind of thing is his specialty, so if you’re looking for continuous updates, I suggest you follow the link. There is a lot of contradictory information there, as is common with breaking stories. My interpretation of the bottom line: it looks like we are going to avoid the worst. But it’s not guaranteed.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  32. The reports saying that seawater was being used to cool the reactor also said that this is an act of desperation. They must be running out of time.

    The Sanity Inspector (dc1b98)

  33. The bad news is Japanese officials have admitted the explosion was caused by a melting reactor core, but the good news is they claim the metal containment unit is still in place. They also say the use of seawater is considered an act of “desperation” because it means the reactor will have to be scrapped.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  34. UPDATE x2: DRJ posts in the comments:

    The bad news is Japanese officials have admitted the explosion was caused by a melting reactor core, but the good news is they claim the metal containment unit is still in place. They also say the use of seawater is considered an act of “desperation” because it means the reactor will have to be scrapped.

    From the link:

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said Saturday afternoon the explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core.

    The same day, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), which runs the plant, began to flood the damaged reactor with seawater to cool it down, resorting to measures that could rust the reactor and force the utility to scrap it.

    Cesium and iodine, by-products of nuclear fission, were detected around the plant, which would make the explosion the worst accident in the roughly 50-year history of Japanese nuclear power generation.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  35. I’m going to edit the update to add this quote as well:

    An explosion was heard near the plant’s No. 1 reactor about 3:30 p.m. and plumes of white smoke went up 10 minutes later. The ceiling of the building housing the reactor collapsed, according to information obtained by Fukushima prefectural authorities.

    At a news conference Saturday night, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano discounted the possibility of a significant leak of radioactive material from the accident. “The walls of the building containing the reactor were destroyed, meaning that the metal container encasing the reactor did not explode,” Edano said.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  36. I hope they are all ok.

    DohBiden (984d23)

  37. A meltdown itself confirms that the reactor will be scrapped, but so long as it is largely contained, then this will not be a serious threat to life. Contrasted with the horrendous loss of life and property to the rest of the area through the earthquake and the tsunami, this has gotten a lot of excitement.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  38. I don’t know anything about nuclear plants but it appears this Japan Today report partially confirms the Nikkei link above, and also raises concerns about a second reactor [emphasis supplied]:

    TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants have lost their cooling functions after the area was jolted by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake Friday.

    Due to failure to cool down the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, radioactive cesium and iodine were detected near the facility Saturday.

    The detection of the materials, which are created following atomic fission, led Japan’s nuclear safety agency to admit the reactor had partially melted—the first such case in Japan.

    Following the blast that occurred as vapor from the container of the No. 1 reactor turned into hydrogen and mixed with outside oxygen, Edano said the authorities expanded from 10 kilometers to 20 km the radius of the area to be evacuated by residents living in the vicinity of the Fukushima plants as a precaution.

    This sounds to me like they know there was a partial meltdown because of the presence of radioactive cesium and iodine, but that doesn’t mean the explosion was caused by the meltdown. If so, that might reconcile the conflicting reports collected so well by Allahpundit.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  39. The presence of cesium or iodine does not mean there was a meltdown. It means that primary coolant was exposed to the atmosphere.

    SunSword (9afd06)

  40. +++ Unbelievable scenes +++

    There is now fire rising near Fukushima’s nuclear power plant! A disaster is expected to escalate soon.
    http://bit.ly/gAuxRm

    People running hectic through the cities. The Tokyo Int. airport is flooded with people want to leave Japan right now.
    http://bit.ly/fd1duk

    Officials still doubt whether nuclear radiation will destroy the whole area.
    http://bit.ly/fU4KRO

    ken (2b3d1f)

  41. 28.DRJ: sure. I said “long term”, and I meant “long term”. I’m not expressing a view on when oil will run out; I’m saying that it’s inherent in the definition of something non-renewable that eventually all of it will be consumed.
    This applies to uranium as well as oil.
    – Comment by aphrael

    Here’s the trick question of the day-
    Which energy source isn’t non-renewable??

    None. I say none, if you want to get hard core about it. Our sun will one day die.

    So the question is not, “Is it renewable”, but how long will the supply last? We presume solar power will last a long, long time. Geothermal will last a long, long time.

    Fusion, fission, hydro, wind, oil, gas, coal, wood, ethanol, bicycle are all likewise non-renewable, they just aren’t likely to last as long as the sun. So, unless you want to have an existential crisis about the future if the universe, the question gets back to how big is the supply, and how long will it last.

    The feds count burning wood as a renewable fuel source, which it is, if you have land and water that grows trees. And growing trees sucks up that bad CO2!!! (Do not, repeat, do not, think about what happens when you burn that renewable wood.)

    MD (from UW-Madison) in Philly (3d3f72)

  42. I’m ignorant about this topic, SunSword, and you may be right … but this DailyTech post seems to support the Japan Today article:

    At the Fukushima I plant, radioactive cesium was discovered. Cesium is in the beta decay chain tellurium -> iodine -> xenon -> cesium. Its occurs roughly 16 hours after an unchecked uranium reaction and its presence indicates that one of the fuel rods may already have melted down.

    Once one rod melts, it will be much more difficult to prevent the others from melting down as well.

    More at the link and it also has advice for preventing similar problems in the future.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  43. Let’s put things into perspective on the radiation “dangers”.

    So far, I’ve not seen anything that suggest acutely dangerous levels of radiation are or have been present around the reactors. And so long as we don’t see a Chernobyl style event, which was a prolonged fire of the exposed graphite moderated core of the Soviet era reactor, we should not.

    I’m confident that the Japanese will successfully avoid such a scenario, but even if they fail to contain it, then the kind of competent response that I expect from the Japanese (in contrast to the Soviet kind of incompetence) means that I doubt we’ll see any real civilian casualties from these reactors. The news media need to dial down the breathless crap.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  44. SPQR,

    It’s very helpful to put this in perspective and implicitly remind us about the dangers of China Syndrome-type alarmism. I still think it’s interesting to discuss.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  45. DRJ, it is interesting. I’m just seeing an extraordinary amount of reporting that pushes the meme that nuclear reactors are too dangerous in this country because of the chances of a 9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami … sheesh.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  46. the meme that nuclear reactors are too dangerous in this country because of the chances of a 9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami

    so … put them somewhere that isn’t on the coast in an earthquake zone? I mean, really. A nuclear reactor in Banning, CA, would be perfectly safe from the danger of a 9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

    aphrael (ab7ec9)

  47. UPDATE x3: And while I was out, another report has come out saying the reactor has not been breached, but that there was a limited meltdown. (“The discovery indicates that meltdown, caused by a nuclear reaction running out of control, had indeed affected the reactor’s fuel rods – although possibly only to a limited extent.”) And this one, saying there was a partial meltdown. (“The detection of the materials, which are created following atomic fission, led Japan’s nuclear safety agency to admit the reactor had partially melted—the first such case in Japan.”)

    So there you have it.

    In summary, I still have no idea what’s going on — nor, it appears, does anyone else. It’s a breaking news story, and that is the nature of breaking news stories. At this point, there is no need to get carried away. And it would be especially silly to talk about what this means for the future of nuclear power before we really know what happened.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  48. aphrael, or have them prepared for a catastrophic shutdown. There are a lot of things in our industrial society that becomes catastrophically dangerous during a 9 magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami. The death toll of this quake is going to be astoundingly high even without the issues of the reactor.

    And there are always Darwin Award winners available.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  49. Seriously, I think that people do not understand just how dangerous everyday industrial facilities/processes can be.

    A shipload of fertilizer for instance once detonated to the result of nearly 600 dead and 5,000 injured.

    Nuclear power plants need certain safeguards, and need to be managed and contained in the aftermath of a natural disaster, but we seem to be overfocused on the implications of two plants in this immense disaster. I suspect that the media have been ignoring more significant numbers of deaths and injuries in other circumstances of this horrific catastrophy.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  50. SPQR: when that story was originally reported, the story was that the idiot had died in Crescent City, which I found little short of astounding; surely if there’s anywhere in the mainland US where the danger of a tsunami ought to be embedded in the cultural memory, it’s there.

    But it was actually 20 miles or so south of there.

    Although even there it makes no ****ing sense. There’s a road on the north side of the river which rounds up to a lookout point at several hundred feet. If you wanted to camp out and watch a tsunami in that region, the lookout point would be the wise place to do it.

    aphrael (ab7ec9)

  51. Y’all ain’t seen NUTHIN’ yet

    The volcano under Yellowstone (72b0ed)

  52. aphrael, nothing can match the power of the moron who really wants that Darwin Award. Nothing.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  53. 😯 Darwin would just laugh his ass off if he were here today 😯

    DohBiden (984d23)

  54. that was meant for aphrael.

    DohBiden (984d23)

  55. The explosion was a hydrogen explosion that blew out panels designed to do just that. There was no meltdown thus far.

    I’d also suggest Chicago Boyz where there are several nuclear engineers on the group.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  56. Is Tom Holsinger one of the nuclear engineers at Chicago Boyz? He isn’t listed as a contributor so I can’t tell.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  57. Holsinger has been around for a long time in various venues, I am pretty sure he’s not a nuclear engineer although he’s usually a fairly knowledgable, if arrogant, guy.

    I thought he practiced law for some reason …

    SPQR (26be8b)

  58. Thanks, SPQR. I thought he might be because his comment is consistent with Mike K’s point, and I didn’t see anyone else making that point. I guess I need to dig a little deeper.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  59. A nuclear reactor in Banning CA???
    http://www.data.scec.org/faults/sofault.html
    Just miles from the San Andreas fault and several others…
    not a very good location, aphrael (granted, it would be safe from a tsunami – but where are you going to get the needed cooling water?).

    AD-RtR/OS! (1df020)

  60. ___________________________________________

    the left will use the result to attack America.

    I’d say a variation of that is to point out one aspect of the tragedy to attack the left itself.

    I’ve just read a large number of postings in a forum attached to a news report about the quake from Yahoo.com. A variety of people were commenting on how looting and self-destructive chaos aren’t as noticeable (or actually not in evidence at all) in Japan, post-quake, compared with New Orleans, post-Katrina.

    Now switch from the scenario of New Orleans a few years ago to Wisconsin over the past several days. I think of all the sleazy, greedy, self-entitled behavior on display among protesters in Wisconsin’s state capitol.

    The one thing that connects the two groups of people associated with those 2 locations in the US? Almost all of them are of the…left.

    Mark (411533)

  61. Logically, a 40-year-old facility hit by one of the biggest-ever quakes, in a quake-prone area should not inform much about modern designs.

    In particular, modern designs rely on passive safety rather than rely on critical systems to function. The designs vary, but all have one thiong in common: higher temperatures slow and then stop the reaction by passive means (e.g. the core expands and separates the fuel rods).

    Not that I expect logical discussion.

    Kevin M (298030)

  62. BTW, Japan is one of the few societies in the industrialized world whose populace generally always favors a center-right political way of thinking and voting—its recent elections for prime minister notwithstanding.

    Of course, if the tragedy in that country unfolds to a more severe, desperate level — and human nature being what it is — ugly behavior could very easily break out. IOW, desperate people are more likely to do desperate things. But when a good percentage of folks in any community tries to be as sensible and reasonable as possible, that counts as a built-in advantage from Day One.

    Mark (411533)

  63. I’m watching the English version of Japanese TV linked by Allahpundit. The report confirmed the No. 3 reactor is also having “water feed” (cooling) problems, but no new evacuations are required. Attempts to correct the problem are continuing.

    The reporter also repeated reports that the No. 1 reactor had a partial meltdown and included an interview that said the radioactive release was described as minimal, but another report described the release as “significant.”

    DRJ (fdd243)

  64. UPDATE x5: It may be helpful to define terms. Via Ace comes a report making the distinction between a core meltdown and the type suspected here: a fuel meltdown.

    A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous. A meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster. As long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the core breaches but the containment facility built around the core remains intact, the melted fuel can still be dealt with — typically entombed within specialized concrete — but the cost and difficulty of such containment increases exponentially.

    I have seen some folks confidently saying there has been no meltdown of any sort, and patting themselves on the back for their calm handling of the story. Ironically, some of them link to stories that say there has been a meltdown, albeit a fuel one. I wonder if the confusion of terminology is the problem here.

    As for the claims of no meltdown at all, I suppose they could be right (and I hope they are) but I don’t think anything is clear at this point.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  65. Isn’t the fuel part of the core? I thought the point is whether the containment unit that holds the fuel/core has been breached.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  66. UPDATE x6: DRJ asks, isn’t the fuel part of the core — and isn’t the issue containment?

    I really have no idea. I was going off Ace’s post, frankly. This is why English majors shouldn’t try to talk about science.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  67. This is why English majors shouldn’t try to talk about science.

    I’m sure we could get a very illuminating dissertation on what is happening from Jane Fonda.

    AD-RtR/OS! (1df020)

  68. DRJ, most people term the part of a reactor that contains the matrix of fuel rods “the core”, yes. Also part of that matrix are the moderators that when inserted into the matrix of fuel rods cause the high speed neutrons to be moderated down to lower speed neutrons that actually create fission. Among the odd behaviors of the standard nuclear reactor pile is that moderation is required to have a chain reaction.

    You’ll also see references to “primary coolant” and “secondary coolant”. Water cooled reactors have two coolant loops, the primary is the one that circulates within the core. The secondary is used to remove heat from the primary through interchangers and do so without the secondary coolant becoming as radioactive as the primary system. Often secondary coolant is an open system, ie., taken from a river or lake and then returned to that river or lake.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  69. Aaargh. I got the behavior of control rods between pressurized water reactors and breeder reactors backwards.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  70. SPQR,

    Thank you. What you’ve described sounds like this, for others like me who need to see a diagram as well as have it explained.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  71. Design of a boiling water reactor.

    Design of a pressurized water reaction.

    The main differences are whether or not the primary coolant boils to steam. As you’ll see in the wikipedia (Caveat Wiki) links above, moderators work differently in different designs.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  72. Okay. My link is to a pressured water reactor but I think the Fukushima reactors are boiling water reactors, which means they are like your first link. Is that your understanding?

    DRJ (fdd243)

  73. if anything this just makes the case for defunding NPR that much more compelling

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  74. I don’t care if it rains or freezes
    As long as I got that plastic Jesus
    Ridin’ on the dashboard of my car

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  75. if I ever get me a nuclear reactor I’m not gonna name it fuku 2 I think maybe Reginald or even a fancy name like Socrates would be cool

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  76. If these are boiling water reactors, then maybe the explosion was in the unit that houses the turbine, feedwater, steam, etc., and not the containment unit for the fuel rods. It seems like that’s where a hydrogen/oxygen interaction might occur, and I assume some of the radioactive material would leak if there were a release of the water circulating in the core.

    Am I reading the schematic wrong or is that a possibility?

    DRJ (fdd243)

  77. There’s an old VVER 40 reactor, in Juragua, Cuba, that the Russians have trying to refurbish forever, if it were to fail and it’s much less safe, than the
    Fukishima ones, ‘katie bar the door’ for Florida nand much of the Gulf Coast,Also the first Iranian nuclear plant, Bushehr lies on the Persian gulf, in a very earthquake sensitive spot. Those who are complaining about this one, consider the level of
    the disaster that had to precede it.

    narciso (a3a9aa)

  78. There are better alternatives, as I understand it. The pebble bed design, for example, tolerates high heat and does require fuel rods and graphite rods to move in and out.

    This is old technology but it seems to be holding up pretty well. This was not operator error but a catastrophic natural disaster. If the steel containment vessel is breached, we can discuss the risks of nuclear power. If not. we have a great example of how safe it is.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  79. That is does NOT require fuel and graphite rods.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  80. the takeaway I think is that unlike President Obama you can’t bully a nuclear reactor

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  81. DRJ, I think that the reactor in question is likely a boiling water design, but I’ve not confirmed it.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  82. It’s a GE boiling water reactor, and there’s lots of interesting info at Scientific American.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  83. the other takeaway might could be that to pay for this mess the Japanese are gonna have to sell a crapload of the US debt they hold which means game over for you, broke-ass America

    But hey good news bumble is letting our little country drill an oil well!

    oh happy day

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  84. That Scientific American article goes along with what I have read thus far. They had to vent the containment vessel and the hydrogen came in contact with oxygen and exploded. That blew out the “blow out panels” of the outer building.

    It’s amazing to me that an electricity generating plant could not generate the electricity to keep the pumps working. Maybe there was tsunami damage.

    Mike K (8f3f19)

  85. A Aussie and Brit company as it turns out, and they
    are just resuming the drilling they had to stop last spring,

    narciso (a3a9aa)

  86. Mike K,

    I believe I read somewhere that the cooling problems resulted from damage caused by the earthquake, the tsunami, or both. In addition, this AP report says there is a possible partial meltdown at a second reactor.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  87. Cool factoids I just found

    Not directly relevant to the nuclear power plant drama, but it shows how strong that earthquake actually was:

    Honshu, the main island of Japan, was moved eight feet.

    The axis of the earth was shifted by 4 inches.

    kishnevi (225b9d)

  88. Amazing.

    DRJ (fdd243)

  89. It’s amazing to me that an electricity generating plant could not generate the electricity to keep the pumps working

    Power plants produce electricity at high levels, and as it goes through the grid, the electricity is gradually stepped down to the much lower level we end users actually need for our homes and workplaces–that is what transformers and some of the other what-nots used by power companies are for. So the power plant itself can’t immediately use the power it produces, unless the necessary arrangement is already in place to lower power levels from what is produced to what is actually needed, just like any other end-user.

    Note: Like Patterico, I’m an English major, which is why I am allowed to include in my description technical jargon such as “what-nots”.

    kishnevi (225b9d)

  90. Tens of thousands of people have taken part in an anti-nuclear demonstration in southern Germany. The demonstration had been planned for some time, but after the news of Japan’s nuclear emergency, organisers were overwhelmed by crowds of around 50,000 people who turned up.*

    and that’s Germany just imagine how stupid superstitious largely-uneducated Americans are gonna react

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  91. but you know what if this unfortunate freakishly random accident is bad news for nuclear power in America it’s gonna play absolute utter hell with president bumble’s high speed rail dreams

    One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.

    jesus bumble are you trying to kill us all?

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  92. “and that’s Germany just imagine how stupid superstitious largely-uneducated Americans are gonna react”

    Mr. Feets – Have they got Mr. Obama’s purple people beaters over in Germany?

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  93. yes they do Mr. daley but the weird thing is even with more than their share of socialist fat-ass lazy illiterate union thugs Germany can still make cars people want to drive

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  94. off topic Mr. daley here is a new peugot rcz

    that is a very nice looking machine it says it starts at 31K which is way way way cheaper than a “volt”

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  95. pikachu, they have a prime minister more impressive
    than our peripatetic tenant, so don’t sell them short.

    narciso (a3a9aa)

  96. This whole situation has me feeling a lot smaller. I just watched this Tsunami and Earthquake footage and wept.

    Michael (be0176)

  97. that’s the way to pimp a tragedy Michael!

    gack

    happyfeet (ab5779)

  98. “This whole situation has me feeling a lot smaller.”

    Michael – It’s OK. Small people are people too. I know because Randy Newman wrote a song about it.

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  99. Michael – Japanese people are mostly kinda smaller really, so I’m sure they welcome the company in this troubling time.

    daleyrocks (ae76ce)

  100. off topic Mr. daley here is a new peugot rcz

    that is a very nice looking machine it says it starts at 31K which is way way way cheaper than a “volt”

    Eddie Rabbit is spinning in his grave.

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  101. Clearly what was needed was less regulation.

    The invisible hand of market will fix things.

    Right?

    jharp (3bd2a1)

  102. UPDATE x7: DRJ is quite right. I just read this, which appears to be a good explanation of the mechanics behind a reactor such as the one at Fukushima, together with an explanation of all the controls in place. The fuel rods actually make up the core, so when people distinguish between a “fuel meltdown” and a “core meltdown” it’s not entirely clear what they mean.

    If you believe the piece, it provides reassurance that there is no Grand Disaster in the works. As I read it, the author insists that there is no release of radiation that can cause any significant health problems under these circumstances. The only thing I find confusing is reconciling the post with today’s reports of workers suffering radiation sickness.

    I will probably link this piece in the latest post.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  103. The funny part is how we get all annoyed at the press for misstating things about which we know. Then we turn around and believe the press on issues we don’t know about.

    Michael Crichton calls it the Gell-Mann Effect.

    Ace is doing a pretty good job with physics and engineering. The MSM, not so much. Besides, they proved nuclear power had cooties in the 70s.

    Here’s a thought. How well does hydro do after a 9? Just asking.

    Simon Jester (11f95e)

  104. TEPCO to Investigate Leak at Fukushima Reactor.

    Nuclear Power Today| August 16, 2005

    Kyodo recently reported that the discovery of a radioactive fluid leak, containing levels of tritium approximately 8,000 times greater than normal, at the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima nuclear power plant has prompted Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to shut down the reactor to determine the cause of the problem.

    According to Kyodo, the leak, which TEPCO said was found near a steam-condenser system pump, is located in an area where investigation would not be possible during normal plant operations due to strong levels of radioactivity.

    Kyodo said TEPCO has yet to indicate a date for the resumption of plant activities.

    (KYODO: 8/12)

    EricPWJohnson (86538c)

  105. TEPCO Unable to Restart Reactor Due to Mechanical Problems.
    Publication: Nuclear Power Today
    Date: Thursday, March 17 2005

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    Reuters recently reported that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was unable to resume operations of the No. 3 reactor at its Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant last week due to “mechanical” problems.

    According to Reuters, the plant, which has been shut down for inspections since August 2004, was scheduled to resume operations early this week.

    Reuters noted that TEPCO has not revealed the

    EricPWJohnson (86538c)

  106. Tokyo Electric Power Company to be a Partner in South Texas Project Nuclear Expansion

    PRINCETON, NJ – Nuclear Innovation North America LLC, the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba Corporation, has reached an agreement with The Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. to partner in the two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project.

    EricPWJohnson (86538c)

  107. Irradiated Water Leak Forces Shutdown of Fukushima Reactor.

    Publication: Nuclear Power Today
    Date: Wednesday, March 1 2006

    The Associated Press (AP) recently reported that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) spokesperson Motoyasu Tamaki has revealed that one of the reactors at the No. 1 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant outside of Tokyo was shuttered last week following the identification of leaking irradiated water.

    According to AP, Tamaki noted that the water has been leaking in large amounts from one of the reactor’s pumps since the beginning of the year, but assured that plant employees have avoided exposure to the contaminant, which has remained within the confines of the site.

    EricPWJohnson (86538c)

  108. Any French people here to comment on the consensus opinion of French nuclear power production. I think I read once that nuclear power provides 75% of every day electric needs. How does the ordinary French citizen feel about the rather unfearful use nuclear power plants there?

    As as aside, shouldn’t Obama be giving Jane Fonda some kind of civilian medal of honor for her yeowoman’s work of emulating the mindset of the left regarding opposition to the Vietnam war and acting in the anti-nuke powerplant movie?

    Regarding offshore drilling vehemently opposed by Obama, is it not particularly galling that the Chinese are allowed to drill to their heart’s content in the Caribbean around Cuba. And of course we don’t hear much about the horrific potential for unmitigated disaster when that old decrepit nuke plant in Cuba might have its own meltdown. How would the Gulf Coast and Florida appreciate all that?

    Calypso Louie Farrakhan (798aba)

  109. Any French people here to comment on the consensus opinion of French nuclear power production. I think I read once that nuclear power provides 75% of every day electric needs. How does the ordinary French citizen feel about the rather unfearful use nuclear power plants there?

    As as aside, shouldn’t Obama be giving Jane Fonda some kind of civilian medal of honor for her yeowoman’s work of emulating the mindset of the left regarding opposition to the Vietnam war and acting in the anti-nuke powerplant movie?

    Regarding offshore drilling vehemently opposed by Obama, is it not particularly galling that the Chinese are allowed to drill to their heart’s content in the Caribbean around Cuba. And of course we don’t hear much about the horrific potential for unmitigated disaster when that old decrepit nuke plant in Cuba might have its own meltdown. How would the Gulf Coast and Florida appreciate all that?

    Calypso Louie Farrakhan (798aba)

  110. Patrick.
    I worked summers at a nuc plant,and part of a year when I switched residencies.Containment walls of that era are immensely thick concrete /reinforced steel The term Containment is appropriate As people have stated,if a nuclear reactor is still functioning,the heat continues to rise.With enough heat,anything melts. Then,literally,Hell breaks loose. One can’t simply run water over an open site to quench the reactor-at least i can’t conceive of that-since you’re re4leasing radiation into the water,which is the ultimate danger.Much worse than the air. The plants release two forms of radioactivity.One only has a half life of several hrs.But cesium is , I think 30 some years. It ccan';t get much worse than that

    corwin (35b5f0)

  111. And,number 90.The plant in which i worked had electrical power. I assumed it came from our plant.It was the amperage,not the voltage which was so high.But the pumps.running what is called the secondary system ,which surrounds the steam from the primary (turning the turbines to make electricity) are broken.And,to clarify a bit,these are two separated water systems exchanging heat by conduction,not convection.Still, I can’t conceive of how to quench a nuclear pile with a limited amount of water.They can only fill around containment once.then there’s no way to circulate the water. I’m frightened

    corwin (35b5f0)

  112. Generally, nuke plants auto-scram if the grid goes away. Thus, they would not be able to use the reactors to make power for their own use. There are some exceptions in the US, but I don’t want to get too techie here.

    Nuke plants have many on-site auxiliary and emergency power sources, such as emergency diesels and batteries. However, a large enough wave might exceed flood protection and damage the machines. Batteries would more likely be better protected, but they cannot power pumps. They can power valves and provide control of steam-powered pumps, if the design includes them. I think all BWRs have at least one steam-powered pump system (the acronym is RCIC).

    The US BWRs, IIRC, have all demonstrated that they can “black start” and operate RCIC. I would be surprised if the Japanese could not also do that.

    Nonetheless, the batteries will run out eventually and RCIC will need a water source eventually tomake up for steamed-off water. Also, the containment heat sink will eventually heat up.

    All those things buy time. Time to get back some AC power source, be it a diesel generator, off site power, or some emergency source like a skid-mounted diesel, etc. Another way to buy time is to get a firetruck and use that pump to supply some more water.

    All BWRs would be good without AC power for 8 hours to a day. Operators could probably extend that period to 2 or 3 days. Without AC power, however, all roads eventually lead to core damage, etc., though major rad releases should be able to be averted.

    One thought I’d like to add is that any nuke would be able to tell anyone who would listen that a sustained SBO leads to core damage, and that strategic-level decision-makers had about 1 – 3 days to get one or more AC power sources running at each nuke site.

    Why did that not happen? Could the damage on the site to other hardware prevent this? Did the nukes not tell others? Did the word not rise to where it needed to get? Did not the affected utility ask other nuke utilities to the South for tech and engineering help? In the US, Exelon would have Entergy in an hour, or SOuthern would have asked Duke, or Arizona would have asked SCal, or PPL would have asked AEP, or whatever. Any such request would have had teams on the way in hours, with others prepping hardware for air-lift.

    These are some of the Qs to which I await answers in the future.

    jim2 (fea3ad)

  113. I just saw Update 7. This is a guess but a fuel meltdown could refer to burning fuel within a containment unit, while a core meltdown could mean burning fuel that breaches its containment unit — which is a much more serious situation. Up to now, we’ve been talking about the former but this Hot air report suggests that may have changed.

    DRJ (fdd243)


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