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Mar 14, 2011

Second explosion rips through Fukushima reactor complex

Tuesday AM:The complete exposure of the fuel rods in the Daiichi No 2 reactor core overnight will cause a meltdown unless the they are re-submerged with an effectiv

Tuesday AM:The complete exposure of the fuel rods in the Daiichi No 2 reactor core overnight will cause a meltdown unless the they are re-submerged with an effective coolant. The extreme urgency of this need is the reason for the government of Japan to plead for immediate international assistance in overcoming new difficulties that the nuclear industry keeps insisting would not occur.

10.10 am: Ambiguity continues over government references to the No 2 reactor container being ‘damaged’ by an explosion earlier this morning.  Spokespersons announced the presence of ‘damage’ in the reactor before they confirmed there had been an ‘explosion’ and are having difficulty confirming that the two confirmations are linked. They are also saying there has been no increase in radiation at the reactor, a claim which is being contradicted by references to increased radiation in other briefings this morning.

The known factual situation this morning is that all three Daiichi reactors that were active when the earthquake and tsunami occurred last Friday have now suffered explosions, and that the ‘container’ of No 2 reactor has been suffered unspecified damage.  The government and Tokyo Electric company have previously emphasised that the internal reactor containers surrounding the No 1 and No 3 cores have not been structurally damaged.

There has been another major explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the No 3 reactor, which is fueled by plutonium oxide and uranium oxide.

The No 1 Daiichi reactor lost its roof and most of its outer walls in an explosion on Saturday afternoon. It is fueled by uranium rods.

The explosion occurred just after a helicopter crew was reported as having sighted a three metre high tsunami wave front racing toward the Honshu coastline. That report has since been withdrawn as false by media in Japan.

The International Atomic Energy Agency this afternoon reported that all four reactors in the Daini plant now have stable water levels and that radiation levels monitored over a 16 hour period for that complex are normal. It said that while preparations to vent steam to relieve pressure at these reactors had been made, no venting had occurred.

This report (below) , about what matters in the nuclear crisis part of the vast devastation caused by Friday’s earthquake and following tsunami in the north Pacific coast/Sendai region of Honshu appears on Crikey today.

It has taken less than three days for Japan’s notoriously dishonest and evasive nuclear industry to concede the seriousness of the crisis affecting the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini plants NE of Tokyo with six and four reactors respectively.

But the ferocious debate over nuclear power that has erupted in the media outside Japan is completely missing several points.

The first point  is that the failures of ‘fail safe’ cooling processes at each plant is a risk analysis bet gone wrong by Japan’s nuclear power regulators and the Fukushima plant owner Tokyo Electric.

The second point is that the calamities unfolding at the nuclear plants will not kill anything like the 10,000 or perhaps far more people now officially believed to have died in the massive tsunami that ravaged low lying areas of Honshu’s northern Pacific coast on Friday afternoon after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake occurred near Sendai at 2.46 pm local time.

This is likely to be true even if several completely uncontained meltdowns of reactor cores were to occur, despite the extreme seriousness of such events.

When the tsunami overwhelmed the separate coastal locations of the Fukushima Daini and Fukushima Daiichi plants they had already begun shutting down in an automated response to the earthquake, the most powerful ever directly recorded in Japan.

It was the fail safe backup cooling processes that failed, because they had deliberately been designed and built to withstand  severe yet less extremely severe natural disasters.

This was a money saving risk analysis bet by Japan’s nuclear regulators and the owners that a combination of such an extremely violent earthquake and following tsunami would not occur in its lifetime.

That bet nearly came off. The older Daiichi plant has only weeks to run on its 40 year operating licence and half of its reactors were already off line and are reported to be undamaged in their shut down state.

Until about 9 am local time on Saturday Tokyo Electric, the Japan Government, and nuclear apologistas world wide were insisting that the  there had been no melt downs in the reactors, that there was no risk to public safety, and that mass media comparisons to the Chernobyl melt down in 1986 were flawed, which in terms of design is certainly true.

It was even claimed that only if such desperate measures as flooding the reactor cores with sea water took place would the situation be serious.

Shortly afterwards it became apart that nuclear fuel rods exposed by falling levels of coolant in the Daiichi No 1 reactor were initiating partial meltdown with the release of ‘slightly’ radioactive steam from the reactor block and admissions that caesium contamination had been found outside the plant, indicating that the outer layer or cladding of the uranium rods had crumbled and been ejected into the environment during the ‘harmless’ steam releases.

Then the outer retaining walls and roof of the Daiichi No 1 reactor were violently blown to smithereens, a process the Chief Secretary for the Cabinet, Yukio Edano, described as a ‘roof collapse’.

While the Japan government continued to evade the seriousness of the situation it was flying in emergency consignments of unspecified coolants, possibly additional supplies of boric acid, which absorbs neutrons and thus acts as a liquid alternative to control rods in a reactor core in which fuel rods and control rods  have been partially melted or otherwise  damaged to the point where they cannot be used.

The language of officialdom began to shift rapidly from benign soothing evasions to urgency throughout Saturday and yesterday until this morning when Prime Minister Naoto Kan  specifically referred to the nuclear plant situations as ‘grave.’

It appears that up to seven reactor cores, the total that were active in the Fukushima complexes, have been or are about to be flooded with seawater and injected with boric acid, both previously described by nuclear apologistas as ‘desperate measures’ not justified in the post tsunami crisis yet which will according to nuclear scientists, irreparably damage the reactors in the course of shutting them down when all else has failed.

As of this morning the smallest figure given for the number of people in hospital for radiation exposure is 90 and the population at large is being given potassium iodine tablets which will pre-empt the absorbing by the thyroid gland of radioactive iodine particles which was confirmed yesterday afternoon as having escaped from the Daiichi complex some 24 hours after the authorities grudgingly conceded the presence of caesium fallout.

In the drip feed of disclosure coming from Tokyo Electric and the government, it is now publicly confirmed that the fuel rods in the Daiichi No 3 unit, which is of most immediate concern as being at risk of an explosion, use a combination of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, not just the uranium that was being used in Daiichi No 1.

The fission process using only uranium fuel does produce plutonium, however the addition of plutonium oxide at the start of the process lifts the output of a reactor while substantially adding to the lethality of the sort of failure that the nuclear industry regulator and Tokyo Electric knew was possible but gambled would not occur.

This morning there was an elevated radiation level emergency declared at the Onagawa nuclear plant, which comprises three reactors, and is 120 kilometres from the NE outskirts of Tokyo, compared to about 240 kilometres for the nearest Fukushima plant.

These fluctuations at Onagawa are now attributed to fallout from the Fukushima ‘releases’ which is not comforting to those in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan but is an inevitably that adds to the far more visible and immediate aftermaths of the tsunami.

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12 thoughts on “Second explosion rips through Fukushima reactor complex

  1. Michael James

    Passed to me by a friend who is a member.

    American Nuclear Society Backgrounder: Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami; Problems with Nuclear Reactors
    3/12/2011 5:22 PM EST
    To begin, a sense of perspective is needed… right now, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami is clearly a catastrophe; the situation at impacted nuclear reactors is, in the words of IAEA, an “Accident with Local Consequences.”

    The Japanese earthquake and tsunami are natural catastrophes of historic proportions. The death toll is likely to be in the thousands. While the information is still not complete at this time, the tragic loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami will likely dwarf the damage caused by the problems associated with the impacted Japanese nuclear plants.

    What happened?

    Recognizing that information is still not complete due to the destruction of the communication infrastructure, producing reports that are conflicting, here is our best understanding of the sequence of events at the Fukushima I‐1 power station.

     The plant was immediately shut down (scrammed) when the earthquake first hit. The automatic power system worked.
     All external power to the station was lost when the sea water swept away the power lines.  Diesel generators started to provide backup electrical power to the plant’s backup cooling
    system. The backup worked.
     The diesel generators ceased functioning after approximately one hour due to tsunami induced damage, reportedly to their fuel supply.
     An Isolation condenser was used to remove the decay heat from the shutdown reactor.
     Apparently the plant then experienced a small loss of coolant from the reactor.
     Reactor Core Isolation Cooling (RCIC) pumps, which operate on steam from the reactor, were used to replace reactor core water inventory, however, the battery‐supplied control valves lost DC power after the prolonged use.
     DC power from batteries was consumed after approximately 8 hours.
     At that point, the plant experienced a complete blackout (no electric power at all).
     Hours passed as primary water inventory was lost and core degradation occurred (through some combination of zirconium oxidation and clad failure).
     Portable diesel generators were delivered to the plant site.  AC power was restored allowing for a different backup pumping system to replace inventory in
    reactor pressure vessel (RPV).
     Pressure in the containment drywell rose as wetwell became hotter.
     The Drywell containment was vented to outside reactor building which surrounds the containment.
     Hydrogen produced from zirconium oxidation was vented from the containment into the reactor building.
     Hydrogen in reactor building exploded causing it to collapse around the containment.
     The containment around the reactor and RPV were reported to be intact.
     The decision was made to inject seawater into the RPV to continue to the cooling process, another backup system that was designed into the plant from inception.
     Radioactivity releases from operator initiated venting appear to be decreasing.

    Can it happen here in the US?
     While there are risks associated with operating nuclear plants and other industrial facilities, the chances of an adverse event similar to what happened in Japan occurring in the US is small.
     Since September 11, 2001, additional safeguards and training have been put in place at US nuclear reactors which allow plant operators to cool the reactor core during an extended power outage and/or failure of backup generators – “blackout conditions.”

    Is a nuclear reactor “meltdown” a catastrophic event?
     Not necessarily. Nuclear reactors are built with redundant safety systems. Even if the fuel in the reactor melts, the reactor’s containment systems are designed to prevent the spread of radioactivity into the environment. Should an event like this occur, containing the radioactive materials could actually be considered a “success” given the scale of this natural disaster that had not been considered in the original design. The nuclear power industry will learn from this event, and redesign our facilities as needed to make them safer in the future.

  2. Captain Planet

    “While there are risks associated with operating nuclear plants and other industrial facilities, the chances of an adverse event similar to what happened in Japan occurring in the US is small”

    Yep. That’s what the Japanese said.

    “The nuclear power industry will learn from this event, and redesign our facilities as needed to make them safer in the future.”

    Yep. We’ve been hearing that for 50 years. New unexpected things just keep happening, don’t they.

  3. Razwiedka Izraela i Koszer Nostra « Grypa666's Blog

    […] Podobnie z reaktorem nr 1, początkowo mówiono, że wszystko w porządku, a zalanie wodą byłoby środkiem desperacji. Wkrótce potem okazało się, że opadający poziom płynu chłodzącego obnażył pręty paliwowe, rozpoczynając proces  stapiania się rdzenia i wytwarzając nieznacznie radioaktywną parę. Stwierdzono na zewnątrz siłowni skażenie jodem i cezem. Wg Stratfor, izotopy te świadczą o naruszeniu osłony rdzenia. Jod występuje w prętach paliwowych, a cez 137 świadczy o poważnym uszkodzeniu rdzenia i wydostaniu się cząstek radioaktywnych w powietrze. Bezpieka nuklearna Japonii przyznała stopienie rdzenia. […]

  4. johnny7713

    For an up-to-date and as far as i can tell informed and objective news (as far as such a thing is possible) of the events at Fukushima, see:
    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Explosion_rocks_third_Fukushima_reactor_1402111.html
    To add some perspective to Mr Sandiland’s mention of the fallout detected at Onagawa; according to the world nuclear news website a maximum of 21 microSievert /hour was detected and within an hour this had fallen to 10 microSievert an hour. According to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose) a 100 microSievert dose (i.e. 5 hours of exposure to the maximum detected at Onagawa) is equivalent to 1.4 cigarettes or 40 tablespoons of peanut butter.

    How many of the 90 people in hospital for radiation exposure are there as a precaution and how many are confirmed as having suffered exposure? Of those who have suffered exposure what was the dose?

    Regarding the ‘drip feed’ of news, is it maybe possible that the line of communication are just slow, rather than that people are trying to hide things? Especially since this is a developing and constantly changing situation. E.g. for the presence of radioactive caesium isotopes, there is to my knowledge no portable ‘caesium detector’. Instead you would have to take a number of air samples, transport those to the nearest facility with suitable detection equipment (I’m guessing a mass spectrometer, but I’m not an expert) and then prepare the specimens and run tests, which takes time.

  5. MarthaL

    While I see a lot of merit to your assessment and conclusions in your article I do however feel that there are a couple of factors which are omitted. I think the “dishonesty factor” has to be weighed against the extreme of circumstance and the simple fact that the help of major world powers was and is needed. Plus they’re not stupid. By letting a lot of other country’s experts onto the scene who do not have an agenda it would be stupid to lie about it. I just feel from reading the many press releases that there isn’t a lot of dissembling going on at this juncture simply because the situation is so dire. I think some of what you attribute to “dishonesty” is also attributable to an unfolding scene where matters are being reassessed against new discoveries by the minute.

    Now contradicting myself I do believe that the amount and content of the emissions/radiation levels and the number of people exposed and the health hazard is something that they would likely lie about. First to avert widespread panic and secondly for all the reasons you outlined in your article. I mean to this day the extent of health effects from 3-Mile Island and Chernobyl have been downplayed internationally. Personally my guess is it’s a form of a conspiracy theory from the International Atomic Energy personnel. I believe this to be the case because it would be a death knoll to the industry if it were fully known and there goes their livelihood.

    And I think it is likely that people like you will be doing articles years down the line exposing the “cover up” of the health effects of this disaster in years to come. Now would probably be a good point to do such an expose’ on Chernobyl as I imagine the long term effects on the health of the people from that area are something that would make top billing in the news. The problem in estimating the effects is that they occur over a long period of time.

  6. Ben Sandilands

    I used a source in the industry to debunk the origin of the Onagawa elevated reading today as being from within the facility (see end of item) . Under the relevant nuclear treaties, installations like Onagawa and those throughout Japan meticulously monitor even minor fluctuations. The first indication of the scale of the Chernobyl accident was in Scandinavia, when nuclear industry workers noticed abnormal readings on their dosimeters, such is the sensitivity of workplace radiation monitoring.

    The nuclear industry seems to want to justify itself in broad defensive terms, which is fine, but the focus of reporting here is on the governance aspects, including truthful disclosures about events in Japan.

  7. MarthaL

    Don’t forget it tends to be industry manipulated governance, oops, I mean influenced. And what the US doc release has taught us, if nothing else, is that mutually beneficial hidden agendas do exist regardless of monitoring or other requirements.

  8. johnny7713

    Regarding the deaths caused by Chernobyl and the downplaying thereof, the problem is that nobody knows for sure what the actual number is. This is because there are 2 ways radiation kills people:
    1. A large dose of radiation will cause radiation sickness (i.e. your organs being shot to smithereens by ionising radiation), this is easily recognisable and kills (if someone receives a lethal dose) within days or weeks.
    2. A smaller dose of radiation will increase your chance of getting cancer at some later point in your life, the higher the dose, the higher the chance of getting cancer. The problem is that a lot of other things (e.g. smoking) can also cause cancer and we have no way of finding out what caused a particular person’s cancer. Some people will have developed cancer soon after the accident at Chernobyl, some may only develop it next year. In both cases we have no way of knowing if the cancer was caused by Chernobyl or by the pack of cigarettes a day they smoked. So how do people estimate the number of deaths caused by Chernobyl? The answer is that they work out what level of radiation people were exposed to (by looking at the distribution of fallout, distance from the scene, etc) and then calculate the increased likelihood of developing cancer as a result. From this number you can count the extra number of cancer deaths (compared to the number you’d expect if Chernobyl never happened) and thus the number of people killed by Chernobyl. Sounds simple right? The problem is that for exposure to very low levels of radiation no one knows if it actually increases your chances of getting cancer or not (look up the Linear No Threshold Model for more information on the debate). Another problem is the long term nature of the effects. Some people who ‘should’ have developed cancer as a result of Chernobyl today might have been run over by a bus three years ago. Should you still count them as a victim of Chernobyl or not?
    Depending on the assumptions you make you can arrive at very different figures, and at the moment they only thing we can say for certain is that someone who claims his/her figures are correct beyond a shadow of a doubt is wrong.

  9. Zortiander

    Critizing the Japanese government and electricity producing companies using the nuclear reactors is indeed fully valid and stays true. They were found to falsify safety reconds already in 2002 and their boss had to go.

    What the press does in comparing this incident to Tschernobyl is however totally flawed. Apart from the different construction method, there is also the matter that high radioactive doses in Tschernobyl were carried not by steam or gases, but by particles that flew into the atmosphere following the explosion and melting of the graphite, which carried high radiation doses quite well.

    Even if we have a total melt down of the reactor core, as long as it does not explode, the damage will be “local” – whatever that means, as having a mass of highly radioactive uranium and plutonium (plus, plutonium is quite the poison!) slowly errode, poison and irradiate the ground water supply, the sea bed and anything else in its vicinity can quickly expand “local” to reach Tokio.

  10. MarthaL

    Come on Johnny, that’s the party line. Just look at DDT and the rest of the dozen internationally banned substances not to mention the 9 ones added last year. I’m not current on this issue but have some familiarity. – Read the news around the time that these substances were in prevalent use and accepted, what the regulatory agencies said about them and it pretty much mirrors what you’re saying.

    Then you take the medical field and pharmaceutical industry, noting the number of medications that are used and then after long term use are determined to be harmful and end up with a black box warning or banned because of the damage they cause. Over time you have bloodletting and leaches and electric shock and lobotomies without even getting into the fact that we’re creating “drugs” for just about everything.

    And then you take the agriculture industry with their massive farms, insecticides, monocrops and now getting into the genetic modification. This relating not only what it does to your health but to our planet.

    You’re talking about using something that killed around 300,000 people initially and has had long term negative health effects through generations. How is it possible that we have gone on to use that same destructive power “contained” to power our cities and countries?

    Someone got a bright idea and said, “Hey, that certainly created a lot of energy, let’s see if we could use it to power up a planet.” But in that same thought stream failed to consider the consequences and/or failed to spend a bit more time thinking how we could possibly come up with a way to produce that power with less risk. So in their “responsible” way they decided to go for it and assess and reduce risk without ever considering an alternative. And so they built their plants and there were accidents and experiments along the way. And what do we get? We get races between countries on using it, acquiring it and producing it. We get regulations and agreements that sometimes get kept and sometimes don’t and get lied about. We get little and big accidents with its use. We get an industry that has a lot of bombast about itself, works in deception because the populace tends to object to its use and we get a lot of “regulations” to prevent the harm we know exists. And we have an infrastructure that is difficult to dismantle and reassemble responsibly. And then we get the “conflicting” stories on the actual health ramifications. “You can’t really accurately determine the long term effects of radiation exposure.”

    It’s like kids playing with matches and burning down the house. Except these are big adolescents without parental supervision who are playing with something a lot more destructive then matches.

    So while you outline how difficult it is to determine what the health risks actually are. I say that’s just the prattle of an industry trying to justify its existence. Go talk to a few medical practitioners who’ve been treating people over the years since Chernobyl, I think you’ll get a completely different assessment.

    We have a world gifted in coming up with bright new ideas that is a total failure when it comes to figuring out how to execute those ideas healthfully and responsibly. We don’t think beyond the business and the buck until we’re forced to because of some major disaster and/or because someone can spin a tale well enough to get the populace up in arms. We need to redefine success in our world for its betterment. It’s amazing what happens to the world when there is a disaster like this with China and the US and South Korea and New Zealand all coming to assist Japan. Not to mention the other 80 plus countries. Wouldn’t it be something if we could keep it that way even when we didn’t have a natural disaster.

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    […] Podobnie z reaktorem nr 1, początkowo mówiono, że wszystko w porządku, a zalanie wodą byłoby środkiem desperacji. Wkrótce potem okazało się, że opadający poziom płynu chłodzącego obnażył pręty paliwowe, rozpoczynając proces  stapiania się rdzenia i wytwarzając nieznacznie radioaktywną parę. Stwierdzono na zewnątrz siłowni skażenie jodem i cezem. Wg Stratfor, izotopy te świadczą o naruszeniu osłony rdzenia. Jod występuje w prętach paliwowych, a cez 137 świadczy o poważnym uszkodzeniu rdzenia i wydostaniu się cząstek radioaktywnych w powietrze. Bezpieka nuklearna Japonii przyznała stopienie rdzenia. […]

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