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Fukushima 2... 3/18/11-3/23/11
(More than 5,000 new readers, world-wide, have visited this site since March 11. Some 40% have been making repeated visits in order to get rational reports on the status of the situation at Fukushima. The percentage of bookmarks is 100%! It is an honor and a privilege to be of service to you all.)
It has been 12 days since the titanic tsunami, and decay heat production in the reactor fuel cells of Fukushima Units 1, 2, 3 & 4 has continued to drop since yesterday, but the amount of decrease each day is less than the day before. We are now approaching the point where decay heat production drops so very slowly that it seems relatively constant from one day to the next. Currently, decay heat production in Units 1, 2 & 3 are about the same as heat production from 20,000 100-watt light bulbs (incandescent). This time next week, it will be in the 15,000 light bulb range. Regardless, the threat of uranium fuel melting any further in Units 1, 2 & 3 is now highly improbable. However, further zirconium metal damage is still possible if the fuel cells lose water level sufficient to uncover the fuel cells, and they stay uncovered for a prolonged period. The rate of water level loss is necessarily slow, compared to the rate of water level loss probable for the first few days after the tsunami.
Previously, this writer reported that Unit No. 4 had been shut down for a period of days (maybe weeks) before the tsunami, for a refueling of some of the core. Typically, a third of the core's fuel cells get removed, and replaced with fresh fuel cells, about once per year. This requires removal of the the thick, dense concrete plug on the top of the concrete containment which surrounds the reactor, which is always bolted tightly in place when the reactor is operating. Then, the ~8 inch thick “head” of the seamless steel pressure vessel surrounding the fuel cell is removed after the large bolts holding it in place are themselves removed. This process takes many days, using the installed, heavy-duty crane in the refueling area above the containment. We now know that the fuel cells scheduled for removal and replacement, had been removed and placed in their storage racks deep within the spent fuel pool before the tsunami. However, no new fuel had been inserted as yet when the tsunami hit.
Given this information, the decay heat in the Fukushima 4 reactor was well below the 15,000 light-bulb level before the wave struck. By now, decay heat in the No. 4 fuel pool is below 10,000 light bulbs. This means there was NEVER a realistic possibility of catastrophic meltdown for Unit No. 4 reactor. There was, and still is, enough decay heat for zirconium heat damage, which would take more than 10 days of decay heat-induced evaporation to lower the water level down to the fuel cells. Please note, the Unit 4 hydrogen explosion occurred 4 days after the tsunami, while the explosion of Unit 1 occurred one day post-tsunami and Unit 3 three days post-tsunami, both of which had reactors at full power until the earthquake triggered the automatic shutdown. In fact, no one has any idea where the unit #4 hydrogen came from! We have yet another example of TEPCO's lack of full disclosure. How different would the world-wide reports have been over the past 8 days if the TEPCO news releases had said that Unit No. 4 cannot have had a catastrophic meltdown?
Work continues in the effort to re-power the emergency cooling systems of the 4 stricken units. All four buildings now have electrical connections to their Temporary Power Panels, the panels themselves have been energized, and the Unit 3 control room has been re-energized. Progress is being made, but clearing of debris and prudent caution with re-energizing equipment make progress slow and laborious.
Yesterday's news reports of white smoke (Unit 2) and black smoke (Unit 3) bear some attention here. The white smoke of Unit 2 is probably steam from the sauna-like conditions of the refueling area at the top of the reactor building. Actual spent fuel pool water level cannot be monitored because the building walls and roof keep us from looking at the pool from above, and lack of electricity makes remote water level monitoring impossible. If any of the spent fuel pools have a water level low enough to expose the spent fuel cells, it would be Unit 2's. Whether or not this actually happened is impossible to tell, at this point. But, the relatively slow evaporation of the pool's water makes it possible that the 16 feet of water above the fuel cells has not been completely evaporated away.
The black smoke from unit 3 means either something is burning or smoldering under the rubble on top of the un-compromised containment building below. TEPCO suggests the flammable material is explosion-damaged electrical wiring. We can safely say it isn't a zirconium fire (addressed in the March 18 update). However, keep in mind the rubble acts as an insulator so any hot debris from the prior hydrogen explosion and fire could be re-igniting due to the debris' insulating property. Evacuations of emergency personnel from the area of Units 2 & 3 when the smoke re-appears are precautionary, just in case the re-emergence of the steam (Unit 2) and smoke (Unit 3) marks a dangerous increase in radiation levels. When monitors show that no increase in the existing radiation levels have happened, the workers return to their recovery tasks.
Several readers have asked why I'm not focusing on the reports concerning radioactive contamination having been discovered now known to be in some food sources (fast growing vegetables, like spinach), milk from a few Fukushima dairy farms, and in the Tokyo water supply. First, we don't know what the contamination concentrations are. They cannot be realistically compared to naturally-occurring levels in foods and water supplies in our world, in order to promote reasonable public comprehension and understanding. Second, all of the emergency majors being taken with food and milk confiscation, and drinking water precautions, are based on the flawed Linear, No Threshold (LNT) radioactive risk models (no-safe-level theory). I must re-emphasize, statistically-proven radiation hormesis modeling of risk clearly demonstrates that the existing contamination levels found in Japan are completely safe. Iodine in milk may be something to rationally provoke precautionary reaction because it can concentrate in the thyroid if consumed, but Iodine isotopes have quite short half-lives and burn out in a few weeks. Once the low-level emissions from Fukushima stop, a few weeks later the radioactivity in the Iodine will be gone.
In addition, Western reports on the risks of contamination from Fukushima are seriously exaggerated due to almost exclusive use of LNT. Further, cancer death estimates (which are tacit public death threats) for these very low exposures are gross fictions which radiation hormesis research has demonstrated to be absolute rubbish. To make matters worse, theoretical cancer death estimates for Chernobyl and a few other relatively-unknown-to-the-public radiation-releasing emergencies have no basis in actual, real world medical statistics. Medical records of exposed populations in each case have shown no long term negative health effects, and statistically lower cancer death rates than the unexposed population. A prime example of the disgusting practice of broadcasting theoretical cancer death numbers that have never actually occurred, is a March 18 BBC News article (referenced below). This is no more than subjecting the world to a death threat. If you or I were subjected to a public death threat, the perpetrator would be subject to arrest and punishment. However, the ubiquitous publication of public death threats due to radiation exposure are obviously acceptable to the western news media. This further exacerbates the terrible effect of the fictional no-safe-level myth on public understanding, and deepens the world-wide infection of the Hiroshima Syndrome.
Which makes this writer wonder...why does the news media in the West feel obligated to broadcast opposing viewpoints and create fearful “spins” when positive, non-frightening nuclear information is presented, but never provides the same so-called “balance” or spins when negative, fearful nuclear info emerges?
“Fukushima – disaster or distraction?” ; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12789749
“Tokyo Warns on Water as radiation Hampers Nuclear Cleanup”; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-22/nuclear-plant-s-fuel-rods-damaged-leaking-into-sea-tokyo-electric-says.html
IAEA concerned about Fukushima food radiation”; http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103220166.html
March 22 (9:30am)
This morning (America's morning) there is more reputable news to report than since this all began on March 11 when the multi-unit power complex was inundated with a forty-foot high tsunami. There was no apparent damage from the 9.0 earthquake itself. We can now report with confidence that the power station's inability to power up emergency systems, with the exception of short-lived batteries, was because the tsunami swamped and flooded all emergency diesels. Unlike most human-built structures along the tsunami's “ground zero” coastline, none of the power complex buildings or emergency diesels were swept up and washed away. Recovery of emergency diesel power for Units 5 & 6 occurred after at least one of the diesels had been dried to insured to operate continually after being started. This took considerable time because these diesels are huge. They each can generate ~750 kilowatts of electricity (7500 100-watt light bulbs), which is more than enough to energize the emergency cooling system, put the reactor in cold shutdown, and keep it that way. These generators are many, many times larger than automobile or truck engines. Because of their large size, it has taken days to clean, dry and inspect the diesel internals. We have always known these emergency diesels were tough, but we are just beginning to realize just how tough. There is no information available, it seems, concerning the status or condition of the emergency diesels for the other four units. We can assume, however, that operators believe re-energization through the emergency cable is the fastest way to get re-powered.
Now, for a summary of the other news...
The decay heat production continues to drop in the fuel cells of Units 1, 2, 3 & 4.
Units 5 & 6 remain in a safe and stable cold shutdown condition. The emergency diesel generators energizing the electrical systems in 5 & 6 have been working as designed. Asahi, the second largest newspaper in Japan, has just reported that power from the emergency cable has been connected to the Unit 5 switchboard, and it's diesel is no longer needed. Good things are beginning to happen fast.
Work continues to re-energize the electric systems of Units 1 through 4. At this point, connection between the emergency power cable and Unit No. 2's Temporary Power Panel is complete and energized. The electrical interconnection between Units 1 & 2 has also been re-energized from the Unit 2 Temporary Power Panel.
The plan now is to first re-energize the control room of Unit 2. Up to this point, reports about the severity of Unit 2's fuel damage have been purely speculative. With the control room re-energized, instrumentation in and around the reactor, inside the robust concrete containment, will be monitored for the first time since the tsunami hit. Units 1 & 2 share the same control room, so they should also be able to monitor Unit No. 1 reactor instrumentation for the first time in roughly 12 days. TEPCO hopes this will occur later today (Japan time). The painstaking task of restoring external power to the crippled power plants is slowed by radiation levels that are hindering the emergency operation.
After the control room of Unit No. 2 has been re-energized, workers will check the condition of the water supply systems for the reactor and the spent fuel pool. They will continue checking for hydrogen concentrations, as well, to insure there will be no hydrogen explosions around the equipment when restarting. There is currently no estimation on how long this will take, but we can be sure the plant's operating staff will get the work done as soon as humanly possible.
A TEPCO press release says that they plan to have emergency power re-established in Units 3 & 4 in “a few days”. Asahi reports TEPCO as saying emergency power should be restored in Units 3 & 4 by Sunday.
MIT reports that the Fukushima Units were designed (on paper) to withstand an 18 foot high Tsunami, which was the most extreme tsunamic prediction anyone could reasonably expect for that region's geology. General Electric reports that their tsunamic assumptions for the Fukushima plants when they were built, were for considerably greater surges. TEPCO estimates that the tsunami of March 11 produced a wave height of more than 40 feet when it hit Fukushima. All plant structures withstood this monstrous wave with little or no damage. However, the transmission towers to and from the power complex did not fare well. They were destroyed. That, plus the flooding of the emergency diesels, resulted in a severe loss of electricity. It was the inability to regain electric power that has caused the damage to the affected reactor fuel cells and the subsequent hydrogen explosions that destroyed the external structures of Units 1, 3 & 4. Thus, we have witnessed a complete loss of electricity accident.
Radiation levels at the power plant complex are in the millisievert range. When radiation monitors show an increase, the water cannons are opened up on the top of the nearest building that has had its roof blown off. This brings the water level in the spent fuel pool back to maximum. It does not mean the pool was dry, or that any of the stored fuel cells were exposed to the air. Here's the reason why we see the radiation increase. Water is a very good radiation shield. A foot of water reduces radiation level by a factor of ten. Thus, when pool level drops a foot, radiation level around the pool goes up a factor of ten. The fuel pools at Fukushima store spent fuel for six years (not the three years I mentioned yesterday), so they have twice the number of fuel cells than would otherwise be the case. While their collective decay heat is relatively low, their loads of radioactive by-product atoms in the cells are still considerable. More fuel cells means higher radiation fields. One foot of loss means up to a ten times greater radiation field, and 2 feet of loss can mean up to a 100 times increase. This is why they are spraying so much water...keep the pools full!
Asahi Shimbun, the on-line English edition of the second largest newspaper in Japan, reports that the emergency power cable which has been connected to Unit No. 2, was pieced together out of transmission lines that have not been used for perhaps 40 years. The creativity of the emergency teams at and around Fukushima is exemplary. A link to Asahi Simbun is below. Please compare and contrast Japanese news reporting with the embellished, ultra-spun, speculative reporting common to American news services. It's startling.
Finally, an E-mailer from Tokyo (an American) writes that while some Americans have left Tokyo, most have not! The E-mailer says the ones who left tend to be American news addicts, while those who stayed are those who avoid American news and stick to the Japanese sources. Many Japanese find American news reporting disgusting, while others find it darkly funny. Interesting, eh?
TEPCO News; Tokyo Electric Power Company; http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html
Asahi Shimbun; http://www.asahi.com/english/newsfeatures.html
MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub; web.mit.edu/nse/; http://mitnse.com/
World Nuclear News; http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/
March 21 (1:35 pm EDT)
Today's belated update includes considerable input from an E-mailer, “Ronald G.”, who has made today's informational search much, much less time consuming. So Ronald gets my personal “Atta-boy”.
Currently, Units 5 & 6 at Fukushima have had their electrical systems re-energized, and both reactors have been put in a “cold shutdown” condition. Cold shutdown is the condition a reactor is in when it is not operating and safe. This strongly suggests that concerns about electrical equipment not operating after electricity was restored, were false fears for Units 5 & 6. Technically, the crisis has ended at Fukushima Units 5 & 6. In comparison, Three Mile Island was in a cold shutdown condition by the end of the first day of its accident. If we use the TMI experience as a predictive tool, the media will continue to broadcast official-sounding concerns relative to Units 5 & 6 for perhaps another week to 10 days.
Work continues in the effort to re-energize the electrical systems in the other 4 units at Fukushima. From the TEPCO press releases, it is said that they will energize Unit No. 2 first. Here, I must make a confession...I said that Unit 2 would be energized first because it was of most concern. I was wrong. A very clear picture of the reason why Unit No. 2 is the one being picked to energize first comes from an Associated Press article...
Unit No. 2's main building is shown at the extreme left. As one can see, it has not experienced the type of hydrogen explosion which has devastated the outer walls and roofs of Units 1, 3 & 4. In fact, it seems there has been no explosion damage at all! I have re-checked TEPCO news releases, and many of my other reliable sources of information, and can find no mention of an explosion in Unit 2. This means the equipment inside the building, including the electrical switchgear in the “temporary power panel” (TEPCO quote), should be undamaged. This panel is where the emergency power cable is to be connected. What better place to start the re-powering sequence for Fukushima's damaged units than the one with little or no damage? One caution has been mentioned in the info supplied by Ronald G, out of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. Before pumps and valves in Unit 2 are actually powered up, the emergency workers must be certain there is no hydrogen in the building's internal atmosphere. Hydrogen can spontaneously explode at 8% concentration, if mixed with oxygen. But, it can also explode at a much lower concentration in the presence of an electrical spark. Starting electrical equipment causes at least a tiny bit of sparking. Thus, the hydrogen gas levels must be proved to be well-below any concentration a spark might detonate.
One other most interesting fact we can glean from the above AP photo...look at the rubble on top of and around Unit No. 3, in the center of the pic. Now, look at Unit No. 2, on the left. The ridge going across the middle of Unit 2's outer wall marks the floor of the upper refueling deck. The building's inner steel-reinforced concrete containment structure (a building within a building, per se) descends below the ridge, and many tens of feet underground. Now, look at the level of upper rubble on Unit 3 and compare that to the ridge on the outer wall of Unit 2. The Unit 3 rubble is clearly on top of the inner containment structure. This strongly implies the correctness of previous reports of no loss of containment integrity having occurred at any of the three Fukushima Units that experienced hydrogen explosions. Like I've reported here for more than a week...it's very, very tough to break a structure made of steel-reinforced concrete several feet thick.
The smoke in the picture...TEPCO reports it is coming from smoldering electrical wiring and other flammable materials. Certainly not the reactor itself. TEPCO news releases might be thin in the amount of timely information they contain, but what is in there has continued to be proven correct. In addition, news media stories of the smoke coming from the reactor itself are logically groundless...there's nothing inside the reactor or inside the containment around the reactor that is flammable.
Last night and this morning, several American officials have continued to try and “prove” early speculations by American “experts” of one spent fuel pool being empty and others showing spent fuel cells sticking out of the water. I witnessed one such report on “60 Minutes”, last night. They used very nice looking graphics to “prove” it. They also show pictures above the damage of one of the Fukushima Units (it looked like No. 3) to emphasize that there are no images to prove Japanese claims of the pools having never been compromised. Well, the same pics don't prove the American official's speculations either. No proof there, of any kind. This is beginning to seem like a last ditch effort to maintain credibility for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman who made the wild speculation in the first place. Being wrong could be embarrassing, as well as career-threatening. Plus, what would his being wrong imply about the NRC, in general. Once again...unfounded speculation by high ranking-officials should be avoided like the plague.
There have also been other news stories about some industrial inspection reports made before March 11 about possible safety concerns at Fukushima. This makes the strong, implied suggestion that the Fukushima plants were unsafe to begin with. Poppycock! The situation at Fukushima was caused by, and is entirely the result of the worst tsunami ever recorded in human history. That's it. Period. Hindsight is correct if and only if our “hindsight eyes” are 20-20. The suggestions that Fukushima plants were already unsafe before the tsunami are made by those who need “hindsight glasses”.
The news report that the workers are fleeing the plant complex again, is as misleading as the similar one a few days ago. To reiterate, standard health physics practices include not radiologically exposing off-duty workers. As you double your distance between yourself and the source of exposure, the radiation level drops by a factor of four. This is the inverse-square phenomena, a natural law for any radiation including light. (Thank you Mother Nature) There is no doubt that the off-duty emergency workers are leaving the site until their next scheduled shift so as to not un-necssessarily be exposed. Standard Health Physics procedure.
In addition,TEPCO reports that they have been pumping seawater into the hot (due to decay heat) reactors, off and on since March 12. Without electricity, how has this been able to happen? The pumps that normally feed water into the reactors (the feedwater pumps) are all steam-driven. The steam comes from the reactor. When enough steam pressure has built up in the reactor to run the pump, the pump is started. Since the decay heat level after the first day of shutdown is about 0.4 %, and exponentially diminishes thereafter to about 0.1% after 2 weeks, there isn't enough steam to run the feedwater pumps for very long. Thus the pumping must necessarily be an off-and-on experience. Each day that has passed has allowed less and less “on” periods, and longer “off” periods because decay heat production has naturally dropped. It is quite possible that this sporadic pumping scenario has caused repeated covering and uncovering of the hot fuel with water.
There is little doubt that the reactor fuel cells in Units 1, 2 & 3 have been damaged. The hydrogen productions make this quite probable. It gives strong proof of Zirconium cladding heat degradation, but (to be precise) no one knows if the damage has resulted in nuclear fuel (Uranium) melting. Possible? Yes. Actual? Hard to say.
One final note, per “Ronald G.”...one of the most excellent websites I have seen for most technical and radiation-related information about Fukushima is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website. (URL below) Good job, Ronald!
TEPCO News Releases; http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html
“Workers flee Japan nuclear plant as smoke rises”; http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html
“Japan : Mounting humanitarian, nuclear crisis after quake”; http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_newsroom/20110315/wl_yblog_newsroom/japan-mounting-humanitarian-nuclear-crisis-after-quake
MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; http://mitnse.com/ and http:web.mit.edu/nse
March 20 (9:45 EDT)
Several E-mailers have asked; if decay heat is dropping so much, why have the spent fuel pools continued to heat up and why are the reactors still heating up? The drop-off is mathematically exponential, which means the drop-off is fast at the beginning, but the continuing drop-off slows as time passes. The by-product isotopes with half-lives less than a day are radioactively wiping themselves out (all will be gone in about nine days) and the lower-concentration of longer-half-life isotopes will become the prominent heat generators. It's the reverse of Al Gore's “hockey stick” description of carbon dioxide build-up.
The Nuclear Energy Institute web page referenced yesterday, points out that decay heat can still measurably heat up water for up to six months after it leaves the reactor, albeit very, very slowly after a week of decay. The point I'm trying to make is that as each day passes, the heat generation rate drops, and the risk of further reactor fuel damage drops with it. This is not being broadcast by the news media, and seemingly not being explained by utility spokespersons in Japan. Plus, the fear of drying out the spent fuel pools (any of them) is largely unfounded because they are not boiling, but are/were rather evaporating. And, with 16 feet of water above the spent fuel cells in the pools, it would take many days for the evaporation to drop water levels to the tops of the stored cells. The water sprays, and helicopter drops, getting a lot of news media play are to keep the pools filled. The notion that these sprays and water drops are to cool the reactors themselves is quite improbable, unless the several feet thick steel-reinforced concrete containment around the reactors was broken open. There is no evidence of any containment breaches, so there rationally seems to be no way an external water spray could actually cool any of the reactor vessels at Fukushima.
Now for perhaps the best news since the accident started...the emergency power generators for Units 5 & 6 are running and supplying power to both power plants. This allows the reactor and spent fuel pool cooling systems to operate. The fuel pool in Units 5 & 6 had heated to 68 degrees C (~155 F), but are currently below 36 C (~97 F). News media reports implying that the systems might not work when electricity was restored were unfounded. There currently is no info on the status from TEPCO or the Japanese government as to the status of Unit No.2 to get the electrical system re-energized from the emergency cable. This is probably due to the lack of timely communication by the Japanese utility (TEPCO) and or the government in Japan, which is inexcusable. Timely, full disclosure status reports ought to be made on a routine basis, including any and all work in progress. It may not be the “juicy” reports that make scary headlines, but the world needs to know. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing this. If this were an American power plant complex, the information flow to the press and public (internet updates) would be many, many times better. It's required by American emergency plans.
Fortunately another knowledgeable source, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has reported that they believe the emergency power cable will be energized very soon, and the situation at Unit No. 2, and the other three stricken units should be mitigated (eased) late today. It is not only Unit No. 2 that will be powered by the emergency cable, but the cable will allow all six units at Fukushima to be interconnected with power from the cable and all of the power plant's emergency cooling systems re-energized. The NISA report has been published through Bloomburg News Service. (ref. 1)
On another previously unreported event, an E-mailer has written to me that the Asashi newspaper reports holes have been “punched” in the roofs above the refueling decks of Units 5 & 6, to prevent hydrogen gas build-up. This does not mean hydrogen gas generation is actually happening in these two units. There is no information with which to say yes or no, at this point. But it does strongly indicate that all precautions to prevent the possibility of a hydrogen explosion destroying the outer building shells are being taken.
It has also been widely reported that “radiation” has been found on foodstuffs growing on a few farms in Fukushima Prefecture. The way this is being reported is necessarily misleading, and demonstrates the high level of ignorance we are dealing with concerning radioactivity. I'll try to be brief. The vast majority of the radioactive elements being released to the atmosphere are the inert gasses Krypton and Xenon. Their inert chemistry makes it impossible to for them to be deposited on foodstuffs, or on people either and they cannot be ingested. The minor fraction of the elements being released are not inert, specifically Iodine and Cesium. Their chemistry is very much like fine dust, similar to the white powder one might get on furniture at home from using portable humidifiers in the winter. You can't see the dust coming from the humidifier itself, but over a period of a few days the build-up on furniture is visibly noticeable. The Iodine and Cesium dusts from Fukushima are much, much finer and in much, much lower concentration than the humidifier analogy. This is called “contamination”, and should not be identified as merely “radiation”. It's impossible to see with your eyes, but the incredibly sensitive radiation detectors available to the world can easily detect the contamination. Relatively invisible? Yes. Insidious? Absolutely not.
The low-concentration, microscopic Iodine and Cesium particles in the air are being deposited on some of the growing foods in the Fukushima Prefecture, similar to the deposition of white dust from a portable humidifier. These particles are not, nor cannot make the foods themselves radioactive. It's not the food that's radioactive...it's the impossible-to-see (with the naked eye) radioactive dust on it. All that's needed is to wash the foodstuffs thoroughly, and the “radiation” will be removed...correctly put, the contamination will all be washed away. The food will be totally safe to eat. It should be pointed out that this has been found on but two or three farms, and it is not the case with all the farms around Fukushima....at least not at this point in time.
One report of tiny traces of Iodine detected in one Fukushima town's water supply is a different chemical process altogether. The Iodine dissolves in the water, so it cannot be washed off, if you will. However, Iodine is chemically very reactive, so water softeners and in-line filters should remove the Iodine very efficiently. Besides, the miniscule levels reported would make unfiltered water safe to drink, to be technically correct. But for those phobic about radiation, filter it and drink it without fear. Regardless, the levels being reported are vanishingly small.
As explained on several topic pages of this website, the universe is naturally radioactive. Our food is naturally radioactive. Our water is, too. The contamination levels on the growing foods at the affected farms of Fukushima ought to be compared to the concentrations of natural radioactive isotopes found in widely consumed foods. I would suggest the Potassium-40 (K-40) concentrations found in bananas and broccoli. I would also point out that the K-40 in the bananas and broccoli cannot be washed out of the food, while the contamination from Fukushima can be totally washed off. As for the water, the radioactive level of a glass of Iodine-contaminated water ought to be compared to drinking water containing radon levels (very common in home wells around the world) that have never hurt anyone.
The bottom line is this. The vast majority of the people in the world are deeply ignorant of radioactivity and the ubiquitous nature of naturally radioactive material in our universe. They don't know the subtle but significant differences between radiation-itself and contamination. They don't know that every bite of food and swig of water is naturally radioactive. They have no idea that the common referral of “fallout” to power plant radioactive emissions is patently false. Radioactive fallout comes from nuclear bomb blasts, not power plants. This ignorance includes the reporters covering the Fukushima accident, and (I would suspect) many of the “officials” being interviewed by the Press. TEPCO ought to be holding educational sessions for the news media, and the media subsequently educating the public about what they have learned. But alas, this is not happening in Japan, and the world suffers needlessly because of it. Hopefully that much needed education will begin here.
One final positive note from one of the most prestigious news media outlets in America...The Washington Post. This morning it has an article entitled “5 myths about nuclear energy” that is entirely correct on the first four, but more than a bit questionable on the fifth...”Better technology can make nuclear power safe”. It already is safe. Their fifth “myth” contradicts their first, which says nuclear energy is safe. However, they are entirely correct saying nukes are not terrorist targets, both democrats and republicans favor more nukes in America, and nuclear energy is not the key to energy independence.
“Fukushima No. 4 Reactor Doused as Tokyo Electric Attempts to Restore Power”; http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-19/japan-s-tepco-seeks-to-restore-power-to-damaged-nuclear-plant.html
“5 myths about nuclear energy”; http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/5-myths-about-nuclear-energy/2011/03/15/AB9P3Oe_story.html
March 19 (11:45 am, EDT)
Before relating today's update on Fukushima, I want to give a “shout out” and sincere thanks to those who have taken the time to Email through the contact page of this website. Data on site activity since last Friday has revealed that thousands of people from around the world are using this site to keep abreast of the latest Fukushima news, including hundreds of people in Japan. The number of new readers goes up by a thousand (more or less) each day. All who have linked this update page to other websites are also greatly appreciated. This is the most humbling experience in my life, and I've had quite a few. I am indebted to you all...the world is indebted.
Back to Fukushima...
The radioactive decay-based reduction in decay heat production is now somewhere in the 0.15% range (relative to 100% power level). This places the heat generation level in Units 1, 2, & 3 in the 2 megawatt range (30,000 100-watt light bulbs). It should be pointed out that the actual amount of heat production for each reactor depends on how long the fuel has been inside the reactor since its last refueling. The “newer” fuel has relatively few fission by-products (fission fragments...waste atoms) contributing to the decay heat value, while older fuel has a much higher concentration of fission by-products and thusly has a much greater decay heat contribution. This writer has not been able to find sufficient data on the actual ages of the fuel inside the three stricken reactors, so I'm using a rough average based on the assumption of relatively old fuel. Sort of an educated guess on worst case decay heat production, considering that not all of the fuel is at the maximum levels associated with about three years old fuel cells. Information sites like Nuclear Energy Institute (a good info site) give examples that use data relative to three year old fuel, which would be chock full of fission by-products. Some of the fuel in each Fukushima reactor is maybe a year old, another third of it two years old, and another third which might be three years old. Regardless, current levels of decay heat production (assuming it is all 3 year old fuel) would take at least an hour of “uncovered” fuel to increase the existing level of zirconium damage, and two hours or more to increase whatever level of meltage we already have. These are “low-ball” time estimates. It will probably take longer times, but there's no way of getting a better estimate of the “safe window” of time we presently experience.
The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (another reliable info source) reports that the emergency electrical cabling to Unit No. 2, which is the one of most concern, has been connected to the damaged building, and workers are feverishly clearing a path through the rubble of the building's outer walls (NOT the reactor containment structure) in order to connect to the plant switchgear. Once this is done, emergency systems can be restarted and the crisis for Unit No. 2 will have technically passed. Connections to the other three units at the same location will surely follow. News media reports have all (except Reuters) added that no one knows if these systems will work. No one knows if they won't work, either.We-don't-know reporting is one of the most insidious rhetorical angles the news media uses after the flow of actual events in nuclear situations slows down, in order to keep viewer/reader interest on edge. Once again, this is good for business... but bad for the psychological well-being of the public-at-large. Regardless, the current status of the emergency cable work is really good news, and ought to be broadcast as such.
It seems the attempt to interconnect emergency power systems of Units 5 & 6 has been successful. I can find no published info to support this, but the lack of “it didn't work” reporting makes it likely that it has worked. Sometimes it isn't what is reported that gives us answers, but rather an answer or two may lie in what is not reported. (Philosophy professors will love this use of logic, I'm sure)
One other really interesting tidbit comes from an E-mailer who recommended a website link to a page from the Nuclear Energy Institute on spent fuel storage specific to Fukushima. (see URL below) I reported the water level above the tops of the spent fuel cells in storage is normally at least ten feet. I was wrong. At Fukushima it's 16 feet. Further, the amount of time it would take to empty a pool by evaporation would be somewhere between days and weeks! This strongly implies that the single AP report, two days ago, of a helicopter pilot seeing water in the pools was/is correct. In addition the NEI page states, after about 6 months of storage, fuel cell decay heat production is so low that evaporation rates cannot rapidly expose the fuel cells. Lastly, it is “virtually impossible” for zirconium fuel cladding to burn or explode. We should all give a “shout out” to the E-mailer who sent this to me. (name withheld for proprietary reasons)
Several E-mailers have asked about some suggestions for websites we all might use. The first four days of Fukushima were difficult, since most official or otherwise objective information sites were reluctant to dive into the fray before they had enough verifiable information to provide a high degree of confidence. That's where my unique background in nuclear accident information flow came to the rescue, if you will. The past three days, many of the better sources of information have begun publishing. As far as accident time-lines are involved, I have to make a confession. It seems the best has been in Wikipedia...
I have never recommended a Wiki site before, largely due to the routinely severe lack of peer review. In this case, my research of Fukushima time-line sites has convinced me that the Wiki time-line is the most detailed, least fear-tainted, and timely of the lot. If anyone finds a better one, please let me know. For the time being, I have to say, “Way to go, Wiki!”
Please be reminded when perusing other sites; the pervasive nature of the Hiroshima Syndrome affects everyone, so much so that even the most reliable and reputable information sites will have at least some tainted information. Especially the on-going use of the no-safe-level theory of radiation exposure in reporting potential risk to the public. Regardless, below are some (but not nearly all) of the available sources of reliable internet info on the accident, using a lot of everyday language, where I have a relatively high degree of confidence...
- Science Daily - http://www.sciencedaily.com/
Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/
JAIF : Japan Atomic Industrial Forum; http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/
Nuclear Energy Institute (spent fuel pool info)- http://resources.nei.org/documents/japan/Used_Fuel_Pools_Key_Facts.pdf
Scientific American - http://www.scientificamerican.com/
International Atomic Energy Agency - http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html
That should give everyone some places to start. For additional sites, find the list of “links” at each website you visit (that have them). Check out the links page of this website, too. The ones above haven't been entered there, as yet. Just keep two things in mind when searching websites...(1) almost all news media sites are scare-monger friendly. Reuters seems to be least tainted. Avoid using the others, unless you have read and grasped the information contained on all the topic pages of the Hiroshima Syndrome website, and can thereby objectively discriminate between good info and bad. (2) If a site never seems to have anything positive to report, click out...click out fast. As King Arthur shouted in Monty Python's Holy Grail, “Run away! Run away!”
March 18 (12 noon, EDT)
Today's bottom-line information is that the rate of decay heat generation from the damaged fuel inside Fukushima Units 1, 2 & 3 continues to dissipate as a result of the natural process of radioactive decay. Unfortunately, the news waves are a-buzz with a new scare story. It's purported that the zirconium metal in the fuel cells located in the spent fuel pools can explode. The spent fuel cells at Units 3 and 4 are not, nor never have they ever been in a condition that would cause a zirconium explosion or fire (for that matter). Zirconium (alloy 4) is the primary element in the tubing (cladding) that contains the uranium fuel pellets. It is entirely non-flammable, no matter how hot it gets. It melts at roughly 1850 degrees C (~3330 F). There is no possibility of a zirconium explosion at these temperatures, when it's in it's metallic form (even if melted). However, zirconium powder, sometimes used in camera flash bulbs, has been known to detonate, but only in it's powdered state and in the chemical form found in flash bulbs. Zirconium is not a natural explosive, just as the nitrogen you are now breathing can't explode. But, that same nitrogen, chemically transformed, becomes the critical element in TNT and nitroglycerine. No one would ever say nitrogen can explode, and by the same token no one should say zirconium can explode.
After a bit of Googling, I think I found where this total fabrication originated. Commondreams.org carries a report by Karl Grossman, a notorious nuclear energy basher and author of the book Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He's an admitted lifetime anti-nuke who's notorious for fabricating so-called “facts” and confabulating them into fearsome scenarios. In the Common Dreams article, he alleges that the zirconium cladding in nuclear fuel is explosive because the zirconium powder in flash bulbs can explode. Absolute rubbish! Utter confabulation.
This seems a good place to define a term I've used liberally; confabulation. The dictionary definition is “professing idle chat as fact.” (Webster's) But the version being used by the scare-mongers being cited as Fukushima experts is far more insidious. They take a kernel of truth, then twist and manipulate the context until the conclusion bears no resemblance to the original context. More often than not, they place the conclusion in a new, unrelated context that fulfills a personal or political agenda. Grossman's statement that Zirconium in the spent fuel at Fukushima is explosive because light bulbs explode is pure confabulation, which fully supports his unswerving anti-nuclear bigotry. Unfortunately, this form of misleading and dangerous rhetoric is all-too-common with confirmed, unswerving nuclear bashers.
How can the public, largely naïve of of such shenanigans, know when they are reading or hearing the rantings of a false prophet of nuclear doom? That's a tough one. I offer two critical cautions...
Never take a blog's information as fact. This does not mean all blogs concerning Fukushima are confabulated drivel. Many bloggers are trying to get it right, and a few have some serious, reputable credentials which allow them to make firm, factual statements. But, most bloggers wouldn't know a neutron from a ping-pong ball. Don't trust blogs, and you can't go wrong.
Check out where news reports get their information. Yesterday, an Emailer (allegedly a nuclear supporter) besieged me with questions about my statements on the spent fuel situation at Fukushima, the completely inflammable materials in spent fuel, and where I got the info for my update concerning these issues. I liked the Emailer's approach, and willingness to take the time to ask. I pointed out the report about the spent fuel pool at Unit #3 not being empty came from a TIME article. I then listed many (but not all) of the sources of news I trusted. Remember, the reputable science information sources, like Science Daily and Scientific American, have only begun reporting on Fukushima in the last 48 hours. Unfortunately, the news media reports prior to this have been rife with confabulatory speculation, and mostly not containing much info you can hang your hat on. I'm trying to pull the good stuff out of the confusing morass of largely fictitious information, in order for the world to have at least one source of reliable, fact-based information on Fukushima, unaffiliated with any pro- or anti-nuclear organization and devoid of political or financial agenda.
Back to Fukushima...
Since yesterday, there has been a lot of focus on contradictory statements between the Japanese Company that owns Fukushima (TEPCO) and the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) concerning whether or not any of the spent fuel pools are, or have been, dry. It's becoming increasingly apparent that TEPCO reports are quite accurate, albeit way too few and far between for the news media. As pointed out in the March 16 entry of this web page, the Japanese have a very poor communication record with the press. It also seems their government's communication flow to the rest of the world is woefully inadequate. Regardless of this informational ineptitude, what they have shared with us is turning out to be correct. TEPCO maintains the spent fuel pools are not dry, and strongly implies that they may never have been dry. On the other hand, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has stated that one or more of the pools is definitely dry. Either one or the other has it wrong, or they are both incorrect. Let's assume the third possibility is wrong. There is a subtle but significant clue to the answer as to which one may be right. Jaczko is quoted by the Associated Press to have said, “My understanding is there is no water in the spent fuel pool. I hope my information is wrong.” (ref.3) Would he say he hopes his information is incorrect if he actually knew what the answer was? In other words, he's speculating! As stated here in previous updates, the NRC ought to have taken a severe and firm lesson out of the Three Mile Island informational debacle. Never, ever, ever speculate! The senior NRC officials in office during the TMI/Chernobyl period learned it, but it seems the new breed running the NRC hasn't.
To continue the technical update...the operating staff a Fukushima is doing everything humanly possible to keep the situations as stable as they can. From my operational experience, I'd speculate they are doing one hell of a job, given the completely un-anticipatable cause and severity of the situation nature foisted on them. In addition, work to string the emergency power cabling from the undamaged electric supply grid to the stricken power plant complex continues. It was hoped this would have been completed by now, but their original time table seems to have been a bit optimistic. Remember, they are trying to string the cabling through the most incredible scene of devastation imaginable. But, it will get done...of this there should be no reasonable doubt. Other than that, there are really no new technical things to write about.
When the news media starts losing new information about their top news story, one they have already promised will last for weeks, if not longer...they go looking elsewhere for their headlines. This has already begun. The Grossman zirconium item is one of the first examples. There are numerous dedicated groups waiting in the wings to fill the information void, and they are all notorious nuclear energy opponents. Two prime examples are Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Such organizations have never said anything positive about nuclear energy, and have strongly implied they never will. Their reports of the dangers of nuclear energy are always rife with fabrication and confabulation. Be skeptical of their statements, and always keep in mind their anti-nuclear political agendas. Besides, if they were authentic environmental groups, they would favor nuclear energy.
There is also a small army of prophets of nuclear energy apocalypse, with two who have been mentioned on these pages (Grossman and Amory Lovins) as merely the tip of a substantial iceberg. Whether or not their entirely predictable statements and allegations have any truth to them, won't matter to the news media. As long as the Press can attribute prophecies of nuclear doom to someone other than themselves, they will do it. It's good for business.
Regardless, the War Against the Atom III (Fukushima) has begun. The intense battle will soon be joined. Be skeptical. Check references. Do your homework. The ultimate outcome of this confrontation rests with each of us.
Grossman, Karl; “Behind the Hydrogen Explosion at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant”; Commondreams.org; http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/12-3
“U.S. Says plant's spent fuel rods dry; Japan says no”; Associated Press via The News Herald; http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2011/03/16/news/nh3775931.txt
“Nuclear crisis a tangle of ominous, hopeful signs”; Associated Press via The News Herald; http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2011/03/16/news/nh3776264.txt
Check out this Weather Channel video on natural radiation... http://www.weather.com/outlook/videos/radiation-is-an-everyday-thing-20063