I'm sure all daily readers of these updates have noticed that there's been little, if any references to American news media reports for a number of days, and an almost exclusive use of Japanese Press and other reputable international information sources. Here's why. The cold, hard facts in both East and West news stories are the same, but the Japanese Press refrains from the “bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate” rhetoric endemic with American news reporting. After reading responsible reporting for more than a week, I've been weaned from the western news media...except for Reuters. They seem satisfied to minimize the spin.
Now for the radiological news...
Yesterday, TEPCO assured everyone that the highly contaminated waters in the turbine building basements was not the source of the increased radiological condition of the nearby ocean. This web page reported the turbine basement waters had to be the source. (Occam's razor, if you will) Today, it seems even more-so that this web page was right. (I'm not really proud of this) Waters in underground trenches/tunnels external to Units 1 and 2 have been discovered to be contaminated to the same levels as the turbine basement waters. While Japanese officials maintain the trench water is not the source of the contamination in the nearby seawater, the isotopic similarities between the two is alarmingly similar. Besides, if the sea contamination isn't from the trench/turbine basement waters, where is it coming from? A lot of it certainly came from the air early-on due to the winds blowing out to sea for much of the initial number of days of the Fukushima emergency, but the winds have since shifted. And, a few of the isotopes found in the seawater are not capable of airborne transport. TEPCO's credibility continues to diminish.
Water contamination level in the Unit #3 trench could not be measured because the access hole to the trench/tunnel is filled with rubble from the explosion at Unit 3.
TEPCO reports the three workers who received over-exposure (two also contaminated) three days ago are now under observation at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in the Chiba Prefecture, which is located outside the 30 km “evacuation” radius around the Fukushima Daiichi power complex. They were transferred there late yesterday (early today, here) from the Fukushima Medical University Hospital. All three continue to be in good condition. IAEA reports, that none of the three ought to require medical treatments, but the Institute's staff will want to monitor them for several days, regardless. However...
As of 4 pm today (Japan time), TEPCO reported that all three workers have been released from National Institute of Radiological Sciences. However, TEPCO has added further fuel to their bonfire of informational incompetency. The initial over-exposure/contamination report was on March 24, and the hospital transfer report was just today. Yet, the TEPCO news release now says they were released from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences on March 23! What??? I had to look at that one several times, hoping my slight near-sightedness and dyslexia were causing me to “see” 23 when it was actually a 28. Nope...it's a 23! <groan>
Asahi Shimbun quotes Cabinet Chief Secretary, Yukio Edano, who cautions anyone wishing to return to their homes inside the 20 km evacuation zone, “It is very likely that anywhere within 20 km of the plant is contaminated and there is a big risk (to human health) at the moment.” Once again we have a government warning based on the fictional no-safe-level myth of radiation and contamination exposure. He's needlessly frightening the public, and not allowing citizens to return to their homes in Fukushima Prefecture based on a theory which has no actual support in human-based evidence. The Hiroshima Syndrome continues to be demonstrated, and exacerbated, at all levels.
For a technical update...
The freshwater being used to cool and replenish Unit #2's spent fuel pool has been coming from a firetruck's pump. Early in the day March 27, the freshwater supply was shifted to a motor-driven pump. Is the source of the freshwater coming from the firetrucks?
Workers have begun moving contaminated water from the turbine basement of Unit #1. The water is being moved to inside the Unit #1 condenser, which they describe as, “A main condenser's function in a nuclear power plant is to condense and recover steam that passes through the turbine.” They also report that work is currently under way to move Unit #2's basement water to it's condenser. The same process is “under consideration” for Unit's 3 & 4.
Fresh water continues to be injected into the reactor vessels for Units 1, 2 & 3. Asahi Shimbun reports that Japanese officials deduce there must be leakage from the reactor pressure vessels because water levels are not rising as fast as they might expect when freshwater is being injected. Allegedly, this report came from interviews with TEPCO officials. However as IAEA points out, if there were leaks, the pressures inside the reactor vessels would slowly drop between freshwater injections, and this has not been happening. Is TEPCO shooting themselves in the foot yet again?
White “smoke” continues to emanate from reactor buildings 1, 2, 3 & 4. The word “smoke” is in quotations in the IAEA updates, and it seems for good reason. TEPCO calls it “smoke”, but logically it's probably steam. Lots of hot water surely remains in all four secondary containment areas.
Unit #3 reactor temperature readings are now available, and it was at 100 degrees C on March 26. IAEA data is routinely delayed a day or two because it seems to take them that long to get it from TEPCO. (Hey, let's shoot the other foot again?)
IAEA also reports that seawater continues to be injected to the Unit #3 spent fuel pool, in contradiction to TEPCO's report several days ago that they are injecting freshwater. This discrepancy needs to be resolved.
“From March 22 to March 25, 130 to 150 tonnes of seawater was poured into the spent fuel pool each day using a concrete pump.”, reports the IAEA. Which provides a convenient segue to the following...
Please recall the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman's report more than ten days ago, that at least one spent fuel pool was dry and at least one other had fuel cells sticking out of the water. We can now look at this writer's position that the NRC Chairman's words were merely unfounded speculation, with even more supportive evidence. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) has released a March 25 update on Fukushima status. One item covered in the report is the spent fuel pools, and their dimensions are given. I could not find their dimensions previously. Units 1 & 2 pools have surface dimensions of 12 meters by 7 meters. Units 3 & 4 have surface dimensions of 12 meters by 10 meters. All four pools routinely have 7 meters of water level above the tops of the stored fuel cells. A cubic meter of freshwater weighs one metric ton (tonne), or roughly 2,200 American pounds. We can easily calculate, in order to have spent fuel sticking out of the water at Unit 1 or 2, each pool would have had to lose ~ 590 tonnes of its water. For the fuel cells to be totally uncovered in either pool, ~800 tonnes of water would have to have been lost. For Unit 3 & 4 pools, it would be a loss of ~840 tonnes of water to reach the tops of the stored fuel cells, and ~1440 tonnes lost to completely uncover the stored fuel. No matter which pool we might look at, none have been reported to have had any of the above levels of tonnage injected, poured in, or otherwise sprayed at any single replenishment operation. It's safe to say the daily injections of 130 to 150 tonnes reported by IAEA might well be for level recovery due to decay-heat-accelerated evaporation. Hey, we're still looking at more than a thermal megawatt of decay heat generation in the pools (and several megawatts for Unit #4's pool), so the IAEA numbers seem reasonable. Regardless, the above dimensional and volumetric understanding further supports this writer's position that the spent fuel pools were never dry and none of them have ever had fuel cells sticking out of the water.
As this web page has reported for many days, there is unquestionably fuel damage in Fukushima Units 1, 2 & 3. How much is purely speculative, at this point. Because of sporadic over-pressure conditions inside each of the three reactor vessels due to decay heat production, relief valves automatically opened and dumped radioactive steam into the pressure-suppressing torus of each. The torus contains a large volume of water. The steam from the reactor is released below the torus water level, and a considerable amount of combined boiling and steam condensation takes place. It is a very chaotic situation inside the torus when pressure is relieved from the reactor. Obviously, the water in the torus gets heated rapidly, and the interior becomes a helter-skelter mixture of steam and water. Naturally, pressure inside the torus increases. At Fukushima, if and when internal torus pressure reaches a pre-determined limit, another relief valve system actuates on the torus itself, letting a mixture of steam and water be exhausted outside the plant. The secondary containment surrounds the primary containment and houses at least four floors of auxiliary equipment, each of which is built entirely out of thick, steel reinforced, high-density concrete. Part of this secondary containment extends outside the Reactor Building, under the turbine generators in the attached Turbine Building.
The contamination levels and isotopic content of the waters found in “puddles” on the Unit #3 turbine basement floor, and in the building drains, were reported here yesterday. It was also reported that the analyses indicated the much of the water came from the spent fuel pools. Further, it was reported that this strongly indicated that there was no breach of reactor or primary containment integrity. Reactor water level and pressure monitoring systems have been electronically recovered. Water levels are constant and pressures are constant as well, in each reactor. This indicates the reactor vessels are intact. Also, pressure monitors inside the primary containments have been re-energized, and pressures there are constant. This suggests that the integrity of none of the three reactor vessels or primary containments have been compromised.
To expand on yesterday' report, the water-borne contamination in the turbine building basements and drains did not only come from the spent fuel pools during spraying. There is also, most certainly, some reactor fuel-damaged isotopes in the mix, due to torus pressure relief transients. A quick glance at the contamination concentrations for each isotope, published by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), shows the radiological concentrations of Chlorine-38 (a neutron activation product) and Cesium-137 (fission by-product) are about equal. This could only be the case if the waters came from both sources.
This does not mean that half of the water came from the reactor and half from the spent fuel pool. But, a look at the respective half-lives of the two isotopes gives us a powerful clue. Cl-38 has a half life of 37 minutes. Cs-137 has a half life of 30 years. The differences reveal many levels of information, but the one germane to our topic is this...radioactivity diminishes only as fast or slow as the isotopes' half life. The shorter the half life, the quicker it burns itself out. Total loss of radioactivity is no more than ten half-lives. Thus, the Cl-38 radioactive lifetime, before it is gone, is a little over 6 hours. The probable time delay between the Cl-38 being formed in the spent fuel pools, flushed out by the water sprays, and finding its way into the basement...including the additional time it took before the “puddles” and drains were discovered to contain the Cl-38...must have been a few hours, at least. Let's say 3 hours. That's roughly 5 half lives, which would have reduced the radiological concentration by a factor of 32 (two to the fifth power). For the analyzed level of Cl-38 to be equal to Cs-37, the initial radioactivity level must have been 32 times greater than the Cesium. Thus, it is safe to say most of the contaminated water came from the spent fuel pool of Unit #3.
Now for more radiological news...
Early today, TEPCO released a report that an enormous increase in the radioactivity level of the “puddles” had occurred. They reported an increase by a factor of 10,000,000. Less than an hour later, they retracted the report with considerable apologies. There has been a reported increase, but by a factor of 25. These numbers are about ten million times greater than what would be typical for the water flowing through the reactor during routine operation...which are actually very tiny concentrations to begin with. Reactor water is so pure that it barely conducts electricity! Regardless, the 10,000,000 number relates to ultra pure reactor water concentrations, but not to any kind of increase since yesterday. Further, it seems the new readings were from puddles different from the one analyzed yesterday, and these puddles are located in the Unit #2 turbine basement. This is yet another example of TEPCO's poor communications, not only between TEPCO and the Press, but internally between TEPCO informational staff and the staff toiling at the Fukushima plant itself. In addition, we are now seeing indications of informational panic. Before publicly reporting radiological readings that seem astronomically changed in a very short period of time, TEPCO spokepersons should be skeptical. Very skeptical. They should have re-checked and triple checked the information. Verification to the Nth degree. If true and verifiable, then and only then report it. Reporting massive radiological changes without major changes in the plant's equipment or containment status can be, and now has been, an informational disaster. All prudent efforts must be made to improve news media and public confidence in TEPCO press statements, but this has surely brought confidence in TEPCO information to a new low. Up until now, TEPCO's press statements have been relatively thin with respect to content, but they're information has ultimately proved correct. Now, the level of confidence that may have been previously established has been diminished, if not lost completely. In addition, the new, higher readings came from the turbine basement adjacent to Unit #2, not yesterday's Unit #3 discovery. Unit #2's spent fuel pool received considerably more seawater spraying than the other three because it still has a roof and walls surrounding it. The spraying was through the few holes which seem to have been caused by flying debris, which would has greatly inhibited getting the sprays directly to the #2 pool itself. As a result, the dilution of boric acid levels in that pool must have been greater than with the other three pools. Thus, low level fissioning in the pool must have been greater than the other three, producing a higher concentration of neutron activation isotopes and higher “puddle” radiological readings. Which leads to the next item of interest...
It has become increasingly apparent that the Fukushima Health Physics (HP) staff is either overwhelmed or incompetent. Or both. TEPCO now reports that there are several highly contaminated “puddles” in all four turbine building basements. These “puddles” did not magically appear. They must have been there, building up in their size and depth, for days. Before any worker should be allowed into a contaminated or potentially contaminated area, regardless of their radiological protection training level, detailed scans with sensitive portable monitors by HP professionals must be performed. “Hot spots”, precise locations of high radioactivity and their dimensions, must be identified and depicted clearly on maps of each area to be entered. Each person who enters the area must be fully indoctrinated on these hot spots, given a copy of the “hot spot” map or maps concerning where the worker will be going, and apprised of all prudent precautions to be taken to avoid these “hot spots” along the way. Further, when radiation levels are found to be high in areas where necessary work must be performed, an HP professional with sensitive monitoring equipment must accompany the workers to insure that their safety will not be compromised. From Japanese Press reports, TEPCO admits that few or none of these precautions were taken, in order to expedite stringing of emergency power cables. Good HP practices must never be compromised, especially when the risk of further core fuel damage to any of the reactors has already been virtually eliminated, as was the case before yesterday.
Two bad results have come from the above two items. First, the stringing of emergency cabling in the turbine building basements has ceased until a detailed monitoring of the turbine building basements is complete and all “hot spots” have been clearly identified. This will agonizingly lengthen the time it will take to bring the reactors in Units 1, 2 & 3 into the ultimate condition of safety; cold shutdown. Second, all Japanese Press services are lambasting TEPCO for bad communications and a severe lack of concern for the safety of Fukushima employees...and they have ever reason to do this!
On a more positive note, the Japanese Press reports the three workers sent to the hospital yesterday are in good condition, but remain under observation. Tests done on the ankle burns to the two contaminated workers have revealed how much beta skin dose they probably got...between 200 and 300 sieverts! That's not life threatening, nor is it “limb threatening”, but it is a whopping big dose. Biggest beta skin dose this writer has ever heard of. That level of skin dosage would result in burns similar to very severe sunburn.
And, finally, today's technical update on the emergency status of Units 1, 2 &3...
...not much from TEPCO! However, The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports...
the control rooms of all three units now have electric power and the lighting systems re-energized (as well as many reactor and containment monitoring read-outs). Reactor internal environment and primary containment monitors are providing good data.
Freshwater is now being used to replenish all reactor water levels.
Reactor internal temperatures in #1 and #2 are coming down. Reactor #1 is at 142 degrees C, and dropping. Temperature in reactor #2 has dropped to 97 degrees C, which is below the boiling point of water.
Pressures inside all three reactors have “stabilized”.
Plans are being made to transfer the contaminated waters in the turbine building basements to the voluminous condenser tanks attached to the bottoms of the turbines. This will reduce the chance for continued drainage to the sea, if not eliminate it entirely. This will also reduce radiation levels in the turbine basements and severely reduce the risk of future worker contamination experiences, allowing the emergency cable-stringing efforts to resume.
Since yesterday, there have been two types of news to report; technical (systems recovery and operational status) and radiological (off-site contamination and exposed emergency worker status).
First, the technical...
TEPCO reports that they have freshwater available for “injection” into Unit No. 1 reactor, and they are currently no longer using seawater. How they have found or produced this freshwater in sufficient quantity for maintaining reactor water level above the fuel, is not in the press statement. Nor, can I find it anywhere else. The why's and how's of this quite significant upgrade in the recovery of Unit #1's reactor cooling ought to be a great story, which the news media would unquestionably report around the world. Of course, the American press would spin it as negatively as possible, but that goes with the territory. Here is a prime example of the kind of information TEPCO could use to temper the news media's thirst for timely disclosure, but it seems TEPCO either cannot or will not make the effort.
In a related report, TEPCO has also switched from seawater replenishment for Unit #2's spent fuel pool, to freshwater with some boric acid mixed in. Be reminded, the boric acid is a neutron absorber to eliminate the possibility of low-level fissioning in the stored fuel bundles. It will be interesting to see if the new water mixture has a significant impact on the temperature of the spent fuel pool's water. A relatively rapid drop, compared to the rate temperature has gone down with seawater replenishment, will indicate whether or not some low-level fissioning has been going on in the fuel bundles stored in the fuel pool, because seawater has no neutron absorber in it. The results of a more-rapid temperature drop could be extremely good news for TEPCO and the world. Until we know for sure, however, it's best not to further speculate on this point alone. We'll come back to it later.
Japan's Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) reports that seawater injection has also been replaced with freshwater for water replenishment in reactor's 2 & 3. Why this is not in any TEPCO news releases over the past 2 days is a mystery, but it's being missing promises TEPCO something much worse...it's a wide open invitation to allegations of a TEPCO cover-up. It doesn't matter if these possible allegations have any basis in reality. With the news media, as well as the prophets of nuclear energy doom, appearance is more important than reality. The following is a stern admonishment to TEPCO...there's no such thing as too much information. Wake up!
JAIF also gives us reactor water levels, reactor temperatures, and containment vessel pressures for Unit's 1, 2 & 3. The only way this information could be available is if the reactor's and containment's monitoring systems have been at least partially recovered and re-energized, if not fully recovered. Here we have a third obvious example of TEPCO missing out on a chance to transmit good news to the Press, thus giving at least the appearance of full disclosure. I believe it's three strikes and you're out!
Now, the radiological news...
As for the current condition of the three electricians over-exposed to radiation, two of which were seriously contaminated...there is nothing new to report, it seems. I may have missed it (I'm not infinite), but one would think a timely update of their medical condition, even if it's to merely say “they remain under observation”, would be yet another point of timely information TEPCO ought to be reporting! From my past Health Physics training and experience, along with my considerable understanding of radiation hormesis, all three are not in any sort of danger from long term health effects or cancer. The two sets of beta-radiation-burned ankles are of a concern to me, however, because burns of any type are painful and worthy of treatment. TEPCO's silence is leaving the door wide open for irresponsible speculation on this one, and they have nothing to gain by not finding out the men's medical status and telling the world. On the other hand, they have everything to lose by continued silence on the matter.
Several news sources report that the levels of radioactive contamination found in the secondary containment and turbine building basement drains from Units 1, 2 & 3, have roughly the same concentrations of radioactive elements as the water “puddle” where two electricians were seriously contaminated yesterday. Further, NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) reports the analysis of the drain water reveals Chlorine-38, which is not a fission by-product. It can only have come from a process called “neutron activation”. Neutron radiation is the only type of radiation that can cause non-radioactive elements to become radioactive. This means the Chlorine in the sea water that has been unavoidably used to replenish spent fuel pools and reactor water levels for more than a week, has been passing through a neutron field and becoming radioactive. This indicates fissioning.
Where? The reactors? Highly improbable because the neutron absorbing control rods have been fully inserted into all three reactor fuel cells (Units 1, 2 & 3), ever since their automatic shutdowns concurrent with the pre-tsunami earthquake. The most probable source of the neutron-activated element is the spent fuel pools. This provides a very-telling clue that some low-level fissioning has occurred in the spent fuel pools due to using seawater as replenishment, which contains no fission suppressant like Boric Acid. This does not mean a chain reaction has happened of a magnitude anywhere near what occurs in the reactors during routine power operation. Quite the opposite, in point of fact. Tiny chain reactions happen every time reactor's are started up, and they are so low-level they do not even begin to measurably heat up the water. I suspect that any chain reactions that might have happened in the spent fuel pools during the seawater cooling phase of this emergency were of the low level variety, for lot's of sound engineering reasons. Regardless, even at very low fission levels, activation of the elements in the sea water will occur in quantities that could cause the Chlorine-38 concentrations reported. As a result, we can safely identify that the source of the contamination detected in the ocean water near Fukushima has been the spent fuel pools via leakage through the plant's drains.
Is this good or bad news? I say it's darn good news. This means the water the two men were contaminated with yesterday was not due to any break, crack, or leak from any of the three reactors, nor was it due to a loss of containment integrity. Thus, speculations of the water coming from the reactor core of Unit #3 reported by both the American and Japanese Press are completely untrue...false...fiction. Any of the international scientific organizations and industrial safety groups that continue to purport a possible compromise of reactor and/or containment integrity ought to be ashamed. We have a “smoking gun”, and it's Chlorine-38.
In a closely related story, Japanese Vice President Sakae Muto said today that “...he can’t confirm that water from Tepco’s reactors is flowing into the sea.” (Bloomberg News) Bad thing to say, sir! We can absolutely confirm that the current leakage to the sea is not coming from the reactors. It's coming from the spent fuel pools! And, in all probability not because the pools are leaking. Rather, the large amounts of water previously sprayed on them for more than a week has made its way into the drainage system. Now that the pools are being maintained with freshwater mixed with fission suppressant, the source of continued drainage contamination has been effectively diminished, if not completely stopped. Is this mere speculation? No! It's sound scientific deduction mixed with considerable Fukushima system familiarity. Time for a retraction, Mr. Muto-san.
Finally, an Emailer from France, Pascal, (thanks, my new friend) reports that Le Monde, the famous newspaper in Paris, says one seawater sample from near Fukushima has a concentration of radioactive Iodine 1250 times the legal limit. I traced this back to a possible source, which seems to be Kyodo News. Kyodo says they got this info from NISA. Now here's the part they didn't get from Kyodo or NISA...Le Monde states that drinking 50 cc of this water will cause a serious health risk to the drinker. It will make them sick. As Pascal correctly notes, anyone drinking that much non-contaminated seawater will get sick. Regardless, where could this “drinking 50cc” statement have come from? Not Kyodo or NISA. The news media, no matter how irresponsible their reporting might be doctored up by their spin-meisters, would never have made something like this up. If they are wrong, it would be bad for business. They must have gotten this from some other source...most probably a source with a prophecy-of-nuclear-energy-doom agenda. Here, we have another example of there being a “War Against the Atom III : Fukushima” happening. Now that the operational emergency at Fukushima relative to Units 1, 2 & 3 is diminishing rather rapidly, as even the most irrational speculations of catastrophic meltdown fall by the wayside, the fictional no-safe-level-of-radiation banner is beginning to take center stage. The battle intensifies...
Yesterday (Eastern Daylight Time), TEPCO reported that spent fuel cooling pumps had been started for both the Unit No. 3 pool and the “common” spent fuel pool. The Unit No. 3 pump start-up was reported here yesterday from a TEPCO press release, and the common pool cooling pump report was in a release three hours later (after I entered yesterday's update). As it turns out, the common pool pump was actually started some two hours before the Unit 3 pump. I wonder how TEPCO could possibly have initially reported in reverse order? Regardless, the most recent TEPCO news release has the respective pump start times in the correct temporal sequence.
In addition, a Union of Concerned Scientists report and Kyodo news report have verified a prior IAEA report that all of the fuel cells were removed from Unit 4 reactor vessel long before the tsunami hit. Total core defueling happened three months ago. The entire fuel core. It was done in order to perform scheduled maintenance on instrumentation internal to the reactor core. Some of the instrumentation was being replaced with new equipment, which is a lengthy, tedious job. Removing all of the core's fuel cells is not uncommon, but not typical either. Regardless, my statement that only a third of the cells had been removed, based on my prior understanding of standard practice, was incorrect. My apologies to you all, once again.
However, this is actually GREAT news. If I'm wrong about something, I want it to be in favor of the good rather than the bad. This is good stuff. The removed cells had been non-fissioning for three months before the tsunami, thus their decay heat generation rate was very, very low. It is highly unlikely that any theoretical cell uncoverage could ever have caused the cells to be melted catastrophically. But, there was still enough heat to potentially cause enough damage to the outer Zirconium cladding tubes, sufficient to release fission products into the pool's water, if the fuel cells were actually uncovered. If this were the case, through high temperature evaporation the fission products (including Iodine and Cesium) would get released into the atmosphere. Further, there was never any chance for meltdown of Unit No. 4's reactor, or it's fuel cells in the spent fuel pool...neither the realistic Three Mile Island meltdown scenario nor the fictional “catastrophic” meltdown the American news media perpetually mentions.
Next, steam was seen emanating simultaneously from the tops of all four stricken Units. TEPCO and the Japanese media all report that it's because of on-going spent fuel pool evaporation. When the pools warm up enough for sauna-like evaporation, the steam wafts out to the atmosphere since the building's have all had their refueling deck levels damaged. Unit 1, 3 & 4 literally have no walls or roofs, so steam emanation is unhindered. Unit 2's walls and roof are still intact but there are some holes for stem to pass through, probably caused by flying debris from the refueling deck explosions of adjacent Units 1 & 3. Regardless, when the steam is noticed coming out of a structure, water spraying re-initiates and the steam eventually stops coming out. The steam from all four buildings stopped a period of time after spraying resumed. The sprays both replenish any pool level that may have been lost due to evaporation, and cool the existing water in the pools through natural thermodynamic convection.
Concurrently, TEPCO interviews with the Japanese news media now explain the worker “evacuation” reports we have all heard redundantly for the past week. When steam is first seen coming from a building (or buildings), any workers at or near the building(s) move to a further distance from the building(s) until it is verified that radiation fields have not increased due to the steam. Then they go back to work. This is good and prudent, albeit standard Health Physics practice to minimize the possibility of excessive exposure. But, there was has only been one temporary full site evacuation of non-essential personnel, up to this point. The rest of the “evacuations” were as described above. Why are these prudent “people moves” called evacuations? Because that's what TEPCO calls them in their news releases! They surely could use a better term or phrase, but they don't.
In addition, the Fuel Pool Cooling and Cleanup Systems for Unit 2 and Unit 4 were used to “inject” water into pools 2 and 4 yesterday. When these systems were actually re-energized and placed in an operational condition doesn't seem to be mentioned in the TEPCO news releases. <sigh>
But the crux of today's update concerns the numerous reports now buzzing through all information sources, including TEPCO press statements and the Japanese news media, over the serious contamination and high-exposures to two workers, and non-contamination but high exposure to a third. All three were working together in the basement of the long turbine-generator building that spans from Unit 1 to Unit 4. They were working below Unit #3's turbine. They are not TEPCO employees. Rather they are employees of some other company contracted as a “cooperative company” (TEPCO term). The three workers were involved in stringing (“laying”) emergency power cabling through the turbine-generator complex. All three were standing in 6 inch deep water (15 cm). All three were wearing anti-contamination coveralls, gloves and head-covers. One worker was wearing water-repellant high top boots. The other two were wearing standard work shoes, without any shoe-covers. Tall three were standing in the ankle-deep water for at least 40 minutes, soaking the shoes and feet of the two who wore shoes only, as well as the bottoms of their pants under the coveralls. Both received apparent burns to their ankle areas.
They were standing in highly contaminated water, with significant concentrations of radioactive Cerium, Lanthanum, Barium, Cesium, Iodine, Technetium, and Cobalt (TEPCO news release). These are all fission products that can only come from heat-damaged fuel. The two wearing only shoes, and their wet clothes under their coveralls, were seriously contaminated. Plus, their radiation exposure levels measured by the dosimeters they wore, were between 170 and 180 millisieverts (17 and 18 REM), which is not life threatening (nor health threatening, using radiation hormesis-based modeling) but is way above the limit for contracted workers who have not been extensively trained in good Health Physics practices. These exposures (to all three) are below the limit for emergency work (250 millisieverts/25 REM), but it seems these three were not cleared to reach the emergency limit.
How could this have happened?
TEPCO reports in their news release, and verbal reports to the Japanese news media, reveal one of the worst cases of poor Health Physics (HP) practice I have ever heard of! First, the two contaminated workers should never have been allowed into the turbine basement without full, head-to-foot anti-contamination attire. At the very least, their shoes should have been covered with thick, waterproof plastic booties, sealed tightly at the top with high-tack duct tape, overlapping their coveralls. AT THE VERY LEAST! Further, their anti-contamination attire should have been thoroughly inspected by a Health Physics professional before letting them go into the workspace, to insure it was properly worn and completely free of open cracks, tears, or holes. Clearly, they were either not inspected, or if they were it was a damn poor inspection! (Pardon my glibness) The third worker wore high-top rubber boots which, while not optimum HP attire, was infinitely more appropriate. The third work's boots were contaminated, but he and his clothes were not.
To make matters worse, all three workers heard their dosimeters alarming, indicating that they had reached their radiation exposure limit. The single-most important HP behavior for any nuclear worker is to never, ever, think the dosimeter is faulty. NEVER! Leave the area of work immediately, get to a known low exposure access point, and find out if the dosimetry equipment is or is not faulty. In the case of all three workers, they ignored their dosimeter's alarming, assuming that all three of their sets must have malfunctioned. Back in the day, a trained American nuclear professional ignoring a dosimetry alarm would have committed a career-ending sin. It's that serious! With contracted workers, before they ever begin to even suit up for entry into a contaminated or potentially contaminated area, they are to receive thorough HP indoctrination on personal protection and the proper donning of anti-contamination attire. They are to be tested, and pass said testing, before ever coming near a work-area's entry point. Throughout the indoctrination, the “never-think-your-dosimeter-is-faulty” dictum is to be repeatedly emphasized to insure that no-one will ever violate it. These three did! This strongly suggests poor indoctrination by the responsible HP professionals at the scene, in addition to poor pre-entry inspection of anti-contamination attire.
As a former HP professional myself, I'm more than disappointed. I'm mad as a junk-yard dog!
The two contaminated workers showered long and hard until no contamination remained on them. Their clothes were thoroughly laundered, removing the contamination from them. While disrobing to shower, both contaminated employees were discovered to have reddened skin around their ankles. Visual inspection identified the reddening as burns. To be on the side of safety, it was assumed the burns resulted from the beta radiation emanating from the radioactively-hot pool of water (TEPCO calls it a puddle) they were standing in, and had their feet soaked in for as long as 40 minutes. Betas cannot penetrate the skin, in fact they cannot penetrate thin tissue paper. They are not a penetrating form of radiation. Since our outer layers of skin are dead tissue, we naturally wear an excellent beta radiation shield over our entire body. However, if the surface of a pool of water that (after-the-fact readings) shows a 400 millisievert (40 REM) dose for one hour of exposure, then the actual skin dose for beta from the pool must be several times greater, or more. The beta dose to the skin must have been substantial in order to redden the skin enough to be identified as a burn.
Was there a meticulous HP scan of the area using sensitive portable equipment just before the workers went in? Good HP practices demand that this occur. No exceptions. The most recent area scan of the area the workers were in could not have been immediately before entry, and it is unthinkable that a 6 inch deep pool (puddle) of water would not have been closely checked, especially one as radioactively-hot as this one. The workers said they ignored the dosimeter alarms because the most recent scan was essentially clean of any potential “hot spots”. I want to know how long before entry that scan was performed. A six inch deep “puddle” of water doesn't materialize fast, especially when none of the equipment is running. And that pool provided a radiation field no one could have missed, no matter how incompetent.
All three workers have been transported to nearby medical facilities for examination, plus close medical examination of the two contaminated men to establish whether or not the burns were in fact from beta radiation (they might not be, but why assume it isn't?).
Regardless, this should never, ever have happened. A clear case of inexcusable human error and HP incompetency!
Finally, in a related news story, the American Press and several otherwise reputable information sources speculate that the existence of the radioactively-hot, highly contaminated “puddle” of water indicates a leak from the reactor. This is probably wrong. If there is a leak, it is probably from a pipe or system component outside of the reactor vessel and the inner primary containment. The secondary containment might house the source of the leakage, but a leak from the reactor itself is an extreme stretch. Kyodo News (Japan) reports that the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA-Japan) believes that while the radioactivity probably comes from damaged fuel inside reactor #3, there is good reason to feel that the reactor itself maintains it's containment capabilities.
(I must apologize to everyone for making a stupid mistake. Since last week, I have been reporting the decay heat levels in the stricken reactors. I based these ballpark numbers on the megawatt outputs of the turbine-generators. I should have been using the thermal megawatt output of the reactor fuel cores, which is about three times more than the electrical ratings. I have changed the previous values in all prior updates accordingly. However, it does not change anything else I have written.)
Before today's informational update, I must re-emphasize the inexcusably poor informational flow from TEPCO. As we shall see, there has been, and continues to be a huge amount of information TEPCO could be sharing with the world, but this has not been the case. The intense, feverish work that has been, is, and will be done by emergency workers and operational staff since this all started, ought to have provided a constant, voluminous flow of “what is happening” information, no matter how mundane or un-exciting it might seem. Not all of it will “look good”, but that is a horrible reason for irresponsible restraint!.With an emergency situation covering 6 entire industrial facilities (Units 1 thru 6), there has unquestionably been an enormous volume of possible reports that could have been made. Why wasn't it?
On this, I can only make an assumption based on my 5 years in nuclear information services. Most of the nuclear industry spokespersons, and nearly all of the information executives, have no nuclear experience whatsoever. They are what might be termed “media experts” or “information specialists” who's only nuclear experience is writing press releases and explaining them since they got their nuclear jobs. There were numerous crucial items of information I could have shared with the local media, but I was told it was either “too technical” or “too different from what the public believes”. I hated such internal censorship three decades ago, and even more-so now. It is the reason I have created this website. I was censored back then, but not any more. It's time for the nuclear community to grow up and treat the public with intellectual respect. There is nothing too technical for the world to understand if explained in clear, everyday language. They spend billions on power plants, so spend some money on getting the world educated...and it cannot be done through the news media!
Press statements should be numerous and filled with timely information, not merely cut-and-paste efforts containing little or no new information. A cursory reading of several days of TEPCO press releases on “Fukushima Daiichi” makes this foul practice abundantly clear. Further, the spokespersons interacting with the news media must have the technical expertise to answer any and all questions from the press, as well as make understandable explanations of the “too technical” stuff like decay heat or why it is impossible for reactor-grade uranium and Zirconium to explode. This will be a hard lesson every electric utility that runs nuclear power plants in the world to learn. Will they do the right thing, or continue their illogical and unprofitable “business as usual”? You don't want to know how I would answer that!
Back to Fukushima...
Since yesterday, the following events have occurred (TEPCO)...
The Unit No. 3 Fuel Pool Cooling and Filtration System has been started and is operating, keeping the Unit No. 3 fuel pool filled with water and removing the decay heat still emanating from the stored fuel cells.
The temporary Seawater Residual Heat Removal Pump for Units 5 & 6 automatically stopped when the power source was switched from the emergency diesel source to the emergency cable supply. Before restarting, the exceedingly low production of decay heat in both Units allowed the operating staff time to inspect the pump and repair anything that might have been damaged.
All four Fukushima Daini nuclear power Units are in the totally safe condition of cold shutdown, and have been for more than a week (# 1 and #2 on March 14, #3 on March 12, and No. 4 on March 16). This has been in the TEPCO press releases all along. Fukushima Daini is 10 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of Daiichi. The tsunami there seems to have been about 20 feet high, thus their emergency power systems were not totally flooded (diesels), and those that were partially flooded were recovered before any fuel damage could occur. (Where has this news been in the western news media? Is it frightening? Is it ominous?)
Electric power has been restored to the Unit #1 control room. All that has been re-energized is the lighting, at least this is all that is in the TEPCO release. Asahi Shimbun adds, however, that power to the reactor monitoring equipment was restored mid-day Wednesday for Unit #4, and early Tuesday for Unit no. 1. This allows for at least some reactor temperature and water level readings for the first time. I can't find this ifull-disclosure-necessary information anywhere in the past 2 days of press releases. Inexcusable! This indicates that TEPCO is cooperating with Japanese reporters to a much higher degree than with western reporters, especially American and European. Blame them?
Operators are preparing to restart cooling equipment for the reactor and spent fuel pools at Units #1 and #4. However, the seawater spraying of Unit #2 has been slowed because the equipment has been drenched with seawater. (Asahi Simbun)
Japanese Cabinet Chief Yukio Edano has officially denied the radiation levels could pose an immediate risk to human health, saying that in order to receive a half-year’s normal radiation dose, one would have to consume 100 grams of the most radioactive plant yet found daily for over 10 days, NHK World reports (Japanese news source).
IAEA reports that some of the vital instrumentation in Units 1, 2 and 4 have been re-energized, but not Unit # 3. The amount of data coming in is more than IAEA “experts” can assess. (What? The IAEA is getting too much info?) They also report that as water is injected into the Unit No. 1 reactor pressure vessel, pressure increases, rather than decrease due to the condensing of steam from an overheated condition. IAEA seems confused on this one. However, this info strongly implies that the Unit #! reactor vessel is full of water, and the inner fuel cell is, and has been completely covered for at least a day. (C'mon, IAEA...even a mere former nuclear engineer can figure this one out.)
IAEA concludes that no significant risk to human health has been identified. This kind of statement leaves the door open for nuclear-phobic speculation. It allows for the possibility of less-than-significant risk, and continues the illogical and unscientific practice of using the Linear, No Threshold model for radioactive risk estimates. TEPCO is saying there is currently no health risks, period! TEPCO may be thin in what they are telling the world, but at least they get it right!
IAEA reports that all of the fuel cells had been removed from the Unit #4 reactor before the tsunami hit. That's “news” to this reporter!This would mean the spent fuel pool of Unit # 4 would have had many, many times greater decay heat production than the other three. Where's the “white smoke” (e.g. steam) from the most rapidly evaporating pool? Plus, where did the hydrogen come from in sufficient quantity to blow the building's roof off? Let's wait and see, on this one. However, if it is true, than there was never any possible way Unit #4 could have experienced a “catastrophic meltdown”, if you will.
All of the 9 items of today's available information, summarized above, ought to be coming directly from TEPCO! However, much, if not most of it is not! There's more than enough info available to allow TEPCO to no longer fill their press releases with cut-and-paste redundancy. Be timely. Embrace full disclosure. TEPCO has everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. But (as demonstrated by The USSR at Chernobyl) they risk losing everything by being less than transparent.