Third Japanese reactor goes critical after cooling system fails

posted at 9:30 am on March 14, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

The Japanese can’t catch a break at the Fukushia Daiichi plant:

Technicians are battling to stabilise a third reactor at a quake-stricken Japanese nuclear plant, after it was rocked by a second blast in three days.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s operators said they could not rule out a fuel rod meltdown, after a cooling system broke.

They are injecting seawater into reactor 2 after its fuel rods became almost fully exposed.

This came after another explosion of built-up hydrogen, one predicted by the plant operators, that injured 11 people but only one seriously.  The containment remained intact, but the cooling system failure means that they will have to scrap yet another reactor in an attempt to safely end the nuclear reaction and avoid a meltdown.

The US moved one of its carriers after higher levels of radiation were detected 100 miles off the shore in the vicinity of the plant, but as North Shore Journal notes, the danger was not terribly significant (via Instapundit):

For per­spec­tive, the max­i­mum poten­tial radi­a­tion dose received by any ship’s force per­son­nel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radi­a­tion expo­sure received from about one month of expo­sure to nat­ural back­ground radi­a­tion from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun.

Still, if that’s the dose received 100 miles away after wind dispersal and dissipation, it’s small wonder that the Japanese are evacuating the area near the plant.  No nation has the history of radiation poisoning that Japan does, and one has to believe that this danger will loom the largest among the people even after the tsunami damage that killed thousands of people.  The government will face a great deal of scrutiny for years to come for its actions in these few days, and they appear to understand that.

At CNN, Jim Walsh explains the problems with dumping seawater into a hot reactor and why the venting will create a long-term problem for Japan:

The likelihood of an explosive meltdown a la Chernobyl seems remote, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that Japan won’t have significant levels of environmental contamination. Walsh notes that the set of circumstances facing Fukushima Daiichi wouldn’t get replicated in the US because the US wouldn’t get hit with an 8.9 quake nearby one of our nuclear reactors, although we do have an operating nuclear power station in San Onofre, California, one designed to use seawater as a coolant. Any new reactors would almost certainly use a much different design — most likely the pebble-bed reactors that would eliminate almost entirely the risks associated with the Fukushima Daiichi type of reactor as we see now.


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Ed – “Critical”? If the reactor is shutdown, it most likely cannot go critical.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM

The likelihood of an explosive meltdown a la Chernobyl seems remote, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that Japan won’t have significant levels of environmental contamination.

I’d say the likelihood is about nil, since the Japanese aren’t using graphite in place of water, like Chernobyl.

People keep misusing the word meltdown. Meltdown is actually a planned event in an emergency shutdown, where the fuel rods are allowed to melt down. This can be take place while maintaining the integrity of the containment vessel. It is catastrophic for the power plant, but not necessarily for the environment.

Vashta.Nerada on March 14, 2011 at 9:36 AM

1300: Atsuko in Tokyo writes: “I’ve just heard about meltdown alert. I wish I could stay home tomorrow, but I have to go to work. I work for a medical device company that is used for chronic care. We have responsibility to deliver products to patients even in such situation, especially those in disaster area. My office is in central business district, but today we worked in limited light to conserve energy, threatened by repeated aftershocks. We are enduring enormous difficulties that we haven’t experienced in recent history. We Japanese people appreciate concern and well wishes from around the world much more than you could possibly imagine. Many thanks..”

Limerick on March 14, 2011 at 9:37 AM

What happens if the pumps being used to put seawater in for cooling fail?

Carl on March 14, 2011 at 9:37 AM

I read some where that most of these plants were built by GE in the 70′s. Expect a re-make of the China Syndrome coming out of Holly-weird any day now.

Rovin on March 14, 2011 at 9:41 AM

The Japanese can’t catch a break at the Fukushia Daiichi plant:

No more reactors to scrap. The other 3 reactors were offline before the earthquake. They will not meltdown, so this plant is done scrapping reactors.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:42 AM

This reactor uses MOX fuel, which contains plutonium. Plutoniun is very bad.

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Rovin on March 14, 2011 at 9:41 AM

GE has most favored Obama status. Don’t count on it. GE is also might be the biggest rent seeker in the US. Rent seekers are often given a pass because they grease all the right palms. Enron is a perfect example of this. Enron was loved by the left until they got caught.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Carl on March 14, 2011 at 9:37 AM

The reactor core melts. But the reactor containment should hold regardless.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Shhh Ed, the tree huggers do not want any new plants built here….no natural, nuclear, coal. Oil production

Morning Joe had some odd chick saying no way jose

cmsinaz on March 14, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Plutoniun is very bad.

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Plutonium is bad if it is released into the environment. As long as primary containment remains intact, I’m not sure how the Plutonium can escape.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:47 AM

GE is also might be the biggest rent seeker in the US.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Economic rent seekers?

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Solar panels can’t melt down or explode; they simply provide clean, cheap energy that can power a single lightbulb and a transistor radio.

Bishop on March 14, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Economic rent seekers?

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Rent seeker as in business that lobbys government to enact legislation and/or regulations beneficial to their bottom line.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:51 AM

Sorry, but more people will die in the next hour from this disaster due to lack of water, food or heat than will die from the entire nuclear mess. That’s of at least equal interest.

michaelo on March 14, 2011 at 9:51 AM

As long as primary containment remains intact…
WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:47 AM

I sure hope it stays that way.

This article is funny. In the last paragraph, they say that “experts are now positing two possible scenarios.” The first one is that there will be a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl. Problem is, they don’t list the second scenario. Is the second scenario that everyone dies?

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:55 AM

BBC…

Asked if there is a danger of a meltdown at the Fukushima plant, nuclear safety expert Toshihiro Bannai adds: “On units one and three there is a possibility they are partially damaged in the core. However at this point, monitoring indications doesn’t indicate damage of the core.”

Limerick on March 14, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Weird. Drudge removed the link to the report warning of eminent after shock in Japan expected to be 7.9 in Japan to likely cause another tsunami. Not even in archive.

maverick muse on March 14, 2011 at 9:57 AM

Is the second scenario that everyone dies?

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:55 AM

That’s called an editing meltdown.

Ed Morrissey on March 14, 2011 at 9:57 AM

Vashta.Nerada on March 14, 2011 at 9:36 AM

I would say a meltdown is never planned. A meltdown means a scrapped reactor. A facilities management will do anything they can to prevent one. Even wrecking the reactor by using seawater. Three Mile Island was not a “planned” meltdown and it was stopped as soon as we realised the core needed to be flooded.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Solar panels can’t melt down or explode; they simply provide clean, cheap energy that can power a single lightbulb and a transistor radio.

Bishop on March 14, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Worse than that. It takes more energy to build a solar panel than you’ll get out of it in a normal service life.

If we wanted to switch over to 100% solar, we’d have to build more nuclear plants just to manufacture the panels. Or import more oil, or burn more coal.

ZenDraken on March 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Lieberman was already saying we needed to “put the brakes on” nuclear power plant building here yesterday on a talk show. major dad looked at me and said, “Like we were building something?” Who knew?

tree hugging sister on March 14, 2011 at 10:00 AM

If we wanted to switch over to 100% solar, we’d have to build more nuclear plants just to manufacture the panels. Or import more oil, or burn more coal.

ZenDraken on March 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Now that’s what I call ironic.

TASS71 on March 14, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Der Spiegel is already on the PC international response.

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima makes it hard to ignore the vulnurabilities of the technology. It could spell the end of nuclear power, German commentators argue on Monday. The government in Berlin may now cave in to mounting pressure to suspend its 12-year extension of reactor lifetimes

As if Japan’s unique geography applies to every global region’s vulnerability to combined mixed quakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

Sadly, Japan is geographically vulnerable.

But not much of the USA.

maverick muse on March 14, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Ed – “Critical”? If the reactor is shutdown, it most likely cannot go critical.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Wrong wrong wrong. SCRAMing a nuclear reactor is a dangerous and complex procedure under the best of circumstances, and following SCRAM procedures to a “T” does not turn off the reactor’s criticality like throwing a switch.

gryphon202 on March 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

I would say that it would be way more prudent to stop building levees than to stop building Nuclear Plants.

More people have died from broken levees that we will ever see die from a worst case Nuclear Plant disaster.

WoosterOh on March 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

People need to keep some perspective here. They shut down these reactors immediately so they are trying to control decay heat. Every hour that goes by these reactors cool down. So far it seems that we are overreacting to people who were exposed. We don’t know how much or how bad that exposure was. The idea that this will be Chernobyl seems hyped and overblown. Frankly, the fact that these reactors are 30yrs old and given the conditions they are dealing with I’m impressed.

hboulware on March 14, 2011 at 10:11 AM

although we do have an operating nuclear power station in San Onofre, California, one designed to use seawater as a coolant

No we don’t have a reactor designed to use seawater as coolant. San Onofre is a PWR which uses highly purified plain ol’ water as REACTOR coolant. Seawater is used for circulating water which does nothing but condense the non radioactive steam exiting the turbine back into water.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM

Nothing says desperate for views as sensationalistic bs reporting and non stop garbage out threads. When the real containment gets breached, tell us. Until then, why are you helping destroy the nuclear industry? These are 40 year old reactors in the first place, Japan is a highly active region in the world second place, and these events are not any where near catastrophic in the final place.

astonerii on March 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Wrong wrong wrong. SCRAMing a nuclear reactor is a dangerous and complex procedure under the best of circumstances, and following SCRAM procedures to a “T” does not turn off the reactor’s criticality like throwing a switch.

gryphon202 on March 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

No it’s not and yes it does. Well unless your operating a Russian RBMK reactor. Criticality is defined as having a Keff of equal to or greater than 1.0. When Keff decreases to less than 1 the reactor is subcritical. Putting the poles in the holes will guarantees this will happen every time. Decay heat is another matter entirely.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Wrong wrong wrong. SCRAMing a nuclear reactor is a dangerous and complex procedure under the best of circumstances, and following SCRAM procedures to a “T” does not turn off the reactor’s criticality like throwing a switch.

gryphon202 on March 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Wow, how does a reactor achieve criticality if it is scrammed? Perhaps the design does not prevent criticality in a shutdown mode (hard to believe it wouldn’t but it is a commercial reactor).

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM

If nuclear fuel is to be our future than the industry needs to get it’s act together.

Pebble bed reactors and 4th generation technologies must be brought on line.

There can be no reason for 40 year old technology to be being used when it comes to nuclear plants.

rickyricardo on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Criticality is defined as having a Keff of equal to or greater than 1.0. When Keff decreases to less than 1 the reactor is subcritical. Putting the poles in the holes will guarantees this will happen every time. Decay heat is another matter entirely.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Maybe this design doesn’t use control rods to control neutron population. If that’s the case, then maybe some how it can achieve criticality without operator action? I believe the six factor formula predicts that Keff must be slightly greater than one (i.e., super critical) for a self-sustaining nuclear reaction due to neutron leakage.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

This reactor uses MOX fuel, which contains plutonium. Plutoniun is very bad.

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Hate to break it to you but every power reactor in the United States has plutonium in the core. For about the last third of a cores’ 18 or 24 month lifetime as much as 10% of it’s power output comes from the fission of plutonium 239.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

although we do have an operating nuclear power station in San Onofre, California, one designed to use seawater as a coolant.

Ed – the seawater is not likely to be used as a primary coolant, but it most likely is used as a secondary coolant outside the primary containment boundary.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Thanks to all the experts at HA who have given me an education in nuke power/mishaps/containment etc. Praying on my knees that the nuke experts at the plants in Japan can bring them under control.

Now on to my questions:

How soon could a biomass power plant be constructed to give Japan needed power and to help in the cleanup? Lot of wood debris to get rid of from the looks of the pictures.

Do any of the relief agencies have at hand/provide temporary crematoriums?

Would any lives be saved if, as part of a tsunami warning, everyone had a life-jacket that they put on, and then proceeded to try to make it to higher ground?

Are there any pictures/video of the escapes- maybe showing problems with people using cars to escape ie they got to higher ground and abandoned them on the road making it difficult for folks after them to make it up as high before they had to abandon their vehicles?

In future designs of coastal cities will they make multiple wide roads that lead to higher ground?

journeyintothewhirlwind on March 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Maybe this design doesn’t use control rods to control neutron population. If that’s the case, then maybe some how it can achieve criticality without operator action? I believe the six factor formula predicts that Keff must be slightly greater than one (i.e., super critical) for a self-sustaining nuclear reaction due to neutron leakage.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Nope, it has control rods. GE BWR’s insert from the bottom. As long as Keff is 1.0 the neutron population will be constant from generation to generation. In order to produce any significant power you must bring it slightly supercritical, that’s true enough. You just don’t ever want to approach a Keff of 1+Beff, that would be bad. Chernobyl bad, SL-1 bad, SPURT bad.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Ed ALL reactors reach CRITICAL if they are to produce any power. It only means that the reaction has reached a state where the fuel rods interaction has reached the point where the reaction is producing heat.

inspectorudy on March 14, 2011 at 10:28 AM

The problem with tsunamis and most flooding is not just water it’s all the debris. You get banged around by a house or a car it’s not gonna be pretty.

hboulware on March 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Worse than that. It takes more energy to build a solar panel than you’ll get out of it in a normal service life.

ZenDraken on March 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Shhhh! Oh man, you let the cat out of the bag.
Ah, that’s OK. We will make it up with government subsidies.

Electrongod on March 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Oh about going critical without operator action. That’s possible under some conditions. That’s why they injected boron into coolant system. To preclude any possibility of that. If you’re interested look up reactor cold water accident.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Nope, it has control rods. GE BWR’s insert from the bottom. Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Okay, well if the poles are in the holes, unless the control rods are some how removed, the likelihood that the reactor could achieve criticality are very very very slim.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Oh about going critical without operator action. That’s possible under some conditions. That’s why they injected boron into coolant system. To preclude any possibility of that. If you’re interested look up reactor cold water accident.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

I recall the chemical moderator method, yes, boron.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 10:33 AM

wow. these guys in Japan are working really hard. Many of those nuclear techs probably have lost family/friends/homes and have all of those issues on their minds. Now add a crisis of epic proportions on top of those issues and to say that these guys have ‘their hands full’ is an understatement.

ted c on March 14, 2011 at 10:34 AM

For per­spec­tive, the max­i­mum poten­tial radi­a­tion dose received by any ship’s force per­son­nel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radi­a­tion expo­sure received from about one month of expo­sure to nat­ural back­ground radi­a­tion from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun.

And less than the TSA pornoscanners.

batterup on March 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Hate to break it to you but every power reactor in the United States has plutonium in the core.-Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

I am very sorry. I don’t know much about the subject. Please forgive me. I have been reading things like this, which seem to draw a distinction between MOX reactors and conventional ones. Is this wrong?

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

ted c on March 14, 2011 at 10:34 AM

That’s a good point. These people have families who are most likely caught in a different part of these disastors while they have to stay focused on their jobs. But I assume every emergency worker and soldier is in the same boat. I am sure they have a good support network for eachother.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 10:41 AM

The horrors in Japan today are of an early technology constructed on a worst choice location. But the Japanese were willing to take their gamble on what was available at the time they constructed their nuclear plants where they did. It wasn’t as if they had vast oil supplies to use while awaiting the safety that nuclear energy plants have achieved today.

Today’s scientific facts promote the latest nuclear power technology that has progressed immensely in safety. Given the central swath of the USA, there are MANY places on the American Continent with lowest tectonic activity that still host large urban centers (Austin, Dallas, etc. for TEXAS).

So don’t swallow fear mongering LIES that prevent either drilling and refining US domestic oil, or that would next prevent building safety refined US domestic nuclear plants.

Establish national domestic energy power.

maverick muse on March 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM

found this at Ace:

http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

So everyone calm down. It’s impossible for these plants to do a Chernobyl – Much more likely to do a TMI, and they’re designed to do that if necessary.

JeffWeimer on March 14, 2011 at 10:47 AM

Solar panels can’t melt down or explode; they simply provide clean, cheap energy that can power a single lightbulb and a transistor radio.

Bishop on March 14, 2011 at 9:50 AM

I hear that Allahpundit has a treadmill-powered iPad. Poor kitty.

hillbillyjim on March 14, 2011 at 10:47 AM

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Not a problem Dave, nothing to forgive. This is a fairly complex subject that no one outside the industry gets much exposure to and what they do get is a lot of hysterical flak from enviromental whackos compounded by the sensationalism of our newsies. MOX fuel just starts out life with a higher mix of plutonium. A few years ago the company I worked for explored a plan to use MOX fuel at the units they then operated. The government had stockpiled plutonium that they were going to donate free of charge just to get rid of it. We were going to get, essentially, free fuel for the reactors. This would have led to a decrease in the price we charged our customers per Kwh. A significant decrease. However the howls from the whack jobs and all the negative press concerning us using eeevillll plutonium the stuff that bombs was made from in our reactors caused us to drop the program.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:50 AM

ted c on March 14, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Stoic determination to sacrifice for their homeland and their own people. These recovery workers will themselves most likely suffer early death given their exposure to severe contamination, following ugly subsequent illnesses. That is how Japan will rebuild better than before, just as they did every time disaster stuck. The Japanese yet maintain their national identity. /Perhaps Savage has already repeated the refrain.

maverick muse on March 14, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 10:50 AM

So if a MOX fuel reactor melted down it would be no worse than a conventional one?

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 10:57 AM

This reactor uses MOX fuel, which contains plutonium. Plutoniun is very bad.
dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:43 AM

And from Vic the nuclear engineer at Ace’s replying to a query there:

190 Does the fact they’re use plutonium (as reported) as fuel for unit #3 (the one that just popped it’s cork) change the risk equation any?

The report was that they were “investigating” use of Pu mixed with the fuel, not that they had actually started that.

But anyway, no it doesn’t make any difference.

Posted by: Vic at March 14, 2011 07:53 AM (M9Ie6)

andycanuck on March 14, 2011 at 10:58 AM

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

I just read (skimmed) that link you posted. It seems to be a pretty good analysis of what’s different about MOX fuel. That said it wasn’t written for the layman and it says some things that could be misunderstood.

Such as:

#Danger of Losing Control of the Reactor Is Greater with MOX

Conventional LWRs are designed to decrease the reactivity when
the temperature rises. But when using Pu-239 as fuel, heating of
the core from an increase in reaction rate tends to increase the
reaction rate still further. This is called the positive
temperature coefficient of reactivity, meaning there is a danger
of losing control of the reactor by accelerated chain reaction of
fissioning.(10)

All this is true but he leaves out the fact that reactor design criteria mandates that the reactor must have a negative moderator temperature coefficient under all conditions. He completely neglects to mention that. There was a significant observable difference in how the reactor responded to to reactivity changes over core life. Operators are trained to understand this change and how it will affect operations.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM

maverick muse on March 14, 2011 at 10:53 AM

This is a huge part of the problem when it comes to understanding nuclear energy. People have this irrational fear of exposure to radioactivity. But as long as containment remains intact these workers will not be exposed to lethal dosages. And it will probably be statistically impossible to determine if they are at higher risk of getting cancer as well.

We are exposed everyday to radiation. Everything in this universe gives it off. Our bodies can cope with quite a bit of it. In fact, many cancer survivors were exposed to enough radiation themselves to be considered lethal dosages. But just not all at once.

The problem in a situation like this is when a massive amount of radiation is released very quickly. Just like anything else, too much too quickly will kill you. Did you know fewer than 60 people died as a direct result of radiation exposure at Chernobyl? How many may have had an increased risk of cancer is unknown and only guessed at.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM

journeyintothewhirlwind on March 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

Not up on biomass production rates. Note that new units would be ones that would have defined build times, defined inputs and outputs, and then must be economical to run based on a given biomass. As an example a similar heat-algae recapture unit to add to an existing powerplant would take a year to construct, start to finish, and while it has nice output it is, still, only recapturing waste heat and has a conversion factor of heat and biomass to output energy. Also it needs to be known what would run on the resultant energy product, presumably ethanol or methanol… and those each need their own storage and handling infrastructures which are more costly than petroleum. Basically new build of large plants is time consuming, infrastructure takes years to lay out and by the time you get the first delivered the second isn’t built… due to the lack of people to make it and all new construction having to meet code. Any new fuel that cannot run over existing infrastructure has a build-out time, measured at least in years and often decades. If you want electric cars, you need more power processing capability (either locally or centrally) which requires its own wiring plant (locally and/or centrally) to account for the increased load. Give biomass a decade to find a non-cash crop (or remains of cash crops) and a defined fuel type, plus cost of conversion and maintenance, plus spreading out the cost of the plant, itself.

In energy as in warfare it is logistics that make strategy that determines what tactics can be supported. Energy fuel is a tactic, it needs to be part of a strategy and logistics base to make sense.

Crematoriums are a local and cultural issue that is decided by the government and society, locally. If they want them there are organizations that can supply a few. If the locals want to build funeral pyres out of the washed-in construction materials for housing, that would be up to them. If they wanted mass burial, that is their decision, not ours. Our ideas of fast and efficient may not meet up with local ideas nor society, and be an affront to them. If they want them, they know they can ask.

Would you carry a life preserver around each and every day for your entire life in Seattle or Portland? How about the entire East Coast of North America in regards to the Cumbre Vieja? Remember events like this are rare on the human scale, but frequent on the geological scale and they cannot be reliably predicted, just have general forecasts given on probability of events happening. The best bet for tsunami events is self-rescue: head up into a sturdy building or far inland. Part of the problem in Japan was the infrastructure was broken up due to the quake, buildings have a reliability only up to a certain size of quake and even then must be inspected for damage, and then, in 10-15 minutes, you have a tsunami coming in behind you. If you ever experience the Cascadia fault going on the coastline and survive, run, don’t walk, to higher ground far inland. You can stop after a couple of hours. People are trained to do that in Japan, but it suffered something that was never experienced in recent history. Japanese tourists saved hundreds during the 2004 Christmas Tsunami by being trained and informed. Training, information and even survival gear doesn’t matter with a broken town or city around you and a 30′ wall of water coming your way faster than you can walk.

There are recounts from individuals, particularly one truck driver with a very heavy truck, of just riding in the cab of his truck from Sendai some ways inland and waiting until the water receded to get out of the area. An old style VW bug might do it. Most cars sink as water comes in them, and battling tsunami currents underwater from a flooding car is not ideal for survival.

Ground subsidence appears to have happened in some regions of the NE of Japan. Roads do not survive those buckling events very well. With a tsunami this size do you really want to give it an easy and wide path to go through towards higher ground? Obastacles hinder you and hinder debris from a tsunami event until enough has gotten entrained to acts as a uniform mix with high density. The problem is that the water will also go through the path of least resistance… just like people.

Yes these ideas have been thought of and the best survival principles are in place in Japan. Note that this event was overwhelming for them with only the 2004 Christmas Tsunami serving as a guide. How well trained our children along the NW coast of the US for a tsunami? Does anyone know how to deal with a 100′ high tsunami from a trillion ton land slip into the sea? You can stack the odds in your favor by information and preparation… nature then deals as she will, and often there are jokers in the deck you can’t predict. Its those jokers that are killers.

ajacksonian on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM

So if a MOX fuel reactor melted down it would be no worse than a conventional one?

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 10:57 AM

If you mean could a MOX reactor accident result in a nuclear explosion. The answer is no. How could it be worse?

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

The answer is no. How could it be worse? -Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Plutonium release, or a larger plutonium release than a meltdown at conventional reactor would result in. Would a meltdown at a conventional plant result in plutonium release?

The report was that they were “investigating” use of Pu mixed with the fuel, not that they had actually started that. -andycanuck

I think they started it.

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM

If the problem is that there is no source of electrical power to run the cooling pumps why don’t they bring in some diesel generators and hook them up to the pumps? How hard can that be?

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

If the problem is that there is no source of electrical power to run the cooling pumps why don’t they bring in some diesel generators and hook them up to the pumps? How hard can that be?

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

I’m pretty sure that’s what they did, they may have diesel powered fire pumps that they could use to inject water into the system.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:23 AM

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Aparently they tried that, but they couldn’t hook them up, the connections were incompatible.

http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

JeffWeimer on March 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

This is a good question and I have not seen a good answer. I did see somewhere that the replacement generator receptacles did not fit the plants plugs. But that has got to be the lamest excuse ever. It is a simple matter to do a hardwire bypass of any plug or receptacles.

There is a curiosity in Japan though that I have learned about during all of this that might have a bearing on this. Apparently the eastern part of the country’s power supply is produced at 50 Hz and the western part is produced at 60 Hz. This is rather strange and could present issues during a crisis like this. It is possible the replacement equipment is 60 Hz equipment while the facility is all 50 Hz compatible. But if that is true, the speed of any replacement generator can be changed to match the frequency requirements locally.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM

First just because the fuel melts doesn’t mean it gets released into the environment outside the containment or even the reactor vessel. TMIs fuel melted to some degree and then when they finally did hit it with water the chill shock broke a significant portion of it up into a rubble bed. There was no significant release at TMI. But for arguments sake if something did happen and the core got expelled out around the plant what possible difference would it make if it was 3% Pu239 or 7% Pu239? Although Plutonium is a chemical poison I’d think that would be the least of your worries since you’d be looking at radiation levels exceeding 10,000R on contact and none of it coming from Plutonium. It’s like asking which is worse getting shot in the head with a .357 magnum or a .45 acp.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Aparently they tried that, but they couldn’t hook them up, the connections were incompatible.

JeffWeimer on March 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Don’t pay too much attention to anything you see from any news source. The only people who actually know what’s going on are the folks on the ground actually dealing with the problems. The only way we’ll ever find out what really happened is the after action reports that those people give us after this event is over. Of course by that time there’ll be another crisis somewhere else and no one but industry people will be interested in reading about it.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:39 AM

ajacksonian on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Thanks for your thoughts.

I was thinking small-scale, temporary biomass power- enough to get electricity/heat to the least damaged parts of a city.

And I read an article where the crematorium in the area said they were overwhelmed and that they could only handle 18 bodies A DAY and asking for other crematoriums in Japan to help- but there, you have to get the bodies across damaged roads. We know that in fighting the spread of disease after these disasters happening is taking care of the bodies. A relief agency could provide a temporary crematorium, and get direction from locals so as not to offend.

Yes, the life jacket sounds weird- but if you bought life-jackets for your family and just had them in the trunk of your car, or in a cabinet in your office, or the closet of your house- they would after a while just blend in. And maybe it would get scientists to redesign them so that they are small and compact to store, like our umbrellas, but there when you needed them.

I get your point about giving the water easier access. There has to be a way to design the roads for easier emergency exiting by large masses of people and still give the water a fight.

journeyintothewhirlwind on March 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Apparently the eastern part of the country’s power supply is produced at 50 Hz and the western part is produced at 60 Hz.

NotCoach on March 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM

What? So if you move you have to dump all you stuff? That sounds even crazier than not being able to hook up a generator to stop the destruction of a power plant. I just checked it out. It’s for real. Unbelievable.

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:39 AM

True, which is why I said apparently. It makes no sense that there is no way to hook up trailered generators. In a situation like this, if they’re desperate enough to use seawater directly on the pile (another assumption based upon imprecise reporting), they’re desperate enough to wire up directly. It would also make sense for them to have this contingency planned, and that would mean an incompatibility would have already been found and fixed.

JeffWeimer on March 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

ajacksonian on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM

And as far as offending folks: when earthquakes have devastated the Muslim world we have sent in rescue/cadaver dog teams and if I am not mistaken, dogs are not high up on the Muslim respect list, but I bet the people rescued or the families whose loved ones were accounted for found a new appreciation for dogs.

Given the choice of a epidemic or offense which do you think the survivors would choose?

journeyintothewhirlwind on March 14, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Third Japanese reactor goes critical

This is notably bad title. In the context of nuclear reactors the meaning is that a chain reaction is starting, i.e. the safeing actions of three days ago have been reversed.

burt on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 AM

I posted these links earlier in another thread but here they are again for those interested.

ANS

NEI

US NRC

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM

burt on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 AM

It’s not probably a bad title, or headline. It’s definitely a bad title. It’s factually incorrect and misleading.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 12:02 PM

burt on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Sorry Burt, I misread notably as probably. Old eyes and my font size set too small.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 12:03 PM

ajacksonian on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 AM

And I don’t believe I am the only person from the midwest who has:

A small shovel
A blanket
water
power bars
ice scrapers
traction material- kitty litter
cell phone
gps
first aid and sos/warning lights
emergency radio if traveling long distance
batteries
extra gloves and hats

for the off chance that I will go off the road in the winter. Or who keeps umbrellas, sunscreen,hats, insect bite kit, water in the car/office in the summer.

All of those take up more room than a life-jacket especially if they design how to minimize it but still make it effective.

journeyintothewhirlwind on March 14, 2011 at 12:10 PM

scrubjay on March 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

Transmission lines West of the Rockies and East of the Rockies are two slightly different voltages. It is very difficult to use the same transformer designs at substations.

As for 50 HZ/ 60 HZ, the motors can still run on that power just the RPM will be different. In a crunch not that big a deal.

Kermit on March 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Third Japanese reactor goes critical

This is notably bad title. In the context of nuclear reactors the meaning is that a chain reaction is starting, i.e. the safeing actions of three days ago have been reversed.

burt on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Perhaps what has gone critical is the dropoff in traffic since the peak of this disaster.

slickwillie2001 on March 14, 2011 at 12:15 PM

The problem here is just like during the BP oil blowout. The vast majority of the public being led by ignorant media operators have absolutely NO technical expertise.

They also seem to believe Bruce Willis movies with the required line, “She’s gonna blow!”

Kermit on March 14, 2011 at 12:16 PM

slickwillie2001 on March 14, 2011 at 12:15 PM

BINGO!

Kermit on March 14, 2011 at 12:16 PM

Ok, so I work at a plant of a very similar design in the US.

The Energy Collective link previously provided is good, but not completely accurate. I would suggest anyone really interested should start there if you haven’t already.

As far as fuel goes, BWRs generally use a fuel that is a mix of 95% U-238 (not fissile) and 5% U-235 (fissile). U-235 undergoes fission when it absorbs a neutron, U-238 becomes Plutonium 239. So the VAST majority of the fission reaction in any nuclear reactor is a result of Plutonium. Making the existence of some Plutonium from the MOX fuel a moot point.

The explosions we have seen are the result of hydrogen that is released when water reacts with the fuel cladding that is made of the zirconium allow Zircaloy. Contrary to what the Energy Collective link, the reactor building shell DOES have a function – secondary containment. The idea is that secondary containment is maintained at a negative pressure compared to the outdoors, so that any radioactive material released into secondary containment is exhausted through an elevated, monitored stack. Furthermore, they did not intentionally vent primary containment into secondary containment. The vent piping is not designed for the kind of pressure they are experiencing in primary containment, so that piping likely ruptured during the vent, releasing hydrogen into secondary containment where it then collected at the high point until it reached an explosive concentration.

As far as the reactor being shutdown – it is. Upon the initial earthquake, the electricity grid likely failed in numerous places and the plants automatically shutdown on a load reject because there was no grid for them to send their power. At that point the turbine trips and the reactor SCRAMS. A scram is neither dangerous nor complex. It is designed to happen anytime a safety setting is exceeded. US nuclear plants collectively scram probably 100 times per year and all it takes is two manual pushbuttons at its most complex. A BWR is designed to scram in less than 7 seconds and the reactor will stay shutdown under ALL conditions even with one control rod stuck full out.

I suspect the use of the word “critical” in this case was unintended. The situation may be “critical”, but nowhere in the linked article is the reactor described as “critical”. Beyond the fact that all rods were verified full-in after the initial scram, as a precaution they also injected boron using an installed system to be absolutely sure the reactor STAYS shutdown. The design injection of boron is enough to shutdown the reactor on its own without even one control rod inserted. Suffice to say, those reactors are shutdown.

As far as the seriousness of the accidents, there has been cladding damage, and likely a release of fission products like Iodine, Cesium, Xenon, and Krypton into the reactor vessel. These elements can then exit to the suppression pool through steam safety valves, or into the drywell portion of the primary containment through any steam or water leak. When venting, the preferred path is to take suction on the suppression pool so that any fission products in the drywell atmosphere are then evacuated through the water in teh suppression pool, attempting to scrub that air as much as possible. It is then exhausted through an elevated, monitored stack – to the extent possible – where it is then diluted in the atmosphere and distributed downwind, which so far has been out to sea.

Radioactive concentrations and dose rates offsite have been very low. Don’t believe the hype about high dose rates, or anything that references 1000 times greater than normal. Half the core at TMI melted and there was minimal radiation observed offsite.

As far as “meltdown”, 1) there is no circumstance under which allowing the fuel to melt is a “planned” activity. And any indication of fuel failure is a long, long way from “meltdown”. Right now they are both filling the reactor vessel with seawater and filling containment with seawater. They are technically now operating under severe accident guidelines.

deadrody on March 14, 2011 at 12:17 PM

That Energy Collective link, again, is HERE

deadrody on March 14, 2011 at 12:18 PM

OldNuke has given the best updates on all this anywhere. If you are truly intertested in the actual situation at these plants, then read the sites he has linked. The NEI has this specific infomration posted, and this indicates the situation is almost completely stable. The Japs did a very good job on this one.

Read below, or reference the sites OldNuke has posted for the correct information.

Information on the Japanese Earthquake and Reactors in That RegionLatest NEI Updates
**NOTE: Refresh your Web browser periodically to ensure you receive the latest updates appearing on this page.**

UPDATE AS OF 11:00 A.M. EDT, MONDAY, MARCH 14:
Fuel rods in the reactor vessel of Unit 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant were temporarily uncovered from cooling water today, but seawater injection has raised the water level to the halfway point, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. Seawater is now being used to cool all three Daiichi reactors that were shut down after the March 11 earthquake. Unit 2 had lost its emergency cooling capacity. Workers were preparing to remove hydrogen from the reactor building, and TEPCO has opened the steam relief valve of the reactor.

The primary containment vessels and reactor cores of reactors 1 and 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi facility are intact, following earlier hydrogen explosions in the secondary containment buildings of both reactors.

At Unit 1, seawater injection continues to cool reactor. Safety regulators consider the reactor’s pressure an indication of a stable condition. The hydrogen explosion on March 11, which occurred between the primary containment vessel and the containment building, did not damage the primary containment vessel or the reactor core. To control the pressure of the reactor core, TEPCO has been injecting seawater and boric acid into the primary containment vessel of Unit 1 since March 12.

A hydrogen explosion Monday at Unit 3, similar to the unit 1 explosion, did not damage the primary containment, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said. The control room remains operational, and a government official said that pressure in the reactor vessel is stable. After the explosion, the few hundred people remaining in the 12.5-mile evacuation zone were asked to stay indoors.

At the Fukushima Daini site, cooling capability has been reestablished for Unit 4 at the reactor. Units 2 and 4 are in cold shutdown.

Subsunk out.

Subsunk on March 14, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Transmission lines West of the Rockies and East of the Rockies are two slightly different voltages. It is very difficult to use the same transformer designs at substations.

As for 50 HZ/ 60 HZ, the motors can still run on that power just the RPM will be different. In a crunch not that big a deal.

Kermit on March 14, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Transmissions lines on the same side of the rockies even within the same state are different voltages. Within our switchyard we had transmission lines of 34Kv, 230Kv and 500Kv. Our generator terminal voltage was 21Kv stepped up to 500Kv.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Terminal voltages all over the grid are maintained at slightly higher or slightly lower to balance out the inductive and capacitive loading on the grid.

The difference between operating at 50Hz and 60Hz is a much bigger deal. Those two cannot peacefully co-exist on the same network and equipment is designed to run on one or the other and you need an adapter to swap between them.

The difference of 1 or 2 KV on a 345KV system is negligible on your home circuit voltage that is nominally 110VAC. Your voltage – or anyone else’s for that matter – will fluctuate more based on the loads you put on them than any change in grid voltages.

deadrody on March 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Third Japanese reactor goes critical after cooling system fails

Ed. Are you saying that this reactor is starting to generate electricity again, or are you using the word critical to imply the reactor is overheating? By the way, PSOs northeast station at Oologah is always critical; in fact it is supercritical. That means its boiler operating pressure/temperature is above the combination where water and steam share the same phase and are indistinguishable from each other. In the power industry, there is more than one meaning to the word critical.

Ed. Why don’t you have a thread where people can ask questions that can be answered by your posters that are qualified in nuclear matters. I know Kermit doesn’t think anybody at Hor Air knows anything about these matters, but I notice you have a lot of expertise here. Check your other threads. You have nuclear engineers, reactor operators, radiation physicists, and radiation safety pppersonnel. Just request the thread be for information and not opinion.

Old Country Boy on March 14, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Old Country Boy on March 14, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Ohboy, TVA’s Paradise station in Western Kentucky also had one supercritical unit. I know what you’re talking about but this may just confuse the hell out of people who aren’t familiar with steam plants. Good thought on the question thread, but probably wouldn’t work. People would still chime in with things they thought were facts. Be worth a try though.

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 1:22 PM

Ed – “Critical”? If the reactor is shutdown, it most likely cannot go critical.

WordsMatter on March 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Ditto what he said (including his name). When I was in the navy and they would announce ship-wide “The reactor is critical”, they meant it was up and running, i.e. doing a normal fission chain reaction. “Critical” and “shut down” were opposites.

I guess the terms are being re-defined in the media scare fest.

thirteen28 on March 14, 2011 at 1:57 PM

thirteen28 on March 14, 2011 at 1:57 PM

Which ship?

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Looks like Cavuto jumped into the ‘nuclear meltdown’ paranoia with both feet. We’re all gonna die! He’s worse than Shemp Smith.

slickwillie2001 on March 14, 2011 at 4:18 PM

The MSM is putting a lot of sensationally inaccurate info out there on this.

I’ve learned a lot from the scientists commenting at Watt’s Up With That?:

Nuclear Power Perspective

One of the most often citing reliable sources on the crisis is the BraveNewClimateblog.

Essentially, the reactors in Japan cannot become a Chernobyl and there will not be a significant release of radiation. I probably get a higher daily dose living in Colorado.

The BraveNewClimate blog has a layman’s explanation of the situation from Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston. I highly recommend reading it and ignoring the hysterical headlines in the MSM.

Common Sense on March 14, 2011 at 4:32 PM

I second Common Sense’s endorsement of http://bravenewclimate.com/category/nuclear/

It’s more authoritative and explains itself better.

flataffect on March 14, 2011 at 6:28 PM

Forty year old reactors battered by record earthquake, and a record tsunami require emergency cooling.

So called environmentalists celibate saying “See I told you nuclear power was dangerous.”

Sane people look into modern reactor designs.

Slowburn on March 14, 2011 at 8:33 PM

celibate = celebrate
My bad.

Slowburn on March 14, 2011 at 8:36 PM

How could it be worse?
Oldnuke on March 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

I guess I will go back to my original concern. From HA’s latest thread on the subject (NYT quote):

“But the situation a reactor No. 3 was being closely watched for another reason. That reactor uses a special mix of nuclear fuel known as MOX fuel. MOX is considered contentious because it is made with reprocessed plutonium and uranium oxides. Any radioactive plume from that fuel would be more dangerous than ordinary nuclear fuel, experts say, because inhaling plutonium even in very small quantities is considered lethal.”

Maybe HA is not the best place to get my information.

dave742 on March 14, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Oldnuke on March 14, 2011

Thanks for all your posts. I truly appreciate your time and the knowledge you are sharing with us.

I was hoping you might be able to comment on a couple of questions.

What is the likely source of the hydrogen (thermochemical decomposition of water?) and why wouldn’t they simply vent it before it reaches explosive levels?

I assume that under normal design/operating conditions fissile material does not come into direct contact with the primary cooling water, but this is likely to occur if the fuel and/or cladding has melted?

If they are pumping sea water in to cool the reactor, ostensibly using their fire systems since the cooling loop is down, how are they shedding the heat? Simply letting the water boil off or do you think they would have to exchange the water somehow?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Trainwreck on March 14, 2011 at 10:07 PM