Video: Setbacks at Japanese nuclear plant, or testing error?

posted at 1:45 pm on March 27, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

The question here isn’t good news or bad news, but bad news and really bad news. Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor 2 has a sudden spike in radiation from underneath where water has pooled near the turbines, perhaps of a particular isotope that would indicate a fresh containment breach and ongoing fission reactions. CNN reports that TEPCO initially announced that the unstable iodine-134 isotope — which has a half-life of less than an hour — may have suddenly and sharply increased in the water runoff, putting workers in greater danger:

The Tokyo Electric Power Company reported earlier Sunday that water pooling in the turbine building of the plant’s No. 2 reactor was 10 million times more radioactive than normal contained a sharply elevated level of iodine-134, a short-lived isotope produced in a nuclear reaction. But Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency called those figures into question, and Tokyo Electric announced Sunday night that it would retest the water.

High radiation levels persisted in the Pacific Ocean waters near the seaside power plant, however, with one monitoring post reporting levels 1,850 times normal Sunday.

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the surface water from the No. 2 turbine building showed 1,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour — more than 330 times the dose an average person in a developed country receives per year, and four times the limit Japan’s health ministry has set for emergency workers struggling to prevent a meltdown at the damaged plant.

However, the NISA spokesman says that the ratio reported by TEPCO may have been in error:

“We tend to feel that the data that was made public by TEPCO today is a bit strange and a bit odd,” Nishiyama said. “And I have been told TEPCO is going to re-evaluate the numbers and is going to make public the results of their re-evaluation.”

TEPCO has now retracted its earlier announcement in regards to the iodine-134, but not in the measure of radioactivity:

Tokyo Electric Power Company has retracted its announcement that 10 million times the normal density of radioactive materials had been detected in water at the Number 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. …

It said although the initial figure was wrong, the water still has a high level of radioactivity of 1,000 millisieverts per hour.

To give some sense of scale to this figure, normal background radiation exposure would be 2-3 millisieverts per year, so this is not a minor danger. Its source is important, though, and not a small academic matter. If iodine-134 is leaking from the reactor, it means that not only has containment been breached but also suggests that a fission reaction continues in the reactor. The presence of iodine-131 would not necessarily suggest an ongoing reaction, as it has a much longer half-life of eight days. Its presence in the water could have been from an earlier fission process, and it is already an expected contaminant after a nuclear accident.

The good news is that TEPCO has restored power to control rooms and cooling systems at the plant, including the reactor 2 building yesterday.  Hopefully that will allow the workers to bring the reactors under control and at least end the risk of further contamination.

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Judging by the comments so far, the reports of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor are being taken just as seriously as the reports of Japanese radiation reaching Nevada.

This is the Nevada where the gubmint told us downwinders not to worry about tiny amounts of radiation coming our way … over 800 times

PoliTech on March 27, 2011 at 2:09 PM

Well 2.4 millisieverts is the average background radiation, but it goes up to 130 to 260 millisieverts in other areas of the world without ill effects for the inhabitants.

sharrukin on March 27, 2011 at 2:12 PM

I would bet money that this is caused by a similar problem they had at TMI – containment sumps. Plants in the US changed their designs specifically to prevent the containment sumps from automatically pumping highly contaminated post-accident containment water out of containment.

Not something you want, but for the one millionth time, a matter of inconvenience for the post-accident cleanup and nothing more.

deadrody on March 27, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Also for the one millionth time, whatever you hear from the media, immediately assume the exact OPPOSITE is true. The have far less credibility half a world away than they did in New Orleans post-Katrina. Frankly I don’t even know why people bother watching the dumb shit the media puts out. Listening to them is pointless.

deadrody on March 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM

My concern is for the people in that region. They are a long way from being out of the woods here as far as the potential risks go.

pilamaye on March 27, 2011 at 2:25 PM

FYI This the latest NEI has:

Latest NEI Updates

UPDATE AS OF 1:30 P.M. EDT, MARCH 27:
U.S. Navy barges carrying 500,000 gallons of fresh water were nearing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Sunday as workers continued to pump cooling water into reactors and spent fuel pools.

Beginning Friday, workers began to switch from sea water to fresh water to cool reactors 1, 2 and 3. The arrival of the barges will maintain the fresh water supply. Engineers are concerned that continued use of sea water will cause corrosion inside the reactors and hinder the cooling process.

Dose rates at the site boundary continued to range from 1 to 3 millirem per hour.

UPDATE AS OF 9:30 A.M. EDT, MARCH 27:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers on Sunday were using pumps to remove highly contaminated water from the basement of the turbine building of reactors 1 and 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

TEPCO also was preparing to remove water from the turbine building of reactor 3. Removal of the contaminated water is necessary to continue power restoration to the plant.

By Sunday, water injection to the pressure vessels at reactors 1, 2 and 3 had been switched from seawater to freshwater.

Off-site power has been restored to all units and work to connect equipment is ongoing. Progress is being slowed by high radiation levels and wet equipment.

TEPCO said that earlier reports of extremely high radiation levels measured in the water in the basement of the reactor 2 turbine building were inaccurate, according to news reports.

The site boundry numbers have been the same for several days. These measurment are for the lower level of the turbine (probably Aux building as well) building. Some context need to be released when the throw out these numbers.

whbates on March 27, 2011 at 2:29 PM

BallisticBob on March 27, 2011 at 3:02 PM

And of course the great flood is right there in the bible.

whbates on March 27, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Another TEPCO spokesman, Motoyasu Tamaki, used a new buzzword, “sotegai,” or “outside our imagination,” to describe what actually occurred.

I don’t have a Japanase to English dictionary, but it would appear that sotegai actually means “outside our willingness to pay.”

pedestrian on March 27, 2011 at 4:36 PM

Hot stuff is short lived.

Basic physics.

percysunshine on March 27, 2011 at 4:43 PM

I-134 is typical made thru a charged particle reaction or fast neutron activation, not as a fission product in a reactor that produces fission with thermal or slow neutrons. The predominate radioiodine produced in the worlds light water reactors is I-131 with an 8 day half-life. This same isotope is used extensive in medical treatments and the levels being seen away from the facility posed absolutely no risk to people. The hysteria, misinformation, and out right fear mongering regarding this event is almost as tragic as the earthquake and tsunami. I certainly do not mean to diminish the significance of what is occurring, but I suspect that when all is said and done no one will have died from this and there will be no increase in the cancer rate for the workers or area residents.

skanter on March 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM

tip

“Iron Dome” Defense System Implemented

Nearly Nobody on March 27, 2011 at 7:14 PM

Also for the one millionth time, whatever you hear from the media, immediately assume the exact OPPOSITE is true. The have far less credibility half a world away than they did in New Orleans post-Katrina. Frankly I don’t even know why people bother watching the dumb shit the media puts out. Listening to them is pointless.

deadrody on March 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM

This news is direct from those in charge of the plant, not the media. If you want to doubt the plant owner, Japan, the NEI and a host of other authorities and believe that everything is going great, go right ahead. I’ll go on ahead believing their reports though that this is a very serious situation still not under control.

jonknee on March 27, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Ok, the testing of new samples has been completed and there is no I-134 though the water is still pretty radioactive it is about 100 times less radioactive than previously stated.

There is apparently a leak someplace but it doesn’t appear to be from the main containment vessel and it doesn’t appear to be very large. Pressures inside the reactor containment are currently fine. They suspect that a pipe, valve, or seal has become damaged from the earthquake or possibly from a hydrogen explosion.

Any such leak would be in the turbine building and not in the reactor building and there are a lot of pipes going between those two. The source can be any one of those pipes or in the assortment of valves and seals associated with them. They are going to use the condenser tank that is used to condense steam after its run through the turbine back to water as a storage tank to hold the water in the basement.

They are going to pump the water currently in the condensate tank to outside storage, then pump the water from the basement to the condenser tank. This should allow them to find the source of the water leak and get it shut off or so their thinking goes.

Source: NHK Japan various news reports.

crosspatch on March 27, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Hmmm. Radioactivity in sea water. Cue Godzilla.

schmuck281 on March 27, 2011 at 8:07 PM

Yeah, it rained at the site over the past few days and likely washed a lot of I-131 into the ocean.

crosspatch on March 27, 2011 at 8:32 PM

crosspatch on March 27, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Glad you are around to elaborate.

Count to 10 on March 28, 2011 at 9:15 AM

Ed,

Any amount of I134 indicates an uncontrolled chain reaction. i.e. a criticality accident:

Check the math here:

http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2011/03/worst-case-scenario.html

MSimon on March 28, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Note:

“Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that water seeping out of the No. 2 reactor building into the adjacent turbine building contained levels of radioactive iodine 134 that were about 10 million times the level normally found in water used inside nuclear power plants.”, Inquirer.net reports.

“Late Sunday night, however, the operator of the stricken plant said that the high reading may have been a mistake.” the report added.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/305120#ixzz1HuhaLnoa

Any reading of I134 indicates a runaway nuclear reaction. Check the math:

http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2011/03/worst-case-scenario.html

MSimon on March 28, 2011 at 1:02 PM

The amount of I134 was in error. Not the presence:

http://bigthink.com/ideas/31759

MSimon on March 28, 2011 at 1:05 PM