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Dave Yuhas's List: Fukushima

  • Mar 15, 11

    Good explanation of the technology at Fukushima,  but doesn't explain the apparent lack of batteries.

    • Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the U.S. doesn’t need to suspend work on new nuclear permits while investigating the crisis in Japan, where officials are struggling with reactors damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.
    • (CNN) -- The explosion Tuesday at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has elevated the situation there to a "serious accident" on a level just below Chernobyl, a French nuclear official said, referring to an international scale that rates the severity of such incidents.
    • Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing -- the Mark 1 -- was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.
    • The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a Mark 1 nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.
    • “What are the safety advantages of pressure suppression, apart from the cost saving?” Mr. Hanauer asked in the 1972 memo. (The regulatory functions of the Atomic Energy Commission were later transferred to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.)

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    • An explosion Tuesday at the Unit 2 reactor at a Fukushima power plant may have damaged the reactor's inner containment vessel, the most serious development yet in the ongoing crisis at the severely damaged facility.
    • There have been at least two interruptions in the efforts to pump seawater into the reactor in the last 24 hours. In the most serious, at least half of the 18-foot length of the fuel rods was exposed to air for more than two hours, long enough for a partial meltdown of the fuel pellets inside the rods.

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    • TOKYO — Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and a fire at a fourth reactor spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.
    • “It’s way past Three Mile Island already,” said Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor at Princeton. “The biggest risk now is that the core really melts down and you have a steam explosion.”
    • These safety backup systems are the "EDGs" in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn't work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn't save a building because "it was on fire."
    • Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, said he could not rule out the possibility of a meltdown at all three troubled reactors.
    • While Japan scrambles to repair cooling systems at its crippled nuclear plants, another danger lurks: radiation from the spent fuel resting in nearby pools—a storage approach some scientists want banned in the U.S
    • Although Tokyo Electric said it also continued to deal with cooling system failures and high pressures at half a dozen of its 10 reactors in the two Fukushima complexes, fears mounted about the threat posed by the pools of water where years of spent fuel rods are stored.

       

      At the 40-year-old Fukushima Daiichi unit 1, where an explosion Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor, the spent fuel pool, in accordance with General Electric’s design, is placed above the reactor. Tokyo Electric said it was trying to figure out how to maintain water levels in the pools, indicating that the normal safety systems there had failed, too. Failure to keep adequate water levels in a pool would lead to a catastrophic fire, said nuclear experts, some of whom think that unit 1’s pool may now be outside.

       

      “That would be like Chernobyl on steroids,” said Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer at Fairewinds Associates and a member of the public oversight panel for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which is identical to the Fukushima Daiichi unit 1.

    • The information is partially from the International Atomic Energy Authority - which, astonishingly, fails to keep a complete historical database - and partially from reports. Of those we have identified, six happened in the US and five in Japan. The UK and Russia have had three apiece.
    • Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, said radiation levels at Unit 3 were well under the levels where a nuclear operator must file a report to the government.
    • Shortly after Monday's explosion, Tokyo Electric warned it had lost the ability to cool Unit 2. Hours later, the company said fuel rods in that unit were fully exposed, at least temporarily.
    • The fuel rods in the No.2 reactor at the quake-damaged plant are again "fully exposed", boosting fears of an eventual partial meltdown.

       

      Air pressure inside the reactor at the Fukushima No 1. plant rose suddenly when the air flow gauge was accidentally turned off, operator TEPCO said early Tuesday (local time).

       

      That blocked the flow of cooling water into the reactor, leading to full exposure of the rods about 11pm on Monday, it said.

    • These Japanese nuclear accidents come down to the simple fact that nobody back in the 1960s designed nuclear plants to run for 40 years then go through an 8.9 earthquake. Nor are today’s nuclear plants probably designed to that standard, which means Japan is facing what will by necessity be a significantly different nuclear future.
    • TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the failing nuclear power plants at Fukushima, has a history of scandals associated with its nuclear power operations.   In 2002, one set of such scandals became so severe that the president, vice president and chairman of the company all resigned in disgrace.  Most disturbing in this regard is that the scandal related to TEPCO hiding evidence of cracks in the containment vessels of their nuclear reactors.  Also possibly related to the current crisis is one report I have found of Toshiba providing faulty gauges that are used in monitoring the reactor coolant systems.
    • Despite public opposition to nuclear power, TEPCO continued to promote it as an environmentally friendly form of energy. Disaster struck in 2002, however, after the company admitted to falsifying safety documents related to its nuclear facilities. Engineers had failed to report 29 incidents of serious leaks and cracks in reactors at three of its nuclear plants during the late 1980s and 1990s. As a consequence of these revelations, the Japanese government ordered the temporary shutdown of TEPCO’s 17 nuclear facilities. This left Tokyo in the midst of a power shortage during the hot summer months. Three of its plants were allowed to restart by 2003, and the remaining facilities were back online by the end of 2004.
    • The central problem arises from a series of failures that began after the tsunami. It easily overcame the sea walls surrounding the Fukushima plant. It swamped the diesel generators, which were placed in a low-lying area, apparently because of misplaced confidence that the sea walls would protect them. At 3:41 p.m. Friday, roughly an hour after the quake and just around the time the region would have been struck by the giant waves, the generators shut down. According to Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant switched to an emergency cooling system that operates on batteries, but these were soon depleted.
      • Reminds me of the generators in the basements of hospitals in New Orleans when Katrina struck.

    • More steam releases also mean that the plume headed across the Pacific could continue to grow. On Sunday evening, the White House sought to tamp down concerns, saying that modeling done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had concluded that “Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity.”
    • TROUBLE AT TEPCO: SCANDALS, COVER-UPS, ADMISSIONS
       
       "Japan is the best-prepared country in the world for the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami -- practices that undoubtedly saved lives," said James Glanz and Norimitsu Onishi in The New York Times.
       
       But Yoichi Shimatsu, an investigative journalist who covered the Great Hashin  Earthquake near Kobe and the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, which both occurred in 1995, disagrees. "Most people assume that the meticulous Japanese are among the world's most responsible citizens," Shimatsu writes in New American Media. "I beg to differ. Japan is better than elsewhere in organizing official cover-ups."
    • "Over the decades, the Japanese public has been reassured by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that its nuclear reactors are prepared for any eventuality," says Shimatsu. But he notes that "in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Reporters obtained confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, facts be damned. For a nation that has lived under the atomic cloud of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total denial becomes possible because the finger on the button is our own."

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    • Top government spokesman, Yukio Edano, said on Sunday that another blast may take place in the number three reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant following the partial meltdown of reactor number one on Saturday, AFP reported.
    • Sea water is being poured in to cool the reactor core. But so far operations to keep cooling water levels high enough in the reactor have failed.
      • PressTV is out of Iran.

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