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Another explosion, plus confirmation of "melting" fuel rods at Fukushima nuke plant

The latest news coming from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is not good:

The cooling system failed at the Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor today, said Tokyo Electric, which runs the Fukushima nuclear plant 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of the nation's capital. Fuel rods at the reactor may have melted after becoming fully exposed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

A hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 3 reactor today, following a similar blast on March 12 at the No. 1 reactor that destroyed the walls of its building. The utility has been flooding the three reactors with water and boric acid to reduce the potential for a large release of radiation into the atmosphere following the March 11 earthquake-generated tsunami that smashed into the plant, disabling electricity supply and backup generators.

"They are managing the situation, they have very qualified personnel there," Gennady Pshakin, a nuclear expert based in Obninsk, Russia, said by telephone. "We will have a week or 10 days of this uncertainty, but the situation should normalize. What we need is for the water supply to be constant."

FYI, there are 6 reactors at the plant, but reactors 4, 5, and 6 have been inoperative for some time due to routine maintenance and system upgrades.

The situation at the Fukushima plant is critical, but not catastrophic.  As far as can be determined, the shielding around the reactors has not been compromised.  The radiation leaks that have been detected are minor, and human exposure seems to have been minimal.  The evacuation of nearby residents is a routine precaution, not a tell-tale sign of impending doom.

Writing at The Daily Mail, Michael Hanlon provides a common-sense perspective on this situation:

The problem is that you cannot simply turn off an atomic reactor instantly. It takes days for the red-hot fuel rods to cool down - and that is provided they are supplied with adequate coolant. 

Professor Richard Wakeford, a nuclear expert at Manchester University, said yesterday: 'If the fuel is not covered by cooling water it could become so hot it begins to melt - if all the fuel is uncovered you could get a large-scale meltdown.' 

Hopefully this will not happen, and thanks to both the design of the Japanese reactors and to the swift and organised response of the authorities, handing out iodine pills to prevent the ingestion of cancer-causing substances, there is little chance that Fukushima will enter the annals of notoriety alongside Chernobyl.

One possibility which can be discounted is the so-called 'China Syndrome', the wholly fictitious idea that a molten reactor core could melt its way through the Earth and emerge on the other side. It is now known that even a total meltdown, although deadly, would soon be contained and cool down naturally.  But already questions are being asked - about Japan's nuclear safety record, and what implications this has outside Japan.

Was it wrong to build a series of atomic reactors so close to the ocean? Experts suggest that given the whole country is an earthquake zone, there is nowhere the plant could be built which would not be at risk.

Unlike Chernobyl, there is no chance that this could become an international incident; Japan is simply too far away from anywhere else for the radiation to spread, and the most serious radioactive contaminant - Iodine-131 - has a half-life of just eight days. Furthermore, the Japanese government is rich, competent and open - which the Soviet authorities in 1986 conspicuously were not.

Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation provides another much-needed dose of common sense:

Here are some cold hard facts to keep in mind as news continues to come in from Japan:

  • The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.
  • The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.
  • There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.
  • The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today's designs are far more advanced.
  • No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.

The danger that Japanese engineers are currently grappling with should not be minimized: what is happening right now with Japan's reactors could lead to a meltdown and significant release of radiation. You could also get hit by a car on your way to work today. But that is not what is likely to occur. What is likely to occur is that Japanese officials will continue to operate professionally and oversee the order[ly] (sic) cooling of these plants.

Of course we should continue to pray for the safety of all those involved, and for a swift conclusion to this crisis.  And we should also hope and pray that aftershocks do not cause even more serious damage to this facility.
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Comments (17)

Sigh...For a prett... (Below threshold)
Rdoney G. Graves:


For a pretty darn good over view see https://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

Quick Review:

Nuclear Fuel Assemblies are square arrays (3 x 3 or 4 x 4 for a total of 9 or 16 rods) of individual fuel rods, each of which contains many individual ceramic pellets (cylinders ~ 0.25in dia and ~ 0.5in tall). Four of these are arranged around a movable control rod for a full up assembly.

What's melting are the rods which contain the fuel pellets. They know this based on the isotopes which have been sampled when they vent gasses. The fuel pellets, which contain the actual nuclear fuel and the most hazardous waste products, are still intact.

The reactors are trashed and will never operate again.

What remains is a time consuming, expensive, pain in the ass clean up and demolition job.

The msm has to whip up as m... (Below threshold)

The msm has to whip up as much hysteria and fear right now because that is all most people will remember. A year from now and the final analysis and report will only be read by industry experts and professional engineers.Google will direct searchers to newspaper reports not scientific papers unless you carefully specify your search parameters.

But..but...but.....SCREAMIN... (Below threshold)

But..but...but.....SCREAMING that "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" sells so much better.

I watched Wolf Blitzer this... (Below threshold)

I watched Wolf Blitzer this weekend pleading, imploring, and basically begging the Japanese US ambassador to please please PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DECLARE THAT THERE IS A MELTDOWN!!!!! for at least 15 minutes. Despite a 'meltdown' not being what he seemed to think a meltdown is, he just wouldn't let up. I honestly think they're waiting for the plant to slump into a liquid blob before it vanishes into a giant hole in the sea.

No wonder this guy is an ambassador, he was calm, polite, and never gave the fool a sound bite beyond the rational explanation on what they were doing to get the situation under control. Plus he's got a british accent, which was just a bit weird to us Yanks.

I suspect that the... (Below threshold)

I suspect that the quake and the tsunami damaged those reactors more than first realized, and we're seeing the results now.

Unfortunately, due to the geography, the locations chosen were pretty much all that is available. A pity this gives so much ammo to the anti-nuke crowd,unjustified as it is. We'll see fallout in this country from this disaster, and I don't mean stray radiation.

So get ready.

Bananas!You can go... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:


You can go to wattsupwiththat and read about the Banana Equivalent Dose for yourself. Like I said, bananas!

"Was it wrong to buil... (Below threshold)
John S:

"Was it wrong to build a series of atomic reactors so close to the ocean?"

Of course not. The reactors are on the east coast; prevailing winds are from the west. If the worst happens, the radiation becomes California's problem. I, for one, can't think of a more deserving place. Perhaps we can send Nancy Pelosi back to her district with a Geiger counter.

Because California is just ... (Below threshold)

Because California is just a stone's throw away from Japan...

Ummm, Michael, the article ... (Below threshold)
Professor Neutronium:

Ummm, Michael, the article says "may have melted". It's a little MSM to say "confirmation of 'melting' rods" in your title, don't you think?

Barry, Wolf and the rest of... (Below threshold)

Barry, Wolf and the rest of MSM intelligentsia are all having a meltdown trying not to let this crisis go to waste.

"Fuel rods at the reactor m... (Below threshold)
John A:

"Fuel rods at the reactor may have melted after becoming fully exposed" - within the reactor/containers, for a few minutes.

Easy for me to read: triumph for nuke power -

More technical -

@upsetoldguy, yes you are c... (Below threshold)

@upsetoldguy, yes you are correct, a person who eats a banana a day for a year will have far greater exposure to radiation (from trace amounts of radioactive potassium 40 isotope in the banana) than the workers at the Fukushima plant have received so far.

The important context that is always missing from these scare stories is just how low the government sets maximum contaminant levels (MCL's) and permissible exposure levels (PEL's).

A decade ago, junkscience.com's Steven Milloy tested Ben & Jerry's ice cream and discovered dioxin levels at 200 times the MCL for dioxin allowed by the EPA in effluent waste water.

I'm not necessarily saying that it's bad to have MCL's this low, but we need to remember that even if measured levels of a toxin "exceed what the EPA considers safe" they can still be negligibly small.

completely false headline .... (Below threshold)

completely false headline ...

nothing has been confirmed ...

And now?Still so s... (Below threshold)

And now?

Still so sanguine? I'd. Suggest. Not.

Don't let the facts get in the way of the opinion of the original poster's talking points. . .

Now, a fourth reactor in peril; "probability" of CHernobyl style meltdown, according to Japan television, live at 11:45 pm EDT.


I studied nuclear engineeri... (Below threshold)
Brett :

I studied nuclear engineering (although I am now in the aerospace engineering business) and what strikes me is the incredible overblown reports about the reactors, when something like 100,000 people are likely to end up dead or seriously injured from the results of the quake and tsunami. At most a few people will have a slightly increased chance of cancer at some point as the result of the reactor problems.

The newest updates seem a l... (Below threshold)

The newest updates seem a little more disturbing.

I think all the media outle... (Below threshold)

I think all the media outlets are missing the real story. There was a huge earthquake and tsunami that devestated the entire country of Japan and all we talk about is "may, could, might". The people are on the verge of disease from dirt and filth. I would like to have the media get back to the story. ww






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