back to article Site-saving workers evacuated from Japanese reactor disaster

The Japanese government has ordered the evacuation of the 50 remaining workers at the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) plant, thus bringing at minimum a temporary halt to the efforts to cool the distressed reactors at that increasingly troubled nuclear power plant. "Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said work on dousing reactors with …

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It took 2 hours for 50% of the fuel rods at Three Mile Island to melt down

Five years after the accident, when the reactor had finally cooled down and the radiation receded enough to allow robotic entry, it turned out that 50% of the fuel rods at Three Mile Island had melted during the 2 hours they were uncovered.

I don't doubt that in 5 years we'll find that 90% of the fuel rods have melted in some of these reactors.

What we have is a worst than worst case scenario times six. And still there will be under 4 dozen fatalities over the course of 40 years of operation.

The reactors are an old design from the 1960s.

After shut down they depend on pumps to keep them cooled. New designs do not have that requirement.

These reactors do not have the aircraft proof concert domes newer reactors have.

My thinking is that all GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Nuclear Reactors world wide should be phased out of service as soon as feasible.

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Unhappy

Accidents

The accident at the Rainhill Trials didn't prevent Potters Bar, Hatfield or Kings Cross. Yes, I know they're in a different industry and in a different time but the 'Human effect' is the common factor.

Just don't go down the nuclear route (yet) when there are economically and technologically better or equivalent solutions that would probably solve energy needs more effectively.

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No need for evidence

We don't yet know what happened - so that proves it must be a disaster

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Boffin

Or...

We should look at that <50 fatalities over 40 years and then look at each reactor. We might want to look at their backup systems better, and look at what the design considerations were.

Some may then be retired early.

We should however look at the more modern breed of reactors, and see what we can do about developing non weapons tech power generation from nuclear sources.

I'm remaining massively impressed with the over engineering of these reactors - in the same way that I was impressed that the twin towers stood for over an hour after being hit by a completely unenvisioned* attack. It's not that it's a good thing, but it's not nearly as bad as the petrochemical** fires burning all over the affect areas, nor the general collapse of buildings, destruction from the tsunami...

I am getting somewhat concerned that the world is ignoring the massive crisis occurring outside the gates of these plants.

* They were designed to cope with an unladen, slow 737 (largest plane at the time) searching for the airport - not fully fuel laden, full speed 757s.

** Including the various gas fires from broken gas mains.

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Anonymous Coward

Huh?

So you say - don't worry about the possibility of people dying - and their families. The dead will not be SO many. And let's not worry about possible contamination of ground water and farm land etc.

Now stand back and see what you are saying: You are saying that this technology is NOT safe. It is "dangerous to a degree". And you are saying that we should be prepared to live with that degree of danger.

Now that is something very different from saying that the technology is safe.

It is not safe. Check your TV. "Safe" is a boring, intact building being switched off and on without it exploding.

And let me state here I am to a large degree a supporter of nuclear power as long as renewables are still in the lab and cole and oil being what it is i.t.o. global warming.

Nuclear is not safe. And the people out there (think Egypt) are seeing that. On TV. They will believe what they see. And they will reserve their acceptance of nuclear after this past week.

And your fail safes can be amazingly well designed, they will still rely on the reality outside of the reactor. Things like diesel supplies running out and roads not passable.

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@ Maurice

What are these "economically and technologically better or equivalent solutions that would probably solve energy needs more effectively."?

Geothermal and Hydro are the only ones that comes to mind but unfortunately not that many countries are situated in the right place for those. Gas and Oil pump out god awful amounts of pollution (not too mention all those greenhouse gases and carbon which cause *gasp* Global Warming!). Wind is not up to the task. Tidal is not advanced enough to be realistic at this point, Direct solar is only usable in certain parts of the world and requires huge areas of land, Solar-thermal is still in development and Fusion unfortunately still hasnt been proven (or even built yet).

So tell me what is this amazing tech that will save us all, and mean that nuclear is relegated to the waste bin of history?

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@ Maurice Shakeshaft

"Just don't go down the nuclear route (yet) when there are economically and technologically better or equivalent solutions that would probably solve energy needs more effectively."

Do tell. What are they? You could make yourself a very rich man if you really know of a single one.

.

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Wave, Tidal and Solar furnace spring rapidly to mind for the UK

Any for your next smug comment....

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I'm guseeing they plumped for nuclear all those years ago as it looked like the best

way of maintaining a steady supply of electricity.

I suppose wave or tidal power would be great (assuming they weren't then destroyed by the next Tsunami). How many miles of generators do you need to supplant a nuclear station? And what impact does that have on shipping and the coastline?

Would a solar furnace work in the UK? Seems like when it's not pissing it down it's cloudy. Or night-time.

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Anonymous Coward

In answer...

Solar Power Satellites (SPS).

A nice hi-tech option that everyone will say is too expensive, not feasible, just imagination, not possible - and yet...

Look 'em up, you might be suprised as to just how much work has been done on this idea.

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Boffin

alternatives or complements to nuclear

'What are these "economically and technologically better or equivalent solutions that would probably solve energy needs more effectively."?'

For the UK, proven renewable resources are mainly wind electricity load-balanced using uprated hydro. Most building heating and hot water through improved insulation, heat pumps and passive solar thermal.

Basically if you overprovision wind as the main electricity generation source by a factor of 2-3 , you can handle fluctuations by holding back water in high dams (much of the dam capacity needed already exists) for when not enough wind is blowing fast enough over a large enough area for this otherwise to be a problem. Getting rid of bank holidays and replacing these with wind holidays based on weather forcasting reduces the extent of overprovision or gas turbine backup needed (fueled using Fischer Tropsch synthetic hydrocarbons if you really need an abosolute zero carbon footprint and are prepared to pay a bit more to obtain this). This is all proven in the sense we can work out what this all costs and plan it starting now once we decide we can afford it.

Whether this is more "economical" than nuclear depends upon historical cost reduction with expansion, remembering that nuclear is later in its cost reduction exponential curve than wind (meaning nuclear won't get much cheaper with expansion but wind will). Another factor affecting computation of "economical" depends upon better understanding the subsidies provided to both renewables and to nuclear. Subsidy is currently provided to renewables through feed in tariffs and to nuclear through the taxpayer underwriting the accident insurance (e.g. the cost of having to evacuate the population at a radius of 20km around a nuclear plant ).

In relation to currently unproven resources, tidal has good potential but needs lengthy but relatively cheap research, as with solar voltaic - our poor UK sunshine requires research to improve this technology before it becomes cost effective in the UK compared to combined wind/hydro . Solar thermal sited in the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East also holds promise, but this requires high voltage continental DC transmission and greater political stability in the generating regions.

To avoid putting all our eggs into one basket what we are likely to see in practice is all of the above, including one final generation of new nuclear reactors probably adequate to maintain 15-20% of current UK elecricity demand for another 20-30 years, following a careful review of siting with respect to coastal and flooding risks. The UK is likely to experience minor earthquakes, flooding and tsunami events ( e.g. as with the which also risks catastrophic failure of both nuclear plants and hydro load balancing or water supply dams e.g. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Channel_floods,_1607 ).

Even with the 80% C02 reduction in relation to UK economy by 2050 which the above combination of approaches could theoretically achieve, the cost of climate damage caused by C02 here is likely to be much greater than the costs all of the above would amount to. When deciding what is "economic" we should account climate damage as a subsidy and therefore part of the total cost of fossil fuel use.

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Just one point Copsewood...

Have you seen the sh*t fight that wind turbine companies have to go through with locals and environmentalists when they want to actually plan and build new wind turbine farms? Even the offshore farms struggle to get planning permission (they kill seabirds apparently).

Do you really think you can enough wind turbine locations approved to power 3 times the needs of the UK (based on your oversubscription plan)?

Personally, I think you wouold struggle massively - the environmentalists want it both ways - renewable energy but without their (local) environment befouled with great big wind turbines...

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Standard practice

"Have you seen the sh*t fight that wind turbine companies have to go through with locals and environmentalists when they want to actually plan and build new wind turbine farms?"

And have you seen the shit fight they have to go through to build a nuclear reactor or a dump site to store the used fuel rods?

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@ Geoffrey W

Yes i have. but considering that you need maybe 3 locations in the UK to power 50% of the country (and potentially more based on current designs) as opposed to about 300 locations for a similar output of wind. Which do you think is going to be easier to get passed?

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They're back in

Reuters says they were evacuated "briefly." They've now returned.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/16/us-japan-quake-idUSTRE72A0SS20110316

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@Lewis page

With the new information dribbling out of Japan, would now be a good time for Lewis to revisit http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushiima_analysis/

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Why?

The analysis is still sound to a large extent.

Look at it - after a 9 Richter earthquake, 7m tsunami the biggest problem at the plant is actually _NOT_ the reactor but the "fuel rod cooling off" facility. The main reason for this is that everyone plain forgot about it for 3 days.

Even with all this still taken into account the plant has released several orders of magnitude _LESS_ long term carcinogens into the environment than all the burning petrochemical plants, the spills from all damaged or overwhelmed by the tsunami toxic waste storage, the toxic effluent from the hundreds of thousands residential and commercial properties, vehicles and equipment destroyed by the tsunami.

In fact even if all 6 reactors blow up spectacularly Chernobyl style it will still be _LESS_ than the impact from other pollution. Let's put it this way - I would not try any sushi made from fish caught off the East Coast of Japan for the next 100 years at least and the reason will not be radioactivity - it will be heavy metals, dioxins, halogenated hydrocarbons, phosphororganics, silenes and all the other wonderful stuff you get when 7m of water washes away a chunk of an industrial economy.

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Reactors 5 and 6..

are now being flooded with seawater according to Reuters, so they're trashed too. Attempts to helecopter water into reactor 2 have failed due to high radiation levels. The triumphs keep coming!

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FAIL

you're right,

Oil spillages have poisoned areas for decades and that's a bad thing. The reactor failures will poison the site for millenia.....

(can we have a radiation hazard icon please El Reg?)

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But remember

that radiative glop decays away , arsenic (and other heavy metal pollutants) are forever...

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and not to forget ...

... that the cooldown spent fuel storage which is releasing most of the radioactivity is a) the one from reactor 4 that had been off for a while in preparation for decommissioning, and b) said radioactivity release happens largely because, in a weird fit of constructional engineering madness, the designers of the plant had decided to put this spent fuel storage facility "high up in the air", pretty much "on stilts" above the reactor containment itself.

Not to naysay problems with nuclear power - operations/storage/disposal. But the really dangerous bit about this particular catastrophy wasn't / isn't the core meltdown but rather the fact that a spent fuel storage pool high up needs active pumping to refill, is at higher risk of structural damage and coolant leak due to either earthquakes or electrolytic gas detonations. Had they simply built the spent fuel store to the side, at the bottom, possibly at or below sea / water supply level, pure passive cooling would've been available for it.

Those who built a swimming pool on top of stilts obviously never had to deal with a leaking roof terrace.

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More balanced article

The last couple of articles I read about this unfolding event left me wondering whether Lewis has been taking his medication. Fire icon to represent internal state of cooling ponds/reactors.

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Even worse case

"My thinking is that all GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Nuclear Reactors world wide should be phased out of service as soon as feasible."

Even those not at risk from earthquakes or tsunamis?

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Grenade

Where's Lewis?

Is it true that they're planning to drop Lewis Page from a helicopter to try and smother the burning fuel rods?

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Dead Vulture

No, no

This is all wrong. Lewis Page said it is all perfectly safe and nothing bad can happen.

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Confused

I must be missing something obvious about the emergency there but all the reports say the problems were caused because the grid went down AND the emergency generators were damaged in the earthquake, so there was no power for the cooling pumps. I assume a lot more was damaged than just the power supply. I mean, just how difficult would it have been to fly in a couple of spare generators and wire them up? I even have a spare inverter I could lend them to run off a car battery, if that helps :-)

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Re: Confused

For the amount of power you'd require you'd need a generator the size of a cargo container and about a day and a half for a team of engineers to wire it up and test it.

Then you need to keep it fueled.

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Re: Confused

"For the amount of power you'd require you'd need a generator the size of a cargo container and about a day and a half for a team of engineers to wire it up and test it."

Right, but are you saying the US and Japanese military between them wouldn't have the resources to do just that? Or that preventing a nuclear meltdown wouldn't have been enough motivation for them to bother trying?

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re: Confused

It only takes a matter of a few hours - if that, after the cooling has failed for fuel rods to be exposed, start melting-down and generating hydrogen and internal pressure was building up. By that time much of the damage is done and the engineers are fighting the system, trying to pump in cooling water against very high pressure.

Simply, even if the generators could have been installed quickly, it would have been too late. Also we don't know what other damage may have occured - there are stories that hint dome of the injection equipment failed. The truth of this will only be known after a full report is produced when people have time to consider the effects. However, one thing is for sure - once the built-in safety features have been disabled or overcome, then the engineers are into damage limitation. The point is to have plant where you can't get to that point.

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Happy

Heroic

Regardless of the arguments about whether the reactors should exist or not, I think it is truly heroic of the workers to be constantly going into what is certainly a seriously dangerous situation in order to reduce the danger to the general population. Not sure If I'd have the balls for it.

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Anonymous Coward

Presumably

you couldn't be a kamikaze pilot either?

Or, indeed, a fireman. Or a copper. Or a soldier, or a paramedic. Etc.

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Balls...

If I were working at a nuke plant I'd have drained them and frozen some long ago, just in case.

True sentiment though. Even back when I was a kid and the Kobe quake happened, I remember thinking "The Japanese have been through more apocalyptic shit than pretty much any country/area their size - they must be the hard(i)est bastards around by now." After this week I think that lead is unassailable.

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Reactor 4 is triumpantly emitting steam or smoke...

To let the world know that this triumph isn't over yet! Have we reached Chernoble levels of triumph yet?

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Boffin

Hermes

Learn to spell, become coherent, remove tinfoil hat.

That is all.

Thank you.

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Radiation levels

That quote of 1,000 millisieverts/hour from the BBC sounds VERY wrong. Kyodo News says 10 millisieverts/hour (http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/78496.html)

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mSv -> µSv

According to Kyodo and NHK, it was 1000 µSv. BBC and all other Western news pages that I read must have copied from the same source.

Still, much too high.

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highly variable

Because most of the radiation leakage is due to steam venting and explosions, the resulting radiation levels around the various damaged reactors and facilities are going to be highly variable, probably for the next several days.

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Another triumph!

Clearly the only way things could possibly get even better than they already are is if there's a full-scale meltdown!

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Chernobyl

You knew, immediately when they said "no chance at all of another Chernobyl" that was exactly what will happen

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Unhappy

Fukushima is a triumph of will, not for the nuclear industry

I am thankful we rely on renewable not nuclear power here in New Zealand. Cleaning up an earthquake is one thing, but the way the situation in Japan keeps getting worse it is like a never-ending nightmare. The Japanese are proving their resolve, tackling the chain reaction of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters all at once.

You have to respect the workers still willing to return to the plants battling to cool them off. Let's hope this is over sooner rather than later, not least for their sake.

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NZ 100% renewable? Not!

Last set of figures I saw, NZ gets 70% of its electricity from renewables and the remainder is thermal generation from fossil fuels - think Huntly and the various CCGT plants. What, exactly, is going to replace them when the oil and gas runs out?

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"<50 fatalities over 40 years"

So Nuclear Power is safer than Paracetemol?

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Pirate

A bottle of Paracetemol,

will not still be poisoning people in a thousand years....

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More

"earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters"

No-one's mentioned the volcano yet.

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Unhappy

system engineering

something smells here.

how come, 1001 times over, the nuke industry et all has done reviews of safety, procedures et all, yet no one thought,

we're in a major earth quake area, oh if we have an off shore earthquake, we can get a tsunami, and that could take out the backup generators.

Dahh,

this is a major system engineering 'mistake'.

each bit of the industry seems to have worked, but the system has let us all down.

who is going to fall on their sword, but will that make things better.

as for the initial el reg comment about this being a nuke success story, I think that might have been a little early.

this is a silly mistake that could and should have been foreseen, and it makes one worried about what other easy things have been missed.

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Heart

YES

The way I see it, this is still a rather good outcome. Considering how many things have gone wrong (worse quake than expected, worse tsunami damage than expected), the aging site has performed very well. I will grant that additional preparatory steps could have been taken (such as housing the diesels in a waterproof structure).

I would be more concerned about a few aging sites elsewhere in the world, which were built before various nuclear moratoriums came into effect after the Chernobyl revelation. Granted the Cold War, and all the radiation detectors built to monitor Soviet nuclear activity, we didn't know just HOW BAD the disaster was there, until much later. Newer designs are even less susceptible than Fukishima's 10 reactors, so there is little worry for our world.

As to radiation being released into the air, most of that dissipates seconds/minutes/hours. The small portion of longer-lasting contamination is cast over a wide area, further dissipating it. People have lived for hundreds of years in areas where the background is above modern "legal limits", mainly because the limit is so amazingly low. Hell, the DEEPLY exposed supervisor of that retarded Windscale experiment only died recently, and are a surprising number of people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive. (Another recent death was the man who survived BOTH nuclear blasts, having returned to Nagasaki to report the devastation at Hiroshima.)

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Unhappy

re: NZ 100% renewable? Not!

@Martin Gregorie No, it's not 100% renewable, but I never said it was. The bulk is renewable and we don't have any nuclear to worry about at times like these. Considering NZ is at over 70% renewable now, and it is predicted to raise to 83% over the next couple of decades, we're in a pretty good position to completely avoid the need for nuclear power here -- even if the natural gas runs out.

Back to the main topic, as another commentator said the men dealing with the situation now are truly heroic and I hope they can grab control of this situation soon.

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Alien

the other one

interesting article here about chernobyl

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.html

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WTF?

Who designed to spent fuel cooling systems and civil works??

Does anyone know if those spent fuel holding areas were designed by GE? What about the design of its location, and structural supports?

I ask because, many of these large projects are a shared collaboration of many companies...but heres an example.

I would imagine if my furnace downstairs starts smoking and melting or givving off fumes. I'd call the manufacturer ? And if that manufacturer owned many media stations and had their hands in most of the technology in my house..You can be pretty sure neither of us would be telling the press much.

We would be hell bent on fixing the problem ..but so absorbed in that, warning the rest of my neighbors would be an afterthought?

So analogy is that I think the vagueness and quietness about japans nuclear plant issues effects is due to who they are dealing with and japans culture of loyalty, honor, and trust in the government fixing it.

Personally, I wouldn't take silence as 'everthings going fine'. They would be advertising how they saved the day if it was all good!!

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