The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in Japan, badly damaged during the extremely severe earthquake and tsunami there a week ago, continues to stabilise. It is becoming more probable by the day that public health consequences will be zero and radiation health effects among workers at the site will be so …
I thought the principal worry at this point was smoke-up, not melt-down
Given a fuel rod fire in the cooling pond, with a change in the wind direction (not unheard of) this blows some amount of radioactive smoke over populated areas. Evacuation, simply to give the wind room to mix and dilute in that event, seems not-so-foolish.
ignorant author - situation very dire
Indeed a spent fuel pool fire would be worse than contained meltdown, the author of this article is technically ignorant and just aping what he has read. The dirty little secret of the nuclear power industry is that an uncontrolled spent fuel pool fire would release the contamination of a few Chernobyl, the 40% of 180 tons ejected from Chernobyl doesn't compare to the amount of contamination of 300 or more tons of spent fuel in a single pool in this disaster nor the 1800 total tons stored at Fukushima's six pools.
thread jacking to be at top
Stupid hysteria aside you have to admit the Japanese government is not been trustworthy on this at all. Kind of sad the US military has to fly its own radiation monitoring aircraft over the site due to not trusting information coming from Japanese.
So that's why they've raised the threat level then?
Any more stable and we're all dead!
There are some problems with your post.
Isn't it funny that it was reported widely when the threat level was raised to 6, then it went completely unreported when it was dropped to 4, but now that it's being raised to 5 it's in the headlines again? I don't know how these people sleep at night.
No, just the japanese are being honest about it
An incident where the reactor containment is broken is more or less automatically 5.
According to the laws of physics, the danger decreases exponentially with every day the plant is under at least some sort of control.
It is still fluid, it is still dangerous, but it is actually probably past the point where a major blowup could have occurred.
In any case, just take Lewis article as a running assessment. It may still turn to worse, though I doubt it. This is not Chernobyl, there is no graphite to burn and carry the radioactive material for thousands of miles.
Not a threat level
That value indicates the severity of the incident. If you had researched it at all you would know it's an indication of a number of factors including spread of radiation. Equating this to the same value as TMI is actually fairly re-assuring as the article quotes there was no release of radiation into the extern environment at TMI.
INES Level != threat level
"So that's why they've raised the threat level then?"
The INES level has very little to do with the amount of radiation released, the type of radiation released or the number of people injured or killed. Its pretty much only about how far the radiation has spread.
Note that Windscale, a level 5 accident, irradiated large portions of Scandinavia.
That doesn't mean things are getting worse! It just means they've decided that there was a limited release of radioactive material to the wider environment so technically it's been a level 5 incident.
Honesty seems to be patchy.
Check this out:
The threat level has never been taken down from 6 to 4.
It was a different agency that set the level to 6.
it was never officially 6...
...a French regulator gave the opinion that it was. Reuters reported that.
Lewis is still retarded though.
You're damn right
The amount of FUD the BBC has been coming out with over the last few days (never mind the rest of the time) has been intolerable. Is it actually possible to get any world news these days without it being diluted 9 parts bullshit, 1 part fact?
Although the BBC have managed one decent, factual report (Radio 4 - Material World):
While we're Beeb bashing - I believe they sent 40 (FORTY) additional reporters to Japan to cover the disaster (including the inevitable and utterly pointless Jim 'Air Miles' Naughtie, interviewing the Japanese ambassador to the UK 'live' from Tokyo). Well that's just what you need when you're trying to help people survive a once per millennium disaster - a couple of BBC film crews descending on you asking where they can find food, shelter, petrol, some dead bodies to film, etc.
Dear news media:
Remember back in the '50s and early '60s, when we set off something like 900 atomic bombs in Nevada?
And how we just let the fallout blow wherever and it landed all over the eastern US?
And how it wiped out life as we know it and all that was left from Colorado to the Atlantic were six-legged rats battling two-headed cockroaches in the glowing ruins?
Yeah. Exactly. So shut up with the panic already.
(h/t Tamara K via small dead animals)
BBC were often truly AWFUL
This is the first time I have really noticed how bad some of the reporting from the BBC was. Particularly bad were, the so-called science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh who kept referring to tidal waves and how this was Japan's worst earthquake ever; and Clive Myrie who reported that evacuees could see out of their windows smoke rising from the power plant from the "flaming fuel rods".
I made a formal complaint to the BBC about his alarmist reporting.
But I did appreciate Alastair Leithead's efforts to show the devastation in a measured and respectful way. Also Damian Grammaticas had some good reports.
....you do realise there have been huge lawsuits related to that a- and that the cast of one movie, filing in Nevada as some tests went on, had a massively out-profile rate of cancer deaths in the following years?
Posting as someone who liked Susan Hayward...
...though hated John Wayne...
CNN were worse
If you think the Beeb were overreacting to this you should have heard the drivel that CNN was broadcasting as news. At one point they identified the Indian Point reactors in NY as being the ones of highest risk in the US. The risk was based solely on how many people lived in the surrounding 50 mile radius, not on any chance of accident. Then we had Sanjay Gupta (CNNs resident doctor and Medical Insurance Industry mouthpiece) waxing lyrical on the effects on the population of radiation sickness and the threat to thee weest coast of the USA, the man is a bloody neurosurgeon, well qualified to delve into your brain with a scalpel but not on these matters. CNNs attitude: he's a scientist he knows about this stuff. I'm a chemist, anyone wanting me to conduct a prefrontal lobotomy just let me know. We need a FUD icon!
The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.
Thank you for writing that reporter's name, he has been so irksome and inflammatory I was thinking of complaining but had no idea of his name. Didn't help that every other sentence he uttered had me turn the BBC News off.
It seems even educated people sometimes prefer to repeat worst case analyses and even complete fiction, rather than think logically and critically about the provenance of the sound-bites they are amplifying, or the relation of those sound bites to the real world.
Radioactivity is scary to many, and certainly can be hazardous, but treating it as something magical and inexorably deadly to anyone who so much as learns of an incident is not helpful to anyone with a working brain.
WHO is downvoting these thumbs-up to Lewis?
Are there that many El Reg readers with personal grudges against Lewis? It's hard to believe that so many IT "professionals" really feel that rational thought is a Bad Thing...
I'm glad at least somewhere is reporting the situation with facts and science - not scaremongering hysteria!
The amount of people I've encountered who genuinely believe a "melt down" is imminent, and that means there's going to be an explosion akin to a nuke going off, is simply absurd!
Good job Reg.
I agree that Reg has done a good job and for that reason, contrary to his Personal Bootnote, he should not be ashamed to be a reporter because he has lifted himself above the rest. Yes, Good job Reg.
Well Done Lewis
I routinely disagree with your reporting Lewis, but in this matter I have sought out your reports as being more honest and better analysed than the rubbish elsewhere in the media, especially on the BBC. During this week, I have felt it necessary to complain to the BBC about their scare-mongering stories.
I should add for the other commenters. I, like Lewis, am an ex-military officer. An Engineer in my case; and with experience of nuclear technologies.
Thanks goodness for a broadly educated journalist
I suspect I'm at more risk from raised blood pressure from reading nonsense press stories than from any potential nuclear incident in the UK. Watching a Japanese collegue worry about friends and relatives in Japan as a result of shoddy journalism aimed at selling more paper in the UK reminds me that most journalists have lost their true calling - the persuit of the truth - keep up the good work!
Well done, Lewis
As a fellow hack, I completely understand where you're coming from with your apology, and I have to congratulate you for having the bollocks to take a decisive stand on this very early on, and bet everything on a careful, reasoned view of the events. You've been a buoy in a sea of slime.
7000 dead, and more often than not in the UK press they're given the "in related news" treatment in two paragraphs, after hundreds of words devoted to despicable histrionic hand-wringing, points-scoring and/or scaremongering.
It's disgusting that attention has been diverted from the true victims of this disaster towards some tasteless debate about the "end of the nuclear age". That phrase, by the way, was an actual front-page headline from the Independent not even a week after the catastrophe, when bodies were still being found at a horrifying rate. And they still are.
"You've been a buoy in a sea of slime"
There's a quote for your CV Lewis.
These posts are a tonic...
... another day, and again I am bombarded by my local press making strident, desperate reports on this whole Fukushima business. It is enough to get anyone paranoid, and so here, every day, around 13:30 GMT, I read Lewis Page to get a much needed sense of peace and perspective. Never has he been so useful before.
Let's hope his steadiness is rewarded.
At best a very, very expensive close call
I certainly do hope that this is now coming under control, and as somebody who is seentially pro-nuclear, I do not take such a rosy view of this. Even if the public health implications are zero (we'll see) this if going to be a monumentally expensive clear up operation. If it turns out that some of these reactors can be restarted behind much better tsunami protection, then why was this not done in the first place given that boiling water reactors were known to be dependent on active cooling? Following the 2004 tsunami (much more devastating from only a marginally more powerful earthquake), then it's impossible to plead ignorance of the possibility. Indeed the Americans carried out just such a study on the vulnerability of their plants to tsunamis. Did the Japanese do something similar, and if not, why not? If they did, then whate were the results?
Now these aren't primarily engineering questions - they are for the industry and regulatory authorities in Japan and, perhaps, GE to answer. The strong suspicion is that short term financial considerations took priority over a proper risk assessment. If it turns out that relatively modest expenditure could have dealt with danger, then that will turn out to be a major scandal. Should any of the reactors which were shut down restart with improved tsunami protection, then that would rather prove the point (I suspect that if any of these reactors do restart, then it will be out of desparation as Japan is now critically short of generating capacity - this was also done at Chernobyl).
At best this will have been a very, very expensive close call which very likely could have been avoided if safety had not been shortcut. I simply don't believe the "this was unforseeable" line - following 2004 there is absolutely no excuse for that. They rode their luck and lost the bet.
Of course the hype of the media is a different thing, and if its one thing that is annoying and pretentious its for somebody to take on the responsibility for apologising for what other people have done whilst simultaneously saying it's not me. That's egotistical narcisim. Keep apologies for what you might do wrong, and that's still plenty.
You are contradicting yourself
The Japanese Tsunami assessment practice is described in detail at the end of the document you refer to.
Some stuff on Japan - but not the
Indeed it is covered - but about methodology and not anything you can pin down to particular sites. What we'd need to know is what reports were done when, what the assumptions were and how it relates to particular plants. As the report doesn't cover that, it's impossible to know. Of course any such reports are likely to be in Japanese, and who knows if they are in the public domain. Given TEPCO have a history of cover-ups (with convictions), then one wonders. However, I would hope Japanese journalists are asking right questions.
If this was the UK I'd also expect a public inquiry, but I've no idea what the Japanese approach is to such things.
What's got me wondering
...is why there are always comments about how expensive it's going to be to clean this up. People did notice that there are entire cities and towns that have been mostly washed away by the tsunami, right? I would think that the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami are going to be ridiculously expensive to clean up/repair/replace, so I'm not sure why people are fixating on how expensive the nuke plant is going to be to fix. If the plant hadn't been there, Japan would've been able to fix everything from petty cash? If a large hydro dam was there and had to be replaced, it would have been easier/cheaper?
Expense in context
Of course it is going to be expensive to rebuild following the tsunami. However, I fail to see how it helps to have a huge bill to clean up the mess of several severely damaged reactors on top of that. Indeed that surely makes the situation worse.
As for Lewis's line that the reactors exceeded their design target - well, big deal. Yes, the people who designed the reactor did their job, but if the design parameters were inadequate then that's still a major failing. What really matters is how those design targets were arrived at and were shortcuts taken for financial reasons.
To pretend, as Lewis seems to make out that nothing major has gone wrong and there are no serious consequences, well I beg to differ. Three Mile Island took 12 years and about a $1bn at 1980s prices to dismantle the reactor (and the main building remains contaminated and will incur further costs when that is finally removed). Adjusted for inflation, that's more like $1.7bn.
It's clear that the problem at Japan is much worse with several reactors, higher levels of contamination, wrecked buildings, storage pools affected and at least one of the containment vessels seriously damaged. How much is this going to cost to clear up? Who knows, but it's going to be several billion dollars minimum. That's before the costs of replacing the lost generating capacity is considered or the economic costs of power shortages. Whilst one of the reactors was due to be turned off in 18 months or so, some at the site had much longer operational lifetimes. Whether any of the reactors at the site are ever used again, is surely still uncertain. Certainly none of those which have sustained serious core damage will ever operate again.
Some suggest that the cost of the damage to Japan's infrastructure is of the order of $200bn (according to the Economist). Dealing with the consequences of the damaged reactors and replacing lost capacity could easily approach 10% of that. If, as Lewis suggests, some reactors could be restarted behind improved tsunami protection, then that surely points to a major risk assessment failure as such measures would surely have cost a fraction of clearing up the mess and replacing lost generating capacity. At a time
I'll repeat again, I am not anti-nuclear, but the pretence that there are no serious consequences is a bad joke. The idea also that this was an unforseeable event is also highly suspect. Plant like this, where the economic and environmental consequences of severe damage is so high cannot be designed for things like 100 year events (which would give a 40%+ chance of an occurrence), they have to be designed for much rarer ones.
Lewis's argument that we still design roads, railway and bridges despite the dangers is also way off. To a large extent those are essential to modern life - there is no choice, albeit we seek to do them better. Power generation is, of course, similarly essential, but the difference here is that these reactor installations have now proven to be highly vulnerable - and vulnerable in a way that was foreseen, as the US report shows. This is a management and governance failure, not primarily a technical one, but a failure it is.
Steven Jones - I can't help thinking you've missed the point quite widely.
You title your post with the words "in context", yet you seem to ignore the true context here in order to promote - despite your claim to be pro-nuclear - a strong anti-nuclear angle.
The point being made here is that the nuclear problems are the least of Japan's problems right now. Yet, because it's a story with words like nuclear and radiation, the media are having a field day trying to scare everyone to death - knowing that the public is largely ignorant about nuclear power and, as mentioned elsewhere, tend to equate nuclear power with nuclear bombs.
You complain that it's wrong to imply there are no serious consequences. But I don't think anyone is doing. The point is that this is a catastrophe involving the death of thousands of people, the displacement of many more, but much of the world's press prefers to concentrate on stoking panic about radiation.
It's shameful, and Lewis - and the few others reporting factually - do a public service in calling them on it.
Up to 10%? In other words...
... according to you, the probable cost of burying those reactors is less than the likely error margin in Economist's estimate of the total economic damage. That doesn't sound so bad in relative terms.
"were shortcuts taken for financial reasons"? There's no need for an investigation. The answer is Yes, and it was always Yes and will always be Yes.
The luxury of being able to ignore finances and cost efficiency is a luxury of laymen, think-tanks and foreign experts with no real responsibility. As you get closer to having real responsibility, balancing engineering ideals with finances is increasingly a priority. Then an accident happens, and the guy making the call gets pillored.
And for America's report, surely, what should be more interesting to you is not whether they scribbled a purely academic report, but whether its recommendations are being implemented with vigor. Unless the answer is yes, it is just an empty gesture, but let's not pillor them in such a case - as I said, operational reality (finances) always matter to those who must do real work.
It's still a major failure
I have been careful not to use alarmist language anywhere in my comments, and I believe they are going to be aligned with what will finally emerge as the concensus. As more is emerging on the background, then it's becoming clear from analysis by more informed commentators that the implementation of nuclear power in Japan in the post war period had economic development as a priority, with safety and security secondary issues. This happened with a compliant population and press following the catastrophe of WWII. That appears to be about to change from current reports.
Being pro-nuclear does not mean being blind to the issues and mistakes. Whilst the West never took the outrageous risks that the Soviet Union did with the RBMK designs, the US designs, with their reliance on an active emergency cooling system still had a major weakness. In this case, the implementation clearly failed. As is pointed out in this week's New Scientist, the same event (the earthquake) took out the grid supply and, via the tsunami it cause, the secondary power. That's contradictory to basic principles of not having dependent failure modes. That's and engineering failure, pure and simple. Following 2004 it is also not sustainable to claim this couldn't have been forseen. That a major failures in the reactor building could cause so many problems with cooling pools is another.
That a cost of perhaps $10-20bn in direct and indirect economic effects can be dismissed as insignificant is not sustainable as an argument. It's a general rule that designing to avoid such failures, rather than expensive and patchy improvised damage limitation processes is the way to go.
Another thing to note is that some Japanese reactors are in more vulnerable positions with regard to the direct affect of earthquakes, let alone the tsunami. The epicentre of this one was at some distance. A serious risk analysis will need to be done on these.
The one thing that can be said is that at least people can now see that it wasn't the end of the world when one of these facilities did fail, but the nuclear industry will be required to treat low probability, high impact events more seriously. In the case of the west, then even where seismology isn't such an issue, the possibilities of terrorism surely have to be looked at more seriously.
Cheer up Lewis!
Think how p*ssed off the BBC and their fellow doom mongers are, because the sky is still stubbornly refusing to fall.
My only fear is that they will put Robert Peston on the story, then we really will be doomed!
Seriously though, thank you for what appears to be the only objective coverage of this matter.
Shameful media panic very slowly begins to subside
Let's hope the same applies to the comments section here.
"I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist."
You can't be held accountable for the actions of others Lewis. I think you did an admirable job.
Go! Lots and lots and lots and lots of pointless arguing, name-calling, misinformation, personal dogma, utter balderdash and downright lies from both sides please. It won't be an El Reg Fukushima comments thread without it.
Rational thought optional, but not recommended (based on what we've seen on here over the last week).
And Lewis...you naughty boy you. You're just doing it to annoy them now aren't you?
The biggest threat to Japan
The biggest threat to Japan this weekend will be the snow. I salute El Reg for having the guts to present technical stuff correctly and in a way that non-technical people can understand.
Thanks, Mr. Page. Your clear-headed analysis of primary and secondary sources has been extremely helpful throughout the crisis. Ignore the bastards who are accusing you of shilling for the industry. You have done fine analytical work throughout.
Thousands will die in 20 years!
But none from this. Let's see if that makes a difference.
...but common sense, or facts, are too boring to sell ads around.
I am also somewhat disappointed that this series of disasters can't be linked to the iPad or Steve Jobs, or that Android offers a more open solution to earthquakes, tsunamis or inadvertent nuclear meltdown.
Well said that man..
Refreshingly written, good to see an objective assessment of the situation. The media hysteria attached to all things nuclear has distracted attention away from the real humanitarian impact of the disaster and recovery efforts.
Keep Calm and carry on...
I for one have been enjoying the calm restraint and facts based reporting over this past week while people I know have been waving their arms in the air and shouted about how the sky is falling and we'll all die from radiation...
Please do go on
I'm seeing a lot of non-informative news that are just generic enough to scare people and increase readership (by morons) -- in an on-line newspaper site there was a photo of some people waiting in line in an airport with the caption "Japanese population flee the region" or something like that, FFS.
We need a "I Believe in Lewis Page" badge.
To be fair to the other journos
The Times now costs £1 a day, the only way I'm going to buy that is if they can tell me stories of impending mega-nuclear-apocalypse.
Let the flames commence!
Another good article Lewis.
What I don't get
Why did it take one week until they finally went and installed a new 0.6 mile (according to NHK) power line to get the plant plugged into the grid again and powering the cooling pumps?
Surely it would have been the easiest option from the start, they may even had kept their reactors instead of scrapping them at a cost of billions.