back to article Japanese nuke meltdown may be underway

The Japanese earthquake-induced nuclear emergency is growing worse by the hour. After sustaining heavy damage to its cooling systems during Friday's megaquake, and after problems were encountered when damage mitigators attempted to release pressure that was building up in its reactors, Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor may now …


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  1. Elmer Phud Silver badge


    Yesterday we were being informed that anyone here thinking it would all end in tears were barking mad as it was perfectly safe and normal. So many comments on how wonderful the tech is and how nuclear is so safe and cosy and will save the human race by providing endless power.

    Now, it seems, the container holding back the shit may be ready to release it towards the fan.

    Are we still as smug now daylight has broken?

  2. Arctic fox

    The downvoters should be ashamed of themselves.

    The guy has a legitimate point - what are you all doing, whistling loudly in the dark?

  3. Otto von Humpenstumpf

    Don't know.

    "Are we still as smug now daylight has broken?"

    Don't know -- you tell me, since you seem to be the expert on smug.

  4. Combat Wombat

    Let's see

    I am sure the Iphone users are just as smug... they can't help being smug bastards

  5. JC 2

    @ yesterday

    Yes we are! The lifetime emissions from this plant, even after venting, are still lower than other large scale alternatives.

    Nuclear "IS" safe, this was nuclear 40 years ago.

    Better question is, why are you here on the web? You are quite willing to USE the electricity but against the best ways to generate it.

  6. Daniel B.

    Containment chamber intact

    The containment chamber's intact, and radiation levels have gone down. As long as the containment chamber is intact, there won't be any severe contamination outside; the lack of containment chambers in Chernobyl was what made that one go so ugly.

    So it isn't quite the end of the world...

  7. HMB

    Re: yesterday

    So you're prophecising nuclear doom based on what? Smug? Listen to yourself.

    It's a bad situation that human intervention has had to be relied upon to keep this plant under control. That is not really acceptable and is a sign of the age of the plant.

    So if this thing does end safely, what happens to your hysteric rhetoric? Are you going to eat your own words then or just shuffle off somewhere?

    If there is a large release of radiation, are you going to be smiling at people saying "I told you so?". As has been said in this forum before, some modern nuclear designs go so far as to be safe even in the event of a meltdown. Why don't you do something constructive and campaign for better designs of nuclear power instead of throwing out the best energy source mankind currently has for it's future?

  8. oddie

    You sure seem to be?

    is this a rare occurence, or are you able to feel pleased about yourself even when there isn't an immediate danger of a nuclear rector going into meltdown?

    If we do get a metldown, do you think the papers would refer to it as the south america syndrome?

  9. Rich464

    Take a step back and think for a second

    Nuclear power IS safe if the reactor design is a modern one. the problem is with all these anti-nuclear groups and campaigners that mean countries are prevented from advancing their nuclear power generation programs. the TMI incident in the US set things back by nearly 30 years after that event. As a result were stuck with old reactors that are not being replaced or upgraded due to anti nuclear treaties and reactors that are incredibly valuable in countries with ever increasing power requirements and simply cannot afford to take the older plants off-line.

    The issue is much more complicated than your making out.

  10. Gorbachov
    Thumb Down


    and gas, coal & oil mining is sooo much safer and cleaner

    in short: 61 mining disasters in the last 60 years in the USA alone.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Phew, good job you were here to provide some smug, ill-timed attempted one upmanship, Mr Phud!

    you totally didn't come across as a complete prick by the way, good dodge.

  12. kororas


    when all other resources are consumed and you are thrown back to the stone age, you still wont agree that the benefits outweigh the potential consequences?

    And don't forget this is a 40 year old reactor we're talking about here.

  13. DavCrav Silver badge

    Check facts first?

    Meltdown = we can't use it again.

    Meltdown =/= everyone dies.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh boy

    No one here is advocating that we build NEW nuclear reactors using that old (30+ years IIRC) design you bloody muppet.

    What we are talking about is looking at new and future, safer designs, ones that CANNOT (literally, the physics won't allow it) melt down due to the way they are designed.

    Kneejerk prat.

    Signed: From Japan

  15. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: Are we still as smug now daylight has broken?

    Yes, actually. It's Saturday, so I've had a lie-in. By the time I got around to reading your post, things were looking safer again. But by the time you read this, I may be dead. Ho hum!

    Perhaps "now" isn't the ideal moment for cool heads to have the nuclear power debate. Can we reconvene at the beginning of next month?

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Bill Neal


    With exploding rigs and collapsing mines, are mining coal & drilling for petrochemicals any safer? I would venture a guess that there have been far fewer incidents with nuclear power than older tech. Perhaps because people take it more seriously?

  18. ~mico

    The reactor was built around 1970

    Nobody in his right mind would claim that forty year old nuclear tech is anywhere near any possible interpretation of the word "safe". Those old reactors are of the same type of three mile island and chernobyl. They need active cooling systems to sustain structural integrity, they still produce heat after complete emergency shutdown and need external power to keep cool - forever.

    Naturally, in the last 40 years some advances have been made, into making reactors inherently safe, using passive cooling, special fuel packaging that doesn't melt, etc. This is the tech that may fuel our future. Now, this station to modern gen. IV reactors is like pre-WWII plane to Boeing 747. Granted, even Boeings fall from the sky... is this the reason to never fly one?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Stay classy

    First sign of trouble and all you can do is gloat and turn it into ammunition for your political beliefs. Way to go, twat.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Re: yesterday

    Well judging by your downvotes, 28 or so are still feeling smug. Which is both sad and surprising since this forum is generally a haven of technical sanity.

  21. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Cherry picking ?

    >> Yesterday we were being informed that anyone here thinking it would all end in tears were barking mad as it was perfectly safe and normal.

    For more completeness, perhaps you might also observe that comments went along the lines of "after 40 years, things have improved somewhat - and modern reactor designs are fail safe". Clearly there is a rick from these reactors, but lets not forget that we knew a lot less about reactor design 40 years ago. While some release may well happen, and a core meltdown may happen, we are almost certainly not looking at the sort of failure that Chernobyl was infamous for.

  22. Neonin
    Thumb Down

    Errr, what?

    So Japan may be facing a nuclear meltdown on top of a huge earthquake and a tsunami that has killed over 1000 people at current count, and the only thing you feel like doing is coming on to El Reg and saying "I told you so" with a smug grin on your face?

    To quote the late, great Bill Hicks: "I wonder why we're so f*cked up as a race..."

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Steven Jones

    Let's see what happens

    We have yet to see what emerges, but the Japanese authorities, according to the BBC, are reporting that the pressure vessel has probably not been seriously damaged. We will see.

    It should be remembered that that this is a very old design, it's been in operation for 40 years and has been built in a tsunami-prone coastline. There are reports that it was the tsunami that disabled the diesel standby generators.

    This is getting close to a worst-case scenario. If an outdated and elderly nuclear facility such as this can be hit by the fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history and an enormous tsunami without loss of life, then it would give us confidence that a well-designed, modern design less vulnerably located would be safe. It will be expensive, but in terms of deaths per unit of electricity produced, other methods of generation have worse records, often far-worse records. Coal for one and even hydro where dam failures have been devastating (and are, if anything, more vulnerable to earthquakes).

    It's interesting to compare this with Chernobyl. Chernobyl was frankly an appallingly bad design and the explosion was self-inflicted due to dreadful operational practices. There was no natural disaster involved. In the case of the Japanese facility we have had a devastating natural disaster on a fundamentally sound design. We will see what happens, but another Chernobyl looks very unlikely at this stage. However, those designing nuclear facilities in future will have to think about tsunamis and not just earthquakes.

    What this tells us is that it's the design that matters. Early aeroplanes were quite good at killing their passengers - these days they are pretty well the safest way of travelling on a deaths per passenger mile basis.

  25. Mark 65 Silver badge


    I believe nuclear power is quite safe if handled correctly, I'm just not sure that putting reactors in areas that suffer earthquakes at 8.9 on the Richter scale is really that safe. It would seem that their precautions - generators etc - would be fine except when you get an 8.9 followed by a tsunami.

  26. Aaron Em

    UPDATE: haha shit

    If I'm reading this right, they've either already lost the building around No. 1, or they're getting ready to:

    So, uh, yeah, all that stuff I said about how it's more likely to end like TMI than anything? You guys, I am beginning to suspect that I have been unduly optimistic!

    Even if that's true, though, the lesson is not that nuclear power can never, ever be done at all safely because neutrons eat trees and babies, or whatever. The lesson is instead that forty-year-old BWRs from the dark ages need to be safely decommissioned in a hurry and replaced with modern designs, like the CANDU, that won't go boom no matter how shit a job you do on the maintenance work, or how fast you lose your coolant.

    And, you know, you want to make cracks about nuclear power saving the human race? -- how the hell *else* do you expect to fend off a Malthusian catastrophe once we get so low on oil that we can't afford to burn it in conventional power plants any longer? Or are you one of those who's perfectly fine with the idea of a third or a half the human population dying off, just so long as it doesn't include anyone you know?

  27. Aaron Em

    Yeah, pretty much

    Because you're thinking "meltdown" means "OMG END OF THE EVERLOVING WORLD", and it really does not. If it breaches the reactor's pressure vessel, that's bad; if it breaches the surrounding containment building, that's quite likely disastrous, but that's also not terribly likely to happen -- the molten core by itself wouldn't be enough, there'd need to be a steam explosion which they appear to be very much staying ahead of with the steam releases from the buildings.

    You're thinking Chernobyl, but you shouldn't be; that reactor didn't even *have* a containment building -- the RBMK design in use at Pripyat was pretty much what you'd get if you took every advance in reactor design since the Windscale fire, lit the whole stack on fire, and then built as many potential disasters into your own reactor as you could possibly manage to squeeze in. So when the Chernobyl pressure vessel blew, that was all she wrote: instant dispersion into the environment, 30km exclusion zone maintained for decades, enough to make even the Soviets decommission their remaining RBMKs, you know the story.

    The Fukushima reactors may indeed be forty-year-old boiling-water reactors from the dark ages of nuclear engineering, but they're not nearly as bad as an RBMK; judging by what little I've been able to find that describes their design, they're actually not all that different from the reactors in use at the Three Mile Island generating plant when they had their little accident. That incident ended with a large fraction of the reactor's core molten and puddled in the bottom of the pressure vessel -- but it did *not* end in a breach of the pressure vessel, much less the surrounding containment building, and the resulting radiation release was negligible.

    It is possible for the Fukushima crisis to result in a blown containment building and a massive release of core material and exotic byproducts. For that to happen, though, would require complete incompetence on the part of a very large number of people now involved in managing the situation in Japan. Assuming that all of those people don't suddenly decide as one to stuff their heads up their asses, what we're by far most likely to see out of Fukushima is much the same as what we saw out of Three Mile Island: a scary situation which, in hindsight, wasn't anywhere nearly as bad as it could've been if it hadn't been handled promptly and well.

    Actually, I'm giving the TMI staff a bit too much credit there, they screwed up plenty in the first few hours of the crisis -- that seems to be pretty much what always happens when a reactor starts to go wrong: either the control-room crew knows exactly how to handle it, does so, and it never makes the news, or else it's the useless night-shift guys on watch and we all get to hear about how they screwed up. Point is, though, even with all the mistakes people made at TMI, there *still* wasn't a containment breach, and there's no reason to assume there will be one at Fukushima, either.

    It's possible, but it's not at all likely, so why not wait to worry about it until you know you need to? I mean, it'll happen or not happen on its own either way, so why not just relax, imbibe a reasonable dose of your favorite intoxicant, and wait to see how it goes?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oh, be fair

    wind power also brings with it the problem of storms and hurricanes, and tidal and hydro give us flooding, and solar has the side effect of trying to give us all skin cancer.

  29. Ray Simard


    Let's wait until we find out what happened and then consider the status of the container, its contents and the fan.

  30. Graham Dawson

    Yes. I do feel like being smug.

    You see, unlike you, I don't assume that every nuclear reactor is a giant nuclear bomb waiting to go of at the slightest gust of wind. Nor do I feel the need to use a disaster to score political points.

    URGENT: Serious damage unlikely to reactor container: official

    TOKYO, March 12, Kyodo

    Japan's nuclear safety agency officials said Saturday they believe there has been no serious damage to the container of the troubled No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    The officials made the comment after examining the latest radiation data monitored around the facility after an explosion in the afternoon, they said.


  31. ZankerH

    re: barkingmad

    That may have to do with nutcases claiming this was a second Tschornobyl (or a second Hiroshima, usw, for that matter). It is a contained incident and it's nowhere near as catastrophic as the rest of the earthquake/tsunami damage. Unfortunately, it'll make the public even more panicky and hysterical about humanity's most clean and efficient energy source.

  32. Timfy67

    No one is ever smug...

    ...about nuclear power generation. However, due to the design of this generation of reactors, we are still only looking at a minor release of caesium, well within limits to dissipate completely within the atmosphere and a reactor that is never going to work again.

    Maybe an explosive event if they cannot release the pressure, but no Chernobyl style "kaboom", the fuel rods will just melt and then cool to ambient temperatures.

    An earthquake is a fairly difficult event to contingency plan for.

    I would say that far more environmental damage has been done where the tsunami washed through the industrial centres and then pulled back it's cargo of toxins, heavy metals etc back into the sea / dumped it on the surrounding land.

  33. Intractable Potsherd


    Why not - the safety keeps working in a controlled fashion, even though it is 40 years old. Nothing has made me reconsider the rational course of action, which is to invest in the latest reactors as soon as possible.

    However, the rational are going to have to deal with the irrationally fearful, as demonstrated by Elmer Phud's comment.

  34. Ian McNee

    And next the tsunami of pro-nuclear AGW deniers...

    ...along the lines of it couldn't happen here because:

    (i) we're British

    (ii) we don't do proper earthquakes/floods

    (iii) I've got a big bucket of sand that I can stick my head in


    and in any case there's no such thing as anthropogenic global warming so why don't all you limp-wristed lettuce-munching pinko enviro-nazis fuck off back to (what remains of) the Amazonian rain forest seeing as you love plants so much!

    Now where was that job offer at the Daily Heil...??

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: yesterday

    I don't think anyone yesterday said these 40 year old design reactors were especially safe.

    Modern designs are many degrees of magnitude safer than these.

    Not that Japan had a choice in the matter. They don't have much coal, they don't have much oil, but they do have a hugely technological society. Nuclear was the only viable source.

    If you are so against modern Nuclear may I suggest you start reducing your power consumption by approx 95%, then you might have a hope of being truly green, although only when the wind blows.

  36. Paul 139

    I told you so?

    This might be the most depressing thing I'll read today. Thousands (or tens of) dead and a truly awful disaster unfolding before our eyes. And what does someone post .. "this just shows that technology X sucks, I told you so!".

    Go collect some canned food, or done some money or pray or do whatever the hell else might just help your fellow human beings Mr Phud. I know I will be.

  37. Oliver Mayes

    Yes, actually

    This is a 40 year old reactor, its main cooling systems have been damaged and it's backup systems don't appear adequate to control it. You would never get permission to build a reactor like this any more. There are also some reports that maintenance in the power plant may not have been as thorough as it should have been.

    Modern nuclear reactors are built specifically to prevent these kinds of problems. Reactors don't just explode because someone trips and spills coffee on them.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cue the anti-nuclear protests

    This'll be yet more fodder for the environmental activists in the debate against nuclear.

    Probably the worst thing about nuclear is that it does have a bit of an unfair reputation due to accidents in the past. Modern reactors are not supposed to misbehave like the ones of the dark ages. They're by no means perfect however.

    I agree though that perhaps earthquake-prone Japan was not the best place to put one, as nothing can be completely "natural-disaster-proof".

    In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed, hoping they can somehow reign in this runaway chemical reaction. No used arguing over what should have or shouldn't have been now, what's past is past, all we can do there is learn any lessons taught. We need to consider now, and the future.

  39. Someone Else Silver badge

    /me raises hand

    Zanker, you appear to be German, or at least of a country where German is your primary language. Please tell me how has your country solved the spent fuel problem related to "humanity's most clean and efficient energy source"?

    I'll hang up and wait for my answer....

  40. Big-nosed Pengie

    Nuclear is perfectly safe

    The people who died in Chernobyl all died from the flu. And they're packaging up the core into sweets to sell to children.

  41. jonathanb Silver badge

    Re: alternatives

    Uranium needs to be mined as well, so that isn't really a valid argument. If I was forced to be a miner, I would much rather mine coal than yellowcake.

  42. peter_dtm

    No NO NO NO

    Chernobyl was badly designed and *ran* with a control system that would not be allowed to run your central heating boiler it was so seriously crap.

    Following Three Mile Island's problem (over hyped as usual) modifications were made and the industry learnt a little bit more about being amazingly safe.

  43. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


    My heart goes out to Japan. It's truly tragic all that needless loss of life

    Let's hope something good comes out of this - better nuclear reactor design, more experience with dealing with problems like this.

    I would hope too, (maybe this is too much or even somewhat evil) that Sony got hurt in this :P

  44. Captain TickTock

    So it isn't quite the end of the world...

    ... but you can see it from there...

  45. Charles Manning

    LFTR maybe?

    All the pros of current nuke with almost non of the cons.

  46. Charles Manning

    Moronic argument

    Incremental amounts over years have a completely different impact than massive releases.

    Compare these two events:(A) Shoot Joe with an AK47. (B) Give Joe a cup of tea and let him drink it at his leisure.

    You'd expect the cup of tea to cause far more damage since it is releasing approx 5-10 times as much energy into Joe as shooting him with the AK47.

    But, curiously, the AK47 causes more damage. Can't figure out why.

  47. byrresheim

    Exactly so

    and, what's even more to the point, half a year before Chernobyl blew up a scientific paper was published in Germany, showing how much more economical the russian design was and how progress was being impeded by those antinuclear Luddites ...

    amazing is the word for nuclear technology and its apologists.

  48. Jan 0

    @Gorbachov (sic)

    If the same safety standards were applied to the mining industry as they are to the nuclear industry,

    then there wouldn't have been 61 disasters.

  49. Chemist

    solar has the side effect of trying to give us all skin cancer.

    What !!!!!

  50. Jeroen Braamhaar

    For a better view and some insights ...

    Go here:

    And go through the comments. There's a fair bunch of nuke engineers adding their couple of cents explaining what's REALLY going on there.


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